Germany was once a leader among nations in the development of wind energy, but after 2015 it curtailed wind investment as it relied increasingly on natural gas imported from Russia.
“Had the country followed the same trajectory of growth in annual installations as the rest of Europe, installed wind-power capacity would have been 32 gigawatts greater at the end of 2021,” according to a new report, “Winds Not Harnessed,” by the Helsinki-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.
“This additional wind power would have generated more electricity than Germany’s six remaining nuclear power plants in 2021,” the report says, and it would have replaced more gas than Germany imported through the Nord Stream Pipeline 1 before that supply was cut off.
Had it continued its early pace of wind development, Germany could have saved 23 billion euros it spent on natural gas this year and avoided 5% of its energy related greenhouse-gas emissions, according to the report. That volume of emissions is equivalent to all of Switzerland’s emissions last year.
“Instead,” the report says, “Germany is entering the first wartime winter in Europe in over 70 years less energy secure than it had reason to be.”
Germany’s dependence on Russian gas is often linked to its decision to shut down its nuclear plants in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. But the CREA report argues that wind power could have effectively substituted for that gas.
“Gas and wind power have different uses in the energy system, so they are far from perfect substitutes,” the report acknowledges. “However, in the power sector, where about one third of all gas is used in Europe, increased wind power generation will replace gas and coal in a ratio that depends on fuel prices and a host of other factors — this is a simple consequence of the merit order in which the generation sources with the highest marginal cost are used last. In the extreme situation of a physical gas shortage, gas prices rise so high that the fuel being replaced becomes almost always gas.”
Until the Ukraine war spiked the cost of natural gas, gas enjoyed more favorable economics than coal. Over the last 20 years Germany used more gas as it retired coal and nuclear plants.
Had Germany instead invested in more wind power “it could have significantly reduced Germany’s reliance on fossil fuel imports, thereby lessening the ability of Putin to blackmail the Bundesrepublik by cutting gas supplies,” the report says.
“Germany would have been less affected by Russia’s weaponization of trade in energy products, and fluctuations of fossil fuel prices on the global market.”