Ecologically Optimized Extension of Renewable Energy Utilization in Germany

Due to the implementation of the ‘Erneuerbare Energien Gesetz’ and the explicit objective of doubling the contribution of renewable energies to the energy supply there is now a reliable perspective for the expansion of renewable energies also in Germany. However, the targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions require that renewable energies on the long run are our major source of energy. As a consequence, the German Federal Environment Ministry aims at covering at least 50% of the energy demand by renewable energy sources in the year 2050.

This ambitious target requires a reliable analysis of the related impacts on the environment, the economy, and on society. Both policy and society needs to be in a position to carefully assess the impacts from a long term expansion of renewable energies.

While renewable energies help to reduce environmental impacts like greenhouse gas emissions or the depletion of fossil fuels, they might also be a source of – often local scale – environmental impacts. The relatively high material requirements for the manufacturing of components, which might lead to significant material flows, is partly considered as a factor that might limit the future use of renewable energies. In addition – and perhaps more important – there is a potential for conflicts between the conservation of nature on the one hand, and e.g. climate change mitigation strategies on the other hand. Examples are the use of hydro power versus the conservation of local ecosystems, or the amenity impacts or effects on local habitats from the operation of wind turbines. Such conflicts are likely to reduce the potential of renewable energies compared to the technical or economic potential of these technologies, leading to a reduced ‘sustainable potential’ for each technology that takes into account nature conservation aspects.

Taking these concerns into account it is the objective of the research project to develop a strategy for an ‘ecologically optimised’ expansion of renewable energies in Germany. Based on a detailed life cycle assessment, in a first step the environmental impacts of the relevant technologies (wind, hydro, photovoltaic, solarthermal, geothermal, biomass) are assessed, with a specific focus on nature conservation aspects.

In a second step, scenarios are developed that characterise different strategies for an increased use of renewable energies within the national energy system, taking into account the quantified environmental impacts and the sustainable potentials of the individual technologies. These scenarios are assessed with regard to both their ecological as well as their economic implications. Results from the scenario analysis give an indication of the policy conditions that are required to foster the further expansion of renewable energies. Recommendations for the design of appropriate policy measures will be elaborated.



June 2001 – December 2003


German Federal Environment Ministry


DLR, Wuppertal Institut für Klima, Umwelt und Energie, ifeu

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