Energy transition

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Energy transition refers to the shift from our current energy model, based on fossil fuels, to a model based on sustainable energy (which excludes nuclear energy). This involves a genuine political will to make the transition happen, translating into government-set targets for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and increasing the proportion of renewable energy in each country’s energy mix. Yet despite the obvious need to combat climate change, improved energy security resulting from lower dependency on fossil fuels (which are mainly imported), the positive employment impact (as renewable energy favors local employment) and widespread support from public opinion, this transition is confronting funding difficulties and intensive lobbying by traditional energy producers which are impeding the change process. Like any emerging industry, the renewable energies sector needs financial support from the public authorities to make these energies competitive compared with fossil fuels (via preferential feed-in tariffs for electricity from renewables, etc.).

It is true that major investments, both public and private, are being made all over the world in order to increase electricity production from renewables (especially wind, solar, etc.). Yet meeting the commitments made in the 2015 Paris Agreement requires not just replacing fossil fuels by renewables but also changing consumer behaviors in order to dramatically reduce societies’ energy needs, especially in terms of heating (the passive house concept). This aim, of energy sobriety, is one of the most politically sensitive because it requires lifestyle changes that political leaders find challenging to take on.

In Germany, scheduled to complete its withdrawal from nuclear energy in 2022, the 2016 energy transition law set ambitious targets for reducing GHG emissions, the proportion of renewables in electricity production and reducing energy consumption overall. While the current trajectory makes it unlikely that the country will hit all its targets, this policy is part of an industrial development strategy that seeks to position Germany as a global leader in renewable energy.

Energy transition in Germany, 1990-2050

Source: Umweltbundesamt – UBA,

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" Energy transition " World Atlas of Global Issues, 2018, [online], accessed on Mar 15 2021, URL:

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