Regulation and funding gap halt growth of renewable energy co-ops in Germany

The main challenges faced are reduced support payments and the switch to auctions for licenses for new capacity

Renewable energy co-operatives in Germany warned that increased regulation and the difficulty to access funding have stalled the sector’s expansion.

According to a survey carried out by DGRV, the country’s apex body for co-ops, the sector is facing increasing hurdles that are preventing it from contributing to the expansion of renewables.

The main challenges faced are reduced support payments and the switch to auctions for licenses for new capacity. This means financial support is allocated to renewable energy projects based on the cost of electricity production, putting smaller renewable energy co-ops at a disadvantage.

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“Every investor in wind energy has to spend up to €100,000 (for each wind turbine) for project development, permissions, expert opinions etc. before he can join a tender,” said Dr Andreas Wieg of DGRV.

“If they lose the tender then their money is also lost. A bigger project developer with some wind projects can share the risk but a typical energy co-operative has only one project. That’s the reason why citizen energy co-ops usually can’t bear the risk.”

The survey revealed only 54% of co-ops are willing to invest in roof-mounted solar power systems, due to reduced financial support for such schemes. The figure represents a decrease from 71% in 2018.

“This cannot be the political intention,” said Dr Eckhard Ott who heads the DGRV.

Germany currently has 869 citizens’ energy co-operatives with a total of 183,000 members. The sector has invested €2.7bn in renewable energy, with most co-operatives operating solar power installations.

According to the latest stats from the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE), renewable sources accounted for 47.3% of Germany’s electricity in the first half of 2019, while 43.4% came from coal and nuclear energy in this period.

In spite of the increase in the share of renewable energy, Germany remains heavily reliant on coal and gas for its energy needs and continues to account for half of all coal production in the EU. The country has set the target of becoming carbon neutral by 2050.