Taking Stock

Sigmar Gabriel’s Energy Legacy

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    As energy minister, Sigmar Gabriel oversaw Germany’s energy transition for three years. He promised to use market forces to cut prices, but business remains skeptical on high energy costs.

  • Facts


    • Seven years after the launch of the government’s “energy transition,” one third of all of Germany’s energy generation now comes from renewables.
    • Large power generation companies like RWE and E.ON have hurried to move away from fossil fuels and nuclear power, separating these legacy assets from renewables and networks.
    • Mr. Gabriel oversaw some change in how renewable subsidies are calculated, from standard price per kilowatt-hour to competitive tendering.
  • Audio


  • Pdf
24. Handelsblatt Jahrestagung “Energiewirtschaft 2017” (P1200670)
Sigmar Gabriel speaking at the Handelsblatt Energy Conference on Tuesday, hours before the news broke that he was stepping down as SPD leader. Source: Dietmar Gust / EUROFORUM

Sigmar Gabriel’s surprising decision not to lead the Social Democrats into this year’s federal election means stepping down as vice-chancellor and economics minister.

It also brings to an end to his three years running Germany’s energy policy, overseeing its unprecedented “energy transition”—the radical shift away from nuclear and fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.

When Mr. Gabriel addressed Handelsblatt’s annual energy conference in Berlin on Tuesday morning, few in the audience knew it would be one of his last actions as energy minister. His speech, it turned out, would sum up what he claimed to have achieved during his tenure and point the way forward for his successor, expected to be another Social Democrat, Brigitte Zypries, currently a junior minister in his department.

When Mr. Gabriel took over stewardship of Germany’s shift to renewables, government support for green energy was based on direct subsidies per kilowatt-hour produced. The system proved expensive and inefficient, and is now being overhauled to a system of competitive tendering, reflecting a key theme of Mr. Gabriel’s time in office: “more market, less state.” Also on his watch, Germany launched an overarching climate plan, meant to steer green development until 2050.

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