A Small Firm in Germany Has Big Ambitions in Green Energy

Germany is as good a place as any other to observe the shake-up that is rolling through the global electricity market. As part of the national effort Energiewende, or energy transition, German consumers have spent about €190 billion over the last two decades to subsidize renewable energy sources like wind and solar. These renewables now account for about one-third of German electric power on average and reached a high of 86 percent on a day in May 2016.

Renewables as power sources have characteristics that are quite different from the giant natural gas, coal and nuclear plants owned by the large utilities. Smaller and scattered around the country, renewable power installations, especially solar panels, tend to be owned by small investors like the Lachers rather than by big companies. Renewables also drive down the prices generators receive, helping to turn electricity into a low-margin commodity.

The emergence of renewables is reshaping the relationship between consumers and energy providers, which is vital to the quality of life but is often taken for granted. Empowered by the availability of new electricity sources and options from emerging digital technology, consumers can demand more than just electrons down the wire. As a consequence, energy providers, once almost unassailable incumbents, are being forced to win their “right in the marketplace of the future,” said Jöorg Stäglich, a partner in the energy practice at Oliver Wyman, the consulting firm.

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Günter Mögele, the deputy mayor and energy coordinator in Wildpoldsried, said his village’s decision in the late 1990s to focus on renewable energy had paid off.

Credit
Corinna Kern for The New York Times

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