Read our COVID-19 research and news.

Going green. Sigmar Gabriel.

Going green. Sigmar Gabriel.

Dominik Butzmann/SPD

Social Democrats Chief Takes Charge of Germany's Energy Transition

Sigmar Gabriel, chief of the German Social Democratic Party, is taking charge of the "Energiewende" (energy transition), Germany's ambitious plan to phase out nuclear power and reduce the use of fossil fuels. The new German government, a grand coalition of Christian and Social Democrats, announced its ministers over the weekend; Gabriel, a former federal minister of the environment, will head a new superministry responsible for the economy and energy policy.

That puts Gabriel, once responsible for his party’s pop music policy—which earned him the nickname "Siggi Pop"—at the helm of one of the world’s most ambitious plans to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources. Germany has vowed to produce 35% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and to shut the last nuclear power plant by 2022.

But there are major obstacles. For one, the European Commission is expected to announce a formal probe into Germany's energy subsidies as early as tomorrow. Ordinary customers in Germany have to pay a green energy surcharge to bankroll the country's energy transition, but energy-intensive industries are exempt. The commission is investigating whether that is unfair.

Meanwhile, Johanna Wanka will stay on as Germany's minister of education and research. Wanka has been in the job for only 10 months; she took over after her predecessor, Annette Schavan, resigned in a plagiarism scandal. Wanka, a mathematician, grew up in East Germany and served as minister for research, science, and culture in two states, Brandenburg and Lower Saxony, before becoming a federal minister. So far, the coalition agreement has shed little light on the government's plans for science and higher education.