Sunday, 27 December 2015

Assessing the need for critical minerals to shift the German energy system towards a high proportion of renewables

Volume 49, September 2015, Pages 655–671
  Open Access


The German government has set itself the target of reducing the country׳s GHG emissions by between 80 and 95% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels. Alongside energy efficiency, renewable energy sources are set to play the main role in this transition. However, the large-scale deployment of renewable energies is expected to cause increased demand for critical mineral resources. The aim of this article is therefore to determine whether the transformation of the German energy system by 2050 (“Energiewende”) may possibly be restricted by a lack of critical minerals, focusing primarily on the power sector (generating, transporting and storing electricity from renewable sources). For the relevant technologies, we create roadmaps describing a number of conceivable quantitative market developments in Germany. Estimating the current and future specific material demand of the options selected and projecting them along a range of long-term energy scenarios allows us to assess potential medium- or long-term mineral resource restrictions. The main conclusion we draw is that the shift towards an energy system based on renewable sources that is currently being pursued is principally compatible with the geological availability and supply of mineral resources. In fact, we identified certain sub-technologies as being critical with regard to potential supply risks, owing to dependencies on a small number of supplier countries and competing uses. These sub-technologies are certain wind power plants requiring neodymium and dysprosium, thin-film CIGS photovoltaic cells using indium and selenium, and large-scale redox flow batteries using vanadium. However, non-critical alternatives to these technologies do indeed exist. The likelihood of supplies being restricted can be decreased further by cooperating even more closely with companies in the supplier countries and their governments, and by establishing greater resource efficiency and recyclability as key elements of technology development.


  • Critical minerals;
  • Renewable energy;
  • Electricity supply;
  • Energy transformation;
  • Germany