Germany’s Green Energy Failure

  • Date: 29/09/14
  • Doug L Hoffman, The Resilient Earth

The first grand experiment in renewable energy is a catastrophe. The vast scale of the failure has only started to become clear over the past year or so.

A new analysis answers the question “should other nations follow Germany’s lead on promoting solar Power?” That question was asked on Quora and answered by Ryan Carlyle, BSChE, and a Subsea Hydraulics Engineer. His detailed and well reasoned answer is the most forceful possible NO. According to Carlyle Germany’s program has the “absurd distinction” of hitting the trifecta of bad energy policy: bad for consumers, bad for industry, and bad for the environment. So while misguided greens point to Germany as a solar success, a rising tide of opposition and resentment is growing among the German public.

Along with all the other troubles besetting the world, Germany has watched its economy, the so called “engine of Europe,” stumble. This is mostly attributable to the horribly botched shift to a renewable energy economy. In Carlyle’s own words:

I was shocked to find out how useless, costly, and counter-productive their world-renowned energy policy has turned out. This is a serious problem for Germany, but an even greater problem for the rest of the world, who hope to follow in their footsteps. The first grand experiment in renewable energy is a catastrophe! The vast scale of the failure has only started to become clear over the past year or so. So I can forgive renewables advocates for not realizing it yet — but it’s time for the green movement to do a 180 on this.

Pretty strong stuff, but as good skeptics we should demand evidence to back up these statements. Fortunately, the author provides data to back up his claims. Here are some of Carlyle’s “awful statistics”:

Germany is widely considered the global leader in solar power, with over a third of the world’s nameplate (peak) solar power capacity. Germany has over twice as much solar capacity per capita as sunny, subsidy-rich, high-energy-cost California. (That doesn’t sound bad, but keep going.)

Germany’s residential electricity cost is about $0.34/kWh, one of the highest rates in the world. About $0.07/kWh goes directly to subsidizing renewables, which is actually higher than the wholesale electricity price in Europe. (This means they could simply buy zero-carbon power from France and Denmark for less than they spend to subsidize their own.) More than 300,000 households per year are seeing their electricity shut off because they cannot afford the bills. Many people are blaming high residential prices on business exemptions, but eliminating them would save households less than 1 euro per month on average. Billing rates are predicted by the government to rise another 40% by 2020.

Germany’s utilities and taxpayers are losing vast sums of money due to excessive feed-in tariffs and grid management problems. The environment minister says the cost will be one trillion euros (~$1.35 trillion) over the next two decades if the program is not radically scaled back. This doesn’t even include the hundreds of billions it has already cost to date. Siemens, a major supplier of renewable energy equipment, estimated in 2011 that the direct lifetime cost of Energiewende through 2050 will be $4.5 trillion, which means it will cost about 2.5% of Germany’s GDP for 50 years straight. That doesn’t include economic damage from high energy prices, which is difficult to quantify but appears to be significant.

Here’s the truly dismaying part: the latest numbers show Germany’s carbon output and global warming impact is actually increasing despite flat economic output and declining population, because of ill-planned “renewables first” market mechanisms. This regime is paradoxically forcing the growth of dirty coal power. Photovoltaic solar has a fundamental flaw for large-scale generation in the absence of electricity storage — it only works for about 5-10 hours a day. Electricity must be produced at the exact same time it’s used. The more daytime summer solar capacity Germany builds, the more coal power they need for nights and winters as cleaner power sources are forced offline. This happens because excessive daytime solar power production makes base-load nuclear plants impossible to operate, and makes load-following natural gas plants uneconomical to run. Large-scale PV solar power is unmanageable without equally-large-scale grid storage, but even pumped-storage hydroelectricity facilities are being driven out of business by the severe grid fluctuations. They can’t run steadily enough to operate at a profit. Coal is the only non-subsidized power source that doesn’t hemorrhage money now. The result is that utilities must choose between coal, blackouts, or bankruptcy. Which means much more pollution.

The emphasized passages are the author’s from the original posting.

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