The German Energiewende or energy transition is a plan to move away from fossil fuels and nuclear to a low carbon energy supply. Advocates of New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) often point to this as a model for the New York transition. However, a recent paper, Vernunftkraft, Bundesinitiative für vernünftige Energiepolitik or Compendium for a Sensible Energy Policy, produced by a group of German energy experts, engineers and technicians, eviscerates those claims for its success. Their full study is available to be downloaded in PDF here.
I am a numbers and history guy. If you can produce numbers or show examples where a policy has worked elsewhere then I can determine whether I can support that policy. My fundamental problem with REV is that I have not seen where any jurisdiction has been able to move away from fossil fuels without markedly increasing costs. Furthermore, there are very few places where the amount of renewable energy proposed in REV has been implemented so it is not clear to me whether that much renewable energy can actually be implemented without threatening the reliability of the grid.
I believe that the Compendium for a Sensible Energy Policy should be a cautionary tale for New York. The review produced by this group is intended to inform public debate to try to bring a reconsideration of Germany’s energy policy. Most of the discussion topics in the introduction of the Compendium are directly applicable to New York and REV. It is troubling that rather than learning from the results of the German experience we seem to be headed down the same path.
Introduction from the Compendium for a Sensible Energy Policy
’But where should the electricity come from’ is usually the immediate question to someone who takes a critical position on the expansion of wind and solar power plants. Our problem description in section 1. focuses on this simple question. It shows that wind and solar energy, which seem to promise a quick fix, are not simple alternatives to fossil fuels. Indeed, they are not even part of the answer; as their deployment becomes widespread, they become a problem in themselves and make it even more important to find sensible solutions.
It is often claimed that all that is needed is a sufficiently large and sufficiently widely distributed network of wind farms (’the wind is always blowing somewhere…’); ‘smart grids’ and grid-scale energy storage will then compensate for the intermittency of the power supplied. Section 2. On the technological aspects shows that these hopes are unrealistic.
A widespread view is that if a measure is designed to protect the climate or the environment, then we should see no sacrifice or technical challenge involved in putting it in place as too great. In fact, however, this attitude is based on false premises, as section 3. on the ecological aspects of the renewable energy question shows. Instead of delivering the promised protection of the climate, current energy policy is causing a biodiversity disaster. The protection of nature and wildlife is suffering, and populations of endangered wild animals have been decimated. These sacrifices are all the more tragic because they are completely pointless. There are easier, and much less painful ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
The energy transition is a ‘blessing for rural regions’, claimed the former head of the German Chancellery, Peter Altmaier, a few years ago. Poorer regions would be given a new boost through their involvement in renewable energy production. There were also high expectations that Germany would take the lead in developing many of the new technologies and would benefit from a ‘green jobs’ boom. Section 4. on the economic aspects measures these expectations against reality. It reveals that renewables are being given perverse economic incentives, giving rise to undesirable developments that pose considerable risks to economic growth and prosperity in Germany.
The social effects and the losses in health and quality of life that the expansion of ‘green electricity’ facilities will have, are hardly noticeable in the large cities. Dramas are taking place in the countryside that remain hidden from the Energiewende enthusiasts, most of whom live in the cities. Our section 5. on social and health aspects examines these negative impacts.
A great deal needs to change in energy policy. We therefore conclude this paper with a list of demands, addressed to the future German Federal Government – whoever they may be.
The list of demands in the conclusion:
- The idea of meeting our country’s energy needs with wind power and solar energy has proven to be an illusion. At present, around 29,000 wind turbines and 1.6 million photovoltaic systems together account for just 3.1 % of our energy requirements. Although their share of electricity is higher, their direct and systemic costs are gigantic.
- The cardinal problems – weather-dependence and low energy density – are unsolved or unsolvable. The idea often put forward by the government that expanding the areas covered in renewable systems will reduce natural volatility contradicts mathematical laws and has also been clearly refuted empirically.
- To compensate for the lack of reliability of wind and sun and to be able to actually replace conventional power generation, gigantic amounts of electricity storage would be required. The replacement of controllable power generation with a fluctuating power supply is impossible without storage and unaffordable with it.
- As a result of the rapid expansion of ‘renewable energies’, electricity prices have risen steadily and further cost increases are inevitable. Germany as a desirable location for business is suffering. The social imbalance is getting worse and worse. There is a locational disadvantage for the manufacturing industry. At the same time, the redistribution from ‘bottom’ to ‘top’ is continuously increasing.
- The present energy policy does not serve the alleged climate protection. CO2 emissions are rising instead of falling. The ‘dirty secret’ of producing ‘green electricity’ is not a transitional phenomenon, but a systemic one. Through emissions trading, a (global) tax and open-technology research funding, the target of CO2 reduction could be achieved much more cost-effectively. Instead of’ climate protection’, the incentive system of the EEG induces environmental crime, sows discord and causes unprecedented landscape damage and destruction of nature.