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Thursday, October 19, 2017

The success of the Energiewende

The Energiewende is Germany's "energy transition" to renewable energy, and out of nuclear and fossil fuels.  It is pronounced with a hard g, as in English "get" and w is pronounced as a v.

It is often criticised as a failure, because


  1. It's pushed up the price of electricity in Germany. Germany has among the highest electricity price in the world 
  2. Germany still uses lots of coal, so what's the point?
  3. They've been doing it for nearly 2 decades and they're still haven't reached 100% renewables.  Surely they should have done more?
When the Energiewende started in 2000, wind was very expensive.  Wind turbines were much smaller than today, and the electricity they generated was much more expensive than it is now.  But as the industry moved down the learning curve, costs fell--since 2009, wind has fallen 66% in cost.  Today, wind is the cheapest generation source.  Solar was even more expensive than wind in 2000.  Its costs have fallen 85% since 2009.  The feed-in tariff contracts signed were for a duration of 20 years, so it will take a while before the newer low-cost wind and solar start to influence electricity costs.  But electricity costs in Germany have probably peaked and will start falling from now on.

We must thank Germany (and Denmark) for their decision to install expensive wind turbines 17 years ago.  They started the world down the learning curve, making it cheaper and easier for us to do the same.  Die Welt sagt Danke, Deutschland.  Verden siger tak, Danmark

As part of the Energiewende, Germany had long-term plans to gradually scale back nuclear.  After Fukushima, the German government promised to close down all nuclear plants by 2022.  You can see what happened (in the chart below): nuclear halved from 10% of total supply to 5%.  Coal picked up the slack.  But through it all, renewables kept on rising, from 7% of total supply (mostly hydro) to 34%, a rise of 27 percentage points in 16 years.  I suspect coal has peaked, and will steadily decline from now on, even as nuclear goes to zero.  There's politics involved: lots of German coal miners.  But Germany is good at transitions, and will find a way.

Source Global Green Shift

The third criticism is plain silly.  Germany is a huge industrial economy, the largest to ever make this transition to a green economy (China will be next.) Although Denmark started before Germany, it was Germany which really got the ball rolling.  It's worth remembering that when they started in 2000, they didn't know how they would do the transition.  Biomass? Nuclear? Wind? Hydro?  Energy saving? Solar wasn't even in contention, it was considered too expensive, and it was thought that Germany was too far north for solar to be workable.  The Germans were pioneers, paving a road that the rest of the world could follow.  And despite the size of the German economy and its population, despite the huge learning curve they traversed, despite growing their heavily industrial economy and raising living standards, they still managed to lift renewables by 27% over 16 years.  If they repeat that achievement, renewables will provide  61% of their power by 2032 and 88% by 2048, very close to the necessary 0% by 2050.  

So far we've just been talking about electricity generation.  But that produces only part of global emissions.  Germany still needs to grasp the opportunity afforded by electric vehicles.  Germany is the auto powerhouse of Europe.  Even if the world gets to 100% green generation, it's still a long way from 100% green transport.  If Germany embraces EV targets as China and California have done, its car manufacturers, who have been dithering about EVs, will be forced into the technological future, a place Germany has always been comfortable in.  

[Read more here]


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