While a government is being formed in Berlin, which will have important implications for the future of the Energiewende, author and scholar Professor John Mathews of Macquarie University in Australia, looks back on what Germany has achieved so far with its unique energy policy and concludes that it has been a spectacular success, whatever its detractors may say. But he also has some advice to offer: the German government, he writes, should be promoting the building of a European supergrid, and actively invest in storage and electric car charging infrastructure. Courtesy Global Green Shift.
The German government has been promoting renewables ever since the passage of the Renewable Energy Law in the year 2000. In 2010 the ‘grand coalition’ government led by Dr Merkel strengthened the promotion of renewables through raising the level of feed-in tariffs payable to producers. Then the Merkel government announced, in 2011, after the Japanese Fukushima nuclear disaster, that nuclear power would be definitively phased out within a decade, by 2022. These several actions constitute the core of the ‘energy transformation’. Germany is the most advanced industrial country to attempt such a thoroughgoing transformation of its energy sector, and its results carry global implications.
The Energiewende has been subjected to relentless attack ever since its inception, both within and outside Germany. The gist of the criticism is that the German energy transformation has achieved too little, and at too high a price. Both assertions are easily rebutted by looking at the evidence – which is what I do in this fresh post to the www.globalgreenshift.org blog.
The story of the Energiewende can be told with reference to two original charts, one showing the electric energy generated in Germany over the past decade and a half (from 2000, the year of the Erneuerbare Energien Gesetz, or EEG) and the other showing changes in electric generating capacity over the past decade. (My thanks to Ms Carol Huang for her assistance in producing these charts.)
Figure 1. German changes in electric energy generation, 2000-2016
Chart 1 reveals that total annual generation of electricity in Germany has barely shifted over the past decade and a half; it was just under 500 terawatt-hours (500 TWh or 500 billion kWh) in the year 2000 and just over 500 TWh in 2016. But within that (more or less) constant total the changes in structure of the electric power system have been striking. Three major changes can be identified as part of the public policy in Germany driving the Energiewende – the promotion of renewables; the phase out of nuclear; and the shift to gas within the fossil fuels.
First there is the promotion of renewables, that began in earnest with the passage of the Renewable Energy Law (EEG) in 2000 and the introduction of the German innovation of feed-in tariffs. These provided an incentive to local producers of renewables, who under the law would be paid a certain price for renewable energy and would be guaranteed access to the grid to sell it. (There was a phased reduction or de-escalation of the feed-in tariff over time, but lawmakers were unable to keep up with the dramatic cost reductions achieved by renewables – particularly solar.)
Chart 1 reveals that renewables should generate more power than coal by the year 2020, crossing over at about 200 TWh per year
How well this has worked is abundantly clear from the chart. Renewable power generation was around 35 TWh in the year 2000 (much of this due to hydro). It was already picking up in 2003, when it was at a level of 43 TWh (comparable at the time to the level of electricity generated from gas) and rising to 181 TWh in 2016. The headline result is that renewables as a proportion of electricity generated have risen from 5% in 2000 to 34% in 2015/16 – a green shift of nearly 30% in a decade and a half. (The 2016 total fell back a little from 34% to 33% but the 2017 total so far appears to be resurging.) In just the last 10 years the green shift has seen the proportion of renewable power increase from 16% in 2007 to 34% in 2016 – an 18% shift to green in just a decade. This is an epic result for a system as large as the German – and is far and away (in my view) the greatest achievement of the Energiewende.
Second there is the phase-out of nuclear. Already by the year 2002 there was a government commitment to phase out nuclear – with a deadline set initially at the year 2022, i.e. within 20 years. The reduction in electric energy generated from nuclear sources began around 2006, when it started a decline that has been relentless right up until the present. Over the decade from 2006 to 2016, nuclear generation has declined from 159 TWh in 2006 to 80 TWh in 2016 – or a drop of 79 TWh, falling far short of the increase in power generated by renewables.
The proportion of power generated from nuclear over the same period declined from 12.5% in 2006 down to 5.5% in 2016 – or a 7% decline in a decade. So the expansion in renewables over the past 10 years has more than compensated for the decline in nuclear power. Renewables have grown from 68 TWh in 2006 to 181 TWh in 2016 – or growth of 113 TWh, compared with the decrement of 79 TWh for nuclear. The widespread fear that German renewables would not be able to substitute for nuclear has proven to be unfounded.
Third there has been a moderate reduction in the burning of coal – which was on the way down in the early years of the Energiewende, but then staged a recovery, with coal enjoying a local peak in consumption by power generators in 2013 and it is only now resuming its downward trend. At the same time gas saw a decline as coal consumption bulged, but gas is now increasing again, particularly since 2015, which is only to be expected. It is the continued dependence on coal which has been the least successful aspect of the Energiewende, and the one which is most in need of sustained policy attention in Germany.
Why the German NGOs are not shouting these results from the rooftops is a mystery – they are truly extraordinary results, demonstrating a determination and ambition that is unique in the developed world
If present trends are allowed to continue, the shift in proportion of renewables (18% over the past 10 years), will result in a further such shift over the next 10 years, i.e. to reach a 36% shift over 20 years. Germany would be well on the way towards eliminating coal as a source of power. Chart 1 reveals that renewables should generate more power than coal by the year 2020, crossing over at about 200 TWh per year.
When we turn to capacity shifts, as shown in Chart 2, the situation is even more dramatic. Taking our span as the decade from 2008 to 2017, we see that power capacity drawing on renewable sources has increased from just under 40 GW in 2008 to just over 100 GW in 2017 – or more than 60 GW in the decade. Over the same period the capacity that is nuclear powered has declined from 20 GW in 2008 to just 11 GW in 2017 – meaning that there is little nuclear capacity left in the German system to eliminate.
The green shift in capacity is quite remarkable – with renewables rising as a proportion of electric capacity from 30% in 2008 to 52% in 2016 (and even higher if we count the interim 2017 results). That’s a 22% green shift in capacity in just a decade – compared with an 18% shift in terms of electric power generated. Why the German NGOs are not shouting these results from the rooftops is a mystery – they are truly extraordinary results, demonstrating a determination and ambition that is unique in the developed world.
The driver of all this is of course costs, which have declined precipitately over the past decade while the Energiewende has been in full swing. Costs of solar PV have fallen by 60% since 2009 – at least in California, according to the NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory).
The US NREL has tracked the costs of generating solar PV since 2009. In that year (Q1) the cost of residential rooftop solar PV was 7.1 cents per kW, compared with 2.93 cents in Q1 2016 – a drop of 60% over 7 years. (US Solar Photovoltaic system cost benchmark Q1 2016, at: https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy16osti/67142.pdf)
Does it matter that the green shift in terms of capacity does not correspond to the green shift in terms of power generated? No it doesn’t. It makes sense that the shift in terms of capacity would exceed the shift in terms of electricity generated because nuclear and coal fired power stations tend to have a higher utilization rate than renewables.
The real achievement of the Energiewende is that it has transformed the German energy system in just a decade and a half, ensuring that it is a rising industry, taking over from coal and residual fossil fuels as well as nuclear. The shift is reflected in terms of employment; in terms of investment; in terms of reduced burden on balance of payments for fossil fuel imports; and in terms of engagement with the energy industries of the future (rather than sticking with the energy systems of the past, as the US is doing under Donald Trump). In this sense Germany is emerging as the world’s only serious competitor for China, which is leading the way into the new 21st century energy industry.
Carbon emissions have indeed not fallen by all that much, but that is due to continuing use of fossil fuels in transport and industry
The real losers of the Energiewende have been the big coal-burning and nuclear-power companies, led by the grid giants RWE and E.ON, which enjoyed virtually guaranteed profits for decades. But the last decade of success of the Energiewende has upset these cosy arrangements. The share prices of both RWE and E.ON have plunged, and both companies have been forced to restructure.
In 2016 E.ON took the initiative and split itself into two, with E.ON retaining the renewables and grid parts of the business and a new vehicle, Uniper, taking over the fossil fuels and nuclear operations. Then in 2017 it was the turn of RWE, where a new vehicle, Innogy SE, was created for the renewables activities. Already, by March 2017, the market capitalization of Innogy stood at 18.9 billion Euros (US$20 billion), which was more than double the value of its parent RWE.
The Energiewende has attracted a critical chorus – from the Financial Times (the ‘absurdity of German energy policy’), The Economist (“It’s not easy being green”), Forbes (‘What is so revolutionary about Germany’s Energiewende?’), Forbes again (‘Germany’s green energy policy disaster”), Fortune (‘Germany’s high-priced energy revolution’) et al.
Some of the criticisms are simply laments at the fading fortunes of the primary power generators, RWE and E.ON. This was the case with the Forbes article ‘Germany’s green energy policy disaster’ (January 2017) which simply listed the ways in which the shares and net worth of shareholders in RWE and E.ON were being disadvantaged by the Energiewende – without ever asking whether the companies had been too slow to see the coming changes, and been less than enthusiastic in embracing renewables.
The gist of the main criticisms is that the Energiewende has achieved modest results at a very high price. The criticisms are that it has not reduced carbon emissions by all that much; it has been too expensive; and coal burning remains on a massive scale.
Well – carbon emissions have indeed not fallen by all that much, but that is due to continuing use of fossil fuels in transport and industry. These too need to be cleaned up – but you cannot blame the Energiewende with its focus on electric power generation for that outcome.
Yes, it has been expensive because Germany has been paying generous FiTs for renewable energy supplied to the grid. There was no alternative in the year 2000 when these payments started in earnest. But since then costs of solar PV and wind power have plummeted and so the German government has been able to reduce the FiTs paid accordingly – and in 2016 actually went all the way and introduced public auctions as a way of setting the future FiTs to be paid.
A focus on greening cities, rather than just single sectors taken one at a time, is called for
So the German Energiewende has been expensive because Germany was a first mover and introduced FiTs when solar and wind power was still costing much more than fossil fuels. But now the renewables cost less, and their costs are continuing to fall – so other countries don’t need FiTs, and can actually introduce their own energy transformations without any public subsidies at all.
In fact Germany itself could abandon payment of fresh FiTs for new installations of renewables and allow them to ride the downward cost curve associated with the global learning curve – now that they have been established. And that would enable Germany to confront head-on the issue of legacy subsidies still being paid for fossil fuel supplies – to move to a market-based system across the board.
The fact that coal burning is still at a high level in Germany is the one source of criticism of the Energiewende that really counts. And that is where a carbon tax that would force the pace of a switch to electric vehicles in transport and away from coal in energy-intensive industry (like steel and cement) – if a carbon tax could be made politically acceptable in Germany.
The real result of the Energiewende so far (and it is a work in progress) has been its transformation of the German energy sector, and the unleashing of fresh entrepreneurial forces that usher in the new and drive out the old. This is the very essence of Schumpeterian competition, where the new destroys the old, sweeping it away in a gale of ‘creative destruction’. Just focusing on whether there have been sufficient reductions in carbon emissions (unlikely unless the energy transformation were allowed to encompass transport and industry as well as power generation) clearly falls short as a lens through which to view the Energiewende. Its very breadth and ambition is what marks it out as the only real competitor worldwide for what China is accomplishing in the renewable energy space.
A European Supergrid would provide the infrastructure needed for market exchange of renewable power, which would curb the recent price increases being inflicted on individual countries by fossil fuel dinosaurs
But the costs are still high, and need to be brought down if the energy transformation is to retain its political support in Germany. The Minister of Energy and Industry, Sigmar Gabriel, who is the current driver of the Energiewende, has stated openly that Germans have reached ‘the limit of what we can ask of our economy’ – meaning that costs have to be reined in. And the most obvious way to rein in costs is to change the pricing structures of the electric power grid, allowing new players to enter and offer services that supply renewable power at low marginal cost – without maintaining large fossil-fuelled plants that remain unused for most of the time. These are political challenges that need to be met in the political arena.
What then needs to be done? Claudia Kemfert, a prominent German energy economist, wrote a Commentary for Nature in September where she called for action around three priorities to be tackled by the incoming government after the September 24 elections.
First is to phase out coal, whose elimination from the German energy system is long overdue. Professor Kemfert is surely correct on this point. I have indicated above that Germany could safely eliminate fresh feed-in tariffs now in support of renewables, given that their costs have fallen so dramatically – and at the same time eliminate lingering subsidies paid on fossil fuels. Kemfert quotes a figure of $57 billion paid in subsidies to fossil fuels – far outranking the remaining subsidies paid to renewables via the feed-in tariffs. The German Greens would make a smart choice if they demanded an end to the fossil fuel subsidies in return for dropping fresh subsidies paid to renewable via feed-in tariffs. (Of course there are payments to be made to renewable energy providers under the 20-contracts entered into, which cannot be broken.)
Germany could play a much more decisive role in promoting the coming shift to electric transport, by emulating (and improving on) the Chinese efforts to create a vibrant 21st century electric vehicle ecosystem
Second, the Energiewende could be better integrated with wider concerns over the need for a shift to electric vehicles and energy efficiency, in both buildings and industry. A focus on greening cities, rather than just single sectors taken one at a time, is called for – and here one can only agree, emphatically.
Third, there should be more government investment in R&D (Kemfert quotes data revealing how low Germany’s contribution on this point is) as back-up to Germany’s successful focus on promoting solar and wind power. Kemfert cites the need for much more R&D on energy storage as the emerging sector. Again, no quarrel with that.
I would add to these priorities three more issues calling for attention. The first is the necessity for Germany to lead in building a trans-European Supergrid that is equipped with smart meters and other IT devices to enable it to accommodate fluctuating renewable energy supplies. Germany was one of the proponents of the future-oriented Desertec project, linking producers of solar power in the deserts of North Africa with an upgraded European grid – but that project has failed for lack of support from German industry. Here is where government funds could sensibly be spent to revive the idea. And a European Supergrid would provide the infrastructure needed for market exchange of renewable power – buying and selling – which would curb the recent price increases being inflicted on individual countries by fossil fuel dinosaurs.
Second Germany could meet Chinese competition in the emerging clean energy sector by direct intervention in the German economy, emulating the Chinese practice that has propelled China to world leadership so quickly. A good place to start would be in energy storage, where technological directions and technological competition is still fluid (via standards, patents and public infrastructure development – such as charging stations for electric vehicles).
Third, Germany could play a much more decisive role in promoting the coming shift to electric transport, by emulating (and improving on) the Chinese efforts to create a vibrant 21st century electric vehicle ecosystem. The first step is to ban the sale of new gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles – which France and the UK have already done with respect to a deadline year of 2040. But China has taken a decisive step here, announcing its clear intention to move to outlaw sales of new internal- and external-combustion engine vehicles by a date yet to be announced – shaking the global automotive industry.
The incoming German government election could look to making a similar announcement – to kickstart the serious development of a new clean vehicle industry in Germany.
Acknowledgment: The efforts of Ms Carol Huang in preparing the charts and assisting with the research for the article are gratefully acknowledged.
This article was first published on John Mathews’ new blog Global Green Shift and is republished here with permission.
 Financial Times editorial, ‘The absurdity of German energy policy’, November 26, 2014, at: https://www.ft.com/content/01e65008-74a6-11e4-b30b-00144feabdc0; ‘It’s not easy being green’, The Economist, August 11, 2016, at: https://www.economist.com/news/europe/21704819-even-new-reforms-doubts-remain-about-germanys-energy-transition-its-not-easy-being-green; William Pentland, What is so revolutionary about Germany’s Energiewende? Forbes, December 7, 2015, at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/williampentland/2015/12/07/what-is-so-revolutionary-about-germanys-energiewende/#40b018945160; and Jeffrey Ball, Germany’s high-priced energy revolution, Fortune, March 14, 2017, at: http://fortune.com/2017/03/14/germany-renewable-clean-energy-solar/.
 Panos Mourdoukoutas, Germany’s green energy policy disaster, Forbes, January 22, 2017, at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/panosmourdoukoutas/2017/01/22/germanys-green-energy-policy-disaster/#61c1973071b7
 This is the perspective of the excellent historical treatment of the Energiewende as a product of democratization provided by Arne Jungjohann and Craig Morris in their book Energy Democracy: Germany’s Energiewende to Renewables (2016), now complemented by a website ‘Energy Transition: The global energiewende’ at: https://energytransition.org/
 Jeffrey Michel, Can Germany survive the Energiewende?, Energy Post, March 13, 2014, at: https://energypost.eu/energiewende-doomed/
 Claudia Kemfert 2017. Germany must go back to its low-carbon future, Nature, 549, 26-27 (7 September 2017), at: https://www.nature.com/news/germany-must-go-back-to-its-low-carbon-future-1.22555
Alan Drake says
Energiewende a success ? Not true, just German arrogance and false pride.
From 2007, year of EU mandate to latest data, 2015, Per capita German GHG emissions weee down only -6.5%.
France, with the wildly successful Grenelle, was down -19.6% and Denmark an astounding -31% !!
Alan Drake says
In the article, why is “electric transport” only cars ? A very brown, not green view.
Denmark & France are building new team lines in towns of 100,000 & larger. The capitals are seeing massive expansion of Metros. Denmark is ekectrying 512 km of railways and building a better electric rail link to Germany. France has built TGV in almost every viable market with a major rail Connection to Italy coming. All these are much greener electric transport than electric cars ?
And the greenest transport, even better than walking, is bicycling. Copenhagen is now above 50% of trips by Bicycle while the French are making great and rapid advances. The Germans sit in their cars & emit GHG.
Mike Parr says
Self drive for EVs is coming down the track (level 5) – my guestimate is 2019 for the 1st production vehicles. NVIDIA in the USA has the A4-sized 340TFLOPS processing power to deliver this. Sure you could in vest in trams – or you could just have car share using existing infra’. Who owns the cars (& operates them) then becomes an open (& interesting) question. I like trams – there is a route near me, I use it. They are 19th century tech. Self drive on roads & convert the trams tacks to bike lanes (I own a number of bicycles).
Alan Drake says
Self driving cars will be an environmental negative, perhaps a disaster. They will maintain & expand the dependence on cars. A true self driving car will add a new type of travel – zero occupancy cars on the road.
S. Herb says
The lignite coal interests and traditions are still very strong in several of the German states. What will be needed is tough-love persuasion to make clear that the pressures for shutdown of coal generation will be much higher 10 years from now, and that it is better to work out an orderly withdrawal today than to face an abrupt exit in 10-15 years.
Math Geurts says
So far so good. However, how will the share of renewables grow further in Germany as hydropower can hardly grow, solar does hardly grow (and wil always have limited value far from the equator), biomassa is not popular anymore and many of Germany’s renwable friends are fighting against grids which are needed for the further growth of windpower? With such friends the Energiewende does not need enemies.
Nigel West says
The so called German transformation, at great cost for consumers, is a long way off dealing with the real problem of Germany’s carbon emissions. “In fact in 2016, 7 out of 10 of Europe’s biggest polluters were German lignite power plants.” Carbon emissions per person too in Germany are twice those in France:
Thoughts on the article:
– Generating capacity has doubled from about 100GW to 200GW due to new renewables capacity being added but fossil fired capacity is largely unchanged as Germany needs to maintain at great expense a parallel conventional fleet to cover renewables intermittency.
– Surrounding countries do not want their energy systems dominated by German electricity exports. Germany’s trade surplus is already excessive. Other EU countries want to maintain balanced and secure systems independent of German renewables exports. Desertec is not getting anywhere because of the costs and risks. Likewise, a European supergrid would be too costly and likely would lower national supply security through intermittent energy sources displacing firm local generating capacity.
– The environment issues associated with a huge European supergrid are huge too and is forcing Germany to underground new links at huge cost. Aus. commentators clearly have little understanding of this perhaps as transmission lines in Aus. only disturb kangaroos and sheep.
– Further renewables capacity build will result in curtailment, not increased renewables penetration, as storage is not feasible at scale in Germany which lacks adequate pumped storage opportunities.
– Advocating Germany banning diesel and petrol vehicles merely to drive moving to electric transport is bad science. What’s needed is emissions controls and letting the car makers come up with the best technology solutions.
John’s blog globalgreenshift.org blog mentions how China is tackling emissions through a green shift. However he fails to mention that China has a huge nuclear development programme too. Clearly green prejudice at play together with picking winners, similar to Jacobson and the Stanford Uni. group.
[censored – no personal attacks]
Alan Drake says
In 2007, Per capita Danish GHG emissions were higher than German Per capita GHG emissions. Today (at least with 2015 data), they are lower. The Danes invented modern wind turbines – but half their success is in Transportation (very low electric car subsidies in Denmark – Bicycle, metro, tram, electric railways instead) & agriculture & efficiency.
Per capita, France is now below China.
Germany vetoed EU auto efficiency standards. This raised GHG emissions for every EU member ! That alone balances the modest GHG reductions from Energiewende.
German egos are big, their Climate contributions are not.
Germany needs to reduce emissions from Transportation, industry & agriculture.
Nigel West says
Yes, bikes and electrified public transport is good for the environment and is healthier than cars and the answer to congestion in cities. US electric vehicle fanatics promoting robotaxis and EVs are way behind too. Electrified public transport is the best solution.
I understand German car makers do have a fleet wide emissions target of 130g CO2 which some will miss leading to fines. Germans like their big powerful cars. Their car makers have had to be dragged/coerced into selling lower emission hybrids. German makers seem in no hurry to compete with the Tesla Model S either.
Mike Parr says
Assertion: “Germany needs to maintain at great expense a parallel conventional fleet to cover renewables intermittency”
Reality: Germany has around 15GW of unrealised demand response. This would considerably mitigate (at very low cost) the need to maintain a conventional fleet.
Assertion: ” European supergrid would be too costly”
Question: on what basis? Too costly relevant to what?
Question: how would “intermittent energy sources displace firm local generating capacity”.
Assertion: “The environment issues associated with EU supergrid are huge”
Question: what “environmental issues” – exactly.
Assertion: “Further renewables capacity build will result in curtailment, not increased renewables penetration”
Comment: 50Hertz CEO takes the view that this is not the case.
Question: do you believe that your knowledge is superior to that of a German TSO.
Assertion: “banning diesel and petrol vehicles merely to drive moving to electric transport is bad science”
Question: are you denying that CO2 emissions cause climate change?
Question: What has been the history of German OEMs with respect to car emissions ( ref Cars & Co2 emissions Regulation I & II).
Question: what was the result of the voluntary commitment by Euro OEMs in the late 1990s wrt CO2 emission (hint: no result).
Alan Drake says
The Climate Strategy successes, Denmark & France, do not seek to put ICE drivers into electric cars. In fact, Denmark dramatically reduced their EV incentives. Rather, both nations seek to get people out of cars and onto bicycles and into trams & Metros. The Germans do nothing significant (and barely anything insignificant) here.
Nigel West says
Mr Parr – I’ll leave it to you to prove the economics of a European supergrid, renewables gen. stretching from north Africa to the North Sea and grid scale storage? Compared say to the status quo and new nuclear to displace fossil gen. capacity.
There would be no point building an expensive supergrid across Europe if local firm generation capacity were still required. Loss of reliable local gen. cap. would likely undermine national energy supply security and present political problems for many countries, certainly the UK.
The environmental issues arise with building overhead transmission lines. Germany’s Suedlink needs extensive undergrounding to address those concerns. Placing transmission circuits underground is orders of magnitude more costly than overhead and sterilises swathes of land, all so that views are not ruined.
Germany’s renewables capacity is around 90GW. Peak demand is around 85GW. It’s inevitable that without adequate grid scale storage, increasing renewables capacity will result in more curtailment. Surrounding countries are now installing QBs to regulate German exports. Surplus generation will be prevented from spilling across borders in an uncontrolled manner, e.g. into Poland. So at times requiring curtailment of surplus renewables gen. in Germany.
Do you believe the 50Hertz CEO would risk criticising the Energiewende and upsetting the German government and renewables advocates? TSOs can’t speak freely if it risks undermining Government policy. Curtailment in Germany is already a fact anyway and is growing each year.
The emissions from burning diesel/petrol can be cut substantially by efficient hybrid vehicles, so outright bans on IC engines fitted to cars forcing BEVs is bad science. Even better would be electrified public transport rather than flooding our heavily congested roads with fleets of driverless vehicles. The UK made a big mistake getting rid of electric trams in the 1950s.
Alan Drake says
Pumped storage and scheduling hydro generation are both grid scale storage options. The Swiss have 12 GW of Pumped storage either built or planned. The Swiss, Norwegians and others gave massive amounts that can be throttled back when renewables are in surplus.
The Swiss have had a very profitable trade with the French for decades. They buy cheap French nuclear power at night – holding back water. Then they export peak power back to France at five times the price per MWh. With enough transmission, they and other hydropower should be willing to do the same with renewables. Iceland & Scotland should be willing to do a comparable trade. Wind is best in winter, when Icelandic water turns to ice and reservoirs are drawn down.
Brian Campbell says
So get rid of SAFE French Nuclear which does this at now for a MUCH CHEAPER smaller CO2 footprint then RE?? Religion of NO NUKE== NO MATH == Insanity
Alan Drake says
New nuclear reactors are uneconomic (including the one French one under construction). Meanwhile, Solar got 30% cheaper in just one year (2015) per IEA. Solar projects cheaper than old nukes are starting to appear (1.33 US cents/kWh in Mexico).
Wind is getting much cheaper as well.
Oldest French nukes are getting old enough to retire.
Most economic solution is replace 15% of French electricity from fossil fuels with investments in efficiency and renewables.
Alan Drake says
1) use renewables to replace French nukes as they retire.
2) Build more French Pumped Storage projects (none in the Pyrenees, so there are places to build them) to time shift renewables & nuclear power to demand.
Jeffrey Michel says
While the elimination of coal may be “long overdue” from an academic point of view, there is currently little support for that priority in the lignite mining regions. In the recent federal elections of September 24th, the right-wing AfD received up to one third of the popular vote throughout Lusatia and Central Germany, where about 10% of the country’s electricity is produced from lignite.
The Green Party was supported by less than 5% of the voters despite the growing importance of renewable energies in Brandenburg and Saxony-Anhalt. The AfD also easily outdistanced the Social Democrats (SPD) that had always been the strongest pro-coal party in Germany. Both will now be part of the future parliamentary opposition, but the AfD could prove to be more effective in articulating the concerns of mining communities. Owing to the declining profitability of lignite power generation, both the Energiewende and EU climate policy are generally held responsible for the waning economic fortunes of these regions. Wind and solar farms rarely deliver adequate tax revenues to the communities that host them.
Before viable alternative employment opportunities can be created for the qualified technical personnel in current mining and power plant operations, therefore, any increased insistence on eliminating lignite may drive even more voters away from the very political parties best capable of mobilizing new investments. The growing influence of the AfD may unfortunately have already reduced the credit worthiness of many such ventures, thereby sustaining substandard worker compensation and ongoing demographic erosion.
Incidentally, Sigmar Gabriel became Germany’s foreign minister in January 2017, with Brigitte Zypries named his successor as Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy. As members of the SPD, their ministerial careers are now coming to an end. The upcoming German coalition will be dedicated to promoting the energy transition as the fundamental means of fulfilling the Paris Agreement. However, far more financial resources will need to be provided to the regions entrusted with its implementation.
Alan Drake says
France ended coal mining over a decade ago and the UK closed it’s last underground mine in 2015. Perhaps three or four strip coal mines are left in the UK, and they will be exhausted soon.
It is my understanding that Germany subsidizes coal mining, unlike the more virtuous French & British. The number of miners and power plant operators cannot be large in Germany today. Why do they still have political influence ?
Mike Parr says
The “coal issue” in Germany (as in Poland) is about jobs. The “political dialogue” wrt coal seems to take a “TINA” trajectory (There Is No Alternative). The reality is that German governments of all political complexions support energy efficiency & there are large numbers of houses across Germany that need deep energy rennovations – including the regions where coal is still mined. Energy rennovation is labour intensive, which suggests that if there was a political will to spend money (Germany runs a large budget surplus) , the coal “problem” the jobs problem & perhaps the AfD problem would disappear. Of course, the owners of the old lignite power stations (fully depreciated) are happy with the status quo – they can keep their old stinkers running & make a bit on money.
So: re-train coal workers and have them do something that has high social benefits (making warm energy efficient homes).
Jeffrey Michel says
Your recommended strategy has long been fulfilled in eastern Germany’s lignite mining regions. There are many AfD voters who already live in well-insulated homes with rooftop solar panels. The government had promised that their lives would be improving with these CO2-reduction retrofits. In actuality, the Energiewende has put increasing numbers of them out of work or threatens to do so. Apart from Denmark, they pay the highest retail electricity prices anywhere in the world.
The renewable energy revolution continues to benefit 1) European offshore wind farm corporations, 2) Asian solar equipment manufacturers, 3) Germany’s transmission system operators receiving a guaranteed 9.05% return on new investments in grid expansion, and 4) think tank analysts in Berlin and Brussels whose long-trajectory proposals routinely disregard the bleak economic prospects of rural regions. All of these four interest groups support accelerated lignite phase-out, which would imperil even more jobs and leave mining reclamation costs for the government to pay.
Your appraisal appears correct that lignite power station operators are content with the current situation. The impending retirement of Germany’s final eight nuclear power plants by 2022 is expected to provide them with additional sales revenues. I also concur that the federal government should be providing greater stimulants for local investments that would generate additional business tax revenues for communities and help dispel the current atmosphere of pessimism and despair.
Germany is quite different from Poland and the Czech Republic, where coal and lignite mining not only secures jobs but also remains essential for municipal heating. See Figure 3 in the following treatment: http://cornerstonemag.net/the-eurasian-lignite-backbone/
Wherever district heating services are maintained, the coal issue is generally intertwined with keeping cities warm in the winter. Even Hamburg continues to procrastinate in exploiting its great potential for CO2-neutral district heat. https://energypost.eu/hamburg-considers-innovative-heat-storage-scheme/
Rok Pernus says
Road to hell is paved with good intentions…nowhere is that more obvious than in the German Energiewende…
Claude Mandil says
I am not convinced.
1) As long as there is no massive flexibility capacity available (such as large-scale power storage), fig.2 is meaningless and praising the surge in intermittent capacity is irrelevant.
2) “Carbon emissions have indeed not fallen by all that much, but that is due to continuing use of fossil fuels in transport and industry”. Not true if we look at fig.1: coal and gas in power production have not fallen (or very slightly).
3)”Yes, it has been expensive”. Actually it has been TREMENDOUSLY expensive: more than 400 Billion € for feed-in tariffs!!
4) The burden on the neighbours’ grids has not been mentioned , while grids and coal- and gas-fired powerplants outside Germany are obliged to contribute to the needed flexibility. Actually the Energiewende can be a success only if the neighbours do not do the same, the opposite of Kant’s categorical imperative!
The main question should be: what was the real objective of the Energiewende? If it was phasing out nuclear, success. If it was increasing the share of renewables: success at enormous cost. If it was reducing GHG emissions: total failure. An escape way could be developing CCS, both for coal-fired power plants and for the industry. Unfortunately, the Bundesrat has ruled it out.
Renzo Tavoni says
Just a comment on the assertion of the big succes of energiewende looking at fig1,2. But this is a kind of tautological affirmation because
the program was made to promote renewables and has obtained what has paied and is paying for.
The consideration that RWE and E.ON are encountering economical difficulties is obvious because the program has financed the rival companies.The consideration that the big companies were earning too much was a problem of the political governement that had the possibility of regulating the tariffs.