Subscribe to our list »
Connect with us on Social Media
trueHUE® Water cooler stories
The vision of the fantastic new world of the future was born eight years ago, on March 11, 2011, the day an earthquake-triggered tsunami damaged the nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan. The disaster led Chancellor Angela Merkel and her cabinet to resolve to phase out nuclear power in Germany. It was an historic event and an historic decision.
But the sweeping idea has become bogged down in the details of German reality. The so-called Energiewende, the shift away from nuclear in favor of renewables, the greatest political project undertaken here since Germany’s reunification, is facing failure. Politicians are terrified of resistance from the voters, whenever a wind turbine needs to be erected or a new high-voltage transmission line needs to be laid out.
But the grand transformation has lost its way. The expansion of wind parks and solar facilities isn’t moving forward. There is a lack of grids and electricity storage — but for the most part there is a lack of political will and effective management.
In December 2015, Merkel signed the Paris Agreement on climate change, in which Germany pledged to do its part to slow global warming. More than three years have passed and almost nothing has been done. The migration debate and the rise of the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany have largely shunted the issue of climate change.
The German government made a key mistake when it announced the end of the nuclear era in Germany eight years ago: It announced it was turning away from nuclear power, without simultaneously initiating the end of coal.
Wind turbines and solar panels were installed across the country — but the coal-fired power plants kept operating.
Germany has never come up with a clear strategy for the shift to renewables, fully thought out from the beginning to end. There have always been two competing concepts of the Energiewende, even before Merkel.
More than a decade ago, the German government passed a resolution to quickly build the necessary high-voltage transmission lines, with experts today saying there is a need for 7,700 kilometers (4,800 miles) of such lines. But only 950 have been built. And in 2017, only 30 kilometers of lines were built across the whole country.
The degree to which this has depressed investment can be seen at the auctions held by the Federal Network Agency to sell licenses for wind park construction. These days, there are fewer people taking part in the auctions than there are commissions available — which means there is no longer any competition.
The number of new construction projects has collapsed in Germany, with just 743 new wind turbines joining the grid last year, 1,000 fewer than in the previous year. In Bavaria, Germany’s largest state, just eight went into operation. The wind power boom is over, and manufacturers are suffering. That means that if renewable capacity isn’t quickly expanded, a shortage could soon develop. All it would take is an overcast cold spell in 2023 with no sun and no wind. Should the so-called “dark doldrums” continue for several days, the system could quickly reach its limits. Mid-January 2017 was the last time Germany experienced such a situation.
Soon, the coal- and natural gas-fired power plants that have traditionally been used to maintain grid stability in such periods will no longer be there, and a solution must quickly be found to address the issue.
Germany generates 35 percent of the electricity it needs from wind, sun, biomass and hydro and last year, renewables caught up with coal as Germany’s most important source of electricity. And yet, none of this is much more than a good start.
There are around 19 million residential structures in Germany, but only just over 4 million of them have been brought up to state-of-the-art energy efficiency standards. Many heating units are outdated and around a quarter of the buildings are still heated with oil.
According to ESYS, Germany needs to increase its solar- and wind-facility capacity by a factor of five to seven, make synthetic fuel a pillar of the energy system and introduce a CO2 tax in all sectors. According to ESYS predictions, the transformation would cost 2 percent of the country’s annual GDP. Currently, that would be about 70 billion euros.
By 2050, the costs would add up to 2 to 3.4 trillion euros, depending on the scenario. Other forecasts fluctuate between 500 million and about 2 trillion euros. One way or the other, the second part of the Energiewende will be expensive and exhausting, a project as demanding as German reunification.