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Germany, a thriving economic powerhouse under the Chancellorship of Angela Merkel, is also a renewable energy superstar and a country that is loaded with potential.
Lately, the Germans have taken a break from aggressively adding renewable energy to their grid by ending a lucrative feed-in-tariff (FiT) subsidy program that ramped-up the adoption of solar, wind and biomass installations across the country.
Not that these so-called ‘lucrative’ subsidies approached anywhere near what fossil fuel and nuclear power plant operators receive and have received since the postwar period began, as all energy in Germany (like most countries) is heavily subsidized by taxpayers but only the (much smaller) renewable energy subsidies get the headlines. Go figure.
Chancellor Angela Merkel made the courageous decision to accelerate the shutdown Germany’s nuclear power plants in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster in 2011 after stress tests of German nuclear power plants showed safety concerns existed within their nuclear fleet. She ushered in meaningful FiT subsidies to speed the German Energiewende program towards its goal of transition to renewable energy and greater energy efficiency — which had received only sporadic subsidies prior to Merkel.
Snapshot of the German Energiewende program
- A popular Germany-only program to move towards a highly industrialized, sustainable green economy
- Full phase-out of nuclear energy by 2022
- 80-95% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050
- Minimum of 80% renewables in the power sector
- 50% increase in energy efficiency by 2050
Germany’s utility companies haven’t seen change like this since WWII. After a century of serving conventionally-generated electrical power to a captive electricity market — approximately 1/3 of all German electricity is now generated via renewable energy if you include nuclear, biomass and hydro-power. That’s historic change by any standard.
Although solar panel outputs are lower during the winter months, over the late spring and summer of 2014 renewable energy generated more than 75% of total demand on many of those days. Not bad, for 5 years of relatively minor renewable energy subsidy euros provided by a (now ended) Feed-in-Tariff!
Another benefit of the switch to renewable energy was the added billions of euros of economic activity generated annually by European solar panel and wind manufacturing companies like Vestas, SolarWorld, Siemens, ABB, and the jobs created for hundreds of SME renewable energy installation companies in the country.
Exports of German solar panels and wind turbines went through the stratosphere — once Germany proved to the world that solar and wind could replace lost nuclear power generation capacity at a much lower cost than building new, multi-billion euro, nuclear or coal-fired power plants with their massive footprint on the land and their obscene water usage levels.
For Germany, installing their own solar, wind and biomass power plants proved to the world that large-scale renewable energy could add huge capacity to a nation’s electrical grid and that different types of renewable energy could work together to balance the over-hyped ‘intermittency problem’ of renewable energy.
It turns out that in Germany, during the long, hot days of summer when solar panels are putting out their maximum power the wind actually tapers off, but at night the wind blows at a very reliable rate. Karmic bonus! That about covers the summer months.
During the winter months in Germany, the wind blows day and night, adding significant amounts of reliable power to the national grid.
And now, all of that renewable energy capacity is operating without FiT subsidy — quite unlike the coal, nuclear, and oil and gas power generation in the country which require huge and ongoing subsidies every day of the year to continue operations. That’s every day since 1946, meine Freunde!
Also a factor with coal-fired power plants are the massive healthcare spending to combat the adverse health effects of fossil fuel burning/air pollution on humans and animals, on the agriculture sector. And the hugely expensive security infrastructure necessary to preclude theft of nuclear materials and nuclear related terror attacks.
While the rest of Europe (with the exception of notables like Norway, Sweden and Luxembourg) wallowed in recession or near-recession since 2008, the German economic powerhouse not only set global export records year-on-year, it bailed-out numerous other EU economies like Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and others, and began an unprecedented domestic renewable energy program. And now, Germany is an electricity net exporter.
That’s heady stuff, even for this industrious nation of 82 million.
Where to next?
Not only has Germany added many TeraWatt hours (TWh) of clean, renewable energy to its electrical grid to replace lost nuclear power generation, it is now an electricity net exporter — raking in millions of euros per year at present — and make that an electricity exporting superpower if they ever decide to revive their now defunct Feed-in-Tariff subsidy for renewable energy.
Replacing coal with renewable energy in Germany:
If Germany revived the previous FiT regime for 5 years, *all brown coal electrical power generation* could be eliminated within 10 years.
If Germany revived the previous FiT regime for 10 years, *all brown coal and black coal electrical power generation* could be eliminated within 10 years.
Replacing coal with renewable energy in Germany would save millions of Germans, Polish, Swiss, Austrians and others living downwind of German smokestacks from breathing toxic coal-fired air pollution. Think of the health care savings and the taxes involved to support this. Some people believe that the health care savings alone could far exceed the cost of any FiT subsidy.
Not only that, but as a result of leaving coal behind, historic buildings, concrete bridges and roadways would require less maintenance to repair the spalling caused by the acid rain from coal burning. Additionally, Germany would save the millions of litres of water consumed annually by the coal industry.
Replacing coal with renewable energy in Germany would create thousands more jobs for solar, wind, and biomass manufacturing and construction, the agriculture sector would begin to show ever-improving crop outputs and importantly, leave clean air to breathe for tourists, expats and German citizens!
A note about (renewable energy) Hybrid power plants
An energy policy stroke of genius for Germany could come in the form of a new subsidy (a FiT or other type of subsidy) that could be offered to promote the installation of Hybrid power plants — whereby 30% of electricity generated at a given power plant site would come from solar and the balance could come from any combination of wind, biomass, or hydro-electric generation. (30% solar + 70% various renewable = 100% of total per site output)
As long as all of the electrical power generation at such a site is of the renewable energy variety and it all works to balance the intermittency of solar power, then it should receive automatic approval for the (hereby proposed) Energiewende Hybrid Power Plant subsidy.
When all the different types of renewable energy work in complementary fashion on the same site, energy synergy (the holy grail of the renewable energy industry) will be attained.
More jobs, billions of euros worth of electricity exports to the European countries bordering Germany, lower health care spending, less environmental damage and better agricultural outputs — all at a lower subsidy level than coal and nuclear have enjoyed every year since 1946 — are precisely why Germans should renew their commitment to renewable energy.
Seriously, what’s not to like?
Bonus energy graphic shows the various kinds of energy extant in Germany at the end of 2014.
- Energiewende: energy transition in Germany (The Guardian)
- Sustainable Energy has Merit in Germany (JohnBrianShannon.com)
- German solar ambitions at risk from cuts to subsidies (The Guardian)
- German energy giant E.ON to focus on renewables (Deutsche Welle)
- Hybrid Energy Systems Key To Future Of Renewable Energy (CleanTechnica)
- Fraunhofer ISE Electricity production from solar and wind in Germany in 2014 (Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE)
by Zachary Shahan.
Fossil fuels have dominated the global energy market and even the global economy for a long time. You would think that such mature industries wouldn’t need government subsidies — their annual revenue and profits are mind-boggling. However, with money comes power. And that money-power has a stranglehold on governments of the world such that it convinces governments to give them even more money in subsidies.
Another recent study comes to the conclusion that the total annual subsidies fossil fuel companies get from governments in the developed world comes to about half a trillion dollars. This follows a 2010 study from the International Energy Agency that found fossil fuel industries got $550 billion in annual subsidies.
It almost sounds like a joke — some of the richest companies in the world get $500 billion in government handouts. Just picture the rich, old, white men laughing their buns off about the way they have the most powerful governments in the world wrapped around their pinkie finger… or at least wrapped around the fingers that sign checks for our politicians’ election campaigns.
The latest study on this matter, Time to change the game, finds that the average resident of the world’s richest countries donates $112 a year to fossil fuel companies in the form of subsidies.
What are those subsidies for?
Well, as a press release about the new study notes, “these subsidies create perverse incentives favouring investment in carbon-intensive energy.” Yep, we’re encouraging the use of fossil fuels that harm our health, our climate, and our environment rather than using that money to transition away from these harmful sources and towards a truly clean energy economy.
The proposal from study author Shelagh Whitley is that G20 nations phase out fossil fuel subsidies completely by 2020. Whitley states:
The rules of the game are currently biased in favour of fossil fuels.
The status quo encourages energy companies to continue burning high-carbon fossil fuels and offers no incentive to change. We’re throwing money at policies that are only going to make the problem worse in the long run by locking us into dangerous climate change.
Here are just a few of the staggering statistics from Time to change the game:
The average subsidy provided by rich governments for every tonne of carbon is $7. This is the same as the current cost of carbon in the EU carbon trading system – meaning the carbon price may as well not exist.
Domestic subsidies in rich countries outstrip international climate finance provided to help address climate change in developing countries by a ratio of 7:1.
In some countries – India, Pakistan and Bangladesh – fossil fuel subsidies are more than double the level of spending on health services.
In countries such as Egypt, Pakistan, Morocco and Bangladesh, fossil fuel subsidies outweigh the national fiscal deficit.
Yep, you’ve got coal in your stocking, thanks to subsidies that have no place in a free market. Oddly, “free market idealists” never seem to complain about this matter.
Notably, G20 countries have agreed to phase out fossil fuel subsidies, with leadership on this matter actually coming from President Obama. An agreement made in September regarding the methodology for a new peer-review process of evaluating fossil fuel subsidies. This followed a 2009 agreement to phase out such subsidies. Obviously, though, they aren’t rushing through the process… 4 years and we’ve got an agreement on a peer-review process?
For more uplifting fossil fuel info, check out: Top 10 Toxic Ingredients Used In The Fossil Fuel Industries.
All images via the Overseas Development Institute
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This article, Fossil Fuels Get Half-A-Trillion-Dollar Christmas Present From Taxpayers, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.