The German Energy Experiment: Unintended Consequences

atlantic sunrise - Tom ShepstoneTom Shepstone
Natural Gas NOW

 

The German energy experiment known as the Energiewende is creating huge impacts and most of them are not so good. The unintended consequences are huge.

A story at the EIA’s Today In Energy site the other day begins to officially reveal the unofficial problem others have been noticing with the German Energiewende. It stands for an “energy transition policy” that has been lauded around the world by dreamers, fractivists and hustlers who want to get in on the scam. The EIA notes the biggest problem is that this German energy experiment has not produced a balanced energy program but, rather, is leaving the country ever more dependent on two sources; volatile renewables and high carbon coal, forsaking both natural gas and nuclear with some horrendous price impacts, not to mention threats to stability of the entire system.

German Energy

Here are some key facts from the Today In Energy piece written by Sara Hoff (emphasis added):

Renewable electricity generation in Germany increased to 194 billion kilowatthours (kWh) in 2015, representing 31% of the country’s gross electricity generation…In 2015, 44% of Germany’s electricity production was generated from coal, 11% from other fossil fuels, and 15% from nuclear energy.

Electricity generated from renewable sources has tripled in Germany over the past 10 years. Based on Energiewende goals, the share of power generated from renewable sources is set to increase to 40% to 45% by 2025 and to more than 80% by 2050. Most of Germany’s expected growth in renewable electricity comes from solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind, which currently provide 20% of Germany’s total electricity…

The German government has supported renewable electricity growth by promising a fixed, above-market price for every kilowatthour of energy generated by solar PV or wind and delivered to the grid, a policy known as a feed-in tariff. By law, these renewable sources have priority over traditional generation, meaning that other forms of generation must be curtailed to accommodate fluctuations in renewable electricity generation. Over the past five years, these policies have helped to double the amount of wind generation.

Wholesale electricity prices in Germany have been declining, but residential retail prices have risen and are expected to continue to increase because of higher taxes and fees charged to consumers. For instance, one surcharge for renewable electricity increased from 8.8% of the residential electricity price in 2010 to 17% in 2013. Taxes and surcharges make up about half of the average residential electricity rate, and tariffs account for the remainder. In 2014, the average sales-weighted retail price for residential consumption in Germany was about 35 cents/kWh, while the average residential retail price in the United States was about 13 cents/kWh. Along with Denmark, Germany has among the highest residential electricity prices in Europe.

As a net electricity exporter, Germany’s rapid growth in electricity production has created problems for both Germany and its neighbors. Germany currently lacks the infrastructure to send surplus electricity from the north to the more populous areas in the south. A large volume of the surplus power instead flows through transmission grids to Germany’s neighbors, often creating power surges. Poland and the Czech Republic have invested in technology to avoid blackouts from power surges that originate in Germany on particularly windy days. Germany has identified the need for more than 3,800 kilometers of new transmission lines that would run from the north to the south of Germany to meet increasing growth in both electricity demand and supply, but these infrastructure proposals have been opposed by municipalities and citizens.

Everything we have said here about the problems with renewables, which are a very good thing if not forced, but a very bad thing when they are, is reflected in the German energy experiment. The subsidies are ultimately unaffordable and completely distort the system, causing imbalance and creating dependence on too few sources. The need for power on demand also means coal (and German lignite is particularly dirty coal) remains a much bigger part of the picture than it needs to be. The heavy reliance on renewables interjects extreme volatility into the system, threatening it’s very survival both economically and physically. The infrastructure required to deliver renewables power where it can be used, if at all, is opposed by everyone (not to mention the wind towers).

German Energy

German Energy

This is the problem with force-fed renewables, but it’s just the beginning. An article in Die Welt and translated here points out some of the other problems suggesting the German energy experiment is wrecking the laboratory:

And for a few minutes last Pentecost Monday afternoon – a holiday that saw very low national electricity demand – wind and solar provided almost enough power to cover all of the country’s electricity needs, reported Die Welt here. Leading Greens cheered, and proclaimed that coal and nuclear had not been needed for a time. But they cheered “too early” writes Die Welt’s business journalist , pointing out that market and technical conditions became dangerously precarious and that in total “electricity represents only 21% of Germany’s total energy need.”

While Germany’s installed solar and wind energy may be able to get fairly close to fulfilling total electricity demand for a few minutes in rare instances that weather and demand conditions are just right, their share of total primary energy is still depressingly measly. Die Welt puts it all in true perspective:

“Despite billions in subsidies, ‘renewable energies’ wind and sun covered only 3.7% of Germany’s primary energy needs last year.”

Another debilitating feature of the weather-dependent renewable energies are the havoc they create on the electricity exchanges. Last week’s power grid overloading by wind and sun led to deep negative wholesale prices.

Spiegel here writes that the wholesale power price plummeted to -130 euros per megawatt (see blue curve in the right chart)! Literally, foreign consumers were being paid to take the power. (The black curve shows total German demand).

german energy

Moreover the phenomenon of negative wholesale prices (i.e. excessive power feeding uncontrollably into the grid) occurred a record 25 times in 2015, Spiegel writes. That was 4 times more often than in 2011.

With wholesale electricity prices dipping into negative territory, one might think that power must be very cheap for the consumer. Unfortunately this is not the case. At negative prices power companies lose money, and so are then forced to pass along these extra costs along to the end consumers. German consumers are paying close to €0.30 for each kilowatt-hour they consume – among the highest in the world.

The situation has gotten so alarming that leading politicians of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU conservative party are now demanding an end to subsidies for new wind and solar installations.

Not only Germany is struggling with wildly fluctuating grid and market conditions, which are leading to massive costs and pain for consumers, but so is Denmark. Die Welt writes:

“The situation has also led wind energy leader Denmark to a rethinking. Press reports say that Energy Minister Lars Christian Lilleholt has stopped the planned construction of five large offshore wind farms in order to protect consumers from large cost increases.”

As this article demonstrates, renewables are having a big impact on German energy only if one focuses on electricity and ignores both other energy needs and the fact many, perhaps most, of those impacts are horrendous for the consumer, not to mention the environment. A much more balanced approach that includes a variety of energy sources and, especially, energy efficiency (a far better bet than renewables), shale gas and nuclear is essential. Those very obvious facts are started to be noticed and that’s a good thing but those dreamers, fractivists and hustlers can be expected to make excuses and keep the scam going as long as possible until circumstances force a change in direction, which may be sooner than they imagine.

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21 thoughts on “The German Energy Experiment: Unintended Consequences

    • Are you sure, Stan? How do you know? Let me also that if they are photoshopped it was probably done by starting with the after picture and deleting the windmills to create the before. Do you think that’s unfair.

      • 1. I am sure. How do I know? Well, let me say if it looks like a scam, smells like a scam, walks like a scam, and protests so much like a scam, then it is a scam.

        Why include phony data to make a point?

        2. And, so what if it was done one way or another?

        • So, you don’t really know and don’t care? You’re want to believe and it doesn’t matter if the after picture is real or not? You’ve just demonstrated who you really are, Stan.

        • Scobie- why don’t you explain to me why the elitist ithaca snobs won’t site their token wind turbine project in Cayuga Heights right next to Cornell, which would make transmission lines optimally short? it’s a location with near identical wind potential to Connecticut Hill- but of course the latter is 15 miles away where the NIMBY hypocrites won’t have to see or hear them.

          yesterday it took a motorcycle ride up around C Hill and there are numerous “no turbines near our homes” yard signs out.

          the sanctimonious left forces its radical agenda on the poor and disenfranchised. you’ve already stolen billions in mineral rights from Southern tier landowners via the most corrupt administration in recent NY history. you people think you can poke at a hornets nest indefinitely with no consequences. the arrogance of a small number of academics and their foundation funders is not democracy- it’s open class warfare.

          • Hey, Keith, send along some pics of those anti-windmill signs the Ithaca’s are putting up!

  1. I notice that “balance” is mentioned. And also that this energy topic is actually complex in every way.

    I would recommend just reading the former ferc chair’s speech to press from early last year as it mentions balance specifically. Her speech was used by the antifracking pipeline resistance movement to both promote themselves as infrastructure opposition is specifically mentioned and to demonize FERC. But here is an article instead of the speech:

    http://www.nei.org/News-Media/News/News-Archives/FERC-Head-Says-New-Infrastructure-Needed-to-Meet-C

    • Ms. Orlando

      Your reference to “this energy topic is actually complex in every way” is both profoundly accurate and at the core of a great many of the current – and near future – events regarding fossil fuel use, electricity/heat consumption and production.
      I have little doubt that Ms. Scroggins and a great many of her peers are sincere in their beliefs of ‘doing good’ as many of my friends and relatives are in sync with her views.
      However, as the German experience, as outlined above by Mr. Shepstone reveals, a whole lot more consequences come into play in these situations … many unintended and unwanted.

      I would refer you all to check out the unfolding drama in New England these past several weeks, post Constitution and NED pipelines being shelved.
      The site ‘masslive.com’ contains the most recent extraordinary information – depicted in timeline fashion should one use the site’s search function for natgas pipeline opposition.

      When the staunchest of pipeline opponenents, politicians Rosenberg and Kulik, are now pleading/demanding local distributor Berkshire Gas build LIQUID NATURAL GAS infrastructure so as to provide NATGAS to locals …
      When the city of New Canaan CT frantically launches a multi decade long program of burying propane tanks near schools, goverment buildings in order to keep the occupants from freezing …
      Even the most fervent accolytes of Ra and Zephyr must sense that ‘something’ has gone awry.

      • I may have read something about a ban on pipelines within a mile of school, residential neighborhoods and more passing in massachesetts. Is this what you are referring to?

        There is hysteria if you asked me about natural gas issues including pipelines and a lot of misinformation.

        • Ms. Orlando
          There had been planned a big natgas pipeline, Northeast Energy Direct, to bring a couple of billion cubic feet a day of fuel into New England from the Marcellus.
          After nonstop, fierce opposition from elected officials and numerous demonstrators, the builder, Kinder Morgan, said a few weeks ago “Screw it!” and revoked their project. (They have a TON of other pipelines to build, especially into Mexico).
          Now, the folks up in Beantown area are recognizing what the ISO folks (the non profit that manages New England’s electric grid) have been saying for years … more gas is desperately needed.

          Problem is, sans pipelines to deliver supply, there isn’t enough during the cold days of winter.
          As far as pipelines near schools, every structure in this country, residential, commercial, schools, whatever, ALL need some type of piping to transmit the fuel.

          You ever see all those ‘pipes’ sticking up near buildings about three foot high, go horizontal a few feet and then back underground? That’s natgas pipeline. It is every where in this country.

  2. http://www.ferc.gov/about/com-mem/lafleur/lafleur-highlights.asp

    A transcript of this speech is available there. Antifracking pipeline activists have clearly read the speech as they cherrypicked quotes from it about themselves and pipeline opposition. They conveniently left out the context in which the natural gas pipeline opposition was mentioned as that information does not support the narrative they are attempting to sell the nation. This is the story about how the antifracking natural gas pipeline resistance movement is saving the nation and world from the evil ferc monster and climate change when the reality is the antifracking natural gas pipeline resistance movement is in opposition to the least carbon intensive fossil fuel, one that it has been acknowledged is presently helping the nation reduce co2 emissions.

  3. https://www.linkedin.com/in/kate-sinding-1b3245a

    Antifracking activism by the way does wonders for people’s careers and stature. Whether Kate sinding at NRDC or folks like Patrick Robbins of sane energy and various other groups who are likely enjoying seeing themselves as important sources on the spectra aim pipeline in the nytimes or on the antifracking natural gas pipeline and infrastructure movement in the nytimes as well as all kinds of news coverage.

    Stan scobie is not the only important expert now on lots of things advising politicians or explaining everything having to do with natural gas to the press.

  4. https://www.propublica.org/article/more-reasons-to-question-whether-gas-is-cleaner-than-coal

    To sum up what a terrific response to stan scobie would be when discussing natural gas one might ask him if he is attempting to “baffle with bulls*it” not dazzle with data as he is likely to understand the phrase as he has used it himself to describe something or other about academia.

    Fractivists are certainly baffling and the ones I am familiar with use the material stan scobie mentions all the love long day. They fling it everywhere.

  5. “Antifracking pipeline activists have clearly read the speech as they cherrypicked quotes from it about themselves and pipeline opposition.”

    This quote is true and the first pont in showing that discourse with anitfracking forces is the absolutely wrong thing to do. It can only hurt and will NEVER help.

  6. This is a good article showing the complexities. There are no doubt ugly landscapes, farming acreages used, and pesticides aplenty under the solar panels, but as for the pictures – the windmills are added to the first picture unless it is possible to have the clouds be exactly the same by chance in the second picture.

  7. Pingback: Queensland Fracking Lesson: Renewables Depend on Natural GasNatural Gas Now

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