Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Greening of Germany

It’s nice enough to engage in spirited debate over climate change and the need for renewable energy. But, the proof is in the practice. In this case we should examine what happens when a nation decides to shift its energy production from fossil fuels and nuclear to more environmentally friendly and primitive means like solar and wind power. 

As we speak, Germany is engaged in leading the world toward renewable energy. Proposed by Chancellor Angela Merkel the policy enjoys support from all political groups.

Thus, it is not easy to affix blame for the new wave of what Germans are calling “energy poverty.” There's plenty to go around.

The New York Times opens its story about the fallout of the green energy initiative:

It is an audacious undertaking with wide and deep support in Germany: shut down the nation’s nuclear power plants, wean the country from coal and promote a wholesale shift to renewable energy sources.

But the plan, backed by Chancellor Angela Merkel and opposition parties alike, is running into problems in execution that are forcing Germans to come face to face with the costs and complexities of sticking to their principles.

German families are being hit by rapidly increasing electricity rates, to the point where growing numbers of them can no longer afford to pay the bill. Businesses are more and more worried that their energy costs will put them at a disadvantage to competitors in nations with lower energy costs, and some energy-intensive industries have begun to shun the country because they fear steeper costs ahead.

Newly constructed offshore wind farms churn unconnected to an energy grid still in need of expansion. And despite all the costs, carbon emissions actually rose last year as reserve coal-burning plants were fired up to close gaps in energy supplies.

A new phrase, “energy poverty,” has entered the lexicon.

No one seems to have thought out all the potential obstacles, because, in all fairness, no one could have done so. Yet, it feels like a perfectly reactionary policy, designed to make enlightened people feel like they are doing the right thing, regardless of the consequences.

The Times continues:

One of the first obstacles encountered involves the vagaries of electrical power generation that is dependent on sources as inconsistent and unpredictable as the wind and the sun.

And no one has invented a means of storing that energy for very long, which means overwhelming gluts on some days and crippling shortages on others that require firing up old oil- and coal-burning power plants. That, in turn, undercuts the goal of reducing fossil-fuel emissions that have been linked to climate change.

Last year, wind, solar and other nonfossil-fuel sources provided 22 percent of the power for Germany, but the country increased its carbon emissions over 2011 as oil- and coal-burning power plants had to close gaps in the evolving system, according to the German electricity association BDEW.

The best part of the story is that the new policy has effectively increased carbon emissions.

Hats off to the new greener Germany. Will the last person leaving the room blow out the candle.


David Foster said...

"No one seems to have thought out all the potential obstacles, because, in all fairness, no one could have done so."

Maybe not ALL the potential obstacles, but it should have been pretty obvious that (a) Germany does not exactly share the sunny climate of, say, southern Italy, and (b) as any power-system dispatcher could have told them, managing the grid is difficult under the best of circumstances, and is made much harder when energy sources cannot be explicitly turned on when needed and instead fluctuate in unpredictable ways.

Disappointed in Merkel, who as a math major should have been able to understand such issues better than the typical lawyer-politician.

Anonymous said...

As an aside, I was reading a WSJ article about the issues the German Green Party is having in this current election cycle. Stuff like an incoherent economic/industrial policy, a past where the party endorsed pedophilia (fitting, no?), etc. it just made me think that a maturing ideological cause has to deal with moving from fantasyland to reality of governance if it wants to be taken seriously. Can a majority take them seriously.

Green Party = Primitive Party. That's what "energy poverty" is all about, no? Poverty is certainly a hallmark of primitive economic systems.

Most parties have historical figures as champions or ideological standard-bearers, like FDR for Democrats, Lincoln for Republicans, Marx & Lenin for Communists. Which images would American Greens choose? Saul Alinsky, Bill Ayers, Ted Kaczynski?


Gary said...

Anyone even slightly knowledgeable about power grids knew that multiple uneven output electrical sources would be impossible to integrate into an electrical grid (if you want it to function). I have seen statements that anything above the low-20's percent of chaotic electrical sources (think windmills) makes grid problems inevitable.
Also, using base load type power sources (like coal/nuc plants) as intermittent backup for windmills is incredibly inefficient. Those types of heat engines only work well when run at constant loads. Only gas turbines and hydro can cycle up and down rapidly. Even with gas turbines the most efficient type cannot vary output rapidly.
"Green" energy is a scam created to enrich insiders. It's result will be death and poverty. Both results have already been seen in Great Britain and Europe as the frail and elderly die because they cannot afford heat. Jobs flee high costs (especially energy intensive industries).
The Greens want to create a desert and call it prosperity (to paraphrase).
The idea that "no one could have predicted this" is self-serving BS from the guilty and their useful idiots.
Anyone that should have been allowed to manage a power grid knew this would happen. This is what you get when the idiots (read politicians and green fanatics) are allowed to run amok.

n.n said...

The premise of "green" energy is false. The technology of solar panels and windmills causes environmental and human disruption during recovery, processing, deployment, and recovery. The technology is not renewable. Only the driver (e.g. solar radiation, convection currents) are renewable. Neither technology can be reasonably isolated from the environment and is therefore unsuitable to provide a base load without a backup measure including energy storage devices (e.g. batteries), which are clearly not "green". Ironically, oil is one of the few natural resources from which energy is extracted and is truly green. It's toxicity is circumstantial and, as with every other chemical, including water and oxygen, its dangerous side-effects are correlated with concentration.

That said, each technology should be evaluated in context (e.g. location, application) and exploited accordingly. We cannot have a proper debate of the merits of each technology when there is a campaign to spread distortions and cast dispersions. In this, the new guard (e.g. environmentalists) has been especially detrimental to realizing positive progress.

Sam L. said...

Tip, those 3 guys you named are progressive heroes, not green heroes (I'm pretty sure).

Solar panels and firefighters:

Anne said...

Der Spiegel (English) writes about it quite often. Their latest is much like the NYT article, with more detail, here.

Dennis said...

Connections, connections, connections. Am I the only one who sees how so much of the ills we suffer as a society are tied to the same progressives philosophies.
As one can readily see Hitler and his followers would have felt right at home in the environmental groups of today. In fact, even though many of them are unaware of it, the tenets held in high regard comes directly from Hitler's minions and those who came before them they used to justify those ideas. Abortion, Eugenics, infanticide, pedophilia, nature's primacy over man, et al is a common thread among Bill Ayers, Saul Alinsky and anyone who would kill as many people as possible to create their version of utopia. Why would one see the big push to dehumanize anyone who might disagree with them?

Anonymous said...

Blaming various political factions for complex social problems is called scapegoating. Energy costs are rising because fossil fuels are scarce and demand is rising around the globe. The energy payback ratio for fossil fuels is declining as demand goes up. It takes more energy to produce energy than it did in the past when "cheap" oil was near the surface of the earth, not at the bottom of the deep oceans. There is no shortage of power from sunlight - it is the most abundant fuel source available every day to power life around the globe. There is a shortage of nanotechnology to exploit sunlight and store energy in a clean widely distributed manner. Advances in nanotechnology will solve the energy problem some day in the distant future. I used to think "clean coal" was a crock until I realized that instead of running an oxidation-reduction reaction via combustion it may be possible to extract the free energy in coal via a cleaner and more efficient chemical process. But a better solution than that is to learn how to convert solar power into a high density energy storage without having to mine coal as a non-renewalbe energy store.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Balderdash! Holding politicians accountable for their policies is not scapegoating. Perhaps you should look the word up in a dictionary.

You and everyone else who loves the more natural forms of energy talk about the "distant future." How many jobs are you willing to lose in the process. And how many blackouts will the population be willing to suffer.

You neglect the role of natural gas and uranium. Politicians who decide that the one is too dirty and the other too dangerous must be held accountable for the consequences.

You cannot run a modern economy on rosy scenarios.

Anonymous said...

If jobs are the issue, then the problem is finance (credit) not energy. The United States could have a full employment economy if the federal government were simply willing to finance a Job Guaranty Program.

Energy payback ratios for fossil fuels are declining. Which politicians are to blame for the decline in energy payback ratios?

Anonymous said...

Here is a fact sheet on energy payback ratios.

When energy payback ratios rise then society spends more GDP on energy as a percentage of the budget. The global burn rate on fossil fuels reduces the energy payback ratio on these fuels. Politicians cannot change the nature of scarcity nor suspend the laws of physics. We can drive the price of anything down in the short run by political and financial arrangements, but the political and financial games of today cannot change the long term natural reality.

Nuclear fuels are scarce too if we ramp up the nuclear fleet the cost of fuel must go up.

Dennis said...

Where do revenues come from to be utilized by the government? What kind of jobs are the government going to guarantee and would people actually respect those jobs How much innovation is going to come from a "guaranteed" job? Are we just interested in survival and security at the expense of other considerations? If those jobs cause a misallocation to the lower end of life won't that cause a large amount of money chasing a diminishing supply? Just who is smart enough to know the exact amount of necessities, production, et al to meet the needs of a growing thriving economy? Are we going to have five year plans with the same success that happened in the USSR? Does the costs of various products go down as more is produced? Would that be affected by other alternatives sources?
More basically, why do we have money? Why is it called a "medium of exchange?" Just what is being exchanged for that "medium?" Does money have a "multiplicative factor" and what kind of jobs have the highest factor? How many "third party" businesses grow from a product?
Some of this folderol shows a basic misunderstanding of a large number of issues. Almost none of the "green energies' are the answer, and in many cases have their own problems, to long term energy needs. Right now a balance of what we have available will do until we discover other forms. This will maintain a maximum of real employment possibilities, higher employment prospects and grow the economy for everyone which government will never accomplish. ROI are dynamic, not static. They are subject to a large number of factors.

Anonymous said...

Fossil fuels are following the natural growth curve or S curve in which increasing energy inputs are now getting a diminishing return of output. When the energy payback declines to 1 to 1 a barrel of oil would be burned to recover 1 barrel of oil.

All scarce nonrenewable fuels will follow the natural S curve. They will all reach a point of diminishing returns because they are scarce and nonrenewable.

Money and credit are just tools that we invent by book-keeping entries. I had an excellent Accounting 101 teacher in Community College who taught me "A debit is a side of a page in a book. A credit is a side of a page in a book."

The federal government did a fine job winning World War II by using federal credit, and it kept the debt to GDP ratio high to build the country up after the war. The government or the banks create new dollar savings accounts which is the credit necessary to create jobs in a modern economy, and if the banks don't create jobs via credit, only the federal government can do that job of creating the credit that creates jobs. We could use local or distributed intelligence to better decide what jobs should be funded, and central credit of the nation to finance those jobs. The only types of society with unemployment are capitalist societies, that is, societies with private property and legal finance somehow generate involuntary unemployment. This is not simply because governments exist it is a property of the legal and financial system that is capitalism.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9/23/13 @6:24 PM:

Delicious postmodern tripe. Nothing is real, everything is invented. How convenient.

And the U.S. government sponsored this massive project to build an atomic bomb and end the war against Japan, sparing 1 million lives. Imaginary?

Hydrocarbons are inexpensive, economical and flexible. The preeminence of fossil fuels can only be discarded or marginalized through policy nonsense, phony science and blatant lying. Kind of like the postmodern beliefs about the supremacy of "narrative," correct?

We invent things to solve problems. We exploit resources to meet needs.

People cannot just make @#$% up and think that it will last forever. Finance will never solve the real impact of a furnace in a frigid environment that doesn't have any fuel. People will die. These are not word problems, they are real problems.

If you think that human beings are the scourge of this world, then at least admit it and get it over with. Then deal with yourself, because you're part of the problem. What do you propose we do with you???

Capitalism has alleviated more human suffering than any economic system in history. It's not perfect, by any means, but that's because of the people at the helm: human beings. You're one of them.

Your explanations won't save you.


Anonymous said...

I am discussing the reality of fossil fuels following an natural S curve. Also the reality that life is powered by renewable solar power and that eventually humanity will get on board with that reality or run down all the scarce nonrenewable resources one by one in the process. You are the one that infers "nothing is real" and "everything is invented." I said no such thing. Your projections onto me are certainly not really about me and I must infer they are your inventions.

Anonymous said...

"Descriptive and predictive growth curves in energy system analysis."