Mon, May 27, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Energy policy in Germany has worrying flaws

By Hans-Werner Sinn

French President Emmanuel Macron thinks an overhaul of Germany’s economic model is overdue. As far as energy is concerned, he is probably right.

While France produces more than 70 percent of its electricity at nuclear power plants and is trying to convert to electric vehicles (EV) running on nuclear energy, Germany relies on wind farms and other forms of green energy, and plans to phase out nuclear power by 2022 and coal power by 2038. Yet the attempt to turn the wheels of German industry with wind faces growing political resistance, as the country is already littered with so many wind turbines — some of them nearly 250m high — that even its most beautiful vistas are coming to resemble industrial landscapes.

Farmers and forest owners, of course, have welcomed the opportunity to convert their land to industrial sites. Usually, only landowners on the outskirts of big cities enjoy such windfalls, but with legislation facilitating the erection of wind turbines in rural areas, German farmers and forest owners have struck gold.

Nonetheless, the expansion of wind turbines is stalling, owing to a growing chorus of citizens who object to the destruction of the natural environment. Protest movements against what is seen as environmental vandalism are sprouting like mushrooms. Even the German Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union is beginning to reconsider its position on wind turbines, owing to the loss of insects, birds and bats on a massive scale.

While solar energy and biogas plants still represent potential alternatives to wind, they are also facing limits, given that Germany is not a sun-kissed country and the table-or-tank problem — whether to use land to grow food or fuel — represents a serious ethical dilemma.

The main problem is the volatility of wind and solar energy. Sometimes there is too little electricity and sometimes there is too much. If the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining, conventional power plants must shore up the electricity supply. Hence, no matter how many wind and solar-powered plants Germany builds, it still cannot dismantle its conventional plants.

Moreover, when wind and solar generate too much electricity, they regularly drive the price of electricity below zero. These distortions will grow dramatically if the market share of wind and solar power, currently at 25 percent, increases beyond 30 percent, because production spikes will then begin to overshoot electricity demand.

Worse, as the market share of directly usable wind and solar power approaches 100 percent, so, too, does the proportion of surplus energy. Even if Germany and its neighbors were to create a perfect electricity network stretching from the Alps to Norway, with as many pumped-storage plants as geologically possible being built in the participating countries, the market share of wind and solar power could not surpass 50 percent without ever-larger portions of the excess current peaks being dumped or degenerated by a change in the entropy level, or conversion into heat or gas.

Confronted with this problem, many people point to electric vehicles as a solution. There can be little doubt that EVs are the future, given the EU’s massive regulatory interventions in the automobile market — at France’s urging — to make it so.

However, far from alleviating Germany’s energy problems, EVs will make them even worse.

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