Germany's Contradictions: Renewables Leader Turns to Coal, Fracking

Whenever we talk about renewable energy in the US, the progress Germany has made is always held up as a comparison.

About 27% of Germany’s energy comes from renewable sources, providing 371,400 jobs, and now communities see another opportunity – turn it into a tourist attraction.

A guidebook that lists about 200 clean energy attractions around the country is in its second printing, reports The Guardian. Highlights include Holtriem wind farm, where you can climb 297 steps to an observation platform at the top of a 213 foot high wind turbine – great views of the North Sea!

Wind Holtriem Germany 

Also in Lower Saxony is the first village that attained energy self-sufficiency using combined heat and power, Juehnde. An Energy Center shares their experience.

Germany: Experience Renewable Energies, is only available in German right now, but would be published in English if there’s enough demand.

One of things that’s particularly interesting about Germany is that 47% of renewable energy systems are owned by citizens and coops. 12% are owned by utilities and the rest belongs to institutional and other investors. Many automakers, for example, run on their own renewable energy systems.

Renewable energy hit a record on May 11, when it supplied 75% of the country’s power.


Germany Renewables Ownership


Will Germany Keep It Up?

Unfortunately, Germany keeps fiddling with its feed-in law, (as do the UK and Spain) lowering targets and payments. Last year, solar jobs in Germany dropped by half to about 56,000, according to the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.

This year, Germany will add the fewest solar systems since 2008 – so far this year, installations are down 45%.
Taking a cue from the US, there’s even talk of charging fees to owners of solar systems, which will further the decline.

"We can’t reach our climate targets or give enough of an outlook to solar companies in Germany with such a shrinking domestic market," Joerg Mayer, Managing Director of BSW-Solar, told Bloomberg. 

Because of all the renewable energy being added, utilities are struggling, as they are beginning to in the US.
They are pushing for a return to fossil fuels, opening 8 new coal-fired power plants in the next two years and convincing the government to end the ban on fracking.

"A climate-denial and anti-transition cocktail originally mixed in the United States, more than anywhere else, using a recipe concocted by the tobacco lobby, has gradually wormed its way into Western Europe, too, where it‘s coming home to roost in Fact-Free Politics – where opinions are deemed at least as important as facts, and all authority, including science, has been toppled from its pedestal," says Jan Paul van Soest in the report, De Gemeynt (Clogs in the Works). 

"Is the BBC becoming UK’s version of Fox News on global warming?" asks The Guardian, referring to the "disproportionate air time" given to climate-skeptics.

Indeed, Europe is backtracking in important ways. It’s "Fuel Quality Directive" requires that fuels used be prioritized based on carbon intensity. Tar sands oil was at the top of the list, but the EU is now leaning toward allowing it. 

Rather than focusing on renewable energy expansion since the Ukraine crisis, the EU repeatedly calls for the US to export natural gas, and Germany and the UK plan to begin fracking as early as next year. 

Climate Goals?

Germany’s goals are for renewable energy to supply 40-45% of energy by 2025 and 55%-60% in 2035

The country’s latest bill seeks to contain costs by controlling the growth of renewable energy (it’s been going down for several years), enhancing market integration and broadening the base of who pays into the system. It is under discussion by Germany’s Parliament and could enter force on August 1. An analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance shows Germany can meet its goals.

Early this year, the EU reassessed its climate targets, proposing  new binding targets of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 40% (below 1990 levels) by 2030 while getting 30% of its energy from renewable energy and improving efficiency by 40%. A vote is expected in the fall.

That’s a big increase from its current goals, known as the 20-20-20 plan: cutting emissions 20%, increasing renewables to 20% of energy and increasing efficiency 20% by 2020.
As of 2012, EU emissions have been cut to 19.2% of 1990 levels, bringing it within reach of those goals eight years early, according to the European Environment Agency. Renewable energy produces 12.7% of all energy – electricity, heating and transportation – and countries like Germany and Spain exceed 20%. In contrast, the figure for the US is about 9.5%.

Read De Gemeynt (Clogs in the Works):

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