Sunday, 19 February 2012

The solar energy dream comes to an end in Germany

Germany has, thanks to its innovative companies and its industrious work force, so far been able to avoid the economic and financial crisis that has been - and still is - the curse of so many other western countries. And it is all the more remarkable that this has happened despite of the Merkel government´s less than helpful policies, such as e.g. the huge subsidies to totally useless solar energy.

However, as the German economic engine is beginning to show signs of slowing down, even the German government has began to realise that this waste of taxpayers´ money cannot continue for long anymore.

Bjørn Lomborg explains why dark clouds eclipse the sunny German dream:

Germany once prided itself on being the "photovoltaic world champion", doling out generous subsidies - totalling more than US$130 billion (Dh447.51bn), according to research from Germany's Ruhr University - to citizens to invest in solar energy. But now the German government is vowing to cut the subsidies sooner than planned, and to phase out support over the next five years. What went wrong?
There is a fundamental problem with subsidising inefficient green technology: it is affordable only if it is done in tiny, token amounts. Using the government's generous subsidies, Germans installed 7.5 gigawatts of photovoltaic (PV) capacity last year, more than double what the government had deemed "acceptable".
It is estimated that this increase alone will lead to a $260 increase in the average consumer's annual power bill.
According to Der Spiegel, even members of the chancellor Angela Merkel's staff are now describing the policy as a massive money pit. Philipp Rösler, Germany's minister of economics and technology, has called the spiralling solar subsidies a "threat to the economy".
Solar power is at least four times more costly than energy produced from fossil fuels. It also has the distinct disadvantage of not working at night, when much electricity is consumed.In the words of the German Association of Physicists, "solar energy cannot replace any additional power plants". On short, overcast winter days, Germany's 1.1 million solar-power systems can generate no electricity at all. The country is then forced to import considerable amounts of electricity from nuclear power plants in France and the Czech Republic. When the sun failed to shine last winter, one emergency back-up plan powered up an Austrian oil-fired plant to fill the supply gap.

Indeed, despite the massive investment, solar power accounts for only about 0.3 per cent of Germany's total energy. This is one of the key reasons that Germans now pay the second-highest price for electricity in the developed world (exceeded only by Denmark, which aims to be the "world wind energy champion"). Germans pay three times more than Americans.

Moreover, this sizeable investment does remarkably little to counter global warming. Even with unrealistically generous assumptions, the unimpressive net effect is that solar power reduces Germany's CO2 emissions by about eight million tonnes - or about 1 per cent - for the next 20 years. When the effects are calculated in a standard climate model, the result is a reduction in average temperature of 0.00005°C (one twenty-thousandths of a degree Celsius, or one ten-thousandths of a degree Fahrenheit). To put it another way: by the end of the century, Germany's $130bn solar panel subsidies will have postponed temperature increases by 23 hours.

Using solar, Germany is paying about $1,000 per tonne of CO2 reduced. The current CO2 price in Europe is $8. Germany could have cut 131 times as much CO2 for the same price. Instead, the
Germans are wasting more than 99 cents of every euro that they put into solar panels.
It gets worse: because Germany is part of the EU Emissions Trading System, the actual effect of extra solar panels in Germany leads to no CO2 reductions, because total emissions are already capped. Instead, the Germans simply allow other parts of the EU to emit more CO2. Germany's solar panels have only made it cheaper for Portugal or Greece to use coal.

Germans have paid about $130bn for a climate-change policy that has no effect on global warming. They have subsidised Chinese jobs and other European countries' reliance on dirty energy sources. And they have needlessly burdened their economy. As even many German officials would probably attest, governments elsewhere cannot afford to repeat the same mistake.

Read the entire article here


What Lomborg says, also applies to the heavily subsidised wind power industry.

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