As an example of the fine pursuit of high ideals, Germany’s drive for clean energy could not be finer. Whether you hold to the majority view regarding the arguments on global warning or you are one of the naysayers is not the point, the world only has so much fossil fuel and almost no one would deny the world can only absorb so much carbon dioxide without eventually impacting the environment, so a move to less polluting renewable power is a fine goal. But as an example of how not to do it, Germany could not be offering a clearer picture.
The FT reported this week on Berlin’s dilemma, ambitious at the best of times under a policy known as Energiewende, or “energy change,” the government aims to derive 80% of Germany’s electricity from carbon-free sources by 2050. As a result of generous subsidies since 2000, the renewables sector has grown to provide over 25% of Germany’s electricity today, at a huge cost to consumers. According to the FT, German households pay twice as much for electricity as their US counterparts, while prices for industrial customers have risen more than 30% over the past 4 years, no doubt adding to the challenge faced by Germany’s economy teetering on the edge of recession.
For some bizarre reason, Angela Merkel promptly closed 8 of the country’s 17 nuclear reactors following the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Where the connection between Japan’s tsunami and Germany’s inland nuclear plants comes from is a mystery to most outside the country, but in a society still sensitive to the risks of nuclear energy in the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, there is widespread public support for the closures. The result, though, is that the environmental targets have taken a backwards lurch as coal-fired power stations have been fired up to meet demand. It’s worse in Germany than elsewhere because the country’s coal-fired power stations are reliant on the lowest-grade. most-polluting lignite coal, a resource which Germany has in abundance.
Germany’s 2050 goal may yet be achieved. but the evidence so far suggests the journey will be painful, polluting and seriously expensive.