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An Odd Couple
Time For Germany to Start Fracking

Germany kicked off its recent renewables push with heavy government subsidies for wind and solar energy, but its emissions—and its electricity prices—are rising. To stay competitive, Berlin might have to do the unthinkable: start fracking. Reuters reports:

Germany’s gas industry says it needs shale to halt a sharp decline in domestic output, but behind its pleas lies private acknowledgement that environmental and political opposition is just too strong. […]

At stake is the competitiveness of German industry – faced with rising energy costs, the opposite of shale-driven competition in the United States, shale proponents say.

The ever-erudite Daniel Yergin agrees, telling Reuters that “[i]f Germany and other European countries do not try and tap their shale gas potential, they will likely have to pay higher gas prices in future than would otherwise be the case.” Hopping on the shale bandwagon could help Berlin “maintain its competitiveness and export strength in the global economy, which is so critical to Germany’s overall economic performance,” Yergin continued.

The German energiewende included a plan to ween the country off of zero-emissions nuclear power, and expensive renewable energy won’t be able to fill the gap that decision created. For one, wind and solar energy are intermittent—they only produce electricity when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining—and as such are only suitable for providing peak, not baseload, power. For another, the costs of rolling out renewables is extraordinary, placing a very real limit on how much the German economy can bear to take in the name of green ideals.

And so Germany has to turn to fossil fuels to power its industries and households. Gas’s share of the German power mix has declined 60 percent over the past decade; meanwhile, Germany relied on coal for more of its energy consumption in 2013 more than any year for nearly a quarter century. That’s not a good pair of trends for a country that has made going green such a high priority—coal emits roughly twice the carbon that natural gas does when burned.

Germany has sizable reserves of shale gas—the EIA estimates as much as 17 trillion technically recoverable cubic feet of it—yet. If it really is as green-minded as it claims to be, it would start fracking with gusto.

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  • Andrew Allison

    “—they only produce electricity when the
    wind is blowing or the sun is shining—and as such are only suitable for
    providing peak, not baseload, power.” is a fallacy which assumes that the weather can be synchronized with the need for peak power.

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