Germany’s Energiewende, its turn towards renewable energy, has been a failure of the highest order. Bjorn Lomborg is simultaneously one of the most insightful environmental thinkers around and a modern green pariah, and he captures the German debacle in all of its ignominy in a recent opinion piece for the FT:
Last month, the government said that 6.9m households live in energy poverty, defined as spending more than 10 per cent of their income on energy. This is largely a result of the surcharge for renewable energy. Between 2000 and 2013, electricity prices for households have increased 80 per cent in real terms, according to data from the OECD and the International Energy Agency.
This means more and more money is going from the poor to the rich. Low-income tenants in the Ruhr area or Berlin are paying high energy prices to subsidise wealthy homeowners in Bavaria who put solar panels on their roofs.
This is a point we’ve hit on before: high electricity prices are a kind of a regressive tax, felt much more keenly by the poor than the rich. But these are only the economic costs of this green surge; the environmental costs are even more damning. To make up for the country’s nuclear drawdown (it should be pointed out that nuclear is essentially a zero-carbon energy source), Germany has had to burn coal in record quantities, resulting in ever-rising emissions.
Worst of all, the feed-in tariffs that Berlin enacted to increase wind and solar’s market share have only served to prop up technologies incapable of competing on their own merit, rather than developing more effective and efficient solar panels and wind turbines. As Lomborg rightly points out, that paints a grim portrait of Germany’s energy future:
However, most of Germany’s money was spent, not on research into future technology, but on buying existing inefficient green technology. Three weeks ago, in a report to the German parliament, a group of energy experts delivered a damning indictment of the current subsidies. They said that the policy has had a “very low technology-specific innovation impact in Germany”. Essentially, it is much safer for companies to keep selling more of the old technologies of wind, solar and biomass because these are already getting huge subsidies instead of trying to develop new and better technologies that have similar pay-offs but much higher risk.
Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing. The green movement held Germany up as a paragon of responsible environmental stewardship, one that other countries might model their energy policies after. Unfortunately, the Energiewende has been an unmitigated disaster, but its failure doesn’t diminish its instructional capabilities. Policymakers all over the world ought to take a look at Germany’s shambolic green energy strategy for lessons they can apply at home. We can learn just as much from experiments gone wrong as we can from the ones that work.