Germany’s Neighbors Rankled by Its Energiewende

The German energy mix has been radically changed in recent years, predominantly driven by two forces: a desire to expand renewables’ market share (a task accomplished by generous state subsidies called feed-in tariffs), and an aversion to nuclear power following the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Within Germany these changes have had a number of perhaps unforeseen and certainly unfortunate consequences, including jacked-up power bills for businesses and households and, somewhat bizarrely, an increased reliance on the particularly dirty type of coal called lignite. But the ripple effects of Berlin’s energiewende are expanding past national boundaries, and, as Politico reports, Germany’s neighbors are finding their own grids strained by intermittent solar and wind production:

The country’s move away from nuclear power and increase in production of wind or solar energy has pushed it to the point where its existing power grids can’t always cope. And it’s the Czech Republic, Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium and France that have taken the brunt.

“If there is a strong blow of the wind in the North, we get it, we have the blackout,” Martin Povejšil, the Permanent Representative of the Czech Republic to the EU said at a briefing in Brussels recently.

Germany has failed to beef up its energy transmission infrastructure at the same pace as its burgeoning solar and wind industries, that is, and on especially sunny and windy days it relies on the hospitality of its neighbors to distribute those supplies. Poland and the Czech Republic have been forced to pony up $180 million “to protect their systems from German power surges”, while within Germany itself NIMBY-ism is preventing the construction of some key transmission lines.

When examining the costs of boosting renewables, it’s a big mistake to leave out the expense of building out the grids needed to handle production. Germany seems to have made just that error with its energiewende, and central Europe is struggling to cope.

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