After years of unprecedented growth built on the back of heavy government subsidies, Germany’s renewable energy sector is about to have limits placed on it after German lawmakers agreed on a framework deal that would limit out-of-control costs and strains on power grids. Reuters reports:
After a meeting with the leaders of Germany’s 16 states that stretched into the early hours of Wednesday, the government agreed to limit the expansion of onshore wind at 2.8 gigawatts in capacity per year, equivalent to about 1,000 wind turbines. In addition, only a certain amount of new capacity will be permitted in north Germany to avoid overburdening the electricity grid. […]
Generous green subsidies have led to a boom in renewable energy, such as wind and solar power. But the rapid expansion has pushed up electricity costs in Europe’s biggest economy and placed a strain on its grid. The latest reforms are aimed at slowing the growth in renewables, which accounted for around a third of Germany’s electricity last year.
Germany has tripled its electricity production from renewables over the past decade, and last year those green energy sources accounted for 31 percent of the country’s power. These are remarkable numbers, but once you check under the hood their eco-merits start to lose their shine.
The energiewende‘s problems can be broadly divided into three categories: cost, grid stability, and its exiling of nuclear power from the country’s national energy mix. On the cost front, Berlin has only been able to kickstart wind and solar power by guaranteeing long-term above-market rates (called feed-in tariffs) to producers. German households pay for this in the form of a green surcharge on their power bills, which are among the most expensive in Europe.
In addition, the intermittency of wind and solar energy (these renewables can only supply power when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining) puts a tremendous strain on the power grids of Germany and its neighbors—grids that are accustomed to consistently transmitting electricity from large power plants to businesses and homes, and whose layout is strained by having to transmit power from more distributed wind and solar farms at more irregular intervals.
Finally, in addition to rapidly expanding wind and solar power, the energiewende has moved to close down Germany’s nuclear reactors, which is in part an emotional reaction to the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, but also likely due to environmentalists’ long-held mistrust of the atomic energy source. But nuclear power is a zero-emissions source of baseload power, and many of those shuttered plants have been replaced by one of the dirtiest fossil fuel energy sources around: lignite coal.
Germany didn’t reform its energy mix with any half measures, but unfortunately its bold new course has landed it in something of a sour spot, where power is more expensive, renewables are threatening its grid stability, and its emissions aren’t nose-diving as envisioned thanks to its snubbing of nuclear power. In that context, the only thing surprising about Berlin’s new plan to curb the growth of renewables is that it took this long.