Reuters is reporting that Stephan Kohler, the managing director of Dena, the German government energy agency, recently spoke at a trade fair in Europe in favor of a continued push to build new coal and gas fired power plants as a way to ensure that Germany remains an industrial power.
“New build of fossil fuels-based power plants is essential to cover demand peaks, to avoid an efficiency gap due to old plants running longer and to speed innovation,” Kohler said.
He indicated that those new plants are needed to ensure stable power because of the demonstrated variability of the existing renewable energy sources that the country has installed at great cost in recent years and to make up for the planned early retirement of the 17 nuclear power plants that are currently providing more than 30% of the electricity consumed in Germany each year.
As Mr. Kohler described, Germany currently has more than 23,000 MW of wind turbine powered electrical generation, but that source has occasionally produced as little as 113 MW at certain times due to wide area weather patterns. At such times, power from more controllable sources is absolutely required since there is no viable energy storage solution that can provide such a massive amount of stored power for any length of time.
Mr. Kohler is especially concerned about the future, when there are plans to have as much as 45,000 MW of uncontrollable wind power on the grid. With a similar weather event, the total power output would be only a couple of hundred MW, leaving a deficit between supply and demand that could not be made up with imported power.
I went to visit the Dena web site to see how the Reuters story matched up with the officially available information. It is possible that the Reuters reporter was able to capture some commentary from a key government official that was not sanctioned by his political leaders. Dena has stopped issuing press releases in English; the latest ones that I can easily read were issued almost 2 years ago. Not to be deterred, since this is the age of communication tools, I fired up Google Translate, and skimmed through the most recent press releases from the agency.
As suspected, the late 2008 and early 2009 press releases provided rosy examples of specific successes with wind, solar and passive energy savings. They did not discuss how the country was going to build new fossil fuel power stations to actually meet the demand for reliable power.
In a related story, BusinessWeek has republished an almost amusing, in a very sad way, Spiegel Online story titled Green Energy Not Cutting Europe’s Carbon. That article describes how the push for renewable energy in Germany has provided tens of billions of dollars of rate payer supported activity in building new wind and solar energy systems, but has not done a thing to reduce the amount of pollution, including excessive quantities of CO2, produced by the European Union. Here is an interesting quote from the story:
That means: wind turbines and solar energy plants are revolutionizing Germany’s mix of power sources, creating jobs and making the country more independent from imports. But they aren’t helping in the fight against climate change. (Emphasis added)
In the worst case scenario, sustainable energy plants might even have a detrimental effect on the climate. As more wind turbines go online, coal plants will be able to reduce their output. This in itself is desirable – but the problem is that the total number of available CO2 emission certificates remains the same. In other words, there will suddenly be more certificates per kilowatt of coal energy. That means the price per ton of CO2 emitted will fall.
That is exactly what happened in recent trading. A certificate to emit a ton of CO2 cost almost nothing. As a result, there was very little incentive for big energy companies to invest in climate friendly technologies.
If you go read that BusinessWeek article, you will find out just how little real progress is being made in making the world a cleaner, more secure place. You will find, however, that there are numerous powerful entities that are making a ton of money from the sales effort to build complex, environment changing machines that often sit idle while waiting for the weather to change. You will also find examples of weak “leaders” who run for elected office and then are afraid to rock the boat with a bit of truth telling.
In other words, green industry is often business as usual. Not shocking, just a bit thought provoking.