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clean energy: Germany vs CO2 [Frank Dohmen / Spiegel]

May 14, 2019

Article link [Spiegel Online] – The info-graphic in this article makes some important points.

Germany, Europe’s leading economy, has in many ways led the way in environmentally conscious development. They adopted wind and solar with vigor. Yet the nation’s carbon emissions have barely changed (see image below).

What happened was that, similar to the US, wind and solar displaced the most expensive and toxic fuel, nuclear. Unlike the US, there was not a simultaneous replacement of coal with natgas. Reasons include availability of resources, geopolitics, and willingness (in the US) to abandon environmental protections in exchange for cheap energy.

A partial reduction in coal did take place, but it was mostly in exchange for biomass and household waste. These fuels, while renewable, are similar to coal in carbon intensity. (It is still worth doing, for reducing both solid waste and the environmental impact of coal mining).

The article also notes that German automotive carbon use has not come down. However, Germany was starting from an already more energy efficient vehicle fleet and use pattern compared to the US, due to (1) more diesel passenger cars, which are more carbon-efficient, (2) smaller passenger vehicles,  (3) more mass transit, and (4) shorter travel distances. Also, electric cars were not practical until the last 5 years.

Some notes relevant to US discussions:

  • Wind is 2x the amount of solar
  • It took 15 years, with a deliberate policy, to reduce nuclear use by about half
  • The system already has the capacity for wind and solar to fully power the country — when conditions allow peak power output for both. At the same time, the average wind/solar contribution is only ~16-20% [note 1]. It will go up as even more capacity is added, but the point of this statistic is that the required peak capacity for wind/solar will have to be far greater than actual peak use, and in this regard, wind/solar differ from the technologies being replaced. Corollaries:
    • Non-wind, non-solar generation will continue to be built for longer than optimistic estimates would suggest. Power storage technology will help, but the scale required is daunting – we are just now starting to even consider the economic feasibility of 5-10 hours worth of system wide storage. (At this point, the plausible use case is limited to solar-rich climates, covering the time delay between peak solar availability at midday and peak electric use in the late afternoon or evening).
    • In a grid with wind/solar, all generation types will be impacted by the eventual necessary situation of wind/solar over-capacity. Analysis of economics will be dominated by curtailment and the policies that govern it. We shouldn’t extrapolate the economics of current generation of installations, when solar/wind capacity is well below 100% peak use.
    • If storage tech is developed after the necessary level of wind/solar over-capacity is built, it will economically ruin the wind/solar installations existing at that time.

As for Germany – if they continue on this path, I am confident they will eventually see big reductions in carbon use. But it is hard to imagine that they can reach the goal of 80% non-carbon energy without maybe 20-30% nuclear.


link:  [via NakedCapitalism]

[note 1 – Another version of this bar graph, with a scale and apparently slight variations in the data, can be found here [], on pdf page 11 ]


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