Grasping the nettle of reporting the views of leading German climate sceptic Professor Fritz Vahrenholt, PEI magazine airs several awkward issues arising from Germany’s ambitious – he says reckless – energy policies.
At a mid-January meeting in parliament buildings in London, Professor Fritz Vahrenholt provided a very detailed monologue on the motivations behind Germany’s energy transition, and why he feels it’s misguided and potentially disastrous, writes Diarmid Williams.
Had the lecture been delivered by somebody from the coal power sector, they might have been written off as a ‘climate denier’, but given Vahrenholt’s background and pedigree as a backer of renewable energy, he is not so easily dismissed and his position must cause some unease for those so adamant that climate change is man-made.
It should give pause for thought too to the public at large. Governments and media around the world, not just in Germany, are convinced that man is responsible for the recently observed temperature rises and Polar ice cap reduction.
But Vahrenholt believes that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the main body from which the rest of the world takes its cue on such matters, is not approaching the problem with the correct scientific rigour. The merits of the science aside, he takes most issue with the behaviour of his own country’s government for ‘trying to save the world.’
Germany has the second highest electricity prices in Europe, and in phasing out nuclear while stimulating over-production of renewables, it has reduced power prices to a pitiful extent, and ironically came to rely on coal. The last two factors mean the prospect of a lack of investment in the country’s future energy infrastructure, while targets for reducing CO2 look likely to be missed.
Much of Germany’s current problems arise from what he believes was an emotional reaction to the Fukushima disaster by Chancellor Angela Merkel – an order to accelerate the phasing out of a power source that had provided 30 per cent of the country’s electricity.
Vahrenholt says there is an endgame for the Energiewende, ‘though this reckless policy has worked until now’, referring to the German proverb ‘the donkey goes on to the ice until it breaks.’ “There will come a point when the rural population, or wildlife protection agencies, or a weakening economy or failures in the grid itself will force a return to conventional generation.”
He said one of the reasons the German population still backed the policy is because they are still relatively economically prosperous, with a weak euro and the work done by Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, continuing to sustain the economy. “The second reason it works is that energy intensive industries are exempted from the levy. They are profiting because of the overcapacity from renewables leading to sinking prices.”
Vahrenholt mocked the government’s current strategy of trebling wind farm capacity as the wind cannot be predicted and their output fluctuates enormously. “Nil multiplied by x is still nil,” he said, while the price keeps mounting, and the carbon price remains too low to encourage carbon capture and storage at lignite plants which remain essential to fill the intermittency gaps, as gas-fired power plants are mothballed or closed completely.
He reserved his gravest criticism for the damage being wrought on the German countryside where the use of biofuels is having a bad impact. Pesticide use and monoculture has led to major declines in bird of prey numbers. He calculated that to maintain the policy there would have to be a wind turbine ‘every 2.7km whether the landscape is lakes, wood or towns.’
A particularly acute sign of the failure of the policy is the current rate of progress and expense in bringing renewables from wind plants in the north to the south, where nuclear shutdowns are most keenly felt.
“6100 km cables are planned to be built but four years later only 80 km have been laid. Government has underestimated the resistance to the imposition of overhead power lines on this scale – so all plans have been torn up and they are now going underground at huge extra cost, which will of course also be added on to household bills.”
“We are talking about DC cables which have never been built at this scale underground. In the best case scenario these cables will be laid five years after the nuclear shutdown.”
Re-dispatching of power is another feature of the new reality for the German electricity system. The grid operator would previously be called upon to interfere between power plants and customers once a day on average. This procedure now occurs 20 times a day, amounting to 6000 interventions a year in order to have guarantee system stability.
Because the merit order that facilitated market prices for power no longer works, thanks to the success of renewable energy, no new conventional power plants are being built. 69 power plants with a total capacity of 8000 MW are in the red as a result, as power plants are no longer profitable in the current scenario.
Due to a lack of supply in southern Germany the government was forced to intervene, creating a law whereby plants were only permitted to close by the grid agency with a minimum lead time of one year.
The PEI report continues here.