The Future Belongs To... Germany? Non-Fossil Alternatives To Nuclear Energy
It's been raining a lot in L.A. and today it's been drizzling on and off and has been pretty cloudy. I just checked the meter in my house that shows the output of solar energy from my new rooftop panels. It's producing more than I consume. It always produces more than I consume. My monthly bill went from around $1,000 to zero. Actually, the DWP owes me money, but they don't pay cash, they just give you credits-- like if we ever have 40 days of darkness, I'll still get free electricity from them.
On top of that, I have the satisfaction of knowing I'm not burning any fossil fuels to run computer that powers a blog that rails against Big Oil... and to know that when everyone in southern California turns into a mutant because of inevitable catastrophes at the Diablo Canyon and San Onofre nuclear plants, it won't be my fault.
If you follow DWT you may have noticed that there are a lot of things I don't like about Obama but one thing I'll always credit him for is taking the big step on solar power. Politicians are more likely to follow than lead but Obama used his earliest post-inaugural political capital to push a solar energy program that will-- if the GOP doesn't gut it (they're being paid very well to try)-- drag America into the 21st Century, something the Koched-up Big Oil & Gas powerhouses feel threatened by and oppose with all their might. If the U.S. catches up with Germany on solar power usage, the impact on oil profits could drop. Decisions like these are decisions societies make when they reach an historical crossroads that determines if they're going to continue to grow or dive onto the trash heap of history. Conservatives always choose the latter; it's in their DNA.
As for Germany-- you know, cloudy, rainy Germany-- solar production increased from 2009 to 2010 to 2% of total energy consumption, as they hurtle along towards their 2050 goal of 25%. This is from a Washington Post feature way back in 2007:
Last year, about half of the world's solar electricity was produced in the country. Of the 20 biggest photovoltaic plants, 15 are in Germany, even though it has only half as many sunny days as countries such as Portugal.
The reason is not a breakthrough in the economics or technology of solar power but a law adopted in 2000. It requires the country's huge old-line utility companies to subsidize the solar upstarts by buying their electricity at marked-up rates that make it easy for the newcomers to turn a profit. Their cleanly created power enters the utilities' grids for sale to consumers.
The law was part of a broader measure adopted by the German government to boost production of renewable energy sources, including wind power and biofuels. As the world's sixth-biggest producer of carbon-dioxide emissions, Germany is trying to slash its output of greenhouse gases and wants renewable sources to supply a quarter of its energy needs by 2020.
...Matthias Machnik, an undersecretary for the German ministry of the environment, said the country can't hope to compete in the long term with perpetually sunny ones in generating solar power. But it hopes to expand its exports of solar technology and become the leader in that field as well.
"Unless climate change accelerates, we only have a certain amount of available hours of sunshine," Machnik said in an interview. "For us, of course we will use solar power, but it is more important to secure the know-how for research and development."
Last year, German exports accounted for 15 percent of worldwide sales of solar panels and other photovoltaic equipment, according to industry officials. German companies hope to double their share of the global market, which amounted to $9.5 billion last year and is growing by about 20 percent annually, said Carsten Koernig, managing director of the German Solar Industry Association, a trade and lobbying group.
"It's been very important to create the necessary market in Germany," Koernig said. "We not only want to master the German market, but to conquer the world market as well."
Even before the catastrophe in Japan, Germany had started phasing out all nuclear plants (which produce 25% of its electricity currently), something they hope to complete by the end of the decade-- and Sunday's election results confirm that Germans want that done even sooner. They hope to replace the electricity generated by nuclear plants with solar and wind power and continue building the world's first major renewable energy economy. "Germany is accelerating its efforts to become the world's first industrial power to use 100 percent renewable energy-- and given current momentum, it could reach that green goal by 2050." Unlike Paul Ryan's roadmap to the decline of America, Germany has an energy roadmap to a bright sustainable future.
A new Roadmap published by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment sketches out the route the world's largest exporter plans to take to switch over completely to renewable energy, and add 800,000 to 900,000 new cleantech jobs by 2030 as it does so.
To overhaul key parts of the German economic juggernaut while it is hurtling down the highway, the roadmap lays out an integrated approach, involving measures for greater energy efficiency as well as a steady expansion of all types of renewable energy and a stronger focus on research and development into the next generation of green technologies.
"It's ambitious, but Germany can be running on renewable energy by 2050 if there is the political will," said David Wortmann, Director of Renewable Energy and Resources at Germany Trade and Invest, a government body supporting the country's renewable energy sector.
In 2008, the percentage of renewables in Germany's primary energy consumption was 7.3, but that figure is predicted to increase to 33 percent by 2020 as the country thunders on ahead of other European countries in renewable energy development.
According to the plan laid out in the roadmap, a raft of new energy efficiency measures, including the construction of a smart grid, should reduce the country's primary energy consumption by 28 percent in the next twenty years from 13,842 PJ (peta-joules) in 2007 to 12,000 PJ in 2020 and 10,000 PJ in 2030, slashing billions off the bill that the country has to pay for increasingly costly energy imports.
By 2020, 30 percent of the electricity consumed in Germany is set to be coming from renewable energy sources, with wind energy contributing the most at 15 percent, bioenergy second with 8 percent and hydropower third with 4 percent. By 2015, photovoltaics are expected to reach price parity and so become commercially viable.
Making optimal use of Germany's natural wind resources concentrated along the northern coastlines, huge offshore wind parks, placed in the North Sea, should have the capacity to generate as much as 10,000 MW, feeding electricity into a smart national grid able to transport the energy from the north and east of the country or from the south and west with optimal efficiency using high voltage direct current (HVDC).
The Roadmap estimates that by 2030, as much as 50 percent of Germany's electricity will be coming from renewable energy sources. In twenty years time, a smart grid interconnected with the entire European electricity grid will be in place.
Solar energy will be imported via Italy from the solar thermal plants operating in the sun drenched deserts of North Africa.
At a cost of €6 billion [US $8.12 billion] the national power grid comprising 60,000 kilometers will have been expanded by 850 kilometers and upgraded by around 2015.
It is estimated that introducing tighter energy efficiency measures will reduce total electricity demand in Germany by 10 percent to 550 TWh per year by 2020.
Electric powered cars will be racing down the country's Autobahns using batteries charged from renewable energy sources, slashing the need for oil and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Arizona doesn't have oil resources like its two neighbors, California and New Mexico, but it could be a solar energy powerhouse... if the state's politicians weren't putting every bit of their own energy into a battle over racism and political extremism. Yesterday the Yuma Sun wrote with a tinge of wistful envy about the progress Germany is making.
For Germany, the Japan experience hits a little closer to home than perhaps it does in some other parts of the world. The residents of that country started becoming wary of nuclear power after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the Soviet Union. Radioactivity from the Chernobyl accident - considered the worst nuclear power incident so far - drifted over Germany.
Germany sees itself as a potential model for other nations wanting to move away from nuclear power, according to an Associated Press report, perhaps including the United States which generates about the same percentage of electricity from nuclear plants.
Here in America, however, the government remains officially committed to nuclear power for now. In fact, nuclear power has been experiencing something of a renaissance here due to concerns about global warming and the desire to reduce use of carbon based fuels. Nuclear power in recent years has been seen as a companion to efforts to promote renewable energy sources like solar power and wind power.
That could change, however, if public concern grows about the safety of nuclear plants. And that is a distinct possibility if the situation worsens in Japan.
Already polling is showing some loss of support. One poll showed 70 percent of Americans are now concerned about nuclear power safety. Another showed fewer than half of Americans support new nuclear plant construction after Japan's crisis, a sharp drop from the 62 percent who were in favor last year.
Moving away from nuclear power in America-- or anyplace, for that matter-- would not be cheap.
True; switching to renewable energy is costly. But, it's what societies that have determined a course forward do to ensure a future. The Republican Party would rather see Americans all turn into mutants. Meanwhile Germany is just boogeying along and on February 7 of last year reached a renewable energy electricity penetration of more than 30%. Wind turbines, hydroelectric plants, solar cells, and biogas digesters now provide nearly 17% of Germany's electricity.
Germany uses an advanced system of feed-in tariffs to pay for renewable energy generation, and has an aggressive target of meeting 39% of its electricity supply with renewable energy by 2020. Its system of advanced renewable tariffs has enabled Germany to exceed its 2010 target of 12.5% by a wide margin.
...Doubling its previous record, the German solar PV industry installed 7,400 MW from nearly one-quarter million individual systems in 2010.
German homeowners, farmers, small businessmen and large industrial concerns are all installing solar energy at a rate far surpassing the sunny U.S.A., where half the political system is invested in wrecking the future of the nation because they're angry a colored guy with an Ivy League education was elected president. It's worth remembering that just last week, total power output of Germany's installed solar PV panels hit 12.1 GW-- greater than the total power output (10 GW) of Japan's entire 6-reactor nuclear power plant. Oh-- we forgot to mention how China is winning the future (while we cope with Koched-up, deranged teabaggers and blatant corporate whores like Brian Bilbray):