Bloomberg announced recently that industrial and renewable powerhouse Germany is planning on spending a whopping $263 billion (£167 billion), or 8% of their 2011 GDP, on an audacious energy transition involving low-carbon solutions and paving a way towards a greener future. The report did not state specific timescales or proposed plan implementation, but set goals of 35% renewable by 2030, and 80% by 2050, mentioning some of the ways Angela Merkel is hoping to achieve this huge goal.
In short, an area of offshore wind farms six times the size of New York City, amounting to 5,000 individual turbines are to be built, providing 25,000MW of energy, alongside enough power lines to stretch from ‘London to Baghdad’, as well as major grid upgrades and extensions. Presumably solar will also play a major part in the process, although this was not specifically seen in the report, but when you consider the monumental growth and investment in the sector in recent months, in most part down to the highly successful feed-in-tariff implemented, it would seem foolish to omit it.
This seemingly insurmountable plan is a direct response to the closure of 17 nuclear reactors across the nation as post-Fukushima fears and public unrest spread around the world, shutting down multiple country’s producing capabilities and forcing a rethink. Considering atom-splitting provided over 20% of Germany’s energy, Merkel has had to come up with a radical and extremely risky transition plan to overcome the inevitable energy shortages and emission increases.
The unfortunate reality is, that if this plan fails, then the country will be not only be in huge debt, but left with a chunk of it’s energy capacity taken out; but if the plan succeeds, Germany will become both the leading argument for green being done right and being completely possible, as well as ploughing millions into the industry, creating jobs left right and centre.
“Germany is like a big energy laboratory” - Stephan Reimelt of GE Germany
Despite this high-risk strategy, Germany is probably best placed to be beginning this process, as renewables already provide a healthy proportion of energy and the governments coffers hold enough money to go ahead without crippling fear of bankrupt or default. Combine this with Angela Merkel’s seemingly intense desire to install and incentivise solar and wind across the nation, it’s inspiring to see someone finally take the lead on this issue and actually put forward a potentially powerful solution.
It is also heart-warming to note that two of the biggest energy providers, E-ON and RWE, are following suit, ploughing cash into renewable projects and aiming to aid the government in its plans to reinvent Germany as green central. Despite the potential for major losses in profits if things don’t go to plan, both companies are supporting the transition, likely in part due to the fear of even bigger losses if nuclear gaps aren’t filled, and the apparent realisation that this “can be successful” and not just “because it’s nice”. In other words, they see big rewards if this technology comes to fruition, and would not miss out on what is probably their best chance of making a difference to the renewable world, and their margins.
Unfortunately, the hurdles needed to be jumped are daunting. 5,000 turbines is an unheard of number for a single-country wind farm, and the technical issues behind constructing new transmission lines to handle the juice are large to say the least. Even now, areas such as the Czech Republic are complaining that German wind farms are overloading their systems at peak hours of discharge, and adding more to this mix will requite intense planning and rigorous overseeing. As renewables are inherently unpredictable, they may leave the country dwindling in electricity at one point, only to overload the grid the next.
However this a poor view to take, as even now, on a sunny day, Germany produces more power than actually needed, and is actively exporting it to France. If grids can be updated, a problem I’m assuming accounted for in the plan, then an extra 5,000 turbines should be easily handled, and Germany will reap the rewards of surplus energy which can be exported to fledgling nations.
Furthermore, Spain, Sweden, Austria and Slovenia have all stated targets which intend to beat Germany’s own, facilitated greatly by their hydroelectric capabilities, providing a large portion of energy ready to be bolstered by wind and solar. If Germany, whilst building it’s own energy future can inspire others to actively compete and outdo themselves, maybe it will be enough to catch the attention of the big polluters such as the US and China and show them how it could be done.
After all, wouldn’t it be fantastic to progress into a world where countries fight over who has the most wind turbines, solar panels or ambitious targets for renewable energy production, rather than over shale gas deposits or oil imports. That sounds to me like the only real way we can make this attractive to those ignoring the problem.
Sources - http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-03-19/germany-s-270-billion-renewables-shift-biggest-since-war.html