Germany's Green Energy Plan Is Falling Apart

Engineering realities and a continental financial crisis dim prospects for shift to 100 percent renewables by 2050.

There's no question that Germany has been the world leader in deploying renewable energy sources – particularly solar. In 2009 a record EUR 17.7 billion were invested in Germany's renewable energies industry. Renewable energy accounted for 16.9% of Germany’s gross electricity consumption in 2010. That year also saw the doubling of Germany's solar installations.

2010 was also the year that a study, conducted by McKinsey and published by the European Climate Foundation, found that 100 percent renewable energy in Europe by 2050 is not only feasible, but can also be reliable and economically priced. Many of the largest utilities and conventional energy providers in Europe took part in the study as well.

No wonder then, in light of all this bubbling enthusiasm, that Germany announced that it would shut down all 17 of the country's nuclear plants by 2022. To get to the 2050 goal of pure renewables, the nuclear generation loss would be made up for by natural gas generation and imports from France (mostly nuclear derived) and Polish coal burning plants.

My consultant friend Pete Baston ( ) knows more about European construction realities than anyone else I know. Pete pointed out that even German engineering, considered to be the best in the world, can't turn the dream of a complete German Energy Revolution into a monochromatic green reality.

Oh for sure there are huge technical issues (such as the need for storage when wind and solar aren't available) but the primary problem is money…there isn't enough.  At least $400 billion will be needed by 2030 just to build transmission and other infrastructure to support solar and wind resources.

Private financing isn't jumping in because of the high risks and little gain. So who's footing the bill? Ratepayers of course, the German citizens and taxpayers.  And they're starting to push back.

The Eurozone financial mess hasn't helped either, since Germany is also considered the main bankroller to pull several European countries from the edge of bankruptcy. At some point the financial well goes dry.

Then there are the recent political upheavals. The new president of France, Hollande, has promised to get rid of France's nuclear program – the most successful nuclear program in the world – and replace it with renewables (with what money?).  If Hollande is serious and not just blowing political smoke to appease French Green leftists, then Germany can't rely on French power imports to replace its own retired generation.

Anyway, you can read more about the whole sorry mess in the Der Spiegel article.

For me the take-away is that grand government plans and subsidies don't work, particularly when they're not tied to the realities of technology and free market economies. No surprise.


rfaulkner1954's picture

Why The German Experiment is hitting a bump in the road

Part of the reason for this is that there has been too much focus on the supply side. The grid investments needed have been stalled because there was not a popular "voter base" to advocate for the increased transmission and storage that are essential to make non-dispatchable forms of energy (solar & wind) actually work.

My own bit of this puzzle is to enable moving big HVDC transmission lines (the basis of a future supergrid) underground. My particular proposal is to use "elpipes," which are massive HVDC electricity pipelines; see