Germany Embarks on Historic Alternative Energy Push

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Common Dreams

Germany Embarks on Historic Alternative Energy Push

As it phases out nuclear power in wake of public outcry, Germany to make largest investment since World War II

by
Common Dreams staff

Germany's plan is seen by some as an economic gamble, but many traditional energy companies -- including nuclear power companies -- are now lining up to invest in the strategic plan. One financial and energy analyst observed the plan would would make Germany's energy market, the most important in Europe, "into a massive energy laboratory."(Photographer: Ken James/Bloomberg)

Spurred by a public outcry following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, Germany's Prime Minister, Angela Merkel, announced last year that Germany would phase out all of its nuclear power plants. Now, with a looming 20% energy gap to fill, the European nation plans to follow on its early leadership in the green energy sector with an unprecedented investment in alternative and renewable sources, including wind and solar.

The program will cost 200 billion euros ($263 billion), about 8 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2011, according to the DIW economic institute in Berlin. And Bloomberg News reports that, "Not since the allies leveled Germany in World War II has Europe’s biggest economy undertaken a reconstruction of its energy market on this scale."

Germany's plan is seen by some as an economic gamble, but many traditional energy companies -- including nuclear power companies -- are now lining up to invest in the strategic plan. One financial and energy analyst observed the plan would would make Germany's energy market, the most important in Europe, "into a massive energy laboratory."

And though Germany's plan to phase-out of nuclear energy assumes some reliance on natural gas, the plan is a firm commitment to reach an energy economy fueled 80% by renewables, or higher.

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Bloomberg: Germany’s $263 Billion Renewables Shift Biggest Since War

Chancellor Angela Merkel is planning to build offshore wind farms that will cover an area six times the size of New York City and erect power lines that could stretch from London to Baghdad. The program will cost 200 billion euros ($263 billion), about 8 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in 2011, according to the DIW economic institute in Berlin.

Germany aims to replace 17 nuclear reactors that supplied about a fifth of its electricity with renewables such as solar and wind. Merkel to succeed must experiment with untested systems and policies and overcome technical hurdles threatening the project, said Stephan Reimelt, chief executive officer of General Electric Co. (GE)’s energy unit in the country. [...]

“The German energy transformation is as challenging as the first moon landing,” said Peter Terium, who in July takes over as chief executive officer of RWE, Germany’s second-largest utility. “It’s a huge challenge we’ll be able to master only if everyone works together.”

Germany is among the first nations to grapple with a global need to upgrade power stations. By 2035, at least $10 trillion of investment is needed to add 5,900 gigawatts of generation worldwide, more than five times the capacity of all U.S. utilities, the International Energy Agency estimates. Half of that will come from renewable. A gigawatt is about enough to supply 800,000 homes in the U.S. and a bit less than the capacity of a nuclear reactor.

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Oil & Energy Investor with Kent Moors, PhD.: The German Renewable Revolution

Germany has become the first nation to really tackle the rising energy crisis. To succeed, the country will require new technologies and fresh approaches, some not even yet on the drawing board.

The most important European market will transform into a massive energy laboratory. But success is hardly certain.

Either way, all eyes will focus on this huge German experiment.

It will cost German consumers even more than they pay now – some analysts say as much as 60% more. It holds captive the survival of a government, political careers, industrial prospects, and continental-wide financial policy.

As the euro zone wrestles with debt contagion and questions the strength of cross-border banking, the main lynchpin of that zone – Germany – is embarking on a very ambitious and risky path.

For those accustomed to seeing renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, and even biofuels dependent upon heavy government subsidies, the German experiment will be a significant change.

The large public sector injections of tax revenues and credits will still be there.

Germany will have to increase taxes to pull off this grand departure. That could make it the most expensive government debacle in recent memory.

What changes is this [...]

For the first time, a huge, guaranteed market will be opening up for alternative energy.

It will require new developments, infrastructure, improvements, and breakthroughs to make it work.

From Renewables International: The German switch from nuclear to renewables – myths and facts

...Germany actually has an action plan to reach 80 percent renewable power, and natural gas is a temporary part of that plan. In addition, a number of studies have been published to show how Germany could go 100 percent renewable such as here, here, here (PDF in German), and here (PDF in German). And let’s not forget the organization called 100% Erneuerbar – or the study called Energy Rich Japan that German researchers and one from Japan did on how Japan could get all of its energy from renewables way back in 2003. Do we Americans have any such plan?

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'Open Heart Surgery' and The Business Buy-In

From Bloomberg:

"The energy transformation is open-heart surgery," Hannelore Kraft, state prime minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, said Dec. 20 in Essen. "We need a master plan and careful monitoring so this operation can succeed."

After lobbying against clean-energy subsidies for years, utilities are gearing up to make money from the industry. EON, the country's biggest operator of nuclear power stations, plans to invest 7 billion euros in renewable energy projects in the next five years. That includes 1 billion euros on the Amrumbank West wind farm in the German North Sea, a project that Siemens AG will supply with 80 of its turbines.

"We don't do this because we think it's nice, but because we believe we can be successful," Johannes Teyssen, EON's chief executive officer, said Dec. 20 in Essen. The German energy experiment, Teyssen said, is "a task that will occupy an entire generation." [...]

Already, Germany has built the world's biggest renewable generation complex, with 53.8 gigawatts of wind and solar generators at the end of last year. Italy last year added a record 9 gigawatts of solar panels, overtaking Germany for the first time. The U.K. plans 18 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2020, up from 1,500 megawatts now.

Some of Germany's biggest companies are entering the renewables business and backing the innovations needed to make expand the scale of the industry.

Robert Bosch GmbH, the world's biggest car parts supplier based in Stuttgart, has invested about 1.5 billion euros into its solar energy business by purchasing companies and building new plants. Hochtief AG, Germany's biggest builder, has commissioned four heavy-duty ships to erect wind farms at sea including the 200 million euro "Innovation." [...]

"This energy transformation is about innovation," Roesler, the German economy minister, said in Stuttgart in January. "If we do it right, there will be many chances for economic growth."

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