Revolution Threatens to Falter
Is Germany's Green Energy Plan Failing?
By Laura Gitschier and Christian Schwägerl 10/11/2011
Germany has set higher targets for renewable energy usage than any other industrialized nation. Angela Merkel's government plans to decommission its nuclear plants by 2022 and to obtain 80 percent of all energy from renewables by 2050. So far, though, too many promises from Berlin have gone unfulfilled.
German Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen never tires of all the praise for Germany's energy revolution coming from around the world. Whenever he explains to foreign politicians that his highly industrialized country aims to decommission all of its nuclear power plants by 2022 and obtain at least 80 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050, he is only rarely met with utter denial -- at least not among his fellow environment ministers. The reactions range between incredulous amazement, genuine enthusiasm and envy over the great amount of courage such a move takes.
Last Friday, Röttgen, whose ministry is responsible for energy policy, was once again able to bask in praise. Germany's federal government had convened energy experts from around the world to join in a dedication ceremony for a branch office of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in Bonn, the former capital. Of course, it only had to do with a few offices in the wing of a building that once housed Germany's Postal Ministry. But it was occasion enough for international representatives to gather in the banquet room of the Hotel Petersberg, which has used over the years as the seat of the Allied High Commission after World War II and as a federal guest house hosting a number of major international conferences, for which it has been dubbed the "German Camp David." Adnan Amin, IRENA's Kenyan director general, raved about "the global leadership that has been exercised by Germany on sustainability."
The only question is whether things will stay that way. The pioneer could quickly become a loser if something goes wrong with the energy revolution, like an explosion in prices, power shortages or missed environmental targets. Should that happen, Germany would be a cautionary example for all the world of how, even with climate change and nuclear dangers, it is impossible for an industrialized nation to meet its needs with green energy.
A few things already began going wrong in the weeks just after the Bundestag, Germany's federal parliament, passed Chancellor Angela Merkel's plan to shift to renewable energies in late June. A court put a spanner in the works, government plans ran up against opposition and the calculations didn't add up. Is Merkel's energy revolution now heading towards a crisis? moreNotice that powering a society with renewables will require a lot of ongoing maintenance (read jobs). Another benefit in my book.
Winds of Change
Offshore Turbines More Powerful than First Nuclear Plant
By Alexander Smoltczyk
MATTHIAS IBELER / DER SPIEGEL 10/21/2011
The term "energy revolution" sounds light and airy enough, but how do human beings manage to wrest electricity from the sea? Germany's largest offshore wind farm, a power plant surrounded by a hostile environment, produces 12 times as much energy as the world's first nuclear power plant.
From a distance, say about three nautical miles, the future looks very simple. You stick a wind turbine up into the air, and it turns. Ralf Klooster can explain this to his five-year-old at home. The more difficult question is why Daddy has to drive to the jetty at Norddeich harbor every morning at six to make sure that those simple things out there in the water keep turning.
"It's not as easy as you think," says Klooster. He is a native of the East Frisia region of northwest Germany, has the physique of an Olympic rower and looks as if E.on has cast him for its advertising photos. Klooster is actually a custodian of sorts for the Alpha Ventus offshore wind farm, 45 kilometers (28 miles) from the North Sea island of Borkum. Even at high wind speeds, he is able to finish his sentences. As Klooster says, none of this is easy.
He awoke this morning at 4:45 a.m., boiled water for his tea (he uses "NaturWatt" green electricity, at 23.6 cents per kilowatt hour) and drove to the jetty to board the "Wind Force I."
It sounds like "Air Force One," but it's merely the service boat for the Alpha Ventus wind farm, which consists of 12 five-megawatt towers and produces electricity for 50,000 households. It's the largest offshore wind farm in the country. The morning greetings: "Moin!" - "Moin!"
Germany is the first highly developed, industrialized nation to decide to be dependent on renewable energy in the future. Germany is also the country where nuclear fission was discovered and the internal combustion engine was invented. By 2020 Germany, a country dotted with auto plants, chemical factories and steel mills, is to derive fully one fifth of its power from wind turbines.
The goal, according to the proponents of wind energy, is to end Germany's epochal dependence on petroleum, so that it will no longer be reliant on a country ruled by someone like Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The goal is to do nothing less than change the climate system and set the agenda for the 21st century. A bigger task is hardly imaginable. Germany has made a bet that it cannot afford to lose.But getting politicians to take serious problems seriously is still the major headache. It is interesting to see how the center-right government of Germany views the necessary follow-on to Kyoto.
And everyone is watching. If the phase-out works in Germany, and if the Germans can at least partially replace nuclear power with wind energy, it can work in Great Britain, Chile, France and California. Germany has become a test laboratory. Meanwhile, Ralf Klooster will have his hands full until his workday ends at 6:30 p.m. "Okay, let's get going," he says. more
Climate Change Negotiations
The Death of the Kyoto Process
By Christian Schwägerl and Gerald Traufetter 10/18/2011
There seems little possibility that next month's climate summit in Durban will produce an emissions reduction agreement -- meaning the world will soon lack any binding CO2 targets. Europe may soon find itself alone in the fight against global warming.
A climate catastrophe descended on the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin early last week. Politicians and diplomats from around the world were attending a conference to discuss how global warming will affect the world. They examined scenarios depicting how millions of people living in coastal areas could escape flooding, what will happen to the fishing and mineral rights of island nations when they no longer exist and how China and Russia will benefit from an ice-free Arctic.
In a statement, the Foreign Ministry said that it intended to "openly and creatively address" the dangers of climate change. The exercise was designed to help "find new paths of international cooperation."
But the belief that global warming can be halted through international cooperation is elusive. The Kyoto Protocol, the world's only binding climate agreement, will soon expire. The most important means to date of compelling industrialized nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions seems likely to become a mere footnote in history.
The current CO2-reduction agreements expire at the end of 2012, and there is enormous resistance to new targets. The environment ministers and negotiators from roughly 200 countries, who will travel to Durban, South Africa at the end of November for the latest global climate conference, are a long way from breathing new life into the Kyoto process.
Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, is making the bold claim that there is "a strong desire from all sides to see a final political decision made" in Durban. But this decision will probably consist of doing without fixed agreements on CO2 reduction in the future. "The meeting in Durban could become an act of mourning," warns Reimund Schwarze of the Climate Service Center in Hamburg, which analyzes climate policy on behalf of the German government.
When Angela Merkel, then the German Environment Minister, returned from the 1997 UN climate summit in the Japanese imperial city of Kyoto, she was exhausted after long nights of negotiations. But she was also proud. The industrialized nations had pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions for the period from 2008 to 2012 by 5 percent from the 1990 levels. The conference was a "milestone in the history of environmental protection," she said, noting that an "irreversible process" to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases had been initiated.
Although the industrialized countries will achieve the goal set in 1997, Merkel, now Germany's chancellor, has lost almost all the optimism she had at the time. In fact, she now warns that the international negotiations could turn into a "huge disappointment."
To stop global warming, a much faster and greater reduction in CO2 levels would be needed than the Kyoto Protocol has produced to date. But this is nowhere in sight. The reductions in emissions so far are primarily the result of economic crises and the collapse of industry in the former Soviet bloc. Noble rhetoric aside, oil, natural gas and coal have remained the foundation of modern prosperity. Major industrialized nations like Australia and Canada have even increased their emissions. moreUSA has come to the energy problem so late that we are missing out on the manufacturing possibilities of PV power. Even so, as my brother has discovered, there is a whole lot to like about owning a solar-powered home.
Cheap Solar Panels Are Bad For Solar Panel Companies But Great For US EnergyWhen a Yalie starts using Producer Class metaphors to explain why USA should get serious about the real economy, it must be a sign. After all, Veblen's The Theory of the Leisure Class was inspired by all the useless protoplasm he found himself surround by at Yale.
Oct. 24, 2011
NEW YORK (AP) — Solar energy may finally get its day in the sun.
The high costs that for years made it impractical as a mainstream source of energy are plummeting. Real estate companies are racing to install solar panels on office buildings. Utilities are erecting large solar panel "farms" near big cities and in desolate deserts. And creative financing plans are making solar more realistic than ever for homes.
Solar power installations doubled in the United States last year and are expected to double again this year. More solar energy is being planned than any other power source, including nuclear, coal, natural gas and wind.
"We are at the beginning of a turning point," says Andrew Beebe, who runs global sales for Suntech Power, a manufacturer of solar panels.
Solar's share of the power business remains tiny. But its promise is great. The sun splashes more clean energy on the planet in one hour than humans use in a year, and daytime is when power is needed most. And solar panels can be installed near where people use power, reducing or eliminating the costs of moving power through a grid.
Solar power has been held back by costs. It's still about three times more expensive than electricity produced by natural gas, according to estimates by the Energy Information Administration.
But the financial barriers are falling fast. Solar panel prices have plunged by two-thirds since 2008, making it easier for installers to market solar's financial benefits, and not simply its environmental ones. Homeowners who want to go solar can do so for free and pay the same or less for their power.
Last month two of the nation's biggest utilities, Exelon and NextEra Energy, each acquired a large California solar power farm in the early stages of development. Another utility, NRG Energy, has announced a plan with Bank of America and the real estate firm Prologis to spend $1.4 billion to install solar systems on 750 commercial rooftops.
Nationwide, solar power installations grew by 102 percent from 2009 to 2010, by far the fastest rate in the past five years. more
SHILLER: America Is Like A Farm In Winter — So Let's Build Some Barns
Henry Blodget | Oct. 17, 2011,
Yale professor Robert Shiller has become the latest big name to try to persuade Americans that it would be smart for the country to spend big money to fix our crumbling infrastructure.
We're like a farm in winter.
In winter, Shiller says, farmers have time to fix barns and tractors and do other stuff that they don't have time to do during the summer. And everyone on the farm pitches in, because they don't have anything else to do. This gives folks valuable work to do, and it improves the farm.
And right now, Shiller says, we're the equivalent of a farm in winter. So it's time to get out there and start fixing and building stuff.
A huge infrastructure-spending initiative, Shiller observes, would:
- Put construction workers back to work.
- Create better infrastructure that would help people (and make America less embarrassing relative to other first world countries).
- Stimulate the economy. more