We have to talk about Germany
Author: Rafe Champion
The bottom line for people in Canberra who are too busy to read to the end is that German emissions have not gone down since 2009.
Australia has a lot to learn from the German experience with renewable energy. Their program is called the Energiewende, the German dream of a green energy transformation.
The roots of the dream are in the anti-nuclear protests of the 1970s although the British policy analyst Rupert Darwall in Green Tyranny traced it further back to the long tradition of environmental fundamentalism in Germany.
In the 1980s the German Greens became a political power and activists started to use the term Energiewende. They hated nuclear energy and the Chernobyl episode helped them along. Then in the 1980s climate change entered the discourse.
In 1991 came feed-in tariffs followed by a comprehensive Renewable Energy Act in 2000 and a commitment to phase out nuclear energy by 2022.
In 2007 the European Union set ambitious environmental/energy targets. It was all 20s. The target date was 2020, the aim for the percentage of renewable energy share was 20, likewise greenhouse gas reduction and increased energy efficiency.
Angela Merkel emerged as the political leader of the movement and Germany became the flagship in the European green energy fleet. There was enthusiasm in many other places, Spain, Denmark, Britain, South Australia but Germany was the great role model.
In 2011 the Fukushima episode prompted a panic to accelerate the flight from nuclear power and a new round of Energiewende action. The Germans upped the ante for greenhouse gas reductions to 40% by 2020, 55% by 2030 and up to 95% by 2050. The target for renewables in final energy consumption was set for 60% by2050 and the target for green gross power use was 80% in 2050.
Then surprisingly the annual monitoring report on progress with the transformation did not appear in 2016 and 2017. During that time the formation of a government was delayed amidst growing concern about the cost and effectiveness of the transition.
The leadership of the trade union movement became agitated. They bought into the dream of green jobs in the early days but 130,000 solar panel jobs went to China and the process is being repeated with wind turbines. Over 8000 jobs in the industry were slated for redundancy last year.
The cost of green jobs turned out to be enormous. The humorous Dutch commentator van Ulzen reported that the jobs on offshore wind platforms cost 50 times more than normal jobs elsewhere. He contemplated the number of teachers, road maintenance workers and nurses that they could have got for the money. His whimsical reflections and the machine translation from Dutch gives him some interesting turns of phrase.
With the €20 billion green subsidy losses per year, Germany could have paid 500,000 teachers, agents or hands on the bed. If necessary in green uniform.
This year the 6th Energiewende Monitoring Report appeared with an admission of failure on all three sides of the so-called “energy policy target triangle”- supply security, affordability and emission reduction. The report did not concede defeat, it recommended that the transformation should have a higher political priority.
In reality the failure is comprehensive. As to reliability, the grid staggers on the brink of collapse if any congruence of unfavourable conditions occurs. On affordability Germany tops the cost of energy league table with Denmark and South Australia.
The killer blow is the failure of emission reduction – the very rationale for the whole Energiewende adventure. Even the rose-tinted glasses worn by the PR team at Green Energy Wire do not obscure the facts in the chart they reproduced in the 2018 edition of A Reporter’s Guide to the Energiewende. It shows that the downward trend in emissions from 1991 hit the wall in 2009 with no progress in the best part of a decade to 2017.
So much for the Energiewende. Is anyone in Canberra watching?