Over the last decade, liberal journalists have held up Germany’s renewable energy transition — Energiewende — as an environmental model for the world.
With Germany as inspiration, the United Nations and World Bank poured billions into wind, solar and hydro in developing nations like Kenya. But then, last year, Germany was forced to acknowledge that it had to delay its own phase-out of coal, and would not meet its 2020 greenhouse gas reduction commitments.
It actually announced plans to bulldoze an ancient church and forest in order to get at the coal underneath.
Germany didn’t fall a bit short of its climate target — its emissions goal has flatlined since 2009. A headline article in its largest newsweekly magazine, Der Spiegel — “A botched job in Germany” — shows broken wind turbines and unfinished electrical transmission towers against a dark silhouette of Berlin.
Over the past five years, Energiewende cost Germany $36 billion annually, and opposition to renewables is now growing in Germany. The deployment of renewables and building of related transmission lines is rapidly slowing.
Less than half as many wind turbines (743) were installed in 2018 as were installed in 2017, and just 18 miles of new transmission were added in 2017. Between 2000 and 2019, Germany grew renewables from 7 percent to 35 percent of its electricity.
Over the more than 4,700 miles of transmission lines needed, only 8 percent have been built, while large-scale electricity storage remains inefficient and expensive. “A large part of the green energy produced is lost,” and the efficiency is less than 50 percent.
All of which raises a question: If going green energy can’t cheaply power Germany, one of the richest most technologically advanced countries in the world, how can it work in the rest of the world?
Starting around 2000, renewables were gaining high-tech media attention. Governments and private speculators poured $2 trillion into solar and wind and related infrastructure, creating the impression that renewables were profitable without government subsidies.
Its advocates have, with little scientific evidence, proclaimed that wealthy, high-energy nations can be powered by cheap solar panels and electric cars. Journalists and politicos have reported on the cost declines in green energy production, fantasizing time when conventional base load electric utilities would be “disrupted.”
But no amount of wishful thinking can change the poor physics of resource- and land-intensive renewables. Solar electric farms take up 450 times more land than nuclear power plants, and wind farms take 700 times more land than natural gas wells, to produce the same amount of energy.
Fact check: Intermittent power sources require much more installed capacity than do firm power sources to produce the same amount of electricity. The capacity factor, that is the amount of power produced divided by the power that would be produced if the power source was producing at full capacity at all times, is around 90 percent for nuclear power, 70 percent for geothermal power, and between 50 to 60 percent for coal- and natural gas-fired power.
But annual power factors for wind and solar power are only in the 25 to 35 percent range.
In total, the efficiency for top-rated solar panels is 30 percent with a lifespan of 20 years. The efficiency of wind turbines is between 30 and 40 percent, with an average lifespan of 20 to 25 years.
This is in comparison to coal plants, whose average life has been 40 years, natural gas-fired more than 30 years, hydro 60 years, and nuclear 40 to 50 years.
In summary, I think the actual facts speak for themselves.