renewable energy in Germany

I’ve had an amateur interest in renewable energy (only occasionally explored) for coming up to 10 years, since I wrote an essay on “the hydrogen future” (or something like that) in year 10. I was convinced, on the basis of scanty research, that a new infrastructure based on hydrogen rather than fossil fuels was the way to go. I think I got lucky in the reading I did do on the topic (which was a bit before the idea gained some popularity and media interest), and the idea of a hydrogen economy, or another fuel-cell based system, still intrigues me.

An intermediate or alternative step to such an economy may be to use natural gas, or similar carbon-based fuels which burn cleanly and can be synthesised from carbon dioxide with the addition of energy. As noted, I haven’t thought too much about this, aside from briefly taking a paper in energy economics as part of my much maligned (at this blog) economics major. However, I came across this [link] very interesting article in Nature today.

I’m a big fan of German industry and technology too (having studied German for a while), and their efforts in the renewable energy field are commendable.

However, there are challenges in shifting away from fossil fuels to synthetic fuels – here are some cut from the article – perhaps only interesting to me, (the main reason I post stuff here is as a way of developing my thinking on stuff I find interesting, in case I want to come back to it at a later stage, so if the readers who occasionally pass by don’t like it, that’s okay!)

“the costs of that shift are apparent in their monthly electricity bills. The statements include a litany of ‘shared costs’ that are split by all households to fund theEnergiewende — and result in some of the highest electricity prices in Europe.”

“The effects of Germany’s policies are also reverberating through the European energy market. One of Europe’s biggest energy providers, E.ON based in Düsseldorf, announced in January that it plans to close several gas-fired power stations across Europe that were operating at a loss, even though they are far less polluting than coal-fired plants. The “unmanaged growth” of renewable-energy sources is forcing gas-fired plants to spend too much time idle …”

“[power to gas] is still an immature technology, with high upfront costs and an efficiency of only about 50% in converting electricity to methane.”

“The rapid rise in wind and solar power has created a nightmare scenario for grid operators, who face power surges when the wind blows and the Sun shines, and shortages when they don’t. In 2011, more than 200,000 blackouts exceeding three minutes were reported — and experts warn of a growing risk of major power failures.”

So, in conclusion I’m not sure what to make of all this.  All the shiny technology involved notwithstanding, I fear that a better environmental use of the billions of Euros involved in the grand project would be to work on reducing deforestation and helping developing nations to avoid the worst excesses in pollution, and perhaps even to build large clean energy systems in Africa to power that continent rather than trying to ship their sunlight-energy as electricity up to Europe … All of this makes me wonder, as I haven’t for a while, if I should’ve kept on studying economics.  Who knows?

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