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Learning from Germany’s Renewable Energy Transition

Julius Fischer, Energy Collective
Germany is moving forward to replace fossil fuels with renewables faster than most countries. But there is always pushback, most recently in the form of much media discourse about rising electricity prices spearheaded by the Federal Minister of Environment Peter Altmaier. Like many politicians, he is already preparing for national elections in September, so let’s take an honest look at this discourse surrounding electricity prices and how they affect Germany’s move toward renewables…

The discourse surrounding the Energiewende has ranged from whether the grid expansion can keep up with renewable energy deployment, to whether the grid liability can be maintained (yes it can), and whether shutting down nuclear power in Germany will just result in imports of nuclear power from France or the Czech Republic (it hasn’t). The current discourse raises the questions of whether household electricity consumers should pay less, whether industry should pay more, and whether the Energiewende can be done cheaper…

Julius Fischer is an intern at American Progress. He was born and raised in Germany and is currently a junior at Stanford University studying international relations and environmental sciences.
(28 March 2013)

German energy surplus quadruples despite renewable push

Jeevan Vasagar, The Daily Telegraph
Figures just published appeared to vindicate Germany’s clean energy revolution, showing that the country’s electricity surplus had nearly quadrupled between 2011 and 2012.

However, the figures do not take into account the cost of subsidising renewable energy, which some estimates put at €14bn (£11.8bn).

Domestic energy consumers in Germany pay a surcharge on their electricity bills to fund government incentives for green energy. The costs for householders are higher because big businesses are exempted from the charges after complaints that making firms pay would hurt Germany’s global competitiveness…
(2 April 2013)

The ‘unstoppable’ renewable grid

Chris Nelder, Smart Planet
The energy transition juggernaut I previewed last May is rolling on unabated, despite U.S. natural gas prices falling to 10-year lows last year. According to a new Gallup poll, two-thirds of Americans would like to see more emphasis on solar, wind and natural gas, while less than half of them support more emphasis on nuclear, oil and coal.

In addition to popular sentiment, installations of renewable generation are proceeding apace. According to the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission [PDF], the United States installed more power generation capacity from wind than for any other power source in 2012: 10,700 megawatts (MW), 23 percent more than natural gas (8,700 MW) and more than double the new coal capacity (4,500 MW). New solar capacity grew by 1,500 MW, a 31 percent increase over 2011.

It seems that the widespread belief that cheap natural gas would kill the growth of renewables — which I always viewed skeptically and never found convincing data to support — didn’t have much substance after all…

Image credit Jon Smith/flickr
(3 April 2013)

German village offers blueprint for rural green energy

Christoph Steitz, Reuters
Nations as diverse as North Korea and the United States have sent delegations to visit a tiny village in former East Germany to see how it has transformed the way it uses energy.

A 60-minute drive south of Berlin and home to about 125 people, Feldheim is Germany’s first and only energy self-sufficient village and attracts both international energy experts and politicians.

"We’re seen as pioneers and the world wants to know whether they can duplicate our success," said Joachim Gebauer, a 55-year-old former teacher who guides visitors through the remote hamlet.

"No coal or gas is burned here, it’s all clean."

Instead, Feldheim is powered by a mix of 43 wind turbines, a woodchip-fired heating plant and a biogas plant that uses cattle and pig slurry as well as maize silage…
(26 March 2013)

Desertec on the Ropes: Competitors and Opponents Threaten Energy Plan

Nicolai Kwasniewski, Der Spiegel
The ambitious Desertec plan to supply Europe with solar power from the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East seems to have stalled. It could now be facing even greater problems as competitors arise and local opposition mounts.

Desertec is primarily an idea out of the back room of the Club of Rome, that body of mostly old men who ponder how to save the world. Their bold plan envisions generating green solar energy in one of the world’s sunniest locations and then piping it through a Mediterranean super-grid to energy-hungry European countries. The deserted Sahara could supply energy to densely settled Europe.

But human rights organizations say there’s just one thing missing from this picture: the people living in this region, where much energy is available and little used. And the organizations complain that they would enjoy practically no benefits from Desertec…
(3 April 2013)

Renewable energy providers to help bear cost of new UK nuclear reactors

Damian Carrington, The Guardian
The row over subsidies for the UK’s new nuclear power stations has deepened after it emerged that the £160m-a-year cost of accommodating the giant reactors on the national electricity grid will be borne by all generators, including renewable energy providers.

The new reactors planned by EDF for Hinkley Point are significantly larger than any existing power stations, meaning the national grid has to pay for extra standby electricity to stop the grid crashing if one of the reactors unexpectedly goes offline. National Grid said its decision to charge all generators for the cost was because "increasing costs on larger users could delay the commissioning of large nuclear plants by a number of years".

The government is sensitive to the charge that its energy policies are contributing to increases in consumer bills. On Wednesday it released an analysis which predicted that bills in 2020 would be £166 lower as a result of climate change policies than they would be if the government did nothing…
(27 March 2013)

Energy policies ‘reduce bill rises’

BBC Online
Energy policies will cushion consumers from price rises, but only after contributing to a rise in average household bills, a report has said.

By 2020, bills will be 11% – or £166 – lower than they would otherwise have been, according to the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s report.

It looked at policies such as a drive to boost home insulation and promote energy efficient boiler installation…
(27 March 2013)

Philippines turns trash into clean energy windfall

AFP, Global Nation
Teresita Mabignay does her ironing using free of electricity on the slope of a garbage dump, an unlikely beneficiary of efforts to turn the Philippines’ growing rubbish problems into a clean-energy windfall. Mabignay lives at the base of one of Manila’s largest landfills, which was the first in the country to have its methane gas converted into power as part of a United Nations’ program aimed at tackling climate change.

Decomposing rubbish produces methane, which is one of the greenhouse gases that scientists blame for global warming, and turning it into electricity saves it from rising up into the atmosphere while reducing the need to burn fossil fuels.

The methane is captured with pipes that are dug into the landfill, similar to wells that extract gas from under the ground or ocean. Methane is then sucked down to a power station at the bottom of the dumpsite and pumped into generators to make electricity.

For the past few years Mabignay and other housewives from the slum community at the bottom of the Payatas landfill have been given free access to the power at a hall built at the dumpsite.
(27 March 2013)

Green planet image via shutterstock. Reproduced at with permission.