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Germany finds weeds on path to ‘greener’ future

Published time: May 06, 2012 07:21
Edited time: May 06, 2012 11:21

The offshore wind power farm "Alpha Ventus" is pictured off the northern German Island of Borkum (AFP Photo / David Hecker)

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Germany’s accelerated shift away from atomic energy to renewable resources will cause a significant power gap over the next few years. The lack of a coherent post-nuclear strategy and bureaucratic hurdles cast doubt over the country’s “green” future.

­Germany’s power grid will be hard-pressed to prevent widespread blackouts in the face of increased energy demand next winter. The country’s new energy regulator Bundesnetzagentur described the situation on Friday as “tight,” following the release of the agency’s report highlighting shortfalls in Germany’s national grid.

A high-level meeting of the German government on Wednesday to discuss energy issues revealed that Germany will have a power gap equivalent to the output of 15 power stations by 2020.

"It was agreed that by 2020 there will be a capacity gap of 10 Gigawatts,"
one source told news agency Reuters following the meeting.

Leading government and energy executives have thus far found no solution to the country’s energy deficit. They are scheduled to meet again on May 23 to push for an solution to the shortfall.

The government’s decision to turn its back on nuclear energy off the back of the Japanese Fukushima disaster has become a serious bone of contention ahead of next year’s federal election. The plan is to be completely nuclear-free by 2022, so far 17 reactors have been shut down with another six expected to go offline before 2021. Germany’s three remaining reactors will remain open until 2022 to minimize the risk of power disruption.

Germany has championed itself as the “world’s first renewable energy economy” but has so far failed to tackle major hiccups in the transfer to renewable resources. The main issues affecting the country’s energy supply are the speed of transition and investor’s hesitance to fund ambitious projects.

The government plans to counterbalance the vacuum left by nuclear energy with a combination of new coal-fired plants and increased use of renewable resources.

Energy regulator Bundesnetzagentur has said that the power deficit will be under control until 2014, when 12 gigawatts of nuclear plant closures should be matched by newly-constructed plants.

Companies are weary of the billion or so euro needed to create new power plants because they are uncertain whether or not they will be able to sell the energy off profitably.

­

Winds of change

Germany is the world’s third-largest user of wind power, which currently makes up around 8 per cent of the country’s energy needs. It plans to expand on the use of wind energy by constructing 10MW of offshore wind parks by 2020. However, the plans have been dogged by teething problems. There have been disputes over who will finance the offshore parks connection to the mainland, insurance issues and uncertainty over who is responsible for technical glitches.

In addition, Ruth Lea, economic advisor Arbuthnot banking group, told RT that the wind farms will actually incur more costs than expected because of the necessity for backup power supplies.

“You have to have backup capacity for when the wind is not blowing” and that usually means coal fired or gas fired stations to compensate.

“And having all that capacity lying there waiting for the wind to drop does mean of course extra costs,” she said.

Analysts have suggested that stumbling blocks in Germany’s development of its renewable energy infrastructure could backfire and increase the country’s dependence on fossil fuels. This would make Germany subject to outside imports and consequently vulnerable to disruption and cost inflation.

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