Last week Quirin Schirmeier had an article in Nature "Renewable power: Germany’s energy gamble" with the subtitle: "An ambitious plan to slash greenhouse-gas emissions must clear some high technical and economic hurdles." As the article may soon disappear behind a paywall, I summarize briefly below.
Some interesting cost figures:
- Germany is currently investing more than €1.5 billion per year in energy research. One of its chief aims is to improve and build more storage systems (about €200 million is going towards developing and improving storage technologies);
- total costs of the Energiewende are estimated to top €1 trillion;
- Renewable-power producers cashed in an estimated €20 billion last year for electricity that was actually worth a mere €3 billion on the wholesale electricity market. The difference came out of the pockets of consumers.
- In January, the government put out a €150-million call for research proposals for improving the electricity network. The government also announced last year that it would install almost 4,000 kilometres of high- and low-voltage power lines, with a total transmission capacity of 10 GW. The €20-billion project would help to carry energy to the south of Germany from wind farms in the north.
Strategically, it seems unclear if the expansion and upgrade of the electricity grid is the way to go. The article cites Mathias Willenbacher, co-founder and managing director of juwi in Wörrstadt, a company that has successfully built small-scale renewable-energy projects: “That the Energiewende depends on a huge expansion of the grid is a myth — and a very expensive myth, too.” Willenbacher argues that it would be better to plough money into energy-storage options. “If you solve the storage issue, there is no need any more to transmit massive amounts of wind power from the North Sea to the Alps,” he says.
However Germany sources its electricity, the Energiewende will not succeed unless the country can convince ordinary people to use energy more efficiently, says Eberhard Umbach, president of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. He is optimistic in that “We don't need technological leaps to accomplish the Energiewende.” On the other hand he recognizes the challenges. He 'is not sure that the transformation will come off as soon as planned. But he is convinced that Germany is the right country to try the great experiment. “If it fails it will be bad for Germany,” he says. “But if it succeeds the whole world will profit.”