It pains me when people write about the German Energiewende without doing their homework. Even people who want to be supportive cause me pain, let alone the many ill-informed attacks out there.
Especially when they have already found their way to the excellent EnergyTransition.de web site, which has all the facts, but then not sufficiently studied the site to learn what has happened and is happening.
The latest entry in this category is the blog at the Energy Institute at the UC-Berkeley Haas Business School. Professor Maximilian Auffhammer wonders about Germany's plans to exit both nuclear and coal.
But he doesn't do his homework on many basic facts about the energy transition, both historical and technical.
First, he says that the “Energiewende law” was “proposed months before Fukushima.” In reality, the Feed-In Act was adopted in 1991, with significant reforms by the Renewable Energy Act (EEG) in 2000, followed by more revisions in 2004, 2009, 2012 and 2014.
The decision to phase out nuclear was made in 2000. The Merkel Administration planned to repeal the phase out in 2010, and reversed course after the Fukushima disaster.
Ouch number two: He says Germany can “always buy cheap nuclear baseload from France if things go terribly wrong.” But isn't this power is already spoken for in France? Does he think the plants are sitting there idle?
Ouch three: Like many casual observers of electricity systems, Auffhammer assumes that wind and solar will require storage. But there are many solutions to variability in Germany that are more cost affective and efficient than storage. The Berlin think tank Agora Energiewende has said “The energy transition must not wait for storage. For the next 15 to 20 years – that is, up to 60 percent of renewable energies – we will have plenty of other, cheaper flexibility options available.”
The biggest solution will be greater EU integration of grid operations. In the same way California is solving variability first by integrating with the Western US grid through the Energy Imbalance Market (EIM) and adding new members to the California ISO. Storage is part of the long term answer, but mostly for reasons other than wind and solar variability.
Last, and most painful: He says the vision of a system with little or no nuclear and coal is “slowly emerging.” But it was established years ago in the decision to go to 80 percent renewables. It is, in fact, the whole point of the Energiewende!
He is right that there are major problems with phasing out coal. Because Germany is part of the EU-wide emission trading scheme (ETS), they are at the mercy of the overall European market for carbon reduction prices. Because credit prices have been so low, German coal plants are not sufficiently hindered by the ETS. The Merkel administration is proposing new fees on coal plants to accelerate retirement of the oldest coal plants. But labor unions and power plant owners are fighting to save them, setting up a major political battle.
There are many lessons to be learned from the Energiewende, for America and other regions. But a professor would know that lessons must rely on sound scholarship. Otherwise, painful raps on the knuckles result.