Is German solar power growing too fast?

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Mark Lynas has posted a good, quick summary of the status of Germany’s Energiewende. Like me he does not believe the Energiewende is doing a great deal to reduce emissions. However, his assessment of German solar power is perhaps more generous than it should be:

Solar continued its enormous growth rate between 2011 and 2012. Production rose from 19.3TWh (terawatt-hours) in 2011 to 27.6TWh in 2012, representing an impressive increase of 47.7%. In terms of total electricity generation, solar’s percentage rose from 3.2% in 2011 to 4.6% in 2012. This is an extraordinary achievement by any standard.

I will agree that, looked at in isolation, the growth in German solar power is impressive. You may even be inclined to throw around words such as exponential growth to describe what has happened in the last decade:


Growth in solar power however does not occur in isolation. Money spent subsidizing solar is money not spent subsidizing something else, in particular wind. We can argue about the details, but I don’t think there is any real reason to not believe that onshore wind is a) a lot cheaper than solar and b) can provide a much higher percentage of Germany’s electricity supply. These two basic facts, and common sense, would indicate that Germany should be expanding wind much faster than solar. Instead the opposite is happening:

wind solar

Remarkably wind production was only 15 GWh higher in 2012 than 2007, whereas production from solar was up about 20 GWh. Lower wind conditions may have pushed wind farm output below average, but it is clear that in the last half decade solar has grown faster than wind power. This should be seen as a complete misuse use of vital money, but instead Germany’s rapid growth in solar is regularly touted as an example worth following.

So, here we have an example of a government “picking winners,” but clearly not doing a very job of it.

(Thanks to Gustaf Rossell for pointing me to the data referenced above)


Quote of the Year

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My nomination for quote of the year has to go to Germany’s Environment Minister Peter Altmaier, who said the following at the opening of a 2.2 GW coal plant:

“If one builds a new state-of-the-art lignite power plant to replace several older and much less efficient plants, then I feel this should also be acknowledged as a contribution to our climate protection efforts.”

This is perhaps the best summary imaginable of the absurd nature of Germany’s Energiewende.

Why hyping solar is bad for renewables

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For a few hours in May this year Germany got over half of its electricity from solar power. A much hyped event that Bill McKibben claimed demonstrates we already have the technology to solve climate change. However, there is a great danger that selectively reporting peak production of different renewable energy sources will lead to public misunderstanding of the relative merits of different renewable energy sources. Read the rest of this entry »

Brief Notes on “Clean Break”

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A new brief account of Germany’s Energy Revolution has just been published. Written by Osha Grey Davidson it’ll take about an hour of your time. The low price is unfortunate, as I believe they should have increased it just enough so that they could include a complimentary Kool Aid. Read the rest of this entry »