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Germany to Boost Renewables

Julio Godoy

BERLIN, Jun 2 2011 (IPS) - The decision by the German government of Chancellor Angela Merkel to phase out nuclear power by 2022 will increase efficiency in the use of energy, boost investment and accelerate technical progress in renewable energy sources, and promote international energy cooperation, according to numerous experts.

These factors are indispensable for Germany, the leading industrial powerhouse in Europe, to substitute the present share of nuclear energy – of some 23 percent of the country’s total consumption of electricity – and to guarantee a steady supply of alternative energy, the experts say.

The German government announced Monday that all nuclear power plants operating in the country would be shuttered by 2022. The seven nuclear power plants offline for testing since the catastrophe that destroyed the Japanese nuclear facilities of Fukushima, plus one additional power plant, offline for several years now due to technical problems, will remained closed for ever. The remaining nine plants will be closed by 2022.

According to the government, the share of its renewable energy supply will double, from 17 percent now to more than 35 percent in 2020, to compensate for the loss of nuclear power. On the demand side, increased efficiency in home heating and improved thermal isolation of buildings should reduce consumption by 10 percent.

“We expect a formidable growth in demand for new, more efficient heating systems for private households and thermal isolation of buildings in general,” Holger Schwannecke, director of the German association of industrial artisanry, told IPS.

The essential piece of the German energy puzzle that will substitute nuclear power is the further development of renewable energy – especially the installation of more wind turbines offshore in the northern Atlantic Ocean and in the Baltic Sea.

Merkel’s government announced that it would improve the bureaucratic handling of new permits for wind energy installations offshore, to increase the supply to 25,000 megawatts by 2030.

Tim Fischer, professor for renewable energy at the University of Stuttgart, told IPS that, “the installation of new, extreme performing wind turbines towers – up to 150 metres high, and with a capacity of 20 megawatts per unit – is already possible.”

The average height and performance of the present German wind turbines are 90 metres and two megawatts.

“There is no technical obstacle to such a high wind turbine. Engineering knowhow and material are already available,” according to Fischer.

Frank Zimmermann, managing director of the offshore business unit at Repower Systems, the leading German manufacturer of wind turbines, agrees with Fischer. “The problem is not the technology,” Zimmermann told IPS.

“We can easily build a wind turbine tower of 150 metres with a performance of 20 megawatts. But there are many bureaucratic obstacles we have to solve to obtain a permit to transport and install such a tower,” he said.

Beyond the increase of renewable energy supply, Germany will have to solve the problem of transporting this electricity and guaranteeing enough supply – some 75 gigawatts on a typical winter day, or 35 gigawatts on a typical summer day.

“We need new intelligent electricity grids, that allow us to transport the wind energy we produce in northern Germany to potential consumers in the south of the country,” said Reinhard Christiansen, director of several wind turbine parks located in the federal state of Schleswig Holstein, near the border with Denmark.

Christiansen told IPS that in 2010, at least 15 percent of the electricity generated by the wind turbines he manages could not be delivered to consumers. “We had to shut down our turbines, because the grid could not handle our electricity,” Christiansen complained.

He put the amount of electricity lost from the turbines he manages at 50 million kilowatts per hour.

A smart electricity grid would use digital technology to monitor all electricity supply flowing into the grid while controlling the consumer’s demand – right down to household appliances – to save energy, reduce costs, and increase reliability of supply. Smart grids would also provide storage capacity for fluctuating supply, such as that generated by wind and solar energy, to deliver it at moments of high demand.

For Antonella Battaglini, director of the European Renewables-Grid Initiative, and researcher at the German Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, the need for such smart electricity grids goes beyond German national interest, and should be promoted at the European level.

“Today, it is practically impossible to transport electricity from one country to another,” Battaglini said. “Bureaucracy makes it almost impossible, and national opposition to such transnational electric lines are high.”

Without an international smart electricity grid, Europe “can bury its plans to generate all its electricity with renewable sources by the year 2050,” Battaglini warned.

Wind energy providers in Denmark and other European countries have expressed similar sentiments. Dorthe Vinther, vice president of Energinet, an independent public enterprise which owns the main electric and natural gas grids in Denmark, told IPS that smart grids constitute an essential factor for the creation of a future international renewables market, especially of wind energy.

“The integration of large-scale wind power requires a strong international transmission grid and efficient international electricity markets, to trade and balance the wind power in a wide geographical area,” Vinther told IPS. “For such an international project, we also need coherent energy systems to increase flexibility and economic efficiency and reduce environmental impact.”

One fundamental question of the energy revolution in Germany remains unanswered: the cost.

“We don’t know how much it will cost, either for the public or for the state. Nobody can predict it with precision,” Minister of the Environment Norbert Roettgen told the German public television network ARD.

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