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Renewing Germany’s power base

Germany faces enormous challenges in its bid to quit nuclear in favour of renewables. Can Europe’s powerhouse make the move?

There is a lot of global interest in what’s happening in Germany. Put simply, if the German economy can make the switch from nuclear power to renewables, while maintaining industrial output levels and consumer goodwill, the country may well have written the first blueprint for how industrialised states green up their power usage.

It was back in May that the German government announced its overarching phase-out of nuclear power. Today, certain analysts are still forecasting power blackouts or industrial chaos, while some of the widest concerns stem from precisely how much electricity is actually going to cost German householders, as well as the wider background of the country’s climate change mitigation targets.
Back in April, the German Federal Environment Agency had already been pointing out that energy efficiency too would have a role to play, saying that the, “Energy turnaround requires greater energy efficiency,” which could mean some, “25-30m additional tonnes of carbon dioxide could be saved in electricity alone.”

At this stage, the agency felt that, “Through use of renewable energies in power and heat generation there is a good chance that the IEKP target of ca. 69Mt carbon dioxide less in 2020 over 2006 levels can be achieved as a result of legislation already implemented. UBA nevertheless recommends pushing forward on optimisation.”

UBA President Flasbarth remarked at the time: “The positive trend in renewable energies is not a self-starter. The Renewable Energies Act [German: EEG] should be revised continuously, with an eye to improving sales of EEG electricity. Moreover, we must expand and redesign the electricity grid sustainably so as to facilitate integration of the growing shares of wind, solar, and similar energies in the electricity mix.”

These elements point to some steps guiding the Germans towards their goals. But there is more recent implementation from other agencies that might add on well to the existing developments. For a start, recent work illustrates just how tough governments are going to need to be to successfully drive a renewables rollout.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released its “Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation.” This argues, “Close to 80% of the world”s energy supply could be met by renewables by mid-century if backed by the right enabling public policies.”

The most optimistic of the four in-depth scenarios in the paper projects renewable energy accounting for as much as 77% of the world’s energy demand by 2050, amounting to about 314EJ of 407EJ per year. As a comparison, 314EJ is over three times the annual energy supply in the United States in 2005, which is also a similar level of supply on the European continent, according to various government and independent sources.

The projected 77% is up from just under 13% of the total primary energy supply of around 490EJ in 2008. Each of the scenarios is underpinned by a range of variables such as changes in energy efficiency, population growth and per capita consumption. These lead to varying levels of total primary energy supply in 2050, with the lowest of the four scenarios seeing renewable energy accounting for a share of 15% in 2050, based on a total primary energy supply of 749EJ.

The IPPC is expected to show a reasonable degree of diligence in terms of its reporting, so if these figures can be extrapolated into real world realities, within reasonable timescales, there is likely good news in there somewhere for Germany’s plans.

Perhaps yet more importantly, the IPPC has also observed that, “Of the around 300GW of new electricity generating capacity added globally between 2008 and 2009, 140GW came from renewable energy.

“Despite global financial challenges, renewable energy capacity grew in 2009, wind by over 30%, hydropower by 3%, grid-connected photovoltaics by over 50%, geothermal by 4% and solar water/heating by over 20%. The annual production of ethanol increased to 1.6EJ (76bnl) and biodiesel by 0.6EJ (17bnl) by the end of 2009. Meanwhile, developing countries host more than 50% of current global renewable energy capacity.

“Most of the reviewed scenarios estimate that renewables will contribute more to a low carbon energy supply by 2050 than nuclear power or fossil fuels using carbon capture and storage (CCS).”

Help at hand?

So perhaps the Germans can hit their targets. Other ongoing work may help. On 10 October, the Norwegian government launched Energy +, a global initiative to finance access to renewable energy, energy efficiency and low carbon development in developing countries. The WWF welcomed this effort to bring clean and safe light, heat and energy to the approximate three billion people in the world without access to reliable energy.

Norway launched Energy + at a conference co-organised by the International Energy Agency, which included discussion of both renewables and fossil fuels as solutions to energy poverty. Rasmus Hansson, CEO of WWF Norway, said: “Ending energy poverty should be part of the solution to climate change, not part of the problem. WWF urges Norway, and other countries, to keep their focus on renewables, the energy of the future, not on the dirty fossil fuels of the past.”

This is the kind of rhetoric expected of international NGOs, but nonetheless the logic remains that global financing schemes for renewables, whether in developing countries or the industrialised west, can only speed development as savvy Western businesses seek to export their proven technologies for use in other parts of the world. Overall, such changes ramp up research and development, scale up the pace and reliability of global tech, and the overall hopes for renewables of making a visible difference.

Around the same time, a technical standard for the first global consumer label for companies to buy wind power and other clean renewable energy was launched 13 October.

The label is backed by companies including WWF and effective immediately, using what’s called the “WindMade“ standard allows interested entities to apply for use of the label to communicate the share of wind power and other renewable sources in their overall power consumption demand.

“WindMade is the first eco label supported by the UN Global Compact,” said Georg Kell, Executive Director of UN Global Compact. “It is fully aligned with our mission to promote greater corporate sustainability as the critical business contribution to sustainable development. As a tangible and meaningful consumer label, WindMade can go a long way in advancing the use of renewable energy around the globe.”
The WindMade standard specifies the requirements for the use of the WindMade label, requiring participating companies to source a minimum of 25% of their electricity consumption from wind power. The wind energy share can be procured through a company owned wind power generation facility, a long term Power Purchase Agreement for wind power, or the purchase of high quality Renewable Energy Certificates approved by WindMade. The exact percentage of the wind energy share will be stated on the label.

“The criteria set out by the standard will ensure that companies using the WindMade label will contribute to more investment in renewables over and above what would be built anyway and hence boost clean power,” said Samantha Smith, Director of the WWF Global Energy and Climate Network Initiative, who were closely involved in formulating the standard.

“We believe that the industrial take up of the ambitious WindMade standard is a perfect market contribution to the needed strong governmental renewable energy targets for 2030. This will drive the development of new wind power generation.”

Again these are potentially very positive moves to further enable swift switching and scale up for renewables within Germany. “Today we release the technical standard for a unique label for companies that consume clean energy,” said Morten Albaek, SVP Global Marketing and Customer Insight at Vestas, the company spearheading the Windmade Initiative. “But this is only the beginning, together with the growing membership of Windmade, we must continue to evolve and improve the standard, starting with the development of the product standard which is already underway.”

“The interest in the WindMade label has been considerable,” said Henrik Kuffner, WindMade’s CEO. “Already now, many companies are committed to switching to green power, driven by strong consumer demand for sustainable and responsible corporations. However, to date, these forward looking companies did not have the possibility of receiving an independent global certification for their power procurement. WindMade will now fill this gap, and provide consumers with the transparency they require to make informed choices.”

The IPPC says, “The technical potential of renewable energy technologies exceeds the current global energy demand by a considerable amount globally and in respect of most regions of the world.
“Under the scenarios analysed in-depth, less than 2.5% of the globally available technical potential for renewables is used, in other words over 97% is untapped underlining that availability of renewable source will not be a limiting factor.

“According to the four scenarios analysed in detail, the decadal global investments in the renewable power sector range from US$1360bn to US$5100bn to 2020 and US$1490 to US$7180bn for the decade 2021 to 2030. For the lower values, the average yearly investments are smaller than the renewable power sector investments reported for 2009.

“A combination of targeted public policies allied to research and development investments could reduce fuel and financing costs leading to lower additional costs for renewable energy technologies,” the IPPC data concluded.

Ongoing political commitment

Against all this positivity, must be weighed ongoing political commitment to the renewables vision. More than 160 different scenarios for the penetration of renewable energy sources had been analysed in drafting the UN’s “Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation,” released late June, and the most optimistic had found that 77% of the world’s energy demands could be met through “renewables” by 2050, said Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

But while the report addressed the potential for renewable energy, only policy on the ground would drive its actual implementation. “We’ve mapped out the policy space until 2050,” Mr Pachauri explained, in response to a question about that optimistic goal. In reality, only policy actions taken by Governments would drive the implementation of “renewables.”

Asked whether another international body, besides the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, was needed to reinvigorate the cause of renewable energy, since member states seemed to have “run out of steam” in the race for a binding agreement on climate change, Mr Pachauri said the core benefits of renewables including higher levels of energy security, health benefits, rising agricultural output and higher employment levels should be attractive enough to persuade governments.

Perhaps these and other factors will be sufficient to maintain Germany’s push towards the new renewables future. “The future development of the electricity and gas infrastructure in Europe strongly depends on the expansion of renewable energy sources,” announced the German Energy Agency (dena) in August.

“The proportion of electricity generated from renewables in Europe could be increased to about 70% by 2050. This would result in a significant demand for new electricity infrastructure. In order to integrate additional renewable electricity, the European power grid would have to be expanded by about 200,000 MW of new transmission capacity between 2030 and 2050. Especially in the transit regions, Italy, Spain, Turkey and the Balkan, the development of gas infrastructure would become more important,” it said.

Maybe an overall shift towards renewables in the EU will help Germany reach its targets, alongside ongoing political commitment within the country. Certainly, the seeds have been sown for the most interesting push towards wide-scale renewable power to date. Every lesson should probably be learned and shared to enable future success at a global scale.

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