Advocates of green energy would have you believe that the flow of all fossil fuels should be stopped and that the economy be converted to green energy forthwith. Germany, which has been one of the most aggressive nations in green energy conversion, highlights a few myths when it comes to alternative energy.
While Germans like the targets for green energy conversion (Energiewedende), they’re not too thrilled with its side effects. The problem is that the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind in unreliable. While on some days solar and wind power are able to power all the needs of the German economy, on others barely any green power is being produced. To make up for this lack of power, Germany is using coal producing energy.
At certain times on some days, sun and wind power may provide almost all German electricity. But the sun does not always shine, especially in winter, and the wind is unpredictable. And “batteries”—storage technologies that, for example, convert power to gas and back again to electricity—on a scale sufficient to supply a city are years away. Nuclear-power plants are being phased out (this week’s court decision that the closure of a plant in Hesse was illegal will raise costs even more, as it may entitle the operator to more compensation). So conventional power plants have to stay online in order to assure continuous supply.
Share of renewable energy hit a total of 23.4 percent of overall electricity production. With the decision to shut down nuclear power plants by 2022, Germany has been forced to rely on brown coal (ignite), the dirtiest of all energy production. Coal produced energy reached its highest level since 1990. According to the Economist emissions of green house gases have increased rather than decreased, while energy costs are a burden on German consumers and its economy.
A more pragmatic approach would go a long way in affecting energy conversion. An all of the above strategy, with reasonable targets that are monitored and adjusted, seems to be the way to go.
President Obama and the EPA is looking at very aggressive targets as well and taxpayer supplements for unsuccessful green energy projects indicate that this type of energy is not ready for prime time yet.
With an aggressive green energy lobby, the environmental lobby has turned up the heat on the Harper government. The assessment and approval process for pipeline projects have been dragged out over years, with lobby groups signing up to testify in front of commissions, more often than not repeating the same testimony over and over again. The Harper government is seeking to streamline the process by limiting the process to two years. In its 2012/13 budget the Canadian government has included major revisions to environmental policy. One third of the budget contains changes to environmental policy and legislation.
Governments in both the US and Canada are pressured to act on climate change, yet they should take a very pragmatic approach. The German example demonstrates the effects of an aggressive policy. While conversion to green energy is commendable, it should be a pragmatic steady switch over. Setting targets too high will only backfire.