Experts raise concern over ‘Energiewende’ failure in Germany; Bangladesh, India need to draw their lessons right


For long the developing countries have been learning from the Germany’s ‘Energiewende’ (literally translating to Energy Transition) programme, which entailed dismantling its 19 nuclear power stations by 2022 and replace it with other renewable energy sources. However, as per experts the daunting project to substitute a cheap, reliable, secure power source with renewables has failed to achieve its goals despite huge investments.

Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions remained at the levels similar to that of 2009 and in fact registered an increase in 2016 as the country relies on coal-fuelled power plants to meet its energy demands as it shuts down its nuclear power plants in a politically supervised transition in the aftermath of the Tsunami catastrophe at The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The German government also averred to stick to its goal of cutting down emissions by 2020 and by 80 per cent by 2050.

“Germany’s carbon emission is not declining much despite renewables increasing to almost 30 per cent of the country’s power mix this year and 50 per cent of its installed capacity. Unfortunately coal has also increased to about 30 per cent along with other purchases from France and other countries in Europe, which is used to load –follow, or buffer, the intermittency of the renewables… So electricity in Germany remains six times more carbon intensive compared to France,” former Chairman of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission Dr Shafiqul Islam Bhuyan told Nuclear Asia. Bangladesh is one of the South Asian countries that has embraced the nuclear power to fuel its burgeoning economy.

Dr. Bhuyan also added that in 2016, 7 out of 10 of the Europe’s biggest polluters were German Lignite plants. “Since Germany is phasing out its Zero emission Nuclear Plants, in the several years the situation will only get worse,” he opined. So far, as per a recent report in the New York Times, Germany has spent an estimated 189 billion euros on renewable energy subsidies since 2000 but the results in terms of emission cuts has not commiserated the spending.

While the ‘Energiewende’ policy still enjoys popular support, the German experts are waking up to its perils and enlisting problems of intermittency, grid and stability of distribution, market distortion, storage problems and its damaging effects on bio-diversity to build a case against ‘Energiewende’. Fritz Vahrenholt, who has served in several public positions with environmental agencies such as the Federal Environment Ministry and Deputy Environment Minister and Senator of the City of Hamburg, gave a presentation titled ‘Germany’s ‘Energiewende’: A disaster in the making’ at the House of Commons earlier this year. Owing to the heavy subsidies given by the German government to push its ‘Energiewende’ programme, the energy prices in Germany are the second highest in the Europe.

“Germany has nine neighbours with whom power can be exchanged. If the ‘Energiewende’ had happened in the UK, the electricity system would have already imploded, but in Germany, on windy days, surplus power can be dumped onto the neighbours’ electricity grids. During the dark doldrums – in Germany we call times when there is not wind in winder or at night the Dunkerflaute – we can be saved by calling an old Austrian oil-fired power stations, Polish hard-coal plants or French and Czech nuclear power,’ Vahrenholt told the House of Commons. Incidentally, Vahrenholt has founded the wind energy company Repower.

The energy demand in Germany is low during holidays and weekends is at the lowest, leading to problems of oversupply. And when it happens per unit power cost in Germany becomes negative and the country is forced to dump excess power into the grids of neighbouring countries. The preferential treatment to the renewables have made power generation for conventional power plants, which form Germany’s second line reserve, expensive; thus distorting the market.

India has also been drawing lessons from the German ‘Energiewende’ programme to provide its millions of population access to sustainable energy. Presently India has around 300 million people without access to power. If households who receive less than 6 hours of electricity supply daily the number will increase tremendously. The Narendra Modi government aims to make power available to every household by 2019. For this the government intends to put lot of emphasis on renewable resources of energy and the ambition is to generate 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022. This seems like a herculean task considering the present power output of India is about 275 GW.

Wind installations have marked an increase at a compounded rate of 18 per cent and solar installations have increased by a rate of 198 per cent. At this rate, as per a report released by Independent Power Producers Association of India, by the end of 2022, India will have installed capacity of 100 GW of solar power and 60 GW of wind power. But these renewable energy resources will not come without their socio-ecological impact, as they are the most land hungry energy-generation resources. According to experts, to replace the power generated by one typical coal-fired power station with renewable energy requires an area of around 500 km square. And, in India land is one of the scarcest resources considering its population.

Apart from their intermittency, these resources have come out to be expensive as well. The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy intended to spend Rs. 4,046.25 crore to set up 25 solar parks across the country with varying capacity of 500 to 1000 MW. The estimated cost for the development park was Rs. 0.95 crore per MW. By December 2014, the Ministry received application to establish solar park with total capacity of 22.1 GW that translates into an investment of Rs. 21,000 crores on a 48.6 thousand hectares of land. The government intends to set up these plants on barren lands.

For instance India’s first solar park – Charanka – is spread over 5,384 hectares of unused land in northern Gujarat. Water for the projects comes from a canal and a large human-made pond. A check-dam was demolished by the project proponent. “This is one of the contentions with acquiring large mass of land in technically deemed waste land that there are still people depending on that land for grazing, foraging fruits and firewood. Acquiring these lands will affect the local community,” the IPPAI said in its report ‘The Indian Power Sector: Need of Sustainable Energy Access’.

India needs to diversify its energy resources, but heeding to lessons from German ‘Energiewende’, it is imperative to strike a balance between energy resources for cleaner energy.