(Limited) options under the sun.

Photo by Yousef M. | flickr.com

On March 5, over 11,000 protestors marched into Berlin against the proposed cuts in Germany’s feed in tariff program. 

In some ways, this is not at all surprising. 

According to a BMU research project, the German solar industry, which hinges on government support, employed over 100,000 workers in 2010.  And due to the environmentally friendly nature of solar, it seems reasonable that environmental activists would also show concern.  A measure to cut subsidies by up to 29% on April 1 (depending on the size of the solar power plant) was passed by German parliament by 305 votes to 235.

If you have been keeping tabs on Germany’s green energy policy at all, you will also recall that recently there was a protest to ban nuclear power in Germany in response to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan.  The result is that Germany plans to shut down all nuclear reactors by 2022. 

To put things in perspective lets refer to the 2009 statistics from the IEA: about 10% of world electricity production from nuclear power plants came from Japan; about 5% came from Germany.  Based off of this, Germany’s anxiety over nuclear power seems reasonable right

While this may seem reasonable, unlike Japan, Germany is not located along the Pacific Ring of Fire.  And even if Germany were to rid of all nuclear power, what about Germany’s neighbor, France?  In 2009 they contributed to about 15% of the world’s nuclear power production.  Now historically, France has never had a Chernobyl scale disaster.  However, it turns out that the prevailing winds go from France to Germany.  So even if Germany has no nuclear power, God forbid if France had a major accident, the radiation would be blown right over Germany anyways. 

Apparently, there are plans to replace much of Germany’s power sources with renewable energy sources.  However, renewable power is also very intermittent, meaning you can’t always predict exactly when the wind will blow or the sun will shine.  Will Germany also implement a policy against purchasing a steady stream of nuclear power on a cloudy windless day from France?

When looking at Germany’s renewable energy sector, we find that in 2009 about 12% of its energy came from wind, hydro and solar.  The German solar market in particular still only contributes about 1% of the total despite the fact that in 2009 Germany produced 33% of the world’s solar electricity.  Coal and peat (which are terrible for the environment) still made up about 43% of Germany’s electricity production. 

So Germany, if I have things straight, you intend to decommission all your nuclear power plants (which makes up 23% of your total), save the environment which I assume means not building more coal power plants, and make up for the lost capacity by building renewable energy resources?  And this is in spite of the fact that 11,000 protesters think that your plans cut solar subsides early by up to 30% will stifle the solar industry?  In all fairness, solar is not the only renewable energy source but the options are clearly becoming limited.