On May 7, Tom Friedman published an op-ed in the New York Times filled with praise for Germany’s green-power program. “What the Germans have done in converting almost 30 percent of their electric grid to solar and wind energy from near zero in about 15 years has been a great contribution to the stability of our planet and its climate,” gushed Friedman. “ . . . This is a world-saving achievement.”
Friedman is not alone in his admiration for the German energy program. President Obama has hailed it too, saying that the world should “look to Berlin” as the model for its energy future.
However, what Friedman, Obama, and other admirers of the German green-energy strategy fail to say is that it has come at the expense of sky-high electricity rates. According to EU data, Germany’s average residential electricity rate is 29.8 cents per kilowatt hour. This is approximately double the 14.2 cents and 15.9 cents per kWh paid by residents of Germany’s neighbors Poland and France, respectively, and almost two and a half times the U.S. average of 12 cents per kWh. Germany’s industrial electricity rate of 16 cents per kWh is also much higher than France’s 9.6 cents or Poland’s 8.3 cents. The average German per capita electricity consumption is 0.8 kilowatts. At a composite rate of 24 cents per kWh, this works out to a yearly bill of $1,700 per person, experienced either directly in utility bills or indirectly through increased costs of goods and services. The median household income in Germany is $33,000, so if we assume an average of two people per household, the electricity cost would amount to more than 10 percent of available income. And that is for the median-income household. The amount of electricity that people need does not scale in proportion to their paychecks. For the rich, $1,700 per year in electric bills might be a pittance, or at most a nuisance. But for the poor who are just scraping by, such a burden is simply brutal.
So, what has the German government accomplished for “the Earth” in exchange for the severe harm it has inflicted on the nation’s poorer citizens?
So, what has the German government accomplished for “the Earth” in exchange for the severe harm it has inflicted on the nation’s poorer citizens? It is claimed that Germany has replaced 30 percent of its electricity with renewable energy. If all you look at is capacity, that might appear to be true. Germany has a total installed capacity of 172 gigawatts (GW), and 65 GW of that is based on renewables. But neither wind nor solar power obtains an around-the-clock average of anything close to full capacity. Rather, these methods of electricity generation typically average at best about 20 percent of their full rated power. Thus Germany’s nominal 65 GW of solar and wind generation capacity is worth about as much as 13 GW capacity in conventional power plants. Of the 614,000 GW hours that Germany generated in 2014, 56,000 GWh came from wind and 35,000 GWh from solar, for an actual combined average power of 10.4 GW, or 14.8 percent of all electricity generated. About half of this, or 5.2 GW, has been developed since 2005.
However, in 2011 Germany had 20 GW of capacity in nuclear power plants, producing more than twice as much electricity as wind and solar do currently, at less than half the cost, with no carbon emissions whatsoever. But, using the rather improbable threat of a Fukushima-like tsunami as a pretext, the nation’s elites decided to shut them down; 8.3 GW have already been eliminated.
Thus, over the past decade, the total amount of carbon-free power that Germany has produced under its oppressive green-energy policy has actually decreased by 3 GW. The deficit, as well as all requirements for new power, has been met by burning increased amounts of lignite, which emits not only more carbon dioxide than practically any other power source, but large amounts of real pollutants as well.
Like an earlier regime in Germany, the Holy Roman Empire, which was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire, Germany’s green-energy program is neither green, nor an energy program. Rather, it is a form of ultra-regressive taxation — in effect, a state-sponsored cult of human sacrifice for weather control.
Germany has brought the world many remarkable political innovations, including government by bureaucracy, the welfare state, regimentation of education, Red, Brown, and Green parties, theoretical and applied racial science and engineering, the precautionary principle, and the systematic philosophical and practical negation of Judeo-Christian ethics. Its heartless energy policy is entirely consistent with that history.
“Look to Berlin,” indeed.
— Robert Zubrin is president of Pioneer Energy, a senior fellow with the Center for Security Policy, and the author of Energy Victory. His latest book, Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism, has been published in paperback by Encounter Books.