Transforming the Electricity Portfolio: Lessons from Germany and Japan in Deploying Renewable Energy

Brookings held the captioned event to launch a new policy brief (download PDF). I listened to the audio podcast while cycling Saturday. There is also a transcript available.

When I study the Brookings graphic showing the fossil increases in Germany and Japan it makes me really sad. But the majority of citizens are happy that the hated nuclear is dead or dying.

I think Germany is driving their economy off a cliff. As RE penetration increases their generation costs will go convex. Germany is already around 27% RE, with “greens” talking about going to 100% as fast as possible. But the man on the street thinks this is all grand. It is political suicide for a politician to propose reversing the anti-nuclear Energiewende.

To my surprise the Brookings scholars speaking at the event do not seem concerned. E.g., they quote a new NREL study proposing a pathway to 80% RE. Among the “lessons learned”:

Implications for the United States:

Policymakers must work to build a baseline consensus on national energy objectives and then develop and implement consistent, durable and clear policy mechanisms to achieve those objectives

The U.S. needs to elevate environmental goals as part of its overall energy objectives—in particular addressing climate change through reduction of greenhouse gases—and link these environmental goals to economic and national security issues

Renewable energy needs to be considered a national asset, with the capacity to balance multiple objectives

Brookings is a big place. Evidently it's possible for the RE group to be unaware of other Brookings research just published in May this year “The Net Benefits of Low and No-Carbon Electricity Technologies” Charles Frank, summarized in the blog Why the Best Path to a Low-Carbon Future is Not Wind or Solar Power.

This is a placeholder for a longer post when I have time to write it. Check out the audio or transcript and the brief. What do you think?


5 thoughts on “Transforming the Electricity Portfolio: Lessons from Germany and Japan in Deploying Renewable Energy

  1. Sad indeed. No surprise, however, because Brookings is at heart a left-wing institution.

    Fred — Sent from Mailbox

  2. It is shocking. One thing though. The graph is in % of total. That misses THE key issue with the global energy picture, namely growth in total energy use.

    Centuries ago 100% of the energy came from renewable sources. Biomass, wind and sun.

    But that’s misleading. Energy use was tiny then compared to today. We can’t go back to 100% renewable energy any more than we can all – all 7 billion of us that is – go back and live in caves.

    Consider the tonnage of fossil fuel consumption for instance.

    This for instance is going on with coal:

  3. Thanks for your insights. Your World Coal Consumption by Region is excellent. Your chart combined with this Global Fossil stack chart demonstrates both how much and where we are losing the carbon struggle. 

    Fact #1: Fossil Fuels continue to dominate global energy

    The charts don’t explain why so little is being accomplished. I attribute the failure to a political preference for “feel good” rather than effective policies. Example, cycling today I listened to a KQED ‘debate’ between Michael Shellenberger, president of the Breakthrough Institute, and a typical ‘Legacy Green’ Victor Menotti, director of the International Forum on Globalization. It was pretty much a non-contact event because Victor had no response to any of Mike’s pragmatic propositions — other than elaborations of what amounts to your “go back and live in caves”. Menotti will not consider nuclear for any part of the portfolio – that is all covered by “cutting back”. Menotti’s talking points all reduce to “need more political will” to do Kyoto II, US must lead in setting bind emission targets, more of the posturing that has failed.

    BTW, the World Coal Consumption chart looks to me like it understates the projected growth in Africa and India (where coal is the #1 employer). That’s just eyeball, haven’t dug into the source data. Thematically it gets the point across.

    • Yes, definately too much feel good policy going on… in that sense things like LED bulbs and solar panels are part of the problem of feel-good do-little.

      Even today nobody seems to realize this is going the wrong way. Greenpeace is too busy demonstrating at nuclear plants and showing pretty pictures of solar panels to notice coal consumption is rocketing. Politicians are too busy with marginal plans and initiatives that make them look good while not having to invest serious money. Electric utilities don’t really care they just want to generate power reliably and cheaply. Entire countries (Germany, Japan) are deluded into thinking they can power their modern industrialized societies with medieval energy sources. The debate around nuclear is still too sensationalist and too little perspective. Most people feel that we can fix the climate problem with energy efficiency and solar panels, even though Germany has already demonstrated that can’t be done.

      Coal consumption chart was a projection. It is alarming that it is already wrong on the low side, coal consumption has grown even faster. The amazing thing that is happening is that everyone is buying stuff with embodied coal energy so that Europe can claim to use less coal even though real coal consumption (on a lifecycle level) has increased. It is a case of “coal elsewhere”. Ironically many Western countries and organisations are now critical of Chinese coal consumption even though the Western countries are actually the coal consumers!

      If we are serious about greenhouse gas emissions then the only way forward is to realize we need 10x more energy even with the best energy efficiency technology employed globally. And then plan fossil fuel consumption accordingly. But then we have 10x the energy need while we need 10x less ghg emissions long term! I think we will find that in such a future world, we may only use (10% of 10% =) 1% fossil fuels to stay within long term acceptable ghg emissions limits. It is such a drastic reduction that we really need to think about zero carbon economies. CCS with 90% efficiency will not be good enough. It will need to be 99% efficient. Solar and wind grids with 30% natural gas backup will not be acceptable. They will have to be 98% solar and wind and 2% natural gas.

      Once you look at those futures it is clear that wind and solar and CCS can’t cut the mustard. They are unacceptable greenhouse gas emitters…

      Hence in my opinion such technologies are part of the global energy problem (except for niche uses), not part of the solution.

      • I really appreciate your comments. There’s little that can be added. However I just did something silly, spending 30 minutes writing a comment going in a new direction – then poof. Bedtime in South Pacific, so I’ll reconstruct tomorrow or the next day.

        Rule #1: never write stuff in a web form. In my eagerness I sometimes forget that and often regret the forgetting.

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