“One of the world’s biggest green-energy public-policy experiments is coming to a bitter end in Germany, with important lessons for policymakers elsewhere.”
… Germany’s enthusiasm for solar power is understandable. We could satisfy all of the world’s energy needs for an entire year if we could capture just one hour of the sun’s energy. Even with the inefficiency of current PV technology, we could meet the entire globe’s energy demand with solar panels by covering 250,000 square kilometers (155,342 square miles), about 2.6% of the Sahara Desert.
Unfortunately, Germany – like most of the world – is not as sunny as the Sahara. And, while sunlight is free, panels and installation are not. Solar power is at least four times more costly than energy produced by fossil fuels. It also has the distinct disadvantage of not working at night, when much electricity is consumed.
In the words of the German Association of Physicists, “solar energy cannot replace any additional power plants.” On short, overcast winter days, Germany’s 1.1 million solar-power systems can generate no electricity at all. The country is then forced to import considerable amounts of electricity from nuclear power plants in France and the Czech Republic. When the sun failed to shine last winter, one emergency back-up plan powered up an Austrian oil-fired plant to fill the supply gap.
Indeed, despite the massive investment, solar power accounts for only about 0.3% of Germany’s total energy. This is one of the key reasons why Germans now pay the second-highest price for electricity in the developed world (exceeded only by Denmark, which aims to be the “world wind-energy champion”). Germans pay three times more than their American counterparts.
Moreover, this sizeable investment does remarkably little to counter global warming. Even with unrealistically generous assumptions, the unimpressive net effect is that solar power reduces Germany’s CO2 emissions by roughly eight million metric tons – or about 1% – for the next 20 years. When the effects are calculated in a standard climate model, the result is a reduction in average temperature of 0.00005oC (one twenty-thousandth of a degree Celsius, or one ten-thousandth of a degree Fahrenheit). To put it another way: by the end of the century, Germany’s $130 billion solar panel subsidies will have postponed temperature increases by 23 hours.
Using solar, Germany is paying about $1,000 per ton of CO2 reduced. The current CO2 price in Europe is $8. Germany could have cut 131 times as much CO2 for the same price. Instead, the Germans are wasting more than 99 cents of every euro that they plow into solar panels…