For Now, Germany Will Continue Its Energy Self-Delusion

The election in Germany was way back in September 2017.  It ended with no party winning a majority, and no obvious coalition that could be put together to form a government.  You have to love the parliamentary system!  Did you realize that the Germans had never formed a government for the whole almost-six-months since last September 24?  And we think the problem of getting President Trump's appointments through the Senate is bad!  Anyway, the logjam finally ended today, with the re-election of Angela Merkel as Chancellor, together with a slate of cabinet ministers.  To no one's great surprise, the final coalition is principally between long-time great rivals the Christian Democratic Union (CDU/CSU) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

Merkel's efforts to put together a coalition government over the past six months make for a real "Perils of Pauline" story.  Here is a chronology from Clean Energy Wire.   The fact that Clean Energy Wire is covering the story in this level of detail tells you what you may already know:  energy policy was the key sticking point in the efforts to form a coalition.  To avoid having to deal with the SPD, Merkel tried for months to get the climate skeptic Free Democrats and Alternative for Germany parties into the same coalition with the Greens.  She's lucky nobody got killed!  But it wasn't going to happen.

It appears that the basis for the new government is a "coalition agreement," which extends to some 177 pages.  Not surprisingly, I can't find an English-language version.  But on the energy policy part of it, the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag (World on Sunday) carries an entertaining interview with Fritz Vahrenholt, an iconoclastic former SPD senator who has gained notoriety lately for making himself a thorn in the side to environmental fantasists.  That interview is in German too, and behind pay wall to boot.  However, Benny Peiser of the Global Warming Policy Foundation helpfully provides a translation in his morning email.  Here are some key excerpts:

WELT AM SONNTAG: Mr. Vahrenholt, what do you think of the coalition agreement between CDU/CSU and SPD with regards to energy and climate policy?
FRITZ VAHRENHOLT: When it comes to energy policy, the 177 pages of the coalition agreement are an act of stupidity. In 2019 and 2020, the expansion of wind power in Germany is set to be massively accelerated even though nobody knows what to do with all this wind power in times of heavy winds. And when there is little wind, the expansion does not help, as electricity production then remains close to zero. It is like the foolish acts by the people of Schilda (Schildbürger) who tried to carry sacks of light  into the windowless town hall.

And you thought the Germans were smart, at least in matters that involve science or engineering?    Yet here they are, already in a spot where they have more electricity than they can use when the wind blows at full strength, mixed with periods where the wind system provides nothing because the wind isn't blowing.  And the solution is, "massively accelerate" the development of wind power!  Do they know that double zero is still zero?  And, by the way, triple zero is also still zero.

Somehow, I think that every Manhattan Contrarian reader is smart enough to figure out that any serious effort to make this "renewable" thing work beyond about 30% of electricity generation is going to require massive amounts of electricity storage, on a scale never previously seen.  Does anybody have any idea if that can even be made to work at all from an engineering standpoint, let alone at reasonable cost?  Given that the Germans have already about reached the limit of how much electricity you can get from the renewables without a massive storage system, have they even started investigating the challenges involved?

As far as I can find out, the answer is no.  To describe German efforts at developing large-scale electricity storage as being "in their infancy" would be generous.  For example, here is a publication with a date "2017/2018" from the German government bureaucracy that promotes investment in Germany to outsiders, known as Germany Trade and Invest.  In a section called "New Trends and Developments," they have this:

District storage involves storing surplus electricity from private local generation plants, such as rooftop PV systems, in a central battery. The stored electricity is released to the end consumer as soon as energy demand exceeds electricity generation levels. This concept is being tested as part of several projects currently using a 100 kW battery at 40 households in the German community of Walldorf.  

Well, I guess it's a start.  A chart on the same page lists "installed battery capacity in Germany for primary control power 2016-2017."  The total of the installed battery capacity for those two years adds up to 144 MW.  Do they know that battery capacity is measured in MWH rather than MW?  Don't count on it -- these are government bureaucrats.  Assume that they mean 144 MWH.  Germany's average consumption of electricity runs about 50 GW, which would come to about 438,000 GWH over the course of a year, or 438 million MWH.  When the wind and sun die, that 144 MWH of batteries will last you about 11 seconds.  Perhaps you had better get started on the build-out.  Maybe you'd like, say, three days' worth of storage for the whole of Germany (3.6 million MWH)?  At $200,000 per MWH for batteries, that will run you about $720 billion.  Maybe you can get a volume discount!  

Vahrenholt's comment:

With our move towards intermittent wind and solar energy we have reached a dead end.   

Yes, but nobody can yet admit it.