Sustainability, climate change, cleantech and energy : a selection of the latest headlines and best researches.

A climate change mitigation paradox

GERMANY/Thanks to Meryn I came across a most interesting piece of information. According to the Spiegel (the leading German magazine) wind turbines in Europe do nothing for emissions-reduction goals.

Despite the billions spent every year in wind energy, solar and similar renewable energy sources, greenhouse gases emissions haven’t decreased. What looks like a strong contradiction can be easily explained.

Energy consumption still increases and sums allocated to renewables would bring bigger greenhouse gases emissions cuts with energy conservation and efficiency projects.

According to the international edition of the Spiegel:

Despite Europe’s boom in solar and wind energy, CO2 emissions haven’t been reduced by even a single gram. Now, even the Green Party is taking a new look at the issue — as shown in e-mails obtained by SPIEGEL ONLINE.

Germany’s renewable energy companies are a tremendous success story. Roughly 15 percent of the country’s electricity comes from solar, wind or biomass facilities, almost 250,000 jobs have been created and the net worth of the business is €35 billion per year.

But there’s a catch: The climate hasn’t in fact profited from these developments. As astonishing as it may sound, the new wind turbines and solar cells haven’t prohibited the emission of even a single gram of CO2.

Even more surprising, the European Union’s own climate change policies, touted as the most progressive in the world, are to blame. The EU-wide emissions trading system determines the total amount of CO2 that can be emitted by power companies and industries. And this amount doesn’t change — no matter how many wind turbines are erected.

Experts have known about this situation for some time, but it still isn’t widely known to the public. Even Germany’s government officials mention it only under their breath. No one wants to discuss the political ramifications.

It’s a sensitive subject: Germany is recognized worldwide as a leader in all things related to renewable energy. The environmental energy sector doesn’t want this image to be tarnished. Under no circumstances does Berlin want the Renewable Energy Law (EEG) — which mandates the prices at which energy companies have to buy green power — to fall into disrepute.

At the same time, big energy companies have an interest in maintaining the status quo. As a result, no one is pushing for change. Everyone involved is remaining silent.

(…)

Building Renovations Are Better than Windmills

Experts from the Green Party are taking the problem very seriously: “We are in a veritable crisis situation, and that means we must reconsider and alter things we once took for granted,” writes one contributor, adding that it’s important to re-examine “whether we have set the right priorities.”

Another expert begins his e-mail with a general clarification: “Dear People, I’m not fundamentally against the EEG. I only emphasize this because Manfred has repeatedly and erroneously described me as an opponent of the EEG.” But here comes the big “but”: “When reduction of CO2 emissions is more cheaply achieved through insulating a building than using a wind turbine, that is where we should concentrate our support.” When it comes to climate change, everything else is secondary to reducing CO2 emissions.

cost-of-co2-reduction-spiegel

Indeed, when it comes to climate change, investments in wind and solar energy are not very efficient. Preventing one ton of CO2 emissions requires a relatively large amount of money. Other measures, especially building renovations, cost much less — and have the same effect. (…)

This doesn’t mean that renewables are bad or that we shouldn’t work more on them. No, it just means that they do not represent the panacea many people believe they are. This is clearly seen in the table above.

As I stated previously energy efficiency and conservation are the panacea to our energy and climate problems. They indeed represent the perfect solutions as they can be applied everywhere in our daily lives and have to potential to save huge amounts of money.

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4 Comments
  1. Yes, yes, and yes to energy efficiency and conservation! ~ Daryl

  2. Wow, I published this less than five minutes and already a comment from you. :)

    Many thanks Daryl, hope you liked this article and the previous ones. Did you got my e-mail last week ?

  3. grr…
    this makes me really mad if this is true. Basically what should be happening, instead of slowly trying to convert to solar, wind or other alternative sources of energy, we should just do a big switch.

    “But that would cost too much money”

    I’m getting really sick of people hiding behind money to not solve problems. In America we elect our officials to lead us to do the big jobs we can’t do ourselves, but apparently we don’t do that anymore. Apparently we pass laws to swing the hammer back and forth, instead of fixing the problems. WHY THE HELL CAN’T WE JUST FIX THESE PROBLEMS? I am seriously getting tired of stupid reasons for why we can’t save this planet. I’m tired of selfishness, and the way people act to get what they want. FOR THE LOVE OF GOODNESS, CAN’T WE JUST UNDERSTAND WE’RE ALL HUMANS, ON A LITTLE DAMNED ROCK, AND TRY AND SURVIVE (and he’s the important part) T-O-G-E-T-H-E-R??? seriously, we have a problem of fucking things up in this world, and pointing fingers at one another to make it feel like it wasn’t our own fault. Well my pointing finger hurts, so I’ll admit this, “this is all my fault, i am to blame for all the problems in the world.” but here’s what makes me different from you, i’ll solve all the problems in the world, and i don’t need money or excuses to do it.

  4. I’ve warned about this many times before. We first learned it with the case of Sweden.

    In the 1980s, they had around 12,000kWh of electricity each, and much of it came from nuclear energy. They had a referendum and voted to get rid of nuclear, once they had alternatives and provided it wouldn’t stuff their economy.

    So they added in another 12,000kWh each of hydro, wind and so on. Now they had 24,000kWh of electricity and… found they liked it. Not a single nuclear power station has been shut down, and they’re even thinking about building another one.

    Once at TheOilDrum there was a guy, Magnus something, who said he was involved in the Swedish government, they were building more power generation. I said, “you have the second-highest per capita electricity consumption in the world already, exactly how much is enough? 30,000kWh each? 50,000? A million?”

    He replied, “I suppose it is never enough.”

    It’s easy to see that the same thing can happen with renewables and fossil fuels. If people read that we get 50% our electricity from renewables, they imagine our emissions have decreased. But maybe we just added 100% to the grid, and it was all renewable – so those old coal-fired stations are still burning.

    We must have a commitment to tear down the old as well as build up the new. And this can only happen when the public demands it, when we say, “actually, 12,000kWh is heaps, tear that old stuff down.”

    Oil supply has already peaked. Gas will peak by 2020, uranium (says the IAEA) by 2024, coal by 2040, and in fact given that when one has peaked another will be used to replace it (eg coals to liquids plants), the 2015-25 period will be the crunch time when fuels of various kinds run short and become expensive or inaccessible. So we have basically a decade of indecision before circumstances make the decision for us.

    It’s better to be turning the power plants off because we choose to turn them off, than because we’re forced to by lack of fuel. Much less painful for us.

    Even if burning coal gave us vitamin C and nuclear reactors’ radiation gave us an attractive natural tan and made pretty girls smile, still we’d have to shut them down, because their fuels are going to run short.

    Unfortunately efficiency is not really the key. Newcombe’s steam engine was 0.5% efficient, well-designed coal-fired power stations nowadays manage 40% or so – do we now use 80 times less coal? No, we use zillions more. Efficiency makes consumption even more attractive.

    We have to have a reduction in our consumption of depleting resources. This reduction can come from voluntary changes, from market incentives, taxes or rationing, or a combination, but it must come. The physical reality is that the stuff is going to run short. When there’s only half as much available then we’ll be forced to consume half as much whether we like it or not.

    It’s better to choose to do what we’ll be forced to do anyway.

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A French Management professional - now for hire - Edouard Stenger has been selecting since 2007 the latest headlines and best researches on sustainable development, climate change, environmental issues, cleantech and the world energy sector.

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