Author Archives: Peter Sopher

Germany's Energiewende Proves Electricity can be Clean and Reliable

electric-power-273644_640Since 2004, the year of the first major revision of Germany’s Renewable Energy Act (EEG), the country has added at least 35 gigawatts (GW) of solar and 35 GW of wind to its electric grid – enough to offset upwards of 35 coal plants. What’s more impressive is during the first half of 2014, close to 29 percent of Germany’s electricity came from renewable sources. For perspective, America’s renewables percentage, at about 14 percent, was half of Germany’s during this timeframe.

Meanwhile, the country has improved its status as a grid reliability leader, causing the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Energy Transition blog to conclude, “Clearly, installing the equivalent of 100 percent of peak demand as wind and solar capacity does not bring down the grid.”  Renewables International further asserts, “Renewables have not yet reached a penetration level that has detrimentally impacted grid reliability.”

This success runs contrary to the predictions of Energiewende’s critics, who have sounded the alarms about investing in “too much” renewable energy. Some of these concerns are more valid than others, but the truth is, most of these claims are blown out of proportion, fixable with solutions that are not overly complex, and/or based on no empirical data. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid| Tagged | 3 Responses

While Critics Debate Energiewende, Germany is Gaining a Global Advantage

Source: Frank M. Rafik

Source: Frank M. Rafik

Economics is the focus of many debates surrounding Germany’s aggressive “energy transition” (or Energiewende), which plans to move the country to nearly 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. Critics say Energiewende’s costs are unjustifiable, arguing they hurt the country’s international competitiveness and systemic inefficiencies exacerbate these costs.

At first glance, it’s hard to argue with them. The scale of investment in Energiewende can seem intimidating: So far, Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates the total cost of Germany’s clean energy expansion at €106 billion. Furthermore, the Wall Street Journal quotes government sources when predicting total costs through 2040 to be about €1 trillion.

By contrast, however, Germany’s annual investment in fossil fuels has been €90 billion; and, investments in Energiewende go into electric grid upgrades that would need to happen in Germany anyway, whereas fossil fuel investments leave the country.

When viewed in context, there are many reasons to believe investments in Energiewende will reap economy-wide rewards, giving Germany a competitive global advantage over other countries that lagged behind investing in the future.

Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Electricity Pricing, Energy Financing, Renewable Energy| 3 Responses, comments now closed

Is Global Clean Energy Investment at a Tipping Point?

By: Qiao Feng, Clean Energy Research Intern, and Peter Sopher, Clean Energy Policy Analyst

statistics-76197_640Last week, amidst the U.N. Climate Summit and historic climate march, governments, investors, and financial institutions took the opportunity to make big announcements about their investment in clean energy. Bank of America announced a $10 billion initiative to speed up investment in clean energy, U.N. climate leaders announced a public-private partnership to mobilize more than $200 billion in clean energy financing globally, and New York proposed a $5 billion clean energy fund that could replace the city’s soon-to-expire renewable-energy and efficiency mandates.

So clean energy finance must be skyrocketing upward, right? It’s hard to know now what the 2014 numbers will bear, and we probably won’t see that kind of analysis till 2015, but looking at global investment in renewable power and fuels (excluding large hydro-electric projects) for 2013, these numbers were 14 percent lower than investments in 2012, and 23 percent below the 2011 record, suggesting a downward trend.

However, as conveyed in the Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) report, Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2014, if the drop in renewable investment were a cloud, it would have several silver linings: Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Climate, Energy Financing, Renewable Energy| 2 Responses, comments now closed

Forward-Looking Analyses are Key to Comparing Clean Energy Benefits

Source: Kuebi,  Kuebi = Armin Kübelbeck

Source: Kuebi, Armin Kübelbeck

Good science should spark debate. It’s the nature of the field, after all. You ask questions, search for data and then debate what it means or what actions the data should spur. Such a debate is underway now, and it is adding fuel to an old fire.

In May 2014, Dr. Charles R. Frank of the Brookings Institution published a working paper comparing the net benefits of replacing coal and gas plants with five no- and low-carbon fuels – solar, wind, hydropower, nuclear, and combined cycle natural gas. Avoided carbon emissions and low energy and capacity costs are deemed benefits, whereas higher emissions, energy and capacity costs, and unique fuel-specific deficiencies (i.e. toxic waste from nuclear power, intermittency of wind, solar, and hydro, etc.) comprise costs.

In late July, The Economist promoted several of this working paper’s primary findings, namely that wind and solar are expensive fuel sources with relatively sparse net benefits – compared to nuclear, combined cycle gas, and hydropower – when replacing coal plants.

Many refute the validity of this conclusion, and response from the scientific community was swift. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Renewable Energy| Tagged | 1 Response, comments now closed

Germany is Revolutionizing how we Use Energy…and the U.S. could Learn a Thing or Two

"Green Power, not nuclear energy." Germany will fully transition off nuclear by 2022.

"Green Power, not nuclear energy." Germany will fully transition off nuclear by 2022.

As the academic breeding ground of Einstein, Freud, and many other internationally-known scholars, it should come as no surprise that Germany is at the forefront of modernizing an industry as complex as energy. Over the last two decades, Germany has been revamping its electricity sector with the ambitious goal of powering its economy almost entirely on renewable energy by 2050. And last Sunday, the country broke a new record by acquiring nearly 75 percent of its total energy demand from renewable sources (mostly wind and solar). Even the European Union’s recent announcement that it will begin divesting in renewable energy by 2017 hasn’t shaken Germany’s ambition to forge ahead  in its quest to phase out fossil fuels.

Energiewende (the German term for ‘energy transition’) is by far the most aggressive clean energy effort among the G20 and could be as beneficial for other countries as it is for Germany. The German Institute for International and Security Affairs argues, “If the [German] energy transition succeeds, it will serve as an international model… The allure of the German energy transition represents an important foreign policy resource, of which full use should be made.”

At the moment, Energiewende is the closest thing the world has to a renewables-integration pilot on a national scale. If successful, this blueprint will expedite the broad scale integration of technologies that will be necessary to wean the world off fossil fuels and combat climate change. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Climate, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid, Utility Business Models| Tagged | Comments closed