Yesterday, the German government held a press conference on the energy transition, which apparently put a lot of reporters to sleep. During the event, Environmental Minister Peter Altmaier found time to engage in a debate with us on Twitter. Craig Morris thinks he won that debate, by the way. And the real news came out of Brussels, not Berlin: German energy policy may violate competition rules.
The press conference aimed at reassuring everyone that the German government is making a concerted effort to coordinate its actions in redesigning energy policy for the energy transition. Unfortunately, nothing new was announced in Berlin (but there was some news from Brussels – see below). The nightly news on German TV even showed how the reporters attending did not even bother to write anything down while Industry Minister Rösler was speaking.
At the beginning of the press conference, our Arne Jungjohann (@EnergiewendeGER) tweeted a message to Peter Altmaier and got a response six minutes later (see above). I’m going to have to side with Altmaier on this one. The main problem Germany faces is definitely not that solar is growing too slowly. True, the estimated 3.9 gigawatts of PV expected to be newly installed in Germany this year is far less than the 7.5 GW we have had annually over the past three years, and a lot of installers (above all) will be hurt. But while 3.9 GW of PV is less than what most experts believe we need – the estimates range from Photon’s 5.7 gigawatts to our colleague Volker Quaschning’s 10 gigawatts (see our rendition of his “dental chart” here), the German limit on feed-in tariffs (offered for 20 years) is 52 gigawatts. Divide 52 by 20, and you get an annual installation average of 2.6 GW – far below the 3.9 we might have this year. So the collapsing PV market in 2013 is a problem, but not the biggest one.
Altmaier is right to emphasize onshore wind, the energy source we need the most to keep the cost of the overall transition down. Furthermore, studies regularly show that we need to grow wind and solar at roughly the same rate – which means we should focus on doubling our annual installations of wind power.
What we need most of all is a coal phaseout, not only to reduce carbon emissions, but also to ensure that flexible gas turbines will be on hand to provide dispatchable power when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining.
But the real news came from Brussels yesterday with the announcement that the exemptions to grid fees offered to large companies may distort competition. Firms that consume at least 10 gigawatt-hours over at least 7,000 hours per year pay nothing for grid usage. The policy is technically unrelated to renewables, but the conflict shows that the German government’s attempts to keep our prices down for industry seem to be coming to an end.
The media depicted the press conference as devoid of content and a waste of time, and the nightly news even showed Minister Altmaier tweeting during the conference. But I must speak up for Minister Altmaier here – he was engaging in a crucial policy debate with Very Important People!