As the global economy struggles and more electronic devices are finding their way into modern homes, Europe’s ties to wind and solar generated energy are beginning to fray, causing concern among America’s green energy advocates. Yet the Germans themselves remain stubbornly optimistic about the whole thing.
Right now just 3.5% of America’s electricity is being generated by wind and solar arrays. Projects like the long-delayed Cape Wind have highlighted America’s problems in reaching European levels of usable renewable energy. Yet as the cost of electricity and demand for electricity in Europe increases, so increase the risks of having a population being overly reliant on renewable energy.
Europe’s largest national economy, Germany, has invested close to $250 billion in renewable energy development and gets about 12% of its electricity from wind and solar. With the investment Germany hopes to move that percentage eventually moves closer to 35% in 2020. Meanwhile, citizens of Germany pay on average 300% more for residential electricity than we pay here in America. Yet despite the high costs, 82% of German taxpayers still support the push towards clean energy.
Not only is renewable energy costing more, but reliability is a major concern as well. Wind and solar power is dependent on nature — if there is no sun or no wind than very little energy if any is being generated. Europeans, like Americans, now use more electronic devices in their homes than ever before. Sure, these devices are “Energy Star” or the equivalent; but when a person has a desktop, laptop, tablet, and a smart phone all drawing power than each products energy efficiency rating is mitigated. Uncooperative weather could seriously hamper power generation, and with the increasing reliance on constant connectivity, this could prove to be a big problem going forward.
In a letter sent to the EU Commissioner for Energy in April of 2012, the European Network of Transmission System Operators president outlined the concerns of grid operators about grid capacity. One big worry is the grid’s current inability to support the massive increase of power flows based on an energy system that is increasingly becoming reliant on wind and solar.
During peak afternoon times, solar power production can equal nearly 24 gw, the same output as 14 nuclear power plants. At night though, output drops to zero, and engineers are concerned that this constant power fluctuation could seriously damage the grid. While some of these concerns can be quelled through efficiency measures and upgrades, however the cost of these fixes will be steep and impact the energy cost for consumers. That said, Germany is still adding hundreds of megawatts of solar and wind power every month to its grid, and the change seems irreversible. It seems that many Germans have the foresight to see that in the long run, their country is probably much better off.
Americans are not nearly as optimistic though, even though our country stands to benefit even more than Germany. The U.S. has a much greater environmental diversity, with plenty of open desert and plains begging for solar or wind power installations. But convincing voters that higher costs and spotty service is better for us all in the long run is a non-starter. Instead, America must make green energy cheaper and more reliable than fossil fuels. Otherwise, we just don’t stand a chance.
Can it be done?
Source: Wall Street Journal
Andrew Meggison was born in the state of Maine and educated in Massachusetts. Andrew earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and International Relations from Clark University and a Master’s Degree in Political Science from Northeastern University. Being an Eagle Scout, Andrew has a passion for all things environmental. In his free time Andrew enjoys writing, exploring the great outdoors, a good film, and a creative cocktail. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMeggison