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Renewable energy: As U.S. dawdles, Germany is thinking 40 years out

Germany has decided it is done with nuclear power. It has already shut down seven of its 17 plants, and the rest will be closed by 2022. Nuclear power makes up more than a quarter of all the electricity capacity in that country. Where on earth will Germany find the energy to make up that deficit?

Germany’s answer is: renewable energy. In fact, Germany intends to supply 85 percent of its electricity demand from renewable sources by 2050.

That is one reason Sabine Engel, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for German and European Studies, asked for and received a grant from Germany to set up the Germany-Minnesota Renewable Energy Exchange Project.

Last month 18 Minnesotans traveled to Germany to meet with politicians, utility and business operators, and renewable-energy providers.

Rolf Nordstrom
Rolf Nordstrom

Rolf Nordstrom, executive director of the Great Plains Institute, was one of the Minnesotans on the tour. He knows a great deal about energy. He told me, “I thought I knew a lot, but I found out I didn’t know as much as I thought.”

German citizens are on board
One of the things Nordstrom already knew was that the German people were willing to pay extra for a renewable energy future. Germany instituted a system called a feed-in tariff (FIT). The average German pays an additional 250 euros per year on his electricity bills. That money never goes to the government, but stays in the energy sector to support renewable-energy production.

Burdensome? Not according to the polls Nordstrom and Humphrey School of Public Affairs Senior Fellow Steve Kelley saw on their visit. Seventy-six percent of the Germans polled said they agreed with FIT. A quarter of those said they’d be willing to pay more.

I asked Elizabeth Wilson, associate professor at the Humphrey School and a specialist in energy, environmental policy and law, whether she thought the German people had made a moral, political or economic decision to participate in a renewable energy future for their country. Her answer was, “Yes.”

She continued, “It was like traveling to an alternative universe where people took climate change seriously and were fully engaged in the transformation of their energy system. And, they know it is going to be hard.”

Brandenburg is more than halfway there
Monday, two German officials spoke at the Humphrey School on the subject. Henning Heidemanns, state secretary in the Ministry of Economics and European Affairs from the state of Brandenburg, told the audience that Brandenburg already meets about 60 percent of its electricity needs from renewable sources.

Secretary Heidemanns told me that the shutting down of the nuclear power system is part of the plan. Germans have an uneasiness with nuclear power. Sweden and Italy have similar plans to end nuclear electricity generation. But, he said, not all of the European Union agrees. “Norway,” he said, “is going back to coal.”

The renewable initiative in Germany has such wide acceptance because the energy monopolies have been broken and decentralized. Energy has been “democratized.” Secretary Heidemanns told me, “Private sector investors and households are putting solar on their roofs in Baden-Württemburg and they are making money as well as saving energy. Farmers are making 10-20 thousand euros to have a wind turbine installed on their property. Renewable energy is an income source for them.”

Rolf Nordstrom says, “It has built its own constituency. There are so many people in Germany making money on renewable energy that you probably couldn’t repeal the feed-in tariff if they tried.”

A nonpartisan issue
The renewable future for Germany is agreed upon across party lines. One concession was to exempt the largest industries from FIT payments. In fact, the electrical rates for those industries were cut. Part of the exemption was political and part was economic. Germany is one of the world’s most productive exporters of goods. It is a highly industrialized country, and average Germans apparently wanted to keep it that way.

Elizabeth Wilson
Elizabeth Wilson

Elizabeth Wilson points out that Minnesotans are subsidizing renewable energy already, but the future goals are not as clear as those laid out by the Germans. Kelley says Germany is a lot like Minnesota because it has had to import almost all of its feedstock: coal, petroleum, natural gas and uranium.

“Germany has burned up most of it black coal,” Kelley said, “They still have some lignite and there is some natural gas in Saxony.” The Germans hope to use natural gas as a bridge fuel to green gas sources.

“When the demand is low for wind power, we make hydrogen from the wind. We can then use the hydrogen as a fuel source.” Storage of wind and solar energy is as big a problem for Germany as it is for the United States. Where will the electricity come from when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow?

That is one of the reasons Germany has a relationship with the University of Minnesota. Friedo Sielemann, Counselor for Energy and Environment at the German Embassy in Washington, travels throughout the United States looking for technology. “We keep looking for a better solution,” Sielemann told me. “It is good to look everywhere for that solution. There are a lot of scientists in Germany working on this who learned their science in the United States. You are the leaders.”

‘Our position on global warming mystifies them’
Eventually, the conversations get back to why Germany is planning out 40 years for a renewable-energy future. Some of it has to do with Germans attitudes on global warming. Rolf Nordstrom said, “Our (Americans) position on global warming mystifies them. Germans are very precise. They organize their sock drawers. They are very analytical. They don’t understand why Americans are still talking about climate science.”

Steve Kelley says the German ability to plan ahead is not as easily done in the United States. “We’ve adopted market mechanisms in this country that require us to operate on a quarter-by-quarter basis. We simply don’t have the capacity to think 10 years out.” Germany is thinking 40 years out.

There are also geopolitical and economic reasons for Germany’s plan. “We (Americans) ask,” says Nordstrom, “whether renewables can be competitive. The Germans are asking, what kind of energy system would position us to be in the strongest and best position by 2050? The answer they came up with was renewables, an inexhaustible supply of power they could control themselves.”

Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley

Kelley agrees. “The Germans believe that long-term projections show that conventional energy will keep increasing in cost, and renewables will be cheaper than any other form of energy.”

Wilson also believes the Germans are realists. They remember well the price shocks and supply disruptions of the 1970s, Wilson says. “People in Eastern Europe know that the bulk of their supplies come from Russia.” Germany, it seems, doesn’t want its industry or people to be reliant on petro-politics.

‘It is always Friday night for us’
Nordstrom says the United States is different. “I think, in a way, we are such a teenager of a country. It is always Friday night for us.” He added, “We are so young that we don’t have the European experience of hitting resource walls and limits. The Germans see this path as a way for them to gain competitive advantage. They have a longer sense of history.”

After listening to the Germans at Monday’s exchange, I’m left thinking that Germany is not simply thinking about the next generation of energy. It is thinking about the next generation, period.

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Comments (30)

  1. Submitted by rolf westgard on 12/14/2011 - 11:41 am.

    Geermany’s decision to phase out nuclear is political and will be a disaster for German industry.
    Around 23 per cent of Germany’s electricity comes from nuclear. To fill the hole in electric power supply, Germany has plans to build 20 gigawatts of fossil-fuel power stations by 2020, including 9 gigawatts of coal by 2013. The government now describes fossil-fuel power stations – apparently without irony – as “the new bridging technology”. In addition, Germany will be importing power from France’s nuclear powered grid.
    Trevor Sikorski, head of environmental market research at London investment bank Barclays Capital, calculates that because of the loss of nuclear power, Germany will emit an extra 300 million tonnes of carbon dioxide between now and 2020. That is more than the annual emissions of Italy and Spain combined under the EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS).
    Despite billions and years of investment in solar, Germany gets about 2-3% of its electric power from solar.
    The Czech Republic has 6 nuclear reactors supplying 33% of its electricity. They are planning 2 new reactors partly to supply Germany with its expected power shortages from its nuclear shutdown. Bids were formally invited by CEZ in October 2011 for supply of two new complete nuclear power plant units on a “full turnkey basis, including nuclear fuel supply for nine years of operation.” Bids are due in July 2012, and the contract is to be signed in 2013.

  2. Submitted by Eric Hall on 12/14/2011 - 12:16 pm.

    We have one of the most ridiculous energy policies anywhere in the world. We have no ability to weigh pros and cons and make a decision. We have little bits of wind, but now want to shut it down because it might kill birds. Well, warm up the globe enough and we will kill way more birds than a few wind turbines will anyway!

    We also need to think about better storage mediums. Like the idea here about converting wind to hydrogen is awesome because the electricity can be then generated based on demand. Right now, we actually allow wind to go to waste because if the wind is blowing too hard we have to slow down the turbines. We have companies that have algae that can excrete oil as a waste product, thus being carbon neutral and solar powered.

    We can be smart about energy, but it will require thinking farther ahead. Not only do we need to for the environment, but it does create new jobs. I hope we start doing that soon.

  3. Submitted by Dave Eischens on 12/14/2011 - 12:47 pm.

    Excellent article Don, thanks.

    So much to comment on but the closing paragraphs sum up one of the biggest problems in American culture: we have no sense of history. Past or future. Our national (and local) decisions are so often made with only the present in mind. It’s no way to run a small town council, much less a country.

    So it’s encouraging to see many of us are already stepping up to the challenge, and reaching out across borders in cooperative progress.

  4. Submitted by rolf westgard on 12/14/2011 - 02:25 pm.

    Eric, we want to shut down wind, but not because of the real danger to birds and bats. The need for nearly 100% backup for wind means that you have to have two power systems for the output of one. As the Duke of Edinburgh recently commented, belief in wind power is belief in “fairy tales”.
    Industrial wind is a taxpayer and ratepayer funded energy scam. You could cover MN with turbines, and you wouldn’t equal the capacity of the Prairie Island nuclear plant with its 8 billion+ dispatchable kwh each year, rain or shine, night or day, wind or calm.

  5. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 12/14/2011 - 03:13 pm.

    It’s a shame that renewal energy is tied to the backs of the warmer crowd. Exploiting every energy source available for our use is just good common sense, but thoughtful people are just naturally turned cynical when the news comes from the lips of scam artists.

    The problem is that those that are follow the advise of psuedo-scientists and leftist political power mongers are being led down a path that leads to a very cold, dark future.

    Wind, solar bio-fuels all may be used to suppliment our energy needs, but our growing population must have a reliable source of sustainable electrical power.

    Right now that leaves nuclear as our best option.

    BTW, I got a chuckle out of this quote:

    “The renewable future for Germany is agreed upon across party lines. One concession was to exempt the largest industries from FIT payments. In fact, the electrical rates for those industries were cut.”

    Can you imagine the chaos the OWS mob would create if industry were to get it’s energy subsidized from taxes? Talk about alternative universes…LOL!

  6. Submitted by rolf westgard on 12/14/2011 - 03:15 pm.

    Fortunately, the US dawdles on renewable energy(altho we are spending billions on the stuff), while chancellor Merkel takes Germany over a cliff.

  7. Submitted by david granneman on 12/14/2011 - 03:32 pm.

    the article says the germans are happy to pay for increased energy costs. Well our energy costs are skyrocking and nobody asked me if i would like to pay higher energy price. environmentalists have made the decision for us and are forcing this plan on everybody. its time we stop killing jobs and make decision to bring prosperity to our country again. – ENVIRONMENTALISTS ARE KILLING OUR COUNTRY

  8. Submitted by Pat Norton on 12/14/2011 - 03:41 pm.

    One reason why Germany might be more sensitive to shutting down nuclear power, post-tsunami in Japan, is the nuclear disaster in the Ukraine and its fallout over Europe, which affected it directly. Nuclear is NOT entirely safe and certainly not clean. We need to increase storage capacity for wind- and solar-produced energy. We need to use geothermal to decrease the need for heating and cooling power, too.

  9. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 12/14/2011 - 03:41 pm.

    Europe has been settled for, literally, thousands of years longer than the U.S. They’ve already used up much of the resource base that we’re just now beginning to realize is not infinite.

    I very much like the concept of “renewable” energy, not least because it would help preserve the only viable environment we have, but if, as is suggested late in the article, it would enable us to control our own energy production we would have made a spectacular and giant step toward genuine national security. Moreover, if we can manage to break the stranglehold on energy now held by Xcel and other big energy companies, that sort of energy independence would eventually be available to everyone, fostering household independence and security on that front, just as it does for the country as a whole.

    That said, the problem of storage of electricity remains, and I’ve yet to come across something for the layman, at least, that effectively rebuts, or even deals with, the criticisms that Rolf lays out in #1. Those are genuine problems. An online article might not have to deal with them, but a real-world society with real-world energy needs definitely does.

    For years, I was also unalterably opposed to nuclear power, and I still much prefer something relatively safe and renewable like wind and/or solar power, but I’m changing my mind there, too, at least to some degree. If, and it remains a very big “if,” we can solve the issue of what to do with the waste, nuclear power might well be a viable, even preferred, alternative to our current poisonous mix of fossil fuels: coal, oil and gas. It doesn’t matter that we have enough coal for another couple centuries if using it means thousands die from pollutants and associated lung diseases, not to mention the mind-boggling damage to watersheds, both surface and subsurface, from strip mining and fracking.

    At the moment, I’m not at all convinced that we have a safe, permanent means of disposing of nuclear waste, but should that be developed, nuclear power would render most of Rolf’s criticisms of wind and solar power moot.

    That said, I still find the idea of solar power, and eliminating the grid altogether, a very attractive one. The problems there revolve around storage of the electricity generated, and the cost to individual households of establishing the system. Economies of scale would come into play if some technological breakthrough made the adoption of solar power economically feasible for most households, but it doesn’t appear that we’ve reached that point yet. I’d like to know more about how the Germans afford the sort of shift that Don is describing.

  10. Submitted by Dan Hintz on 12/14/2011 - 04:10 pm.

    Rolf, while I appreciate your knowledge about and appreciation for nuclear power, I think you stretch your credibility by arguing that nuclear power is a no-brainer and that alternative sources are worthless. As someone else pointed out, opinions about nuclear power in Europe are still guided by the Chernobyl disaster, and the recent disaster in Japan has reminded people that even now, nuclear power is not necessarily safe. Putting aside the human cost, it is going to cost Japan upwards of $300 billion dollars to clean that mess up.

  11. Submitted by david granneman on 12/14/2011 - 04:18 pm.
    not all nuclear power come from huge power plants. hyperion power has built a small self contained power generator which is buried in the ground and will provide relieabe power for 10 years without refueling

  12. Submitted by rolf westgard on 12/14/2011 - 04:33 pm.

    Pat, The Chornobyl impact ‘all over Europe’ is greatly exaggerated. And there is no utility scale storage for erratic wind and solar power and none on the horizon.
    The one approach to storage in certain areas is pumped storage at hydro facilities. IN the case of Denmark, its 500 plus turbines do generate 20% of its electric demand, but the grid can’t use most of it at the time. So it is dumped at a loss to Norway, Sweden and Germany. Sweden and Norway use the power to pump water up behind dams.
    When Denmark needs power it buys it from Sweden which is supplied by hydro and nuclear. Sweden isn’t dumb enough to use a lot of solar or wind.

  13. Submitted by Karl Struck on 12/14/2011 - 06:07 pm.

    While I am no expert on energy policy, it has always been my belief that in terms of technological progress they should be listed in this order:
    – coal and natural gas

    While this might be a bit of an over simplification (or maybe wrong all together) I believe that the best energy policy shifts from being top heavy on this list to using more on the bottom end. Nuclear has issues, we have all seen that in the past 30 years. However, the problems with nuclear energy are all structural and not so much technological. If we can increase safety and solve the problem of what to do with the spent waste, we have a near perfect source of electricity. I don’t quite understand why those on the left don’t fully embrace the future possibilities of clean nuclear energy.

  14. Submitted by Eric Hall on 12/14/2011 - 06:31 pm.

    #4 – If you noticed, that’s why I mentioned the idea of having a storage medium. We do wind very poorly now by having it connected directly to the grid. If you have the wind generate into a storage medium (batteries, capacitors, hydrogen, stored mechanical energy, etc) you can smooth out the high and low wind events and not have the need for 100% backup. Yes, you would still need some backup, but it wouldn’t need to be 100% if we we storing the energy at a high rate of efficiency and not letting extra energy go to waste on high wind days.

    In general, I was responding to the positives in the article, but I am not opposed to some of the new nuclear. Germany has gone away from the old nuclear because it is not a very good system. But new systems like pebble bed, thorium, etc could work very well with a much higher degree of safety than today’s nuclear plants. They could be safer than even coal. Some of these systems do not require any electricity to be cooled (the problem in Japan). Thorium is a great option because it is very abundant and from what I’ve read would be much easier to mine than uranium.

    My overall point is this – right now we aren’t doing anything that makes sense. It is all done for show to make it look like we are trying to be good for the environment or whatever, but we are not making the progress we could with very little investment. Much of this is because of bad regulation, bad politics, and our unwillingness to put that small investment of money in now for the big payback later.

  15. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 12/14/2011 - 08:29 pm.

    My god, people, learn some science.

    Yes, the sun provides more than enough energy for our electric needs every day. The problem is it is diffuse. Hydro power is efficient because it can be stored, yes, but more importantly by channeling rain into rivers gravity and geography has concentrated a great deal of potential energy in one place where we can capture it. Millions of years ago, swamps full of organic material died and were converted to petroleum, nicely squeezed into compact and energy dense hydrocarbon molecules stored underground. Thank you ancient food web and geological processes for concentrating that energy. Nuclear power is a dense source, but only after you’ve concentrated the U-235 into fuel rods.

    In contrast, while there is an enormous amount of radiative energy from the sun hitting the earth at any moment, the amount hitting each square meter is very small. There is an enormous amount of energy in the wind, but there is a very small amount hitting a given windmill. Directly harvesting wind and solar energy will always be hard because it is too diffuse. Storage is also a problem, but harvesting energy from a diffuse source will always be the hardest problem to overcome. Entropy is the enemy of renewable power, and entropy always wins (2nd law of Thermodynamics).

  16. Submitted by Scott Travis on 12/15/2011 - 01:14 am.

    Thanks for the discussion everyone. I used to believe that the climate and energy crises could be solved if we would just “scale up renewables” enough to replace fossil fuel usage and be done with it. So many impressive people said it’s just a matter of political will. Then someone sat me down and showed me the bankruptcy of that belief because of the insurmountable intermittency, storage, back-up,and distribution problems. The roadblocks are fundamentally technical, not just political. Look it up, please! I now believe, along with many environmentalists such as James Hansen (the US’s leading climatologist) and Massoud Amin (the inventor of the smart grid) do that new nuclear is essential to our new energy regime. And it’s the safest solution overall, since it’s necessary to manage the climate crisis and pollution in general. If you haven’t yet heard of breeder nuclear reactors in general, and IFRs especially (Integral Fast Reactors), you need to know that they can reverse the nuclear fuel cycle completely. They literally can use the supposed nuclear “waste” we have as fuel. Go to the for full details, but if you want a short story about it, try:

  17. Submitted by Eric Hall on 12/15/2011 - 01:28 am.

    Richard, I do know some science and I question your claim that the solar energy is so “diffuse.” At the mid-latitudes at midday on a sunny day, the surface would get about 800-1000 W/m^2 of solar energy. My roof is about 2800 square feet, which is about 260 m^2 by google’s calculation. So if I cover my roof in solar panels that are 10% efficient, I need 10 hours of midday sun (and storage) to have enough to power my house for the whole month (average household use is about 1 kWh/sqft). So if I get more sunlight than that, I can sell the rest back to the grid. I get your point, that solar is not an easy technology, and there is a heavy energy investment to make the panels, etc. But, let’s not so easily discount it as “diffuse.” There are other technologies using solar that are also interesting (I love the molten sodium idea).

    There is some speculation that petroleum that we are currently drilling from deeper underground is not actually organic based but may be from other geologic processes. I’m not sold on the idea, but there is some interesting science going on there

    Again – please see alternatives to uranium. Thorium is as abundant as lead in the earth’s crust, and the by-products are radioactive for 10s of years versus 100s or 1000s of years.

    Yes, I know about entropy. We have to deal with that. But there are ways to keep the system very efficient so that all of the energy is directed to where we want it, even the “waste” heat to it’s destination before we finally give it up to entropy. We have ideas out there and good scientists to do the work, but we just need to put small bits of money and get the time invested to do it.

  18. Submitted by rolf westgard on 12/15/2011 - 03:08 am.

    Thank you, Richard. That is an excellent summary of the 8 week class I do for U of MN adult ed. Altho a lot of the swamp stuff becomes coal. Most of our oil is from ocean algae which settles into ocean bottom mud and silt which cements into shale and does the squeezing and cooking you describe.
    The essential points you make about diffusion and entropy are just not widely understood.

  19. Submitted by rolf westgard on 12/15/2011 - 03:13 am.

    Typo. For Denmark that should be 5000+ turbines, not 500. But even with 5000, Denmark’s grid gets less than 10% of its supply from wind, not the 20-30% that is widely touted.

  20. Submitted by rolf westgard on 12/15/2011 - 05:22 am.

    Eric#14, there is no storage for utility scale wind and solar farms. Batteries, capacitors, flywheels, etc are all of no use for that purpose.
    And old nuclear, like our 104 reactors and Germany’s work very well.
    Things like thorium and pebble bed are very promising areas for research but they are not for the near term.
    The entire article is well written technical nonsense.

  21. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 12/15/2011 - 07:16 am.

    Eric, solar energy is a technology that has been in commercial production for 50 years. It is not much different in maturity from nuclear power. In that time there has been only one major technical innovation introduced into the marketplace – the use of CdTe thin films to replace the old silicon solar panels. This reduced the cost of solar panels at the expense of LOWER efficiency. There is very little potential for improvement in this mature technology, alyud, as efficiencies are limited by 1) the fundamental properties of materials and 2) the limited availability of the sun.

    There is a lot of wishful thinking, however – if only this could be converted directly to electricity.

  22. Submitted by Gregory Lang on 12/15/2011 - 08:16 am.

    The United States has more recoverable fossil fuel reserves than any other country in the world. There is natural gas to heat my house for more that 850 years!

  23. Submitted by Eric Hall on 12/15/2011 - 09:16 am.

    Rolf – Here is your storage medium for solar (note, this solar thermal and not photovoltaic), but still solar

    For wind, here is your storage medium I mentioned earlier

    The Iron Range has also talked about pumping water out of old mine pits using wind and then releasing the water back into the pits to turn turbines to generate electricity.

    In short, we have plenty of ways to store this energy.

    China is currently building thorium plants and pebble bed technology has been already tested and proven in small scale plants. It would simply need investment to be built. Our old reactors are not working well because we are running out of places to easily mine uranium in the US. The cost is going to go up quickly. Also, because we do not recycle our fuel and the long time we’ve used it, we have a storage problem. That’s an issue. Time to stop relying on 50 year-old technology and do something better.

  24. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 12/15/2011 - 11:03 am.

    The people of Germany have been fortunate not to have been subjected to propaganda from a fossil fuel industry that wants to wait to develop renewables until it has used up the polluting oil, coal and gas (notably via the fracking method of extraction) and we are forced into emergency development. That would be much more expensive than developing alternatives now.

    Americans are “taught” constantly by TV commercials that coal is clean and nuclear is safe and — if we don’t mind destroying Canada’s arboreal forest and all the fresh water flowing south from it — that there is plenty of oil to be had by drilling in currently clean offshore waters.

    When we have matured to the point where corporate power no longer has excessive influence over the Congress, we may be able to make some progress.

  25. Submitted by Dan Endreson on 12/15/2011 - 11:11 am.

    A clarification on issue of costs – I was at the roundtable discussion of members from this delegation on Monday at the Humphrey School. Friedo Sielemann did admit that Germans pay more for their electricity – .34/kwh which on average is about 3 times more than what Americans pay. He followed this up by saying that Germans use 3 times less electricity than Americans and so in the end, German and American households pay roughly the same.

    Rolf – Your argument against wind is flawed. It is true that wind requires a back up on the electric grid, but so does all energy sources. MISO (Midwest Independent System Operator), the entity which ensures consistent power on the grid, must maintain a reserve capacity to cover the largest generators on the system, which are coal and nuclear plants. The reserve must be large reserve because these facilities are large. When a nuclear suddenly goes offline, MISO has to find a way to replace those 600 MWs and this has happened several times in Minnesota this year. The Monticello plant just resumed operations after being shut down for three weeks due to a mechanical failure. This would not be the case if a few wind turbines failed. Continuing a dependence on large fossil-fuel facilities is wasteful and we need to have a system that is flexible and not tied down to a few large generators.

    Also, it is not a convincing argument that Minnesota should stop pursuing wind because of the Duke of Edinburgh’s personal opinions. That’s like me trying to convince you we should use electric vehicles because Leonardo DiCaprio says so. How about some facts?

  26. Submitted by rolf westgard on 12/15/2011 - 01:17 pm.

    Nuclear’s capacity factor is 90+%. Wind is about 25%, lower when demand is high.
    Molten salt might add an hour or two to solar.

  27. Submitted by Don Shelby on 12/19/2011 - 11:07 pm.

    To all of you who have commented. This is fun. I love that everyone is thinking and contributing. Rolf, I’m sorry you thought the article was technical nonsense. I simply reported the facts. You want to tell the Germans they are full of it, that is your business.
    I like that there are those in the group looking at the next, next generation of nuclear and finding ways to utilize the 98% of the energy still in the “depleted” rods in storage. Fast neutron reactors might have a future. They burn it all, including the plutonium produced in the enrichment process. I’d like to see it demonstrated.Don’t need Yucca Mountain if we can find away to burn the “waste.” And, no one would have to mine uranium for the next 100 years.
    Salt storage doesn’t have to be molten salts. The University of Minnesota is one of the world’s leaders in salt storage of heat energy using much the same salt as we put on roads. There is a reason it melts the ice.
    I’ve noticed, since I first began writing these columns, a greater civilness to the conversation. It is a good development. Can’t we all just collaborate. We are on the same team, folks. Keep the comments coming. Keep reading. Keep seeking answers. We’ll figure it out together.
    Don Shelby

  28. Submitted by Thomas G on 12/21/2011 - 11:36 am.

    Thank you for the Article Don.

    I am actually from Germany and there are more layers to renewable energy than what is commonly discussed.

    Unlike what some posters suggessted, Germany is dominated by extremly powerful energy corporations. Basicly 90% of all electricity production capabilites are owned & operated by 4 investor owned corperations / multinatinals.
    One of them is E.on, which is the largest electricity producer & gas distributor of the world. (Fortune 500 – Rank 27 / double digget billions profits)

    Their opposition to the German FIT and the open attacks against renewable energy in general is a clear sign that they are kind of scared of it.

    One most understand the buisness model of Energy corporations and the nature of the good they provide.
    Energy is an essential ressource to the society of every civilization. It’s like food & water. And like the distribution and availability of food & water, it has enourmous implications of society.

    To get to the point:
    The nature of Renewable energy production is uncompatible with the buisness model of conventional energy corporations that are heavily involved in mining & transportation which is a big part of their revenue stream.
    The inability to centralize renewable energy generation also cuts their ability to profit from the distribution buisness.

    Renewable energy is best produced localy & integrated in a distribute energy system of many different sorts of energy generation, utilizing synergy effects whenever possible.

    The end game:
    Energy independence for individuals, communities, states and even nations and a democratization of the energy system.
    And don’t tell me that massive private multinational corporations that controll more capital than many countries GDP and controll essential ressources for our daily life don’t pose a significant threat to the liberty & freedom of people.

    Today 20% of all electricity production is being produced by renewable energy sources. Up from 5% 10 years ago.
    50% of the installed capacity is owned by private individuals and farmers alone. 50%…
    The share of the big four Energy corporations? 5%.

    After 10 years of industrial scale implementation in Germany it is quite safe to say that the future of energy is renewabable.
    Hopes for installation, technological advances and reduction of costs per MWh are far ahead of previous estimates.

    The counter arguments have never changed…
    A decade ago they said “More than 1% from wind & solar is impossible”… in 2006 they said “20% till 2020 is impossible”…

    Even here some people say:
    11 years of investments and solar provides “only” 3.5% of total electricity generation in 2011. But it was only 0.5% 2007 and 2% in 2010. Where will it be 10 years from now? Especially considering the falling prices per module, the superb infrastructure & the acceptance in the population? At 4%, 5% or 10-20%?

    Germans now start to build houses that produce more energy than they consume… in 5 years many people will plug their hybrids & EVs into their own home.

    Energy independence is the underlying theme of this German renewable energy mania and that is something that has all sorts of positive implications… for society, culture, nature & health.

    (Not to mention the hundreds of thousends of manufacturing, maintainance & service jobs that have already been created in the renewable energy sector)

  29. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 12/26/2011 - 12:31 pm.

    Who was it that said that nuclear power is by far the most expensive way yet devised to boil water?

    I’m just pulling your leg. I like nuclear power, despite its limitations: excruciatingly expensive to build and it has a waste issue. But coal and natural gas (plus burning biomass) also have their waste issues that are immediately pumped into the environment and linger for a long time.

    A healthy dose of smog, anyone?

    The variances in wind and solar will be worked out by some smart people with engineering degrees. If not via liquid sodium and hydrogen, then through a reservoir or battery. Give it time and investment and we’ll get there.

    Hey, how about a solar array in near earth orbit? Microwave the energy back stateside and use a huge distribution grid to send it to cities. The large energy corporations would love a project like that!

  30. Submitted by James Christopher Desmond on 12/26/2011 - 01:58 pm.

    I very much appreciate all the useful news and comments here, and I have gleaned several useful research points for my own free web-book on Solar PV:

    Within that book you’ll find photos and data on my own 10KW, Central Georgia Solar PV system, plus links to a separate web-book on hooking it up to my local utility. Please also focus on my “If we must have subsidies….” page. Again, this is a 100% free book, no gimmicks, not even any ads.

    My book’s core conclusion is that history will be altered once Solar PV for “Joe Six Pack” reaches $1/watt unsubsidized cost, PLUS there is developed a cost-feasible (hence, not current battery-technology based) electricity storage system at both the utility and residential scale levels.

    Hence, I’d be indebted to anyone who can cite me to ANY currently functioning electricity storage system that’s NOT being subsidized by taxpayer dollars. I do not want “announced” or “hopefully soon” systems, but actual, proven systems running on private, not public dollars (I view private capital investment as a litmus test for a product’s legitimacy, and vice versa if public dollars are invested).

    And by cost-feasible, I mean cheap enough that “Joe” will buy it — UNSUBSIDIZED — out of the Home Depot “Solar Aisle” that will form once the $1/watt and cost-feasible-storage goal line is crossed.

    I’d also appreciate citation to any grid, anywhere, that’s successfully blending Solar PV-based electricity (variable power) in with base-load (coal, nuclear, gas-turbine) power.

    My problem is that much of the data out there just isn’t real, which is what happens when Pol-Crats (Politicians and their Bureaucrats) pick winners and losers (hence, a company claiming to be “successfully” producing, say, cylindrically shaped Solar PV will tout its product right up to the point of financial collapse, and greenies world-wide will “Like” it on Facebook or paste its web address in comments columns, thus perpetuating a mirage, rather than a viable product, plus the flawed belief that subsidized solar’s always worthwhile).

    Here’s my array, btw:

    And here’s my cost/revenue data on it:

    To summarize: $1/watt Solar PV, cost-feasible electricity storage, and cost-feasible variable/base power blending gets us the Energy Nirvana we all seek. Send all research tips to me at


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