The Energy Watch Group was part of the expert panel to evaluate the potential of hydropower, convened by Member of German Parliament Muhanad Al-Halak (FDP spokesman on water policy) on July 5, 2024. Alongside other representatives from business, research, and practice, Dr. Hartmut Fischer, Managing Director, was invited to provide insights on the ecological and energetic value of hydropower.

“Hydropower can do much more than just generate kilowatt hours. Its potentials as a decentralized and climate-neutral energy supply are far from exhausted. It can also make enormously valuable contributions to emergency power supply, especially in blackout scenarios of critical infrastructures, as well as to local flood protection, climate protection, and climate adaptation,” summarized Al-Halak.

Read the press release from the parliamentary office (in German) here.

Foto: German Bundestag/Office Muhanad Al-Halak, MdB

The Holocene Project: exploring pathways to stopping emissions and removing carbon from the atmosphere to cool the Earth

Hans-Josef Fell speaking at SNEC 2024 in China

June 2024

 

Find the slides here.

Find the Holocene Project here.

 

Distinguished guests and friends,

It is a great pleasure to accept your invitation and an immense honor to speak with you today. It brings me immense joy to witness the growth of clean technology here in China. When we in Germany adopted the Renewable Energy Act in the German Parliament in 2000, we aimed to create a foundation for a new economy and electric industry based on renewable energy. We took on significant responsibilities and hoped to contribute meaningfully to the global efforts.

Initially, Germany led the world in renewable energies, particularly in solar, wind, and biogas. However, today, China has taken the lead, and I am profoundly grateful for China’s outstanding development in the renewable industry. It is inspiring to see the advancements here.

Back in 2000, when Germany’s Parliament passed the Renewable Energy Act, we were already aware of the global challenges we faced, such as global warming. We recognized the urgent need for new zero-emission technologies, not just to reduce emissions. Unfortunately, the world did not follow suit quickly enough, and we now witness numerous climate disasters: heatwaves, floods, storms, wildfires, rising sea levels, droughts, hunger, refugees, wars, and more. We must act swiftly to address these issues.

We also foresaw conflicts and wars over resources, particularly oil. Where there is oil, conflicts often follow. Our vision was to create peace through 100% renewable energy, which can lead to a more peaceful world. Additionally, we recognized the severe pollution of our air, water, and soil, which makes people ill. Clean technology brings health benefits to the world, making 100% renewable energy crucial for addressing these challenges.

Focusing specifically on climate issues, we have seen the alarming increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Before industrialization, the level was 280 parts per million (ppm). The planetary boundary for a secure life is 350 ppm, which we exceeded in 1990. Now, we have reached 420 ppm, and global temperatures continue to rise rapidly. Last year, we experienced 1.5°C of global warming, and the Copernicus Research Center in Europe recently reported that the last 12 months saw 1.63°C of warming. The acceleration of global temperature rise is alarming.

Thus, we must set a new target for climate protection: reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide to below 350 ppm. This requires stopping all emissions and removing hundreds of gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere to cool the Earth. We aim to launch a new research project, the Holocene Project, to explore pathways to achieve this target. This includes stopping all emissions in the energy sector, creating a circular economy without emissions or waste, and promoting green growth to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

To succeed, we need research funding and collaboration. If you are interested in joining this policy project, please let me know. Achieving 100% renewables is no longer a question of economics or technology but of political will. I see strong political will in China, evidenced by its high growth rates in renewable investments. However, the rest of the world must follow.

Last year, in 2022, Bloomberg reported that most investments in clean technology were directed towards renewable energies and electric transportation. Nuclear power plays a minimal role due to its high cost and slow implementation. Renewable energy, particularly solar power, is growing rapidly, with significant installations in China.

We must continue to fight for advancements in storage technologies, such as batteries, to balance the fluctuations in renewable energy production and to power clean vehicles. The economic advantages of renewable energy are clear, as it is cheaper than fossil fuels when considering the costs of carbon capture and storage.

At the SNIEC conference last year, I saw promising figures indicating that China’s growth in clean technology is doubling every two years. This tremendous growth rate can lead to 100% renewables within a decade, which is essential for achieving our climate goals. By canceling coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power, and focusing on renewables, we can boost the economy and protect the environment.

China has set an example with projects like the massive solar farms in Inner Mongolia and Shangu Province. These projects not only provide clean electricity but also create additional benefits, such as shading desert areas to promote plant growth and cooling water to improve shrimp and fish farming.

China is now the leading nation in clean technology, and you have the potential to become a 100% renewable country within a decade. Achieving climate neutrality by 2060 is commendable, but we need to act faster to prevent further climate disasters. Together with Europe and other nations, we can influence global climate conferences and set a new target: reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide to 350 ppm to protect the climate and stabilize global temperatures.

Thank you very much for your attention.

 

Shanghai, June 12, 2024 – At the 17th International Photovoltaic Power Generation and Smart Energy Conference and Exhibition (SNEC PV+) in Shanghai yesterday, Hans-Josef Fell was awarded the Global Solar Leaders Award, one of the world’s most prestigious prizes in the field of solar energy. With his political work, he has made a significant contribution to the breakthrough of photovoltaics, first in Germany and then worldwide. 

In his speech at the opening panel of the conference, Fell emphasized that China has the potential to lead the world towards 100% renewable energy and thus effective climate protection within a decade. He praised the progress and innovations that China has made in the field of renewable energies in recent years and emphasized the country’s central role in the global energy transition. 

“The current exponential growth in solar and wind energy, battery technology, electromobility and other sectors could lead China to climate neutrality by 2035 if it continues unabated. China’s official goal of becoming climate-neutral by 2060 is far too late in view of the urgent need to protect the climate,” Fell said in his speech. 

Hans-Josef Fell is a globally recognized pioneer and advocate for renewable energies. As co-author of the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) in Germany, he has contributed significantly to the development of photovoltaics, biogas, wind power, hydropower and geothermal energy and laid the foundations for a sustainable energy policy in over 60 nations. China also adopted the basic principles of the EEG and thus established itself as the world market leader for solar energy.   

The Global Solar Leaders Award is presented annually by the Global Green Energy Industry Council, the Global Solar Council and others to outstanding individuals who have made a significant contribution to the promotion and development of solar energy. The award recognizes Fell’s tireless commitment and significant influence on global energy policy. 

The full press release can be found here in English and German.

Energy Watch Group – Newsletter 3 – 2024

German municipal utilities are key to the success of climate action. They often operate the local natural gas network, power grid and district heating – all of which need to be transformed and adjusted significantly to achieve CO2-free electricity, heat and mobility.

If municipal utilities push ahead with this transformation and adjustment, climate action is accelerated. If municipal utilities slow walk these changes – as is still the case too often – climate action is slowed down as well. This is not just due to inertia. There are some real obstacles for municipal utilities and municipal governments that need to be resolved: lack of investment capital, vanishing natural gas profits and new business models for which these utilities are not yet sufficiently equipped.

Regarding the lack of capital for investment: municipal utilities need to

  • hook up PV and wind plants to the grid and simultaneously adapt the network to increased electricity consumption by heat pumps, electric cars and process heat in industry.
  • decarbonize district heating and expand the capacity and length of its network in implementation of municipal heat plans due to be completed by 2026 or 2028.

There are varying estimates, how much investment that will require in total. But GEODE, a EU-wide federation of local heat and electricity network operators, estimates that district heating alone will require some 400 billion € investment by German municipal utilities. Due to their overall high debt level, many utilities will have difficulties securing loans for that much investment.

Regarding vanishing natural gas profits: the natural gas service is the main profit pool for many municipal utilities, often providing a significant part of the municipal subsidies for a city’s public transport and swimming pools. As the German Secretary of Commerce and Prof. Dr. Claudia Kemfert, the chair of the EWG scientific board,  say: it will hardly be replaced by green hydrogen. As no other similar profit pool is in sight as of yet, municipal utilities show some reluctance to aggressively reduce natural gas consumption by pushing district heating or heat pumps for building heating.

Regarding new business models, there is a broad spectrum of options available to municipal utilities (some of these can at least partially replace the current natural gas profits). Examples are: generate low cost renewable electricity for local resale, provide joint electricity storage for roof-top-PV owners, and leasing heat pumps. But municipal utilities largely lack the coherent strategy, know-how and entrepreneurial culture necessary to implement these new options profitably and at scale.

A national discussion has begun on how to overcome these obstacles, so that municipal utilities can and will make faster and stronger contributions to climate action in their communities. At the Handelsblatt Jahrestagung „Stadtwerke“ on April 9th and 10th in Berlin, many of the solutions that are currently being developed and tested throughout Germany will be presented and discussed. The Energy Watch Group will contribute solutions to this discussion.

German power plant strategy needs adjustment

On February 5th, the governing German coalition announced key points of its future power plant strategy (“Kraftwerksstrategie”). The strategy addresses how to increase the flexible generating capacity in Germany needed when wind, solar, water and other renewables do not generate enough to meet the electricity demand due to weather conditions (low solar and wind input). The key points are

  • the German government going out to tender for construction of four new natural gas power plants at a capacity of 2.5 GW each. These power plants are then to be converted to green hydrogen fuel in the timeframe 2035-2040.
  • establishing a “market based, technology-neutral capacity mechanism” for buil­ding further flexible capacity, which is to be designed by summer 2024.

Germany needs flexible, CO2-free power capacity to offset variability in wind and solar power generation. But to first build large new natural gas plants and then convert them to green hydrogen is economically and ecologically the wrong path. It

  • is the most expensive option. Much cheaper, faster and more reliable options include directly converting the existing natural gas plants to green hydrogen fuel (35 GW capacity), converting the existing biogas power plants from baseload to flexible load operation (12-24 GW capacity) and expanding the use of electricity storage for short term flexible load (currently 1-2 GW).
  • extends fossil fuel burning and adds to global warming without compelling reason.

Pursuing this path serves the fossil fuel industry, large utilities and large power plant suppliers. It does not serve German citizens, businesses or climate goals.

That is why the design of flexible capacity procurement should be changed to

  • require the power plants to be CO2-free from the start and
  • allow proposals from power plants of all sizes (not only 2.5 GW and more) and fuel stocks (not only green hydrogen) and from power storage operators

in these coming months and before a tender is put out.

Regarding the “capacity mechanism” details were not provided in the press statement and may yet need to be defined. It is the EWG-position that this should include:

  • differentiating electricity prices by time in order to shift demand towards peaks and away from lulls in wind and solar power generation – thereby narrowing gaps between renewable power supply and demand
  • procuring flexible capacity for the remaining gaps in long-term contracts via the mechanisms fixed prices or utility tenders for capacity. These should allow all types of power capacity (e.g. green hydrogen, biogas, geothermal, battery and other storage) and providers (from large to fairly small including citizens’ energy cooperatives) to compete.

In Germany, the mechanisms exchange (“Strombörse”) and state tenders have proven less than effective in terms of best price for electricity customer and of quickly growing supply of renewable power.

The Energy Watch Group has developed a briefing on these key points, including recommendations on tender and mechanism design in the coming months.

Reality check for global hydrogen hype

The great attraction of green hydrogen has been and is that it can be used to gene­rate CO2-free electricity when needed to compensate for variation in wind and solar power generation – and that it can be used to maintain combustion as a source for industrial heat, building heat and vehicle propulsion. That is why green hydrogen has been seen as a key part of the renewable energy future for the past 30 years and subsidized to the tune of hundreds of billions USD.

But so far, green hydrogen has not delivered on the hype. The recent Global Hydro­gen Review 2023 of the International Energy Agency shows that demand for green hydrogen still hovers at less than 1% of total hydrogen demand and 0,004% of global energy use. Wind power alone generated more than 800 times that much energy.

The main reason is that so far and for the foreseeable future there is no business case for green hydrogen, where electric or biogas alternatives exist. The World Energy Council currently sees the levelized cost of producing renewable hydrogen at an average of 3,50 USD per kg or 0,35 USD/kWh (hydrogen-derived efuels will necessarily be even more expensive). That is some 10x more than the current cost of wind and solar power of 0,03-0,04 USD/kWh. In addition to this gap in energy costs, most vehicle and other technology for hydrogen use is significantly more expensive to buy and operate than equipment for using electricity or biogas.

This lack of good business cases is illustrated by some snap shots of the industry:

In other words, it is time to scale the scenarios down to where green hydrogen is and could remain without alternatives as governments are beginning to realize:

  • contribution to longer term storage of wind and solar power
  • selected industrial processes and perhaps – as efuel – in aviation

This reduces the amount of pipelines and other infrastructure needed for green hydrogen and allows both private investors and governments to focus on competitive applications instead of generating expensive stranded assets.

Globally 2023 was a year of both unpleasant and encouraging news for climate change. We are rapidly approaching the 1.5-degree Celcius threshold with high and unthrottled CO2 emissions and there are already significant negative impacts on both humankind and nature. At the same time, renewables have surpassed fossil and nuclear energy globally in terms of added generation capacity and investment volume.

This trend is reflected in Germany as well. In a concerted effort, the German government has passed numerous measures to set the course for a sizeable expansion of renewable energy in the sectors electricity and heat. The installed capacity of wind and solar power plants in 2023 is approximately 50% higher than that of 2022. However, significant progress is nor foreseeable in the transportation sector, and the Building Energy Act was significantly diluted before being passed.

In 2023, the Energy Watch Group became a non-profit leagl entity – the EWG Energy Watch UG. This strengthens the EWG, giving it more independence in financing and its operation. Hans-Josef Fell continues to serve as President of the EWG.

Download EWG Annual Report 2023 (DE)

Download EWG Annual Report 2021 (DE)

Download EWG Annual Report 2020 (DE)

This first news­letter in 2024 summarizes our view on the global and German path­ways to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions (“zero emissions”) and cool the planet back down – and where we intend to focus our work in 2024. The Energy Watch Group (EWG) has now expanded its capabilities and independence by evolving into its own non-profit legal entity.

The EWG is a non-profit climate change think tank and network: we accelerate action by

  • developing suitable goals, effective options and prag­matic policy recom­mendations at the global, national and local level and
  • engaging in dialog with decision-makers and the media on that basis.

Global news

The word is speeding towards the 1.5 oC threshold on a so far unchecked path: 2023 was the hottest year on record: 1.48 oC  warmer than the pre-industrial average. Even the five year average – which levels out the current El Niño effect – puts us at 1.25 oC above the pre-industrial average. Further warming is being fueled by GHG emis­sions that are at a historic high. The lukewarm COP 28 commitment to “transi­tion away” from fossil fuels have not raised the chances of a significant decline.

The good news is that renewables are now broadly recognized to not only be climate friend­ly but also the cheapest energy available to mankind (in transportation combined with electric vehicles and in building heating combined with heat pumps). That has great­­­ly expanded the demand for and supply of renewable energies. Their growth is expo­­­nential and has con­sistently outpaced pro­jec­t­­ions. Wind and PV each added some 50% more capacity in 2023 than 2022: if this exponential growth rate is maintained, sta­ying within 2.0 oC global warming may yet be in reach. And contrary to expectations, pro­duction capacities for renewable energy technologies do not appear to be a limiting factor for the foreseeable future.

Now, the urgent course of action is to maintain this exponential growth rate until “zero” CO2 emissions have been achieved. The robust, feasible and macro­econo­mically pro­fi­ta­ble paths to get there are already availa­ble. Prof. Dr. Mark Z. Jacobson, member auf die EWG Scientist Network, shows that impressively in his new book “No Miracles Needed”.

The key challenges to main­tai­n this exponential growth rate are:

  • make the feasibility and profitability of the net zero path common knowledge that politics und media disseminate and affirm in their communication,
  • trans­la­te more of net zero’s financial advantages to society into financial advantages for citizens and businesses making the key investment and purchasing deci­sions – so as to turbocharge the market “pull” towards net zero,
  • avoid social unrest with the transformation, by compensating any relevant addi­­tio­nal costs to the comparatively poor and by offsetting job losses in one sector with job creation in other sectors within each country,
  • maintain and build a strong domestic industrial base in renewable energy technolo­gies while utilizing the significant Chinese production capacity in these sectors,
  • remove a myriad of regulations designed to keep the national energy systems locked into fossil fuels and utilities with large central power plants,
  • and, last not least, stop subsidies for fossil fuels (another 1-7 trillion USD or 1-7 US-cents/kWh in 2022) as well as investment in fossil fuels (1 trillion USD in 2023).

Achieving “zero emissions” prevents further heating of the earth but does not cool it down for centuries. Since global warming will exceed 1,5 oC and beyond, significant and long-term damages to nature, human health, economic welfare and national secu­rity will result.  So, the other urgent course of action is to remove CO2 from the atmos­phere and cool the earth back down.  The CCS technologies currently under discussion are ex­pensive and unpro­ven at the necessary scale of capturing hundreds of giga-tons of CO2. We need more robust and affordable solutions to drive down CO2. Prof. Dr. Christian Bre­yer, Chair of the EWG Scientific Board, has championed research in this field.
Once these have been identified, deployment will require a robust funding mecha­nism, most likely within a framework of international agreements similar to the Paris treaty.

German news

In Germany, the wind- and PV capacity added in 2023 was 75% (!) more than in 2022. and 50% of the electricity generated in 2023 was renewable. To a significant degree, this development is thanks to the actions taken by the governing coalition (greens/social demo­crats/liberals) – and in spite of the broader criticism it is encountering.

Now, the most urgent course of action in Germany is also to maintain an annual growth of installed capacity by more than 50% and therefore reach zero emis­sions well before the mid-2030s. The key challenges to maintaining this exponential growth in Germany are similar to those on the global level, e.g.  

  • the political and media narratives hardly reflect how feasible and economical the path to zero emissions can be made. Once claims have been broadly accepted, they are rarely questioned, even if they no longer hold true (e.g. that green hydrogen and e-fuels predominantly need to be imported), limiting the range and effectiveness of options considered. And, measures are often discussed emotionally but with incom­plete or incorrect facts. For the building energy law passed in 2023, that significantly eroded both its CO2-impact and the broader social consensus on climate action.
  • the German government subsidizes oil, gas and coal with at least 30 billion Euro per year.  The government’s 2023 revenues from emissions trading (ETS and BEHG ) were a good 15 billion Euro. In other words, the government’s fossil subsidies provide twice as much incentive to consume fossil fuels as emissions trading incentivizes reducing fossil fuel consumption.
  • neither federal and state governments nor the main political parties have a cli­mate action plan to reach zero emissions that is fully calculated and validated in its techni­cal, emissions and financial effects (investments and annual costs/revenues of citi­zens, businesses and government). That kind of plan is necessary for broad support of climate action. Its measures should be designed to generate strong financial incen­­tives to act, be socially fair, fiscally responsible, easy to understand and streng­then both economy and international competitiveness.

Items on the 2024 agenda of the federal government and parliament currently include:

  • Power plant strategy („Kraftwerksstrategie“) – It will be important not to achieve a flexible response to fluctuating wind and PV generation solely by building expensive centralized natural gas or green hydrogen power plants but to draw from the most cost effective mix of sources for balancing electric demand and supply („tech­no­lo­gie­­offen“), incl. other energy sources such as water and local biogas, energy sto­rage and demand side management step by step. The power plant strategy should include the necessary changes in electricity market design, to generate the incentives and supply for this best mix of flexibility sources.
  • Solar package („Solarpaket“) – further simplification of planning and permitting of wind and PV generation
  • Resilience – develop and enact mechanisms to maintain and build sufficient natio­nal and EU production capacity for renewable energy technologies such as wind mills, PV panels, energy storage, electric vehicles and heat etc. for a good degree of independence from China and other suppliers.

Since we will already are heading towards a world that is 2.0 oC above preindustrial levels, it is important to stop engaging in bridging technologies („Brückentechnologien“) – such as replacing coal with natural gas – but invest our time, money and political capital to directly go into CO2-frei solutions. Prof. Dr. Claudia Kemfert, Chair of the EWG Scientific Board, has shown that building stationary LNG-Terminals would lock Germany into an expensive LNG-supply above and beyond likely demand for 1-2 decades.

There are further challenges on the local level: federal and state government create a framework with regulations and financial support. However, implementation of „zero emissions“ largely happens at the municipal and county level and is often held up by a variety of factors. These range from limited staff and know-how in local government for planning and permitting renewable energy solutions to imminent losses municipal utilities and budgets will encounter with the historically profitable but now strongly shrinking gas consumption. To achieve exponential growth of CO2-free electricity, heat and mobility in and with municipalities, solutions to these challenges need to be developed and disseminated now.

Energy Watch Group

Based on this global and national outlook on climate action, we expect to focus our work in 2024 on:

Zero Emission

  • Develop „zero emission“ roadmaps for countries, states and cities that are economi­cally attractive, socially just and fiscally responsible as well as easy enough to under­stand and implement.
  • Engage in the political and media narrative on climate action with intuitive and well researched material, that shows how economic and feasible exponential growth of renewable electricity, heat and mobility and reaching “zero emissions” is. This inclu­des key data, that is currently not reported or misreported.
  • Support implementation of „zero emissions“ at the city and county level
  • Develop and disseminate other solutions to obstacles on the „zero emissions“ path (e.g. resilient supply chains) and items on the political and government agenda (e.g. power plant strategy)

Cooling the earth back down

  • Develop technically and economically feasible and scalable solutions for cooling the earth back down and achieving the historic CO2-concentration of 350 pm or less.
  • Derive meaningful zero emission and carbon capturing targets.

Our organizational set up
While continuing our work as the think tank and network “Energy Watch Group” in 2023, we made an organizational adjustment by creating our own non-profit legal entity and transitioned our work into this new framework. This makes EWG more effective by increasing control over reve­nues and expenses. The name of the legal entity is „EWG Energy Watch gUG” (due to German law on legal entity names we could not call it „Energy Watch Group gUG”). This name will only appear when acting as legal entity (e.g. contracts, bank account, receipts for donations). Hans-Josef Fell is and remains presi­dent of the Energy Watch Group. Dr. Hartmut Fischer is managing director of the EWG Energy Watch gUG. Felix Rodenjohann is the other shareholder.

Your contribution

Any suggestions are welcome regarding our choice of focus areas, solutions in these areas and dissemination of these solutions. Please direct them to  office@energywatchgroup.org.
And your donations will help us continue our work with good impact!

We won’t solve any crisis as long as global leaders cling to outdated fossil-nuclear thinking patterns.

EU President von der Leyen, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Macron, Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing Wen, as well as most other global leaders – they are all characterized by the fact that in their important high-ranking functions they have almost always viewed energy security solely from a fossil-nuclear perspective. To the present day they have prioritised the business interests of the big energy companies, whose focus is fossil-nuclear.  

These global leaders subordinated the resulting geopolitical tensions and climate protection in their policy of procuring crude oil, natural gas, coal and uranium, although the consequences have been foreseeable for decades. They have not effectively promoted domestic renewable energies as the only real solution for energy security. For that reason, they are largely responsible for the fact that the EU and other regions are now highly dependent on energy supplies from autocratic countries and they bear a large share of the blame for the current, ever worsening energy problems, geopolitical tensions and global warming.  

In midst of the current multidemensional crises one might think that these global leaders would have gained new insights and would have realised that by now all efforts must be put accelerate the expansion of renewable energies at maximum speed. However, thats not the case. Instead, the famous saying of Hermann Scheer, German politician and co-author of the Renewable Energy Sources Act, applies: “Those who have created a problem cannot solve it.”  

This becomes obvious in the current actions and high-profile activities of global leaders to contain the energy crisis. Right now, they spend a lot of time visiting hotspots of the fossil fuel industry which means looking for solutions where they cannot be found. Instead of seriously engaging with people who are preventing the expansion of renewable energies and urging them to finally solve the blockades, they still serve the interests of the fossil and nuclear economy.  

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz  

For example, German Chancellor Scholz has still not been to Bavaria, the state that has been the biggest blocker of the energy transition for years and is hence now facing particularly massive energy problems in the coming winter. If Chancellor Scholz came to Bavaria, met with the citizens’ communities, who have wanted to build wind turbines or open-space solar plants for years, and explained them how the Bavarian government has been obstructing them for years with anti-windpower-regulations, permit harassment, lack of land designations and more, the pressure on the Bavarian government would be enormous. They couldn’t keep up the blockades any longer.  

But instead of sending such signals about the unprecedented urgency of expanding renewables across the country, Scholz has just held a high-profile appointment to inspect the Siemens gas turbine for the Nordstream 1 pipeline in order to document that it is operational. Again, a commitment to the fossil natural gas industry. It was supposed to be a signal to President Putin, who  will surely only have laughed at this waste of time by a German Chancellor.   

French President Emmanuel Macron   

Another example for persisting fossil nuclear patterns of thought is the French President Emmanuel Macron. He aims to build 14 new nuclear power plants and to continue operation of the existing ones with 50-year longevity extensions to enable French energy security in the years ahead.  This strategy seems particularly absurd in light of France’s recent experiences with new nuclear construction and operation.  For example, the only new nuclear power plant built in France, the EPR reactor in Flamanville, is still not in operation since construction started in 2007 and planned commissioning in 2012. Construction costs have skyrocketed by at least three times.  With this in mind, the plans for the construction of 14 new reactors will certainly not be feasible before 2050 and hence will by no means be part of a solution to the the current energy crisis.

Quite the opposite, France’s 56 nuclear power plants contribute significantly to the European energy crisis. Up to 50% of the French nuclear power plants had to be shut down recently, partly because significant safety risks had been discovered due to cracks in the cooling pipes. Additionally, many other nuclear plants had to be shut down this hot summer due to warm river temperatures and low water levels that could no longer guarantee the plants cooling.If the drought persists, there is a threat of further shutdowns in the coming weeks, incidentally also at coal-fired power plants as they also rely on river cooling water.   

So far, a French blackout has only been prevented with green electricity supplies from Germany. Exchange electricity prices in France have exploded and are considerably higher than in Germany, where they also drive up electricity prices.

It is clear to see that nuclear power is too expensive and does not contribute to energy security. The fact that Macron nevertheless clings to nuclear power instead of finally announcing a 100% renewable energy target by 2030 speaks for his inability to learn from energy policy mistakes. 

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen   

Just recently, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen flew to Azerbaijan and signed new contracts for natural gas supplies to the EU. However, Azerbaijan can hardly increase natural gas production. Crude oil production has also peaked a long time ago. The resulting increase in unemployment leads to social tensions and is suppressed by the autocratic regime that violates human right on a regular basis. 

The supply of natural gas and oil from Azerbaijan is only possible via the new Turkey and Adriatic Pipeline, which was mainly promoted by German politicians of the conservative parties via the Council of Europe. These politicians have been criticised for receiving corruption money from Azerbaijan, called the “Azerbaijan Connection” by a German news channel. 

In addition, Ursula von der Leyen is responsible for the inclusion of the highly climate-damaging natural gas and the highly dangerous nuclear energy as “green” energies in the EU taxonomy. There is no more obvious way to document the compliant support of the fossil and nuclear economy. Against this backdrop, Ursula von der Leyens recent political activities completely failed in terms of the expansion of renewable energies.   

Ukrainian President Wolodimir Selenski  

The Ukrainian President Wolodomir Selenski plans to export electricity to Europe to generate revenue. However, more than 50% of the electricity in Ukraine comes from nuclear power plants. These are at high risk in Putin’s war right now. Misdicrected rockets as well as targeted attacks during wars can cause a nuclear “super-disaster”. In that case, regions all over Europe would be affected by radioactive contamination. After the latest attacks on the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant in Ukraine, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, the International Atomic Energy Agency already speaks of a “real risk of a nuclear catastrophe”.  

For that reason, at least in wars, nuclear power plants must be shut down. President Selenski, however, is still sticking to nuclear power production, building up on his announcement to construct new nuclear power plants. Moreover, Ukraine itself buys fuel elements from Russia and thus paradoxically finances Russia’s war of aggression against its own country.  

Selenski’s adherence to the fossil-nuclear energy system is thus also a great danger to the existence of all Europeans. The only way out of this highly dangerous situation is the switch to 100% renewable energies. But so far, Selenski has hardly promoted this transformation.  

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing Wen  

Similarily, the industrial region of Taiwan, another current trouble spot,  is almost completely dependent on fossil and nuclear energy supplies from abroad. An interruption in the supply of raw materials would quickly send the economy into a tailspin.   

This is precisely what is currently being feared after the visit of U.S. Congresswoman Nacy Pelosi. China reacted angrily to what they see as an enormous provocation and has begun to hold a military manoeuvre. There are fears in Taiwan that a blockade of sea and air routes is being prepared.   

Should China actually block the sea and air routes in violation of international law, there would be an enormous energy shortage in Taiwan in a short time and the economy would collapse, with catastrophic consequences for the global economy. Two thirds of the global contract production of semiconductors takes place in Taiwan. Should Taiwan try to prevent this with military means, the nuclear powers USA and China would probably be at war with each other. 

Against this geopolitical backdrop, it becomes painfully apparent, that it was a mistake for President Tsai Ing Wen to not put all efforts into transforming the energy policy towards 100% renewable energies immediately after coming to power and to continue to serve the fossil fuel economy instead.

The Energy Watch Group had already advised the President in this matter, when she was still in opposition. In 2021 the EWG in cooperation with the LUT University in Finland and the Taiwanese Ministry of Energy additionally completed a study on 100% renewable energies in the Taiwanese electricity sector by 2050, that was supported by the Taiwanese President Tsai Ing Wen. Only the suggested rapid switch to 100% domestic renewable energy can solve this dangerous situation for Taiwan in the medium term. Tsai Ing Wen did try to end the dependency on nuclear power, but the powerful nuclear industry in Taiwan had overturned this nuclear phase-out law with a referendum.  

If China continues to block Taiwan, there will probably be no more fuel elements for nuclear power in Taiwan. The situation of Taiwan currently shows the fragility and vulnerability of countries which are dependent on fossil and nuclear energy. Even if China does not block the sea routes this time, there will always hover the “Sword of Damocles” above Taiwan, that this might change.

Conclusion 

Scholz, Macron, von der Leyen,  Selenski, Tsai Ing Wen – as different as the challenges that the respective countries are currently facing may be – what unites them all is that they seem to have learned nothing from the current crises. Even though the multidimensional crises of our time – energy price crisis, climate crisis, health crisis, wars – show us more painfully than ever where our nuclear fossil dependency has led us, they are still clinging to the fossil and nuclear energy system instead of clearly focusing all efforts on the expansion of renewable energies. Only with these will we be able to embark on the path to a sustainable and peaceful future. Read our global study to learn how such a 100% clean energy supply can be implemented worldwide in a technically and economically viable way.

New IRENA report confirms: Renewable electricity is significantly cheaper than conventional

This month, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) published a report in which it examined the costs of electricity generation from renewable energy sources in 2021. IRENA concludes once again that renewable energy is by far the cheapest source of electricity compared to conventional energy.

The report shows that the cost of renewable energy in 2021 has further decreased compared to the previous year. Specifically, the average cost of electricity for onshore wind fell by 15% while the cost for photovoltaic and offshore wind fell by 13% each. Furthermore, nearly two-thirds or 163 gigawatts of new renewables commissioned in 2021 had lower costs than the cheapest existing coal-based option in the G20 states.

Overall, the development of the competitiveness of renewables is remarkable. For example, between 2010 and 2021, the average cost of electricity of newly added PV projects fell by 88%, the cost of onshore wind and solar thermal power by 68% each, and of offshore wind by 60%.

Against this background, Francesco La Camera, Director General of IRENA, states:

““Renewables are by far the cheapest form of power today. 2022 is a stark example of just how economically viable new renewable power generation has become. Renewable power frees economies from volatile fossil fuel prices and imports, curbs energy costs and enhances market resilience – even more so if today’s energy crunch continues.”

Also recommended is this interactive infographic from IRENA, which clearly illustrates the evolution of renewable energy competitiveness in the midst of the fossil fuel crisis.

 

Outlook: Fossil energy costs will continue to exceed renewables in 2022

According to IRENA, conventional energies will still be much more expensive than renewables in 2022. For example, the fuel and CO2 costs for existing gas-fired power plants in 2022 are estimated to be on average four to six times higher than the total operating costs for PV and wind power plants added in 2021.

The fact that renewables are already leading to significant savings is also shown by the fact that in the period January to May 2022, imports of fossil fuels worth at least 50 billion $ were avoided in Europe through the generation of solar and wind energy alone. The global addition of renewables in 2021 will reduce electricity generation costs by at least 55 billion $ in 2022, given the current fossil and nuclear fuel price crisis, according to IRENA.

In view of these clear cost advantages of renewables, it is even more incomprehensible that in Europe in particular the replacement of Russian energy supplies is being sought primarily with new LNG terminals and diversification in the import of oil, natural gas and coal. This strategy, which comes from the old thought patterns that first brought us into this fundamental dependence on Russian energy supplies, will fail again this time: The diversification of fossil energy imports will lead to a further increase in fossil energy prices, due to their scarcity also to new geopolitical tensions, and at the same time this will lead to a further rapid heating of the Earth’s atmosphere.

At the same time, replacing Russian energy supplies with renewables together with energy conservation will reduce energy costs overall, guarantee security of supply, protect the climate and avoid new geopolitical tensions. However, this requires massive acceleration laws for the expansion of solar and wind power, bioenergy, hydropower etc, similar to those similar to the recently enacted laws for LNG terminals in Germany. We finally need those legislative changes that will lead to a fireworks display of the expansion of renewables. Then, in combination with energy savings, we will also able to get through the next winter safely, even if Russian natural gas supplies continue to be halted, and we will also reduce energy costs.