Thursday, December 31, 2009
EU's new energy commissioner - what to expect?
Now, a certain Mr. Guenther Oettinger has been appointed as the new European Energy Commissioner, replacing Latvian Andris Piebalgs.
What can we expect from Öttinger? Well, he used to be governor of the German state of Baden-Württemberg, where I live. And while a lot of photovoltaics is going up here -- the state is second in terms of photovoltaics after only Bavaria -- that success is not the result of his leadership, and the state government in Stuttgart has been blocking wind power over the past decade, even to the point of hampering projects accepted by locals. Öttinger has close ties to nuclear and coal through his relations to EnBW (Energie Baden-Württemberg), one of Germany's four biggest utilities (we have hundreds -- I was once told the figure was around 900).
Given that Piebalgs was also known for his pro-nuclear stance, I wonder if there will be much of a change at all. But mainly, I wonder why such people are appointed to such positions. What qualifies this guy to be head of energy specifically?
On a more personal level, I do not look forward to seeing this guy in the news. Öttinger has one of the most whining voices I have ever heard, and despite the attempts to present photos of him with smiles at Wikipedia, the man seems to have as much trouble mustering a smile as most of us do touching our toes without bending our knees.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
"My country, right or wrong"
Germany has a number of American cultural centers, which are generally called an Amerika-Haus. The one here in Freiburg is named after Carl Schurz, who is not actually from this part of Germany, but was involved in the Revolution of 1848, which was very strong in Baden. (For those of you who think that Germany does not have historical roots connecting it to democracy, there was not only this revolution, but the Revolution of 1918-1919.)
Anyway, the saying above was apparently in circulation during Schurz's lifetime (having apparently been coined generations before by a Mister Decatur), and he had something to say about it:
I confidently trust that the American people will prove themselves … too wise not to detect the false pride or the dangerous ambitions or the selfish schemes which so often hide themselves under that deceptive cry of mock patriotism: "Our country, right or wrong!" They will not fail to recognize that our dignity, our free institutions and the peace and welfare of this and coming generations of Americans will be secure only as we cling to the watchword of true patriotism: "Our country—when right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right."
That was in 1899. And while he was right about US chauvinism -- which somehow goes under the epithet of patriotism in the US, though any equivalent spirit abroad is degraded as nationalism -- his confident trust was misplaced. 100 years later, the saying is still being debunked, i.e. that thinking is still alive and well.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
The English-speaking world may be divided into (1) those who neither know nor care what a split infinitive is; (2) those who do not know, but care very much; (3) those who know & condemn; (4) those who know & approve; & (5) those who know and distinguish.
The sixth camp correctly holds that infinitives in English cannot be split, ergo there is really no such thing as a split infinitive. For some reason, we have been told that the infinitive in English includes the prefix "to," but there is actually no reason to accept that description.
- I could prove it if I wanted to.
- But I don't have to.
- And I'm not going to.
The opposite of sentence 2 above, for instance, could easily be 4a, but not 4b:
4b. *I have.
It follows that we no longer need to speak of "bare infinitives" with modal verbs (such as 4a) at all. Occam's Razor holds that the simplest explanation is the best, and I have just demonstrated that the insistence that infinitive verbs in English include "to" brings about such unnecessary things as split infinitives and bare infinitives in the first place.
Since English is actually far more closely related to modern German than to Latin, a comparison of how infinitive clauses work in the two languages is also illustrative:
5. I helped him to cross the street.
6. Ich half ihm, die Strasse zu überqueren.
Notice that, although German never considers the infinitive to include "zu" (which is essentially equivalent to the English "to") and it does not even have the concept of split infinitives (the German Wikipedia entry for split infinitives discusses the issue as a problem affecting English and gives the example of "to boldly go" from Star Trek), no native German speaker would ever be able to put any word between "zu" and "überqueren":
7. I helped him to safely cross the street.
8. I helped him to cross the street safely.
9. Ich half ihm, die Strasse sicher zu überqueren.
10. *Ich half ihm, die Strasse zu sicher überqueren.
To my taste, this comparison clearly shows that the German language does not have a history of stupid grammarians going around making up rules to ban things that feel right for all native speakers because you couldn't translate the construction into Latin (though you certainly can translate the meaning). In contrast, English has a number of rules -- split infinitives being only one -- that would rule out things that sound perfectly fine to all native speakers. Even after generations of attempts to stamp out split infinitives, all native speakers -- including those who say that split infinitives do not sound good -- continue to use them when they sound right, the opponents merely doing so only when they let their guard down.
Granted, I personally like sentence 8 above more than sentence 7, but there are slews of examples where the supposed split infinitives actually sounds best to me -- "to boldly go" being one good example.
Friday, December 25, 2009
Christmas trees from Freiburg
The oldest report tells about a tree decorated with apples, wafers, nuts and gingerbread which has been erected [sic] by the guild of bakery servants in Freiburg i. B. [sic] in 1419. This simple decoration was often enhanced by paper flowers, sugar canes, cheese or sausage and could be raided by the [sic] children.
(Those folks should get a real translator...) While it might sound crazy to be dragging trees into your home, around 1400 a lot of the homes in Freiburg would have been more hut than house -- and would probably have had a fireplace in the middle somewhere with a simple hole in the roof to let the smoke out. People were dragging wood into their homes all the time, so a live tree to decorate would probably not have seemed that unusual at all.
It also turns out that, until the 20th century, a lot of Christmas trees were actually hung up from the ceiling. Queen Victoria, who was of German descent, used to hang them up herself.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Faveread: New Yorker on Obama
Now, the New Yorker's George Packer has published a few comments on Obama's recent performance, including the following:
Return of the right. Over the past eighteen months, I and others (e.g., Sam Tanenhaus) have written that conservatism is dead. I’ve been asked a few times whether I still believe it. Intellectually, absolutely: the August tea parties, the extremist language on the Capitol steps, the Palin self-promotional orgy, even the lockstep voting habits of congressional Republicans, are all symptoms of a debased movement composed of celebrity and bile. But in the past ten months I’ve remembered how powerful a thing it is for conservatives to have a target. Post-Reagan conservatism, with its overwhelming negativity, is back to doing what it does best—without even pretending to have a viable governing agenda. I imagined that in the aftermath of their historic defeat, Republicans would spend months, if not years, engaged in a serious internal debate between reformists and purists. Instead, the party has become more monolithic and shrill than ever. And in our constitutional system, a brain-dead minority party that spouts simple-minded slogans on TV and votes in rigid unison can be a serious obstacle to achieving anything.The rest of his synopsis seems correct to me as well.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
Happy holidays, Phillipines!
The counter revealed that I actually have close to around 40 readers a day, which was enough to keep me very motivated and try to provide enough quality to keep everyone's attention.
But one thing did surprise me: the large number of readers from the Philippines. I have a good idea of who my readers are from the US, Germany, the UK, and Canada, but the Philippines have been battling Canada for fourth place nearly from the beginning, and I have no idea who any of you are.
So I'd very much like to hear from some of my readers from the Philippines. Welcome! But who are you, and why do you enjoy reading this blog by an American about German/American matters?
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Trash City, Egypt
Don't ask me where I got that information from, because I honestly don't remember -- but you read it here ;-)
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Mea culpa, BMW
I now know why: the whole thing was a misunderstanding. Although I first heard the story on the Nightly News on German TV, which you would think would be a reliable source, it turns out that some journalists misunderstood a company spokesperson -- or perhaps the spokesperson misspoke. Anyway, BMW is not abandoning hydrogen technology.
To make things worse, some reports conflated fuel cells with hydrogen. In the case of BMW, that mix-up is completely misleading since the Bavarian car maker is known for working on hydrogen as a fuel in internal combustion engines; BMW is not focusing on fuel cells at all. I actually knew that (it was reported in this magazine, for which I was the editor), but some German media completely conflated hydrogen with fuel cells, including some major German papers, and I repeated the confusion.
You win some, you lose some -- last week, I happened to catch an error in Die Zeit, where the author had spoken of "solar cells" providing hot water for a hotel in Tunisia. Of course, solar cells produce electricity, and the solar collectors on the hotel just heat up water. That mistake, at least, was immediately obvious to me.
Monday, December 14, 2009
German PV crosses 1% threshold
By 2020, photovoltaics would reportedly make up five percent of gross power generation at current growth rates.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
German environmental minister speaks of "clear overpayment"
Currently, if the 1,500 MW ceiling is surpassed, the automatic reduction (around 9%) increases by 1%. Perhaps he is thinking that this added reduction is too marginal, especially since Germany actually installed some 2,400 MW from Q4 2008 to Q3 2009. And the forecast for 2010 is even greater.
So maybe we will get some heavy reduction if the ceiling is reached - which would not be the end of the world as long as the first 1,500 MW are retained. After all, Germany's 3,200 MW for 2009 as a whole (forecast, but another forecast is for 2,200) is slightly more than 50% of new installations globally, a share that is far too great (the US probably won't make up 10%). So if the others can't catch up, maybe Germany will have to slow down?
Saturday, December 12, 2009
The difference between German and US solar businesspeople
But I digress. Anyway, my colleague was chatting with Joshua, who just happened to be sitting next to this financial analyst, so they also started chatting because my colleague mistakenly thought she was traveling with Joshua. Since we occasionally come across her research in our work, he told her about what we do and talked about me. Although she and I have exchanged e-mails, she could not remember who I am, which is fine -- but then she apparently said, "If I don't know him, he's a nobody."
My colleague then asked her more about her work, and she said, "Nobody does what I do," but then refused to really tell him what it is. He says he was satisfied to leave it at that, but she repeatedly continued talking about how important she was as though to beg the question again. He says he found it weird that she wouldn't stop talking about it, but whenever he asked what "it" was, she said she didn't want to talk about it (see minute 4:40).
I was disappointed to hear about this conversation because this person's work is very good, at least as far as I can judge. We certainly need economists like her on our side. My favorite financial analyst is definitely Claudia Kemfert, though she does not solely focus on solar and generally takes a much more macroeconomic view (warning: you do not want her critiquing your work if it is not great). But it is certainly not true that nobody does what this US solar financial analyst does. I personally know a handful of people who more or less do what she does -- and, of course, we can pretty much all say that nobody does what we do. I know that nobody specifically does exactly what I do because my clients tell me so.
I'm sure that there are some German businesspeople in the renewables sector that are also full of themselves, but I honestly haven't met them yet. Indeed, everyone over here treats me as though they are glad to have me on their side. That's because German renewables advocates see themselves as brothers-in-arms in a fight to make the world a better place (many of them started off as nuclear protesters after Chernobyl), whereas Americans primarily want to make money -- even the enviros. (Note to self: write a post sometime about how movie reviews in the US always focus on the box office, whereas such reviews in Germany and France almost never mention money - we're talking about art, after all, and I'm not going to see a movie because of box office sales.)
Maybe this American analyst was having a bad day, but I have unfortunately met other American businesspeople in the renewables sector who were having similar bad days. And with solar people thinking of others on their side as "nobodies," it's no wonder the US is going nowhere with solar.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Three goods things about Obama's Nobel award
2) An articulate speech showing an understanding of war and peace given seemingly by heart.
3) "I face the world as it is."
There are times when I wonder why he is doing the presidency to himself, but #3 answers that quite well.
Thursday, December 10, 2009
Good for Germany, bad for America
“Born in Germany. Do you want it in California?” (“If you are opposed to a thing these days,” one frustrated health-care advocate wrote, “the cheapest way to attack it is to call it ‘German.’ ”)
Opponents of feed-in rates in the US often admit that the policy is working in Germany, but then turn around and ask questions like "Are they right for Michigan?" and "right for Germany, wrong for California?"
And then there are all of the complete misunderstandings, such as this guy, who seems to believe that "Germany is building in year over year reductions in their feed-in-tariff system," when in fact that reduction -- called "degression" in financial jargon -- has always been there and, indeed, is the point of the policy to begin with (we want to prevent windfall profits, even as we foster a fledgling industry).
And then there is this wonderful exchange, including the following from California's Vote Solar:
In general, we think a suite of policies are necessary to support solar markets at different stages of development.... Feed-in tariffs, when well-designed, are an important policy tool for setting up sales of wholesale power to a utility.
Vote Solar has probably never really understood FITs, and they get two things wrong here. First, we most certainly do not need a "suite of policies"; in fact, the confusion is part of the problem. What we need is a single national policy that provides a moderate profit margin for different types of projects involving renewables. Second, FITs are not at all for sales of "wholesale power." FITs are designed to provide roughly the same return on all projects, from small rooftop systems to wholesale generators.
With so many solar proponents in the US getting FITs completely wrong, it's no wonder we don't have the policy.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Finally, somebody tells the, uh, truth about carbon
Doing right by the environment means limiting every individual on Earth to one ton of CO2 emissions annually by 2050. The daily equivalent could be one cold meal and one hour's TV. Or a ten-minute shower at 40 degrees and 500 g of yoghurt. Or buying an ecological T-shirt and doing one round of laundry at the low-energy setting. Or half of a hot meal.
Statements like that are exactly what I don't like about the whole carbon debate. I can hear 99.99 percent of readers reacting, "Okay, I'm out." (I, Craig Morris, am certainly out.)
I'm not sure whether the magazine is intentionally trying to put people off, but this phrasing is certainly one good way to do it. Imagine how useful this contention will be in the hands of climate skeptics: "See, if these crazy tree huggers get their way in Copenhagen, you're not even going to be able to eat hot food anymore!"
There is a better approach, such as the one from a recent book entitled "$20 a gallon":
... many people's lives... will be improved across a panoply of facets. We will get more exercise, breathe fewer toxins, eat better food, and make a smaller impact on our earth.
I'm not quite as optimistic as that author, but I would add a few other things:
- real musical instruments will replace iPods
- games like chess and checkers will replace computer games, and the people you face off will be sitting with you in the same room
- labor skills will become more important as expensive energy increasingly makes labor the cheaper option (think "full employment")
And check out this report about a study in the Lancet, which found that we should basically stop building roads already and start putting in bike paths and decent sidewalks for health reasons -- even before we run out of gas.
But not everything is going to be painless. I am an American living in Europe. We have no alternative fuel for kerosene in sight, so flying back to the states will be prohibitively expensive within my lifetime.
Which only goes to show that, at least in the case of oil, the shortage itself is going to bring down emissions. We probably only have to do something about coal emissions.
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Update: BMW dumps hydrogen
Remember all the talk about how we would have fuel cell cars by 2010? Yesterday, BMW announced that it was abandoning research into fuel cell cars altogether.
As of late last night, I did not see any news about this in English, but German media are full of the news. So remember where you heard this first ;-)
For the record, I have been doubting fuel cell cars since 2003 -- and calling for more emphasis on battery-powered vehicles.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Unemployment drops and rises simultaneously?
In the best report since the recession began two years ago, only 11,000 jobs disappeared last month, the government said on Friday, and the unemployment rate actually dipped, to 10 percent, from 10.2 percent the previous month.
Amazing that the number of people working can be cut, but the overall ratio of working to non-working can decrease. Obviously, some creative math is involved -- people who have given up looking disappear from the tally.
Obviously, the same thing happens to some extent everywhere, but here are the latest figures for Germany:
The Federal Labor Office said the German unemployment rate narrowed by 0.1 percentage points from October to 7.6 percent. A total of 3.22 million people were out of work in November, down from 3.23 million in October.
Indeed, the German workforce seems to be weathering the crisis rather well; take a look at this chart - stable unemployment rates since 2008. In late 2008, Paul Krugman was vociferous about how Germany was not doing enough to help mitigate the financial crisis (which the US, not Germany, created), even calling the German government "boneheaded" (an unfair charge coming from the country that screwed everything up), but we now see that Krugman himself has changed his mind, though he does not admit he was wrong when he now writes:
Germany’s jobs miracle hasn’t received much attention in this country — but it’s real, it’s striking, and it raises serious questions about whether the U.S. government is doing the right things to fight unemployment.
Of course the US isn't doing the right thing to fight unemployment; otherwise, it wouldn't have doubled. The US economy jumps from one bubble to the next: subprime, dot.com, and remember the S&L? The Germans don't have magic policies, but rather relatively honest people trying to make a decent living. And a focus on technologies the world needs, like renewables. No BS real estate bubble here.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
The German filibuster that wasn't
All federal laws must, after counter-signature, be signed by the president before they can come into effect. Upon signing, the President has to check if the law was passed according to the order mandated by the constitution and/or if the content of the law is constitutional. If not, he has the right (and, some argue, the duty) to refuse to sign the law. This has happened only eight times. The constitution is not explicit on whether the President can refuse to sign a law merely because he disagrees with its content, i.e. if he has a power of veto, but it is generally held that he does not have such a power. In any case, no President has ever refused to sign a law unless he believed the constitution was being violated.
Now imagine that the United States has such a person. If there is a Republican or Democratic majority in the House and Senate, the president elected would then be a member of the majority party. Now imagine that this person cannot technically veto a law without saying that it is unconstitutional.
Do you think, in American politics, it would be possible for that person to refrain from exercising that right in all cases but eight over the past 60 years?
That's another thing I like about Germany -- so many people try to play fair. To see the number of times the filibuster has been used in the US, see this chart.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Photons says 3-4 GW of new PV next year
Photon puts the newly installed capacity for 2008 at 1.93 gigawatts. Starting in 2009, we will have official figures from Germany's Network Agency, which began keeping a registry of grid-connected PV systems on January 1. A few years ago, Photon began collecting these statistics itself (collated from grid operators) because no figures were officially collected.
There is one really nice statistic in the article: Bavaria was the first German state with approximately one solar module per capita on the average (188 watts per person) -- and that was in 2008.
Friday, December 4, 2009
MP says priority still on renewables in Germany if nuclear is extended
Under the Schröder government, Germany chose to shut all of its nuclear plants down after 32 years of service (popularly called the "nuclear phase-out" or Atomausstieg). The current governing coalition plans to review all of these commissions and extend them indefinitely on a case-by-case basis under criteria that have yet to be specified.
"Priority" means that intermittent renewable energy (mainly solar and wind) must be purchased, even if central power plants have to be ramped down. Germany's popular Renewable Energy Act (Erneuerbare-Energien-Gesetz or EEG) actually has a longer official name: the Act on Granting Priority to Renewable Energy Sources.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Bad customer feedback III
Customer feedback: Why did you translate Bundestag as "lower house of the German parliament"?Answer:
The Bundesrat co-decides about federal laws that afflict Länder competences, but German constitution commentators do not consider it a parliament or a chamber of the parliament. The only federal parliament in Germany is the Bundestag. Nonetheless foreign commentators tend to compare it to upper houses such as the U.S. Senate or the House of Lords in the UK. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bundesrat_of_Germany
If I stop to think about it, I probably would just call the Bundestag the Parliament and I would not know how to express "Bundesrat" without saying something like Upper House or Senate, which in turn would make the Bundestag the lower house. But I don't really see this as a crucial issue for photovoltaics -- if we were talking about politics, sure. But the article talks about solar; it does not try to describe the German legislature. The fact that the roles of upper/lower houses differ from one country to another is hardly important for us here. The French president is the person in charge, whereas the German president is a figurehead with no political power (technically). But they would both be called presidents in English. The other option is simply to call the thing Bundestag in English. But the translation as such is certainly defensible.
Customer feedback: Why didn't you translate youtube as YouTube?This word was written in lowercase in the German, and with all of the specific rules the customer has about capitalizing company names, etc., we cannot know that the client wants us to write something the way the client didn't write it. In particular, we have been told not to use camel case in company and product names regardless of how they are written by the firm.
Customer feedback: "Südwestrundfunk (SWR)'s" should have been "Südwestrundfunk's (SWR)".Yes, that should have been different.
Customer feedback: "Environmental Minister" is an abbreviation. The first time this title is mentioned, the ministry's full name must be used.The German reads "Bundesumweltminister", and that is what we translated. If you want the full name of the ministry written out, do it in the German (Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und Reaktorsicherheit), and we will follow that faithfully (German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety).
Customer feedback: "the Association of German Industry (BDI)" should be "BDI, the Federation of German Industries"Yes, your version is the official translation. I'm not sure where the translator got the other version, but perhaps here, which also looks pretty official to me. Overall, I would argue that "federation" is not the right translation of Bund at all. In the US, all of these industry lobby groups are associations.
Customer feedback: "chief whip of the CDU" should be "First Parliamentary Secretary of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group"Answer:
Im angelsächsischen Sprachraum werden sie Whip (Peitsche) genannt, da sie auch für die Disziplin beim Abstimmungsverhalten zuständig sind. http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parlamentarischer_Gesch%C3%A4ftsf%C3%BChrer
Customer feedback: "NRW Minister-President Jürgen Rüttgers"should be "NRW premier Jürgen Rüttgers"If anything, I would change this into "governor" for US readers because this is the head of a state government, as opposed to the head of a national government. But I certainly think that the translation is fine as is:
There is some confusion about the correct English translation, the Ministerpräsident/-in is either known as "Minister-President" or "Prime Minister". (ex. Prime Minister of Brandenburg , Prime Minister of Lower Saxony ). The title can be translated as "Minister President", "Minister-President", or "(State) Premier". http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parlamentarischer_Gesch%C3%A4ftsf%C3%BChrerFor Rüttgers especially, see:
Jürgen Rüttgers (born June 26, 1951 in Cologne) is a German politician (CDU) and Minister-President of North Rhine-Westphalia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J%C3%BCrgen_R%C3%BCttgersSo it looks like, out of seven complaints, the only thing that is indisputably wrong here was the placement of the 's after SWR, and the "official" title of the BDI was taken from the wrong website. 5 of 7 complaints off the mark - pretty bad feedback. But not really unusual ;-(
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Deutsche Bank supports FITs
... emissions trading hasn't stimulated renewable energy investment and energy efficiency and governments should instead focus on introducing feed-in tariffs.
Of course, cap-and-trade trade proponents will argue that the goal of emissions trading is to lower emissions, not primarily ramp up renewables, but we must keep in mind that, in making coal power more expensive, emissions trading does not level the playing field for all renewables, so how are we going to replace dirty coal? With nuclear?
And anyway, you really have to love Deutsche Bank for its commitment to reliable economic studies on the environment and renewable energy. Imagine any major American bank doing the same.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Gambit survey on health care
But here's the part I like -- people were asked to make a statement, and those who do not support reform have some really strange reasoning. A few people said they do not support reform because they simply do not understand it. (For the record, I don't understand the health insurance I have in Germany -- I am constantly surprised to hear what is covered and what is not. But that doesn't mean I would rather do without it.)
And then there was the 32-year-old who claimed to be covered by Medicare (not impossible, but certainly unusual for someone that age -- it makes me wonder whether he knows how he is insured) and then stated the following:
"I just don't think the government should be in charge of my health care."
This guy claims to have governmental health care, does not want it, and opposes reform. He's gonna be pretty hard to please...
Monday, November 30, 2009
The next bubble - peak oil?
Americans fear the end of oil supremacy because it would threaten their power over access to oil resources.
It turns out that some whistleblower from the IEA has come out saying that the reported figures for oil reserves have been exaggerated to appease the United States. Peak oil activist Colin Campbell is quoted as saying that the misleading figures are probably fortunate, for if we had the real figures financial markets would certainly panic.
Personally, I find the analysis in the quote above interesting. The US has spent an enormous effort on getting control of oil resources, and now it may turn out that the investment wasn't worthwhile. Too bad we didn't spend the past few decades rigorously working to get control of renewable resources at home.
Listen to audio here.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
WSJ likes Dutch toll proposal
I cannot understand this thinking. The WSJ completely fails to mention that such a system would not only make the use of roads in the Netherlands very cheap for foreigners, who would not have such systems in their vehicles. In addition, some part of the state would know exactly when and where you are driving at all times.
Strangely, Germany comes in for some criticism. The WSJ links to Deutsche Welle, which writes:
Compared with the Dutch system, Dudenhoeffer said, Germany's car taxes are "a monster." They fail to "steer" policy, they are too complicated, and they don't take actual road usage into account, he noted.
"You pay the same in taxes for a car that drives 100 kilometers per year as you do for the same car that drives 100,000 kilometers," Dudenhoeffer said.
Total nonsense -- Dudenhoeffer is only referring to the fee for license plates, which are indeed based on the size and type of the engine, not on the number of kilometers driven. But Germany has a very successful ecotax system that has raised the price of gasoline, very successfully steering road use. Sales of small cars rose as this tax was incrementally added, and more people switched to public transport. The one thing that this ecotax does not do is limit congestion during rush hour, but I would have thought that the traffic jams themselves would be a deterrent to those who have a choice.
Overall, it seems like the Dutch have latched onto some technological fix for a problem that could be solved quite simply through higher gas prices. And because Americans do not understand how sensible and straightforward gas taxes are, they are also mesmerized by this technological fix.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Economics article on FITs
Calling all FIT advocates -- two economists from the German Institute of Economic Research (DIW) have published an article in a recent issue of the Energy Journal. Unfortunately, the abstract is only available as a pop up, so I have included the entire abstract here:
This article should be useful to us because the DIW's economic research is generally quite sound. (You may remember that they came out against the RWI report which found that support for solar was counterproductive.)
Most models that are used to analyze support policies for renewable electricity neglect important market features like oligopolistic behavior, emission trading, and restricted cross-border transmission capacities. We use a quantitative electricity market model that accounts for these aspects and decompose [too bad professional journals do not have editors anymore -- "break down" would certainly have been better than "decompose" here] the impact of the German Feed-in tariff (FIT) into two frequently counteracting effects: a substitution effect and a permit price effect. We find that the total effect of the policy increases the German consumer price slightly by three percent, while the producer price decreases by eight percent. In addition, emissions from electricity generation in Germany are reduced by eleven percent but are hardly altered on the European scale. Finally, it turns out that price-cost margins of almost all firms are increased by the FIT, while nonetheless, the profits of firms are significantly lowered unless the firms combine relatively carbon-intensive production with a weak connection to the German grid.
Interestingly, Der Spiegel (Germany's main news weekly, though it simply cannot get energy issues right -- I thrash their coverage of wind power across three pages in my book) has apparently interpreted this article in a way that the authors did not intend, and they have responded. Solarpraxis writes that the authors apparently (I have not paid the 20 dollars to read the original article) say that support for renewable energy should be designed to work well with whatever emissions trading policies are simultaneously implemented. But Der Spiegel seems to have understood that to mean that German renewables policy does not work.
The authors respond in a press release: "This conclusion is nonsensical, misleading, journalistically unprofessional. The journalists fail to understand that both instruments -- support for renewables and emissions trading -- have to be seen in relation to each other, which is exactly what we do... Feed-in tariffs have therefore justifiably been copied by a large number of other countries."
Friday, November 27, 2009
Culture shock - eating out
Back when I ordered that plate, I was amazed at all of the Styrofoam and plastic that came with it. In fact, a lot of the meals on that trip were served as though I were on a picnic, not in a restaurant.
Four years later, things were basically the same in New Orleans and Washington DC. I paid around 14 dollars for a plate of food at the airport in Washington and was served on a plastic plate with a plastic fork and knife. In the US, you apparently really have to go pretty far upscale to be served drinks in real glass and food with real metal cutlery and porcelain plates.
Back in Germany, the culture shock continued. After 10 days in the US, I had become so accustomed to getting free refills of iced tea and ice water that I nearly perished when I first went out to eat in Freiburg. German restaurants have quite a bit to learn about serving food. Any basic Italian restaurant will immediately bring out some finger food for the kids, and most places in the US also immediately serve you bread and butter or something similar (like nachos and salsa), but in Germany you never get anything for free, and they bring you out these really terribly small (0.2 liter) glasses of water if you are not careful enough to order the large.
In France, you are always given some bread and water right away, but in Germany you get nothing.
To make matters worse, water is often more expensive than beer or other drinks in German restaurants. Take a look at the menu at Munich's Hofbräuhaus, which is pretty typical (PDF). Beer goes for around 6.90 euros a liter, but "Tafelwasser" will run you 4.75 euros per liter, while "Siegsdorfer Petrusquelle" goes for 8.80 euros per liter -- and is only sold in 0.25 liter portions. An "Apfelsaftschorle" (half bubbly water, half apple juice -- the most common drink in Germany) will set you back eight euros per liter.
Amazingly, all of this lack of drinking water is part of a long German tradition. Some 20 years ago, I learned that Germans often do not even take a drink with their lunch -- and indeed, when I came to Freiburg in 1992, the university cafeteria, where some 4,500 students ate each day, did not offer any kind of drinks at all -- no vending machine, no water fountain (in fact, there are basically no water fountains in Germany at all -- Germans apparently do not think their tap water is for drinking, even though it is among the cleanest in the world). If you wanted something to drink, you had to bring your own. (The cafeteria is now full of vending machines and even has a café.)
Wouldn't it be great if American restaurants started serving on real plates with real cutlery like the rest of the world? And if German restaurants brought out some tap water and a bit of bread when they come to take your orders like the rest of the world?
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Counting German PV
This issue is important because the rates paid for solar are reduced ahead of schedule if a certain threshold for installed capacity is exceeded during a year. Granted, with the ceiling at 1.5 gigawatts and around 2.4 gigawatts actually installed over the past four quarters, the debate is largely academic at the moment -- no one is charging that the Network Agency missed the target by a full 60 percent.
But more pertinently to this blog, the issue makes it even more difficult to calculate the average array size, which is a quite interesting exercise because the German market is largely driven by small distributed rooftop arrays on homes, whereas the US market seems to be focusing on utility-scale arrays in the field.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Which city is this?
One of the clichés that Germans have about the US was recently included in a collection of typical German clichés at Die Zeit: "Man muss nur einen Tag durch Washington laufen, um zu wissen, wie wichtig der Sozialstaat ist" (you only have to walk through Washington for a day to know how important the welfare state is.)
Last week, I had the privilege of walking through Washington DC for four days, and I was very impressed with the city, perhaps because Germans had prepped me to expect so much poverty. In fact, the city was quite beautiful in the fall, and the area around the Mall -- where you can walk for some 45 minutes from the Capitol building to the Lincoln Memorial past the Washington Monument and the World War II monument -- is a wonderful place to visit. It is also a wonderful place for locals, many of whom use the area to go jogging in. I cannot imagine a nicer place to go jogging regularly.
Further to the north, the actual city begins, and every street all the way up to P Street looks very much like it is part of a clean, modern city: tall (5 to 10 story) office buildings made of glass and stone, with shops on the ground floor. Around P Street, the city becomes more residential, and the picture I took above, which could easily have been somewhere in Britain, was actually right off of DuPont Circle.
Granted, it wasn't hard to find places of greater poverty, such as towards the eastern side of town, where my hotel was. And even though I saw a good half of the city, I still may not have discovered the worst areas -- which also means you cannot stumble upon them in a single day. In the other picture to the left, which was taken in a neighborhood that was beginning to show some blight, the street doesn't look that bad at all -- I'm sure any number of New Orleanians would love to have that kind of housing.
In short, I have no idea what the Germans are talking about when they say that Washington DC is the best example of why we need the welfare state. I found it to be a truly enticing city -- one of the few cities in the US I would like to live in, especially if the city gave its citizens proper welfare, health care, schools, and energy policies.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
WSJ says US solar firms discovering retail
Since feed-in tariffs are obviously the policy of choice for solar, we FIT campaigners have been left wondering why a number of solar firms refused to support the idea. The notion has been tossed about that these firms do not want to sell directly to the little guys, but instead focus on large utility-scale arrays. But I have never understood that line of thinking -- in the case mentioned in the WSJ, the firms would essentially be selling to groups that could more or less act as wholesalers. And as the article states, this market segment actually has a wider profit margin than the large utility stuff, so you do get paid for the extra administrative work.
Any ideas on what is going on would be greatly appreciated. Are we witnessing a gradual change of heart? If so, we might be able to get our foot in the door with FITs.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Killing jobs softly
Perhaps the most incredible thing about the net-jobs argument was that the "studies" published were so shoddy and yet received so much flattering publicity -- the Spanish one in particular was only ever a draft, and that was eight months ago. We have yet to see the final version of this document.
Now, it seems that lobbyists in the health care sector have realized how successful such "reports" are. As the Washington Post writes, a similar campaign is now planned against the Obama administration's proposals for health care reform:
"The economist will then circulate a sign-on letter to hundreds of other economists saying that the bill will kill jobs and hurt the economy. We will then be able to use this open letter to produce advertisements, and as a powerful lobbying and grass-roots document."
Sunday, November 22, 2009
German PV industry puts cards on table
Since rates are expected to be reduced by 8 to 9 percent per year anyway, depending on how fast the market grows, this offer essentially would leave the rates for 2011 more or less the same, with an added interim reduction introduced for Q3 and Q4 2010.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
... wrote Dorothy Fields in 1935 (the song was "I won't dance"). Today's listeners no doubt interpret the line to mean, "I'm not unfeeling." In fact, the original meaning, since asbestos was originally used as a flame-retardant construction material, was probably closer to "I won't put out the flame."
In New Orleans last week, there was quite a lot of talk about asbestos, which was not only removed from a lot of the buildings that were gutted over the past four years (roughly 3/4 of the city) -- to my dismay, it also continues to be used in rebuilding. It turns out that asbestos is not even illegal in the US, but at least it was the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans back in 1991 that overturned a 1989 law to phase out the use of asbestos. It seems crudely fair somehow that New Orleans would suffer so much from one of its courts' rulings...
Needless to say, asbestos is completely banned in the EU and Switzerland. The German Wikipedia entry for Asbest says, "Asbestos is primarily a disposal problem today" (Asbest stellt heute primär ein Entsorgungsproblem dar.) And this difference in the handling of dangerous substances does not stop with asbestos: the EU has REACH legislation, which forces companies to prove that the chemicals they use are not harmful, whereas US citizens have to prove that chemicals used by companies are dangerous -- the burden of proof is the opposite.
All of which really makes me feel sorry for all of those wonderful people in the United States, whose government puts private profits ahead of public well-being.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
St. Bernard Parish is immediately adjacent Orleans Parish. It was the site of the Battle of New Orleans; it was also where the levee was intentionally blown up when the Mississippi River threatened the city in 1929. Back then, poor whites were sacrificed to save the city.
St Bernard largely consisted of people who would have proudly called themselves "coonasses." They also were (are?) extreme racists who, led by Leander Perez, entered New Orleans in the early 1960s to threaten black 1st grade schoolgirls integrating schools in Orleans for the first time in 90 years (yes, America, we had integrated schools in 1869). St Bernard is proud to be associated with Perez even today; their main street is named after him.
Plaquemines is actually whence Perez hailed. In Port Sulphur, Perez refused to provide plumbing to the black community until his death.
Anyway, these places do not necessarily exist any longer, at least not as they did before Katrina. They were wiped out by a 22 foot wall of water in parts, and Venice LA was even flooded during Hurricane Ida last week, which did not even cause rain in Orleans.
For some pictures of what's going on down there today, see my slideshow.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
How much Germans and Americans spend on books
Whereas in the US e-book sales between January and August 2009 already exceeded USD 100 m (equivalent to about 1% of total book sales at last count), electronic books have not generated even 0.1% of Germany’s total book sales of about EUR 9 bn.
That means that 300 million Americans spend around 10 bn USD on books, roughly the same as 80 million Germans - or 30% less, if we convert the euro figure at the current exchange rate. We then get 13.5 bn USD in Germany.
My point is that Germans are apparently spending several times as much per capita on books. And lest you think that the lack of ebook sales are a sign of German technophobia, keep in mind that Europe just got the Kindle a few weeks ago, and still Kindle books are ordered from the US in English (there are almost no German titles available). All kings of gadgets (iPhones, eee PCs, etc.) are released in the US as much as a year before being released in Europe.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Me and Thomas in New Orleans
For my first visit to New Orleans since December 2005 (which started last Sunday), New Orleanians said, Craig, you're gonna love it. It's better than before Katrina.
So I took Thomas Mann along on this trip to see what he thinks. True, he said, the worst is behind us, and I do not have to think what I did not have the heart to say to my German host 64 years ago. But Craig, he asked, you wrote in Dec 2005 that New Orleans had retained all of its character even with only 70-80,000 people. What has changed since then?
Thomas, I answered, I'm not going to try to pass as someone who can judge that. But he and I agreed that not all parts of town are a happy sight. The site of the 17th St Canal levee breach has been cleaned up, so between inhabited homes are empty lots. For out-of-towners, it could be a new suburb under development.
The 9th Ward -- see my pic from 2005 of the devastation -- is now also cleaned up, but almost completely empty. Yet here, a solar housing project is underway that will dwarf the largest such neighborhood in Freiburg when completed.
Nonetheless, traffic seems less in Orleans Parish now, and pics like the one here could be taken almost all over town.
Near the end of the trip, Thomas noticed that a slight sadness overcame me as I thought about going back to Germany, especially with the New Orleans Saints undefeated. I know that feeling, he said, but listen: your kids in Germany go around the house singing "jock-amo fee na ne"; they eat spicy cheese grits (made from "chopped dried corn" bought at little Russian shops - it has to be cooked for ages like 100 years ago) and red beans & rice; they know it's time to go to bed when you say, "fais do-do"; and they know that boyds are small animals that fly (and that they live in Geoymany). And they've never even been to the States.
So, Thomas told me, when you go back to Germany, as you must, remember what I told the press in 1938 upon reaching US soil as a German exile:
Germany is wherever I am. I carry my German culture inside me.
(Wo ich bin, ist Deutschland. Ich trage meine deutsche Kultur in mir.)
And next time you come back, Thomas added, bring your kids.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
The Guardian got it right! Almost...
He also points out that other car-free districts often physically prevent you from driving up to your front door, which is only an inconvenience. Why should I not be able to transport a new fridge by truck or a giant load of groceries by car?
Unfortunately, the Guardian also references a laughable previous article it seems to be proudly sticking to. I dissect it here.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Germans oppose lower rates for solar
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Feed-in tariffs—the new school of thought
(This article appeared at Grist.org)
As a boy growing up near the Louisiana Gulf Coast, I remember looking out of the car window at times and seeing gigantic flames over the bayous: gas flares. Around 1970, the flaring of natural gas peaked. Oil prices were so low back then that marketing gas would not have been profitable.
Today, far less natural gas is flared off both in terms of volume and, consequentially, as a percentage of our much higher current energy consumption. Oil prices have, of course, risen dramatically over the past 40 years, but environmentalists have also been working hard to get oil and gas companies to reduce gas flaring. Nonetheless, it is estimated that the world still flares off several weeks’ worth of natural gas supply each year.
Left with far fewer resources, future generations will be dumbfounded at our wastefulness. Why did we not take action sooner?
Ask anyone today, and the answer would be that we leave matters up to the market. And for a long time, the market’s answer was that natural gas was a waste product of oil extraction in many cases. We chose to implement legislation banning gas flaring; here, government intervention trumped the market. Another option would have been to mandate a higher price for gas so that the profit margin for oil and gas would have been more equal. Utilities would have at least been encouraged to use gas turbines to generate electricity where gas is plentiful; the higher prices could then have been spread across all power consumers. The market would still have been free—companies still could have done whatever they want—but it simply would have covered more resources.
Here, we see why this option was not pursued: while our resources would have been used more efficiently, electricity rates would have gone up. Rate hikes are politically unpalatable in the Anglo world, even if they help us use resources more efficiently. So we let oil compete with gas, and oil won for decades. And we flared off tremendous amounts of natural gas.
Competing companies: While the proposal I describe above—leveling the profit margins for energy resources—was not implemented for fossil fuels, it has been used successfully for renewables. It is called feed-in tariffs (FITs), and it is the driver behind Europe’s main success stories.
Its detractors in the English-speaking world used the same logic that was used 40 years ago in the petroleum industry: we need competition, and price fixing is anathema to free markets. Of course, the United States has had price fixing in the electricity sector since the 1930s (that’s what is meant when we say that utilities are “regulated”)—but let’s focus on what is meant by “competition.”
Normally, when we think about competition, companies come to mind: GM versus Toyota, Dell vs. Apple, etc. Of course, there is also competition between products and technologies, such as between VHS and Betamax (or, for my younger readers, between Blu-ray and HD DVD). Notice that Betamax and HD DVD disappeared from the market completely—which is itself a considerable waste of effort and investment, though having a single format certainly has its advantages.
If we now look at ways of generating electricity, we see that it would be nice to have competition between companies, but what sense does it make to have competition between resources? If we can leave the resource untouched, then it remains available for future generations—no problem. But if we have to discard one (natural gas) in order to get at another (crude oil), then it makes sense to ensure that the profit margins on both resources are roughly equal so that it pays to exploit both resources instead of wasting one. The resources need not compete as long as the extraction companies do.
Wind and solar may seem to differ in one respect: we cannot exhaust them. The sun will not be depleted regardless of how many solar panels we have, and no number of wind turbines will measurably reduce the amount of wind on Earth. Nonetheless, the amount of renewable energy we neglect to use can also be considered waste. Each day, we get a certain amount of potential solar and wind power. Were we to use more of it, our consumption of non-renewable resources would be reduced. As a result, the range of our fossil fuels could be extended dramatically.
RPS, cap-and-trade, FIT: If we agree that we would be willing to pay more today in order to use both our renewable and non-renewable resources more efficiently, the question is which policy promotes competition among companies, not resources. Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPSs) are old-school thinking; utilities have to meet a target for “renewables,” and if no further specifications are made, then renewables compete with each other. The cheapest wins, and the rest go nowhere.
Emissions trading is a more recent idea, but it is even worse in a way. Here, large energy producers and consumers are required to reduce emissions. The scheme is praised for allowing decision-makers the flexibility to choose the cheapest way to meet their target: technology overhauls (“clean coal”), investments in third-party offsets (tree plantations funding oor technological overhauls abroad), the purchase of allowances from other market players, new low-carbon technologies (renewables), or perhaps just paying a fine. Here, renewables not only compete with each other, but also with all of these options.
Neither RPSs nor emissions trading ensures a comparable, reasonable return on investments in both wind and solar. FITs do. Critics of FITs charge that the policy “picks winners,” but the charge only applies to the energy sources promoted—not to any particular companies or technologies. True, those of us who support FITs for solar and wind have picked these two resources as winners—guilty as charged. But we have not, to take the example of solar, picked any particular company, nor have we even picked a particular technology. Who can say whether crystalline or thin film panels (or perhaps something else) will be more popular in 2020? Indeed, if we provide roughly the same profit margin for concentrated solar power and photovoltaics today, we may find that the one or the other is clearly preferable by 2030—but then, we may nonetheless choose to keep the more expensive one as a niche product despite the price difference. After all, it would have been the sensible thing to do with natural gas 40 years ago.
We have a history of taking only the cheapest energy first. Our children will pay the price that we refused to pay, so they may very well view our old-school thinking as myoptic. FITs are the new school.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Al Gore with Jon Stewart
I have faced a number of doubters of renewables, but I don't think I have ever faced such difficult questioning as Gore faced with Stewart here. I wonder how many of the renewables activists reading this blog would have enjoyed facing his questions.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Crisis-resistant green jobs?
The figure is 7.7 percent for all of Germany (compared to the current 10.2 percent in the US).
Can the same effects be expected in the US? Not if you believe the interpretation of Ken Silverstein at Harper's. He interprets this report from the Boston globe to mean that green jobs are "moving to China."
I'm not convinced. All easy manufacturing is moving to places where labor is cheap (in terms of skill, panel manufacturing is closer to furniture assembly than to high-tech solar cell/wafer production); German solar firms have also announced that they will increasingly be manufacturing in Asia, and nonetheless they still serve as a stabilizing factor at home.
Monday, November 9, 2009
Scientific American article supports feed-in tariffs
A feed-in tariff (FIT) program to cover the difference between generation cost and wholesale electricity prices is especially effective at scaling-up new technologies. Combining FITs with a so-called declining clock auction [aka a Dutch or reverse auction], in which the right to sell power to the grid goes to the lowest bidders, provides continuing incentive for WWS [water, wind, and solar] developers to lower costs. As that happens, FITs can be phased out. FITs have been implemented in a number of European countries and a few U.S. states and have been quite successful in stimulating solar power in Germany.
Never mind that FIT's have been implemented in almost all EU countries, not just a number of them -- it is simply a joy to see FITs presented without further comment as the main way to do things. I suppose we will just have to accept all of the other tinkering -- the combination of FITs with auctions, net-metering, etc. -- that American proponents of FITs seems so fond of. If you, like me, prefer your FITs straight with no chaser, keep in mind that Spain also has a kind of "floating bonus" closely related to what Americans would call the "merit order price" for wind power. And Spain has done quite well with wind.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Correction of kW per array in Germany
The installed nominal output for the individual figures indicated cannot be taken to represent the overall output of the system in question. For instance, if a ground-mounted array is connected to the grid in sections, then each section reported on a different day is a registered at the Network Agency as a separate system on those different days, so that the overall plant's nominal output cannot be gathered from the lists.
(Die gemeldete installierte Nennleistung der einzelnen Datenmeldungen ist nicht mit der Gesamtleistung der Anlage gleichzusetzen. Wenn beispielsweise eine Freiflächenanlage Zug um Zug in Betrieb genommen wird, erfolgen die Datenmeldungen an die Bundesnetzagentur in der Regel sukzessive und gehen an verschiedenen Tagen ein, die installierte Nennleistung der gesamten Anlage kann nicht den Listen entnommen werden.)
In layman's terms, a 240 kW system might actually be connected to the grid in four segments of 60 kW, so that single array would appear as four 60 kW systems, not one 240 kW system.
My reader says that this report, which has apparently not been translated though a press release was published in English, contains the adjusted figures, though if you take a look at the bottom of page 13, you will see that the report contains a similar caveat for wind power, though I could not find an indication of the same for solar.
Anyway, assuming that the figures were adjusted for solar, the report from July 2009 unfortunately only applies to figures at the end of 2007, but they clearly indicate the following figures (also in the chart on page 13) of total power by arrays size:
- 2,591 kW in arrays smaller than 30 kW
- 686 kW in arrays from 30 to 100 kW
- 281 kW in arrays from 100 to 500 kW
- 419 kW in arrays larger than 500 kW
Clearly, the smallest category predominates, though a 30 kW array is not necessarily that small -- you would probably only have three or four on your average home roof, and even a large Black Forest farmhouse is going to max out around that size (panels used to produce around 150 W are now closer to 200, so you would still need around roughly 150 of these things to get 30 kW).
At any rate, it certainly seems hard to get the average array size. If anyone has any other sources, please let me know.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Astonishing news from Spain
Unfortunately, no explanation is given, and I cannot find anything else in German or English on the web. However, I was able to reach the author, who told me that banks are reluctant to lend money these days.
Does anyone know anything else about this?
Friday, November 6, 2009
SolarWorld CEO proposes near 30% cut in FITs
Meanwhile, Joachim Pfeiffer, energy spokesperson for the CDU, has stated that the automatic reduction that will take place on January 1 does not go far enough. ("Dies wird jedoch nicht ausreichen, um die Verbraucher vor unzumutbaren Kosten in den nächsten Jahren zu bewahren".)
The German Solar Industry Association (BSW-Solar) has yet to come out with any specific proposals of its own.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
How Germany sees Merkel's speech in Congress
The speech was not grand, but major. She told the Americans what they like to hear: she talked about herself and her life behind barbed wire. About her desire for blue jeans and freedom -- and the big, unbelievable moment when the Wall fell and she was allowed to enter the West to live her own "American dream."
Die Welt ran an article entitled "Merkel's Speech Pleases America and Helps Germany" (Merkels Rede gefällt Amerika und hilft Deutschland), which perhaps sums up the reaction the best: the German press seems to believe that Merkel served Germany best by just telling Americans what they want to hear anyway.
The comments under these articles are a bit different, however. Commenters seem to feel that Merkel was kotowing a bit excessively. Not everyone seems convinced, as Merkel claimed, that America wants the best for Germany. At Die Zeit, one person even pointed out that, while the United States did indeed encourage France and Britain to let the two Germanies unite, it was these powers who caused the split in the first place in the late 1940s (prompting another commenter to ask, What would you have done?).
Incidentally, the German press also produced a review of how the world press received the new German Foreign Secretary. They found that Americans in particular like to point out that he is openly gay.
It is indeed noteworthy that a gay man and a woman in pants now represent the country, as this excellent article in German about the history of women's rights and gay rights in Germany points out.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Pictures of China
And those interested in great collections of photos on the web might also want to drop by the Boston Globe.
If you have any other recommendations, feel free to drop me a comment -- I love to sift through great photos.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Update on solar rates in Germany
The press release from Germany's Network Agency is here (PDF) in German. There is still no translation of that press release, and the agency has not yet responded to my query about whether one will be published in English.
(Update: the Agency says the press release will not be translated.)
One further comment: the press release states that the roughly 1400 megawatts installed from Q4 2008 - Q3 2009 were spread across some 77,000 arrays, putting us at an average arrays size of only 19 kilowatts (the average home rooftop probably only has three or four kilowatts). Clearly, homeowners' small arrays drive the German market.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Resource on EU policies
The website looks to be an excellent source for anyone wanting to see what a particular EU country does.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
It will be interesting to see how quickly prices rebound and how the rebound affects the expected reduction in the German feed-in tariff.
Friday, October 30, 2009
German solar rates to fall by 11% in 2010
In a way, the announcement is not really news; this policy took effect, after all, on January 1, 2009. To keep the German solar market from overheating, rate reductions were to be stepped up if the market exceeded the threshold of 1.5 gigawatts for the year from October 1 to the following September 30. (The figures for the fourth quarter of 2009 obviously will not be in in time for any law to take effect on the following January 1.) And since hundreds of megawatts were installed in the fourth quarter of 2008, the actual budget for the first three quarters of 2009 was closer to one gigawatt. It turns out that 1,471 megawatts was installed in the first three quarters of this year (which means Germany is installing around 5.5 megawatts per day).
Note also that none of this pertains to the discussion about a possible revision of rates under the new governing coalition -- these accelerated rate reductions would have happened regardless of who won the elections.
Monday, October 26, 2009
11 questions on FITs from Arizona
First, a properly designed FIT ramps up renewables. You then get clean electricity, which not only keeps the environment clean, but also diversifies at your power supply, increasing energy security.
Second, FITs provide a way of unleashing the investment power of citizens. Whereas RPSs have led to a boom in wind, and contracts are being signed for gigantic solar farms with hundreds of megawatts, this capacity is left up to utilities. Citizens can hardly get involved in these giant projects. FITs provide a reasonable (generally 5-7 percent) return on all investments that society deems worthy, so homeowners and communities get roughly the same profit margin as large utilities.
Essentially, utility regulators in the US have been doing the same with utilities for decades; they work out utility rates with power providers to ensure that companies get a reasonable profit even as they prevent price gouging. FITs provide the same kind of safe investment environment to citizens, who do not have any such thing up to now.
The cost of FITs is generally passed on directly to our consumers as a surcharge on the retail electricity rate. Currently, the extra charge is estimated at 3% (see this chart in German showing a breakdown of the German retail rate) of the retail rate in Germany, currently by far the world leader in solar and wind power in per capita terms. Roughly, this breaks down to the price of a cup of coffee or a loaf of bread per month for the average family each month. So for a few dollars a month, you could be the world leader in solar and wind.
Nonetheless, policies that support renewables in the US often stipulate that the impact on the retail rates must be negligible, so a three percent increase must be politically palatable (it is no problem at all in Germany). Americans I speak with are generally concerned about the impact on the poor, but of course the purpose of energy policy is not to redistribute wealth. Protecting the poor is the realm of social policy, not energy policy. But the debate in the US and Germany is quite different, with the many Germans actually welcoming higher energy prices as a way of discouraging that wasteful consumption and encouraging conservation and efficiency.
3) What are the various models of FITs, and what are the main distinguishing features?
See the World Future Council's website.
See #2, but also keep in mind the following chart, which is a projection for future costs in Germany:
This chart basically shows that the cost of German FITs is not expected to continue to increase. Indeed, it will peak in all likelihood within the next 5-10 years at a level only slightly above the current level, and then begin to decline.
Vermont -- but also see Ontario, Canada. And beware of FITINOs: feed-in tariffs in name only. Most onlookers consider California's so-called "FITs" to be FITINOs.
6) Would you recommend a cap on each project, and/or a cumulative cap?
Sure, you could put a limit on how far you want to go, such as 2 GW per year or something like that. Alternatively, you could say that the tariff will either decrease by a certain percentage at the end of the year or whenever a particular ceiling is reached (1 GW or 1 year, whichever comes first).
7) How much solar PV is installed, both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of the whole: (a) in the world, (b) in the U.S., and (c) in the top 10 states in the U.S.?
Let me answer this question with a comparison: at the end of 2008, the German state of Baden-Württemberg had 25 percent more photovoltaics installed than the entire United States. Baden-Württemberg is roughly the size -- and has roughly the solar conditions -- of Connecticut (image from Wikipedia).
RPSs are targets; FITs, mechanisms. Considered more market-based by many in the US, RPSs are also ironic in that they use penalties and require governmental oversight; FITs require no such regulation or oversight, and there are no penalties. RPSs are also closely related to cap and trade policies, which is also ironic because cap and trade is designed to reduce something (greenhouse gas emissions), whereas RPSs are trying to increase something (renewable energy).
RPSs have also not proven to be very successful anywhere and are not being copied by foreign countries, whereas FITs have completely taken over Europe and are now expanding to cover the globe.
But in the US, you could keep your RPSs as your target and simply use FITs to reach them. NREL said as much in a recent report.
If properly designed, you would become a solar powerhouse, provide your citizenry with a safe place to put tens of thousands of dollars per person, and you could probably be 100 percent renewable fairly quickly. Keep in mind that the conditions in Arizona are especially good for solar, most of which is generated in the afternoon, which is probably when your power consumption peaks. Do you have enough water left to put up new coal or nuclear plants to cover that peak demand?
11) Would a FIT provide a benefit to rural areas, urban areas, or both? Why or why not?
Both. Mainly, if you stipulate -- as Germany did -- that renewable power has priority over conventional power, then homeowners in cities will begin using their roofs to generate electricity, and farming communities will begin using it not only their roofs, but also their land to grow energy crops, set up wind turbines (the land around the turbines can still be used for farming), and possibly for solar arrays on areas that are not arable.