Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The future of this blog

One of the major drawbacks of this blog has been that it does not focus on a single audience. A lot of what I write is for people interested in renewable energy, but I also write some personal stuff that might interest friends and relatives (but probably not the energy folks) -- and then there are my comments about the differences between Germany and the United States, and I'm not sure who wants to read that.

Anyway, effect more or less immediately, I will be devoting most of my writing about energy matters to a new blog that is going to go up the English version of a prominent German website, which will be going live on June 1. Because we will have to have a lot of texts on the website when it goes live, I will be saving most of my future posts on energy for that website.

This blog will probably continue to provide some interesting reading for anyone interested in my general ramblings. I do intend to continue to focus on translation and intercultural matters here.

The identity of the new website is still embargoed, but I will announce where my new energy blog will be when the time comes -- sometime in the next few weeks.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Germany installed 3.8 GW of solar in 2009

The official statistics were released by Germany's Network Agency (Netzagentur) on Friday. To put this figure into perspective, it is the largest amount of photovoltaics ever installed in any one country in a single year. When the Spanish market installed 2.5 GW in 2008, the government reacted by putting a 0.5 GW annual ceiling on the market.

As readers of this blog know, Germany has also responded to the boom last year by reviewing its solar policy, but the government is basically shooting itself in the foot right now. The announcements of a one-off reduction in feed-in tariffs for solar has ramped up the market considerably as everyone rushes to get installed before the lower rates take effect. To make matters worse for the government, which intends to devote less money to photovoltaics, the governing coalition has postponed the rate reductions and may postpone them even further, all of which will merely extend the current boom, which is likely to completely overshadow the performance of 2009.

Germany now has some 9.8 GW of solar. To put that into perspective, Germany has more than 120 GW of generating capacity, but peak demand generally comes in at just less than half of that -- roughly about 55 GW. At current growth rates, solar is likely to make up a very large chunk of that generating capacity 10 years from now, especially since the current governing coalition's target is an additional annual installed capacity of three GW, which would put us at around 40 GW by 2020 already.

Around noon time on sunny days in the summer, pretty much all of that generating capacity will be running full blast, which means we will probably have to be shutting down nuclear and coal plants, which serve the baseload, for several hours a day. And we have not even accounted for wind turbines, of which there is already around 23 GW installed. That source of energy, however, generally complements solar; the wind generally blows less when the sun is shining.

Clearly, the German grid has its work cut out for it over the next few years.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

EU becomes Mitteleuropa?

Germany is coming under fire now from all sides for -- I kid you not -- being "too competitive." At first, I thought that the claims that Germany needed to raise its wages so that countries like Spain and Greece could compete were just left-wing radicalism, but at least one French official recently made the same claim, and the idea resonated throughout the German press, with a mixed response. Some Germans support the idea, while others think that Germany's friends in the EU should buckle up and get back to work.

Here's an interesting claim from a website I do not know otherwise:

European states are borrowing money (mostly from Germany) in order to purchase imported goods (mostly from Germany) because their own workers cannot compete on price (mostly because of Germany). 

The website charges -- somewhat unfairly, I would argue -- that Germany is now (finally) conquering Europe, this time economically rather than militarily. (Still haven't gotten over history, eh? ) It seems to me that Germany often simply focuses on products the world will obviously need and tries to build things that work. Other countries that more or less do the same (the Netherlands, Austria, etc.) are also not doing all that poorly right now, whereas countries like Spain and the UK simply get too much of their GDP from superfluous things like real estate and tourism (in the case of Spain) or pop culture and the banking sector (in the case of the UK). When the money runs out in places like the Netherlands and Germany, all of those sectors suffer because they are based on "play money" -- money left over after the necessities have been bought.

The investments of that Germany has made in renewables certainly do not hurt.