Thursday, April 11, 2013

Germany's green energy revoluton

The terrain in North Germany is largely flat, and cycling in the countryside one can see it rolling on for miles. From almost any point one can also see the electricity-generating windmills keeping watch over the countryside. The building boom in windmills and solar panels is a result of the German government's plan to transition entirely towards renewable energy sources.

Soon after the Fukushima disaster in Japan, the announcement was made that the country would shut down its remaining nuclear power plants. In the short term, as this commentary in Nature points out, this means that the country is more reliant on fossil fuels like coal and gas. But it rightly says that the Energiewende, or Energy Transition, is an experiment. There is a risk, after all, that renewable energy is not enough, and that anticipated improvements in technologies for the production and distribution of energy will not pan out.

Another commentary article, this one from the Economist, is less optimistic and more cautious. Much of the initial boom in building renewable energy plants and decentralizing energy production has been fueled by government grants and subsidies. Eventually, however, consumers will see their electricity bills go up. Remodeling the energy infrastructure changes patterns of supply and demand. On top of the technological challenges are the economic ones, that ultimately depend on human factors: how much citizens and businesses are willing to pay, and what politicians have the will to push through.

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