May 31, 2011 Leave a comment
Another day, yet another conversation with my bathroom tissue recycling friend, only this time she was phoning me to tell me some news and not berate me as usual because I was killing the earth by actually driving my car and still insisted in using plastic shopping bags. “Great news… I’m moving to Germany – and I love Sauerkraut!” she breathlessly announced, “but I have a question.. What power adaptor will I need for my electric toothbrush?” Now as I know these things, I instinctively replied “anything compatible with CEE 7/16 – 2.5amp 250volt ungrounded or possibly CEE 7/4 ‘Schuko’ 16amp 250volt grounded” and quickly ended the call before she could start complaining that my clothes dryer had just made a penguin homeless.
I will admit that I have a few good memories about Germany, especially the time I drove into the country without my passport, got kidnapped by some Germans in Italy (well, that was my excuse for being falling down drunk in a bar) and driving way too fast on their autobahns. I even have a liking for Berlin, especially the tracks with Dave Gilmour on guitar and the love theme for Top Gun. I was thinking about this and how I didn’t think that Stuttgart was ready for the sight of recycled bathroom tissue drying in the sun when I realized that I didn’t know why my friend was intending to leave. I was sure that they hadn’t suddenly voted in another mad head of state again (like an Austrian ex-catholic choirboy) and the 101st Airborne were working for Exxon somewhere hot, so I started looking on the interwebs.
It took all of a couple of seconds to find the reason. Apparently, Germany has announced that the country is going to phase out nuclear energy by 2022 and proudly states that the country will now be at the forefront of renewable and alternative energy research. All because the Japanese nuclear power plants did what they were designed to do and survived one of the biggest earthquakes in recent history and have so far refused to blow up, despite the best efforts of a tsunami that inflicted the severe damage. Whilst there have been small earthquakes in the North Sea (that’s the bit of water between the UK and the rest of Europe for our geographically challenged readers), research published in 2006 concluded that even a mega-quake and Norway falling into the sea would only produce light flooding on Germany’s northern shores. Bit of a difference between high tides and a tsunami. Still, better safe than sorry.
So in ten years Germany is going to switch off nearly a quarter of its generating capacity, replacing it with renewable energy and reduced demand through energy efficiencies. Ok, highly commendable and maybe on paper it works: You switch off 23%, you double the current share of renewables to give you 17% and you reduce demand by 10%, leaving a surplus of 4%. But whilst this may fool the local kindergarten math class, if it is really is that simple, why on earth did it take politicians, some of them who will probably be educated, over 14 hours in an overnight sitting to come up with this conclusion? (Just a thought: this has nothing to do with a rightwing politician facing political defeat at the hands of the Green Party has it?)
I am not a trained scientist or economist, but even I can see a few problems. A quick check, remembering that nearly half of Germany’s current renewable energy comes from wind – you must have seen some of those 75-240ft towers with 90-180ft diameter rotors – to double the amount from wind would require at best another 18,000 wind-turbines, covering an area roughly twice the size of Berlin. Then you would need the national grid to be renewed to carry the power, with pylons and transmission towers springing up around the country. So, in order to eliminate nuclear power you will need to cover the country with power lines, windmills, bio-mass plants and photovoltaic cells and hope that everyone is going to reduce their power consumption to make up the shortfall. (Just a note: France currently generates almost twice as much as its electricity from renewable sources than Germany and still has 58 nuclear plants.) And no-one has counted the cost: A 2mw wind-turbine costs roughly $3.5million installed at 2007 prices. So, for wind turbines alone, Germany faces a spend of over $6.3bn and remember that just because you switch a nuclear plant off does not mean it disappears – you still have to decommission it. And that costs too, so does the grid and the replacement infrastructure. But the biggest problem will be telling all those nice ‘green’ Germans to stop using their electric toothbrushes and use their hand motions for something else instead.
I phoned my friend back. “Forget the toothbrush – you will not need it. There will be no power, toothbrushes will be banned in order to save electricity, you will not be able to afford the windfarm taxes and the Ruhr will be covered in a blanket of smog from the coal powered electricity plants used to make up the shortfall,” followed by an explanation of the enormity of the problems Germany industry is going to face, although this may be good news for me as I dislike BMWs and the Mercedes I want is made in Mexico anyway. Sounding rather disappointed, my friend hurried off the phone and I am sure she said she was busy knitting some beefburger or was it Bratwurst substitute?
My mother used to warn me to be careful what I wished for, just in case my wishes came true. It’s a pity she didn’t tell the German green parties the same. Because now they have their wishes granted and the Chancellor is going to switch off nuclear power. So instead of being really nice to the planet and reducing their carbon footprint (nuclear generation produces no CO2), they are going to cover Germany with steel, build transmission lines everywhere and get the country to run out of electricity to recharge their toothbrushes and cars. Well maybe that’s a good thing, because at least we’ll know where all the green-o-crites will be because they wouldn’t dream of flying would they? (unless of course it’s to that world climate conference held somewhere hot and remote, like a four star resort in Mexico) In the interim, China will start manufacturing all the things German industry used to make and the world will start looking at the German government wondering if they have yet another mad Chancellor on their hands – or just maybe a really clever woman who is going to put an end to the protests against nuclear power once and for all by calling the Green Party’s bluff.