Germany’s Clean Energy Revolution Hits Speed Bumps

Shifting to a grid powered by mostly by renewable sources proves an expensive, and environmentally dirty, project.

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The effort underway in Germany to transition the entire country—the industrial powerhouse of Europe—away from nuclear and fossil fuel-based energy sources in favor of renewables like wind and solar may be the most ambitious national energy strategy in the world. It is also one of the most fraught with challenges, The New York Times reports.

In the wake of the meltdown at Fukushima in Japan, in 2011 German Chancellor Angela launched a plan to phase out the use of nuclear power by 2020 and rely almost entirely on wind and solar power by 2050. Achieving that goal is proving to be a costly challenge, both in terms of dollars and cents and, counter-intuitively, in terms of carbon emissions.

The cost of implementing the switch is projected to run to $735 billion. A chief challenge is simply rewiring the countries electricity grid: Although large offshore wind farms are in place in Germany’s north, the grid capacity is not yet in place to effectively move that power to the country’s more populous and industry-intensive south.

Meanwhile, without the technology to efficiently store the energy produced by wind and solar power on windy and sunny days, Germany has had to fire up old oil- and coal burning plants to meet demand when the sky is still and cloudy.

Though energy costs to consumers have risen sharply—including a surcharge of roughly $270 per year per person to subsidize renewable energy—the switch to renewables enjoys widespread public support, the Times reports. When all is said and done—if it gets done—Germany could prove to have been a key testing ground for other industrialized countries as the use of renewables becomes more cost effective, reliable, and common.

[The New York Times]