My days left here at Purdue can now be counted on my hands. I already went through my last class; I can never go back to the small room in the basement of LILY hall to discuss environmental politics with a room filled with “green-minded” students. This will be my last blog post for the class, POL 223H; but I have decided to continue blogging as I travel to Germany, in September, to experience the Energiewende personally.
As my last blog post I will be summarizing the things I have learned throughout my semester of researching about the Energiewende. A few personally-held myths that were debunked this semester are also included.
1. The Energiewende did not start because of the Fukushima nuclear disaster; the age of wind began in 1991 with the Feed-in Act, followed by the Renewable Energy Act of 2000, solar, however, did not really get started until that Act was amended in 2004. Likewise, the nuclear phaseout began in 2002 under Chancellor Schroeder. Chancellor Merkel simply reversed that policy in 2010 and then did an about-face in the wake of the disaster at Fukushima. The Fukushima disaster was a huge impetus to aggressively rally and work towards the transition.
2. The German citizens have been surprisingly in support of the Energiewende even at the expense of high power prices. In fact they have been so in support of it that they are getting frustrated by the slow progress being made and some are wrestling for federal control over the grids instead of letting it reside in the hands of self-interested private companies,
3. The companies are all left at a crossroad to decide how they want to contribute to the Energiewende. With increasing electricity prices a lot of companies are debating if they should move to more ‘economically friendlier’ countries. Companies, if they decide to move, will be taking away valuable jobs. The other direction that crossroad offer companies are to jump on an energy saving bandwagon and reduce their electricity bills or become energy independent by generating their own renewable electricity.
4. The current non-renewable electricity providers are incurring a lot of loses. Nuclear plants are being aggressively phased out and coal plants will follow suit. There is no option for them other than either close shop or also start commercially generating renewable electricity instead of non-renewable.
5. The German grid is extremely efficiently designed. The stability and flexibility of the grid can be easily seen at the low numbers of blackouts/brownouts in the country. There obviously is alway room for improvement. The “power highway” that will transport electricity generated by wind farms in the north of the country, and offshore in the North and Baltic Seas, to the manufacturing belt in the south and support the entire nation in being more energy-sufficient by sharing electricity nationally needs to be built rather quickly to keep up with the phase outs.
6. The German government have to play a balancing act. They have all the things they need – an environmentally conscious majority of citizen, the support of most of the political parties to continue on the transition and the flexibility needed to make a transition like this successful. Reforms like the one in April are encouraging as it shows that the government realizes that there are flaws in the policy (mostly all economics) and they are tweaking it as they go to make it work while still not negotiating on the goals.
There are definitely things Energiewende is doing right and things that still need a lot of rethinking and tweaking but Germany is the only country that I believe can make the transition, be a role model and be a harbinger of a greener european union and maybe even the world. I am extremely excited to see it up close and personal as I study it deeper in Freiburg this September.