Comparing Wales’ use of renewable energy sources to Germany
Wales has a comparatively recent history of hosting renewable energy sites, mainly wind turbines on hills, most have been opposed at some point!
Germany however has an impressive target set which they are set to reach and exceed. The two countries do not compare favourably, especially when one looks at the sheer amount of resources available to us in a country like Wales.
To make it clear, a renewable energy is any form of energy that can be renewed within 50 years, this would include wood, wind, solar, biomass (quite a generic term), and geothermal energy.
Germany is now under the leadership of Angela Merkel, a highly motivated and savvy woman, who has led Germany into a renewable energy revolution by offering incentives such as lower prices for renewable-made electricity, this attitude has earned them the place of the leading country in turning away from oil and gas. People have started making their own electricity and selling it back to the grid. This is only explored on a small scale in Wales, with rare individuals using their ingenuity, one of whom being my father who will be using a biomass generator to generate electricity 24 hours a day to power his on site sawmill and sell the excess back to the grid, all using the waste off cuts and branches that come from logging sustainably. In Germany, many people own their own wind turbine or invest in solar panels or solar tubing for their houses heating and electricity. They all know about the high cost but realise that if everyone does it the price will come down, and also that in the end they are saving the environment and their money once the apparatus has paid itself back.
People in Britain are rarely of this mindset, hence renewables make up only 3% of Britain’s electricity generation; that is a meager percentage against Germany’s 12% and target of 50% by 2050.
Not only do we compare badly on the figures but also in commitment, as we have set the target of 60% by 2050, and are now claiming that we need nuclear power to achieve this, Germany however, has set the target of 40% cuts by 2020 without nuclear power; which is a far safer and responsible route as the downside for “clean” nuclear energy is waste that remains radioactive for hundreds of years. A legacy left for future generations to deal with, that is highly dangerous and in many people’s opinion including mine, entirely unnecessary. I think it’s fair to ask ourselves who are we to think we can afflict future generations with such a thing, just so we can run our computers, lights and most other things we rely on? What or who gives us that right?
I pointed out earlier that we have vast renewable energy generation possibilities on this island, yet we resort to the selfish act that is nuclear power.
The first of those opportunities being offshore wind farms out at sea, and Marine Current Turbines, as we are an island! The second being geothermal energy which most households could harness via a borehole, even more basic is the air we have around us! With air source heat pumps you can generate heat for your house at -3, they are that advanced.
There are also the well known options of wind turbines and solar panels, these are also infamous for being expensive, however a new material has come into mass production and looks set to revolutionise the world of renewable energy for the masses. It consists of a roll of foil-like material which contains solar voltaic cells, this material can be incorporated into roof tiles as it’s malleable and easily cut, shaped, sized to anything you like, significantly it also much cheaper than average solar panels, and they claim that it is cheaper than buying electricity from the grid, which is usually produced by burning coal,gas or oil in large power stations.
Wales is host to CAT (Centre of Alternative Technology), many mountains and forests, including one of the ten best mountain biking trails in the world (Coed y Brenin), George Monbiot (international environmentalist living in Mach), Joss Garman (featured in Guardians 50 most likely people to save the planet, activist), Howies (ethical clothing brand based in Cardigan), WYFSD (Welsh Youth Forum for Sustainable Development) and many more, and they are all trying to live a healthier, greener life, by reducing their carbon emissions and generally investing in the environment and the locality.
Opinion polls for Britain (source: Worldwatch poll) show that 66% of people in Britain are against the use of nuclear and would like to see the government investing in renewable energy, because however much people do, it’s the government that can make the real difference and change our economy from being oil-dependant to a post oil or green economy, investing positively in the future, whether global warming comes into being or not would still be healthier for us and the planet to be using less polluting ways of living on this planet.
Needless to say there are global warming skeptics and also NIMBY’s (Not In My Back Yard) who oppose the technology that is necessary to harness this renewable energy, this is mainly wind turbines in Wales. There are around 400 turbines in Wales in places like the hills of Plynlimon and Trefenter and an offshore wind farm near Rhyl in North Wales.
John Large, an independent energy consultant, said at least 600 wind turbines would be needed to replace just one power station, and at this moment there are at least 95 power generation stations in the U.K alone, using fossil fuels.
So, it is easy to see that we are nowhere near replacing coal fired power stations with renewable energies as a reliable source of electricity for the entire country. At this point it is possible to see why the government saw the opportunity to use nuclear power as an easy way out rather than committing to the development of sustainable energies which can be expensive and unreliable. Although, it is well known that if the government adopted a consistent policy of investment in renewable methods the price would go down and the much needed money thrown at research would allow much more reliable and useful development in the sector, unfortunately it is still only the minority who invest and try to develop these projects. These are often small groups such as Ecotricity, who are a large renewables electricity supplier, but still nothing compared to E.ON, Swalec, Scottish power and Npower.
Ecotricity has to advertise itself as a 100% renewable electricity supplier, when at the moment it is no more than 40%, but it is allowed to advertise 100% because it needs the investment to develop its eventual target of 100%.
CND Cymru Chair Jill Evans MEP, who has worked for a nuclear free Wales, nuclear free Europe and a nuclear free world since the 1980s said:
“Nuclear power is unsafe, unsustainable, uneconomical and unnecessary. Even if Britain builds ten new nuclear power stations it has been estimated that they could only deliver a 4% cut in carbon emissions after 2025. It won’t help us meet our international targets. Compared to improvements in energy efficiency and using renewable energy production methods the contribution of nuclear power is very small.”
This seems a shockingly small figure for the government of Britain, in a democratic society, to be advocating and investing in over renewable energies. If these statistics were freely available and published to the general public, I am sure the majority of people who originally agreed with it might change their minds and realise that the risk really isn’t worth the payoff of cost, terrorist target possibilities, toxic waste for generations to come to deal with, possibility of a repeat of Hiroshima and the sapping of the publics money away from investment in renewable technologies. I find the best argument against nuclear energy is that fact that it’s unnessecary; why put people and future populations at risk, costing millions, when it needn’t be done, at the moment we do have viable alternatives,so until the day comes when we have no other choice I will not support nuclear. CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain puts the argument against Nuclear vrey succinctly:
“It is an ongoing, openended liability.”
Germany currently has more than 18,000 wind turbines, and the country has plans to build more wind turbines. The wind energy association predicts that by 2020 about 25,000 wind turbines will be installed, producing 30 per cent of the country’s electricity. Billions of euros will be, and have been, spent by the government strengthening the renewable sector.
The only problem–a big one–is that wind energy is very expensive. Extracting one kilowatt/hour of energy from the wind costs four times as much as using fossil fuels.
So the political decision to develop renewable energy, taken by the previous government and reaffirmed by the present one, led by Angela Merkel, can only be carried out if aid is available in the form of tax breaks for firms producing wind energy, low-interest bank loans, subsidies from the state and from provincial governments and favourable legislation.
The 1991 “integration law”, which is the key to the present system, obliges the electricity distributors to buy wind energy at guaranteed prices (90 per cent of the price paid by consumers), and this enables the wind farmers to make a profit.
Germany had a turnover of 11.3 billion euros from the erection of plants and 10.3 billion euros from the operation of the plants, in 2006! Roughly 214,000 people are now employed in the renewable energy sector and may have managed to prevent some 101 million tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere in 2006. This is an impressive start to their plans which look set to be on track for 2020 and beyond.
Of Course, it is slightly unfair to compare a country with its own government which can implement changes as it pleases to Wales, whose main laws are decided in Parliament in London and who have to implement the same laws as England, Germany is also more than twice the size of Wales.
However, as I pointed out at the beginning, Wales has a long history of environmentalists and vast amounts of nature! Its size should act as an aid as there are less people to convince, less cities and hopefully more people who love the land enough to save it.
In conclusion a lack of central government thinking and action should not put Wales off Renewable energy, and indeed offers the Welsh assembly a real opportunity to ‘out do’ Westminster and drive the changes that are required in Wales.
This brief comparison has shown that Wales’ Government could learn a lot from the attitude of Angela Merkel.