Video overview of my class: Energizing Europe. A critique of the German energy-transition model

My talk starts at 1:30, after FU-Best program intro. My webpage for students in the course is here.

I recorded this last Fall, 2020, during Corona lockdown, to give an overview of my course for prospective students.

I’ve taught this course twice per year since 2016 – save this past year’s Corona shutdown. This is a longish video summary of 12 class sessions. It should give a good sense of my critical assessment of the German model of “Energiewende” – a policy of “100% renewables and no nuclear.” I analyze this model as a set back to the German and global fights to reduce CO2 emissions. Why?

Most succulently: If climate change is the huge problem the German Green Party says it is (and it is), if it really requires a “war on carbon emissions;” then why shut Germany’s nuclear fleet? These 17 (!) nuclear plants produced approximately as much carbon-free electricity as all the solar and wind Germany has so far installed. Obviously this is NOT a war on carbon, it is a war on carbon AND nuclear, with BOTH targeted at the same level of alarm.

At bottom, this “100% renewables with no nuclear” policy, the “Energiewende“, is a romantic, unscientific program to which Merkel surrendered within 48 hours after the report of the Fukushima failure due to a monster sunami having hit this nuclear facility on the Japanese coast.

This precipitous “atomic exit,” in my estimation, marked complete victory of Green populism over science-driven policy in Germany. This German model soon attained hegemony worldwide. However, it is now being seriously questioned by climate activists, as Germany has failed to meet its CO2 reduction and renewable generation targets at home, while its price of electricity is the world’s high-test amongst large industrialized countries. As I mention in the video, the Eighth Independent Monitors Report on the progress of the Energiewende made the rather alarming assessment that it will be impossible to ever supply Germany’s domestic market with electricity supplied by domestic renewable sources. Interestingly, this assessment has not been a point of discussion in the present German national election campaigning.

I will start elaborating this critique in future posts.

A quick note on the course structure/plan: The first half is mainly a history of Indusrial Revolutions,, starting from the Middle Ages in Europe, and how previous energy transitions were each time followed significant progress in each of these Industrial Revolutions and how complex and long these energy transitions were.

Including this historical study, I have found, helps dispel moralizing, and technically and economically unrealistic notions, setting the stage for a more data- and evidence-based examination of the progress of the present-day energy transition in Germany, the EU, and especially in comparison to the USA during the second half of the class.

Below is from the course webpage at the university, and includes links to the syllabus. I’d love to hear your thoughts and critiques. – My webpage for students in the course is here.

Freie Universität-Berlin European Studies Program: “Energizing Europe: 21st-mCentury Renewable and Fossil Transformations

Instructor Dr. Thomas W. O’Donnell
Credit Points 6 ECTS / 3 U.S. credits

Links (or go to class site at Freie Universität-Berlin, European Studies Program))

ABSTRACT:  Today, the EU is seen as a world leader in alternative energy efforts, notably Germany’s Energiewende to replace coal and nuclear with wind and solar for electricity. The EU is also unifying member-state gas, electrical and transport systems, liberalizing energy markets, and requiring more renewables. This is aided by the new European Energy Union (EEU), formed in response to the Ukraine crisis and Europe’s dependence on Russian gas. In Energizing Europe, we critically examine the difficulties facing these energy transitions.

We begin by looking at Europe’s previous energy transitions, each the product of larger, industrial revolutions. Informed by this history, we then critically examine Germany’s Energiewende (EW) and EU energy policy. This includes the EW’s: (i) roots in German society, (ii) goals, (iii) technical, and economic challenges of building and paying for its massive wind and solar, and to reengineer the grid. In addition: (iv) German and the EU’s continued dependence on oil to fuel cars and trucks; (iii) German and EU natural gas policies – including their heavy dependence on Russian imports; (iv) Germany’s continued high use of coal; (v) and its rejection of nuclear power, albeit a zero-carbon energy source.

Throughout, we compare the German and EU energy reality to US policy. The course should be of interest to students of either social or natural sciences.

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