Europe’s Energy Wounds Are Self-Inflicted
Unlike President Biden’s frequent efforts to blame Vladimir Putin for inflation, Germany’s energy-driven economic woes really can be largely linked to Russia, which cut the flow of natural gas in retaliation for economic sanctions imposed over the invasion of Ukraine. Since Germany is the economic powerhouse of the continent, that’s bad news for the European Union. But a bigger issue is dependency on energy sourced from Russia, a vulnerability rooted in well-intentioned policy that made the continent heavily dependent on an unreliable partner.
Germany is “teetering on the brink of a recession,” The Wall Street Journal‘s Tom Fairless reported this week. That’s familiar news to Americans who are suffering a similar economic contraction by whatever name the White House wants to use. But Germany’s problems are more specifically connected to its inability to keep the lights on. “The country’s energy crisis deepened Wednesday, when Russia slashed the natural gas that flows to Western Europe through its Nord Stream pipeline,” Fairless added.
That’s a huge problem for the country that has been the source of the lion’s share of Europe’s GDP in recent years because Germany is heavily dependent on Russia to fuel its power plants and industries.
“Last year, Russia supplied more than half of the natural gas and about a third of all the oil that Germany burned to heat homes, power factories and fuel cars, buses and trucks,” Melissa Eddy reported for The New York Times in April. “Roughly half of Germany’s coal imports, which are essential to its steel manufacturing, came from Russia.”
That’s a remarkable situation for a country that’s supposed to be well along in its Energiewende—that is, in its transition to renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.
“In 2000, Germany launched a deliberately targeted program to decarbonize its primary energy supply, a plan more ambitious than anything seen anywhere else,” Vaclav Smil wrote in 2020 for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ IEEE Spectrum. “The policy, called the Energiewende, is rooted in Germany’s naturalistic and romantic tradition, reflected in the rise of the Green Party and, more recently, in public opposition to nuclear electricity generation.”
The problem, as Smil noted, is that government-favored and subsidized solar and wind are intermittent. Wind doesn’t generate electricity when the air is still, and solar is of little use at night and on cloudy days. That means old-school generating capacity has to be maintained in parallel to the new systems.
“It costs Germany a great deal to maintain such an excess of installed power,” Smil added. “The average cost of electricity for German households has doubled since 2000. By 2019, households had to pay 34 U.S.
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