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Adding Wind Energy is Not As Easy as Building Wind Turbines

carbon pollutionAdding wind energy is not as “simple” as building wind farms. It also means constructing new transmission lines. Both Germany and China know this first hand.

The Guardian newspaper has reported that the German government is paying wind producers to hold back when it comes to generating power — because its grid is unable to handle the additional capacity.

And MIT’s Technology Review is reporting that China has the same problem. Referencing the BBC TV network, it says that because the country has so many coal plants, there is little room for green electrons; coal plants can’t just turn off and off, resulting in wind plants curtailing as much as 15 percent of their power.

According to MIT, the same scenario will become increasingly likely around the globe. It makes specific note of India and Australia. It points to Texas as an example of good stewardship, emphasizing though that it has built $7 billion worth of transmission.

As for Germany, it has an extraordinary dilemma because its government there has said it would phase out nuclear energy, all in the aftermath of the Fukushima accident in accident in Japan in 2011. The difference would be made up with renewable energy, which is now about a quarter of the nation’s energy portfolio. So how is that working out?

Well, wind farms are getting built. But there is not enough space for those electrons on the grid there. There are plans to build more transmission, all to meet Germany’s 50 percent renewables goal by 2030. 

Before the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, the country received a quarter of its power from 17 nuclear reactors — a figure that is now 18 percent. Meantime, coal now produces half of Germany’s electricity, which is up from 43 percent in 2010, the World Nuclear Association says.

Carbon emissions, too, are on the rise. That’s according to Green Budget Germany, which tracks these things, and which says that the use of more lignite coal is a big reason. Lignite is the lowest rank of coal because of its low heat content and its high carbon content of between 60-70 percent.

The good news, according to the study, is that Germany’s carbon releases are 27 percent less than they were in 1990. But the bad news is that they are too high to reach the country’s target goal of being 40 percent less by 2020.

“A more forward-looking way to meet the current challenge would have been to shut down old power stations, extend the grid faster or invest more in innovative methods to use excess energy to heat homes,” said Arne Jungjohann, the author of Energy Democracy – Germany’s Energiewende to Renewables, in the Guardian story.

“On the international stage, (the German prime minister) enjoys a reputation as a green pioneer,” he continued. “But on the domestic stage she has been quick to give in to the lobbying of energy-greedy industry.”

China, meanwhile, has an aggressive plan to wean itself from coal and to increasingly rely on nuclear power, as well as renewable energies.

By 2020, China says that sustainable power will rise from about 10 percent today to provide 15 percent of its electricity. By 2050 green fuels will supply 30 percent.  China also hopes to increase its nuclear portfolio from 2.3 percent of its generation today to 6 percent — 40,000 megawatts — by 2020. By 2050, the aim is to have at least 150,000 megawatts of installed nuclear capacity, or 22 percent of the mix.

China, too, has signed the Paris accord this year to keep global temperatures from rising no more than 2 degrees Celsius by 2050.

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