Pause for Propaganda: Solar Energy & Germany

I’m not going to do this too often, but I did promise myself that I’d get stuck into environmental issues from time to time.

So here’s the first of a series of commentaries on articles which highlight the different attitudes to everything ecological in Australia and Germany (and a few other countries).

Germany Doesn’t Get Much Sun. How Did It Become a Leader in Solar Energy?

This article was first published by Slate, however I came across it on Mother Jones, when a friend I’d recently had an ‘argument’ with on practically the same subject sent it to me as an afterthought.* Quick summary for those who can’t be bothered reading. The article’s from April this year, and touches on the role that the government, the people of Germany and small-scale solar energy providers are playing in making renewable energy a viable future candidate for the country’s primary source of energy.

But there’s no point just chucking up an article without tying in my own experiences, so (having already wasted 200 words getting to the point) let’s get into it. These are the two things that I kept coming back to when reading the article.

  1. It delves into the grumbling I encountered from many Germans (young and middle-aged alike, I didn’t have too much contact with senior Germans apart from one woman who only spoke Bayerisch) that amongst other issues, the governments involved jumped the gun, and popularised solar energy before the technology was ready.

Now keep in mind that I was living in Freiburg, a 200,000 strong town that generates nearly as much solar energy than the whole of BritainT. And these people were at first, second and all subsequent glances quite left-wing, at least by Australian standards. So they’re by no means climate-change deniers, and all for action to combat climate change. Hopefully they’ll get a good look at this article, and note this quote:

“Twenty years ago… producing electricity from sunlight cost 10 times more than generating power using coal or nuclear energy.”

Exactly how much longer was solar energy going to have to wait? Whilst I can understand that the technology might not be as effective as it could have been, would it really have been worth waiting another five years? Are you going to avoid buying a new phone because a better version will come out in two years? (Minus 8 points for gross oversimplification). Or would you rather this?

And even if the technology isn’t perfect:

“On a sunny day last May, Germany produced 22 gigawatts of energy from the sun—half of the world’s total and the equivalent of 20 nuclear power plants.”

2.     This goes into similar dissatisfaction with current technology, but a very different subsequent conclusion.

I was in a bar in Bruges, watching Swansea play Arsenal in 2011, and got into a conversation with a Welshman who thought renewable energy was a load of crap, and didn’t see why anyone bothered. I conceded that the technology had a long way to go, but was dumbfounded as to why he didn’t see the point in continuing research. In a rare moment of triumph amongst many frustrated conversations with inhabitants of the right-wing, he eventually admitted that yes, maybe it was worth working on the technology until it was ‘viable’.solar-energy

Opposition to research. THIS, by any reasonable definition, is ridiculous. Yes, maybe funds can be poorly used from time to time, but the long-term benefits of advancing our understanding of renewable energy far outweigh any immediate costs. Am I oversimplifying again? Yes. But the suggestion that further research into wind power is futile because modern wind farms aren’t as effective as they should be is not only counter-intuitive, it’s just plain stupid.

So there you have it. If you think I’m wrong, let me know why.

*I highly recommend Mother Jones. They are, for want of a less clichéd set of adjectives, a no-punches-pulled, thorough and most importantly independent news organisation. If you want more information, check them out, because I’m not going to be able to vouch for their credibility better than they can.
TAn English mate once proudly pointed out that they had nuclear. Brilliant linguist though, so I forgave him for scientific misgivings.


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