Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Germany, Once Again.

There's a lot to like about Germany. They make great beer, excellent sausages (although apparently **gasp** prices have been rigged thanks to a Sausage Cartel for years), their soccer team is  officially the best on the planet, and their economy is greener than most. So it's no wonder that we look at what they are doing, and think that we should be following suit. Especially in terms of energy supply.

However, as I've pointed out many times now, BC's problems are a little different from Germany's.

Germany has a "dirty electricity problem". They used to get most of their electricity from coal and nuclear power. They made a policy decision to change that, and they have changed it dramatically. Not without costs, of course - and those costs are rarely, if ever, discussed in the stories you read in the "green press". This, naturally, irritates me, because glossing over the costs does nothing to educate people about the real-life, difficult trade-offs that such policy decisions require.

One of the major costs of Germany's "energiewende" - which is what they call their renewable-supporting, anti-nuke policy - is the price of home electricity. Germans pay $0.35/kWh for their electricity (important note: industry does not pay those rates. There is no way they could survive if they did. They pay about 1/3 of that.) For comparison, this is almost 5 times what we pay, here in BC ($0.075/kWh).

If we wanted to build a photovoltaic power system here in BC, we'd have to pay similar rates. That's what this stuff costs. Not saying it's bad, it's just expensive. So, the $230 million in tax breaks that the Feds give to coal, natgas, and oil, if used to purchase solar electricity instead (which, of course, we cannot do), would purchase about 660MW/h - enough to power about 60,000 homes. Spending that money on hydro-electric electrons instead would service ~250,000 homes. For perspective, the proposed site C dam would power 450,000 homes. Replacing site C's capacity with a whole bunch of solar panels instead, requires the equivalent of $1.7billion  per year in "tax break money".

Site C represents roughly 10% of BC's total generating capacity. If we were to forego this development and replace it with a massive buildout of solar PV instead, I'm guessing our rates would have to increase by about 1.4 times (10% of my bill would go up by a factor of 5). In other words, the average homeowner would see their bill increase by about $300/yr. And the more solar PV one adds, the higher the price gets: 20% solar? Your bill increases by $600/yr.

So here is the tradeoff discussion:

On one hand:
Maintain our cheap hydro electricity, but we have to flood Hudson's Hope.

On the other:
Eye-wateringly expensive solar electricity, but we'd surely get an installation industry out of this, if not necessarily a solar-panel-manufacturing industry. We'd see a push towards more efficient heating systems than standard baseboard heaters...

 But this tradeoff discussion doesn't even begin to solve BC's real "dirty" problem, which, unlike Germany, isn't dirty electricity. BC's problem is dirty transportation. Germany's solar PV revolution can't help us solve this one. So this entire discussion, and constant referral to Germany's fantastic! stupendous! solar energy system is a fight between one green electricity system and another (more expensive) one. And this is not a fight I care much about; at this point, we are dickering about the price of energy vs. ruining/industrializing landscapes (which happen with wind and solar PV, as well). I would much prefer to see progress in cutting CO2 emissions, which has nothing to do with where BC gets its electricity from.

I'm far more interested in looking at Germany's much cleaner transportation system, and learning from that! Clue: it involves high gas prices to discourage driving. Germans are paying about $2.25/l these days.

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