Lies, Damn Lies And Green Statistics

  • Date: 25/10/12
  • Daniel Wetzel, Die Welt

Almost all predictions about the expansion and cost of German wind turbines and solar panels have turned out to be wrong – at least by a factor of two, sometimes by a factor of five.

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Fehleinschätzung zur Ökostromförderung: Mit so viel Geld wird die Ökostromerzeugung tatsächlich gefördert<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />

 

The glaring miscalculations of green energy: 2009 predictions (grey) vs real costs (yellow) in € billions

When Germany’s power grid operator announced the exact amount of next year’s green energy levy on Monday, it came as a shock to the country. The cost burden for consumers and industry have reached a “barely tolerable level that threatens the de-industrialization of Germany”, outraged business organisations said.

Since then politicians, business representatives and green energy supporters have been arguing about who is to blame for the “electricity price hammer”. After all, did not Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) promise that green energy subsidies would not be more than 3.6 cents per kilowatt hour?

How could Merkel be so wrong?

Now, however, the cost burden is rising by 50 percent – to 5.3 cents per kilowatt hour. German citizens have to support renewable energy by more than EUR 20 billion – instead of 14 billion Euros. How could Merkel be so wrong?

Finding an answer to this question is crucial for the progress and success of the green energy transition. Only then the Federal Government would ever get a grip on its most important mega-project.

A review of the green energy transition’s planning data is revealing. It turns out that almost all predictions about the expected additional expansion of wind turbines and solar panels were dramatically wrong, at least by a factor of two, sometimes by a factor of five.

However, if there was one thing which was even less accurate than the prediction of the tempo of expansion it was the estimates of the associated costs of this expansion.

Renewable energy has been completely miscalculated

Already three years ago, the Renewable Energy Agency examined more than 50 studies on the development of renewable energy sources to see if their predictions had come true. The results were devastating: All of Germany’s top research institutes, from the Prognos Institute, the Fraunhofer Institute and the Institute for Aerospace (DLR) to the Wuppertal Institute, had completely underestimated the expected contribution of renewable energy.

A Prognos study in 1998, for example, estimated that solar panels would provide 0.44 TWh electricity in 2020. In reality, photovoltaic supplied ten times as much in 2008.

In 2005, in a study for the Federal Economics Ministry, Prognos Institute forecasted the level of green energy generation for the year 2030. In reality, the level was reached in 2007, just two years after the publication of the study.

“Renewable energy must not be systematically miscalculated,” the former head of the Agency for Renewable Energies, Jörg Mayer, commented the findings of the report: “Major energy policy decisions depend on predictions.”

Green electricity levy was promised to cost just one Euro

The leader of the Green Party, Jürgen Trittin, proclaimed in 2004 that Germany’s green electricity law (EEG) would cost each household “only about one Euro per month – as much as a scoop of ice cream.” As Federal Minister of the Environment, Trittin then pursued the expansion of the most expensive green energy technologies such as solar photovoltaic and offshore wind power without any hesitation.

Given the poor quality of forecasting delivered by Germany’s research institutions, it was an almost forgivable mistake. In reality, the monthly EEG costs per household have increased almost twenty-fold compared to the amount proclaimed by Trittin.

Trittin’s successor, Sigmar Gabriel (Social Democrats, SPD), should have become suspicious, however. His ministry always relied on so-called reference scenarios produced by the German Institute for Aerospace (DLR) and an engineering firm: year after year they predicted a decrease in the number of the expensive solar panels in Germany – and were thus far removed from reality.

Sending out the wrong message

For 2007, the “reference scenario” expected an additional construction of 600 MW of solar panels in Germany. In reality, it was 1,270 MW – twice as much. And in 2010 7,400 MW of solar panels were installed; six times as much as estimated in the reference scenario used by the environment minister.

The message that politicians of all parties got from the studies by the ministry of the environment was as clear as it was wrong: the cost of solar subsidies are negligible, photovoltaics would remain a niche technology. Today, however, the hangover is hurting: Already, the subsidies for solar power alone add up to 110 billion Euros. They will have to be paid by consumers in the next 20 years.

In 2009, the Association of Renewable Energy (BEE) published a reassuring prognosis: “The delivery volume of electricity generated by renewable energy will decrease after 2013.” The statement was accompanied by statistics that suggested subsidies of 5.6 billion Euros in 2013. Another great error: In fact, with 20.36 billion Euros the figure was almost four times higher in 2012.

The environment minister’s secret

When it comes to the green energy costs per household, the stakeholders of the eco-industry also promised the consumers the earth: households would only be charged 1.4 cents per kilowatt hour in 2013 – a figure, which would decrease steadily thereafter and would amount to 6 cents in 2020. The reality shows a different picture: in 2013, consumers will be charged four times of what they had been promised by the green lobby.

After the most recent EEG price shock, Federal Environment Minister Peter Altmaier (Christian Democrat, CDU) announced a reform of the green electricity levy. The fixed feed-in tariffs may be abolished, the minister said in a ten-point paper: in return, the green electricity target for 2020 may be raised from 35 percent to 40 percent.

Given that all green energy forecasts have been off the mark by hundreds of percentage points after just three years it is unclear where the minister takes his confidence to believe that he will succeed.

Translation Philipp Mueller

Die Welt, 20 October 2012