Europe’s Renewables Hype Implodes As German Solar Goes Belly Up
Energy insiders have long known that the notion of viable ‘renewable energy’ was always a romantic proposition – and an economic bust. But it is amazing what the lure of guaranteed ‘few strings’ attached government subsidies can achieve. Even the Big Oil companies bought into the renewables revolution, albeit mostly for PR reasons. Like Shell, however, many quickly abandoned their fledgling renewable arms. Post-2008, they knew, the subsidy regimes could not last. Neither was the public buying into the new PR message.
Now it was just a question of time before Europe’s world leading pioneers of solar and wind power, Germany and the UK, decided they had had enough of the self-inflicted economic pain. And all the signs are, as Germany’s solar sector just went belly up and the UK is made aware of how much every wind job actually costs, that the slow implosion of the renewables revolution is under way.
The plain fact is that installing solar panels, especially in the northern hemisphere, makes about as much economic sense as Iran heading up a UN Human Rights Commission (which they have done by the way). Equally, the viability of windfarms has always been the renewables industry’s worst kept secret. But, aided by aggressive and heavily funded green lobbies, leftist social engineers, appalling journalism, naive politicians and unscrupulous opportunistic renewable energy entrepreneurs, wind turbines and the photovoltaic industry quickly became established facts on the ground, giving the appearance of economic ‘viability’. Why else would government back them using our cash?
I have written before about ‘Hamish’ who is convinced that his wind turbine investment offers him some ‘free’ energy. ‘Free’ so long as you overlook the double-whammy of ‘front end’ feed-in tariffs and other green levies and the ‘back end’ high energy bill tariffs pass on by the power companies to others now forced to buy Hamish’s electricity at above market prices. And that’s before you consider Hamish’s maintenance costs, his need for hydrocarbon back-up, intermittent and unreliable generation, not to mention that the power company cannot store his product which may never be used. Oddly, Hamish is a radical green socialist who bought his turbine to benefit society. It never once occurred to him how his green extravagance was subsidized via hiked energy bills that forced thousands into fuel poverty. Not much social conscience there.
Let’s get it straight once and for all, wind and solar power is never ‘free’ however it may appear to the micro-scale domestic entrepreneur. Just like any resource, someone, somewhere has to pay to develop, utilize and distribute it. If the sole criteria is that wind and solar are free, you might as well say the same applies to oil and gas. And that brings me to the latest macro-scale renewable energy disasters.
In Europe, Germany was a major green pioneer, especially regarding solar energy. The UK, being the windiest country in Europe, focused on wind power. In both countries, however – to mix metaphors – the wheels are fast coming off. In June, the sun finally set on Germany’s solar sector with power companies, large and small investors seeing their £21 billion investment in solar energy disappear into the ether. As one German commentator wryly observed, “the sun does send an invoice after all”. In mid-June the German company Siemens announced it was winding down its solar division with a view to shutting down completely by next spring. Siemens had entered the solar thermal systems market when it bought the Israeli company Solel, believing market growth would be rapid. The gamble failed. Siemens lost around one billion euros. In March, Bosch signalled its withdrawal from the solar cell and solar module market. Bosch board chairman Franz Fehrenbach, who had been behind the company’s push into solar energy since 2008 has further admitted that the German solar sector generally is “doomed to die”. Bosch will lose even more than Siemens, probably around €2.4 billion. But it is the private investors who bore the full tbrunt of the loss as the former hot shots of the stock exchange Germany’s SolarWorld and Q-Cells, among other solar companies, lost tens of billions in capital investment.
Meanwhile, in the UK, wind power is again making the headlines, but for all the wrong reasons. A new analysis of government and industry figures revealed that every UK wind industry job is effectively subsidized to the tune of £100,000 per year. In some cases it rises to £1.3 million per job. In Scotland, with its 230 onshore windfarms, the figure is £154,000 per job. Even if the highly optimistic maximum projection of 75,000 wind industry jobs by 2020 is realised the figure would only drop to £80,000. But, as the Renewable Energy Foundation, a UK think-tank, has pointed out, to meet its EU obligation of providing 15 percent of its generated energy from renewable sources by 2020 – a ridiculously untenable goal – the lavish subsidies will need to rise still further to £6 billion per year. Neither do the figures take into account the cost to the country of an exodus of energy-intensive industries; a very real threat if green levies on energy bills continue to rise. European industry and power stations have already turned to burning millions of imported tonnes of American wood pellets in a desperate bid to keep costs down. And that, as has been reported, is to the detriment of fine forests in the US and a resultant impact on CO2 levels.
The attraction of a quick buck when government slush-fund subsidies are on offer has always attracted entrepreneurs, corporate industry and investors alike. The trouble is that lavish subsidies will always be subject to what our Gallic friends would call: Le Guillotine. There’s a cut off point – and its fast approaching. In many parts of northern Europe, wind and solar projects may be highly visible facts on the ground. But the headline economic fact behind renewable energy is, and always has been, its sheer and blatant “unsustainability”.
Okay. Tip of the day for prospective investors in energy stocks. Two words: shale gas. While it may not be a renewable resource, it sure is a safe bet to be a sustainable one – and well beyond our generation.
My thanks to Philipp Mueller of the Global Warming Policy Foundation for his invaluable translations of German newspaper reports sourced in this article.
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