Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Green Energy is not Growth Energy

Last week Germany announced that it would phase out its nuclear power plants over the next decade or so, and instead substitute green energy sources like wind and solar. I blogged that government support for green energy may be justifiable on environmental grounds, or perhaps on ground of making the a country less dependent on imported energy. However, green energy is likely to cost more as fossil fuel--or at best, cost the same--and that isn't going to boost the economy as a whole. Here is some other commentary I've seen in the last week or so related to these issues.

1) At the Technology Review website, Peter Fairley discusses how the policy, if implemented, can lead to higher energy costs and even blackouts in the short term. In the longer term, a Germany that relies less on nuclear power may well end up burning more coal.

2) The Washington Post editorialized on "Germany's nuclear energy blunder," pointing out that if implemented, Germany will probably end importing more electricity--much of it produced by burning fossil fuels.

3) Via Clive Crook's blog at The Atlantic, I found a couple of sets of quick estimates of how unlikely it is that Germany can find enough wind and solar power to substitute for its electricity generation, and thus how phasing out nuclear energy will lead to higher carbon emissions: one set of number is the Breakthrough Institute, the other from Roger Pielke.

4) Finally, for a misguided argument along the German lines, the June 19 issue New Republic carries a leader called "Waste of Energy" (available by subscription only) lamenting that President Obama had deserted the agenda he laid out in February 2009 to wean the U.S. off of fossil fuels. They write: "From the day he took office, Barack Obama had a unified theory of how the United States could recover and prosper. At the center of his plan--which he voiced in an address to a joint session of Congress in February 2009--was the need to reduce the use of carbon-based fuels ..." The editors at TNR argue that this is a recipe both for environmental gains, which is plausible enough, and also for economic gains, which is not plausible. Indeed,
the TNR editors argue, quite remarkably, that moving away from carbon-based energy is "the most convincing framework for ensuring America's future prosperity."