A study analyzing energy supply in the European Union shows that increasing the level of wind-generated electricity also increases the level of fossil fuel-generated electricity, the opposite outcome suggested by those who argue that renewable energy is necessary to “get off carbon-based fuels.” This is because, at times of insufficient wind, fossil-fuel plants generating plants are needed to provide back-up to the wind units. Further, the study found that increasing the number of power plants (whether wind or fossil-fuel) increased the power plant capacity that is idled, making the entire energy system less efficient and more costly. Wind turbines are idle when there is insufficient wind and fossil fuel plants are idled when the wind is blowing. Further adding to the issue is that, despite the increase in renewable energy in the European Union, carbon dioxide emissions increased, not decreased as was the intent. In 2017, the European Union increased its wind power by 25 percent and increased its solar power by six percent. Despite this massive investment in renewable energy, carbon dioxide emissions increased by 1.8 percent.
Idling of Electric Plants
The European Union’s domestic electricity production systems preserve fossil fuel generation, and include several inefficiencies—both in economics and in resource allocation. As renewable energy resource deployment increases, the idle capacity of the renewable energy sources increases by the same amount. Electricity production systems have to maintain or increase the installed capacity of fossil fuels to back up the renewable energy sources, thus also generating installed overcapacity in fossil fuels. This causes the system to be inefficient and wasteful, causing the cost of supplying electricity to be higher than necessary, in part because fossil fuel generators operate less efficiently when their production is ramped up and down to back up more and more renewable energy.
Carbon Dioxide Emissions Growth in the European Union
In 2017, of the 27 member countries in the European Union, 20 member countries had increased rates of carbon dioxide emissions and seven had declining rates. Malta had the highest increase in carbon dioxide emissions of 12.8 percent. Estonia and Bulgaria’s carbon dioxide emissions growth were the next highest, with an 11.3 and 8.3 percent increase, respectively. France and Italy each increased their carbon dioxide emissions in 2017 by 3.2 percent. Spain increased its carbon dioxide emissions by 7.4 percent in 2017 despite generating power from wind, solar and hydroelectric resources. Spain accounted for a 7.7 percent share of Europe’s total emissions output in 2017.
The European Union wants to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. But despite massive investments in renewable energy, the European Union is far from hitting this goal. Germany invested heavily in wind and solar power, but it remains the Europe’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide emissions. Germany spent an estimated 189 billion euros — around $222 billion — on subsidies for renewable energy since 2000 while its carbon dioxide emissions have remained at about 2009 levels. The country decreased its carbon dioxide emissions by just 0.2 percent from their 2016 levels in 2017. Germany wants to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent compared to 1990 levels by 2020, and by 95 percent by 2050.
Germany’s 29,000 wind turbines are approaching 20 years of operating life and for the most part are outdated, requiring maintenance and expensive repairs. That means their earnings will not cover the cost of their operation. Further, the generous subsidies granted at the time of their installation will soon expire, further making them unprofitable. After 2020, thousands of turbines will lose their subsidies with each successive year, and must be taken offline and mothballed.
It is estimated that about 5700 turbines with an installed capacity of 45 megawatts will see their subsidies expire by 2020 and approximately 14,000 megawatts of installed capacity will lose their subsidies by 2023, which is more than a quarter of Germany’s wind capacity. Thus, Germany will be left with hundreds of thousands of 2 to 300 metric tons of turbine parts littering its landscape.
Over the years, Germany has made it more difficult to obtain approvals for new wind farms due to an unstable power grid, noise pollution, blighted views and health hazards. So with fewer new turbines coming online, wind energy production in Germany is likely to recede in the future.
Wind farm owners hope to send their scrapped wind turbines to third world buyers, such as Africa. If these third world buyers prefer new wind systems, German wind farm operators will be forced to dismantle and recycle their turbines, which is very expensive and not included in their price of the wind power. Further, the large blades, which are made of fiberglass composite materials and whose components cannot be separated from each other, are almost impossible to recycle and burning the blades is extremely difficult, toxic and energy-intensive.
According to German law, the massive 3000-metric ton reinforced concrete turbine base must be removed. Some of the concrete bases reach depths of 20 meters and penetrate multiple ground layers, which can cost several hundreds of thousands of euros to remove. Many wind farm operators have not provided for this expense. Wind farm operators are trying to circumvent this expense by removing just the top two meters of the concrete and steel base, hiding the rest with a layer of soil. It is likely that most of the concrete base will remain buried in the ground, and the turbine will get shipped to third world countries despite the current law.
Germany’s Energiewende has not made a major contribution to the environment or to Germany’s climate. But since renewable energy subsidies are financed through electric bills, Energiewende is a major reason why prices for German consumers have doubled since 2000. Germans now pay about three times more for residential electricity than consumers in the United States.
About one-third of Germany’s electricity comes from renewable sources–a fivefold increase since 2000. But because of the phase out of its nuclear power plants after the 2011 tsunami hit in Fukushima, Japan, the country has become more reliant on its coal-fired power plants, which account for the majority of emissions from electricity generation. Germans are paying more, getting less and emitting more carbon dioxide.
The wind industry in Europe is burying millions of tons of toxic waste, as wind units near the end of their 20-year operating life. The European Union believed that intermittent renewables were the answer to meeting its carbon dioxide reduction goals. But, the region’s carbon dioxide emissions rose by almost 2 percent in 2017 despite massive investments in renewable energy. A study of the wind industry in Europe has shown that wind energy produces idle capacity and expensive electricity as duplicative power sources must exist to provide power when the wind is not blowing and when wind capacity is not operating.
The situation in Europe will likely become worse as the population continues to expand and more nuclear plants are phased out.