Tensions with Russia proving unhelpful for Germany's green-energy transition

It wasn’t so very long ago that Germany decided that it would be the green-energy pioneer for which the world was so desperately hoping, and Europe’s largest economy embarked upon the ambitious Energiewende through which it planned to entirely do away with nuclear energy, preempt hydrofracking, and to transition more heavily to wind and solar energy. It all sounded pretty great, until the renewables proved so costly and unreliable that coal-plant construction actually increased while electricity prices skyrocketed:

German household energy prices have soared 80 percent in the last eight years due to the costs of subsidizing renewable energy. The main driver has been the so-called “renewable energy reallocation charge,” which cost customers $33 billion last year alone.

In turn, Germany’s high energy prices have caused a major loss in industrial competitiveness compared to less expensive business destinations like the United States, and the end result of it all so far has been an uptick in total carbon emissions. Oof.

Their preferred renewables energies just haven’t been up to the task of replacing nuclear plants at the pace at which Germany wants to shut them down, and they have a standing ban on exploring unconventional natural gas reserves (a.k.a., on shale plays that require hydraulic fracturing for extraction) — but the situation with Russia and Ukraine, and their dependence on Russia for almost forty percent of their natural gas supplies, has them pondering over the wisdom of that position.

The crisis in Ukraine has added an extra dose of uncertainty to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s biggest domestic project: shifting the country from nuclear to renewable energy sources. …

Merkel is still pushing ahead with the plan to shift away from nuclear energy. But if the situation with Russia escalates and Germany decides to try and reduce its reliance on Russian gas, there could be problems staying on track. …

Alexander Rahr, research director of the Germany-Russia Forum think tank, notes that as nuclear power has been phased out, Russian coal “has taken on a more important role for Germany.”

Right now it doesn’t seem likely that Russia would shut down its gas pipelines — or that Germany and other western European nations would include fuel supplies in any economic sanctions — but the situation in Ukraine does have people talking about “what if?” Merkel herself conceded last week there is “some unease” among European leaders about Russian gas, but also noted “even in the Cold War the gas, the oil kept flowing.” …

True that it’s currently just as much in Russia’s interest to keep the energy flowing as it is Germany’s and everybody else’s (Russia’s economy is heavily dependent on those exports), but a lot of people are wondering if Germany mightn’t feel more comfortable about getting tough with sanctions if they weren’t quite so reliant on Russia for energy — and in the meantime, their forced renewable transition and refusal to frack is only benefiting coal.