As unprecedented rains lash Germany, the debate on climate change and renewable sources of energy has become increasingly vocal. Here a look at which regenerative energies play a role in Germany’s energy market.
Sun, wind and positive energy - windmills in the Egyptian dessert outside the Red Sea town of Hurgada
While environmentalists and scientists world-wide debate the origins of global warming and its effects on the world’s climate, one fact remains undisputed – people all over the globe are consuming more and more energy daily.
It’s still unclear to what extent rising levels of energy consumption are responsible for climatic change. But the latest weather catastrophes in Europe have triggered a debate in Germany about moving away from fossil fuels and towards the use of alternative sources of energy.
In 1999 Germany renounced the use of nuclear power - which accounts for 30 percent of its energy consumption. The governing Social Democratic-Green coalition considers nuclear power and the disposal of radioactive waste too dangerous.
Germany moves towards regenerative energy
The country has made efforts to move away from polluting fossil fuels and embrace alternative energies, in particular solar power. At present, 7 percent of Germany's electricity is generated using alternative energy sources.
After the passing of the Renewable Energies Law in April 2000 that sought to encourage a switch to renewable energies, Germany experienced a sort of solar boom. The southwestern city of Freiburg boasts the first hotel in Europe run entirely on alternative energy sources. But despite the solar push, power from the sun today provides a mere 0,0006 percent of Germany's electricity.
Wind and water
Another popular source of alternative energy in Germany is hydroelectric power, which makes up more than half of alternative energy segment in the country. But experts believe that hydroelectric power (photo) is pushing its limits and has already exhausted 80 percent of its potential.
Hohenwarte 2 in Thueringen
It has also become increasingly difficult to find large rivers in which to set up generators without the ecology of the region being adversely affected.
Wind energy, once touted as the best form of alternative energy, today produces 3 percent of Germany’s electricity. But these huge wind fans throw equally large shadows and can be noisy. Increasing complaints about generators close to homes have led to a sharp drop in wind energy's popularity.
In addition, experts think that the best windy places in the country are already taken up and the future of wind energy lies in offshore wind farms. But there, production costs are high.
Opposition could put up barriers
The opposition Union parties who look increasingly set to win the elections in September are reported to have made clear that they will not carry on with the proposed phasing-out of nuclear power set in motion by the current governing coalition.
They are also believed to be mainly interested in promoting biomass energy among the sources of renewable energy known in Germany. The economic spokesperson of the Union parties, Matthias Wissmann, recently said in a statement that renewable energy was just too expensive to seriously consider pursuing.
But advocates of alternative energy argue that the slightly higher costs are worth the investment, especially if Germany is to honour its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol and reduce its carbon emissions by 8 percent by 2010. Coal is Germany’s only major domestic fuel source and accounts for over 50 percent of electricity generation.
Solar expert Harald Schützeichel said in an interview with Der Tagesspiegel newspaper on Wednesday, "If we convert it into the electricity price, coal-driven plants cost us 0,5 cents while the subvention for renewable costs us 0,05 cents. The central question is: do we want to keep the coal alive or do we want to promote a technology that makes sense. And if we say that solar energy, wind and water make sense, then that’s where the money goes".