Thursday, September 12, 2013

Romantic Germany risks economic decline as green dream spoils

Germany is committing slow economic suicide. It has staked its future on heavy industry and manufacturing, yet has no energy policy to back this up.

Instead, the country has a ruinously expensive green dream, priced at €700bn (£590bn) from now until the late 2030s by environment minister Peter Altmaier if costs are slashed - and €1 trillion if they are not. The Germans are surely the most romantic nation on earth.

The full implications of this may become clear over the next decade, just as Germany’s ageing crisis hits with maximum force and its engineers retire; and just as German voters discover - what they suspect already - that it costs real money to hold a half-baked euro together.

The likelihood is that Germany will start to lose its economic halo soon, “de-rated” like others before it.

America was over-rated in 2000. Russia and Britain were over-rated in 2007. Brazil, India and a string of mini-BRICS were over-rated in 2011. Today the country most obviously trading at its cyclical peak is Germany, a geostrategic “short” candidate that is drawing down its credit from past efforts. However, the slippage may be slow, since Germany has locked in a lasting edge over southern Europe through a fixed exchange rate.

Chancellor Angela Merkel tied a deadweight around the ankles of her country when she suddenly - and flippantly - abandoned her nuclear policy after Japan’s Fukushima disaster in 2011. “This has forever changed the way we define risk,” she said at the time. “It’s over.”

She was talking about politics, of course, not science. It was an earthquake and tsunami that caused the Fukushima tragedy. Germany’s nuclear plants are not at risk from such flooding, nor are they built on tectonic faultlines. As a scientist with a PhD in subatomic reactions, Dr Merkel knows that the post-Fukushima panic in Germany was hysterical.

Eight nuclear reactors were shut immediately, the rest to be wound down by 2022. This will cut off a fifth of Germany’s total power. To global astonishment - and the Left’s chagrin - she then unveiled her Faustian “Energiewende”, the grand plan to derive half of all German electricity from wind, solar, biomass and other renewables by 2035, and 80pc by the middle of the century.

The assumption was that Germany would gain a “first-mover” lead in renewables, reaping the reward later. They overlooked the Chinese, who copied the technology. Chinese firms gouged the German home market with the aid of cheap labour, a cheap yuan, cheap state credit and a global trade system that let them get away with it.

The German solar industry has been smashed. QCells, Conergy, Solon and Solarworld have all gone bust or faced debt restructuring. The subsidies for feed-in tariffs have been leaked abroad. Eight of the world’s 10 biggest solar firms are now Chinese.

As a solar enthusiast, I am grateful to the Germans for their altruism. Roughly €100bn of their money has gone up in smoke - one way or another - developing solar technologies that have helped drive down costs to near “grid parity” in low latitudes. The great prize of market-based solar is within grasp. Sadly for German citizens, they will see no special benefit.

In the end, it is wind from thousands of turbines in the Baltic - generating 25,000 megawatts (MW) by 2030 - that is supposed to power Europe’s industrial heart. This is an astounding gamble. As of today, barely 300 megawatts of offshore wind capacity is in place. The cables across the country do not exist.

Utilities are turning to coal - and cheap lignite, emitting 30pc more CO2 - to plug the gap. Germany’s greenhouse emissions rose 1.6pc last year. In the US they fell to a 20-year low thanks to the switch from coal to shale gas. Sudden surges of power - the intermittency effect - are overloading the grid and crippling utilities E.ON and RWE. The pair have threatened to shut down 21,000MW of power plants.

The Chemical Industry Federation has called for an immediate freeze in costs before its members are priced out of the global market. “Spiralling energy costs will soon drive us to the wall. It has become dangerous, and any further rise will break the back of small and medium firms,” it said.

Electricity prices are twice as high as in America. Natural gas costs are four times as high, forcing the chemical giants of the Ruhr and the Rhine to decamp across the Atlantic. BASF is building its new site for emulsion polymers in Texas, the latest of a €4.2bn investment blitz in the US.

G√ľnther Oettinger, Germany’s EU commissioner, has called for a top-to-bottom review of the policy and a dash for shale. “We need industry; we cannot be the good guys for the whole world if no one is follows suit,” he said.

This should be the galvanizing issue in Germany’s election campaign. It was hardly mentioned in Dr Merkel’s recent soporific debate with Social Democrat leader Peer Steinbruck, eclipsed by a clash on Autobahn speed limits.

Mr Steinbruck called the Energiewende a “disaster”, but only because it has been mismanaged. “I have nothing against the idea,” he said.

It is certainly a dog’s dinner, even if the origins go back to a 20-year guarantee for subsidies issued by the SPD-Green coalition in 2000. This is paid for though a fund levied on all electricity users.

At the time, Green leader Jurgen Trittin said it would cost consumers no more than a “scoop of ice cream”. As a false prospectus, that surely rivals the line by Bavaria’s leader in the early 1990s: that the risk of Germany ever having to bail out a future eurozone partner was less than the risk of “famine in Bavaria”.

The levy has been rising exponentially, up 47pc this year alone. This is added to the bills of consumers. Households are paying ever more because a growing army of “energy-intensive” industries and firms competing in the global market are exempt.

The assumption long ago was that global energy costs would ratchet up, making the levy unneccesary. The Merkel government was caught off-guard by the US shale gas revolution, though the writing has been on the wall since 2009.

The levy policy is turning into a nexus of distortions - “Madness”, as the Handlesblatt screamed on its front page - since firms that have slashed energy use the most are penalised. One has taken a case to the top court. The burden on households is politically toxic. Property owners enjoy a solar income. Renters suffer the extra levy. The poor subsidise the rich. Besides, experts say it is only a matter time before the vice tightens on industry as well.

Stephan Kohler, from the state-funded German Energy Agency, says the system is out of control. He has called for the offending energy law to be “abolished”. Is anybody listening?

Angela Merkel says she is “more convinced than ever” that her green gamble will pay off. “If anyone can manage it, it’ll be the Germans. It’s not easy, but we can do it.”

Famous last words.


Why Republicans (And Others) Place A Low Priority On Global Warming

Global warming typically ranks dead last when the Pew Research Center asks voters to list the “top priorities for the president and Congress” each year. Yet the New York Times and other major media strain to keep the global warming movement alive by carefully ignoring global warming “skeptics,” and giving undeserved coverage to a small minority of liberal Republicans who call for carbon dioxide restrictions.

An April 2013 Gallup poll found only 34 percent of Americans believe global warming will pose a serious threat in their lifetimes. An April 2013 Rasmussen poll found Americans by a two-to-one margin believe finding new energy sources is more important than fighting global warming. Earlier this month, a Rasmussen poll found Americans by a nearly three-to-one margin say creating jobs is more important than addressing global warming.

Nevertheless, the New York Times on August 1 found space on its op-ed page for an essay written by four former Republican EPA administrators calling for even more stringent – and costly – carbon dioxide restrictions than those proposed by President Barack Obama earlier this summer.  These elderly statesmen (average age 72.5) were out of step with their party when they served in office, and are definitely out in the cold today.

There are many good reasons why most Americans and nearly all Republicans reject costly new restrictions on carbon dioxide.

First, the pace of global warming has been very moderate. The Little Ice Age, which ended a little over 100 years ago, brought the coldest temperatures of the past 10,000 years. The warming of the late 20th century has yet to return us to the temperature norms that predominated during most of the past 10,000 years. There has been no warming at all in the past 15 years.

Second, the climate models that predict substantial future warming are failing miserably to replicate real-world temperatures. Even top scientists with the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), such as lead author Hans von Storch in a recent interview with der Spiegel, concede IPCC’s climate models cannot explain the 15-year pause in global warming and will likely require adjustments to reduce their sensitivity to carbon dioxide. In short, real-world temperatures are proving IPCC climate models to be too alarmist.

Third, global warming is benefiting human welfare, just as warmer temperatures have benefited human welfare in the past. Hurricane activity is declining, tornadoes are less frequent and severe, deserts are shrinking, forests are expanding and crop production is setting new records on a near-yearly basis. Federal mortality statistics show more people die during cold spells and winter months than during heat spells and summer months. The evidence is clear, warmer is better for humans and other animals and for plant life.

Fourth, new restrictions on U.S. carbon dioxide emissions would have no practical impact on global temperatures. U.S. carbon dioxide emissions are already declining thanks to the natural gas revolution caused by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and horizontal drilling, rendering top-down government restrictions of dubious value and necessity. China alone emits more carbon dioxide than the entire Western Hemisphere, and China’s emissions continue to rapidly rise even as U.S. emissions decline. Even if the United States eliminated all of its carbon dioxide emissions within 10 years (which, of course, is impossible), China would add a greater amount of new emissions within the same decade to render the U.S. action moot. The only change would be that U.S. businesses and consumers would pay rapidly rising energy costs.

Imposing draconian restrictions on the use of conventional energy and pouring billions more taxpayer dollars into renewable energy would put us at a tremendous economic disadvantage compared to China and the rest of the world. Jobs, along with their carbon dioxide emissions, would simply move to where they are welcome. We would impose tremendous economic punishment on ourselves while achieving no significant impact on real-world temperatures.

So while a small number of liberal and out-of-touch Republicans may call for pointless, counterproductive and economically punitive steps to address global warming, Americans as a whole rightfully say, “No thank you!”


British 'Eco-school' goes REALLY green  -- with mould

When it opened its timber doors three years ago, this  £7million ‘eco primary school’ was applauded for its environmentally friendly credentials.

It was heated by solar power and its plumbing system relied on rain collected from the roof, which was made of locally grown sweet chestnut.

Sadly, the zero-carbon building is not quite as sustainable as the designers had hoped.
'One of the greenest schools in Britain': Dartington Primary School's eco-building needs 'significant' repairs just three years after opening because it has been leaking water

'One of the greenest schools in Britain': Dartington Primary School's eco-building, near Totnes in Devon, needs 'significant' repairs just three years after opening because it has been leaking water

In fact, thanks to a series of water leaks and mouldy walls, pupils are now being taught in tents erected in the school grounds.

The local authority in Devon has already spent £250,000 to investigate the problem, and plans to sue the architects. Without urgent repairs, it says teaching pupils inside the building could seriously damage their health.

Dartington Primary School, near Totnes, used to house students in a Victorian building but it reopened in 2010 as one of the first zero-carbon schools in the country.

The new site was praised for being ‘stunning’ and ‘extremely environmentally friendly’. Its design featured four buildings made from ‘sustainable’ timber, with solar panels providing electricity and heat.

The roof was supposedly weather-proofed with strips of sweet chestnut grown nearby and angled so rainwater could be collected and used to flush the toilets.

But apparent faults in the structure mean the roof and walls have become sodden, buckling over time and leaving gaping holes for rain to leak inside.

Tania Mountney, whose son attends the school, said: ‘There’s been leaking there ever since it opened. Last year we could see the roof was starting to warp.’

She added: I went to a parents’ lunch and you could see these large patches of mould. My ex-partner is a builder and he couldn’t understand how it could get that bad.’

Children are now being taught in five large marquees in the grounds, with repairs to the main buildings predicted to take up to two years.

Miss Mountney, a childminder, said she only found out about the tents when she took her son to school for the beginning of term this week.

‘I drove past on Sunday and saw several marquees. I thought there must have been some sort of event on. The next morning I arrived to find classes had moved, some of them into marquees and some of them into the library and the art room.

'The children are too young to know what’s happening. They think it’s all very exciting.’

When the eco school opened three years ago, headteacher Jill Mahon said: ‘It is a stunning design. I believe it will be a flagship school which will be extremely environmentally friendly.’ She declined to comment yesterday.

A report for Devon County Council found it has already paid £250,000 merely to investigate the cause of the leaks and start initial repairs.

A spokesman said: ‘Temporary accommodation has been installed and all classes went ahead when children returned to school. We are currently taking legal advice.’

Architects White Design, of Bristol, said they were working with the council to solve the problems


Obama administration stacked with global warming devotees

President Obama may not be getting the sweeping global warming legislation (cap-and-trade failed), but he is finding ways to target his pet issue through backdoor techniques such as Environmental Protection Agency regulations and by stacking his administration with environmental activists. The National Journal reports:

“It's not surprising to see a president name a top nominee—for Cabinet secretary, say—who has led the way on an issue the White House cares about. In his first term, for example, Obama named as his Energy secretary Steven Chu, a Nobel physicist who had devoted his career to fighting climate change. With the executive branch the only avenue for the president to make an impact on climate policy, the Obama administration is filling out the second and third tiers of agencies—influential workhorse positions such as chiefs of staff, assistant secretaries, and heads of regulatory commissions—with appointees just as devoted to the cause, with the expectation that they'll muscle through a climate and clean-energy agenda wherever they can.” (emphasis added.)

So not only is the administration fighting a “war on coal” behind the scenes through EPA regulations, it is also deliberately hiring environmental activists who will push through Obama’s global warming regulatory agenda.

This stacking might be acceptable if the administration thought it had a mandate from the American people. But nearly every step of the way it has found opposition – even from members of the Democratic party and staunch supporters like unions.


Quiet, not stormy, weather for US this year so far

After a couple of years of wild, deadly and costly weather, the United States is mostly getting a lucky break this year. So far.

Summer is almost over, and as of Tuesday morning, not a single hurricane had formed this year. Tornado activity in 2013 is also down around record low levels, while heat waves are fewer and milder than last year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Meteorologists credit luck, shifts in the high-altitude jet stream, and African winds and dust.

"It's been great," said Deke Arndt, climate monitoring chief for NOAA's National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. "I hope that we ride this pattern out through this year and following years."

There have been eight tropical storms in the Atlantic. Not one has reached the 74 mph wind threshold to become a hurricane, though Tropical Storm Humberto off the coast of Africa is likely to become one soon.

If Humberto stays a tropical storm through 8 a.m. EDT Wednesday, it will be the latest date for the first hurricane of the season since satellites started watching the seas in 1967, according to the National Hurricane Center.

This year, overall storm activity in the Atlantic — an index that combines number and strength — is about one-fifth the average. That's despite warmer-than-normal seas, which usually fuel storms.

It has also been a record of nearly eight years since a major hurricane — one with winds of 110 mph — blew ashore in the United States. That was Hurricane Wilma, which hit Florida in October 2005.

Meteorologists say dry, stable and at times dusty air blowing from Africa is choking storms instead of allowing them to grow. On top of that, shifts in the jet stream — the same river of air some blame for wild weather in 2011 and 2012 — have caused dry air and wind shear, which interfere with storm formation, said Gerry Bell of NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.

Plain old random chance is also a big factor, said MIT meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel.

"Nobody's complaining," said former National Hurricane Center director Max Mayfield.

Bell and NOAA last month forecast a 70 percent chance of a busier-than-normal hurricane season, with six to nine hurricanes and 13 to 19 named storms. Bell said he is sticking with that forecast because it was just an unusually slow August, adding: "There's going to be more hurricanes; that's just a fact."

People shouldn't let their guard down because several past seasons have started off slow and ended quite busy and deadly — 1967, 1984, 1988, 1994 and 2002, said Ryan Maue, a meteorologist with the private firm Weather Bell. Hurricane season starts in June and runs through the end of November

"All it takes is one bad hurricane to ruin an otherwise quiet hurricane season," said Weather Underground meteorology director Jeff Masters, a former hurricane hunter. "Recall that last year's worst storm — Hurricane Sandy — didn't occur until the third week of October."

In the nation's heartland this year, tornadoes are flirting with a record for the fewest, with just a bit more than half the normal number of nearly 1,300 twisters reported by mid-September. A shift in the jet stream is credited.

While the West has seen heat waves and major wildfires, the summer heat overall hasn't been nearly as oppressive and extensive as last year's record-setter. Last year, weather stations around the U.S. set more than 59,000 heat-related records through Sept. 9. This year they have set 21,254.

In 2011, the U.S. had 14 weather disasters that cost at least $1 billion. Last year it was 11. While NOAA hasn't counted them yet this year, the number is far lower, but includes two terrible Oklahoma tornadoes, meteorologists said.

National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini said climate change tends to push the world toward more extreme weather, but sometimes natural variability pulls the weather more back to normal, and this is one of those years for much of the U.S. However, China, Japan and Korea have had many extremes, especially heat waves, Masters said.


American energy booming DESPITE Obama's policies

A question of importance for all Americans was directed to President Obama by upstate New York voter Philip Tricolla during the second presidential debate on Oct. 16, 2012: “Your energy secretary, Steven Chu, has now been on record three times stating it’s not the policy of his department to help lower gas prices. Do you agree with Secretary Chu that this is not the job of the energy department?”

Obama responded: “The most important thing we can do is to make sure we control our own energy. So here's what I've done since I've been president. We have increased oil production to the highest levels in 16 years. Natural gas production is the highest it's been in decades. We have seen increases in coal production and coal employment.”

That was true when Obama said it and, according to an Aug. 12, 2013, report by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, it remains true. Oil, natural gas and coal production in this country are at record levels. But this is despite Obama’s policies, not, as he implied, because of them. Oil, natural gas and coal production are zooming upwards on private land, but plummeting on government lands.

Fossil fuel production on private lands has increased by 27 percent since 2003, according to the EIA. But on government lands, fossil fuel production is down 15 percent since 2003, including a 4 percent drop in 2011 alone. It is Obama’s policies that are directly causing these drops in public land energy production. Immediately after taking office in 2009, Obama canceled 77 leases for oil and gas drilling in Utah. Then in January 2010, Obama issued new regulations further restricting energy development on all federal lands.

After the BP oil spill in April 2010, Obama instituted not one but two comprehensive drilling bans in the Gulf of Mexico, the first of which was declared illegal by a federal judge. After lifting his second ban, Obama refused to issue permits for any new drilling in the Gulf, which EIA estimated cut domestic offshore oil production by 13 percent that year alone.

Obama has leased less than half as many offshore acres as President Clinton did at the same point in his tenure. And Obama is blocking access to 19 billion barrels of oil in the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and the eastern Gulf of Mexico, another 10 billion barrels estimated in the Chukchi Sea off the Alaskan coast, and another 10 billion barrels of oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve.

Even so, the United States is undergoing an energy revolution, making the U.S. dramatically less dependent on oil from hostile foreign nations. Increased natural gas production is making manufacturing here competitive again due to lower production costs, which in turn fuels a manufacturing employment expansion the country has not seen in decades. It’s the fruit of Americans working together voluntarily in the private sector. Think what they could do if Obama and the bureaucrats would get out of the way.




Preserving the graphics:  Most graphics on this site are hotlinked from elsewhere.  But hotlinked graphics sometimes have only a short life -- as little as a week in some cases.  After that they no longer come up.  From January 2011 on, therefore, I have posted a monthly copy of everything on this blog to a separate site where I can host text and graphics together -- which should make the graphics available even if they are no longer coming up on this site.  See  here or here


No comments: