For years, Germany has been on the fast track for adopting renewable energy technology, particularly wind and solar, through an expansive program called Energiewende, started in 2010. Today, Germany leads the world in solar energy and has massively reduced its cabrbon emissions.
So what’s the problem? According to Technology Review Germany often has too much energy on its hands. In order to keep energy grids properly sustained under imperfect conditions (e.g. cloudy days or still skies), Germany still maintains non-renewable energy sources – mostly coal-burning power plants – to fill in the gaps.
The maintenance of coal burning plants coupled with a massive expansion of solar and wind technology means that at times power plants burn coal and release carbon unnecessarily, producing energy that the country does not need, and forcing distributors to pay consumers to use up electricity. As a result, carbon emissions in Germany have actually risen slightly in the past year.
Now, German regulators are scrambling to balance the country’s energy resources, eliminating subsidies and implementing an auction system to make renewable energy a more market-driven commodity.
Germany’s difficulties are a reminder that non-renewable sources like coal must be carefully managed and balanced as countries transition to newer technologies like wind and solar.