German emissions from electricity generation increased in the first half of 2021 by one-quarter, or 21 million tons, according to German think tank Agora Energiewende. Gas-fired power plants increased 15%, coal power plants by 36%, and hard coal power plants by 44%.
Experts say it’s because Germany’s economy is growing more in its post-Covid recovery. “Overall, the recovery in demand is by far the main factor behind the increase in fossil fuel generation,” said a German energy analyst.
But the increase was also due to the lack of wind. Wind produced just 46.8 terawatt hours in the first six months of 2021 which is over one-quarter less than the 59.4 TWh they produced in the first half of 2020. Offshore wind generation, too, dropped by 16%, to 11.7 TWh during the period.
It’s true that there was a slight increase in solar power generation, wind was abnormally high in 2020, and things could improve next year. In contrast to 2020, there were no above-average wind and sun conditions in 2021.
But increased electricity from solar was from more solar panels, not more sunlight, and Germany couldn’t install enough of them to make up for the loss of electricity from wind turbines. Sunlight was down in the first half of 2021 even as solar panel installation was up. And the German parliament’s researchers recently concluded that Chinese solar panels were being made under conditions of genocide, which make sanctions, and fewer imports of China-made solar panels, inevitable.
Meanwhile, Germany is closing nuclear plants this year and next, which will result in more use of coal and natural gas, and thus increase carbon emissions. Of the 56% of German electricity that came from carbon-free sources in 2020, 24% overall came from nuclear, hydroelectric dams, and biomass, which are far more reliable than solar and wind.
Analysts say the closure of nuclear plants is directly responsible for higher electricity prices. Germany has the most expensive electricity in Europe and wind-heavy Denmark has the second most expensive. In the first half of 2020, German electricity prices were 43 percent higher than the European average.
As a result, Germany’s renewables experiment is effectively over. By 2025 it will have spent $580 billion to make its electricity nearly twice as expensive and ten times more carbon-intensive than France’s.
Germany’s rising emissions and electricity costs illustrate in dramatic fashion that modern nations cannot rely on weather-dependent energy sources to power their high energy economies. For environmental advocates of low-energy living, the pre-modern character of renewables has long been a feature, not a bug. But the rejection of modern energy by Germany in particular may also stem from its specific ambivalence over whether or not it wants to be a nation.
Renewables Are for Returning to a Past Before Sin and Guilt
The underlying motivation for Germany’s renewables experiment, according to many Germans, is to get over their guilt for the Holocaust and World War II. “Germans would then at last feel that they have gone from being world-destroyers in the 20th century to world-saviors in the 21st,” noted a German reporter for Handelsblatt.
Renewable energy supporters champion this vision for Germany. “The real impact of Germany’s subsidies,” tweeted author Ramez Naam, “was to drive down the cost of wind and solar for the whole world and enable future global deployment.”
But the German Energiewende has always been more about returning the world to Germany’s pre-Holocaust and pre-industrial past than taking the world into a post-fossil fuels future.
In 1982, a German historian named Rolf Peter Sieferle wrote a book, The Subterranean Forest, which proved, using physical heat measurements, that the industrial revolution in Europe during the 17th and 18th Centuries could not have occurred without coal. Wood simply didn’t provide enough energy to power the machines. It was too energy-dilute, and scarce.
Its core findings were reinforced by a 2010 book, Energy and the Industrial Revolution, by an Oxford historian, which used the same method of physical calculations to show that, without coal, the industrial revolution could not have happened.
In 2017, Sieferle published another book, Finis Germania, which argued that Germany was effectively committing suicide. After World War II, Germans allowed themselves to believe that their culture was fundamentally pre-modern and non-Western, in order to displace the guilt and shame they felt over the Holocaust.
“If Germany belonged to the most progressive, civilized, cultivated countries,” wrote Sieferle, “then ‘Auschwitz’ means that, at any moment, the human ‘progress’ of modernity can go into reverse.”
Germans embraced a kind of negative nationalist essentialism. They convinced themselves that they were guilty for the sins of their parents and grandparents during World War II. “Not only are the victims ascribed a moral superiority,” wrote Sieferle, “the wrongdoers and their symbols are ascribed an eternal depravity.”
Such self-demonizing essentialism was taught to generations of German schoolchildren in the same way that, today, some American schoolchildren are taught that they are guilty, by virtue of their race and culture, for slavery and genocide in North America from the 17th to 19th Centuries.
In both cases, there is a superstitious ancestor myth at work. The sins of our ancestors are viewed as so terrible that they become essential to who we are. Past sins are passed on like genes but through the culture.
The only way Germans had to fully expunge their guilt, Sieferle argued, was to destroy the German nation, which it was doing by accepting large numbers of immigrants, and not assimilating them.
In addition, Germany “is helping construct a European Union meant to supplant the German government in many of its traditional competencies,” noted Christopher Caldwell in an article about Sieferle in The New York Times in 2017. “Germans appear to want to disappear.”
Sieferle committed suicide shortly before the book was published, further dramatizing its reception.
Germany may be doing something similar with the Energiewende that it is doing with immigration and globalization through the EU. Its goals are, first, to return to energy sources used before the Holocaust, fossil fuels, and second, to return to energy sources used before the industrial revolution, renewables. Doing so creates the fantasy of returning to a period before sin.
Finis Germania was near-universally denounced by German elites as an “extremist tract.” Some claimed Sieferle was secretly anti-Jewish, like the country’s pro-renewables philosopher, Martin Heidegger. Die Zeit said Sieferle’s book was a “brazen obscenity.” The nation’s Nonfiction Book of the Month yanked the book from its promotion.
But there is no evidence that Sieferle was anti-Jewish. He denounced the Holocaust as a “Verbrechen,” or “crime.” And he called anti-Semitism “a delusional, irrational and ignorant ideology.”
It was Sieferle’s criticism of victim ideology, which essentializes all Germans as evil victimizers, as genetic inheritors of the crimes of Germans in the past, which rankled woke German elites.
If there is hope to be found in Germany, and perhaps in the West more broadly, it can be found in popular resistance to ideological conformity. Sieferle’s book became a best-seller, despite efforts to quash it. “As critical anger rose,” noted Caldwell, “so did sales. Soon the book was selling 250 copies an hour, according to its publisher, and ranked No. 1 on Amazon’s German best-seller list.”
“When the German literary establishment unanimously denounced Mr. Sieferle’s work as an extremist tract, readers did not nod in agreement. They pulled out their wallets and said, ‘That must be the book for me.’” Noted Caldwell, “This is a sign that distrust of authority in Germany has reached worrisome levels, possibly American ones.”