Tag Archives: Germany

Germany’s switch to renewable energies is getting expensive. (dapd)

Germany’s switch to renewable energies is driving up electricity bills across the country, with a green technology surcharge set to rise by nearly 50 percent next year. With frustration over the high price tag, it promises to become a key issue in next year’s election campaign.

Germany’s four leading electrical grid operators — RWE, E.ON, Vattenfall and EnBW — announced on Monday that they would be hiking by 47 percent the charge to consumers that goes into financing subsidies for producers of renewable energy. For the time being, solar, wind and biomass power make up a quarter of the country’s electricity supply but are set to account for 80 percent by 2050.

Germany’s status as a global leader in clean energy technology has often been attributed to the population’s willingness to pay a surcharge on power bills.
But now that surcharge for renewable energy is to rise to 5.5 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) in 2013 from 3.6 in 2012. For an average three-person household using 3,500 kWh a year, the 47 percent increase amounts to an extra €185 on the annual electricity bill.

Consumer Priorities

The steep rise in the surcharge is likely to trigger debate about the cost to consumers of Berlin’s energy revolution, a drastic energy policy reversal triggered by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan.

Known as the Energiewende, the shift to a sustainable energy supply based on renewable energies and the phasing out of nuclear energy by 2022 has evolved into one of the top priorities of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government.

With costs associated with that energy revolution now spiralling, however, it is likely to become a central issue ahead of next fall’s general elections. According to a recent poll conducted by Emnid, Germans are more interested in affordable electricity than in the nuclear phase-out. Now faced with the bill for the switchover, consumers may start to withdraw their support.

Sharing the Costs

“For many households, the increased surcharge is affordable,” energy expert Claudia Kemfert from the German Institute for Economic Research told AFP. “But the costs should not be carried solely by private households.”

But experts have pointed out that with many energy-intensive major industries either exempt from the tax or paying a reduced rate, the costs of the energy revolution are unfairly distributed.

Last week, Environment Minister Peter Altmaier unveiled a complex roadmap aimed at holding costs in check. But according to the German Federal Association for Energy and Water Management (BDEW), further expenses are still in store for consumers.

Meanwhile, the German Federal Association of Renewable Energies (BEE) maintains that not even half the surcharge goes into subsidies for green energy. “The rest is plowed into industry, compensating for falling prices on the stock markets and low revenue from the surcharge this year,” BEE President Dietmar Schütz told the influential weekly newspaper Die Zeit.

Coalition Differences

As election year looms, the surcharge is also causing tension between Merkel’s Christian Democrats and their junior partners, the Free Democrats.
Economics Minister Philipp Rösler called for a “rapid change to energy policy” in response to the network operators’ announcement. He stressed that the switch to renewable energies must be economically viable and described the new surcharge as “an alarming signal.”

Speaking to the Passauer Neue Presse at the weekend, he put the case for a reduced energy tax, only for the environment minister to reject the suggestion in an interview on Monday with public broadcaster ZDF. “I am not convinced by the idea,” said Altmaier emphatically.

jlp/SPIEGEL/wire reports

Source: Spiegel International



RWE’s coal-fired power plant in Niederaussem could pave the way for the energy mix of the future. (RWE)

One of the biggest challenges of Germany’s ambitious energy revolution is the fact that renewables such as wind and solar are subject to large fluctuations in output. Coal has long been considered their dirty alternative, but a new generation of power plants may herald a glowing future for the fossil fuel.

The cooling towers and smokestacks of a power plant tower over the houses in Niederaussem, a small town near Cologne in the Rhineland region of Germany. The power station could well serve as a symbol for the second wave of Germany’s so-called energy revolution — it burns coal, but not in the conventional way. The technology it uses is one that more and more conventional coal-fired power plants may come to implement in the next years, because it solves a key problem in the transition to alternative energy sources such as wind and solar power.

Conventional power plants grind coal into dust, which is then blown into a boiler. But in Niederaussem, the pulverized coal is first stored in a silo, making it possible to control much more closely the amount that is later fed to the flame. German energy giant RWE originally built the silo in Niederaussem to make fueling its power plant easier. But the German energy revolution has lent the silo system an entirely new dimension.
A power plant with a silo can run on a low level if necessary. It can be powered down to 10 percent of its maximum output, a function that’s impossible for plants without a silo. Even the most modern conventional facilities can go no lower than 35 percent of maximum performance. Operating at a capacity any less than that requires laboriously keeping the combustion going by burning oil or gas — an option that’s far too expensive.

Silos for storing coal dust represent just one of several new technologies that are helping coal-fired power plants shape up for the transition to renewable energy. Time is short. Germany’s environmental revolution will mean major upheavals for coal plant operators, and the new electricity supply system will subject them to grim competition.

Fluctuations in the System

The old energy system was straightforward. Its basis was large-scale power plants, which generally produced electricity at a constant rate. They were designed to operate at full power for as long as possible — the ideal set-up for a large coal plant. During the hours in the middle of the day when energy demand rose, gas-fired plants fed additional power into the grid. In the age of fossil fuels, the division of labor was simple.

But now the old system is being shaken up, as the energy transition leads to more and more wind turbines and solar arrays feeding into the grid. Grid operators are required by law to give priority to buying electricity from renewable sources, with the remaining demand met by coal and gas plants, as well as a decreasing number of nuclear power plants, which are due to be phased out by 2022.

This new system leads to ever greater fluctuations in power generation, with output changing with every gust of wind and every cloud that flits across the sun. Hitachi Power, a Japanese company that builds power plants, estimates these fluctuations will double or triple by the end of the decade, while at the same time the demand for electricity from non-renewable sources will drop by half between 2010 and 2020.

Soon the demand for electricity will likely no longer be enough to keep all the existing coal-fired plants in business, and those that want to continue selling as much conventionally generated energy as possible in this shrinking market must be able to react quickly to fluctuations in supply and consumption. Once this was something only gas-fired plants were able to do, but coal-fired plants are now preparing to challenge them for the role of a flexible provider that can make up shortfalls. Coal and gas power, once partners, are suddenly becoming competitors in a shrinking market.

Steel Walls and Dust Silos

Coal dust silos are the first step. When combined with other technologies, they make it possible for coal-fired plants to hold their own against the competition in the new era of power generation. “The demand for these solutions has increased sharply,” says Wolfgang Schreier, Hitachi Power’s managing director for Europe. “Two of Germany’s four major energy providers have expressed interest.”

In addition to these silos, power plant operators are also interested in technologies that speed up their facilities’ reaction times. This is accomplished, for example, with special steel alloys that mean the walls of the coal-fired boilers can be made thinner. The result is boilers that can withstand the rapid and extreme changes in temperatures that occur when the power plant’s output is adjusted up or down, since more power means higher temperatures.

In the past, these walls were generally thick, designed to allow the plants to operate at full power for as long as possible without requiring maintenance. Flexibility wasn’t important, and performance could be adjusted up or down by a maximum of 3 to 4 percent per minute.

All that is set to change. Thinner walls and other technologies make it possible to adjust performance by more than 10 percent. For a 1,000-megawatt power plant, that means 100 megawatts a minute — enough flexibility to keep supply stable even when faced with extreme fluctuations.

More CO2 or Less?

Other techniques are currently being tested as well, for example special boilers that can burn not only coal but biomass as well, improving CO2 emissions rates. The cost of comprehensively converting a coal-fired plant in this way is in the high double-digit millions, according to industry experts, but it’s an investment that can pay off for plant operators within just a few years.
The only question is whether this technological revolution is also the best solution for the climate. Coal-fired plants still emit one-and-a-half to two times as much carbon dioxide as gas-fired plants. The cost of producing electricity with gas-fired plants is, on the other hand, considerably higher than with coal-fired plants, which means they must charge higher prices as well.

If coal manages to replace gas as the flexible energy source which can compensate for fluctuations in the power supply, then more than one gas-fired plant may go bankrupt. Paradoxically, Germany would likely then end up emitting more CO2 overall.

Author: Stefan Schultz
Source: Der Spiegel Online International


The high-altitude landscape of the Bavarian Alps is prized by mountain sports lovers around the world, but it could change significantly in the coming years. Temperatures in the region are rising at an above-average rate, which will likely melt most of the glaciers there within the next 20 to 30 years, Bavaria’s environment minister has warned.

Temperatures in the German Alps are rising at an above-average rate, which will likely melt most of the glaciers there within the next 20 to 30 years, Bavaria’s environment minister has warned. This photo shows the Watzmann, one of the most famous peaks in the Bavarian Alps, and one that probably won’t have a glacier in the coming decades. (TMN)

The Bavarian Alps are known for their stunning vistas and winter sports opportunities. But the view from some summits could change drastically in the coming years. Nearly all of the glaciers in the Bavarian Alps will likely disappear in the next 20 to 30 years due to climate change, the southern German state warned on Monday.

Temperatures in the area have increased by some 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in the last one-and-a-half centuries — nearly double the world average, said Bavarian Environment Minister Marcel Huber during a presentation of the state’s first-ever glacier report in Munich. Four of the region’s five glaciers could melt entirely as a result.

Temperatures in the Bavarian Alps have increased by some 2 degrees Celsius in the last one-and-a-half centuries — nearly double the world average, said Bavarian Environment Minister Marcel Huber during a presentation of the state’s first-ever glacier report in Munich in early July. Four of the region’s five glaciers could melt entirely as a result. (TMN)

Since 1820, the total area of Bavaria’s glaciers has dropped from 4 square kilometers to 0.7 square kilometers (1.6 square miles to 0.3 square miles), the report says. Five glaciers, including three “mini glaciers,” make up this area. But with temperatures expected to go up by between 3 and 6 degrees Celsius in the next 90 years, they aren’t likely to survive, Huber said.

“This is a dimension that one can hardly imagine,” Huber said, adding that it won’t be just natural wonders that are lost, but also important habitats.

Due to its shady location and substantial ice volume, the Höllentalferner glacier, located in a bowl just off the country’s highest mountain, the Zugspitze, is expected to last longer than the others. The same goes for the Northern Schneeferner glacier, also on the Zugspitze, which is expected to survive until after 2020. But the peak’s Southern Schneeferner glacier will soon be completely melted, the report says.

Germany’s highest peak, the Zugspitze, will likely lose its Schneeferner glacier, shown here. But the northern part is expected to last longer than others due to its shady location. (DPA)

Glaciers in the Berchtesgaden Alps won’t fare much better. “The lower portion of the Blaueis glacier and the Watzmann glacier will disappear in the coming years,” the report says. While both glaciers were some 15 meters (50 feet) deep in 2007, they have lost about one meter per year since then. If the melting continues this way, they will both be gone by about 2020.

State Demands Federal Help

The yearly ritual, shown here in 2012, won’t be able to prevent the glacier near Garmisch-Partenkirchen from melting eventually, though. The Bavarian government has announced €1 billion in new spending to combat climate change. (dapd)

During the presentation, Huber announced that Bavaria would spend more than €1 billion ($1.3 billion) on implementing climate protection and the country’s planned nuclear energy phase-out. The four-point plan includes new policies, adaptations, research and individual measures to address climate change, said Huber, appealing to Berlin for federal support.

“The federal government shouldn’t focus on its coasts alone,” he said. “The Alps are also a place that needs more financial commitments.”

Losing the glaciers in the German Alps will alter the view from the region’s summits. Here, a sunny winter day on the Wallberg mountain near Munich. (REUTERS)

But mountain sports enthusiasts are also responsible for helping to preserve the glaciers, said Ludwig Wucherpfennig, the vice president of the German Alpine Club (DAV). “Working together toward gentle mountain tourism — that is our objective,” he said, adding that otherwise the glacier report would seem like a “nostalgic look back” in 20 years’ time.
Center-left Social Democrats in the state have criticized the conservative Bavarian government’s climate policy, accusing it of doing too little in the last 30 years. Ludwig Wörner, the Bavarian SPD’s spokesman for environmental issues, said that the trend toward installing more snowmakers in the mountains would not halt glacial melt. Instead, climate protection must be on the daily agenda, he said.

The Zugspitze is a popular destination for skiers, but losing its glacier could shorten the season significantly. (REUTERS)

The environmentalist Green Party’s environment expert Ludwig Hartmann praised Huber’s promises, but warned him not to place too much responsibility on the federal government. “We welcome it if the environment minister wants to further strengthen the fight against climate change,” Hartmann said, adding that Bavaria must do its own part to make overdue changes to transportation and energy policy.

Mountain sports enthusiasts are also responsible for helping to preserve the glaciers, says Ludwig Wucherpfennig, the vice president of the German Alpine Club (DAV). “Working together toward gentle mountain tourism — that is our objective,” he said. (TMN)

–kla, with wire reports

Source: DerSpiegel International


The German government was quick to approve a phase-out of nuclear power in the country after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Now the costs of moving toward renewable energy are just being realized, and low-income consumers are paying the price.

Chancellor Angela Merkel made the transition to renewable energy a top priority after dismissing her environment minister, Norbert Röttgen, last month, but essential questions remain unanswered. (REUTERS)

After two weeks, the first letter arrives. The second notice comes a week later. On the fourth week, the bell rings and a technician from the power company, Vattenfall, is at the door. He has a black toolbox under his arm and he means business.

Aminta Seck, 39, has been through this twice before. If she doesn’t pay the technician at least part of what she owes the company, he’ll disconnect her electricity, leaving Seck and her three-year-old son Liam sitting in the dark in their two-room apartment, without lights, a working stove, refrigerator or TV.
Electricity prices in Germany have risen by more than 10 percent since the current coalition of the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP) took office. The price hike has been too much for some like Seck, an unemployed decorator from Berlin’s Prenzlauer Berg district.

“Approximately every tenth household currently has problems paying for rising energy costs,” says Holger Krawinkel at the Federation of German Consumer Organizations.

Left in the Dark

“We can’t allow electricity to become a luxury,” says new Environment Minister Peter Altmaier of the Christian Democrats (CDU). Altmaier says he intends to meet as soon as possible with representatives from social welfare organizations. (dapd)

About 200,000 recipients of Hartz IV, Germany’s benefits program for the long-term unemployed, had their power cut off last year because of unpaid bills, according to Paritätische Gesamtverband, an umbrella association for social movements in Germany.

The consumer protection organization for the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia estimates that number to be as high as 600,000 per year. Ulrike Mascher, president of VdK, an interest group focusing on social justice, uses terms such as “fuel poverty” and a “blatant violation of fundamental social rights,” when talking about the issue.

Meanwhile, the next price hikes are just around the corner. “The cost of electricity will rise, there’s no question about that,” says Jochen Homann, head of Germany’s state-run Federal Network Agency.

The federal Economy Ministry calculates internally that prices will increase by between three and five euro cents per kilowatt hour within the next 12 months, in order to finance renewable energy subsidies and grid expansion. Those increases amount to an additional annual burden of between €105 and €175 ($130 and $220) for a family of three.

Consumer protection advocates and interest groups focusing on social issues blame the federal government for these increases. In particular, they say, the unchecked expansion of highly-subsidized photovoltaic installations is driving prices up, without the benefit of creating a commensurate increase in supply.

The CDU-FDP coalition itself has long wanted to cut back on funding for solar energy, but the Bundesrat — Germany’s upper house of parliament, which represents the individual federal states — voted against the measure. It is unlikely lawmakers will reach a compromise on the issue before their summer recess this year.

‘A Major Debate’

More than a year has passed since the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster in Japan prompted Germany’s lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, to vote to gradually phase out the country’s nuclear power plants, replacing them wherever possible with renewable energy sources. Yet it is only now that a serious discussion is beginning over the costs of the nuclear phase-out.

Chancellor Angela Merkel made the transition to renewable energy a top priority after dismissing her environment minister, Norbert Röttgen, last month, but essential questions remain unanswered. Who will pay for this supposed “joint effort,” in Merkel’s words? What’s the upper limit on costs? And when will voters’ positive view of the nuclear phase-out give way to frustration over rising costs?

“I am very concerned about the way energy prices are growing,” says Economy Minister Philipp Rösler of the FDP, discussing what he describes as a “battle to keep energy affordable.” Thomas Bareiss, who coordinates energy policy issues for the parliamentary group of the CDU and its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), predicts: “We’re going to see a major debate over who pays for the transition to renewable energy.”

The last thing the chancellor wants, especially with parliamentary elections coming up next year, is to open herself up to accusations that she lacks a sense of social justice or is indifferent to social issues. Leading figures within her coalition are pondering ways to combat the steady rise in energy prices, and to divert attention away from the failures over the past 12 months.

Their list of proposed solutions ranges from reducing energy costs for low-income consumers, to a new program that would earmark billions of euros for renewable energy sources and energy storage capacity. “We can’t allow electricity to become a luxury,” says new Environment Minister Peter Altmaier of the CDU, who also said he intends to meet as soon as possible with representatives from social welfare organizations.

Searching for Alternatives

Those costs have proven to be too much for many consumers, including welfare recipients like Aminta Seck. Seck says she has trouble affording electricity in the winter for the two-room apartment she shares in Berlin with her son Liam. (Thomas Grabka/ DER SPIEGEL)

Parliamentarians from the CDU and FDP have already begun campaigning within their parliamentary groups to repeal an “eco-tax” currently added to consumers’ energy costs. Removing this tax, they say, would make it possible to keep consumers’ energy prices at their current level for the time being.

Other parliamentarians, meanwhile, hope the finance minister will make tax funds available to help pay for new transmission lines connecting northern and southern Germany. The downside of this approach is that it would require either cuts to public spending on other fronts, or raising taxes.

Federal Economy Minister Rösler is at work on a new model for financing renewable energy. He would like to repeal Germany’s renewable energy law, known as the EEG, which forces energy consumers to bear a portion of the costs for rooftop solar panels, wind turbines and biogas facilities. “The planned cutback in photovoltaic subsidies is only the first step,” Rösler says.

Rösler’s advisers are currently devising an alternative model based on a suggestion from the country’s Monopolies Commission. According to this plan, the government would require power companies to obtain a certain proportion of their energy mix from renewable sources, but would leave it up to individual providers to decide how to meet that quota.

Rösler’s analysts believe investors would then use whichever energy technologies are most cost-effective in any given situation, and would pass the savings on to their customers. Rösler had little success getting his former cabinet colleague Röttgen to approve of his plans, but hopes Röttgen’s successor Altmaier will be more receptive.

Unkept Promises

The German government quickly approved a phase out of nuclear energy in the country after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan last year. (dapd)

Rising energy costs are especially embarrassing for German leaders because, until very recently, they claimed to have everything under control. Merkel more or less offered a price guarantee in a speech on the energy turnaround she gave in front of the Bundestag last year.

“We must continue to provide both businesses and individual citizens with affordable energy,” Merkel said at the time. “The costs to consumers as a result of the EEG must not exceed their current level.”

That’s a promise the chancellor won’t be able to keep. This fall, the Federal Network Agency is expected to announce rates that are 30 to 50 percent higher than current levels, putting consumers’ contribution to renewable energy subsidies between 4.7 and 5.3 euro cents per kilowatt hour of energy, plus sales tax, up from the current level of 3.59 cents. Bareiss, the CDU’s energy specialist, has even talked of “potentially more than six cents” per kilowatt hour, which would be an increase of nearly 70 percent.

The primary reason for these costs can be seen on rooftops throughout Germany. Energy consumers will pay €100 billion over the next 20 years to subsidize photovoltaics installed before the end of 2011. The first several months of this year added at least €5 billion to that amount.

Burdened by Debts

But politicians are just now starting to seriously discuss how to pay for the energy turnaround. (AP)

Meanwhile, many low-income and unemployed Germans have reached the limits of what they’re able to pay, as the example of Aminta Seck in Berlin shows. As a single mother, Seck receives €860 a month in government assistance. By law, €40 of that amount is intended primarily to cover energy costs.

In reality, though, the money isn’t enough. Despite moving out of her old apartment and into a smaller one, Seck consistently comes up a few euros short each month, an amount she then has to pay as a lump sum at the end of the year. “I manage to come up with the money for the energy bill in the summer,” she says, “but in the winter, when it’s dark, it’s just not possible.”

Once the electricity has been shut off, it’s difficult for consumers to climb out from under their debts, since in addition to settling their overdue bills, they have to pay a fee of up to €80 to have the power turned back on.

“My clients end up waiting at least a week, and in extreme cases even up to two months,” says social worker Renate Stark, who works in Prenzlauer Berg at Caritas, a social services organization, and counsels people who have fallen behind on their energy bills.
Stark says she’s already seen the effects of the transition to renewable energy sources. “In the past, at most one client per month came to me because of problems paying energy bills,” she says. “Now it’s at least 30.”

This makes it all the more astonishing how casually politicians — from all parties — have disregarded the societal consequences of their project. While the government and opposition quarreled for months over a few euros’ difference in Hartz IV payments, they essentially formed a grand coalition when it came to subsidizing solar panels.

Part 2: Not Knowing the Details

All of the political parties wanted to appear eco-friendly, and many politicians never knew much about how the system worked in detail. Former Minister Röttgen, for example, was quite surprised when he found out — well into his term in office — that Hartz IV recipients must pay their electricity bills out of the standard payment they receive from the government.

Members of the opposition were just as willing to overlook the bizarre redistribution of funds taking place as a result of the renewable energy subsidies, with low-income consumers in rental apartments subsidizing homeowners’ solar panels through their energy bills.

The situation didn’t seem to bother the center-left opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD), which was very much caught up in the green spirit of times. After all, the money benefited solar power, something everyone agreed was a “good thing,” in the words of Ulrich Kelber, an SPD politician who works on environmental issues. There was no need, the SPD felt, to get worked up over a few cents here and there. The Green Party, meanwhile, took the position that it was necessary to make financial sacrifices for the sake of the “environmental transformation of society.”

Now, though, the general mood seems to be shifting. Individuals are becoming increasingly aware that they’re expected to bear the majority of the burden in the transition to renewable energy, while industry and power companies bask in endless subsidies.

New Class of Millionaires

Cash-strapped energy consumers find themselves pitted against profit-hungry entrepreneurs who have been spoiled by subsidies. They are businesspeople such as Frank Asbeck, a photovoltaics manufacturer who has become a multimillionaire — with his own private castle, hunting grounds and a Maserati — thanks to the EEG.

Asbeck received an appointment with Altmaier, the new environment minister, right away last Tuesday, to express his views on the issue. The energy transition will also prove profitable for investors in the project to expand Germany’s power grid. The return on such investments is guaranteed by the government to be around 9 percent, an interest rate of which mere mortals with standard retirement plans can only dream.

“Private households are expected to pay for an energy transition for which no clear plan exists,” says Holger Krawinkel of the Federation of German Consumer Organizations. “That’s unacceptable.”

Ulrich Schneider from Paritätische Gesamtverband, the umbrella organization working on social justice issues, warns that there will be protests.

“We can only truly commit to renewable energy if the costs are distributed fairly,” he says. “Anyone using the energy transition as a campaign issue also needs to explain who’s going to pay for it.”

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein.

Author: Alexander Neubacher and Catalina Schröder
Source: Der Spiegel International


O actual ritmo de perda das espécies é mais de cem vezes superior ao da extinção natural, segundo a ONU. Foto: Mauricio Lima/AFP

O novo organismo internacional que vai dar uma resposta global à perda de biodiversidade e dos ecossistemas do planeta, o IPBES, ficará com a sede em Bona, na Alemanha, foi decidido nesta sexta-feira numa conferência internacional.

Especialistas de todo o mundo estão reunidos até amanhã, sábado, na cidade do Panamá para pôr de pé a Plataforma Intergovernamental para a Biodiversidade e os Serviços dos Ecossistemas (IPBES), organismo que recebeu “luz verde” da Assembleia-Geral das Nações Unidas a 20 de Dezembro de 2010. Portugal é representado nas negociações por Henrique Miguel Pereira, investigador do Centro de Biologia Ambiental (CBA) da Universidade de Lisboa.

Este painel independente vai, em grande medida, espelhar o Painel Intergovernamental das Nações Unidas para as Alterações Climáticas (IPCC), que tem promovido o conhecimento global sobre as alterações climáticas, fazendo a ponte entre os investigadores e as soluções no terreno. O IPBES vai analisar e dar consistência aos estudos científicos de institutos de investigação espalhados pelo mundo e com eles elaborar relatórios para os governos, com o estado, a classificação e as tendências de espécies e ecossistemas e ainda as respostas políticas necessárias.

“A estrutura institucional da plataforma está a ser negociada”, diz hoje uma nota do CBA, nomeadamente como será feita a avaliação da biodiversidade e ecossistemas do planeta. Além disso, a reunião no Panamá está a discutir a “forma de capacitar cientificamente os países em vias de desenvolvimento e estabelecer a forma de nomeação de cientistas para os diferentes grupos de trabalho, bem como as contribuições financeiras de cada país”.

Henrique Miguel Pereira considera que “este é um momento importante para a comunidade científica, que ao longo das últimas duas décadas tem estudado as alterações globais da biodiversidade e alertado para o impacto destas alterações no bem-estar humano”. Mas ainda há muito trabalho para fazer. “Agora vamos estabelecer um calendário para a avaliação científica dos principais problemas e trabalhar para que os países se comprometam a implementar as conclusões dessa avaliação”, acrescentou.

“A biodiversidade não conhece fronteiras e os ecossistemas também não: um grou (Grus grus) avistado durante o Inverno em Portugal pode ser avistado, no Verão seguinte, na Escandinávia ou na Sibéria; a Amazónia, uma floresta húmida cuja biodiversidade se mantém, em grande medida, desconhecida, estende-se ao longo de sete milhões de quilómetros quadrados, entre nove países sul-americanos”, lembra o CBA.

“O IPBES representa um grande avanço em termos de organização de uma resposta global à perda de organismos vivos e de florestas, rios, recifes de coral e outros ecossistemas”, comentou Achim Steiner, director-executivo do Programa das Nações Unidas para o Ambiente, na altura da criação do IPBES, em Dezembro de 2010.

Depois de dois anos de negociações com os países do Sul, liderados pelo Brasil – que receavam um processo controlado pelo Norte e um potencial entrave ao seu desenvolvimento -, o princípio da criação do IPBES foi aprovado em Junho de 2010 na Coreia do Sul. Mas foi a adopção em Nagoia (Japão), em Outubro desse ano, de um acordo sobre a partilha dos benefícios de algumas indústrias biogenéticas com os países do Sul que permitiu levantar as últimas reticências, explicou à AFP Salvatore Arico, especialista em biodiversidade na Unesco, associada a este painel.

Em Nagoia os governos adoptaram ainda um novo plano estratégico com metas para travar a perda da biodiversidade até 2020. Por exemplo, os governo aceitaram aumentar a superfície das áreas protegidas de 12,5% para 17% da superfície da Terra e passar as áreas marinhas protegidas do actual 1% para 10%.

De acordo com a ONU, o actual ritmo de perda das espécies, causado pelas actividades humanas, é “mais de cem vezes superior ao da extinção natural”. Hoje estão ameaçadas de extinção ao nível mundial uma em cada três espécies de anfíbios, mais de uma espécie de aves em cada oito, mais de um mamífero em cada cinco e mais de uma espécie de conífera em cada quatro.

Autor: Helena Geraldes
Fonte: Ecosfera – Público


Demonstrators at the nuclear power plant Gundremmingen in southern Germany in March. Now that the government is planning to shut down nuclear plants, some activisits say poor planning and political opportunism have actually increased the toll on the environment. (Timm Schamberger, Associated Press / March 11, 2012)

After Germany last year committed to closing its nuclear reactors, it’s relying more on coal and importing power from neighbors that use nuclear energy.

KLEINENSIEL, Germany — When the German government shut down half the country’s nuclear reactors after the Fukushima disaster in Japan, followed two months later by a pledge to abandon nuclear power within a decade, environmentalists cheered.

A year later, however, criticism of the nuclear shutdown is emerging from a surprising source: some of the very activists who pushed for the phaseout.

They say poor planning of the shutdown and political opportunism by the government have actually worsened the toll on the environment in Germany, and Europe, at least in the short term.

To make up for the lost nuclear power, which supplied 22% of Germany’s electricity before the phaseout began, the country has increased its reliance on brown coal, a particularly high emitter of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and a major contributor to global warming. Brown coal now supplies 25% of Germany’s electricity, up from 23% a year ago.

Previously a net exporter of electricity, Germany now imports as much electricity as it sells abroad. Removing so much German electricity from the market has benefited power companies in neighboring countries that rely heavily on coal and nuclear power, thereby undermining Germany’s environmental goals and its nuclear safety concerns.

Although abandoning nuclear power is expected to eventually clear the way for the development of renewable energy, in which Germany is already a world leader, the environmental effect so far has been problematic.

Last year’s shuttering of eight of the country’s 17 reactors has led to an increase in carbon dioxide emissions of 25 million tons annually in Europe, said Laszlo Varro of the International Energy Agency, a European intergovernmental organization.

Klaus Toepfer, the former German environment minister who headed the commission to advise the government on the phaseout, worries that “the great opportunities of this energy transition” are being squandered.

Although he supported Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to shutter Germany’s nuclear plants, Toepfer said the execution of the policy has been fumbling and haphazard.

“A big project needs a professional project manager; it needs monitoring, where people tell us every year where we stand and what adjustments we need to make — standard things for a big project,” Toepfer said. “We’re not seeing that from the administration right now, at least not sufficiently.”

Merkel’s administration never formulated a coherent strategy for switching to new forms of energy or for upgrading the country’s electricity grid, critics say. Without such improvements, the grid cannot always transmit power south to Germany’s main population and industrial centers as fast as the offshore wind farms in the North Sea can produce it.

“We have a government where half of the administration does not agree with the starting point that the phasing-out program was the right thing to do,” said Cem Oezdemir, co-chairman of Germany’s Green Party. “So what you can see is that the second part after you decided to phase out, that you change your electricity structure and that you have a master plan for energy policy, that never was really agreed upon.”

“The government did it not because they were convinced,” Oezdemir said of the decision to abandon nuclear power. “They did it because they were losing elections.”

Only six months before the Fukushima disaster, Merkel had decided to extend, not curtail, the life span of Germany’s nuclear power plants, a move that aroused vigorous public opposition. After the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, she made a dramatic reversal, announcing that half of Germany’s nuclear plants would be shut down immediately and the remainder within a decade.

To some residents in the northwestern German village of Kleinensiel, Merkel’s sudden change of heart was born of political motives.

“There was a lot of frustration,” said Boris Schierhold, mayor of the municipality of Stadland, which includes Kleinensiel. “People lost a little trust in political decision-making.”

Kleinensiel is home to the Unterweser plant, the largest nuclear facility in the world when it started generating electricity in 1979. The village lives and breathes nuclear power; residents can tell you exactly how long it takes to decommission a plant and when Unterweser was constructed and brought on line.

In the good years, Unterweser had as many workers, 700, as the town did residents. Kleinensiel’s guesthouses filled up and businesses boomed whenever inspectors came to town on their regular visits.

But since Unterweser was shut down a year ago, that’s all changed. On a recent afternoon, Kleinensiel’s sole restaurant was closed, as was its snack kiosk. No one answered the door at two guesthouses.

“It’s a major blow to the region,” said Wilfried Muechler, one of the approximately 350 Unterweser employees who have been retained to run testing, maintenance and security. “The restaurants are definitely feeling it. And it’s a catastrophe for the small businesses that work with the plant. They’re the first to get axed: the painters, the electricians, the carpenters. It affects everyone.”

Although other jobs will be created as Germany expands its renewable-energy sector, most of them will not be in the same areas as the nuclear plants, leaving nuclear-dependent regions in precarious positions. Towns such as Kleinensiel are already feeling the pain just as Germany suffers a broader economic slowdown.

Schierhold harbors no illusions about Kleinensiel’s future. The town won’t be able to attract major new industries, and its geography isn’t suitable for the construction of the offshore wind farms that are transforming the economies of areas to the north, he says.

He simply hopes that Unterweser’s operator, the power company E.on, chooses to dismantle the plant rather than encase it in concrete and let it sit idle. The full dismantling would take 10 to 15 years, during which a portion of the workers at Unterweser would remain employed.

It’s a bleak prospect, pinning the town’s economic hopes on the slow destruction of what was once its engine. But it’s better than the alternative, which would see all the plant’s remaining employees out of a job in just a few years.

In the meantime, the giant white dome of the Unterweser plant serves as a constant reminder of a policy that many here consider misguided.

“Our facilities were serviced every year; they’re in perfect shape,” said Maik Otholt, a Kleinensiel resident. “Nothing ever went wrong. And so now what are we doing? We’re buying nuclear energy from France. Their plant is just over the border. And now we’re buying that expensive electricity. It’s crazy.”

Wiener is a special correspondent.

Author: Aaron Wiener
Source: Los Angeles Times


German solar panel manufacturer Q-Cells filed for bankruptcy on Tuesday. (Photography: AFP)

The German solar industry is at a turning point. The bankruptcy of Q-Cells this week shows that the days of German solar cell production are numbered. Asian competitors took the lead years ago, and German government subsidies were part of the problem.

It wasn’t so long ago that people viewed Q-Cells as an energy company of the future. At one point, it was the world’s largest manufacturer of solar cells and quarter after quarter, it topped analysts’ expectations. The company proved to be a money-making machine even during the financial crisis, with some believing it might one day grow to become part of Germany’s DAX index of benchmark companies on the stock exchange.

At the end of 2007, the company was valued at close to €8 billion ($10.7 billion at today’s rates). Q-Cells’ production facilities were located in the city of Bitterfeld-Wolfen, in a former lignite mining area in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt. The area was even dubbed “Solar Valley,” a play on California’s Silicon Valley.
For a some time now, though, the days have been growing darker in Solar Valley, and with this week’s bankruptcy announcement by Q-Cells, things are looking to get even darker. On Tuesday, the company as expected submitted its official request to begin bankruptcy proceedings. The energy company of the future looks as though it may no longer have one. The company, it turns out, simply wasn’t prepared for the fast changes that have buffeted the industry.

In 2011, Q-Cells posted a loss of €846 million. As of last Tuesday, the firm had a marginal value of only €35 million and Q-Cells’ share price had plunged to just 9 cents. In Bitterfeld-Wolfen, concerns are growing about massive job losses among the 2,200 Q-Cells workers in the city.

But Q-Cells’ insolvency also comes as a great shock to the Germany’s solar industry. It is already the fourth major bankruptcy in a sector in crisis, and it underscores the degree to which German solar firms are being outpaced by competition from Asia — despite billions in German government subsidies granted each year to the industry. And despite solar energy gradually becoming more competitive, the setbacks are rapidly mounting.

A String of Bankruptcies

In December 2011, two major solar companies slid into bankruptcy: Berlin-based Solon and Erlangen-based Solar Millennium. In the case of Solon, Indian firm Microsol acquired the core business; but of the company’s 1,000 employees, only 400 remain employed today. Solar Millennium’s bankruptcy came as a major blow to thousands of small investors who had lent the firm money.

In March 2012, Freiburg-based Scheuten Solar, the firm that presented what was the world’s largest solar module at the time eight years ago, declared bankruptcy. The same month, power plant producer Solarhybrid and the Frankfurt an der Oder-based Odersun, which had been prestige projects supported by political leaders in the eastern state of Brandenburg, also filed for insolvency proceedings. Other bankruptcies are likely to follow.

The worst hit in the German solar crisis are companies that made bad business decisions. Most of the companies effected failed to wean themselves from reliance on government subsidies. The companies had all been aware that the market was rapidly changing, but they reacted too late or too slowly. Solar subsidies had been a highly effective political means of promoting the environmentally friendly technology, but in a rapidly maturing market, they are quickly losing their impact.

And the problem isn’t the recent cuts to solar subsidies. The problem has been mismanagement across the industry in Germany.

Q-Cells’ Mistakes

Q-Cells is the best example. The company first began outsourcing large shares of its production to Malaysia in the summer of 2011. By then, it had been clear for years that Germans could no longer compete with Asian firms in the sector. The writing had long been on the wall and it didn’t take a clairvoyant to see it.

In technological terms, solar cells are relatively easy to copy and manufacture, and Germany, with its comparably expensive labor market, is no longer the place to produce them. Much of the manufacturing of solar cells in Germany is already automated, but it is still considerably cheaper to operate a factory in a country like China, where costs are lower for everything from factory construction to paying the cleaning crew. In addition, Beijing has made the solar sector a priority and the government is providing many manufacturers with loans at highly favorable interest rates. Even worse, the German government has also directly and indirectly subsidizedChinese solar companies to the tune of €100 million as part of development aid efforts aimed at promoting China’s green industries.

The cut-throat nature of the competition, of course, is nothing new. But in recent years it has been hidden by the German boom in demand from 2009 to 2011, the result of generous efforts from Berlin to promote solar power. Even companies that had fallen behind the Asian competition were having no trouble moving large quantities of solar cells. The situation is reminiscent of Coyote running off a cliff while chasing Roadrunner, running in mid-air for a few seconds and then plummeting into the abyss.

German Subsidies Boom Strengthens

We are now seeing the fall. And ironically, just as the boom was fuelled by government money, those same subsidies have accelerated the bust. The massive demand created led to mass production, particularly in China — and prices fell rapidly as a result. In 2011 alone, the price for modules declined by 30 to 40 percent — far faster than German companies could reduce their manufacturing costs. The trend is expected to continue this year.

Meanwhile, Asian companies continue to steam ahead of their German competitors. In 2008, China manufactured 33 percent of the world’s solar cells, but that figure grew to 57 percent last year. This week, the German government significantly reduced its subsidies for promoting solar energy. But the boom in cheap cells will continue and it will radically change the solar energy market.

The change can also be seen in the case of Solar Millennium, a company that didn’t even produce solar cells. Rather, it built solar thermal power plants that transformed solar energy into thermal energy. Unfortunately, it’s a technology that has recently been put on the back burner because of the availability of inexpensive photovoltaic cells. Solar Millennium suffered a number of setbacks when projects planned in the United States failed to materialize.

How the Industry Is Changing

In the medium term, fierce competition with Asian companies will also likely affect other parts of the solar energy industry in Germany. For example, it could hit companies like Centrotherm, which manufactures machines that are used in the automated production of solar cells. Development of that equipment is certainly more complex, but Asian manufacturers are already presenting an increasing number of products at industry trade shows like Intersolar.

This won’t mean the instant death of the German industry. Some companies will remain, particularly those that didn’t just try to earn easy money through the government subsidies, but instead adapted to industry changes and developed competitive business models. Take Juwi, for example, which develops large solar parks using cheaper modules from US manufacturer First Solar and has also created a secondary business in wind energy. Or project developer Belectric, which is focusing increasingly on marketing its services in foreign markets. And also likely to survive — at least in the medium-term — are companies like SolarWorld, which has succeeded in establishing a strong brand whose equipment justifies a premium price — even if there are few qualitative differences between their products and those of Asian competitors.
In addition, new business areas will be created within the German solar market, particularly in the services sector. These could include companies that maintain solar parks, for example, or direct marketers who help operators of solar plants sell the electricity they produce to energy exchanges.

Still, most of the lights are likely to go out soon in Germany’s Solar Valley. Experts like Michael Schmela, editor in chief of the industry publication Photon International, see no future for the companies based in Bitterfeld-Wolfen. “The days of cell production in Western countries is numbered,” he said recently.

Author: Stefan Schultz
Source: Spiegel Online International


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