The Germans Have a Word For It: Schadenfreude

As an Englishman I take no delight, I promise, in the abject humiliation of our second-worst national enemy after the French. Even so I think you’d need a heart of stone not to laugh at the major crisis besetting Germany’s solar industry: it is collapsing due to the lack of at least one key ingredient – sunshine. (H/T Benny Peiser; Global Warming Policy Foundation)

The Baedeker travel guide is now available in an environmentally-friendly version. The 200-page book, entitled “Germany – Discover Renewable Energy,” lists the sights of the solar age: the solar café in Kirchzarten, the solar golf course in Bad Saulgau, the light tower in Solingen and the “Alster Sun” in Hamburg, possibly the largest solar boat in the world.

 The only thing that’s missing at the moment is sunshine. For weeks now, the 1.1 million solar power systems in Germany have generated almost no electricity. The days are short, the weather is bad and the sky is overcast.

As is so often the case in winter, all solar panels more or less stopped generating electricity at the same time. To avert power shortages, Germany currently has to import large amounts of electricity generated at nuclear power plants in France and the Czech Republic. To offset the temporary loss of solar power, grid operator Tennet resorted to an emergency backup plan, powering up an old oil-fired plant in the Austrian city of Graz.

Solar energy has gone from being the great white hope, to an impediment, [sic] to a reliable energy supply. Solar farm operators and homeowners with solar panels on their roofs collected more than €8 billion ($10.2 billion) in subsidies in 2011, but the electricity they generated made up only about 3 percent of the total power supply, and that at unpredictable times.

The distribution networks are not designed to allow tens of thousands of solar panel owners to switch at will between drawing electricity from the grid and feeding power into it. Because there are almost no storage options, the excess energy has to be destroyed at substantial cost. German consumers already complain about having to pay the second-highest electricity prices in Europe.

Some of us could have predicted this a while back. After all, Germany has never been known as the Land of Sun. What’s worrying is that the Germans went ahead with their massive, state-sponsored, taxpayer-funded solar-building program anyway. It’s worrying because aren’t we kind of relying on Germany to be the economic powerhouse that eventually gets Europe back into the black and saves the world from total meltdown? If those ruthlessly efficient, businesswise Teutons are in fact as dumb as the rest of us, that really is it: game over.