Can solar power be monopolized

In the last few years I have used the vacation time again and again to look at our big topic “energy turnaround” from a distance or, as I think it should be better called: “the citizen's energy turnaround”. I think it is now necessary to pay close attention to such linguistic details, because anyone who, like me, has been following the development of this transformation process over a very long period of time, cannot hide the fact that the original intentions of such a movement, such as the energy transition, can definitely change, or rather, how these can also be changed in a targeted manner from the outside. The article has become extremely long and rather unsuitable for those who don't like reading, I know ... but the abundance of the topics currently being discussed makes it necessary to shed light on the many corners of the debate and make your fingers itchy to make a personal statement about it. Here we go…

Citizens' energy transition or turbo capitalism repainted in green

Originally, the idea of ​​an energy turnaround developed, at least in Germany, from the anti-nuclear movement, but also from the peace movement, where it was clear 30 years ago that most wars are raw material wars and that “the mothers of all raw materials” are Energy resources are, i.e. coal, uranium, natural gas and, above all, oil. The idea of ​​replacing these energy sources with so-called renewable energies, which was still much ridiculed at the time, aimed from the outset not only to replace one energy source with another, but also to replace the entire structure of a centralized energy industry with a few monopolized actors and with one to replace decentralized energy industry owned by energy consumers. Greetings from Hermann Scheer.

So it should not only be switched from atom to sun, to put it bluntly, but there should be a fundamental change in the entire energy supply structure, which should be wrested from the clutches of powerful global corporations. You can already hear it in the language, it was also about a hefty dose of capitalism criticism and the conviction that an economic system designed for sustainable growth on a planet with limited resources would inevitably reach its limits at some point.

This is true at least when the growth of an economy, as it has always been in the past, is strictly linked to the growth in resource and, above all, energy consumption. I would like to suggest that even in the early days of the energy transition movement there were different currents, one of which formulated a fundamental criticism of capitalism, while the other could imagine something like "ecological capitalism". I myself belonged to the second group at the time, which has changed in the meantime in view of the experiences I had over the past 25 years. Capitalism painted in green is an illusion. That is now my firm conviction, although I have to admit that market economy elements are indispensable in order to master such a process as an energy turnaround.

I am describing these two different currents of the energy transition movement here again in retrospect, because the further development of the desired transformation process differs significantly, depending on the direction in which you think: On the one hand, green-repainted energy and financial groups, the huge wind farms into the sea and build new high-voltage lines through the country and, on the other hand, a democratization of the energy industry and medium-sized businesses, municipalities, municipal utilities, districts and citizens' energy cooperatives that implement the energy supply of their respective region decentrally with sun, wind, biomass and electricity storage.

Conventional energy companies on the battle of retreat

With the increasing success of individual energy transition technologies - and this is essentially the case with photovoltaics - it became more and more difficult for opponents of the energy transition to keep the new competitors on the energy market at bay using the usual methods. The "usual methods" on the energy market such as price dumping, political influence, court proceedings and propaganda have already been a topic here in the blog and should not be discussed further here.

However, it was clearly recognizable that after all the prevention methods had only saved time, but did not provide a sustainable solution to the “solar problem” in the conventional energy industry, other methods had to be used: If you can no longer fight an opponent, then give them enough the hand, hug him and lead him to where you want him.

Disruptive development of photovoltaics

As a reminder, for all of the readers who do not have as much focus on the development of photovoltaics as we do. In 1993, our first PV system cost 27,000 DM / kWp as around 13,500 euros and was subsidized lavishly by the federal and state governments. The feed-in tariff was 17 Pfennig / kWh, refinancing through the tariff was completely excluded. Today you can realize a system of the same size for 1300.- € / kWp. So the price has declined. No other technology, neither wind energy, nor solar thermal energy, nor the energetic use of biomass started a similar price development. Solar power from larger PV systems costs only 5 cents / kWh in Germany today (approx. 10-12 cents / kWh for small roof systems) and this trend is far from over. The efficiency of the best series solar modules is currently around 22% and at this year's photovoltaic symposium at Kloster Banz, efficiency levels of up to 50% with multilayer cells were already mentioned.

So photovoltaics can be described without exaggeration as what Tony Seba calls a "disruptive technology". In the public, however, photovoltaics is still generally viewed as “in need of subsidies”. Nobody really knows anything about photovoltaics, but everyone parroted the fact that the technology is far too expensive and inflates the price of electricity and supposedly never generates as much energy as is needed to produce it. As a photovoltaic technician, you get to know the methods of brainwashing through strategic PR (negative campaigning) and their effects on public opinion very closely.

Battery storage technology is also developing disruptively

If you look at battery storage technology, a similar development is already emerging. In any case, there is no reason to assume that similar effects cannot be achieved here as with photovoltaics. Why individual technologies have the potential for extreme price drops and others do not has a lot to do with the scientific foundations on which the respective technology is based and how far knowledge gains are still possible here or whether one is already moving on well-researched terrain. Tony Seba has also written all the essentials for this systemic analysis. I therefore refer you to the book “Clean Revolution 2030” by Tony Seba, which was kindly translated into German by our friend Daniel Bannasch.

The situation of the conventional energy industry is bitter ...

If, in view of this situation, one puts oneself in the position of the conventional energy industry, one market after the other threatens to be lost. It starts with atomic energy, then it is the turn of the hard coal, then the lignite and lastly the natural gas will be the turn. This process is foreseeable and inevitable. The only strategies that can alleviate the economic disaster - and that's what it's all about - are delaying tactics. Due to uncertainty and the scattering of smoke candles, one can postpone the impending end a bit into the future and still bring as much nuclear-fossil investment capital as possible to safety on the way there. A comprehensible strategy that can be observed everywhere with a careful look at what is happening.

The coal phase-out by 2038 could be used as an example. Nobody with an energy industry expertise seriously believes that in 2038 even a single coal-fired power plant will still be connected to the grid under competitive conditions and solar power has become even cheaper. The discussion about coal power in 2038 is somewhat reminiscent of the stories of New York cab drivers around 1850, when it was believed that if traffic continued to develop, New York would sink under a huge amount of horse manure in 1920. What was misunderstood in this consideration was that there were hardly any horses left in New York by the twenties of the last century, as mobility was completely replaced by the automobile.

So if you are negotiating a coal “compromise” for 2038 today, you can only gild the inevitable economic end of the coal industry in Germany with tax money. Even without this political deal, coal will no longer play a role in 2038. Who should buy the much too expensive coal-fired electricity in 2038?

What should a citizen energy transition look like?

The path of a citizens' energy transition that deserves this name would have to be to represent a resolute solar strategy. While in the 90s of the last century it was still very expensive and economically impossible for many to break free from the clutches of the energy companies, almost everyone can do it themselves now. And those who are not yet able to do so as tenants must be taken along on the way to the solar age through cooperative initiatives to solarize society. Simple tenant electricity models through citizens' energy cooperatives without all the bureaucratic frippery, as well as plug solar modules, known as guerrilla photovoltaics, are the keywords here.

The climate debate distracts from the need for a solar strategy. Anyone who surrenders today to the confusing questions about the best energy strategy and does not know whether it will be the hydrogen car or the electric vehicle that will drive our roads in the future or whether it would not be much better to completely do without private transport should do so with everyone consider the following questions:
What can I do myself to be less dependent on large energy companies?

Which measures does “big politics” require, the use of large amounts of capital and which measures can you take yourself or in a regional citizens' cooperative? The answers to these questions automatically lead to good solutions in the sense of a citizens' energy transition and you will quickly see that, for example, trading in CO2 certificates does not seem suitable to make a major contribution here. Here in the blog a lot has been reported about communication techniques and how one can influence public opinion with skillful PR methods. In this context, it is an astonishing process that the entire public debate currently only seems to revolve around climate protection and emissions, instead of a committed "solar strategy" such as that demanded by Daniel Bannasch from the Metropolsolar association. With a quick changeover to 100% renewable energies within the shortest possible period of time, there will soon be no emissions at all to trade with or to tax.

Could it be that we as the citizens' energy movement are strategically embraced by a climate campaign that uses the great commitment of young people or offers a platform in the media to shorten the entire energy debate to “CO2 tax or emissions trading”, turning us into useless Carrying out debates with so-called “climate change deniers” and at the same time as a result an expansion of a financial product, namely the trading of CO2 certificates instead of an offensive solar strategy? What if “climate change doubters” got their way politically? Wouldn't the need for an energy turnaround as quickly as possible still be urgent for many reasons other than climate protection? Oil wars, wars over raw material routes, distribution injustice, democratization of the energy industry, to name just a few.

Hydrogen the dead horse

The “who uses it” question may also lead to new insights elsewhere. For example, if hydrogen is talked about over and over again as the future energy carrier for mobility, who is it good for? Certainly not a driver of an electric car that is 80% charged at the home photovoltaic system. Meanwhile, he no longer knows - I speak from my own experience - what the gas station actually looks like. But the insecure diesel driver will certainly be kept away from the electric car for a while and may even be tempted to conduct a hydrogen experiment and continue to be chained to a gas station. Hydrogen, which is also one of my beliefs, is a dead horse that has been tried in vain for the past 25 years to ride.

While the price of photovoltaics has declined in the last 20 years, no comparable trend was discernible for hydrogen and while Russian natural gas costs € 10 / MWh, solar hydrogen costs around € 150 / MWh. Nobody from the hydrogen group has been able to conclusively explain to me so far where such a drastic price reduction will come from in the next few years? In contrast to solar modules, hydrogen technology is not a mass product that can be used in every household, but is centralized large-scale power plant technology with the smallest possible numbers.

Of course, electromobility is not the only blissful mobility solution of the future, but it is a clear step in the direction of "more independence" from energy companies and in the direction of "much less consumption". During my holiday in Italy this year, I drove our Renault ZOE for the first time with a consumption of 13 kWh per 100 km. That is the equivalent of about 1.3l of fuel. This is not nothing, but it is far better than anything that was previously with a combustion engine. The first battery charge was carried out at home with 100% solar power and on the way, green electricity was at least balanced with the EWS Schönau charging card.

In this subject area, too, the thesis applies again: Everyone can switch to e-mobility themselves, everyone can ensure that their e-vehicle is largely charged with green electricity, you do not need CO2 trading and no power lines. All you need is much, much more solar power and much, much more storage and wind turbines ...

Whereby we would have arrived at the next mined area in the energy debate.
But before I comment on the debate about wind turbines, I would like to briefly comment on lithium, cobalt, rare earths and our society's hunger for raw materials in general.

The discussion about raw materials is important

I think it's good that in connection with electromobility we are suddenly talking about lithium, cobalt, rare earths and what kind of raw materials I know. I find it strange, however, that we did not talk about these raw materials in connection with our use of smartphones, computers and all the consumer electronics that we throw on the huge mountain of electronic waste after a programmed service life of 2 to 5 years.

We have to lead this discussion and the photovoltaic industry must finally talk about the fact that old PV inverters end up on the electronic scrap because 3 electrolytic capacitors for 4.50 € have dried out after 10 years instead of repairing the devices and another 10 to use more years. It's not particularly ecological. The fact that this debate was initiated by those of all people who consider it completely normal that our industrial societies burn over 90,000,000 barrels of crude oil every day and hope that this will have no impact on the global climate is an interesting process.

And that even respected physics professors do not seem to know the systemic difference between the raw material consumption when operating a machine and the raw material consumption "for building" a machine is somewhat adventurous. So again to take note: Lithium is needed to build batteries. In very large quantities and this is not possible without impacting the environment. The material then remains in the battery for many years of operation and should then be recycled. Crude oil, on the other hand, is burned and essentially turns into water and CO2. There is no more recycling. The raw material is "used up" in the truest sense of the word.

On the whole, one must attribute debates of this kind to the impending fundamental structural change and the associated uncertainties among all those involved. In the German automotive industry, for example, the imminent process is likely to bring about more profound changes than many would like to believe at the moment. It will be very interesting to see whether Germany can still be described as a car country afterwards. At the moment it doesn't look like it from my point of view.

In summary, I can only say: Yes, there must be no child labor in the Congolese cobalt mines and yes, the workers who extract the mineral resources from the earth must be paid decently and yes, the extraction of raw materials must be made as environmentally friendly as possible. But the whole thing has nothing to do with electromobility. This generally applies to ALL branches of industry. The economy must be geared much more towards the common good of all people on earth than towards the capital interests of a tiny, very wealthy minority. But in the discussion about electromobility, these arguments seem to me to be another “delay strategy”, as I have already described above in connection with coal. The rapid switch to electromobility creates massive write-downs in the conventional auto industry. Every means is right to hold back the process of electrification of mobility for as long as possible. From their point of view, this is understandable behavior.

Except perhaps in air traffic or shipping, where hydrogen (with many subsidies) could possibly still play a role, I don't see a good argument for why electromobility should not catch on. The range problem that is repeatedly brought up in the field is a pseudo problem. The real problem is the charging times of the batteries. With new charging systems with high charging capacities, the technical solution is already clearly in sight. And then there was the immense power that is required to charge many vehicles at the same time. Just imagine at this point that we experienced a similar price development for battery storage technology as for photovoltaics in the last 20 years.

From a technical point of view, nothing speaks against this assumption. Then, of course, the variety of applications for battery storage will be many times greater than is the case today and then of course there will be a wind-solar-battery storage combined cycle power plant at every charging station and the additional electricity requirement, i.e. the "famous" coal-fired power plant, which is supposed to be at every motorway filling station would have to stand will no longer be necessary. My prognosis: That's exactly how it will turn out ...

Wind energy, it depends on who earns from it ...

But now a few thoughts on the use of wind energy in Germany.
If you want to move away from the consumption of fossil-atomic resources for the provision of energy, i.e. if you want to build an energy system that will still be usable for future generations, you cannot avoid the use of renewable energies. There are various options, such as photovoltaics, wind energy, use of biomass and the various forms of hydropower. If you look at all of these techniques in terms of their cost-cutting potential, the greatest potential lies in photovoltaics. This is due to the fact that this is based on physical findings that were researched only a few decades ago and whose technical potential is far from being exhausted.

Anyone who doubts this analysis should take a look at the price development of photovoltaics, wind energy, bioenergy use and, for example, solar thermal energy over the last 20 years. In wind energy, for example, gearboxes, three-phase converters and mechanical engineering are used, which could already be found in a similar form in hydropower plants that were many decades old. The cost curve for wind energy is therefore nowhere near as steep as it is for photovoltaics.

If you compare the pure electricity production costs, photovoltaics has now overtaken wind energy in terms of price. In all technology-open tenders within the framework of the EEG (Renewable Energy Sources Act), photovoltaics won the race. The only good reason to continue to stick to wind energy is the good seasonal addition of wind and solar power in Germany. Roughly simplified, one can say that the wind blows in winter and the sun shines here in summer. On average, the two technologies complement each other perfectly.

If we had balanced hours of sunshine all year round in Germany, as is the case in the Earth's sun belt, wind energy would be completely unnecessary. All that is needed there for energy supply is the direct use of solar energy, photovoltaics combined with electricity storage. With us, on the other hand, there is a ratio of approx. 25% to 75% between winter and summer solar energy, which means that we either need seasonal storage for solar energy or a supplementary type of electricity generation combined with short-term electricity storage. Wind energy in Germany is predestined for this. From a technical point of view, I am therefore very clearly in favor of further expansion of wind energy on land, precisely where electricity is consumed.

It is important that the added value from the wind business remains with the people, who then have to look at the wind turbines on the nearest hill every day. If only the sight of the wind farms remains in the rural region, while the capital that is generated with it is passed into anonymous investment funds of big finance, the acceptance of this technology will increasingly and rightly decline.

So my attitude towards wind energy is definitely ambivalent. Of course, we need more wind energy in Germany, but it is precisely at this point that even the last proponent of the energy transition should slowly realize that it is not just about switching from one type of generation to another, but above all about who is involved in it earned. A wind energy project of the municipality, the district, the regional municipal utility or the local energy cooperative is to be assessed very differently here than a wind energy project of an internationally operating, listed energy company or investment fund.

If structurally weak regions are completely left behind and they are also delivered with wind farms whose owners live in distant cities or in privileged places somewhere in the world, one need not be surprised that there is an acceptance problem here. The question of energy is also here, as is generally always the case, overlaid by the question of distribution and the question of justice. As far as the future is concerned, one must ask oneself what the more effective strategy will be in the end: To store solar power in summer seasonally or to use wind power in addition to solar power in order to save storage capacity.

The further development of wind energy will therefore be strongly influenced by the further development of electricity storage. Will it be possible to improve electricity storage systems in such a way that self-discharge rates will decrease? Will it be possible to achieve similar cost reductions for electricity storage systems as we have seen in the past with photovoltaics? Of course, from a purely technical point of view, hydrogen could also play a role in seasonal storage. However, I currently lack the imagination to see where the necessary cost-cutting potential is supposed to come from here. If you rely on state subsidies at this point, you always have to keep an eye on the next choice that can immediately reverse such a process. Photovoltaics would not have been so successful either if the massive state support from the EEG had not led to the gigantic price reduction at the same time.

Will the energy transition de-industrialize Germany?

At the end of this long article, I would like to address one last question that keeps bothering me. Industry lobbyists such as Wolfgang Clement have repeatedly stated that a complete switch to 100% renewable energies would deindustrialise an industrialized country like Germany, as the excessively high energy prices would put companies at a competitive disadvantage on the world market.

In order to get closer to an answer to this question, one has to go mentally 20-30 years into the future and imagine what a world with a 100% solar energy supply would then look like.
But let's first look into the past and consider where the industrial centers in Germany were formed and what was the cause. In the Ruhr area or Saarland, it was clearly the cheaply available energy source coal that led to the establishment of energy-intensive steel industries there.

If one projects this consideration into a “solar future”, one can in fact no longer count on the fact that energy-intensive basic industries will settle in a sun-poor country like Germany if they continue to forego a massive improvement in their energy efficiency. Even if solar power then only costs 2 cents / kWh in Germany, it will cost around half in North Africa or in Southern Europe. Tesla's battery factory already gives an indication of where such industries will be located in the future.

If that is the case, you will no longer be able to count on these branches of industry in Germany. This is a fact that, in my opinion, politicians should be much more concerned with than with a “coal phase-out”, which will come anyway - even without political intervention. The energy transition movement in Germany would also be well advised to take on this topic. At the same time, however, the medium-sized economy would be strengthened by a solar and wind strategy in combination with flexibly used biomass and money would remain in the regions that had previously migrated for energy imports. Every additional percent of green electricity generates annual value of 15 million euros in the region, ”said Lower Austrian Finance Minister Ludwig Schleritzko at the 25th anniversary of W.E.B., an Austrian wind pioneer.

The encouragement to follow the solar strategy

At the end of the - admittedly - much too long article I would like to call once again to follow the idea of ​​the solar strategy. Photovoltaics and storage expansion must be massively increased and people must be encouraged to finally get rid of their energy dependency. Everyone can start with themselves and we also try to implement everything that is feasible in this direction.

We are all heavily addicted to drugs and the drug is cheap energy. This addiction is associated with all of the negative side effects known from normal drug addiction. Acquiring crime, dealing with shady profiteers, anxiety attacks when the drug energy is not available in sufficient quantities, and the use of force to ultimately obtain the saving substance.

Become your own oil sheik, get rid of your addiction and get your energy from the roof instead of endless discussions about climate simulation calculations, radiation physics and CO2 concentrations, which most people do not understand anyway. As the citizens' energy transition movement, we should reflect more on this important objective. We should oppose increasing the defense budget to 2% of GDP and instead advocate using this money for a solar offensive. Those who only use decentralized renewable energies no longer have to wage wars over oil.

Henrik Paulitz from the nuclear-critical doctors' organization IPPNW sums it up in the leaflet "What is safe, inexpensive and promotes peace?"

"The right technology can have an impact on health, security, democracy, participation, prosperity and peace". "There is no need to develop and secure mineral resources, markets and long energy transport routes with military force if the renewable energy sources are used locally"

Vesta, Italy, Sep 2019