The wind turbine failures behind Europe’s energy crisis are a warning for America
The ongoing energy crisis in Europe has shown how nations will experience “growing pains” from a switch to renewable sources of energy including wind power, according to experts who spoke to Newsweek.
Decarbonizing the power grid will involve a transition to renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power, which can be less reliable than traditional fossil fuels. Europe’s recent experience with wind turbines could be instructive for the United States.
The crisis has come amid a 20 percent reduction in output in the wind power sector and and rising costs of oil and gas, as reported by Forbes.
Figures from the European Commission show that the EU’s power mix included 36 percent petroleum products, 22 percent natural gas and 15 percent renewables in 2019.
EU energy ministers were divided on the best approach to tackling the problem on Tuesday. However, the majority rejected the Spanish government’s call for “extraordinary solutions” in favor of more modest measures, such as direct financial assistance for consumers, state aid and tax cuts.
Most EU governments believe the crisis is temporary and due to high global demand for gas and oil.
“I don’t think we should place too high expectations on EU-level measures because we can’t influence the world prices of coal and gas and oil,” German Deputy Economy Minister Andreas Feicht said at the meeting.
“We don’t think we should go for overly hasty measures, which would actually lead to higher prices in the longer term or could actually undermine our climate objectives,” Feicht said.
Experts who spoke to Newsweek said Europe’s issues with renewable energy showed the challenges that lay ahead as countries transition away from fossil fuels.
Bumps in the Road
Daniel Esty is a professor at Yale Law School and editor of A Better Planet: 40 Big Ideas for a Sustainable Future. He also served as U.S. climate change negotiator from 1989 to 1993. He told Newsweek governments will need to make plans.
“Europe’s current energy crisis clearly demonstrates that there will be bumps in the road on the way to deep decarbonization and a clean energy future,” Esty said.
“The shortfall in wind-based electricity experienced in the past few months highlights some of the challenge all nations will face as they ramp up their reliance on renewable power generation.”
Esty added that “everyone needs a portfolio of clean energy resources so as to be prepared for unusual conditions that result in some power sources being offline at any particular time.”
“The current crisis demonstrates that markets don’t always optimize the need for diversity of supply and resilience, so a degree of energy planning on the part of governments will also be required,” he said.
Least Reliable Sources
Philip Walsh is professor of entrepreneurship and strategy at Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University and principal investigator at the university’s Center for Urban Energy. He is also co-author of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainable Development.
“Matching electricity supply with electricity demand is complex enough and with clean energy policies promoting the integration of renewables, such as wind and solar, this has led to greater complexity for electricity system operators,” Walsh told Newsweek.
“They have emission-free base load electricity supply such as that found with nuclear to rely on and to some degree emission-free hydroelectric power with its large storage reservoirs also serve the purpose of providing reliable amounts of electricity.”
Walsh said that traditionally other sources of reliable power have been “associated with burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas.”
“And to some degree these provided both a baseload supply of power but also any peaking power requirements of the market. However, burning fossil fuels leads to carbon emissions which contribute to climate change.”
“Renewables such as wind and solar are intermittent, subject to the prevailing wind and solar conditions that can fluctuate greatly throughout the day. They are the least reliable source when it comes to meeting electricity demand,” Walsh went on.
“Accordingly, electricity system operators, of which there are over 40 in Europe, must attempt to forecast and meet demand while taking into consideration what mix of electricity supply is available to them.”
Walsh told Newsweek that with Europe increasingly relying on wind power, unexpected shortages mean European electricity system operators “are forced to replace the missing wind power with electricity that can be quickly accessed by ramping up natural gas, oil or coal-fired power plants but at a cost, typically higher than the average power cost.”
“What Europe is dealing with is the growing pains associated with the increasing integration of renewables, particularly large scale offshore wind power projects which are likely to continue to be the renewable energy solution for Europe, in an existing system of numerous system operators with access to a variety of electricity generation sources, with supply limits for each source, and producing electricity at a variety of costs,” Walsh told Newsweek.
“A more tightly integrated electricity transmission system in Europe is what is required but that may be a few years off,” he said.
“There is no question that a move to renewable energy to replace existing fossil fuel-fired electricity generation will increase power costs for consumers.
“But there are indirect costs associated with the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on climate change. Trying to make a direct comparison remains a challenge.”
A Geopolitical Blunder
Ralph Schoellhammer, an assistant professor of international relations at Webster Vienna Private University in Vienna, Austria told Newsweek Europe had failed to address major issues arising from the energy transition.
“The current energy transformation in Europe is probably the greatest geopolitical blunder since World War II, the last time when misguided ideologies plunged millions of people into what can justifiable be called the darkest period of human history,” Schoellhammer said.
Schoelhammer pointed to EU policy affecting international factors surrounding fuel costs.
“More expensive energy will affect the development potential for billions of people around the world, and particularly in Africa. The refusal of Europeans to make cheap energy available will lead to massive migration movements in the future,” he said.
“If people do not have the energy necessary to maximize agricultural output and increase living standards, they will start to migrate, with the most likely destination being Europe.
“Ideas like the implementation of a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism —basically a tariff on imports of carbon-intensive goods from countries that don’t meet EU green standards, will continue to worsen the economic and social situation in Africa, a continent that is projected to double its population of 1.3 billion people by 2050,” he went on.
Schoellhammer told Newsweek the decision by European countries like France, Germany, the UK and Norway to stop public funding for certain fossil fuel projects outside Europe “will exacerbate the situation.”
“All of this drives global energy prices while also making the world a poorer place: Rotterdam coal is up 231 percent and European gas 339 percent. Entire industries, particularly in metal refining and steel production, have to cut back their output, while autocracies like Russia are strengthened by prices of over $80 a barrel,” Schoellhammer said.
Not a Sprint
Schoellhammer told Newsweek he agreed with the transition to renewable energy sources but Europe was taking the wrong approach.
“This problem needs to approached with a marathon mindset and not the attitude of a sprinter,” he said. “The most negative consequences of climate change will not appear overnight as in the movie The Day After Tomorrow but gradually, thereby giving policymakers ample time to mitigate negative consequences of the desired energy transformation.”
“But in order to do so, the topic must be addressed factually and scientifically, and not ideologically and with what amounts to cheap bookkeeping tricks in the calculation of energy production,” Schoellhammer said.
Schoellhammer said that official numbers showed the expectation is that British wind turbines “will not produce less than 10 percent of their potential electricity output on more than seven days per year.”
“In 2021, however, it has already been 65 days so far,” he said.
“In addition to the risk of future energy blackouts due to overly optimistic estimates regarding the reliability of green energy, Europe has entirely…