Germany’s Energy Revolution Gets Ugly — and Expensive

The long-awaited grid operators’ report on Germany’s electrical transmission grid of the future includes some good and some not-so-good.

The good is simply that it’s finally on the table, so that the complex process of fitting a new grid suited to renewable energies can finally be set in motion. No matter how much clean power Germany produces, if it can’t flow to where it’s needed – mostly in the south, particularly when the next nuclear reactors go off line in 2017 and 2019—then it’s of little value.

Less cheery is that this new grid’s going to be a whole lot pricier than previously thought. Over the next decade, 3,800 kilometers of state-of-the-art high-tension cables crisscrossing the country will cost not merely the 9 billion euros originally anticipated, but a whopping 20 billion, at least. Part of this figure is the modernizing of 5,400 kilometers of existing cables, which hadn’t been reckoned with before. (I have no clue why not…)

And, not new, is that getting local communities on board, through whose backyards the new grid cables will run, is going to be a nasty business. Most of the transmission cabling will be mounted above ground on poles that will be, at the very least, an eye sore. Towns in the line of current grid installments are already taking to the barricades. There’s going to be a lot more of that in the future for authorities—local, state, and federal—when the rest is laid. And there’s no doubt that it will be, confirmed the Merkel government, come higher costs, felled forests, electro-smog, and/or protests. The Energiewende will go forward.

What was that point Arthur Koestler made in Darkness at Noon about ends and means? Alas.

But just when it’s all going to happen is still up in the air. The erection of the cabling should take only a year. The planning of it, however, is supposed to take ten, which includes the involvement of citizens groups and localities. And the recent report is just a proposal on behalf of the grid operators. The whole ball of wax still has to go through parliament.

So there’s still plenty of trench warfare in store.


Paul Hockenos’s blog is Going Renewable on the website of the German Council on Foreign Relations.

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Paul Hockenos is a Berlin-based author who has written about Europe since 1989. Paul is the author of three major books on European politics: Free to Hate: The Rise of the Right in Post-Communist Eastern Europe, Homeland Calling: Exile Patriotism and the Balkans Wars, and Joschka Fischer and the Making of the Berlin Republic: An Alternative History of Postwar Germany. From 1997-99 he worked with the international mission in Bosnia and 2003-04 in Kosovo. Since then, Paul has held fellowships with the American Academy in Berlin, the European Journalism College in Berlin, and the German Marshall Fund. He was an editor at Internationale Politik, Germany’s leading foreign affairs journal, for five years. He is currently author of the blog Going Renewable and is writing a book about Germany’s energy revolution.

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