The pitfalls of planned economies…
By Reinhard Storz
(Translated/ edited by P. Gosselin)
Some of the older generation will still remember the time when the press, radio and television talked about a sea of milk and a mountain of butter. Politicians had meant well and, in order to aid the farmers, decided on adequate prices for milk. This planned economy led to an ever increasing quantity of milk in West Germany. All the talk was about a sea of milk. There were numerous ideas on what to do with the surplus milk. One should give milk to the school children for school breaks etc. Surplus milk was processed into milk powder and butter. The resulting butter was stored in cold stores until there was no room left. Finally, a part of the butter that could not be sold in Germany was sold to the USSR for a fraction of the market price, and another part was ultimately given away to Chile.
Politicians learned back then that this was the wrong way, and so introduced a milk quota more than 30 years ago to promote agriculture. As a result the sea of milk evaporated and the mountain of butter disappeared. Today, due to the planned economy with solar and wind power, we have similar conditions as we did with milk and butter. When the wind blows strongly and the sun shines, coal, gas and nuclear power plants are throttled down. Nevertheless, we still have a surplus of green electricity at times. This cannot be accommodated by consumers in Germany. To get this problem under control one has two options.
1. You search for customers in neighboring countries. That frequently succeeds. However, they are usually not willing to pay for the surplus electricity. The power is thus sometimes given away, often money has to be paid on top so that the power gets accepted.
2. Wind turbines are turned off if the grid gets overloaded. The operators of the wind parks, however, are still reimbursed for the price of the unproduced electricity. These costs are also passed on to us, the electricity consumers.
But there are also times when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine. There you could very well use the electricity that was previously available in abundance. A program for even more wind turbines or solar roofs will not help. A tenfold amount of solar surfaces does not supply electricity at night and a tenfold amount of wind turbines has no use during calm periods. In nature, fluctuations are nothing unusual. We remember the story of the Pharaoh and the 7 fat people and the lean years. Surplus food was already stored for bad times thousands of years ago.
To even out the fluctuations in solar and wind power, electricity storage is therefore urgently needed. Politicians to plan it out in such a way that additional wind turbines and solar areas are only approved if they are equipped with appropriate storage capacity. The goal of the Energiewende (transition to green energies) is to replace electricity from coal-fired power plants with electricity from the sun and wind. But it must then also be available around the clock. This is not possible with the sporadically available electricity from wind turbines and solar systems. This electricity, disparagingly referred to by some people as inferior, fidgety electricity, must be made permanently available by means of electricity storage systems. Only in this way can a transition to green energies succeed.
Therefore, demonstrations should first take place to demand the introduction of sufficient electricity storage. Until this is achieved, there will remain a need for coal-fired power plants. Anyone who wants to abolish coal-fired electricity without a secure and affordable alternative supply, is just sawing off the branch we are all sitting on. But we should not give up hope. Like the politicians who finally got the mountain of butter mountain and the sea of milk under control with the milk quota, they will also bring the necessary power storage facilities on the way as soon as possible.
Pumped storage facilities for such amounts of electricity are likely to be ruled out due to technical and economic reasons. The same is true with regards to compressed air storage, which has a lower efficiency than pumped storage plants. Battery storage is unaffordable at today’s costs. The only option is to produce hydrogen as an energy storage from surplus electricity.