How does alternative energy reduce global warming

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In the course of a sustainable way of life, the use of renewable energies is an important factor, after all, it is about conserving resources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to maintain livable conditions on earth in the long term. The switch from fossil energy sources to renewable energy sources is not only the right approach with regard to climate and environmental protection. In view of the dwindling fossil fuel reserves and the increasingly complex and costly extraction of these resources (keyword “fracking”), it is a logical step to switch to renewable energy sources.

Unlike the fossil energy sources natural gas, coal and crude oil, which represent finite resources and lead to high CO2 emissions when used, renewable energies are based on the use of resources that are regenerative and thus practically infinitely available. In contrast to the use of nuclear power as an energy source, there is no incalculable risk potential and no repository problem with the use of renewable energies. Renewable energies include solar energy, hydropower, wind, geothermal energy and biomass (from renewable raw materials).

Renewable energies in Germany

Energy is required to generate electricity and heat and as fuel. The individual renewable energy sources are suitable for this in different ways. Wind power and solar energy primarily supply electricity, renewable biomass supplies electricity, heat and fuel and heat, known as geothermal energy, can be used from the upper earth crust. The participation of the individual forms of regenerative energy generation in covering the energy demand in Germany is distributed differently from region to region. In the south, for example, the majority of solar energy is used with the help of photovoltaics, while in the north wind energy supplies a large part of the renewable energy (Renewable Energy Agency (AEE)).

The share of renewable energies in final energy consumption in Germany has increased steadily overall since the 1990s (see graphic, light green graph). This increase was strongest in the electricity sector. The share of renewable electricity generation in total electricity generation is currently over 20% (blue). The share of conventional energy sources in power generation is still around 80%. In the fuel sector, the share of regenerative sources has decreased slightly since 2007 (dark green; source: AEE, as of 2012).(1)

Wind energy currently provides the largest share of renewable electricity generation in Germany (7.3%), followed by electricity generated from biomass (6.6%), solar energy (4.6%) and hydropower (3.3%; source: AEE, as of 2012)).(2)

Renewable energies worldwide

Worldwide, renewable energies currently cover 16.7% of final energy consumption and around 20% of electricity consumption (source: Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU)). The annual “Renewables Global Status Report” provides information on this. The International Energy Agency (IEA) assumes that more than 25% of global primary energy consumption can be covered by renewable energies by 2030 (source: BMU).

The still young international organization IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency) is promoting the expansion of renewable energies internationally. Germany is playing a pioneering role in regenerative energy generation, especially with regard to the phase-out of nuclear power, which has not yet been implemented in this form in any other country. Other countries in which renewable energies are making an increasingly important contribution to energy generation are China, the USA, Spain, Italy, India and Japan (source: BMU).

The legal promotion of renewable energies in Germany

The EU gives the member states binding expansion targets for renewable energies. Germany has committed to increasing the share of renewable energies in final energy consumption (electricity, heat, fuel) to 18% (currently just over 12%) by 2020. According to this, the renewable electricity sector should increase to 35% of electricity production by 2020. The central element here is the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG). Among other things, it regulates the remuneration for electricity from the various renewable sources. By 2050, renewable energies should provide the main part of the energy supply in Germany (source: AEE; BMU).

Film on the EEG: The History of the Renewable Energy Sources Act

So that renewable energy is also produced, there is, for example, the EEG regulated, guaranteed feed-in tariff for electricity until 2020. Anyone who produces renewable electricity can therefore be sure that it will also be purchased at a certain, legally stipulated price. In order for investments in this type of electricity generation to pay off, the EEG surcharge stipulates that the difference between the market value of green electricity and the legally guaranteed feed-in tariff is passed on to all electricity consumers. Due to the steady increase in green electricity production, the price of electricity on the exchange (a process of supply and demand) falls and the gap between the market value and the statutory remuneration for green electricity increases. This means that the tax and duty-financed EEG surcharge increases (from 3.5 cents / kWh in 2012 to 5.3 cents / kWh in spring 2013; source: tagesschau.de; BMU).

The EEG is quite controversial. Further political developments remain to be seen.

Climate protection and renewable energies

When it comes to climate protection, renewable energies make an important contribution, as they help to reduce air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions that are harmful to the climate.

It can be determined how much greenhouse gas emissions are avoided in the generation of heat, electricity or fuels from renewable sources compared to the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that would have occurred if fossil energy sources were used (see graphic). The amount of avoided emissions is greatest in the electricity sector, with a share of over 86 million tons of CO2. In the area of ​​heat generation, it is 39 million tons, while the fuel share is rather low and is just under 5 million tons (source: AEE; BMU).(3)

With the expansion of renewable energies and the associated innovations and energy savings, their contribution to emissions savings will continue to increase in the future. Forecasts assume a 40% reduction in emissions (over 250 million tons) by 2020 and 80 to 95% by 2050 (source: AEE; BMU).

Who supplies the green electricity?

In contrast to conventional energy generation, which is supported by a few large corporations, there are decentralized structures and a large number of providers for regenerative energy generation. In Germany, for example, green electricity is generated in the form of solar, biomass or wind power plants to a large extent (42%) by private individuals. In addition to social and ecological motives, these providers naturally also benefit economically. They contribute to the regional energy supply and at the same time ensure that the money for the energy costs remains in the respective region. This has numerous positive side effects, such as the creation of jobs in the region or the possibility of re-investment in further projects (source: AEE). (4)

Renewable energies create jobs and strengthen Germany as an industrial location

The labor market is benefiting from the expansion of renewable energies - the number of people employed in this sector is increasing continuously. The aim is to create a total of 500,000 jobs by 2020. The largest employers in 2011 were bioenergy with around 122,000 jobs and solar energy with around 125,000 jobs. Structurally weak regions in eastern Germany in particular benefit from the expansion of renewable energies. In Saxony-Anhalt, for example, 27 out of 1,000 people in employment already work in the field of regenerative energy technologies (source: AEE).(5)

This means that renewable energies are becoming more and more important for the German economy. Biotechnology and environmental technology are already one of the six most important industrial sectors (source: Federal Employment Agency, as of 2011).

Currently 98% of the crude oil used in Germany is imported, as well as 87% of the natural gas and 77% of the hard coal (source: Federal Institute for Geosciences and Raw Materials (BGR), as of 2012). The use of renewable energies reduces the overall dependency of Germany and the EU on the import of fossil fuels (source: Europe Direct).

According to a study by Prognos AG on behalf of the Federal Association for Renewable Energies and the Agency for Renewable Energies (as of 2010), the annual investments through the expansion of renewable energies will double to more than 28 billion euros by 2020 and thus economic growth in a sustainable way increase (Epoch Times Europe GmbH, as of 2011).

Innovations in the field of renewable energies will keep Germany as a business location fit for the future and open up new opportunities in the areas of export and growth (source: BMU). The German economy plays a pioneering role in renewable energies and efficiency technologies, and Germany has developed into a lead market for these technologies (source: German Institute for Economic Research).

Is there an alternative to renewable energies?

The expansion and use of renewable energies are not free of conflicts. For example, hydropower plants can affect the ecosystem of rivers, power lines cut landscapes or wind power plants disrupt the habitat of birds and, of course, a biomass power plant also produces exhaust gases. In comparison to interventions in the natural area such as open-cast lignite mining, oil disasters, the massive damage to the atmosphere through the burning of fossil biomass or the unsolved nuclear waste disposal issue, many of these problems seem solvable and through improved participation of the public, environmental associations and residents of the affected areas To be able to get a grip (source: Naturschutzbund Deutschland eV (NABU)).

Even if all objections to the use of fossil fuels with regard to environmental and climate protection were pushed aside, the switch to regenerative energy generation is inevitable. The simple reason is the finiteness of fossil fuel resources. This finiteness also applies to resources that are required for the use of nuclear power, especially uranium. According to a study by BGR, for example, the remaining potential for crude oil was 585 billion tons at the end of 2011, while that of non-conventional crude oil, which could be extracted through so-called "fracking", was 258 billion tons (source: BGR).

New technologies for the extraction of fossil fuels, such as the extraction of natural gas and crude oil from oil shale and oil sands ("fracking"), can only postpone the problem of the finiteness of fossil energy resources. The raw material deposits that can be used as a result are also finite and the possibilities of demand-based extraction are questionable (source: BGR). This also raises the question of how sensible it is to use and research new, cost-intensive conveying technologies in view of the major environmental impacts associated with this and the limited time they can be used.

Too high costs for renewable energies?

The costs that arise due to the pollution of the atmosphere with air pollutants from the combustion of fossil fuels (e.g. fine dust and heavy metals) and global warming due to the emission of greenhouse gases (e.g. carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4)) have not yet been determined the costs that will arise from the storage of highly toxic nuclear waste. These costs would have to be included in the price for conventionally generated energy. Overall, the costs of renewable energies are probably lower than those of conventional energy generation. So far, this has only been insufficiently reflected in the electricity price (source: NABU).

Huge amounts of subsidies flowed into nuclear energy, from 1950 to 2010 at least 204 billion euros in Germany alone (source: Greenpeace). Fossil fuels have also been and are being promoted. In 2010, for example, 323 billion euros were received in promotional funds worldwide (source: IEA). The cost argument is therefore not a tenable counter-argument against renewable energies.

The future is renewable!

One of the challenges of the future will be to better synchronize the expansion of renewable energies with that of the power grids. Other important points remain, for example, the further development of storage technologies for energy, an intelligent control of electricity consumption and electricity networks as a whole, general energy savings and energy efficiency or the further advancement of energetic building renovation.

Nobody has to fear “blackouts” and gaps in supply when there is no wind or because of a cloud cover, which critics repeatedly use as an argument against renewable energies. The decentralized structures and various, complementary forms of electricity generation will be able to secure the supply of energy in the future even without conventional energies. In particular, bioenergy and geothermal energy are capable of baseload (source: BMU).

According to a study by the German Aerospace Center (DLR) on behalf of Greenpeace and the European Energy Council (EREC) from 2010, it is even possible to supply Europe entirely from renewable energies by 2050 and the share of renewable energies by then to be increased by up to 80% worldwide.

The use of regenerative energies makes ecological, social and economic sense. Saving energy, insulating houses, using green electricity and relying on public transport and electromobility are just a few examples of how each individual can contribute to a sustainable energy supply. The sooner conventional energy sources can be dispensed with, the better for the climate, the environment and society.

Sources and Links

Ariane Kujau / RESET editorial team, 2013

Cover picture: m.wolf / photocase