Comment: Of efficiency and ideology

I recently learned a funny new word on Twitter: “efficiency ideology”, often represented by so-called “efficiency apostles”. This means people who consider it a bad idea, for example, to convert electrical energy into chemical energy first (with high losses) instead of using it directly and then back into electrical energy again (with likewise high losses).

The “basic problem of the efficiency apostles” consists in “thinking in terms of national renewable energy generation potentials. D is and remains an energy importer. Solar power is so cheap in other regions of the world that the efficiency is practically irrelevant when it is converted into transportable molecules.” So tweeted it Kurt-Christoph von Knobelsdorff, managing director of the state-owned NOW GmbH (“National Organization for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology”). Among other things, she coordinates the promotion of hydrogen technology and the development of a charging infrastructure.

Apart from the fact that I find it rather bizarre to defame the insistence on the careful use of energy as an ideology – what is the truth of the argument?

I also believe that it is completely indisputable that one should think in terms of “national renewable energy generation potential”. In fact, renewables are now the cheapest source of energy in many parts of the world. However, renewables also cause costs in the form of natural consumption, space requirements and – not to be forgotten – in the form of political acceptance, which are not fully included in these prime costs. For this reason alone, they will probably never be available in any quantity. So it is important to keep an eye on them.

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Second, no matter how low the production costs of electricity fall – conversion and transport into chemical energy sources will always result in additional costs. That means: This path will always be in competition with the direct use of electricity and will have to be measured against it – energetically as well as economically.

Gregor Honsel has been the TR editor since 2006. He believes that many complex problems have simple, easy to understand, but wrong solutions.

Third: Which problem exactly should a “conversion into transportable molecules” address? Climate change or the bad conscience of Central European SUV drivers? The climate doesn’t care where exactly in the world greenhouse gases are saved, whether in Europe or North Africa. The main difference: In North Africa, the leverage is greater because the electricity there could be used directly without conversion or transport losses to displace fossil fuels.

Concrete: Morocco and Algeria consume more than 80 terawatt hours of electricity a year, of which – despite the spectacular solar power plants – only a fraction comes from renewable sources. In addition, there are all the fossil fuels for heat and transport. Only when the last fossil power plant, the last wood stove, the last diesel taxi in North Africa is caused by CO2-free variants are replaced, and if there were still enough resources and acceptance for additional solar and wind parks – only then, and only then, could one think about what else one can do with the electricity generated there.

Now one could argue that the energy supply of sun-rich emerging countries is not Germany’s problem – after all, the Federal Republic of Germany has to achieve its own climate targets according to the Paris Agreement. That may be, but it must not lead to sabotaging more efficient solutions in other countries by buying their electricity away. One solution could be for Germany to invest in power plants there or to purchase emissions certificates (for which European emissions trading would have to be expanded accordingly). Note: Money is easier to transfer than electricity or hydrogen.

If you don’t want that, because you don’t depend on third parties or would rather support the local industry or the good conscience of SUV drivers – also good, then the state should support more renewables in this country. Neither variant has anything to do with ideology.


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