Bloomberg News published an article Friday trumpeting the headline, “German Wind Power Beats Hard Coal, Nuclear Power for First Time.” At first glance, readers may come away with the impression that German wind power is now less expensive than coal power and nuclear power, or that wind power is prevailing in a free market. A closer look at the article and underlying data show merely that Germany is relying on wind power this year more than the least utilized type of coal, and more than nuclear power, solely because of government mandates. German government, not wind power, is “beating” wind power’s German competitors.
Citing claims by a German solar industry group, Bloomberg News reported, “Power generated this year by onshore and offshore wind in Germany exceeded the amount of electricity coming from hard coal and nuclear plants for the first time.” Bloomberg News did not break down the specific market percentages of German electricity sources, nor did it explain how and why German wind power has surpassed German hard coal and nuclear power for the first time.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
A quick examination of Germany’s electricity mix reveals substantial deception in Bloomberg News’ claim regarding German wind power versus German coal power. Coal can take the form of hard coal or the form of lignite (sometimes referred to as “soft coal”). In most discussions of electricity sources, soft coal and hard coal are grouped together under the single designation of coal power.
The majority of Germany’s coal power is generated by lignite. Trumpeting a headline that “German Wind Power Beats Hard Coal … for First Time” almost certainly gives most readers the false impression that wind power has surpassed coal power in Germany’s electricity mix. It is hard to imagine such deception not being deliberate. Presenting a false impression that wind power is “beating” other electricity sources in Germany implicitly begs the question of why the United States is not utilizing more competitively advantageous wind power. In reality, Bloomberg News is reporting merely that wind power is generating more power than Germany’s least utilized form of coal power. That is a far cry from wind power beating coal power as a whole.
Even if wind power were generating more German electricity than all coal power, that would not prove anything about the competitiveness of wind power versus coal power. The dynamic between German wind power and nuclear power is instructive in this regard. Bloomberg News correctly notes that wind power generates more German electricity than nuclear power. The reason, however, is German Chancellor Angela Merkel has pledged to shut down all German nuclear power plants by 2022. A political decision to shut down nuclear power is hardly an indication that wind power is “beating” nuclear power. Instead, Angela Merkel is beating nuclear power.
Germany’s decision to shut down nuclear power is a simultaneous decision to shut down its largest source of emissions-free power. Merkel has made international headlines for lecturing the United States about not signing the Paris climate accord, yet German carbon dioxide emissions are rising as Germany eliminates nuclear power. Simultaneously, U.S. emissions are declining as natural gas power – not wind power – replaces U.S. coal power plants.
It is also important to note that German electricity prices have reached record highs this year as wind powers a greater share of Germany’s electricity mix. That is a remarkable ‘accomplishment’ given that German electricity prices were already triple those of the United States.
Bloomberg News may try to score deceptive public relations victories for wind power, but the more important lesson is that Germany’s carbon dioxide emissions and electricity prices are rising as Germany replaces nuclear and coal power with wind power. To the contrary, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions – as well as U.S. electricity prices – are declining as market forces induce American energy companies to replace coal power with natural gas power. Regardless of one’s views on global warming, the new paradigm of low-emission, low-cost natural gas out-competing wind, coal, and other electricity sources is a victory for the economy and a victory for the environment.