Germany. That place we're supposed to emulate. Land of eco-friendly cities, anti-nuclear protests, pacifism and campaigns against gentrification. The world's fourth largest economy. Migrant-welcoming manufacturing giant. The place where fans still stand at football matches, where there aren't speed limits on the motorways and where beer is drunk from litre steins (except in Cologne where it comes in tiny glasses and is mostly froth). Yeah, Germany.
Home of the world's most expensive electricity. The country where energy is almost a luxury good:
When Stefan Becker of the Berlin office of the Catholic charity Caritas makes a house call, he likes to bring along a few energy-saving bulbs. Many residents still use old light bulbs, which consume a lot of electricity but are cheaper than newer bulbs. "People here have to decide between spending money on an expensive energy-saving bulb or a hot meal," says Becker. In other words, saving energy is well and good -- but only if people can afford it.
A family Becker recently visited is a case in point. They live in a dark, ground-floor apartment in Berlin's Neukölln neighborhood. On a sunny summer day, the two children inside had to keep the lights on -- which drives up the electricity bill, even if the family is using energy-saving bulbs.
Becker wants to prevent his clients from having their electricity shut off for not paying their bill. After sending out a few warning notices, the power company typically sends someone to the apartment to shut off the power -- leaving the customers with no functioning refrigerator, stove or bathroom fan. Unless they happen to have a camping stove, they can't even boil water for a cup of tea. It's like living in the Stone Age.
This situation is entirely the result of a combination of climate change fanaticism and anti-nuclear panic which means that German energy supply system is both inefficient and also obscenely expensive:
This year, German consumers will be forced to pay €20 billion ($26 billion) for electricity from solar, wind and biogas plants -- electricity with a market price of just over €3 billion. Even the figure of €20 billion is disputable if you include all the unintended costs and collateral damage associated with the project. Solar panels and wind turbines at times generate huge amounts of electricity, and sometimes none at all. Depending on the weather and the time of day, the country can face absurd states of energy surplus or deficit.
If there is too much power coming from the grid, wind turbines have to be shut down. Nevertheless, consumers are still paying for the "phantom electricity" the turbines are theoretically generating. Occasionally, Germany has to pay fees to dump already subsidized green energy, creating what experts refer to as "negative electricity prices."
Over the coming week or so, the climate change fanatics will be shifting into top gear - trying to persuade us all to change to the German model. A torrent of articles, news reports and documentaries will pour onto an unsuspecting public. These will talk of 'zero-carbon emissions', of the urgency of the challenge, of melting ice and dying polar bears, and will conclude with exhortations to change our wicked, sinful ways and embrace greenery.
Who cares if this means poor folk are living hand to mouth in damp flats they can't afford to heat of light. Who cares if steel mills close and aluminium smelters fold. Who's bothered if the lights are dimmed because the power supply is unreliable. We'll have save the planet won't we? Errr....
On the other hand, when the wind suddenly stops blowing, and in particular during the cold season, supply becomes scarce. That's when heavy oil and coal power plants have to be fired up to close the gap, which is why Germany's energy producers in 2012 actually released more climate-damaging carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than in 2011.