I spent a lot of time this weekend scrolling through hundreds of articles I’ve stashed away over the past few years. There were multiple inspirations, but one of the primary ones was an interest to return this blog to the consistency it saw back in 2014, with regular bi-weekly postings.
In this archival shuffling, I reencountered a number of intriguing articles I had had my eye on at one point, but never wrote about. Different topic clusters indicated shifts in what had I had found personally relevant in one time period or another. Initially, an emphasis on feminism and Canadian politics, which segued into intersectionality and economics, then more recently international politics and music, returning again now to Canadian politics and law. A surplus of resources, but where to start??
Despite the breadth of topics and interests, I had difficulty putting together thoughts about even some of the juiciest articles. I had a heavy recency bias – anything longer than a few months recent took place in a different mental context, a little bit too far removed from the current moment of me for me to easily relate to. I’ve decided to write about renewable energy – it’s something we discussed with some frequency in my NextUp course, and the article in question passed through my ocular intake recently enough to feel relevant.
About four weeks ago in Germany, they reached a weighty renewable milestone: producing 95% of the country’s electrical power demand through renewable energy. This is notable for a few obvious reasons. Germany is a highly industrialized country with assumedly hefty energy demands. They’re also known for being a global leader in solar power development. If this industrialized country without particularly intense sun is able to realize such gains, the knowledge could be a catalyst for further solar development.
Author John Fitzgerald Weaver (@SolarinMASS) went on to break down the energy contributions into components. He quoted PV-magazine.com for his numbers, listing the total PV (photovoltaic) energy as 26.11 GW of energy, with an additional 20.83 GW in wind power, 5.14 GW in biomass, and 2.75 GW of hydropower. Altogether, Germany’s energy consumption at that same time was 57.8 GW, “meaning that about 95% of the country’s energy demand could be covered by renewable energy sources.”
The stat is impressive, but comes with several caveats. To begin with, it was a single frozen snapshot, not an extended period. As well, the 95% peak took place at 11:00 AM on a Sunday morning. Now, I’m unfamiliar with the German schedule, but my assumption is that time and day would be a particularly low point for energy consumption. Further, the day had unusually accommodating weather in the form of concurrent sunshine and breeze. Altogether, the news remains positive: even with favourable conditions and favourable timing, a high peak cannot be hit without sufficient infrastructure in place that allows energy production to reach its highest potential. Still, I can see how the news is not as ground-breaking as might be assumed from the headline – something the author does acknowledge.
I have two final thoughts. First, in the comments section, one user mentioned the four-day holiday that had preceded this particular Sunday, which he suspected would lower the overall energy demands in the country. This was curious to me – I can’t imagine the Sunday of a four-day weekend to have a very large differential versus the Sunday of an average two-day weekend, but he seemed to think it so. He also worried that the especial circumstances leading to this peak would give renewable critics a means to strike against the movement, by undermining this supposed victory. I disagree with this as well – I think as long as the news is mentioned alongside the caveats listed above, it would be difficult to use them as criticisms. If you acknowledge that your victory is online a partial one, it makes difficult for your opponent to create much of a stir by levying that same critique.
Finally, my last thought is on hydro power. I noticed that hydro made up a tiny little percentage of the renewables in the German situation – 2.75 of 50ish gigawatts. In Manitoba specifically, I expect we use a much greater proportion of hydro energy, although I can’t find the stat at the moment. Hydro development does have a contentious history in Manitoba, often flooding the lands of indigenous nations (an especially pernicious imposition when the nations in question were sequestered there by the Canadian government). However, my understanding is that our current model of hydro development invokes free, prior and informed consent when consulting with indigenous nations. In this light, I would hope that our hydro development can continue in an ethical manner. I imagine that greater investment in other renewables could help us find our own 95% or even (gasp!) blips of 100% renewable energy in the near future.