Destroying the town to save it

Insights Newsletter
23 November, 2018

Question: What costs three moon programs, puts nobody in space, and makes no difference to emissions?

Answer: Energiewende (or energy turnaround), Angela Merkel’s plan to cut Germany’s emissions.

Energiewende aims to make Germany the first industrial economy to fully run on renewable energy. The cost so far: 29,000 wind turbines and 1.6 million solar panels for the bargain price of €500 billion.

Yes, half a trillion euro.

So how much is half a trillion euro, really? To get a sense of what a colossal sum that is let’s convert it into units of moon program.

Between 1961 and 1972, the US Apollo program launched 27 rockets, put 31 men in space, sent 24 men to the moon, and put 12 men on the surface of the moon. All up, Apollo cost a mammoth US$200 billion in today’s money.

Energiewende will cost three times more.

Another €1 trillion may be needed to upgrade Germany’s national grid to cope. Or six moon programs.

All would be tickety-boo if Energiewende were pulling somewhere between three and nine moon programs worth of carbon from the air.

But it’s not. Germany still makes its electricity by burning about as much brown coal to produce about as much carbon as it did in 2010.


Half a trillion euro goes a long way in other places. It could buy 7.3 million new Mercedes C-Class sedans. Or 47 billion Oktoberfest steins. Or 200 billion sandwiches from the Circus Café in Berlin (they look nice).

Or 20 billion tonnes of carbon.

That’s what half a trillion euro would buy at the going rate for carbon emissions in Europe’s emissions trading scheme (ETS).

That’s more than half the entire world’s emissions in 2017.

It’s also 26 years worth of emissions from Germany.

So here’s how Germany could have taken its cool half trillion, become the first industrial economy to achieve net zero emissions, and stayed that way for a quarter century: by purchasing and retiring emissions certificates from Europe’s ETS. An approach that would have come with the added advantage of actually helping the environment.

Instead, Germany has the Energiewende debacle.

New Zealand can count itself lucky by comparison.

We produce 82% of our electricity from renewables and rising (33% in Germany), our household electricity costs are half those in Germany, and not one New Zealand dollar – or zero moon programs – is paid in generation subsidies.

Prost! (Cheers!)

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