Just spent a few days in Germany on energy business, and there is a new piece of economic madness to report. This time, it's at the individual level.
Readers will probably be familiar with the Energiewende, Germany's extraordinary energy policy, which embraces such entertaining elements as truly mind-blowing subsidies for solar and wind power (including paying for windfarms that haven't even connected to the grid), building more coal and lignite (sic) power stations, and closing nukes that have many more serviceable years in them. The consequences of all this include vast electricity price increases to households at the same time as plummeting wholesale prices; an almost infeasible grid that is often on the brink of serious blackouts and frequently putting the rail network and high-tech manufacturing plants at risk (they need very steady frequency power); and, of course, rising CO2 emissions (sic).
Anyhow, it is by now well-known that grid systems with massive intermittent power sources such as wind and solar are in big need of efficient electricity storage, and lots of it. Indeed, cost-effective storage is the holy grail of modern energy policy, and at present only pumped water-storage offers this on the necessary scale. And it's not in sufficiently plentiful supply, being highly capital-intensive and geography-dependent.
Lithium battery technology (and indeed several other possibly prospective devices) marches on, but right now it is totally uneconomic for most power-balancing purposes. But - and here's the joke - it's becoming fashionable in Germany for households to buy massive battery rigs and stick them in their cellars! There is a modest subsidy available, which doesn't in any way make the batteries economic: but such is the 'aspirational' nature of this trend that people buy them anyway. Tens of thousands have been shifted already (this fad only started last year) and manufacturers see it as an absolute boom and are gearing up to shift them by the hundreds of thousands.
To be clear: the upsurge in residential solar installations, and indeed co-op-owned local windfarms - can be viewed as entirely rational on the part of the investors since the level of subsidy makes them guaranteed 'profitable'. But these batteries cost the price of a car and are guaranteed loss-making! - the manufacturers don't even pretend otherwise.
Such is the power of fashion. Or the fashion of power. Underestimate it at your peril.