With Germany aiming to shut down its nuclear energy plants by 2022, it needs replacement energy and quickly. Prime Minister Angela Merkel has put forward a 6-point plan to accomplish this. From Der Speigel:
- Expanding renewable energy. Investing in more wind, solar, and biomass energies will try to raise the renewable-energy share of Germany's total energy use -- from a baseline of 17 percent in 2010.
- Expanding grids and storage. Building a much larger storage and delivery network for electricity -- particularly wind energy, which can be generated in the north but must be carried to the south -- will be a main focus.
- Efficiency. The government hopes improve the heating efficiency of German buildings -- and reduce consumption -- by 20 percent over the next decade.
- "Flexible power." The government wants to build more "flexible" power plants that can pick up slack from wind or solar energy when the weather fails to generate enough electricity during peak demand. The obvious source of "flexible power" for now, besides nuclear energy, is natural gas. [Nuclear may not be great for this purpose because you don’t ramp it down to favor wind. Wind just adds more to the grid in its intermittent way.]
- Research and development. The government will increase government support for research into better energy storage and more efficient grids to a total of €500 million between now and 2020.
- Citizen involvement. The government wants to involve its sometimes-recalcitrant citizenry due to ongoing resistance against wind generators and the installation of an efficient new power line grid in some regions.
Germany is, if nothing else, proposing to spend a lot of money during a period of austerity – someone might notice that it’s almost all unnecessary at some point.
In all, this could be an energy policy nightmare, with a battery of untried ideas all implemented at once to try not to do what seems most likely – a return to coal if not a basic acceptance that German nuclear plants have been unproblematic.
Many are now asking themselves if the transition to renewable energies will ruin the nation's countryside. The German Wind Energy Association (BWE) states that 21,607 high-tech wind turbines are already in place in Germany. Some fear that the zeal to install wind turbines mirrors the drive to build motorways into West German towns in the 1960s. That was regarded as ultra-modern at the time, but it created massive, irreversible eyesores.
Germany's Federal Agency for Nature Conservation is already warning that in the rush to expand renewable energies, nature and wildlife conservation is being put on the back burner. The need to get out of nuclear power seems to be overriding all other concerns.
“Many are now asking” is not very precise, but the story points out that Germans have gotten quite litigious on NIMBY issues and have become exceptionally well organized on keeping windmills out of their eyesight. And are gearing up against large masts:
In the eastern state of Thuringia, for example, powerful 380-kilovolt power lines are planned that will cut a route directly through the picturesque Thuringia forest region. A number of citizens' initiatives are organizing opposition to the plans. They include members of all political parties.
Oddly, one of the reasons anti-coal activists take that stand in this country is to prevent mining operations from ripping up the countryside. Now, Germans are adopting the same stance about renewable energy sources. Nuclear energy plants, of course, are fairly compact and uranium mining low-impact.
It’s understandable that countries look closely as their nuclear energy plants in light of Fukushima Daiichi and make changes as appropriate. But what Germany is doing is – kooky – and getting kookier by the day.
Windmills, windmills everywhere.