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Will Europe Struggle to Keep the Lights On?

A new study from consulting company Capgemini said that Europe may have trouble “keeping the lights on” this winter thanks to the nuclear phase-out in Germany.

Following its reactor shutdowns, Germany began to import electricity from its neighbors, including more than 2,000 MW per day from France. During the winter electricity peak, France mainly imports electricity from Germany and this will no longer be possible in coming years. This represents a real threat to some countries “keeping the lights on” for winter 2011/2012 and future winters.

The report sums it up well: without German nuclear generation, energy security is down, emissions are up. First, security. The Europeans better cozy up to the Russians because they will be more dependent on them than ever.

In 2010, the EU imported 113 bcm of gas by pipeline from Russia, representing 33% of total gas imports. In 2030, gas flowing through Gazprom pipelines is expected to represent 50% of all European gas supplies.

That’s right, 50 percent, half of all European gas. But Gazprom’s dependable, right? Sure, most of the time. Just ask Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania. But Nord Stream should end all that, right? Sure, no problem.

Then, there’s emissions: the nuclear phase-out is taking Germany further away from its climate goals. The Breakthrough Institute had this to say in its analysis of the German government plan to phase out nuclear.  

The plan indicates that--in the absence of nuclear power--Germany will continue to be heavily reliant on fossil-fuel generation for the bulk of its electricity supply. The report calls for the construction of 5 GW of new natural gas power plants, in addition to 11 GW of new coal-fired power plants currently under construction in the country. This will leave the country with a net increase of 5 GW in coal-fired electricity capacity...this planned uptick in fossil fuel generation would cause the country's overall carbon emissions to rise by as much as 14% of the country's 2008 total carbon emissions.

But there’s hope. Some of Germany’s neighbors see an opening here. Why not sell the Germans low-cost, low-carbon electricity generated by nuclear power plants? [WSJ, subscription req’d] The Czech Republic seems particularly well placed.

On Monday, the country's government-controlled CEZ AS  [electrical utility] will issue technical specifications for a $25 billion project to build up to five new nuclear reactors, with the first two scheduled to go online by 2025.

What’s more, the Czechs are old hands at exporting energy. 

Vaclav Bartuska, the Czech government's special energy envoy, said the Czech Republic wants to increase the proportion of its electric power generated by nuclear reactors to 50% from the current 30%…CEZ, which is operating six reactors now, has long been one of Europe's largest power exporters, sending electricity to neighboring Germany and elsewhere.

Poland may be getting into the act and Hungary is toying with the idea. What’s not to like? It’s probably more secure than Russian gas and will help Germany meet those emissions goals. We’ll give the Czechs the last word, as it’s Czech National Day today.

"There is antinuclear sentiment in some countries," Mr. Bartuska added. But until alternate energy sources make economic sense, "we see nuclear as the solution."

For more on American and Czech cooperation in  nuclear energy, see this fact sheet from the White House.

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