Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Germany’s Nuclear Retreat: Depressing and Wholly Predictable

The energy situation in Germany is both depressing and wholly predictable. To replace nuclear energy with renewable power sources was always going to be the heaviest of lifts, because it replaces most baseload energy with intermittent alternatives and because the alternatives are not fully mature,scalable technologies. Beyond this, the cost of pushing wind and solar forward has been mind-bogglingly expensive, which is now being felt by ratepayers.

Germany’s power grid operators boosted the surcharge consumers pay for renewable energy by 18 percent to a record, adding to pressure on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to act against rising electricity bills.

It gets worse. As we’ve seen in Japan, these subsidies put an exceptional burden on heavy industry:

The total subsidy next year will amount to about 23.6 billion euros ($32 billion), which is added to consumers’ power bills. The fee increase will raise the bill of the average German household with 3,500 kilowatt-hours of consumption by about 34 euros a year. Consumers and smaller companies shoulder a bigger portion of the cost of the increase while big industrial users are largely exempt.

The BDI industry federation that represents about 100,000 companies including Siemens AG (SIE) and Volkswagen AG (VOW) said in a statement today that Merkel’s third-term government needs to “radically reform” the EEG to reduce industry costs. Steelmakers face 300 million euros of extra charges next year and are “strained to the limit,” said Hans Juergen Kerkhoff, head of German steel lobby Wirtschaftsvereinigung Stahl.

That is contradictory to me, as Siemens and Volkswagen are certainly big industrial users but don’t appear to be exempt.

Poking fun at Germany is fun, but we need to be careful about it. I’ve seen a number of articles that try to tie Germany’s woes to renewable energy in general – especially by climate change skeptics - but the country’s energy policy is an extreme situation caused by an extreme reaction to the Fukushima Daiichi accident – in other words, not altogether rational.

The steep increase in the cost of electricity is happening in a Germany where most of its nuclear facilities are still operating (and will until 2022, which the cynical could construe as a bit of an escape hatch). Still, it’s unfortunate to see commentators use the transition as a template for bashing more measured renewable energy project rollouts.

Conversely, environmental groups want to put the best possible face on a wholesale move to renewable energy. Smart Planet tries to do some fact checking on various negative claims to get the needle back into positive territory.

Fact: The increase [in coal usage] was temporary, and is now reversing.

Germany’s recent uptick in coal consumption has been a temporary situation, primarily driven by high natural gas prices which made coal power cheaper. It’s simply incorrect to lay that at the feet of the nuclear power phaseout or the Energiewende.

Which more-or-less admits that most baseload energy has become unwelcome. That approach can turn flipping a light switch into a suspenseful activity. All the unknown qualities can be useful to all sides of the debate, because it allows anyone to say anything.

But here’s the thing: an atomic Germany had an exceptionally stable energy market well able to roll out renewable energy projects and offer generous subsides for them. Now, the country is flirting with the most expensive electricity in Europe while still depending a fair bit on nuclear energy. When 2022 comes, the country will shut down its reactors and – then what? It all seems as it always has – precipitous and potentially ruinous.

7 comments:

Ernest said...

Which high income European countries have the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per person from electricity generation?

Is it Germany with its high penetration of solar energy? Nope.

Is it Denmark with its high penetration of wind power? Nope.

Is it Iceland, Switzerland, Norway, France and Sweden? You bet it is. Those are the countries with a high penetration of reliable renewables like geothermal and hydro, or nuclear, or a combination of both.

Some countries are learning the hard way that electricity generation reliability is valuable in and of itself.

trag said...

"Poking fun at Germany is fun, but we need to be careful about it. I’ve seen a number of articles that try to tie Germany’s woes to renewable energy in general – especially by climate change skeptics - but the country’s energy policy is an extreme situation caused by an extreme reaction to the Fukushima Daiichi accident – in other words, not altogether rational. "

There you go again, Mark. The irrational part of Germany's energy policy was the implementation of and reliance on unreliables in the first place.

They can never affordably replace base load generation. Why should we "be careful". Germany's woes are exactly tied to renewables in general. They are the logical result, writ large, which will come to any grid which tries to implement unreliables.

For a nuclear blog, you sure spend a lot of time apologizing for wasteful, ecologically damaging, expensive, unworkable unreliable electricity generation.

Multiple studies show that implementation of unreliables results in little or no reduction in CO2 emissions, because backup sources must run in less efficient modes.

The costs of backup sources and long, multiply redundant ("the wind is always blowing somewhere" only matters if there's a power line from it to you) power transmission lines mean that in the real world, the cost of wind is three times the cost of nuclear and the cost of solar is five or more times the cost of nuclear.

Every utility which has subscribed to wind has seen a substantial and disproportionate increase in its energy prices. This may be great for the people who fund NEI, but it is terrible for society as a whole.

In the real world, implementation of unreliables does not reduce CO2 emissions and it is a disaster for electricity rate payers.

So, why do you keep apologizing for it?

If Germany had spent what it has already spent on unreliables, it could be generating 100% of its electricity with nuclear and existing hydro today. It's CO2 from electricity generation would be close as close to 0 as it is possible to get. Instead, they barely get 20% of their electricity from unreliables and the largest part of that is from so-called bio-fuels, which is just deforestation with a green name.

Can't be done fast enough? France converted 75% of its electricity generation to nuclear in the 16 years between 1976 and 1992. Nuclear can easily be built fast enough, and far more affordably than wind and solar.

Wind and solar are an unmitigated disaster everywhere they have been implemented. Most consumers just aren't paying enough attention to understand why their bill has gone up 20 - 300%.

jimwg said...

Re: "...but the country’s energy policy is an extreme situation caused by an extreme reaction to the Fukushima Daiichi accident – in other words, not altogether rational. "

For Japan and Germany an historically dangerous condition far more hazardous than the fear itself. I hope they snap back their wits and reason and fire up those nukes.

James Greenidge
Queens NY


Anonymous said...

"not altogether rational"?

It was a very rational decision by Angela Merkel, who is a scientist and really knows what she is doing.

After the German press made the tsunami damage to Fukushima Daiichi their main subject for months and used it for an all-out attack on nuclear energy, she saw the Green party rise to 25 % and more. The only way to cap that rise (which would have led to way more irrational government policy) was to contain the brouhaha by taking the driver seat on the anti-nuke bandwagon. Now the Greens are back to their 8 %, thanks to her very rational policy.

Too bad that this move cost a trillion or so. But a Greens-dominated government would have been more even detrimental, so it was a rational policy decision to the greater benefit of the country.

Mitch said...

Anonymous said...
"not altogether rational"? ....It was a rational policy decision to the greater benefit of the country.

That's a new one! Praytell how does that "benefit" the country outside assuaging the groundless lemming fear running amok there? Can you whiff Rhineland 1933?

Anonymous said...

Mitch: "Praytell how does that "benefit" the country outside assuaging the groundless lemming fear running amok there?"

I think I answered that above.

"Can you whiff Rhineland 1933?"

No, and I have no idea what that has to do with this.

jimwg said...


Eh! Pretty much right on and obvious to me -- and likely most on atomicinsights.com! Of course if have a hatchet out for nukes, you WON'T see it!

James Greenidge
Queens NY