Skip to main content

How Germany Turned Its Energy Policy Into Folly

In an article about the counterintuitive nature of closing nuclear facilities, this bit stuck out:

Nuclear plants would likely be replaced by natural gas or (shudder) coal plants, which would drive up carbon dioxide emissions. It’s happening in Germany, where the government decided to abandon nuclear power after the March 2011 catastrophe at Fukushima. In Vermont, where a 600-megawatt plant closed in December, carbon-free nuclear power is being replaced largely by fossil-powered electricity from the grid.

Germany, ah, Deutschland. We had a good run. At its height, nuclear energy supplied about 20 percent of the country’s electricity – in the same range as in the United States - but as the article indicates, the accident in Japan flipped Prime Minister Angela Merkel from support to opposition for nuclear energy and she decided to close the remaining plants by 2022. At the same time, Germany would change over to all, or nearly all, renewable energy. Germany tends to be an all-or-nothing kind of place and this is both all and nothing.

We had a delightful run of German-bashing over this, but that gets old mighty fast. After all, every country has a right to determine its energy portfolio and if we give Australia a pass for its anti-nuclear zeal, why not Germany?

Granted, its conversion left its electricity sector in considerable turmoil – not an issue for Australia, which has never built a nuclear plant – and the transition has to deal with the amount of space renewable energy farms take up – lots – and people less than thrilled to see the land gobbled up. Plus, ratepayers began to pay considerably more for electricity – and that’s with a bunch of nuclear reactors still operating. Well, in for a penny in for a pound, right?

We’ve let Germany be – it’s their decision, let them soak in it. Still, curiosity has to count for something, so we did a small survey of articles about the transition and found this:

The bill for shutting down Germany's nuclear power plants and building a safe disposal site for nuclear waste could rise to 70 billion euros ($75 billion), the head of a government commission told daily Frankfurter Rundschau in an interview.

The costs for the nuclear exit could rise to up to 70 billion euros over the next decades, meaning that the 36 billion euros ($38 billion) in provisions set aside by the four nuclear operators were not sufficient, he added.

That might be because they didn’t expect to close all their plants at once.

But surely, there’s some good news:

“Global emissions are rising despite all UN climate conferences. Germany, which is often touted as a role model, is a case in point. Currently, there are eight coal plants under construction or in development in Germany. Electricity generation from lignite is at its highest level since German reunification.”

Oh dear. So what to do?

The country is due to shut down its nuclear power plants by 2022 in favor of fossil fuels and renewable energy, but customers are flocking to a new provider's offer of "100 percent nuclear power".

The above two bits are about a company called Maxenergy, which is importing nuclear energy-derived electricity from Switzerland. I guess that means it can keep doing it past 2022.

I ran into some stories friendlier to renewable energy, too, so its not just blow-after-blow, but to call the German situation a folly is to take its consequences too lightly. France wants to take down the percentage of nuclear energy, too, in the name of diversity, and since more than 80 percent of France’s electricity comes from the atom, that makes some sense.

Germany’s notion of diversity is to merge emission-producing base load energy – some of it harshly emitting – with immature renewable technology. Still, let’s wish them well. Even if you reap the whirlwind, the whirlwind passes – and the windmills slow to a halt. Oops - that didn’t come out quite right.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Quite frankly, I can see no reason for the French to shut down any of their nukes. The French people paid big bikkies for them by the depreciation of their currency. They should be good for another 20 to 40 years yet, and the last I heard, coal is twice as expensive per kilowatt hour as uranium. I haven't heard that the international bankers that the EU compelled the French to deal with, when they claimed that quantitative easing was too easy on the French taxpayer, have proposed shutting down their debt repayments!!
jimwg said…
VERY Good article!

Two points please:

Re: "...the accident in Japan flipped Prime Minister Angela Merkel from support to opposition for nuclear energy."

Maybe I'm ultra-dense but I've yet heard a rational of just WHY you'd shut down your own plants based an elsewhere incident caused by a once in ten lifetimes event and rare worst reactor failures (3 chances for Doomsday in a row!!!) that killed no one at the plant and only caused local damage within its gates (let's overlook the oil and gas facility fatalities and pollution in Tokyo during the same quake.)

Point 2:

Re: "We’ve let Germany be – it’s their decision, let them soak in it."

I thought GLOBAL WARMING meant we're ALL in the same boat called Earth and that to my knowledge no one's managed to seal off their territory's own atmosphere from everyone elses. So it behooves us all to push nukes in every country we can instead of just sitting idly by watching them shutter while icecaps melt.

James Greenidge
Queens NY
Anonymous said…
If you are to close a nuclear plant (or anything) let it be for a good reason. From all accounts, the decision to terminate the licences of 8 or so reactor sites was entirely a policy-room judgement, made without industry input, discussion or right of appeal. I read of no damning assessments to justify it. Yes, if a nuclear plant fails a stress test of some kind, that may be a good reason to suspend its licence, in an orderly democratic society. But I read nothing about safety breaches. Were there any non-compliances? The cost of closing those plants early amounts to foregoing maybe 50 plant-years of output, amounting to some 400 TWh, valued at, maybe, 20 billion euros at recent wholesale prices. That is a tremendous loss to impose on a business for no good reason. Then, the same government that arbitrarily closed them down insists the owners exhaust their remaining capital on decommissioning, even when accumulated reserves are inadequate.

Popular posts from this blog

Knowing What You’ve Got Before It’s Gone in Nuclear Energy

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior director of policy analysis and strategic planning at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

Nuclear energy is by far the largest source of carbon prevention in the United States, but this is a rough time to be in the business of selling electricity due to cheap natural gas and a flood of subsidized renewable energy. Some nuclear plants have closed prematurely, and others likely will follow.
In recent weeks, Exelon and the Omaha Public Power District said that they might close the Clinton, Quad Cities and Fort Calhoun nuclear reactors. As Joni Mitchell’s famous song says, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.”
More than 100 energy and policy experts will gather in a U.S. Senate meeting room on May 19 to talk about how to improve the viability of existing nuclear plants. The event will be webcast, and a link will be available here.
Unlike other energy sources, nuclear power plants get no specia…

Making Clouds for a Living

Donell Banks works at Southern Nuclear’s Plant Vogtle units 3 and 4 as a shift supervisor in Operations, but is in the process of transitioning to his newly appointed role as the daily work controls manager. He has been in the nuclear energy industry for about 11 years.

I love what I do because I have the unique opportunity to help shape the direction and influence the culture for the future of nuclear power in the United States. Every single day presents a new challenge, but I wouldn't have it any other way. As a shift supervisor, I was primarily responsible for managing the development of procedures and programs to support operation of the first new nuclear units in the United States in more than 30 years. As the daily work controls manager, I will be responsible for oversight of the execution and scheduling of daily work to ensure organizational readiness to operate the new units.

I envision a nuclear energy industry that leverages the technology of today to improve efficiency…

Nuclear: Energy for All Political Seasons

The electoral college will soon confirm a surprise election result, Donald Trump. However, in the electricity world, there are fewer surprises – physics and economics will continue to apply, and Republicans and Democrats are going to find a lot to like about nuclear energy over the next four years.

In a Trump administration, the carbon conversation is going to be less prominent. But the nuclear value proposition is still there. We bring steady jobs to rural areas, including in the Rust Belt, which put Donald Trump in office. Nuclear plants keep the surrounding communities vibrant.

We hold down electricity costs for the whole economy. We provide energy diversity, reducing the risk of disruption. We are a critical part of America’s industrial infrastructure, and the importance of infrastructure is something that President-Elect Trump has stressed.

One of our infrastructure challenges is natural gas pipelines, which have gotten more congested as extremely low gas prices have pulled m…