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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.


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.

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