EDITOR: | October 7th, 2015 | 3 Comments

Post Nuclear Germany – a Green Myth?

| October 07, 2015 | 3 Comments
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In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, Angela Merkel managed to transition from being a Centre Right politician loathed by the European Left to being a darling of the Green Movement. The deed that achieved this transformation in sentiment was the precipitate announcement that Germany would phase out all its nuclear power plant fleet by 2022. It would be replaced by alternative energy sources such as solar, wind and tidal power, combined with energy consumption savings, under an initiative known as the Energiewende, or energy transformation. This sudden decision to phase out the nuclear plants also involved adherence to the pre-existing goal of reducing national CO2 emissions to 4% below 1990 levels by 2020, and by 80-90% by 2050. Easily said by a politician who won’t be around in 2050 to face the music on non-compliance!

smokestacks

All this sounds like, as they would say in the US, a “mom and apple pie” issue. Who wants to complain about all this good stuff going on? Well, the slight wrinkle in this plan is that to achieve this Quixotic goal, Germany is now burning more lignite coal than before Merkel made her shock announcement. Yes, in the age of reducing carbon emissions and after the acid rain scares of the 1980s (largely created by East German lignite being burned by power-generators) we now have Germany pumping out more of this stuff to reduce its dependence on nuclear.

While those of Green sympathies in Germany may be cognizant (and acquiescent) of this fact, more of the environmentally-aware in other places are environmentally-unaware that the price they pay for less of the clean energy of nuclear is more of the same old, same old carbon pollution that the EU has been hot and heavy for decades against.

In any case, the potential removal of German demand from the Uranium market has been one of the things weighing upon the price of the metal. The return to production of Japanese generators has helped change the mood for the better, but Germany is still a key part of demand and so I shall look here at how this situation evolved and how Germany’s renunciation of nuclear is a blow for clean-tech.

The German Nuclear Scene

In her first flurry of panic, Angela Merkel shuttered eight reactors, reducing the country’s capacity to nine reactors with 12,003 MWe capacity, and then to eight reactors with 10,728 MWe. The country’s 17 nuclear power reactors, comprising 15% of installed capacity, formerly supplied more than one quarter of the electricity (133 billion kWh net in 2010). Many of the units are large (they total 20,339 MWe), and the last came into commercial operation in 1989. Six units are boiling water reactors (BWR), 11 are pressurised water reactors (PWR).

According to the Frauenhofer Institute, German generating capacity in April 2014 was 169.6 GWe comprising:

  • 1 GWe nuclear
  • 6 GWe hydro
  • 7 GWe wind (0.6 offshore)
  • 9 GWe solar, 28.2 GWe gas
  • 2 GWe lignite
  • 3 GWe hard coal
  • 6 GWe biomass

Electricity_production_in_Germany

In the first half of 2014 wind and solar PV had capacity factors of 18% and 11% respectively, compared with 85% for nuclear. In 2011 Russia provided almost 40% of the natural gas, followed by Norway, Netherlands and UK, while only 14% was produced domestically.

Some outside Germany perceive that the actions were taken due to some legacy issue with Soviet-era facilities, but when Germany was reunited in 1990, all the Soviet-designed reactors in the East were shut down for safety reasons and are being decommissioned.

The Coal Splurge

Lignite is the cheapest source of electricity from fossil fuels, and Germany has the world’s largest reserves of it. But lignite causes the highest CO2 emissions per ton when burned, one-third more than hard coal and three times as much as natural gas. The three German coal-fired power plants are among the largest point-sources of CO2 emissions in the world.

Germany’s CO2 emissions have started to show a retrograde trend:

  • 1,051m metric tons in 1990
  • 813m tons in 2011
  • 841 m tons in 2012 and 2013

As a result, Germany could very well fall short of its 2020 CO2 target by five to eight percentage points.

Perversely for industrial users, Germany has become a source of cheap electricity, but not for private consumers in Germany, who have had to foot the bill for the renewable power sources putsch, as a result of German feed-in tariffs.

In 2014, the German government parties passed the Climate Action Program 2020, a rather idealistic strategy to reduce emissions by around 70m tons annually by 2020, in light of the fact that they are increasing, rather than decreasing the burning of coal! The hefty cost of this policy: US$2.2bn to $3.3bn per year, will be divided half and half between the federal government and private consumers who have to pay more for their electricity.

The overall share of coal in German electricity production has shrunk from 56% in 1990 to 43% in 2014. During the same period, the share of renewables in electricity production has risen from 4% to 26%.

Conclusion

It is ironic that Germany comes across to the outside world as one of the most “green-conscious” nations in Europe, if not the world, but few seem to have realized that its precipitate disavowal of nuclear energy has plunged many neighbouring countries into a zone of heavier carbon emissions than would otherwise be the case, while making a mockery of global warming and lower emissions concerns.

While Germany continues to expand solar and wind power, the government’s decision to phase out nuclear energy means it must now rely heavily on the dirtiest form of coal, lignite, to generate electricity. The result is that after two decades of progress, the country’s CO2 emissions are rising. The Merkel administration seems to have been given a “free-pass” by the environmentalists because the quid pro quo for this move has been the eventual removal of nuclear power from the country. This is a Faustian bargain indeed.

With Japan reopening its nuclear plants and most other nations unfazed by nuclear power, Germany is the odd man out in eschewing an energy source that is carbon-neutral. There are limits to how much solar or wind power that can be installed and some nations are starting to run into the buffers, particularly with regards to offshore wind farms.

The remarkable consensus from both sides of the German political fence towards the self-defeating retreat from nuclear energy, makes most think that the 2022 shutdown is inevitable. Frankly the pressure should be coming from EU partners baulking at the emissions raining down on them. That, plus a failure of alternative energy sources to reach the sufficient level of participation to replace nuclear, might just prompt a rethink. The share that coal possesses even now is massive compared to that of nuclear. Remove the nuclear and do not reduce the coal-fired and you have actually seen a deterioration of the share from clean-tech.


Christopher Ecclestone

Editor:

Christopher Ecclestone is a Principal and mining strategist at Hallgarten & Company in London. Prior to founding Hallgarten & Company in New York in 2003 ... <Read more about Christopher Ecclestone>


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Comments

  • Asteroid Miner

    Nuclear power is the only way to stop making CO2 that actually works.

    A Myth is Being Foisted on Germans:

    Fact: Renewable Energy mandates cause more CO2 to be produced, not less, and renewable energy doubles or more your electric bill. The reasons are as follows:

    Since solar “works” 15% of the time  and wind “works” 20% of the time, we need either energy storage technology we don’t have or ambient temperature superconductors and we don’t have them either. Wind and solar are so intermittent that electric companies are forced to build new generator capacity that can load-follow very fast, and that means natural gas fired gas turbines. The gas turbines have to be kept spinning at full speed all the time to ramp up quickly enough. The result is that wind and solar not only double your electric bill, wind and solar also cause MORE CO2 to be produced.

    We do not have battery or energy storage technology that could smooth out wind and solar at a price that would be possible to do. The energy storage would “cost” in the neighborhood of a QUADRILLION dollars for the US. That is an imaginary price because we could not get the materials to do it if we had that much money.

    The only real way to reduce CO2 production from electricity generation is to replace all fossil fueled power plants with the newest available generation of nuclear; unless you live near Niagara Falls. Nuclear can load-follow fast enough as long as wind and solar power are not connected to the grid.

    MYTHS: The myths being perpetrated by wind turbine marketers are that:

    Wind and solar energy are free and will lower your electric bill

    and

    Wind and solar energy are CO2 free and will reduce the total CO2 produced by electricity generation.

    But

    Californians are paying twice as much for electricity as I am and Germans are paying 4 times as much as I am. The reason is renewables mandates. Illinois has 6 nuclear power plants and we are working hard to keep them. I am paying 7&1/2
    cents /kilowatt hour. What are you paying?

    And

    Californians and Germans are making more CO2 per kilowatt hour than Illinoisans. It turns out that even without burning natural gas or coal to make up for the intermittency of wind and solar, wind turbines and large scale solar collectors require more concrete and steel per kilowatt hour than nuclear power does.

    FALLACIES: The fallacies in the myth are failure to do the math and failure to do all of the engineering required. The myth is easy to propagate among most people because there is quite a lot of math to do and there is a lot of engineering to learn. University electrical engineering departments offer electrical engineering degrees with specialization in power transmission [electric grids]. That is only part of the engineering that needs to be done to figure the whole thing out.

    October 7, 2015 - 11:05 PM

  • Tim Ainsworth

    “Like an earlier regime in Germany, the Holy Roman Empire, which was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire, Germany’s green-energy program is neither green, nor an energy program. Rather, it is a form of ultra-regressive taxation — in effect, a state-sponsored cult of human sacrifice for weather control.

    Germany has brought the world many remarkable political innovations, including government by bureaucracy, the welfare state, regimentation of education, Red, Brown, and Green parties, theoretical and applied racial science and engineering, the precautionary principle, and the systematic philosophical and practical negation of Judeo-Christian ethics. Its heartless energy policy is entirely consistent with that history.”

    nationalreview.com/article/418263/germanys-green-power-program-crushes-poor-robert-zubrin

    October 8, 2015 - 2:38 AM

  • Gordon

    There were many who saw this shorted sightedness of the German government, who as the writer mentioned will not be around to face the situation when the day of reckoning come to be. Their are very few who see the future with some clarity, and even fewer that will take heed.

    October 9, 2015 - 8:55 AM

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