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Germany: Fighting Climate Change And Phasing Out Nuclear Power Are Two Sides Of The Same Coin

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"Germany: Fighting Climate Change And Phasing Out Nuclear Power Are Two Sides Of The Same Coin"

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by Arne Jungjohann

Recently, the editorial board of the Washington Post asked if the world can fight global warming without nuclear power, looking to Germany and Japan for the answer.

Both countries are known for a nuclear shutdown path. In Japan, only one of the 54 nuclear reactors currently remains in operation. Germany has closed eights reactors following the nuclear catastrophe of Fukushima in March 2011 and the remaining nine are scheduled to be closed by 2022.

That obviously must lead to rising emissions, the Post claims. Germany’s “electricity sector emits more carbon than it must after eight reactors shut down last year.”

If you look at the most recent emissions data, however, the opposite is happening. Germany reduced its carbon emissions in 2011 by 2.1 percent despite the nuclear phase out. How can that be?

The cut in greenhouse gases was mainly reached due to an accelerated transition to renewable energies and a warm winter. In addition, the EU emissions trading system capped all emissions from the power sector. While eight nuclear power plants were shut down, solar power output increased by 60 percent. In 2011 alone, 7.5 gigawatts of solar were installed. By the end of last year, renewable energies provided more than 20 percent of overall electricity.

The Washington Post refers to critics of this transition who “reasonably predict that the country will instead rely on electricity imports from neighbors running old, reliable coal, gas and, yes, nuclear plants for years to come.”

So this means Germany would import electricity from neighboring countries, such as France, Poland, and the Czech Republic? It’s true, depending on time of day and year, that Germany imports electricity. However, even after shutting its eight oldest nuclear power plants, Germany is still a net exporter of electricity.

In 2011, Germany exported 6 TWh more than it imported, according to the industry federation German Association of Energy and Water Industries BDEW. Countries like Poland and the Czech Republic are not as concerned about providing electricity to Germany. On the contrary, they are mainly concerned about wind and solar power surges from Germany offsetting their own production of fossil and nuclear power. Additionally, German electricity exports to Europe’s nuclear power house France actually increased in 2011.

What does this tell us? The nuclear phase-out does not conflict with efforts to fight climate change. You can reduce emissions while shutting down nuclear power. And you can still supply industry and consumers with enough power.

By the end of 2011, Germany had reduced its CO2 emissions by more than 23 percent compared to 1990 levels, overshooting its Kyoto target. In addition, the country has build up a competitive renewable energy industry providing thousands of new jobs, even as competitors like China enter the game and catch up fast. In Germany, fighting climate change and phasing out nuclear power are two sides of the same coin.

Instead of repeating myths about Germany’s nuclear phase-out, the editorial board of the Washington Post would do better by looking at the facts. It would also help to expand the article’s narrow focus to include a question about whether nuclear is even the most cost-effective or safe option to fight climate change. It is not, says even the Economist.

A vast majority of Germans have made up their minds on the need to phase out nuclear. And what happens in Germany will be a major indicator for other countries. As Paul Hockenos, an American living in Berlin, concludes in the European Energy Review: “Whatever the case, Germans aren’t the only ones waiting for a more pro-active policy. The world is watching Germany’s Energiewende.”

Let’s see where the Germans can go with their energy transition.

– Arne Jungjohann is Program Director Environment for the Heinrich-Boell Foundation.

JR: The Economist article is here. The subhed is “A year after Fukushima, the future for nuclear power is not bright—for reasons of cost as much as safety.” I believe nuclear could play a modest role of, say, perhaps 10% of the solution to averting catastrophic climate change,  but only if the industry can figure out how to build far more inexpensive plants both quickly and safely (see “How the world can stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm: The full global warming solution“).

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51 Responses to Germany: Fighting Climate Change And Phasing Out Nuclear Power Are Two Sides Of The Same Coin

  1. prokaryotes says:

    A german article with this news

    http://www.manager-magazin.de/unternehmen/energie/0,2828,829326,00.html

    Also in 2010 Germany exported 17.700 GW. However there are plans for 60 billion € investments for new power plants. But it is not clear what kind of technologies will be facilitated, yet. Some projects have been canceled, because of the trend to use more clean electricity. There are also plans to build 17 new coal power plants. Off shore has some issues atm, because of infrastructure bottle necks.

    • prokaryotes says:

      There is a recent trend to extend off shore electricity in the UK waters and construction in the German sector is still advancing. With new technology advancements (bigger and more efficient wind turbines) the UK waters hold the potential to generate enough electricity to check the european demand. Vestas, the wind turbine maker has still some options to go and build in the UK…

      A developing situation atm..

      David Cameron commits to wind farms
      David Cameron, the Prime Minister, has called for more wind farms in the UK to boost British industry. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/earthnews/9227114/David-Cameron-commits-to-wind-farms.html

      • prokaryotes says:

        Britain’s North Sea has the potential to lead the world in offshore wind and carbon capture and storage technology, British Prime Minister David Cameron said as over 20 companies signed a deal to turn the region into a major renewable energy hub http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/04/26/us-britain-wind-idUSBRE83P0H920120426

      • prokaryotes says:

        Also this is currently a crucial phase, since there are rumors that Chinese wind manufacturer plan to overtake Vestas (Denmark) or Gamesa (Spain) – those are the leading wind companies, since 2 other Chinese companies enthroned Gamesa a few month ago.

        Both stocks are currently “SUPER LOW”. If China is serious with overtaking these companies, they will do it within the next days or weeks! China’s wind turbine maker still struggle a bit and could really need the technological advanced wisdom.

        If this happens, then the worst possible “Monopole” situation will come true and western nations, because of a lack of foresight and corruption from the old energy sector will lose a huge advantage and have to depend on China in the future!

        Gamesa just released a new wind turbine which can almost be set up anywhere (low lying areas), is more efficient too). CoE will be totally competitive within the next 3 or 4 years!

        Becuase of this scenario, the UK minister probably just started acting, t preserve the future of his vast energy reserves and the know-how, to generate and supply.

  2. John Tucker says:

    What a misleading article.

    That economist piece was a disaster of errors that focused on costs virtually alone. It was in essence a advertisement for gas.

    “And in America, home to the world’s largest nuclear fleet, shale gas has slashed the costs of one of the alternatives;” – from it.

    Germany’s main carbon “success” has been shrouded by outsourcing of manufacturing and power, economic slumps, and its HUGE switch to natural gas.

    Not to mention the PR used in disseminating reports that the media here picks up on before evaluating numbers and performance.

    The last DECADE of the installation of renewables, including hydro, just covers the capacity lost by nuclear power.

    All at a very significant carbon investment with issues of lost power for lack of storage, inefficient grid issues and waste overproduced power.

    So they are peddling backwards.

    • G.R.L. Cowan says:

      “So they are peddling backwards.”

      Amen.

      Um … they are definitely peddling backwardness, but the thing one does with one’s feet is pedaling.

      • John Tucker says:

        Probably a little of both, as the technology discussed in this article, the premise of safety is made on technology 30-40 years old and the plant risks as well as fuel cycle storage/risks have drastically changed.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Anyone who takes that neo-liberal propaganda rag, The Economist, seriously, is in trouble. The Right is pushing gas, to keep fossil fuel mega-profits flowing, and to delay and de-rail real renewables. They do not care a scintilla over the ecological crisis.

  3. G.R.L. Cowan says:

    “Additionally, German electricity exports to Europe’s nuclear power house France actually increased in 2011″.

    That may well be true. They were 139 gigawatt-hours, according to ENTSOE-E data. In 2010 it could conceivably have been less.

    Imports *from* France were 20315 GW·h in 2011. So the net transfer was 20176 GW·h from France to Germany.

  4. John Tucker says:

    Likely as we get farther from the Fukushima accident we will likely seem more reasonable approaches to the mitigation of newly perceived challenges to nuclear power.

    Japan Advised Not to Abandon Nuclear Power

    Prior to Fukushima, Japan had been planning to meet 60% of its national primary energy demand with nuclear power, in line with environmental sustainability targets to reduce CO2 emissions by 54% (from 2003 levels) by 2050. In the months following the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, worries over the sustainability of nuclear power as well as increasing concerns about safety and security, have lead the public and policy-makers alike to question Japan’s energy policy.

    The report notes that a hasty withdrawal from nuclear could be disastrous for Japan. “Decommissioning nuclear power plants is expensive and any rapid change would jeopardize Japan’s energy security and increase its dependence on fossil fuel imports. Equally, a major shift towards renewables would require a transition on a scale never seen before and necessitate vast amounts of financial investment,” the in-depth study notes.

    Instead, it urges Japan to focus in the coming years on restoring a secure energy supply. The country should “rethink” its approach to nuclear energy, including looking to continue R&D in an effort to “build a stronger nuclear industry” as well as making “fundamental changes” to how its nuclear energy sector is run and regulated to ensure transparency and accountability, vital to secure the public acceptance it needs. ( http://www.indepthnews.info/index.php/global-issues/877-japan-advised-not-to-abandon-nuclear-power )

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      How do we ‘get farther’ from Fukushima when even TEPCO state that it will take at least forty years to clean it up, when another earthquake or accident could cause the building containing the pool of spent fuel-rods to collapse, causing them to ignite and potentially unleashing scores of times more radiation than Chernobyl and when Japan, and many other regions, are littered with nuclear plants in seismically accurate regions? Nuclear radiation from Fukushima is slowly but inexorably spreading across Japan, huge amounts have been dumped into the sea, and we are expected to just ignore this latest, but almost certainly not last, nuclear catastrophe. And as nuclear is completely unnecessary, given the potential of solar and wind power, the insistence on continuing to take the Promethean gamble with nuclear fire seems, to me, to be lunacy.

      • John Tucker says:

        What 20 acres will be uninhabitable for 20 year ?? Far mare than that sinks into the ocean every year.

        You ever seen a coal ash pond or a strip mine?

        That a comparatively insignificant (nonexistent in comparison) amount of land becomes a major talking point should tell you something.

  5. John Tucker says:

    Also the emissions data is partly based in gas conversion that is contested. In 2010 they jumped 4.3%. So over the last two years they have jumped 2.2%. At least.

  6. EL says:

    GE has a very impressive visualization tool for the German energy system.

    http://visualization.geblogs.com/visualization/germanenergy/

    Tracks historical and future energy mix, and takes into account all energy imports and nuclear phase-out. Well worth a look!

  7. j.w. says:

    So, John Tucker, which nuclear power company do you work for?

    • John Tucker says:

      My undergraduate and graduate degrees are in art. Self employed. Since you ask.

      I think a lot of people are so caught up in political talking points and long standing arguments they lose the ability to reason. The ability to change their mind as they incorporate new information.

      Its a shame as this challenge will probably require every once of concentration and effort we can muster.

      I thought it would be a good time to post the actual numbers as I have invested a good deal of time researching the matter. Its not a simple situation.

      Do you have a reasonable argument or criticism related to the actual topic or information presented?

      Argument is meant to reveal the truth, not to create it. Edward De Bono

      • Anne van der Bom says:

        “I think a lot of people are so caught up in political talking points and long standing arguments they lose the ability to reason. The ability to change their mind as they incorporate new information. “

        I wonder if John Tucker has already incorporated the new information about the cost of nuclear power in the real world.

        Recently a new NPP was to be built in The Netherlands. As soon as the government made clear that they would not offer any guarantees, the plug was pulled. Go figure.

        • John Tucker says:

          Actually i started out against nuclear power last year as the Fukushima crisis began. But after I noticed some climate scientists were still somewhat supportive of it I decided to take a closer look.

          In nearly every anti nuke health argument some aspect of fear and bad scientific practice is used to make an argument. Its rather stunning.

  8. John Tucker says:

    As for japan a more realistic effect is seen as over capacity wasn’t eliminated but was lowered in that situation. Still because of conservation efforts actual energy usage dropped about 10 percent.

    Overall emissions climbed at around 4 percent.

    TEPCO, Japan’s largest electric utility and owner of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, forecasted year-on-year rises in oil, gas, and coal imports to the tune of 77 percent, 16.1 percent, and 5.3 percent respectively between the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 periods, Reuters reported in December. And according to one analysis, between 2010 and 2011 Japan’s total fossil energy imports rose 25.2 percent on a volumetrically basis.

    As a result of increasing reliance on fossil fuels, the carbon intensity of Japan’s energy supply, or the amount of CO2 (measured in metric tons) emitted per unit of energy supplied (measured in metric tons of oil equivalent, or TOE), has risen 15 percent year-on-year, from 2.01 metric tons CO2 per TOE in November 2010 to 2.31 in November 2011, ( http://thebreakthrough.org/blog/2012/02/new_data_japanese_fuel_imports.shtml )

    For comparison before the EQ and tsunami (2008) : Japan generated 1,085 billion kWh gross power, of which 30 percent was from coal, 25 percent from gas, 24 percent from nuclear, 11 percent from oil, and 7.5 percent from hydropower ( http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/03/12/us-japan-power-nuclear-idUSTRE72B1DG20110312 )

  9. John Tucker says:

    The problem is this article places equal the threats of a nuclear accident with the effects of acidification and climate change. Doing so is rather like worrying about your neighbors smoking habits as your house burns to the ground around you.

  10. John Tucker says:

    Please tell me some you you have better arguments against the the only proven clean low carbon baseload power generation method other than someone told you it was bad and believing I arguing part of a vast funded nuclear conspiracy.

    Especially as it currently makes up such a large part of the mix.

    Also considering dealing with it, in many forms and related issues will be a requirement of the space program and things like high energy physics, as well as mining and geothermal power issues among other things, it is a good idea we understand the risks and benefits of the science/technology.

    • Raul M. says:

      The very idea of free sunshine seems to give the flowers a start. And the bugs and bees like flowers,I’m sure.
      Free nuke power is that through the elec. line or just flowing in the wind?

  11. David B. Benson says:

    It seems that John Tucker has covered all my points but for:
    (1) In 2011 German CO2 emisswions declined solely due to a mild winter. In the electricity generation sectors CO2 emissions increased by a few percent.
    (2) The Poles and Czechs are certainly planning to export more electricity generated by new NPPs to Germany. Even the Russians in Kaliningrad are considering a HVDC underwater transmission line to Germany for the same purpose.

    • Anne van der Bom says:

      “The Poles and Czechs are certainly planning to export more electricity generated by new NPPs to Germany. Even the Russians in Kaliningrad are considering a HVDC underwater transmission line to Germany for the same purpose.”

      Do you have proof for that?

      The most common reason for grid connections are simply economic, and not to prove the viability of one energy source over another. They make money by exploiting the price difference between two control areas, while at the same time improving supply security. HVDC cables are bi-directional, so they could transport just as much renewable energy from Germany to Russia as nuclear power from Russia to Germany.

      • John Tucker says:

        Poland boosted electricity exports in 2011

        In the first 11 months of 2011, Polish electricity exports were 48 percent higher than for the same period a year earlier, earning the energy sector some zł.1 billion more than in 2010, reported Rzeczpospolita.

        This is partly a result of higher demand for electricity from Germany, ( http://www.wbj.pl/article-57498-poland-boosted-electricity-exports-in-2011.html )

        Nuke-Free Germany Isn’t Exactly Nuke-Free

        the Germans are importing about 2,000 gigawatt-hours a month. Much of that is coming from France and the Czech Republic, the Continent’s top two electricity exporters.
        With the remaining nine German reactors scheduled to go offline by 2022, no one seems more eager to step into the breach than the Czechs. They’re in talks with vendors to build two more reactors at Temelín, while planning new reactors at the aging Dukovany nuclear station and at least two other sites. This is part of a push to increase nuclear’s share of the country’s power-generating capacity from the current 32 percent to more than 50 percent by 2050. ( http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/nukefree-germany-isnt-exactly-nukefree-09292011.html )

        Which is good as the Czech coal plats are some of the dirtiest.

      • Speedy says:

        Kaliningrad Oblast have about 950k inhabitants, which means that the two VVERs alone will produce an average of about 2,3kW per capita. This is close to the Norwegian average (#2 in the world), and about 3x the Russian average.

        I can only conclude that electricity export is the primary goal of this power plant.

  12. David B. Benson says:

    Here are some recent electricity generation busbar LCOE costs in US dollars per megawat-hour:
    new coal — 133 (MI est. without CCS)
    new natgas — 84 (est. for CCGT with US$7/MMBtu fuel)
    new NPP — 76 (VC Summer firm est.)
    new wind — 63 (MI contract)
    new natgas — 38 (est. for CCGT with US$2/MMBtu fuel)

  13. Anne van der Bom says:

    Just to be clear where I stand.

    I think it was the wrong decision to shut those nuclear reactors in Germany post-Fukushima. It’s not that they suddenly became unstable or unsafe because of a tsunami at the other end of the world. Current reactors should be kept running as long as safety allows.

    New nuclear power is a different beast. After more than half a century it is still not able to stand on its own legs an requires massive government support. And we always hear a lot about advanced technology (FNR, Thorium, etc) that addresses all concerns, but never seems to get off the ground. These technologies remain pipe dreams and every proposal for new nuclear power plants are still the old once-through reactors. That signals to me that nuclear proponents are more dreamers than realists.

    Add to those high costs the other issues with safety, waste disposal and proliferation and the balance becomes negative. Look at where we are with Iran. It developing nuclear power has everyone afraid that it might be using that as a cover for developing nuclear weapons. Without nuclear power, Iran would have no such cover. You might even say that through this mechanism, nuclear power is partly to blame for the high oil prices that we are now experiencing.

    I would say, let the nuclear industry develop those safe, clean and cheap new technologies and demonstrate their viability. In the mean time let the rest of the world go on with the best and cheapest zero-carbon technology available, which are renewables.

    • David B. Benson says:

      General Electric/Hitachi (GEH) have designed the PRISM, a small/medium sized Gen IV nuclear power plant. Unfortunately there are no customers so far although perhaps the British will take two. The US DoE could use a few for the same purpose: consuming the stockpile of unwanted plutonium.

  14. Raul M. says:

    Yes nuke power is a quandary. If a company has nuke power in it’s portfolio then the issue of the value of the nuke portions having it’s own stock price is there.
    For how could the nuke have it’s own stoke value without the government picking winners and losers.
    A bait and switch for clean energy groups to accept the shame of gov. picking winners and losers in the energy industry?

  15. fj says:

    “Something is not impossible if it already exists,” (Amory Lovins); and, it’s admirable how easy it seems Germany is rapidly responding to climate change.

    Let’s hope for a rising crescendo of many more examples of all those great very positive things — though supposedly impossible — to actually happen.

  16. John Tucker says:

    Just to be clear – while output after a over a decade of huge investment just now nearing almost replacing total nuclear power in Germany. Reliability is nowhere near being replaced.

    All of the installed non nuclear clean energy will need to be maintained and they are only now halfway to where they could have been – they cannot slow or back off their commitment, which they are doing.

    They are set back over a decade in carbon reduction, and remain in the top five list of coal consuming countries.

    Does anyone here have information that disputes that.

    • John Tucker says:

      I neglected to mention the Nord Stream Pipeline project. I am not sure if it also allows injection from European ports. Obviously American gas could be transferred to Russian ports first too. As is it certainty is a major commitment to NG.

      Nord Stream Pipeline Inaugurated – Major Milestone for European Energy Security

      When fully operational in late 2012, Nord Stream’s two lines will have the capacity to transport 55 billion cubic metres of Russian gas a year to the EU for at least 50 years. ( http://www.nord-stream.com/press-info/press-releases/nord-stream-pipeline-inaugurated-major-milestone-for-european-energy-security-388/ ).

    • John Tucker says:

      What I learned in the last few months I didn’t know last year:

      Germany had a large over capacity of power generation in 2011 (many countries do). Instead of cutting coal and gas they cut nuclear power and are even building the worlds largest lignite power plant.

      Tell me how this is “success” in any sense of the word?

  17. Los Angeles Activist says:

    You can begin phasing out nuclear power faster if we combine our forces into the Green Party. We are here to stay. Deal with it!

    • John Tucker says:

      After years of activism why would I want to undermine what little progress we have made reducing CO2?

      Considering the contribution of CO2 to the atmosphere from the actions of the anti nuclear movement over the last 30 years, they should in all fairness call you the “Brown Party”

      • John Tucker says:

        Reality check – Germany hasn’t cut even 1/4 of its nuclear power since the announcement, its been installing renewables at one of the fastest rates in history, its emissions are near flat-lined at best overall the last few years, its lost a good deal of its electricity export/over capacity and has invested heavily in new gas and coal and made significant carbon investment in that infrastructure. (increased world CO2).

        Meanwhile they have and scientifically will have no advantage in cancer rates or any perceivable advantages in health. (japan actually has the longest life expectancy and thats not expected to change).

        I don’t see “winning” here.

  18. Peter Smith says:

    why the blame on Germany for shutting down nukes if they continue to cut carbon emissions? The US is the nuclear super power of the world, but it continues to emit more CO2- basically twice as much per capita as most Europeans and Germans. How come the United States is great with nuclear power, but sucks when it comes down to fighting climate change?

    If the pro-nuclear folks in the comment sections were worried about climate change, they would argue for more energy conservation and for more renewables. But all you John Tuckers care for is to keep nukes going. Start being honest!

    • David B. Benson says:

      The problem with wind is that it is erratically available and then only about 27% of the time, on average. For example, here in the Pacific Northwest stagnent air persisted for about 6 weeks last autumn; essentially no wind. Much the same happened in Texas last summer.

      So to utilize wind there are two requirements:
      (1) a balancing agent, and
      (2) a reserve.

      Last year the NPP fleet average availability was almost 92%. Most of that 8% off grid was scheduled for r&r. Therefore the grid operators can count on NPPs in a way not possible for wind.

    • John Tucker says:

      How do you know what I advocate for?
      How were my posts not “honest”?

      This story was presented to me as being a argument for eliminating nuclear power by Germany’s “success.” It was horrifically misleading.

      US bashing is a red herring here and incidentally we have had a lot on our plate, we invented modern climate science as well as nuclear power, the solar cell and the wind turbine, not to mention keeping the light on at least for a semblance of democracy when, at many times, it was not looking so good.

      I had the nerve to actually address the tangled mass of issues presented in the piece? Is that the problem?

      Just because anti nukes show up for the occasional anti nuke piece doesn’t mean everyone else here does the same.

      Why cant you argue your beliefs as fitting within a reasonable and responsible environmentalism. Not some projected, vague, conspiracy laced conglomeration of ad hominem attacks basically centered in antiquated, cold war radiation hysteria?

      None of you posted any links or even real arguments to support your beliefs.

      This isn’t a political/popularity contest – If it inst exactly correct it will fail to some extent. Failure of varying degrees means extensive loss of habitat and species, not to mention great human hardship and suffering.

  19. John Tucker says:

    An example of German anti nuclear hysteria derailing innovation in clean energy:

    Even Greenpeace doubts electric cars

    Electric cars run mostly on power derived from coal and nuclear power , he noted. And that’s not environmentally friendly. ( http://www.autoweek.com/article/20100517/FREE/100519881 )

    Greenpeace: e-car is just ‘mobility for the rich’

    The environmentalist said that’s why Greenpeace believes internal combustion engines will continue to have the clear edge in the next 10 to 15 years, making it even more essential to optimize their efficiency. “The future will be defined by downsizing and supercharging [boosting power by improving motor efficiency],” he said. “That has shown itself to be the ideal method. Reducing oil consumption means first and foremost making internal combustion motors more economical.” ( http://www.dw.de/dw/article/0,,15883302,00.html )

  20. Lawrence says:

    However, even after shutting its eight oldest nuclear power plants, Germany is still a net exporter of electricity.

    What I want to know is, was Germany really a net exporter? Tucker and Cowan’s figures suggest otherwise. If it was not a net exporter, it would have been good for the poster of the article to point that out as an important error.