Germany moving successfully to a nuclear free economy

The nuclear industry and its supporters pounced on Merkel’s decision. They predicted blackouts on a scale Germany hadn’t experienced since World War II and skyrocketing electricity prices that would wreck the nation’s heavy manufacturing sector, the bedrock of the German economy. They warned that Germany would cease to be an energy exporter and be forced to import electricity from, of all places, French nuclear power plants. Utilities would have to burn more coal to make up for the lost nuclear power, they said, pumping huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The British weekly The Economist branded Merkel’s action “a lunatic gamble.”

More than a year and a half later, however, those dire predictions haven’t materialized.

 ”You have to choose between the old system and the new one. And we have chosen renewables.”

Germany Abandons Nuclear Power and Lives to Talk About It, Bloomberg Business Week  By Osha Gray Davidson  November 16, 2012“……..Like all revolutions, the German Energiewende was set in motion by many factors and its course altered by a multitude of events and actors along the way. A few key moments stand out, however, and the Chernobyl catastrophe is one of them. To fully understand the Energiewende, and to anticipate its future twists and turns, it’s essential to understand the role Chernobyl played in shaping the German public’s view of nuclear power.

Take Marianne Störmer, for example, my seatmate on a trip crossing a swath of northern Germany. She was a young schoolteacher in Hamburg when the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl exploded and burned out of control for 10 days, and she vividly recalled that time of angst. “A lot of radiation came over here so you had to be very careful about what you ate,” she said. “Milk was contaminated. I had always gathered mushrooms in the forest, but we were told not to do that anymore.”

Now in her mid-fifties, Störmer describes herself as a “typical Bürgher”—German shorthand for a cliché of middle-class and middle-of-the-road sensibilities from an earlier era. She looked the part: conservatively dressed with medium-length brown hair, plain-rimmed glasses and a stout build. A physics teacher, she had admired the engineering and scientific brilliance that made it possible to harness energy from splitting atoms. She had believed in nuclear power — until Chernobyl.

The worst part, she said, was the effect on her 11-, 12- and 13-year-old students. “They were so frightened. So were the parents. They asked me: Should the children play outside? Should they not?”

Störmer gazed out the window and looked at the passing fields. Then she turned back and shook her head in disgust. “Nuclear,” she said deliberately, “is a very ugly sort of energy.”

A group of German farmers reached that conclusion a decade before Störmer did. In 1975, the conservative residents of southern Germany’s grape-growing region occupied the site of a planned nuclear power station, forcing its cancellation. A decade later, when they were ordered to destroy their crops because of radioactive fallout from Chernobyl, they believed their nuclear doubts had been confirmed.
As time passed and memories of Chernobyl faded, however, the German public’s wider outcry against nuclear power receded. Through the mid-1990s, the nuclear industry and the ruling conservative government fought nuclear opponents to a standoff. No new plants were built, but no existing facilities were closed. In 2000, a new government passed the comprehensive legislation that became the foundation for the Energiewende, and it included the gradual phase out of nuclear power. But that part of the law was overturned a decade later by the center-right coalition led by the current chancellor, Angela Merkel, who also extended the life of aging nuclear plants by up to 14 years.

Merkel’s decision triggered Germany’s largest antinuclear protests since Chernobyl. But still, the public remained divided on the issue and the fate of nuclear power remained up in the air. Until Fukushima…… Antinuclear demonstrators again took to the streets by the tens of thousands, chanting, “Shut them down!”
Less than a week into the Fukushima crisis, Merkel stunned the nation by withdrawing the licensing extensions and temporarily closing seven of Germany’s oldest nuclear plants. The restart of an eighth plant, which was offline for refueling, was delayed.

But the real bombshell was still to come.

On May 30, Merkel held a press conference in the Chancellery. Flanked by members of her cabinet and wearing one of her trademark red power jackets, she announced that she was making the temporary closures permanent. What’s more, she continued, the most industrialized nation in Europe, and the world’s fourth-largest economy, would permanently close all nine of its remaining nuclear power plants by 2022.

Merkel, whose support for the Energiewende had always been tepid, had suddenly pinned Germany’s future entirely on renewable energy. It was, wrote one journalist, “as if the pope were suddenly advocating the use of birth control pills.”
Merkel had been a prominent researcher in quantum chemistry before entering politics and was well aware of the enormity of the task that lay ahead. But, she told the assembled reporters, this was a historic opportunity for Germany to step forward on the world stage: “We believe that we can show those countries who decide to abandon nuclear power—or not to start using it—how it is possible to achieve growth, creating jobs and economic prosperity while shifting the energy supply toward renewable energies.”
The nuclear industry and its supporters pounced on Merkel’s decision. They predicted blackouts on a scale Germany hadn’t experienced since World War II and skyrocketing electricity prices that would wreck the nation’s heavy manufacturing sector, the bedrock of the German economy. They warned that Germany would cease to be an energy exporter and be forced to import electricity from, of all places, French nuclear power plants. Utilities would have to burn more coal to make up for the lost nuclear power, they said, pumping huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The British weekly The Economist branded Merkel’s action “a lunatic gamble.”

More than a year and a half later, however, those dire predictions haven’t materialized.

There have been no blackouts since Merkel’s announcement. On the contrary, Germany’s grid, which was already the most reliable in Europe, experienced a total of just 15 minutes and 31 seconds of brownouts in 2011, an improvement over 2010. (The comparable figure for the United States is measured in hours.) The wholesale price of electricity has gone down, not up. The electricity-intensive German manufacturing sector is still thriving. And Germany finished 2011 as a net exporter of energy, while also cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2 percent.
How did the critics get it so wrong? According to many German energy experts, the naysayers couldn’t envision how the new energy economy would work. Rainer Baake, who brokered the original plan to phase out nuclear, said the critics didn’t understand that while a single source of renewable energy can’t match the constant power of a coal or nuclear plant, a mix of renewable sources can achieve a similar result. For example, solar power produces a predictable range of energy during the day, while winds blow primarily at night. Getting the mix right isn’t easy. But so far, Baake argued, Germany’s experience suggests that it is possible……
Even with the Merkel shutdown, however, Germany’s old coal plants are being decommissioned faster than new ones—which were ordered years before the Fukushima disaster—are coming online.

Still, more needs to be done to make a smooth transition to a renewable energy economy. The antiquated power system must become more flexible and nimble, able to respond quickly to demand, something the old system wasn’t designed to do, Rainer Baake stressed. For all practical purposes, coal and nuclear power have only two settings: off and on. Supporters of the Energiewende argue that this limitation is another reason to stop using coal and nuclear. “The Big Four were right about one thing,” Baake admitted. “You have to choose between the old system and the new one. And we have chosen renewables.”…….. http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-11-16/germany-abandons-nuclear-power-and-lives-to-talk-about-it

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: