Germany’s transition from nuclear energy to renewables

Germany Could Be a Model for How We’ll Get Power in the Future
The European nation’s energy revolution has made it a leader in replacing nukes and fossil fuels with wind and solar technology. National Geographic, By Robert Kunzig Photographs by Luca Locatelli  OCTOBER 15, 2015 “…..Germany’s Audacious Goal

Germany has Europe’s second highest consumer electricity prices, yet public support for its energiewende—an aggressive transition to renewable energy—is at an impressive 92 percent. The support is rooted in an eco-friendly culture, a collective desire to abandon nuclear energy, and laws that allow citizens to profit from selling their energy to the grid. Roughly 27 percent of Germany’s electricity is from renewables; the goal is at least 80 percent by 2050……….

Fell, who was installing PV panels on his roof in Hammelburg, realized that the new law would never lead to a countrywide boom: It paid people to produce energy, but not enough. In 1993 he got the city council to pass an ordinance obliging the municipal utility to guarantee any renewable energy producer a price that more than covered costs. Fell promptly organized an association of local investors to build a 15-kilowatt solar power plant—tiny by today’s standards, but the association was one of the first of its kind. Now there are hundreds in Germany.

In 1998 Fell rode a Green wave and his success in Hammelburg into the Bundestag. The Greens formed a governing coalition with the SPD. Fell teamed up with Hermann Scheer, a prominent SPD advocate of solar energy, to craft a law that in 2000 took the Hammelburg experiment nationwide and has since been imitated around the world. Its feed-in tariffs were guaranteed for 20 years, and they paid well.

“My basic principle,” Fell said, “was the payment had to be so high that investors could make a profit. We live in a market economy, after all. It’s logical.”…….

The biogas, the solar panels that cover many roofs, and especially the wind turbines allow Wildpoldsried to produce nearly five times as much electricity as it consumes. Einsiedler manages the turbines, and he’s had little trouble recruiting investors. Thirty people invested in the first one; 94 jumped on the next. “These are their wind turbines,” Einsiedler said. Wind turbines are a dramatic and sometimes controversial addition to the German landscape—“asparagification,” opponents call it—but when people have a financial stake in the asparagus, Einsiedler said, their attitude changes.

It wasn’t hard to persuade farmers and homeowners to put solar panels on their roofs; the feed-in tariff, which paid them 50 cents a kilowatt-hour when it started in 2000, was a good deal. At the peak of the boom, in 2012, 7.6 gigawatts of PV panels were installed in Germany in a single year—the equivalent, when the sun is shining, of seven nuclear plants. A German solar-panel industry blossomed, until it was undercut by lower-cost manufacturers in China—which took the boom worldwide.

Fell’s law, then, helped drive down the cost of solar and wind, making them competitive in many regions with fossil fuels. One sign of that: Germany’s tariff for large new solar facilities has fallen from 50 euro cents a kilowatt-hour to less than 10. “We’ve created a completely new situation in 15 years—that’s the huge success of the renewable energy law,” Fell said.

Germans paid for this success not through taxes but through a renewable-energy surcharge on their electricity bills. This year the surcharge is 6.17 euro cents per kilowatt-hour, which for the average customer amounts to about 18 euros a month—a hardship for some, Rosenkranz told me, but not for the average German worker. The German economy as a whole devotes about as much of its gross national product to electricity as it did in 1991.

In the 2013 elections Fell lost his seat in the Bundestag, a victim of internal Green Party politics. He’s back in Hammelburg now, but he doesn’t have to look at the steam plumes from Grafenrheinfeld: Last June the reactor became the latest to be switched off. No one, not even the industry, thinks nuclear is coming back in Germany…….

Germany’s big utilities have been losing money lately—because of the energiewende, they say; because of their failure to adapt to the energiewende, say their critics. E.ON, the largest utility, which owns Grafenrheinfeld and many other plants, declared a loss of more than three billion euros last year.

“The utilities in Germany had one strategy,” Flasbarth said, “and that was to defend their track—nuclear plus fossil. They didn’t have a strategy B.” Having missed the energiewende train as it left the station, they’re now chasing it. E.ON is splitting into two companies, one devoted to coal, gas, and nuclear, the other to renewables. The CEO, once a critic of the energiewende, is going with the renewables.

Vattenfall, a Swedish state-owned company that’s another one of Germany’s four big utilities, is attempting a similar evolution. “We’re a role model for the energiewende,” ……..

Vattenfall, however, plans to sell its lignite business, if it can find a buyer, so it can focus on renewables. It’s investing billions of euros in two new offshore wind parks in the North Sea—because there’s more wind offshore than on and because a large corporation needs a large project to pay its overhead. “We can’t do onshore in Germany,” Wiese said. “It’s too small.”

Vattenfall isn’t alone: The renewables boom has moved into the North and Baltic Seas and, increasingly, into the hands of the utilities.  Merkel’s government has encouraged the shift, capping construction of solar and onshore wind and changing the rules in ways that shut out citizens associations. Last year the amount of new solar fell to around 1.9 gigawatts, a quarter of the 2012 peak. Critics say the government is helping big utilities at the expense of the citizens’ movement that launched the energiewende.

At the end of April, Vattenfall formally inaugurated its first German North Sea wind park, an 80-turbine project called DanTysk that lies some 50 miles offshore. The ceremony in a Hamburg ballroom was a happy occasion for the city of Munich too. Its municipal utility, Stadtwerke München, owns 49 percent of the project. As a result Munich now produces enough renewable electricity to supply its households, subway, and tram lines. By 2025 it plans to meet all of its demand with renewables……

Though Germany isn’t on track to meet its own goal for 2020, it’s ahead of the European Union’s schedule. It could have left things there—and many in Merkel’s CDU wanted her to do just that. Instead, she and Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel, head of the SPD, reaffirmed their 40 percent commitment last fall……..http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2015/11/climate-change/germany-renewable-energy-revolution-text

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