Monday, August 20, 2012

Nuclear Today, Lignite Tomorrow: Germany’s Withering Choices

German Nuclear Plants (Wikipedia)
Color Bloomberg unimpressed:
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government says RWE AG’s new power plant that can supply 3.4 million homes aids her plan to exit nuclear energy and switch to cleaner forms of generation. It’s fired with coal.
And Herr Dieter Helm, energy policy professor? Also not impressed:
“Angela Merkel’s policy has created an incentive structure which has the effect of partially replacing nuclear with coal, the dirtiest fuel that’s responsible for much of the growth in the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions since 1990,” Dieter Helm, an energy policy professor at the University of Oxford, said by phone Aug. 17. Building new coal stations means “locking them in for the next 30 years” as a type of generation, Helm said.
The problem is that natural gas, inexpensive here, is expensive in Germany, so it isn’t as viable a fuel for large installations. As we’ve seen, Germany’s grid isn’t equipped (yet – let’s be optimistic) to handle the intermittency of solar and wind stably. What Merkel is doing actually makes some sense taken from one angle:
Merkel’s government wants utilities to build 10,000 megawatts of coal- and gas-fired generators this decade to replace older, dirtier generators and underpin a growing share for wind turbines and solar panels.
The problem is: natural gas and especially coal will replace the nuclear energy capacity while wind and solar will contribute additional electricity generation above that, so the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions is up. But some of the same forces that made nuclear energy toxic in Germany are understandably no more happy with this plan. Or shall we say: unimpressed?
Building new coal generators in Germany isn’t easy. A group of local utilities last month scrapped plans to spend 3.2 billion euros to construct the nation’s biggest hard-coal plant in Schleswig-Holstein after resistance from environment groups and the state government led by the Social Democratic Party and Green Party.
Can it be said that Germany’s options are withering away?
“It’s very alarming that leading German politicians praise a plant run on lignite,” Gerald Neubauer, a Greenpeace campaigner in Germany focusing on energy issues, said by phone on Aug. 16. “Burning lignite spews more carbon dioxide than using most other energy sources, and mining it inflicts major damage on the environment.”
I almost feel like saying: This is what Germany wanted and this is what it got. But this transition is just depressing, however you look at it, a casebook study of bad policymaking.
Great story for Bloomberg by Stefan Nicola and Tino Andresen. Do read the whole thing.


Ron Berg said...

Adding to the problems following Germany's phase out of nuclear power: grid instability which creates havoc for industrial users. This, on top of drastic rate hikes which impact the poor and unemployed especially hard.

The German news magazine Der Spiegel has been writing about this in a whole series of articles. Here is the latest,in English, and this includes links to the previous articles in English.

Marcel F. Williams said...

So during a time of global sea rise and the acidification of the world's oceans thanks to the increasing abundance of industrial greenhouse gases, Germany wants to start a new coal age. Wonderful:-)

Marcel F. Williams

Anonymous said...

The picture of the two new units at the Neurath power plant at the RWE site ( is a perfect illustration of Germany's broken energy policy. A brand spanking new lignite plant, with some windmills in the background for greenwashing. To make matters worse, the hill the windmills are built on, Vollrather Höhe (, is a spoil tip from the nearby Garzweiler open pit lignite mine (

Rod Adams said...

The German energy situation demonstrates the irrational results that come from a plan based on attempting to fool mother nature.

Efforts to shutter nuclear plants were not driven by environmental concerns; they were driven by a greedy desire to sell more natural gas. The gas suppliers and their promotional arm in the "Green" movement are now shocked that rational utilities have calculated that they can burn lignite more cheaply - even if they have to pay a penance for doing so.

A policy driven by a rational desire for cleaner air would have left the nukes running. It would have added support for building more. The country would have gotten richer and stronger as a result. Instead...