A few days ago, I posted The German Experience: Seen by Environmentalists, and Seen by Nuclear Opponents. Within that post, I included a part of a comment by Bas Gresnigt (he made the comment on Rod Adams blog). He said that Energiewende is a success, and he included a target priority list of the Energiewende to support his statement. I included this list in my blog post. The top of his list was that shutting down the nuclear plants is the first priority of Energiewende.
Gresnigt and I exchanged emails: he felt that having this very short list on my blog did not present an accurate view of his thoughts. I agreed with this assessment. My blog is not about "equal time for all," but I decided it would be worthwhile to have a guest post by Gresnigt about the Energiewende. In this post, he is able to express his ideas, include links, and so forth.
I must stress that this post expresses Gresnigt's opinion, not my opinion. My own opinion is shown in my post on the German Experience.
Update February 6: Comments are closed. I will not be publishing more comments on this post.
With more than 25 comments, from both sides of the fence, several of my regular readers asked why I was still publishing comments. Indeed, the comments were getting more and more angry (in my opinion). "Why was I still publishing comments?" I didn't have an answer to that one. So the comments on this post are now closed.
German Energiewende: reasons, methods, results
by Bas Gresnigt
|Biking alongside 400 year old|
windmills in The Netherlands
Romanticism was rooted in Germany (~1800) and still is a factor in the German worldview. Romanticism supports (grand) ideas to elevate society and legitimizes individual ideas as a critical authority. It also includes a strong belief in the importance of nature. In line with this philosophy, ideas about building a sustainable society got strong support in Germany in the 1960s.
A sustainable society leaves the earth in the same (preferably better) state for the generations after us. Since we now consume nature's reserves and cause pollution, romanticism is an invitation for individual action.
When Nuclear Power Plants (NPP's) were introduced, they generated questions regarding the waste and accidents. Experts assured people that there would be no accidents and that the waste could be stored safely in the salt layers 600m below surface.
In 1973 with the start of the construction of the fast breeder in Kalkar, green experts calculated that it may escalate into a small atomic bomb like explosion. The debate left some doubt about the assurance that such an explosion would be impossible. So the Germans, being more inner-directed than e.g. Americans, took action with among others huge demonstrations (~150K people) and near war-like fights.
The explosion at Chernobyl in 1986 killed new nuclear politically as the Germans felt the effects, despite being ~1000 miles away. There were more birth defects, eating mushrooms from contaminated woods was forbidden (eating those mushrooms still is forbidden), etc. Furthermore, some people in Germany had contacts in the Chernobyl regions, where there are old German farmer communities. Therefore the statements of IAEA/WHO made no impression. Instead, many people believe that there will be as many as one million deaths from Chernobyl in the period until 2100. Some of these ideas are supported by research results. Some estimated that there might be millions evacuees if (for example) the Fessenheim NPP would explode.
|Boletus mushroom (edible)|
Chernobyl generated a decade-long debate regarding how to continue with electricity generation. As parties realized they needed a common base, many consultant studies were done in order to find the real facts and agree on the best scenario to continue.
In 2000, the government agreed on the present Energiewende scenario; 80% renewable energy in 2050, all NPP's closed before 2023, and intermediate targets as the scenario spans 50 years.
The scenario was based, among other things, on predictions that solar and wind would become much cheaper when the market would expand (more research, production automation, etc) and that substantial energy savings are possible without losing personal comfort. Population support was ~55%.
Even the utilities agreed to the nuclear phase-out scheme, perhaps in the expectation that the Energiewende would become so expensive that it would stop. (The Feed-in-Tariff for solar was more than €50cent/kWh at the time.)
When Merkel got a coalition with the conservative FDP in 2009, she was stimulated to postpone the closure of the 17 remaining NPP's. After long hesitation she stated in the autumn of 2010 that nuclear energy was a bridge technology until renewable could take over, and postponed the closures with ~12years. No new NPP's allowed.
After that decision her popularity fell (Energiewende support was then ~70%).
A few months later, Fukushima saved the day for her. She closed 8 older NPP's (some earlier than in the 2000 agreement, for which government may have to pay compensation) and re-installed the full Energiewende scenario.
The FDP, which initiated the NPP closure postponement, paid with a historic defeat at last autumn's elections. It had held ~16% of the seats, but it is out of parliament now. The FDP had been in parliament since its foundation 60 years ago.
Merkel now has a coalition with the socialists (SDP) and agreed to increase some renewable targets slightly. In 2025 45% and in 2030 not 50% renewable but 55-60%. She refused 90-100% renewable in 2050 as there is no clear scenario including costs for that (yet). The optimal 100% renewable-energy scenario is under discussion and research by German scientists. Debate is about the best scenario and how fast (2050 or 2060/70).
Since Fukushima, any proposal to postpone NPP closures would be political suicide. Support for the Energiewende is now ~90%. That rise in support was stimulated by experts and utilities who too often told fairy tales:
– They stated that the waste would be safe in stable salt layers 600m below surface. German tax-payers now face a multi-billion bill because that layer started to leak and the stuff has to be excavated.
– They stated no explosion possible...until Chernobyl happened. Thereafter
– They stated not possible with safe western designed and operated reactors...until Fukushima happened.
GHG/CO2 emissions become an issue. It is considered less important by many as:
– Everybody is convinced that with the increasing share of renewable (~2%/yr), CO2 will decrease further. Which decrease will accelerate after the closure of all NPP's.
– Germany surpassed the Kyoto targets already greatly (-27%). And many countries are even above the 1990 Kyoto reference level (USA about +10%).
Results of the Energiewende
The major utilities now pay for their perseverance to continue building NPP's in the 1970/80s against public opinion. This cost them public sympathy. The Energiewende favors small renewable-energy installations by citizens, farmers, etc. Many (~100) new utilities have been founded by villages and cities such as Munich. Nearly all these new utilities deliver 100% renewable electricity.
Hence the incumbent utilities lose market share, and have no bright future now. So they generate public campaigns such as the outcry in Brussels last October about grid stability, even while they are not responsible for it. Grid owners/management operating under the directions of the regulator are responsible.
I also see many nonsense publications, such as this one at Bloomberg. These articles create many of the misunderstandings in English speaking countries.
Grid reliability increased greatly. The average total down time per customer connection was 30min/year. Now it is 15min/year in Germany (Netherlands still 30min/year).
In 2013 the German average whole-sale price was €5cent/KWh. This price is lower than the wholesale prices of France and UK. There is no real indication that any German industry considers moving out of Germany because of electricity prices.
Change towards flexible plants It is better for wind and solar to continue full delivery even if the price is €1/MWh. But for power plants that price implies losses that are bigger if they cannot down-regulate output fast and deep.
So baseload plants are replaced by flexible plants that can also burn mixtures of lignite/coal/biomass/waste/biofuel. Burning biomass/waste/biofuel gives them a future in a 100% renewable society.
Due to the low temperature burning of the circulating fluidized bed process, those new plants also produce less toxics (less filters needed) and are far more efficient (greater than 50%), which also implies less CO2 (still ~30% more than gas). As the new plants are situated at open lignite mines with transport by conveyor belt to the power plant, these plants have very low costs.
Germany reached the intermediate targets (now renewable produce ~23% of the electricity). No doubt that the targets will be reached, as the scenario is clear and support overwhelming. During my last biking tour, Germans considered it self-evident.
Steering the Energiewende
The major steering mechanism is the fixed Feed-in-tariff (FiT) during 20years (solar) or 15years (wind) for new installations. So investors (households, farmers, etc) can trust that they will earn a profit of ~6% with their investment and may hope for extra profit after the FiT ends.
In 2011/12 the pricefall of solar was such that it delivered ~7GW/year new installations despite a 50% lower FiT. As that may create grid instabilities (grid upgrade is slow), the solar FiT for new installations is now lowered every month and the scheme is adapted every quarter so the targeted installation rate of ~3GW/year is reached.
Several institutes monitor the Energiewende and study methods for further development.
A few with English websites:
– The Fraunhofer institute, which shows overviews, and reports about progress.
– Agora: Scientists that study options.
Alexander Glaser from Princeton University wrote a longer overview of the Energiewende.
Bas Gresnigt is a Dutch international consultant/project manager operating in the telecommunications sector. He worked in Germany, USA (only for a short time), and many other countries. He visits Germany about three times a year.
Gresnigt is devoted to nature and the outdoors. I had seen some of his photos, and I asked him to include some pictures of his adventures on this blog post.