As you may have heard, following the continuing nuclear disaster in Japan, Germany has decided to reduce its dependence on nuclear power. Instead of rising to the challenge of providing new sources of power and increasing Germany's already advanced efficiency, German power company executives are whining about blackouts and brownouts. Here is the story from this morning's New York Times.
We're used to power company whining, and it is pretty boring. Here are some of the interesting parts from the article:
Germany’s planners believed they could forgo nuclear energy in large part because of the country’s remarkable progress in renewable energy, which now accounts for 17 percent of its electricity output, a number the government estimates will double in 10 years. On days when the offshore wind turbines spin full tilt, Germany produces more electricity from renewable sources than it uses, according to European energy monitors. Germany has “exceeded everyone’s expectations on renewable power,” said Mr. Varro, showing that it could be cost effective and reliable.
Until it closed the reactors, Germany was Europe’s leading energy exporter.
With a total of 133 gigawatts of installed generating capacity in place at the start of this year, “there was really a huge amount of space to shut off nuclear plants,” Harry Lehmann, a director general of the German Federal Environment Agency and one of Germany’s leading policy makers on energy and environment, said of the road map he helped develop. The country needs about 90.5 gigawatts of generating capacity on hand to fill a typical national demand of about 80 gigawatts a day. So the 25 gigawatts that nuclear power contributed would not be missed — at least within its borders.
To be prudent, the plan calls for the creation of 23 gigawatts of gas- and coal-powered plants by 2020. Why? Because renewable plants don’t produce nearly to capacity if the air is calm or the sky is cloudy, and there is currently limited capacity to store or transport electricity, energy experts say.
New coal and gas plants will use the cleanest technology available and should not aggravate climate change, government officials said, because they will operate within the European carbon-trading system in which plants that exceed the allowed emissions cap have to buy carbon credits from companies whose activities are environmentally beneficial, thus evening out the environmental ledger.
Electricity prices are expected to rise by 35 to 40 euros ($50 to $60) per household each year, or less than 5 percent, the government estimates. Though nuclear energy generally costs less than newer options, German law has long stipulated that renewable energy must be purchased first even if it is costlier.
- Germany now gets 17% of its electricity from renewable sources. US power companies claim that renewables can never produce that much power. And Germany plans to double that percentage in ten years
- This massive switch to renewables and efficiency will cost German consumers rate increases of less than 5% per year. That's only a little more than the rate increases that WV consumers have faced in the last 5 years.
- The switch back from nuclear to some new gas and coal generation will be blunted because Europe has a functioning carbon credit system in place that will help neutralize new carbon sources. Not the best option but probably better than operating dangerous old nuclear plants. The US has no plan to deal with carbon emissions at all, largely as a result of power company interference in the political process and the media.