In this third and final blog I will explore the ways in which Germany plans on replacing its nuclear energy production and the controversies these plans have created. I will provide an overview of Germany’s energy consumption and then detail the costs associated with implementing this decidedly ambitious plan toward a nuclear-free country. How this sea-change will affect companies, politicians and people ultimately depend on how quickly and efficiently the phasing out of nuclear power moves forward and how Germany adjusts to this shift of nuclear-free power.
Almost 25% of Germany’s electricity comes from nuclear power. With its decision to phase out nuclear power by 2022, how then will Germany replace this substantial source of energy? What, if any, environmental repercussions will this present? The official commission appointed to study these issues has concluded that the consumption of electricity can be reduced by 10% within the next ten years by using more efficient machinery and increasing energy efficiency of industrial and commercial buildings as well as residential housing. Increasing renewable energy, specifically wind energy, will also serve to close the energy consumption gap. By 2020 the use of renewable energy will have to double from 17 to 35 percent in order to completely compensate for the elimination of nuclear power as a component of its energy consumption/production profile.
The ways in which Germany proposes to close this energy-consumption gap, the associated costs, both economic and environmental, have fueled fierce debates within political arena, the business community, as well as the private sector. Let’s take a look at some of the specifics.
- Increasing wind-energy production-this will require a large expansion of wind turbines in the North Sea, generating 100 megawatts of power. This would also require, however, an expansion of the electrical distribution grid into southern Germany. The concern and fear(angst, perhaps?) is that this “energie autobahn” of high-voltage cables and pylons will turn many of the pristine pastures and forests in southern Germany into landscapes disfigured by “mega masts”. Estimates by the power industry indicate that the cost of establishing this “energie autobahn” will exceed $100 billion by 2030. According to Hartmut Geldmacher, a management board member of E. On Engergie, Germany’s third largest power company, “At the moment, the customers don’t yet see the wave rolling towards them. We face higher electricity costs”.
- Reducing residential greenhouse gases by 2050-According to Peter Ramsauer, German Minister of Transport, Construction and Urban Development, “this plan will cost over $3 trillion. This is equivalent Germany’s gross national product for an entire year and would require annual investments of $100 billion annually”.
Ultimately, the end of nuclear power will force Germany to increase its consumption of fossil fuels, as the development of, and conversion to, renewable energy will not meet the 2022 nuclear phase-out deadline.
The Choice Between Two Evils
In their attempts to free themselves from the grip of nuclear power, Germans are faced with a myriad of daunting challenges, not the least of which is the realization that a nuclear-free Germany cannot exist without an increasing dependence on coal. A coal ‘renaissance’ would obviously invalidate Germany’s long-term goal of reducing the earth’s temperature by 2 degrees Celcius compared with that of the pre-industrial age. Currently almost half of all electricity generated in Germany comes from coal. No other fossil fuel is available in such large quantities. On the other hand, however, no other raw material is as devastating to the environment. Coal is the worst climate killer in the history of humanity. Almost 2.2 lbs. of CO-2 is emitted in order to generate one kilowatt hour of electricity. According to Ottmar Edenhofer, chief economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, “Coal is the environmental problem of the 21st Century”.
Carbon Capture and Storage(a.k.a. C0-2 Sequestration)
In an effort to minimize the effects of what will no doubt result in a precipitous rise in CO-2 emissions, Germany has begun a pilot program to test the safety and efficacy of pumping CO-2 emissions underground. C.C.S. has been hailed by advocates as a way of greatly reducing the amount of CO-2 emitted by the pollution-heavy coal industry.
Critics, however, note that C.C.S. technology requires significant amounts of energy. Residents near the planned facility feel as though they have become ‘human experiments’. If the stored CO-2 leaks, it could very well contaminate drinking water, the air, and have an adverse effect on tourism.
In summation, the issues and ramifications involved in Germany’s decision to phase out nuclear power are both complex and controversial. Clearly there are no easy or inexpensive solutions. Continued discussions within all sectors of German society and expanded analysis from both industry and the environmental sector are also necessary to achieve a balance between energy consumption, environmental integrity and human health. It is my opinion that Germany’s over-reaction to the Fukushima disaster reflects a more anti-nuclear than pro-climate sentiment, and that is indeed most unfortunate.