Blog Entry #3

 

 

 

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.

Schalkau Protest

Anti-grid protest in Schalkau

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

Bergschäden durch Braunkohletagebau

Open-pit mine near Colgne

      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)

Proteste gegen Co2-Speicherung von Vattenfall

Anti-CO-2 Sequestration Billboard near Brandenburg

    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.

How Carbon Sequestration Works

How Carbon Sequestration Works

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.

Gasmasken Verleih

Gasmasken Verleih

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.

Sources:

http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/the-expensive-dream-of-clean-energy-will-high-costs-kill-merkel-s-gre http://

http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/not-under-my-backyard-one-german-town-s-fight-against-co2-capture-technology-a-710573.htmlen-revolution-a-718951.html

 

Blog Entry #2

ANGSTFear. To become frightened. To be afraid of. To be worried about.

     In this entry I will explore the concept of Angst in Germany.  Does it actually exist or is it simply another German stereotype(e.g. “Wo ist mein Bier, und voud you please turn up zat marching music?”)?  If in fact it is real, to what extent does it impact public opinion,  political policy decisions,  and reactions to disasters abroad?  I will then compare Germany’s reaction to that of other western European countries.

Germany Cripples Itself with Nuclear Angst

Germans are buying Geiger counters and the government has shut almost half the nuclear plants as a wave of angst has gripped this risk-averse nation in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. The fear is unwarranted and damaging, and Chancellor Angela Merkel is pandering to it to secure her political future”.

     Is this a prudent and proactive response to a natural disaster,  or a predictable angst-ridden over- reaction?! “Das ist immer die Frage, nicht wahr?”(“That’s always the question, isn’t it?!”),  a question that has sparked heated debates from beer gardens in Munich to Currywurst festivals in Berlin(“Das ist mir wurst!”).  The fear that gripped Germany is to some extent driven by the obvious similarities between the two highly developed, industrialized nations, both of whom are known for their technological prowess and rigorous safety standards. Many Völker think that if it can happen in Japan, then it could certainly happen here. While broadcasters from other countries  ‘dug in’  after the disaster and provided comprehensive first-hand coverage of the tragedy, German broadcasters and media organizations pulled their staffs out of Tokyo for fear of nuclear radiation. A children’s book by author Gudrun Pausewang, titled “The Cloud”, a story about a girl who survived a massive nuclear accident in Germany, and originally published in 1987(the year after Chernobyl) was back on best-seller lists.  Conservative newspaper Die Welt declared that the Fukushima disaster would have a political and psychological impact equivalent to that of 9/11.

 

 

 

 

 

German Anti-Nuclear Protest

Chancellor Merkel’s ambitious plan of making Germany 80% dependent on wind, solar, biomass and hydroelectric power by 2050 has been cast into the shadows of doubt by angst. Germany is not in a seismic danger zone and its earthquakes are either too small to be registered by anyone but bored geologists, or just big enough to knock over a precariously placed garden gnome. A tsunami has to yet happen.

So where does this angst come from?  Is this perhaps a psychological reaction to the upheaval of the 20th century, fueled by two world wars, post-WW I hyperinflation, or Germany’s position as a front line state during the four decades of the cold war? The constant threat of annihilation fueled powerful pacifist and anti-nuclear movement that led to the establishment of the Greens, which has become one of the world’s most successful and powerful environmental parties.  Clearly Germany has become a nation that is both risk-averse and security-conscious for these reasons, but is there a deeper underlying psychological undercurrent here?  One can readily speculate that Germany’s ‘Teutonic soul’ comes into play. Historically, Germans are a forest nation, that is to say, inward-looking, shelter-seeking, with a tendency toward the parochial. The German Völker have always had a strong bond with their homes and their environment.  They have aspired to the “Heile Welt”(the perfect world), where the risk of nuclear meltdown has no place. 

European Reaction to Fukushima

Of the European countrie’s currently using nuclear power, only Germany and Switzerland have decided to phase out nuclear power, with Germany completing phase-out by 2022 and Switzerland by 2034.  Italy, the only non-nuclear G-9 industrialized nation, rejected a referendum to resume nuclear power generation.  England has since rigorously defended its nuclear program and is continuing its plans to build eight additional reactors in England and Wales.  France, Europe’s largest producer of nuclear energy and second  globally to the U.S., has increased funding for nuclear programs by 1 Billion Euro’s.  Poland and the Czech Republic have also expressed interest in expanding their nuclear power capacities.

In my third and final blog, I will explore in detail the differences in nuclear policy between Germany and France as well as Germany’s plans to replace its nuclear energy production.

Sources:

Crossland, David. “Germany Cripples Itself with Nuclear Angst”. Spiegel Online International.March 15, 2011.  <www.spiegel.de/international/germany/opinion-germany-Cripples-itself-with-nuclear-angst-a-751135.html>.

“The European Reaction to Fukushima”. The Star Online. Novemeber 10, 2012.<http://www.grandcoulee.com/story/2012/02/15/opinion/the-european-reaction-to-fukushima/021620121656982111459.htm&gt;