Germany’s Energiewende; No Nuclear…No Energiewende

And the Beat Goes On: Electric Retail Choice Debate Rolls into Virginia
January 13, 2020
How Will Our Power Grid Handle an Influx of EVs?
January 22, 2020

Over the last several years we’ve written numerous articles on Energiewende.    Simply put, the Energiewende – or Energy Transition — is an ambitious plan by Germany to transition to a carbon-free economy by 2038. Unfortunately, there’s one major snag; the plan doesn’t include nuclear power – the most abundant form of carbon free generation – to keep the wheels of the world’s fourth largest economy turning, and thus placing the specter of affordable and reliable energy in the heart of Europe severely in doubt.

Europe’s economic powerhouse made this fateful decision to abandon nuclear almost immediately in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster in 2011. In what can only be described as a knee-jerk reaction – Chancellor Angela Merkel  — issued an extraordinary edict directing the immediate shutdown of eight of the country’s nuclear power facilities. Then, with the backing of 80% of Germany’s lawmakers,  Merkel expanded upon this short-term diktat by memorializing into law legislation moving up the decommissioning of the nation’s nuclear fleet from 2036 to 2022.

There’s no doubt that Merkel and her fellow lawmakers had the best interests of their countrymen in mind by pushing up the ultimate nuclear decommissioning date to 2022. Unfortunately, this purely political decision upended the original formula envisioned by German’s policymakers to meet the goals of the Energiewende by filling the power supply void left by the rash shutdown of affordable and carbon-free nuclear with the country’s rich supply of affordable coal generation.

Moreover, it speaks to a growing dilemma that lawmakers around Europe and the U.S. have had to tackle; How does a first-world industrialized nation sustain an affordable and reliable supply of energy, set aggressive carbon reduction targets — while at the same time rapidly integrating wind, solar and other intermittent renewable generation into its overall electricity portfolio? The answer – it can’t be done without nuclear.

More than a year ago in a posting entitled – The Best Way Forward? It Might Mean Looking Back – we examined the buyer’s remorse that French President Macron was beginning to have in aggressively reducing France’s nuclear power footprint from 70% of overall electricity supply to 50% by 2025 and increasing renewable generation to 40% of electricity consumption by 2030.These ambitious targets were outlined — in what could be described as their own version of Energiewende – in their 2015 Energy Transition Act for Green Growth.

Yet, to his credit and in stark contrast to France’s neighbor to the East — Germany, President Macron put the brakes on meeting his government’s aggressive renewables integration targets at the expense of nuclear by adopting the phrase Reculer pour mieux sauter – or, take a step back to better leap forward.  The step back that Macron took to better leap forward was to proclaim that France would only move forward with its aggressive renewables’ targets if “the security of supply is ensured.”  In other words, with the world’s seventh largest economy, France is a member of the exclusive G-7 club of nations. Why would the French president needlessly jeopardize his country’s supply of affordable and reliable power to meet renewable energy targets when 70% of his country’s power is already carbon free?

France’s practical approach to coupling renewables integration with its traditional carbon free baseload nuclear resource for meeting carbon reduction goals is a practical idea that’s starting to resonate throughout the rest of Europe – even Germany.

Last June leading CEOs from Germany’s manufacturing sector publicly stated their concern about the German government’s abrupt abandonment of nuclear in sustaining the world’s 4th largest economy and meeting aggressive carbon targets. Herbert Diess, the CEO of the world’s largest automaker, VW, was definitive in his support of nuclear stating “if we give high priority to climate protection, nuclear power plants should operate for longer.”   His comments were echoed by Wolfgang Reitzle, chairman of the multinational Linde Group, who stated Anyone who is in favor of low-carbon energy generation and guaranteed energy supply security cannot avoid nuclear energy.” 

Reitzle is right. The Energiewende just can’t succeed without some kind of commitment by Germany to nuclear. We’ve pointed out in the past Germany’s short-sightedness in going all in on renewables to meet carbon targets without considering the affordable and reliable supply of power needed to fuel the world’s 4th largest economy. Our concerns have now been echoed by the heavyweights of the German industrial sector. Let’s hope those words are heeded by decision makers in Berlin.