Robert Wilson on Germany’s Nuclear Phaseout and New Coal Plants

At best you could call the recent developments in Germany’s electricity sector contradictory.

Don’t miss Robert Wilson’s 20 January essay on the contradictions between closing clean nuclear plants while building new coal-fired plants.

Robert summarized the scale of the challenge with the above chart which shows that actual 2013 solar + wind generation only slightly exceeds the projected annual generation of the 2011-15 new coal plants (when all are completed in 2015). So the enormous investment in 25-year life VRE is largely canceled by the recent new build of 50+ year coal. 

Worse, by closing nuclear plants Germany’s expensive energy policy is replacing cheap, clean nuclear with intermittent, expensive wind/solar. And then adding more coal.

Robert computed the “Annual generation (TWh)” of “New coal” (red) from the 2013 Pöyry study “Outlook For New Coal In Germany, The Netherlands And Spain“. The Pöyry study is a very useful resource, especially on the controversial subject of Germany’s coal emissions. Regarding the 2011-2015 expansion of 10.7GW of new coal Pöyry wrote:

In addition to 2.7GW of lignite capacity that became operational in 2012, a further 8GW of new coal capacity is currently under construction and expected to commission by 2015.

Is Germany building these 10.7GW of new coal-fired plants because of the Fukushima-excuse closing of eight nuclear plants? No – Robert explains that the investment decisions were made in 2005-2008. Does this batch of new coal emissions signal a trend? Pöyry says no.

Closing down a quarter of your electricity generation leaves a gap that must be filled by something, and Germany realised it would largely have to be filled by one thing: coal.

The consequences of Germany’s energy policy are summarized in the following chart “Germany, monthly electricity production, GWh”, which shows how fossil-dominated Germany is essentially substituting expensive solar+wind for clean, inexpensive nuclear. This is not the policy that would be designed by a government that is concerned about climate change. For that example look to the UK.


Click to embiggen.

Update: What I see of the impacts of the Merkel/Green energy policy looks like Germany may have even bigger problems than burning coal instead of atoms:

The German energy industry association, BDEW, says that 43 per cent or 32 of the power plants planned for construction in Germany may never come to fruition, due to lack of economic viability.

The association’s managing director said: “Unless there is clarity very soon about the future structure of the market and a relevant capacity market model, the situation for power stations will result in a serious problem for as an industrial location.”

The association says a combination of a lack of clarity about the future structure of energy markets and the lack of profitability for coal- and gas-fired power stations because of competing energy supplies from subsidised renewable power had severely undermined investor confidence.

BDEW said that a year ago, it had only questioned the economic viability of 22 long-term projects and warned that the situation had regressed to the point that unless action was taken to encourage the construction of more power stations to ensure stable supply, energy security issues were inevitable.

2 thoughts on “Robert Wilson on Germany’s Nuclear Phaseout and New Coal Plants

  1. There’s no “cautious concern” about Germany’s nuclear pullback. Rank cowardliness more defines it.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  2. See also

    I queried Pearce’s stat about 24% of Germany’s energy coming from wind and solar.
    One of my colleagues who has expertise in energy systems supports the overall points of the Pearce piece but notes the Fraunhofer report estimates 8.4% from wind and 5.3% from solar for 2013 for a total of 13.7 %.

    My colleague also notes an electric car powered with electricity from brown coal (Australian example) would take about 25kWh to drive 150 km or about 220 gCO2/km (assuming ~ 1.3tCO2/MWh for brown coal). Emissions from the average petrol (gasoline) car in Australia is ~ 200 gCO2/km, so that would give the coal-electric car higher, but not that much higher, emissions than conventional petrol.

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