Germany's "Energiewende" Moves Slowly

By Editors

Germany's fabled transformation out of nuclear energy and into renewables may amount to less than it appears. Two years into the process, things are still moving slowly. The above graph shows the change in the percentage of electrical power generated from each source from 2011 to 2012. The bars represent only the percentage, with 2011 in blue and 2012 in green. Coal, lignite (a dirtier form of coal), oil, gas, sun, wind and nuclear are all represented with fossil fuels and renewables totaled at the right.

There has been no move away from fossil fuels, which still provide 60 percent of power.  In fact the move has been toward more intense carbon emissions. Natural gas use is actually down, mainly because of Europe's decision not to employ fracking technology. This has forestalled any price drop, as has occurred in the United States. Instead, gas is being imported from Russia, which has been pushing for higher prices. Oil and coal burning have both increased in order to make up the difference. The greatest increase has been in lignite, a cheaper and less dense form of coal that produces more carbon ash and more carbon emissions. German utilities are actually building new coal plants in anticipation of increasing demand.

There has been some shift away from nuclear and toward renewables. Nuclear generation fell from 108 terawatt-hours (TWh) to 99 TWh, a decline from 17.7 percent to 16 percent on the graph. This was due to the closing of two small reactors.  Meanwhile solar electricity took a big jump from 19.3 TWh to 27.6 TWh, an increase of 47.7 percent. Starting from a low base, however, this only amounted to a rise from 3.2 to 4.6 percent on the graph. Wind actually declined in 2012, from 48.8 to 46 TWh due to a lull in December. Wind made up 7.3 percent of German production, down from 7.7 percent the previous year.

Current plans remain to phase out nuclear entirely by 2022. To replace nuclear's contribution with wind and solar would mean more than doubling the current output from these two sources.  This may prove difficult since wind and solar installations operate at only around 20-30 percent of their nameplate capacity and must be constantly backed up by other plants that can be dispatched on demand.  What is far more likely is that nuclear's contribution will end up being replaced by fossil fuels, particularly coal, since that is the cheapest and most accessible souce. This trend of replacing nuclear with coal is already taking shape in the current figures.

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