TNR: "How Not to Go Green"

As we have noted before, we think there are important lessons to be learned from Germany’s efforts to phase out nuclear power. In the end, less nuclear seems to irrevocably lead to simply this: burning more fossil fuel, generating more carbon emissions and less energy independence.

The latest writer to notice this posted an article at The New Republic, “How Germany Phased Out Nuclear Power, Only to be Mugged By Reality.

“Yet in bowing to the country’s strong anti-nuclear movement, Germany appears to have suddenly gone off track: Within the last year the country has gone from a net exporter of energy to a net importer, and the carbon intensity of the energy it purchases has risen as well. Now, with its energy politics in turmoil, Germany is serving as a very different sort of model for environmentalists: how not to go green.”


The article then lists several specific lessons learned from Germany’s energy choices, with one being that ending nuclear energy did not spur more renewable use in Germany thus far:

Indeed, Laszlo Varro, the head of the gas, coal, and power markets division at the International Energy Agency, told me the end of nuclear power ultimately won’t have a discernible impact on renewable generation. That’s because the main obstacle to renewable development isn’t competition from nuclear power, but the challenge of transmission—how to bring electricity from offshore wind farms in northern Germany to the factories in the south. The nuclear phaseout, Varro argues, will only exacerbate this challenge by removing nuclear plants from southern Germany and increasing the north-south energy imbalance.

And since this is the case, by definition, less nuclear power actually results in more dirty fossil fuel use and more greenhouse gas production:

None of this means that Germany has necessarily fallen off course in meeting its ambitious renewable energy targets (the 2050 goal involves many factors, and it’s too soon to judge the ongoing progress with any certainty). But the country’s chances of meeting its emissions goals will almost certainly suffer. That’s because replacing low-emissions nuclear power with wind or solar doesn’t actually reduce emissions—and replacing it with coal and gas only worsens the situation. “Reaching the carbon dioxide emissions target will be more difficult and more expensive after the moratorium,” Varro predicts.

Thus far the effort has also made Germany markedly less energy independent as a nation:

Meanwhile, the biggest financial winner from Germany’s nuclear moratorium, Varro says, is nuclear power outside Germany. Since March, Germany has imported considerably more electricity from neighboring countries like France that rely on nuclear power sources. It’s also turned to power from coal-fired plants in Poland and the Czech Republic.

The author then closes with a long view perspective: Germany may be a gigantic experiment, showing how policy and energy choices impact a large industrial country, and that “the world’s environmentalists have their eyes on Germany. It’s just that the example the country is setting might not be the one he intended.”

Many other experts from around the world are seeing this same thing:

To be sure, as a laboratory for an energy experiment of this magnitude, Germany does have some advantages. It’s a highly industrialized country with a substantial investment in renewable energy sources and a history of beating expectations…. But many energy experts are more skeptical. In a survey this month of experts in 21 countries by the London-based World Energy Council, none of the respondents said they expected Germany to meet all of its stated energy goals, and more than three-quarters predicted a weakening of the Germany economy over the coming decade as a result of the nuclear phaseout. “It’s really a catastrophe,” Kleinknecht told me.

This is a must read article, you can find the whole work here.