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Beyond Growing Pains: Germany's New Normal in Renewable Energy Policy

Johannes Urpelainen's picture
Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies

Johannes Urpelainen is the Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Professor of Energy, Resources and Environment at Johns Hopkins SAIS and the Founding Director of ISEP. He received his Ph.D. in Political...

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  • Aug 23, 2016


In July 2016, the German government decided to abolish the country’s feed-in tariff (FIT) for renewable electricity generation. Instead, the government now plans to auction contracts for renewable electricity deployment to the lowest bidders.

The FIT is a policy that basically forces electric utilities to buy renewable electricity from generators for a premium price. Since 1990, the German FIT had played a key role in making the country a pioneer in the use of renewable energy. Why did Germany replace the FIT after almost three decades of unparalleled growth in renewable electricity generation?

As a policy, the FIT has many virtues in the early stages of renewable electricity generation. It reduces uncertainty for electricity producers as the FIT guarantees a fixed, above-market price for a defined time period, such as ten years.

The German law also gives priority to renewable electricity, thus granting grid access to renewable producers. This design protects independent small-scale producers by preventing electric utilities from closing the electricity market. Politically, this feature is key to understanding the FIT’s popularity: it creates benefits to a large number of small generators.

No wonder, then, that the FIT has been the most critical driver behind Germany’s aggressive growth in renewables. In fact, renewable electricity generation since 1990 increased by a factor of ten, with renewables now accounting for almost a third in the country’s electricity mix.

However, the cost of the FIT policy increases over time, as the cost of generating renewable electricity declines. This development typically shows in increased electricity prices for household customers. As a result of the FIT, average retail prices have soared, at least over the last decade. Residential consumers are charged about 35 cents/kWh compared to about 13 cents/kWh in the United States, making Germany the country of some of the highest electricity prices in Europe.

Germany’s decision to drop the FIT policy and to become an auctioneer is thus an attempt to control the rate and cost of growth in renewable electricity generation. Auctioning not only promises to reduce the cost of renewable electricity generation, but it also gives policymakers more flexibility in achieving their goals.

The German government can now create “deployment corridors” by setting renewable energy production targets for different technologies. In turn, the “breathing caps” adjust the premium for renewables depending on how well actually installed capacities match targets.

The move into auctions also shows political acumen. Now that renewable electricity generation is much cheaper than just a decade ago, rapid growth in the sector is no longer the overriding priority. Now the question is whether Germany can keep increasing the share of renewables in the power sector without continued increases in electricity prices and other problems, such as outages.

Indeed, the German FIT had recently drawn a lot of fire. Critics of the FIT point to the continued use of polluting coal in Germany, as renewables have reduced the use of natural gas and nuclear power. Others note that electricity has now become a “luxury good” in Germany, no longer affordable to the poor.

Now that cost-effectiveness of renewable production is becoming more and more important relative to mere growth, tailoring cash incentives towards the government’s strategic expansion plans is key to success. Auctions enable continued growth in renewables at a low cost relative to the FIT, while giving the government more control over technologies and types of renewables. In this sense, auctions promise to be a useful tool in Germany’s pursuit of a “new normal” in renewable electricity production.

In applauding the Merkel government’s policy choice, we do not want to belittle the challenges of designing auctions. It remains to be seen if – and how much – the German auctions reduce the cost of renewable capacity installation and whether the disappearance of the certainty provided by the FIT creates problems.

A particular challenge for Germany is that auctions are not suited for supporting the growth of small-scale, distributed renewable electricity generation. Because small producers cannot compete on cost basis with major players or do the complicated paperwork in bidding, different policies are needed to support this segment. The goal here must be to continue to support distributed electricity generation in the country of Bürgerenergie – citizen energy. The German government recognizes these issues. For example, small installations still benefit from an FIT up to a certain limit.

To sum it all up, the German government is again leading the way in renewable energy policy. Auctions are the future for renewable energy now that the sector has left growing pains behind. However, much depends on the design of auctions and finding the right complementary policies for small-scale, distributed renewable electricity generation.

Note: This post is written together with Patrick Bayer (School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Glasgow). Follow him on Twitter at @pol_economist.

Photo Credit: Sheila Sund via Flickr

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Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Aug 23, 2016

The article states, without any support, that: “Auctions enable continued growth in renewables at a low cost relative to the FIT, while giving the government more control over technologies and types of renewables.”

But the FITs have been different for different forms of energy, different for different installation scale, and were adjusted (lowered) on a monthly basis to keep growth of each type in targeted corridors. So how does auctions provide more control or lower costs?

To me, it seems that Germany has effectively given up on the energiewende, without daring to announce it publicly. If you check targets in the EEG 2016 law, the only thing that will have decent volumes in the coming years is wind. That is a major weakness. They apparently feel they can’t do significantly more solar, hydro or biomass!

There will be some off-shore efforts and some repowering of old, low capacity factor wind. When that is done, Germany might have been able to replace its last nuclear power plants with wind, and then they will be stuck with the same 60%-ish fossil generation share that they’ve had since time immemorial. In fact, they’ll be _more_ stuck than before, since the intermittent power will need fossils for balance, unlike their nuclear fleet.

Josh Nilsen's picture
Josh Nilsen on Aug 24, 2016

Good guy Germany, subsidizing solar PV for the rest of the world.

The Energiewende made it all possible.

Germany got it going, China saw the FiT, ramped up, and that’s all she wrote.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Aug 24, 2016

Germany’s Energiewende hasn’t provided any meaningful benefit yet over the proven alternatives.

The US’s frac’ing technology has so far been a bigger help in reducing CO2 emissions and particulate pollution than Energiewende.

But the technology combination used by France, Ontario, Sweden, & Switzerland (i.e. high penetration nuclear and hydro) is still the world champion source of clean electricity. (And by the way, China is also investing a hundred billion$ in this path).

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Aug 24, 2016

And in a few years you will write the same with a share of 50% fossil, then with 40% fossil, than with 30% fossil etc. ?
Germany is likely to reach the renewable share planned for 2020 next year or in 2018. the only thing which happened unexpectedly are the very high power exports, which earn billions for germany, but also rise the CO2 emissions in germany. (And lower the CO2 emissions in the neighboring countries)
There are some politicians on the right wing which want to reach CO2 and renewable targets on time, not ahead of time. If this is a good idea is another question.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Aug 24, 2016

I wish, but there is no credible path for progress after the last nuclear plants have been decommissioned. Germany has essentially put into law that fossils will be higher in 2025 than today, due to slow renewables growth and closing the last few reactors. Granted. some progress will be made for a few years now, but then, when most nuclear is closed down in 2020-2021, they’ll be back on square one.

As I said, Germany has essentially given up, and its current wind expansion is merely an effort to postpone the inevitable loss off face and political capital.

Germany’s power exports _lose_ billions for Germany. They’ve built all that renewable energy for huge sums and export the power for pennies, to neighbors less than pleased that sudden surges of renewable power in the grid threatens stability.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Aug 24, 2016

The neighbours are very pleased to be able to buy power from efficient german plants instead of having to use the outdated plants with high consumption which are still existing in some neighboring countries. Exports follows more demand than renewable production in germany, if you take a closer look into the numbers.
Germany is comming from a above 50% share of coal, and the share of coal will continue to drop this year too.
The payments for renewables are to develop the technology, not to get cheap electric power. So no, germany does not loos a penny by the exports. It has significant upfront payments for getting two to three new technologies up and running at low costs for the whole world.
But for getting two new sources of low cost energy for the world (solar and wind) spending 500 billions is less than peanuts.
Till nuclear phase out ther will be additionally around 30TWh additional offshore, around 50 TWh additional onshore wind, and around 15 TWh additional solar and 4 TWh additional biomass (gas) poewr production, which will more than replace the remaining nuclear power.
And federal gouvernment is already under huge pressure from the states to increase the numbers.
It was always consensus in germany to phase out nuclear first and coal second.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Aug 24, 2016

Neighbours are not very happy, as I said. They don’t like to be outcompeted by German subsidies and they don’t like the transients. I’ve read that they’ve had to take protective measures for their grids.

As I said, what we see now _looks_ like progress, but as most nuclear reactors are scheduled to close in 2020-2021, the improvements we see now will vanish in a puff of smoke come 2021.

If Germany would like to do something for the environment and prove that its renewables doesn’t need massive amounts of fossils, it could shut down coal/lignite plants until it didn’t have any average net exports. If it stops flooding neighbors with subsidised power, economics of renewables will improve in those neighbouring countries, right?

Great, btw, that spending 500 billions is less than peanuts. I’ll remember that next time Hinkley Point C comes up. If the 500 billions had been used to kickstart nuclear in the EU instead, we’d have 100+ reactors, low cost nuclear and a far better environmental situation. (In fact, Germany might have killed the climate by creating false hopes that made the nuclear renaissance slow down.)

What you mention will be 30+50+15+4 = 99 TWh renewables and in 2015, Germany had 92 TWh nuclear. So it’s precisely what I said – they’ll replace nuclear and then they’ll have no credible way forward from there. States can put any pressure on the federal government, but the physics remains the same. Intermittent power simply doesn’t scale well.

Right before Fukushima, Merkel was on her way to revive plans of nuclear buildout in Germany, essentially admitting the energiewende wasn’t credible. But Fukushima made her lose her political courage and decide to kick the can down the road for as long as possible.

David Gattie's picture
David Gattie on Aug 24, 2016

Every time I read an article about Energiewende, I come away more convinced that Germany’s power grid is being operated and managed by financiers, accountants, traders and other experts in financial risk management all working together to master the art of transactions, trading schemes and contract development.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Aug 24, 2016

The 500 billions already have been spent to kickstart nuclear in the 1950’s, 1960’s 1970′ up till today over and over again. Better ask how many more of such kickstarts nucklear will need to bring costs down, or if it ever will bring costs down.

About Neighbours – ask the neighbours, and do not mix phase shift transformers, which control the flow on a power line and adopt it to the contracts for transport over this line, with a unwillingness to buy power from germany.
Pland is happily importing power from more efficient german plants to safe money and to have a safe power supply for the country.
What was a problem were the uncontrolled ring flows from germany to germany, because unlike other grids, including the german grid, the polish grid was not yet equipped with the tools to control power flows. So the power followed the path of smallest voltage drop, and not according contracted flows. Which meant according to existing rules that the power was transported withput payments for transport and power losses. This is the cause for the phase shift transformers, which also reduce transmission losses by being able to compensate reactive loads.
Germany in 2015 hgad 87,07 TWh delivered to the grid.
Which is significant below 99 TWh addition for renewables. Naturally you could alternatively phase out coal instead of nuclear, but that is not the sequence favoured here.
Remember MErkel has a PhD in nuclear physics, so she can explain to you very well everything about nuclear power stations. She was not too persuaded of the life extension for nuclear before, unlike other politicians in gouvernment, and Fukushima was the point where she decided that nuclear is not a reasonable option.
Expansion of renewables will go on after 2021 according shedule, be sure of theis, there is no problem to scale it up for the comming years.
The point where people (opposing renewable generation) tell that more renewables are not possible in the grid move upward every year. In the 1990’s it was 4%, then 10%, then 20%, then 30%, today at least 40%, because 40 % might already be reached this year, and still there is no blackout in sight. German Grid operators like tennet and 50Hz tell, that depending on the amount of dispatchable loads (heating, cars) there will be no limit even without any storage to scale renewable generation up to 60-80% in germany.
But maybe you know better how to manage german grids.

And no there is no need in a free market to swich of conventional power plants by force if they can sell to other countries by lower prices (which basically results from lower fuel consumptions in the same kind of power production). And it would not help to switch off a highly efficient coal plant in germany and switch on a old retired coal plant in Poland again to keep the grid running there.
And the french would also not be too happy if they could not get cheap peak power from germany any more, needing either to buy new peak power plants or to get retiered plants of the 1950/1960’s running again. Or do you think a french coal power plant from 195x is less harmfull for environment than a german coal fired plant from 200x? Beside there will be further retirements of coal fired plants in germany in the next years, the closures are already sheduled.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on Aug 24, 2016

So it’s amazing that electricity supply in Germany is 8 times more reliable than that in the USA. While USA does not count outages due to extreme weather and Germany count all outages…

More amazing that the reliability of supply in Germany increased significantly in the years that their Energiewende took steam (2005-2010), while the lousy supply in USA didn’t in all those years!

So may be in Germany the engineers are in the lead and those financiers, accountants, traders, etc listen to them when appropriate.

Which suggestion is supported by many other facts, such as:
– Whereas HECO in Hawaii had/has great trouble to connect more rooftop solar, the utilities in S-Germany had no trouble, while the solar penetration is far higher in those regions.
– Whereas US utilities & ISO’s state that they cannot support a grid in which wind supplies >50%, wind generates >100% in Germany’s northern states (Sleeswijk-Holstein, etc) without a problem…

Or US electrical & grid engineering is backwards? Then they should visit the Germans, ask for training, take teaching practice, etc.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on Aug 24, 2016

The replacement of nuclear by renewable is good progress for the climate!

Pro-nuclear always ‘forget’ the CO2 emission of uranium ore mining, the transport of uranium ore*), the enrichment, the fabrication of the fuel rods, the many thousands of years nuclear waste has to be guarded, etc.

When you take all those in account then nuclear emits ~50% of natural gas per KWh produced. That’s not bad but far more than wind, solar, storage who don’t consume fuel (whose production cost a lot of CO2) to produce electricity.

Check a.o..the study referenced in this short overview.

While the replacement of nuclear by renewable is already good progress for the climate, there are other important benefits such as:
– significant less genetic damage to newborn up to 40km away:

– less nuclear waste as that also creates genetic damage. Last year, Germany even had to close its prime nuclear waste storage prematurely (building still largely empty) when due diligence research by pro-nuclear found even higher genetic damage levels!

– no longer the accident danger. Remember that ~1% of nuclear energy reactors ended its life in a serious accident, contaminating large areas. Germany is a dense populated land and the winds don’t blow towards the sea as in Japan. So in Germany, even a 90% smaller accident than Fukushima creates already far more havoc!
*) The mainly French war in Mali is also fueled by the need to keep the transport route of uranium ore from the mines in Niger to the sea open….

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Aug 24, 2016

A kickstart helps only until you stop all construction and let the supply chains unravel and trained professionals move on. That is exactly what has happened, and of course, a reboot means you have to take the higher costs of first builds once again.

Yes, actual commercial electricity trade with Poland is almost non-existent in 2015, so I don’t know why you claim they are happy. Most of the power crossing the border was in unplanned RE bursts and they have agreed to shut down the northern link to 2018:

Your 99 TWh addition of renewables is a high scenario. The EEG 2016 law mandates 40-45% renewable power in 2025. But in 2015, nuclear + renewables were at 44%. So mid-range of the EEG mandate is that non-fossil power in 10 years will _decrease_ from 44% to 42.5%. So fossil power will increase.

Merkel does not have a phd in nuclear physics, but in quantum chemistry. Big difference.

Of course there is a problem scaling up RE after 2021. No one has demonstrated such high RE penetrations and Germany has already given up on solar and biomass, going for token amounts. Anyone who has looked at Germany’s wind production profile for an entire year understands that it doesn’t scale. Btw, you say 40% could be reached this year. How, when it was at 30% last year?

If I know better how to manage German grids? Perhaps, and perhaps German actions speak louder than German words. I see that you only scale wind now. Again, that’s a major weakness. Why aren’t you scaling solar and biomass? Do you want us to believe you can do an RE grid based almost solely on wind?

No need in a free market to switch off coal? Depends on whether you think AGW requires a bit more political action than we are currently seeing. Germany has chosen the evil and irresponsible road to first close clean nuclear and then hope that they can magically defy intermittency somehow to proceed to replace coal a few decades later.

I’m quite fed up with apologies for coal and praising of “modern” coal plants. To me, every country has a responsibility to shut down its coal and not build new coal plants, however “modern” and “efficient”.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Aug 24, 2016

Well the Prices for nuclear also have been to high in earlier years, so kick-starts did not help then. This is why I asked how many more Kickstarts it will require.
Poland regularily buys Power from germany, especially last year when they had problems to supply regions in the east.
Trade was limited due to the low capasity of the grid in poland.
The northern link is not shut down due to unwanted flows, but becuase it gets a upgrade to much higher capacity, which you could find if you would read about planned grid extensions in europe.
Power flow in 2015 was not from the north to the south of germany, but from the north of germany via poland, czech republic, Austria furtor to southeast europe, planned direction would have been from north of germany via internal german links to Austria, but so far the links to poland and the links poland-czech republic as well as the polnish grid internally have no possiblity to control power flows which come in and go out on the 220/380kV level. At the moment Poland is using several hundred MW Power from germany, like it often happens.
And nobody here in germany has given up on Solar. But it seems creating myths about this is a hobby of yours? Germany is just not the biggest installer anymore in the world. Which is to be expected since it is also not the biggest country in the world. Or should I say sweden has given up on Hydropower since you are not the worlds biggest installer of hydropower or nuclear in the world, and not even among the biggest 5 in the world? Would not make much sense.
For biomass there are adoption programs running moving biomass from basload operation to residual load operation, the effect is already good, bit it is not visible in Agorameter, because they do not get online data of the biogas-systems ramping up and down. The existing amount of Biogas in tWh is suitable for this so there is no need to rapidly expand this, (A slower expansion of a few TWh goes on) what is being expanded is tha capacity of the biogas systems in GW.
Germany does not build new coal plants, as you might well know. The last ones went online some time ago, from now on only coaö plant closures are on the list. But I do not understand those who insist to get outdated plants running again. Which would be the inevitable effect of closing down newer ones, as long as no extra power plants of any kind go online in parallel.
And it is well known that it will not be 40% in 2025, the given corridors in the EEG are “to high” for this. Last year it was not 30% but 33%, the relevant number is the power use uf power users, the power plant internal consumption is irrelevant, because it goes away with the conventional power plants. The firs half of this year it was close to 40% already according prelimenary data. it will most likely end with 35-36%. And the grid operators here know very well the safety margins they have with grid operation at this level, and so can tell which amount of renewables will be.possible in the grid in the future. If the corridors in the EEG are kept it will very likley be around 50% in 2025, unless demand is rising unexpectedly fast, e.g. from electric vehicles. There is resistance from some important conservatice politicians to lift the corridor officially, but several of them will retire next year. So we will see what will happen then. Support to lift the corridor by population is very high.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Aug 24, 2016

No, nuclear life cycle emissions are lower than that of renewables, especially than that of solar. Solar is at 44 g CO2/kWh in good locations but obviously more in Northern Europe and a lot more if storage is used. Nuclear is at 12 g/kWh. Please check out the OpenEI project for details and a scientific overview. The Storm-Smith studies that you reference is confirmed junk science.

There is no genetic damage from nuclear power. What you reference there is also junk science. See for instance:

The major reason Fukushima caused havoc was politics. There should have been no long-term evacuations. Please see:

Also, nuclear is worth its accidents. Every day of the year, there is four Chernobyl accidents worth of damage due to particle air pollution from combustion. That’s why nuclear saves around 80,000 lives every year, conservatively estimated.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Aug 24, 2016

Hi, I’ve replied to you and also to Bentvels below hours ago, but the comments seems either stuck in moderation or rejected by it. We’ll see. If this goes through, at least you know I’ve tried. Cheers!

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Aug 25, 2016

So the infamous Mark Diesendorf is still publishing anti-nuclear propaganda; he’s been at it for decades (in the “short overview” “The Conversation” link above). The core of the anti-nuclear movement seems to be a fairly small community of scientists writing flat-Earth style publications, with claims way outside of mainstream science, that people looking to justify their anti-nuclearism can pretend is real.

It’s odd that we don’t see much discussion among environmentalist of how anti-nuclearism seems so strong in places whose primary electricity source is coal (ie. Germany and Diesendorf’s Australia).

But wow Bas, I can’t believe you’ve stooped to claiming that anti-nuclearism is good for the climate. This is way beyond most anti-nuclearism and unusually detached from reality.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Aug 25, 2016

…wind generates >100% in Germany’s northern states (Sleeswijk-Holstein, etc) without a problem.

As we’ve said many times, it’s the “grid penetration” that matters, not the local production/consumption ratio. Of course the German state is tied into the long distance grid, and the grid wind pentration is probably below 25% (German average is 16%), with most of the rest of the power (and all of the load following) supplied by dirty out of state coal power. The fact that the average amount of wind power may be greater than the average local demand does nothing to eliminate the coal dependence.

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Aug 25, 2016

If you’re going to hold the CO2 emissions of uranium ore mining against nuclear, then I suggest you also review the serious EROEI studies on wind and solar. IIRC, the specific CO2 footprint for wind is an order of magnitude larger than that of nuclear, and solar is another order of magnitude beyond that.

All, of course, are small, compared to coal or natural gas, but in relative terms, nuclear is far “cleaner” than wind or solar.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Aug 25, 2016

My comment seems stuck in moderation, so I hope it’s ok that I repeat (without links) that the referenced Storm-Smith studies on nuclear’s lifecycle CO2 emissions is confirmed junk science. The median of academic papers on nuclear life cycle emissions according to OpenEI is 12 g CO2/kWh.

There is also no genetic damage due to nuclear power. Such claims are also based on junk science.

Fukushima, according to scientific studies, shouldn’t have been long-term evacuated since the expected loss of life would have been an order of a magnitude less than what is due to air pollution in a major city such as London. The “havoc” is political in nature.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on Aug 25, 2016

So you refuse to study the referred study.
But common sense also shows the relative high CO2 emissions per KWh of nuclear. E.g. employees emit substantial CO2 per year (heating house, office, etc):

A net 1 GW NPP together with its share of uranium mining, processing, etc. require a staff of >1,000 Full-Time Employees (FTE).
A net 2MW (8MW with 25% CF) wind turbine requires a visit during less than a day per year by two people.

So yearly 200 work days deliver a continuous production per FTE with wind of 200MW and with nuclear 1MW!!

Compensating that wind engineers drive more in their car, the emissions of nuclear are still a factor 100 higher…

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Aug 25, 2016

Well, I guess you will have to update your data sometimes to the rapid chaniging data of wind and solar.
Be aware that the amount of concrete and steel used for a EPR per kWh/Year production is not significant different from the amount of concrete /steel used for modern wind turbines per kWh/year. (Note: I do not say that the amount of material for wind turbines is less than for the EPR, but not so much more)
Also be aware that concrete towers constructed acording DIN for 20 years life have a real life life expectancy above 60 years, because the load cycles which DIN assumes in 20 years are reached in practice only in 60 years or longer, as research of VDE found out. (And all other construction standards are the same for 20 or >60 years whan constructed acording DIN) Which fits to the experience here in germany, that the few old concrete towers for wind turbines do not cause maintenance costs, and the oldest tower of similar kind, not used for wind power but constructed mainly according the same rules ( is still in perfect working order after 60 years.
Energy use for producing photovoltaic equipment has fallen dramatically during the last years, one of the causes which allowes to produce them ever cheaper.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on Aug 25, 2016

Genetic damage
The Germans took a great loss (?€50miln?) by closing Gorleben’s surface storage prematurely (still merely empty) after a scientific conference discussing the damage shown by the original genetic study and the due-diligence study by pro-nuclear scientists with all experts who had an opinion about it (incl. pro-nuclear deniers).

Now you want us to believe all those results were fake…
While both studies were published in peer reviewed scientific journals, incl. a discussion..

But you can check the original statistical study yourself. You find some of the raw data at sheet 16 of this presentation (the prime author has a PhD in statistical science, so you may need statistical know how if you want to redo the study. But I’m sure he will be glad to help if you have trouble).

The presentation contains a clear explanation and ~10 links to scientific publications.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Aug 25, 2016

I think the median of peer reviewed quality studies is better than common sense and better than a laymans wild guesses regarding workforce. Again, the Storm-Smith study is junk science.

I note that wind O&M is as costly as nuclear O&M, so that is an indication that the workforce requirements in O&M are the same. But wind O&M is likely to be more energy and resource intensive, since nuclear power is required to waste money on a lot of safety-related paper-pushing by people with high salaries.

Noting, btw, that the wind industry is boasting that it “creates” 1.1 million jobs. That is quite a lot for an industry that is creating a third of the electricity of nuclear.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Aug 25, 2016

There’s 1.7 million Chinese employed in the PV value chain and 2.7 million global employees. A UN report put 2015 global PV investments at 161 BUSD. The result of such volumes is an addition of a paltry 62 TWh global yearly production in 2015.

This is very similar to the output of the 8 new nuclear reactors that China commissioned last year. The total cost of those was in the region of 20 BUSD.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Aug 25, 2016

Well , so you want to raise the impression that nuclear power is 8 times cheaper than PV. So, then offer in UK that you’ll build nuclear pwoer stations there for 1/8th of the solar feed in tarif with othewise unchanged conditions. They will surely welcome this.

Or you can offer the same in Sweden.

Or we go back to comparing prices when power enters the grid, which brings us back to the famous 92Pounds/kWh.

How many of these “cheap” nuclear power stations started costruction this year in china?

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Aug 25, 2016

Yes, that’s obviously junk science. Nuclear reactors during operation hardly release any radiation at all – miniscule compared to background, and they didn’t observe hereditary genetic damage even in Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims.

If anyone was impressed by this junk science, that is unfortunate. I could give you multiple links to very heavy academic criticism of Scherb and Voigt, but it seems when I link, my comments get caught in the spam filter. I’ll provide some text for you to google instead: One criticism’s abstract reads like this:

“The recent claim made in this journal that nuclear bomb tests and the Chernobyl disaster caused distortions in the secondary sex ratio is shown to be an artefact of data mining, misused statistics and willful misreading of the evidence. In particular, the concept of “significance” and its limitations do not seem to be fully understood; and important confounding factors have not been accounted for. By using the methods employed by the authors, it can likewise be shown that there is a highly significant increase in the sex odds at birth in countries that border on the mediterranean, or that that the odds are negatively related to the number of characters in a country’s name.”

and this is from another criticism’s conclusions:

“[…]the arguments provided by Scherb and Voigt are not convincing and do not provide reasons of concern for public health. Most of the trends identified by their study disappear when larger periods of time are considered, and their dose–effect estimation is based on one observation in one country not reproduced in any of the other 33 European countries. The only clear and progressive increase of sex ratios shown in this study is that in Russia between 1980 and 2000. However, Scherb and Voigt do not provide any scientific proof of a stepwise increase in 1987, and they did not attempt to compare this with similar trends observed in the same period of time in many Asian countries albeit with much higher amplitude. Using this scant evidence, Scherb and Voigt go far beyond a sole effect on the sex ratio at birth. They make the extraordinary claim that “the internationally established radiation risk concept based on average absorbed dose is in error at three to four orders of magnitude or, more likely, it is conceptually wrong” and that there are at least “one million missing children.””

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Aug 25, 2016

Well the only data I found so far, referenced in another discussion resulted in 530g/kWh CO2 intensity in germany and 720g/kWh uin the US. The Co2Emission per € GNP is much more unfavorable for the US. Even more if you include the fact that germany exports significant more goods than it imports, which again raises CO2-Emissions within the country.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Aug 25, 2016

My comment is still stuck, or rejected, though I don’t know why, as I’m always polite and truthful. Anyway, much shorter this time and without a few nice graphs:

Germany’s solar additions in 2015 will have some 0.2% market share. Given 30 years of life, this corresponds to a 6% steady-state penetration. This means they are now building at replacement rate, or, best case, aiming for 10% penetration in 20 years from now.. Thus they have given up on solar.

I’ll go with the official 30% RE penetration rate in Germany, thank you. Where the power goes is irrelevant to me. Also, I rather go with the official EEG 2016 targets of 40-45% RE in 2025 than your estimates of the “corridors”. So it seems Germany is targeting higher fossil shares in the coming decade. Anything else is wishful thinking.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Aug 25, 2016

Then you should learn more about the “breathing cap” for solar and other capacity in the german market, and what happens with constant payments while costs are falling over longer time.
But I love these maximum renewable penetration marks for the german grid. I love the woooshing sound they make as they fly by.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Aug 25, 2016

As I’ve previously mentioned, nuclear can be arbitrarily expensive if you have an adversial and untested regulatory regime and no established nuclear construction industry. But nuclear in China was obviously some 8 times cheaper than PV globally. Granted, it’s an apples and pears comparison, but still an indication of how ridiculously expensive PV is, and what can be done in nuclear if we wish. South Korea is one country that disproves the notion that cheap nuclear can only be had in China. Also, the west has done it cheaply before and could do it again.

92 pounds/kWh is a negotiated price, not a cost. I’m talking about actual industry costs.

China started six reactor construction projects in 2015 but (I think) none so far this year. However, the 13th five-year plan was approved in the spring and mandates 6-8 construction starts per year.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Aug 25, 2016

Last time I checked, Germany emitted 0.23 kg CO2/$GDP, whereas France was at 0.14 kg. My own Sweden 0.09 kg. That’s no coincidence.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Aug 25, 2016

Germany is not building substantial PV anymore, and so has stalled at low penetration rates. As have all other solar pioneers, I might add. Every single one of them proved to be a bubble that has already burst before reaching double digits. But it’s great that Germany has a name for its bubble bursting: “Breathing cap”.

Those maximum RE penetration marks you talk of is pure straw man stuff.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Aug 25, 2016

Well the Power purchase agreemens for solar power worlwide work exactly the same as the “negotiated price” for nuclear in Hinkley Point. So it should be easy to get offers for new nuclear power plants in germany or sweden with strike prices well below 1ct/kWh according to your opinion? Why is nobody offering this? And why did the chinese stop fast expansion of nuclear?

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Aug 25, 2016

Yes, in sweden aus Norway you have lots of hydropower, which is not existing in germany, and I do not know if you have so much heavy industry. While germany has abundant lignite at nearly no cost which was naturally used then.
If I calculate the amout of hydropower productio per head for germany we should have around 640 TWh per year of hydropwer contribution for the grid, allowing heating to be run with hydropower, wind and solar, while electricity also run with hydro, wind and solar. Very simple task with so much hydropower, no nuclear needed at all.
That’s the difference. Germany does not have favourable conditions for “Energiewende”. Not abundant sun, not abundand wind, not abundand hydropower, but lots of power sucking industry. If it works here it works everywhere.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Aug 25, 2016

Yes, Sweden has lots of hydro and lots of heavy industry and we’ve leveraged that with lots of nuclear, to reach 0.09 kg CO2/$, which is world class.

France doesn’t have the hydro, so it stops at 0.14 kg since it wisely does as much nuclear as Sweden (in per-capita terms).

Germany doesn’t have much hydro and opted to stay mostly with primitive coal and gas energy, so it stays at 0.23 kg.

The difference between France and Sweden is hydro. The difference between Germany and France is nuclear. The difference between Germany and Sweden is both hydro and nuclear.

Germany remains a major bad boy since it is betting on the wrong horse. If Germany had done what France has done, Germany too would be at around 0.14 kg. Germany is a full 60% worse polluter than France in per-dollar terms and looks like it will remain so indefinitely.

It’s unconscionable, if you ask me, and it’s not only about CO2. Thousands die every year from German coal particulates pollution. Multiply by 60 years and you have far in excess of 100,000 deaths from the energiewende. And then we’re not counting all the good you could do and all the lives you could save with the wasted money.

I’d turn your last statement around. If rich Germany can’t pull off an energiewende, much of the rest of the world can’t do it either.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Aug 25, 2016

France has a hydro share of about 20% this alone would close a significant part of the gap, and significant less heavy industry. And if you look some years back, you will see that german CO2 emissions per € have dropped drastically during the last decades.
Energiewende is running just 60 years now, and within the next decades coal will be phased out. This is consensus, and not a real problem, as you want to make it.
Germany dropped so far from place 22 of the world ranking in CO2 emmissions worldwide in 1991 to place 36 in 2013.
Where really some improvement is neccesary is traffic. But here sweden has the same problems.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Aug 25, 2016

No, France does not have 20% hydro! It has 10% hydro and Germany has 3%. So France’s nuclear is more than 10 times bigger than the 7% difference in hydro. That’s where the gap is, obviously.

The last decade, from 2005 to 2015, France has dropped CO2-emissions from 388 Mtons to 309 Mtons. Germany has dropped CO2-emissions from 822 Mtons to 754 Mtons. So France shed a whopping 20% even though it was essentially done with electricity decarbonisation in the early 90-ies. Germany shed only 8% despite enormous low hanging fruits in electricity. That’s the energiewende for you. (All figures according to BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2016.)

France (and Sweden) has plenty heavy industry too, and it dimensioned nuclear after its needs, just as you dimension after your needs. Heavy industry is no excuse!

Yes, traffic. Sweden in 2011 introduced a “superenvironmentalcar”-premium that subsidise EVs by €4500 or so. I’ve heard Germany got around to something similar this year? So Sweden has almost 3% plugin share now, where Germany has 0.5%. For some reason, nuclear countries are in the top half of the list and intermittent renewable leaders are in the bottom. I’ll venture a graph again, and see if it makes my comment lost in moderation:

Is the reason for RE leaders lagging behind in EVs that they’ve wasted all their money on extremely expensive intermittent sources, to little effect?

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Aug 25, 2016

Nope, they don’t work the same. The quixotic UK regulators had only approved the EPR, so that was the only design on the table. Other contenders gave up due to the difficulties to get licensed and work the red tape. Then the negotiation ensued.

As I’ve previously mentioned, and as you continuously disregard in order to get some cheap shots in, nuclear can be arbitrarily expensive if you choose it to be. For nuclear to start realizing its potential, there has to be some regulatory deratcheting and some economies of scale has to get going. It’s a political choice and so far, Europe hasn’t chosen to go in this direction. The UK has started to show some interest, but it hasn’t actually got going.

There’s an unfortunate double standard where Germany’s waste of money is celebrated as it has got solar prices down a bit, but where UKs ambitions to spend far, far less to get nuclear going is widely met with contempt. I think if anything, it should be the other way around, since nuclear is an actual solution and not just something that extends gas a bit.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Aug 26, 2016

OK, so solar power prices going down by a factor well above 5 is “a bit”, while the constntly high prices for nuclear in many projects are just accidents which will not repeat….
And the costs in vogtle, sumner, flamaville, etc. are all just rumors.

So you think if you allow nuclear to operate with no safety it will become chaper and still safe enough, since all dangers are just rumors or so, or what do you want to tell?
Well, then build some nuclear power stations of this kind in sweden, and show that thecosts just come from red tape. I will wait till you have finished the first set of new reactors to see the price tag you get.
Be aware that the french have given up to build new nuclear capacity. And I see no interest in france to hinder nuclear with any amount of red tape.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Aug 26, 2016

So Norway, the netherlands, iceland and austria have high shares of nuclear power? Or what connection do you try to make? About hydro in france you are right, my number from memory was much too old, share has dropped in the last decades significant.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Aug 26, 2016

Each reactor globally saves on average 200 lives annually, and those are overwhelmingly gen2. The industry is not dumber than it wants to preserve their investments and not have to pay damages in the case of accidents. That’s why selected lessons learned since gen2 would be applied by the industry, even with very little regulatory oversight, to have new designs easily magnitudes safer than the average of the current fleet (which is already plenty high), with no or little added cost.

I could mention a number of innovations and examples of vastly improved performance of the nuclear industry, but in spite of this, costs do escalate in certain regions of the world, even in the current fleet. Instead of being spiteful about that, we should look for and eliminate the reasons, if we care about the environment and human access to energy. The nuclear industry is an industry like any other, and it does industrial learning like all other industries. Its cost curve should slope downwards. It’s obvious that regulatory ratcheting and increasing amounts of red tape is counteracting industrial learning.

So again, nuclear costs is a choice. A lot of people obviously want the costs to be high for political reasons (and supported by fossil interests), and they have largely had their way. For instance, in many countries, including the US, anti-nuclear activists are put in charge of regulatory bodies. The overall result is runaway climate change and 7 million annual air-quality related deaths and also plenty other health consequences.

But hey, solar feels good, doesn’t it, and what’s a few degrees higher temperature and hundreds of million deaths over a longer time frame? Perhaps that are costs we need to take to avoid another evacuation of a 100,000, and to have that warm, green feeling when we think about energy?

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Aug 26, 2016

I agree, much too old. You might have got your hydro figures from 1988, where the hydro share was 20% the last time. The French average hydro share in the last 20 years is 11% and in the last 10 years, 10%.

Again, I’m seeing the nuke leader nations in the top half and the RE leaders in the bottom half. It’s too much to be a coincidence. Norway and Iceland doesn’t really count – they have too much hydro to care. But if you want, you can compare hydro+nuke (luck+smarts) with intermittent RE (folly), and see that the correlation to plug-in rate is overwhelming. Why?

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Aug 26, 2016

So far neither manufacturers of power stations nor operators of nuclear power stations. nor their insurances pay a significant part of the damage when a damage happens. This is a moral hazard problem. And there are no insurances willing to cover such damages for payments the nuclear power plant operator can afford. When insurance level for belgium nuclear power plants should be increased, no private insurence wanted to take the ristk. So now they have the belgium state as “insurance company”.
Many people would not have so much problems if the operator of the plant would have to have a sufficient insurance, e.g one trillion per plant. So far the accumulated insurance numbers of the cars of the employees on the parking lot in front of the nuclear power plant are often higher than the insurance of the nuclear power plant itself. I do not think that you want to tell me that those cars can produce more damage than a worrst case situation (including black swans so outside the design behaviour) can cause.
This would drive costs further up.
Insurance mathematicans have calculated these costs with about 1€/kWh in the 1990’s. This number might be too high, but it is far more than peanuts we would talk about for such a insurance.

Secons is construction times and planning times. Solar can be deployesd in huge amounts within months. Existing manufacturing capacity is already exceeding 100 GW per year and expanding fast. And for installation mostly untrained workers are sufficient -systems are extremely simple.
So problem for nuclear is that it is too expensive, it takes far to long to build relevant numbers of it, and supply chain can not provide sufficiant capacity.
To give you a imagination – typical sun on earth produces something around 1500kWh/kWp for solar. So with current production capacity, already a addition of >150TWh per year of power production is possible. Wth 7000 full load hours this is equivalent to >20GW nuclar power per year. Next year with projectsfor expansions already running, it would require 25 nuclear power plants per year to keep up, with projected production expansions for solar for 2018 it would require already 30 nuclear power plants per year.
Installation rates for solar lag a bit behind production capacities, by a bit more than a year, but this is negible compared to the planning and construction times for nuclear.
Even worse numbers for wind power due to higher capacity factors there.
So even if costs and riskt and planning + construction times are left aside, capacities to built nuclear plants would have to reach around 100 new plants per year in 2020 to remain a relavant part of the game.
If I look at the market the likelyhood that we reach capacities for 0 new plants per year in 2020 is more likely than that we reach capacities for 100 new plants per year in 2020.
How do you want to build up these capacities? by picking up workers to build those plants at randome from the road? There are too many points preventing nuclear to become anywhere near to a reasonable choice.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Aug 26, 2016

randome coincidence? The nethelands, belgium, UK do not fit to your explanartion. It leaves france and sweden as real fit to your theory, which is too few. Norway is investing in wind power too.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Aug 26, 2016

Food, chemical, aviation, hydro, nanotech, medicine et al does not pay insurance to cover worst case accidents either, even though their worst case scenarios often are much worse than nuclear. And neither should they have such insurance – that’s what we have states for.

After Chernobyl, nuclear power has produced more than 60 trillion kWh, and Fukushima costs are in the order of $100 billion, so we’re talking average damages of 100/60e3 = $0.002/kWh. How your “insurance matematician” came up with a number more than 500 times that is unclear.

And new plants (even 80-ies plants) are of course magnitudes safer than the old Fukushima Mark 1 reactors, so average damage costs should be orders of magnitude less in the future. The problem is not insurance per se, but that no insurance company can write out blank checks to politicians. The more insurance money politicians have to play with, the more exaggerated the cleanup and evacuations. Fukushima was plenty exaggerated as it is. Rational mitigation costs would be a magnitude less, easily.

100 GW/year? So you’re saying solar PV factories run at 60% capacity or so? Interesting, can you provide some evidence?

Other than that, China showed last year how a single country, easily can build more nuclear than the entire globe builds solar. My own Sweden in 1974 had 1 reactor under construction per million inhabitants. Scale that to the world, and you have 7000 nukes under construction at the same time. I wouldn’t do that, but I just wanted to put your claims that nuclear is too slow into perspective. Nuclear has a proven track record of taking 2% market share per year in the best years of the 80-ies. Solar in 2015 took 0.26% market share. There’s a speed difference of a factor of seven right there.

I would say building solar factories and supply chains is like building nuclear plants and supply chains. It’s just that nuclear is so much cheaper and less resource intensive. Once you get going, speed of nuclear is unparalleled.

You’re too optimistic about solar, both capacity factor-wise and in terms of installations. Wind abandoned exponential growth in 2009 or so and went almost linear at quite disappointing levels. So will solar in a few years. Remember every solar pioneer country has burst its bubble. Eventually, there are no more bubbles to inflate.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Aug 26, 2016

Wrong, Belgium absolutely fits. It’s like 50% nuclear. Agreed Netherlands doesn’t have much nuclear, but OTOH, it’s not an RE leader either.Switzerland and France are heavy nuclear and lies high, so that fits. UK and Finland has medium nuclear and lies in the middle, so that fits. Norway has 1.7% wind and 0% solar, so that insignificant and fits.

All the bottom countries are RE leaders in either solar or wind or both.

But hey, I thought it was a very interesting correlation, but certainly, flat out denial is an option. If you don’t see it, we don’t need to argue about it.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Aug 26, 2016

Well I guess you should look a bit closer e.g. at the incurances of chemical plants. And Fukushima is far, far from being cleaned up and having payed all its costs. Even tschernobyl costs are still piling up further and further. So yor calculation misses any base.

As for nuclear pwoer plants – the supply chain for those plants was mainly not in sweden, so tha number of inhabitants there does not matter. If all 8 pwer plants would have been built in a vilage with 16 inhabitants, your calculation would result that it is possible to build 3,5 billion nuclear power plants per year. So calculation method is not helpful.
Look at the tame scale how long it would take to produce a new hull for Flamaville if the one which is built in there is nit accepted due to production problems. As far as I remember those numbers have been published. There are only two or three places in the world where such equipment can be produced, and to build them and to train the workers there takes many many years. Which would be a precondition even to start construction more nuclear power plants per year. And the machines used in these factorys also take years to be produced and delivered. On this level at least the workers which can produce those machines exist.
So better get away from nuclear pipe dreams and look at the real world.
And solar capacity – the factoies go online during the year, which reduces the effect of new capacity on total numbers of output to half. then they need some time to ramp up and reach full capacity, which takes months. And then additional supply has to tickle down supply chains, whicha lso takes months, and needs to find new customers. So e.g. people in Africa have to see that they now can buy solar panels in their town and decide to install some.Power delivery of new installed systems also only partly contributes to the solar power produced in this year. Which causes delays between capacity expansion and solar power produced.
To say it simplistic – production capacity finalised e.g. in 2013 shows up on the market in 2014 and results in a rise of solar power produced in 2015 or 2016.
With the fast rate of solar power expansion this easily results in something of a factor 2 between power produced (As far as it is measured at all, most inhouse consumprtion is measured nowhere), and production capacity already finalised.
So what you see in new power production statistics today is already ony of historic value for any look on the next year, or even further into the future.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Aug 26, 2016

Hmm, nearly 90 TWh consumption, in 2014 just abover 30 TWh nuclear power production in belgium, and the only number for 2015 I find is a further fall of nuclear pwoer production by 23% in belgium in 2015:
For 50% I would expect different numbers- maybe this time your numbers are too old?

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on Aug 26, 2016

The comments you cite are simply wrong.
An example:
their dose–effect estimation is based on one observation in one country
It’s based on many observations in 5 countries as you could see when you opened the previous linked presentation.

The results of the conference between pro- & anti-nuclear scientists about the studies, also show that your cited ‘scientists’ are wrong.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Aug 26, 2016

Again, the Fukushima cleanup and long-term evacuation is to its extent and costs driven by the need of politicians to look good. It’s not driven by a serious cost/benefit analysis. You’re right that we don’t know how much the Japanese has to pay for their politicians to look good. But the costs, even if we take Greenpeace’s fever dreams for truth, are low enough to realize that they do not add anything much to the average cost of nuclear.

I think heavy forgings were imported to Sweden, but most nuclear components, buildings and so on was nationally sourced from ASEA-Atom, Stal-Alstom turbines and so on. But ok, let’s go with France then. 7-8 reactors/year the best years, at a population level of 54 million, so say 1 reactor per 7 million inhabitants and year. (And I guess they also supplied some components to other countries meanwhile). So 1000 reactors per year, if scaled to the world. Again, I’m not saying that we should do that, just informing that nuclear can be built at almost arbitrary rates, after a brief preparatory phase.

Any industry can provide examples of projects gone sour. “Proof by EPR” is not good enough. That’s just cherrypicking a single model. Remember, France decarbonised electricity from decision in 1973 to done in 1992, 19 years later. Compare with Germany which has dreams of 80% renewable grid for 2050, some 60 years after France was done. (And besides, Germany’s 80% goal is not good enough and France does better today in terms of non-fossil generation.)

You think that I should “get away from nuclear pipe dreams and look at the real world”. Is that your reply to my observation that nuclear has take 2% global market share in good years, whereas solar’s best is 0.26% added market share, even though solar can be deployed anywhere regardless of country, whereas nuclear needs a bit more maturity?

Again, sure it takes time to build capacity to do the large components of nuclear plants, but it also takes time to build a solar factory. In all, nuclear is faster because it is cheaper and requires far less resources, and time is money. In the end, it all comes down to how much you get for every dollar.

You said there is more than 100 GW solar production capacity now. Do you have any evidence for this assertion? I you’re right, I’d expect at least 100 GW installations in 2017, but that’s not according to mainstream forecasts.


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