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Germany's Energiewende Requires Sophisticated Governance, Political Stamina

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By Peter Sopher

Conceptualizing a policy as broad and ambitious as Energiewende – Germany’s goal to transition nearly 100 percent of its electricity supply to renewable energy by 2050 – is one thing. Implementing it is another thing entirely.

For this, ‘good governance’ is required – or as the Hertie School defines it: “an effective, efficient, and reliable set of legitimate institutions and actors engaged in a process of dealing with a matter of public concern.”

Energiewende’s implementation presents significant governance challenges. It is a public matter that requires cooperation and coordination from various public and private actors, as well as top-down decision-making. It also comprises diverse political levels and jurisdictions – global, European, federal, state, and municipal – as well as interest groups, cooperatives, alliances, banks, and individuals.

While Energiewende is very much a German policy designed for a German political context, there are still lessons the U.S. (and any country considering an energy transition for that matter) can learn from the challenges Germany has faced in developing a governance strategy to go where no one has gone before: overhauling the modern electricity system as we know it to make the German power grid more clean, efficient, resilient, and dynamic.

Overlap on the federal level

Many of the governance challenges associated with Energiewende stem from its long-term nature and dependence on variables that are not entirely within the government’s control.

On a federal level, six ministries have relevant jurisdictions concerning Energiewende. The two most important actors are the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy (BMWi) and the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB). While there has been recent progress in clarifying ministries’ authorities, there is still overlap among ministries’ responsibilities. For example, ‘energy efficiency’ improvement is an objective for the BMWi and BMUB, as well as for the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI). For details on the Energiewende responsibilities of the relevant federal ministries and other governing bodies, refer to the supplementary table here.

States’ rights cause inconsistencies

Germany’s federalism adds a wrinkle of complexity to the Energiewende governance.  The country’s sixteen states (Bundesländer) operate autonomously on many Energiewende-related subjects, such as state support schemes, permitting procedures, regulation of construction, and land-use planning. All states (Länder) have their own agendas; so, inconsistencies between federal and state goals are inevitable.  For example, both northern and southern states would like to increase their supply of renewables, but all these states moving forward on this ambition could lead to over-capacities. This is a problem because oversupplies of power to the grid can stress and damage transmission and distribution infrastructure, leading to reliability concerns.  At the moment, however, Germany is a hallmark for electric grid reliability.

While states have recently agreed to improve cooperation and relinquish more planning competencies to the federal level (the Act to Accelerate the Expansion of Electricity Networks in 2011 streamlined approval and transferred competencies from states to the federal government) unclear jurisdictions and lack of accountability are still prevalent and, thus, planning and implementation problems are likely to persist. There must be a clear, accepted understanding that the higher level of government has authority, if conflicting agendas among lower levels of government arise.

Energiewende is inherently political

While an energy transition is inherently political, steps that shelter an energy transition’s governance structure from partisan politics improve stability. Partisan politics renders individual governing bodies’ positions dynamic; and, thus, how the moving parts of an energy transition work together as a unit frequently fluctuates. Additional levels of government (ex. local, state, federal) intensify this flux.

At present, Barbara Hendricks and Sigmar Gabriel head the BMUB and BMWi, respectively.  Both are members of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), a political party that aligns itself in the middle between the sustainable energy coalition (SEC) and the conventional energy coalition, but leans SEC. While Energiewende is a program with long-term 2050 goals, the heads of these governing ministries fluctuate more regularly; since Energiewende’s official start in 2010, there have been 3 different heads of the BMWi. The political leanings – specifically, whether ministers are proponents or opponents of Energiewende – of these ministries in the future is an unknown that will impact the efficiency and effectiveness of Energiewende’s implementation.

Hertie School explains that, with respect to Germany’s Energiewende,

“Political steering is not entirely coherent, jurisdictions remain unclear, and processes are ineffective. This is largely due to the various levels of governance and conflicting party strategies. To a certain extent the different parties can be attributed to one of the two major advocacy coalitions. However, certain parties have established their own policy proposals. This results in a variety of possible political scenarios that create uncertainty about the future governance processes of Energiewende… Depending on the future government, the federal steering of Energiewende will increasingly represent interests of the conventional or sustainable energy coalition. However, due to the multi-level government structure of Germany, lower levels of government might still head into different directions and undermine federal decisions.”

This underscores the uncertainties that arise when an ambitious energy transition with long-term goals relies on a sustained, favorable political backdrop. An energy transition is inherently political, but prudent measures to minimize political risks exist.

EDF does not advocate for any changes to Germany’s Energiewende’s governance structure. For future energy transitions elsewhere, however, it should be noted that there are ways to organize governance – such as creating administrative positions for appointees with indefinite terms – that are less prone to the instabilities associated with partisan politics.


Energiewende’s dynamic development will require continued flexibility in its governance structure. Overlapping responsibilities of federal ministries must be minimized as the program evolves and Germany’s federalism preserved while states work together to optimize the country’s electric grid. This flexibility, however, must not extend to the rigor with which Energiewende’s goals are pursued, as a key to Energiewende’s success is how it develops within the political agendas of fluctuating heads of state, some of whom might oppose Energiewende in future years.

This is the sixth and final blog post in a six-part series on Energiewende, which describes best practices gleaned from the German experience and examines their U.S. applicability. Topics will include the EconomicsPolitics, Governance, Implementation, and Reliability of Energiewende.

Photo source: Cezary Piwowarski 

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Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Dec 31, 2014

“There must be a clear, accepted understanding that the higher level of government has authority, if conflicting agendas among lower levels of government arise.”

Ordinary farmers & people are the origin and basis of the Energiewende. Whithout their support it’s ‘schluss’. Enforcement of contentious (environmental) changes by ‘Berlin’ will decrease support by the population and may end the Energiewende somewhere halfway, e.g. in the thirties.

Decision making should be more according to the Swiss model*) as that ensures max. support for controversial decisions and the long term support for the Energiewende in the population.
If everybody understands that something noxious is necessary and all alternatives are worse, than people accept without problems.

Of course the inevitable discussion rounds impliy it will take more time from decision to start of implementation. But that is easily handled by good planning.

*) In Switserland all decisionmaking is done at the lowest possible level. It implies that a small village can uphold construction of a new national highway. So discussion and negotiations about compensations, etc.
Furthermore, a local/state/national referendum can change any decision by local/state/national parliament. The result is an unique high support within the population for government policies.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 31, 2014

Peter, the facts speak for themselves:

• In 2014 Germany burned more coal than any year since 1990
• In 2014 45% of its electricity came from coal
• Two-thirds of its renewable contribution comes from biomass, more than half of which is pelletized old-growth timber
• 50% of Germany’s timber production is burned for energy
• Angela Merkel shut down Germany’s eight oldest nuclear plants in 2011; in 2012-2013 the country saw its first back-to-back GHG emissions gains since the 1980s

Good governance includes the courage to admit failure. Instead, what we get from Energiewende apologists are obtuse excuses blaming “governing bodies’ political dynamics”.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Dec 31, 2014

Bob,Please found your opinions on the real figures (AGEB):
And don’t mistake year-on-year fluctuations due to colder weather as a trend.

year  Production by coal (TWh): 
1993 : 294
2003 : 305
2013 : 283
2014 : 266 (expected per 12 dec)
– export of electricity increased greatly;
– generation now with more efficient plants; ~34% vs 44% => 25% less CO2 per KWh produced.

The Energiewende is moving forward as scheduled: In 2014 renewable will be 27.4% of all consumed electricity in Germany!


Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Dec 31, 2014

Two-thirds of its renewable contribution comes from biomass…”
This statement is even more off reality:
total renewable: 157.4 TWh
biomass: 42.8 TWh
Which implies that all biomass contribute 27% of renewable production.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Dec 31, 2014

Don’t forget that electric power is not the only use of biomass energy, most is apparently burned for heat!

This official sounding source (I think the German federal ministry of economy & energy? but I don’t read German) said, 

Just over two-thirds of the total final energy from renewable sources in 2013 was provided by the various biomass used for energy

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Dec 31, 2014

Now that the Deep Decarbonization Pathways project report is out (see this TEC article), it is clear that the German Energiewend has features which make deep decarbonization difficult and expensive (e.g. nuclear phaseout) and others which would seem to constitude unsustainable uses of precious CO2-neutral resources (e.g. wasting biomass for low-grad heat and electricity, when it is desparately needed for CO2-neutral transportation fuel and high temperature industrial heat).

So my question is how can we best insure that an energy transition is guided by prudent science and not some other process (e.g. political expedency or corporate lobbying)?

There is no question that US energy policy is guided by the powerful fossil fuel industry.  Given that Germany has chosen to ignore science and persue a phaseout of carbon-free nuclear energy in the middle of a climate CO2 emergency, they apparently have the same problem.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Dec 31, 2014

Thanks Nathan, that was indeed my source.

It’s probably not supposed to count that Germans are turning off gas and burning down their forests (and ours) to heat their homes, but as far as the climate is concerned, burning whole trees is worse than burning coal.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Dec 31, 2014

The relevant figure is not TWh generated, but mmT(CO2) generated.  Running well off optimum efficiency while standing ready to offset sudden drops in wind and solar output would burn fuel without making the normal amount of power.

I’m sure you know this, and deliberately tried to change the subject.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 1, 2015

There is hardly any sudden drop in wind + solar output, as those generators are distributed in an area of ~1000x500km. In addition weather (sun and wind) predictions concerning such large areas are accurate these days.
Btw. Load variations (~50%) cause similar.

Remember the Germans installed a.o. storage to compensate. About 35 pumped storage facilities + the first grid batteries.
So I doubt whether you touch a significant issue.


Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 1, 2015

Two-thirds of its renewable contribution comes from biomass…
Sorry, I assumed you meant regarding electricity as the sentences above this one concerned electricity..

Thanks for the link and the elucidation.
I’m not sure whether the publication you refer to, is part of the discussion which ended in the decision to decrease the biomass expansion target from 700MW/a down to 100MW/a
Because creating a volume market for biomass did not bring the targeted major price decreases.

Similar as in some parts of USA and everywhere in Brazil, Germany now mixes bio-fuel into car fuel. So that causes a great increase in the biomass consumption. It seems that there is a scheme to increase the share of bio-fuel in the car fuel.

I had a converstation about it with few Germans. They expressed concern regarding the life span of the engine and thought it causes that the engine has less power. I couldn’t note any difference with my car, but I don’t drive at max. speed.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 1, 2015

Germany has chosen to ignore science...”

Scientific studies deliver the information that closing nuclear is more important as:
Low level radiation and even normal operating NPP’s cause DNA damage in people living up to ~30km in the surroundings, and also damage to children (study results accepted by German government).

– with ~400 reactors in the world, 4 exploded (3 at Fuk.). A chance of ~1% per reactor.
And those accidents create huge long lasting damage (excluzion zones, etc) as well as health damage and death to new generations. While the costs are socialized.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Jan 1, 2015

Isn’t it strange, Bas, that exposure rates of up to 300 mSv/year on the beach at Guarapari is NOT associated with any of the ill effects your so-called “researchers” attribute to the minuscule exposures produced from nuclear power?

Isn’t it strange, Bas, that the much higher rates of exposure caused by radon released from coal combustion (like the plants that Germany is replacing its nuclear reactors with) are NOT tagged with causing harm to humans?

I know you’ve brought up these links before, in places like Atomic Insights.  I don’t have the time to dig up the debunking, but you know they’ve been proven faulty yet you keep citing them as if they are truthful.  That is all anyone really needs to know about you:  facts don’t matter, your belief is everything.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Jan 1, 2015

– with ~400 reactors in the world, 4 exploded (3 at Fuk.). A chance of ~1% per reactor. “

If you want to consider all the nuclear reactor “exploded” accidents for all time, then consider all the reactors ever built, including naval reactors, research reactors, and retired power reactors.  I think that total is closer to 4000 than 400. 

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Jan 1, 2015

There is hardly any sudden drop in wind + solar output, as those generators are distributed in an area of ~1000x500km. In addition weather (sun and wind) predictions “

Predicted or not, German solar and wind collectively drop out to less than 1% of total generation frequently, and occassionally for many days at a time, so that conventional power generation carries more than 99% of the load during these periods.* All of the pumped storage in Germany running collectively, if it could, is tiny fraction of load, and pumped storage lasts for hours, half a day at most. Batteries for still less time.   As others have shown repeatedly in these forums, this means that almost all of the existing conventional fleet capacity must be maintained, never closed.  Regardless of assertions about price competition from solar and wind, conventional can not be retired. 

*See, e.g., German electric generation data by Fraunhoffer for, e.g. week 4 of this year, here:

link, pg 163.


Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jan 1, 2015

It does not matter which scientific results are accepted by politicians (German or otherwise); the important thing is what the scientific establishment accepts.  And the scientific establishment definitely does not claim that low dose radiation (at the level of background radiation and an order of magnitude or two above) causes any measurable harm.  To understand why, consider this graph (from the Forbes article, Fear of Radiation – It’s All In the Noise): 

Even if low dose radiation did cause an increase in the cancer rate as predicted by radiation alarmists, the rate is too low to observe compared to other naturally occurring cancers (i.e. “in the noise”).

But it turns out that we now have techniques to precisely measure DNA damage that can lead to cancer, even at incidences in which no cancer can be detected.  As reported in this article in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, laboratory testing on mice at 400 times the typical background radiation dose found: 

We did not observe any changes in the levels of the DNA nucleobase damage products hypoxanthine, 8-oxo-7,8-dihydroguanine, 1,N6-ethenoadenine, or 3,N4-ethenocytosine above background levels under low dose-rate conditions. The micronucleus assay revealed no evidence that low dose-rate radiation induced DNA fragmentation, and there was no evidence of double strand break–induced HR. Furthermore, low dose-rate radiation did not induce Cdkn1a, Gadd45a, Mdm2, Atm, or Dbd2. Importantly, the same total dose, when delivered acutely, induced micronuclei and transcriptional responses.

This sort of controlled laboratory testing produces results which are much more definitive than any epidemiological/clinical studies on humans could ever be, as clinical studies always involve the difficult challenge of correcting for confounding factors.  Furthermore people usually know whether they live near a nuclear plant and whether they’ve had unusually large radiation exposures, and the placebo effect is orders of magnitude larger than the effects these studies are trying to find.

It is true that the “linear no-threshold hypothesis” (LNT) has been used as an “abundantly cautious” approach to setting radiation worker dosage limits in the past.  But as described in this article about the safety of using radiation for medical imaging, the scientific establishment does not consider LNT to be appropriate for assessing low dose radiation safety for the general public, as its use will generally over-estimate the risk of radiation compared to the benefits of medical imaging, pollution-free nuclear power, and avoidance of needless evacuations. 

It also turns out there has never been any scientific evidence supporting LNT at low dosages (it’s an extrapolation of high dosage effects).  In fact, the article linked above (this one) reports that LNT was first recommended by a committee that was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation (i.e. with fossil fuel money).

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 1, 2015

This study report regarding the radiation levels in Guarapari, shows that residents get an av. radiation level of ~4 mSv/a (~75times less). Furthermore that other studies found similar.

It fits with the general opinion that the Ramsar district has the highest background radiation in the world (av. ~6mSv/a) where few thousand people live. Several studies, such as this one, showed that those people do have increased level of DNA damage, etc.

It is impossible to proof that such increased level of radiation creates illnesses because the group affected is too small to show significant differences, as this PNAS publication shows.

The max. value measured on the beach is 60mSv/a. 

The dosage people get = (period of exposure)*(radiation level)
Assume people are 88hrs/a on the beach, than they get a dosage of only 0.6mSv (88*60/8760).
That is ~25% of the average background radiation in USA.

Coal replaced nuclear?
As you can read from the figures Germany replaced nuclear by renewable:
year   production
2000 nuclear:170TWh; renewable: 38TWh; Total: 208TWh.
2014 nuclear : 97TWh; renewable: 157TWh; Total: 254TWh
So the increase of renewable overcompensated the decrease of nuclear greatly.

Coal Radon?
Check Radon gas. There is hardly any radiation exposure (short half-life).
DNA damage for people living in the surroundings of nuclear plants found, but not for coal plants.

No debunking seen. Anyway, most these study results were not used at Atomic Insight by me.
I realize those scientific results are difficult to accept for you. But the use of nonsense or faulty numbers makes things worse for nuclear. Then people will really distrust nuclear folks.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jan 1, 2015

It is important to continue to tell the truth about the benefits of nuclear power, because even if there are individuals who won’t accept modern science, others will.  The environment movement wants to be free of problems with fossil fuel, the pollution it causes, and the wars we fight to keep it flowing.  We’ll only break our addiction to fossil fuel if we can clear our minds of the brainwashing the fossil fuel industry has used to prevent us from accepting the alternative energy source which poses the greatest threat to fossil fuel, nuclear power.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jan 1, 2015

Energy use and CO2 emissions from Germany, and to a lesser extent even the US are relatively unimportant in the global context.  What is important is the technology and ideolgy we export to developing nations.

The pro-renewable/anti-nuclear ideology coming out of Germany is basically encouraging developing nations to adopt coal power with just enough solar added for greenwashing, as an alternative to enormously cleaner nuclear power and frac’d natural gas.  Deforestation in the name of biomass energy for wealthy nations is also a serious concern.

Developing nations are certainly not going to build pumped hydro energy storage; as you’ve pointed out many times, the poor economics of energy storage makes it unappealing.  Without storage, fossil fuel power plants must be built to near peak grid demand, and many must be kept on-line as reserves.  Yes the wind is somewhat predictable, but less predictable than demand variations (which varies slowly enough to be balanced with nuclear power!), hence greater reserves are required, particularly for small areas which lack interconnect with expensive continent-scale grids.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 2, 2015

Mark:”… almost all of the existing conventional fleet capacity must be maintained …”.
That won’t happen:

As those longer “no wind + no solar” periods are scarce, it becomes economic to replace power plants with remote controlled unmanned gas turbines (low capital costs). Those gas turbines can burn gas produced by the power-to-gas plants that are in development (many pilots in Germany and even a MW scale pilot in NL).

When you study the sheets from Bruno, you see that biomass is now used as base load generator.
It’s easy to change that. So no urgency (yet).

Studies showed that grid expansion is roughly the cheapest method to cover variability. E.g. wind in Spain/Portugal and at the North-sea is negative correlated. Similar with sun shine.
And power lines through the sea are not difficult (no NIMBY).

For shorter periods there is already enough. Germany’s 35 pumped storage facilities make losses (one is even moth balled), while the first grid flow battery is installed, and the rooftop household battery program seems to be a succes (new easy to install equipment integrated to the solar inverter), etc.

As renewable share increase with ~1.5%/a (now 27%), there is enough time to arrange all.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 2, 2015

Nathan:”…tell the truth about the benefits of nuclear…”.
May be you can help me and explain those benefits, as I have trouble to find those.

To help you, below a few stated benefits, that turned out to be the opposite uncer closer examination:

– cheaper. Calculating the costs of Hinkley and Vogtle and comparing with the price of solar, wind and grid expansion + some storage; I had to conclude the opposite;

– higher power density. Even without calculating the space of the uranium mines, the fuel processing factories and the waste storage; it shows that a wind turbine takes less m² per KWh. Rooftop solar and offshore wind take no land m² at all. 

– reliable. With the increasing share of renewable the German grid became more reliable. And now John Moore states:”Wind and solar need less backup power than coal, gas, and nuclear” (here at TEC).

– dispatchable. The word suggests flexibility to fill variability of renewable.
But the Fraunhofer statistics show, that is virtual: NPP’s continue to produce near full power even when they have to pay substantially (€60/MWh) for the electricity they produce…

Which benefits do I miss?

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Jan 2, 2015

The max. value measured on the beach is 60mSv/a.

You know, Bas, you shouldn’t make claims you know are not true.  Bionerd23 measured 52.4 μSv/hr at Guarapari; that is a rate of 459 mSv/yr, some 4.6 mSv in 88 hours.

It is impossible to proof that such increased level of radiation creates illnesses because the group affected is too small to show significant differences

But their exposures are hundreds of times the levels that you claim produce statistically significant numbers of leukemias and other disorders in people living within 30 km of NPPs.  You can’t go 2 days without contradicting yourself.

Maybe if you got treatment for your radiation phobia, you could resolve all the cognitive dissonance that’s messing you up this way.

I realize those scientific results are difficult to accept for you.

WordPress blogs that “cite” other blogs are not scientific results, Bas.  Get help.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 2, 2015

I want a $10billion research investment increase the price decrease speed of solar; being solar panels, inverters & optimizers, batteries. Because:

– these technologies have great potential to become much, much cheaper.
Just compare how complex and how cheap a television set is nowadays.

– being cheap they then can be a great help for the >1 billion people that are not grid connected.
Those can then buy a 1KW installation with battery, so they can cook electric (no deforestation!), a washing machine, etc.

More developed countries can then overbuild solar (as it is very cheap), use the over-supply for power-to-gas/fuel, store and then reverse if necessary. Or use it for cars, etc.
German studies show that storage becomes only important when renewable share is >50%. A long time away for most countries. At that time batteries are probably cheaper then pumped storage. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 2, 2015

Bas, why are you quoting Hagen Scherb again when you can’t provide any evidence of his training?

Why would an objective observer believe he’s anything more than an antinuclear charlatan?

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jan 2, 2015

To see the benefits of nuclear (compared to wind and solar), you must grow the grid penetration above 40%.  For example, Germany’s current wind + solar penetration is only around 13%+7%, so they have not done the hard part yet.  Nor has Denmark, which has around 35% wind energy penetration, as they have simply connected their tiny 3 GWatt-avg grid to the European “mainland” grid which has much lower wind penetration.

In comparing cost, you’ve neglected to include the cost of energy storage, curtailment, transmission,  fossil backup, twenty-five year wind turbine replacement cost, and you’ve ignored the fleet average cost of nuclear.

The fleet average cost of nuclear is always much lower than the cost of power from a new plant because nuclear plants last at least 60 years (unless shutdown prematurely due to anti-nuclearism), and they produce power for around 1.2 ¢/kWh once their capital costs are paid, according to the EIA.

The German grid currently has enough energy storage (9 GW)  to supply 15% of the average grid demand for several hours.  That is an enormous investment which will be needed to get wind and solar to 40% in Germany.   Even with this storage, curtailment (discarding or selling at zero price) of wind and solar energy will be significant (as discussed in this this study of  the German grid).

From the point of view of developing nations, for each GW of wind and solar which is added to the grid, another 800 MW of fossil backup must be added too.  That’s not free, and it would not be needed with nuclear.

On the other hand, nuclear plants operated as baseload only can reach over 50% penetration, and France has demonstrated 80% penetration with some load following.

But you need not take my word for it.  See the US report from the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project (discussed here on TEC).  This project sought to evaluate options for achieving an 80% reduction in CO2 equivalent emissions across all energy sector.  Figure 12 on page 24 of this report shows that compared to the reference scenario, the high renewable path is expected to increase energy system costs by four times more than the high nuclear case (which they found to be the lowest cost of all, even lower than fossil fuel with CC&S).

Before you accuse the people on the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project of being biased, note that the team included members from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and  Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.  Also, their high nuclear case was really a blended scenario which had 45% solar and wind compared to 40% nuclear for electricity.

Your comments regarding reliability make no sense given your comment on the other thread,

make agreements with factories that run their own power plant; and/or big consumers to adapt during that time to a low volume and/or import from far away.

Developing countries will do similar or allow for black-outs…”

i.e. your suggestions are just minor variations on unreliability.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 2, 2015

Nathan:”nuclear plants … produce power for around 1.2 ¢/kWh once their capital costs are paid…”.

That is really low!
It generates the question: How come that VY and Kewaunee were closed for economic reasons?


Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Jan 2, 2015

Calculating the costs of Hinkley and Vogtle …”


Also see India’s Kudankulam 1 and 2 at $1500/KW. 

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jan 3, 2015

I looked at your “scientific results” on DNA damage near nuclear plants.  It is a powerpoint presentation from an activist, not a peer-reviewed paper.  It even acknowledges that the results are rejected by the UNSCEAR/ICRP/WHO/IAEA.

For comparison, see this scientific paper from a real scientific journal.  It reports on controlled lab experiment in which no DNA damage was found in mice after 5 weeks at 400 times the natural background radiation levels.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 3, 2015

…scientific establishment … does not claim that low dose radiation … causes any measurable harm...”
The best UK, US, Japanese universities are responsible for the RERF-research, which states in the summary of its recent report no.14: “… formal dose-threshold analysis indicated no threshold; i.e., zero dose was the best estimate …”  Similar in the BEIR reports*).

It doesn’t change the measured damage to new born at low levels of extra radiation.

Even if low dose radiation did cause an increase … the rate is too low to observe
The big risks concern fast growing (=high rate of cell division) organisms such as fetuses. Because at cell division DNA is single stranded, repair not well possible. And for those substantial damage is shown. Even at an increase of ~0.3mSv/a (~30% of local background) radiation.

The DNA Lab test on mice
Several studies at Ramsar (background ~6mSv/a; ~4times ‘normal’ background) found increased DNA damage in its citizens. The dosage/impact that the mice got, is much lower.**) as Ramsar’s residents were once fetuses in that radiation environment.

… clinical studies … involve the difficult challenge of correcting for confounding …
New medicins are required to be tested on humans after positive effects with animal studies, because those do not predict well for humans. Lab studies concern a short time span, while it is known that the health damage of low level radiation show mainly after 2-6 decades (same as with smoking, etc).

…people know … live near a nuclear plant … placebo effect …
Doubt whether the placeboo effect can create DNA damage. When indeed, than either the people or the NPP should be moved away, or another method of electricity generation (e.g. wind+solar+storage+grid extension).

… never been any scientific evidence supporting LNT at low dosages...”
Chernobyl delivered scientific evidence that even 30% extra radiation above background creates already harm to new born, and DNA (such as Down). It is one of the reasons that the UN dosage commission lowered the max. amounts of radiation allowed in food by a factor ~5.  Recommendation followed by Japan, the country where people live longest in the world.
*) The US National Research Council, whose members from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine.
**) The mice got 400times background during only 5weeks. That equals 50% increase compared to background during the life time of a human (dosage=level * period).

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jan 3, 2015

The EIA data is the government’s best prediction for new build plants, which today are in the 2 GWatt and up range.  These older plants which are closing are around 600 MWatt each, and they likely had higher per kWh operating cost.

Also, in the Vermont Yankee case, part of the objective of the closure may be a hidden plan to drive up electricity prices, as that is certainly a result (see The High-Cost Consequences of New England’s Energy Choices).  VY also had been repeated attacked by the Vermont legislature, even though the federal NRC is supposed to have authority.

As described in this article, Vermon Yankee Shuts Down for Good, VY was a merchant power producer, which means it sold power on the short-term market.  In the US, this market favors natural gas, as even US wind power is sold almost exclusively through long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs).

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jan 3, 2015

I believe power to gas to be insufficient to power the inverse of renewable energy’s capacity factor, unless FAR more than roof space is allocated for energy requirements for its own development and for conversion inefficiency (and to power conventional needs). However, I like the determination for the development!

This report says that solar methane is 60% efficient which I don’t believe. Hopefully, someday, it will become that efficient (but will involve a fundamentally different approach than the simple combining of elecrolysis, CO2 extraction and steam, or whatever), because each of these steps are not that efficient in themselves. Furthermore, much of the energy content in the gas is lost to heat at end use (except in the limited central building type CHP case). Batteries are probably better due to their much higher efficiency.

I hope power lines through sea are not difficult as this allows other electrical generation technologies and global electrical distribution required to offset excess CO2.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jan 3, 2015

I looked at Report 14, from the Radiation Research Society.  This group appears to exist purely to publish anti-nuclear propaganda; there is no indication that their results are accepted by the mainstream scientific or medical community.

But their claim of finding “no threshold” for the radiation dose response was a clear case of equivocation, as there was no way for their analysis to show a threshold which was below the noise, a more sensative test is required (see the report I linked previously).

If you don’t believe that people who are deeply emotionally attached to an ideology will create pseudo science to back it up, then please Google climate hoax.

regarding the mice study I linked, 400x for mice is 400x for humans, since the study was not looking for cancers, but rather cummulative DNA damage which would lead to cancers.  They proved that the DNA damage must have occured and been repaired, as they gave one group of mice the whole does in a few minutes, and found clear DNA damage, but none in the mice with slow exposure to the same total dose.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jan 3, 2015

It seems that other political tendencies of energiewende is the outright bashing of advanced nuclear concepts beyond its own boundaries and the import of wood from outside its own borders. Energiewende should be for Germany only. However, these adverse traits necessitate action from abroad denying ability to implement imported wood and anti-nuclear policies! However, there should be nothing wrong with supporting advanced renewable energy development, too.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Jan 3, 2015

That won’t happen

As those longer “no wind + no solar” periods are scarce, it becomes economic to replace power plants with remote controlled unmanned gas turbines (low capital costs).”


This has already happened in Germany.  There’s been little net retirement of conventional fleet capacity relative to demand (I count biomass as conventional for the moment), though 74 GW nameplate of solar and wind has been installed. 

What you suggest with gas turbines is a variant on the same theme:  maintaining a full scale conventional power fleet (102 GW in Germany 2014 per Franhofer of coal, nuclear, gas, hydro, biomass),  plus all of the transmission to those plants.  As I understand your variant you would convert all the coal/nuclear fleet to low capacity factor gas turbines.  Even with the fuel savings, the cost is still enormous, i.e.  to effectively build and maintain two side by side power systems, intermittent and conventional, all so one can back the other.

Aside: “remote controlled unmanned” seems odd as future proposal in this context.   I’m unclear as to why some future gas turbine plant at, say,  ~5% CF but nonetheless always ready in a high intermittent power grid,  would able to become significantly more automated than existing gas peaker plants. 

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jan 3, 2015

Energiewende should continue with the science of advanced RE collection and storage. It must stop bashing nuclear elsewhere as that is NOT their business (and because they don’t know what background radiation is)!

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Jan 3, 2015

As renewable share increase with ~1.5%/a (now 27%), there is enough time to arrange all.”

The majority of that increasing “renewable” share in Germany comes from increasing biomass, which can’t increase sufficiently nor should it, and decreasing demand via efficiency improvements. 

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jan 3, 2015

If everybody understands that something noxious is necessary and all alternatives are worse, than people accept without problems.” is biased toward creating the noxious which causes the problems in the first place (because they reject advanced nuclear redevelopment). Only renewables backed by advanced nuclear will ever get rid of the noxious fumes from excess hydrocarbon (and now, wood) combustion, and also get rid of conventional nuclear wastes.

Math Geurts's picture
Math Geurts on Jan 4, 2015

Who’s afraid for climate change? Germany’s power production from lignite:

1999 : 136 TWh

2004 : 158 TWh

2009 : 146 TWh

2011 : 150 TWh

2012 : 161 TWh

2013 : 161 TWh

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 4, 2015

Also considering that:
– 1.3GW Grafenrheinfeld also closes prematurely for economic reasons;- the av. electricity price there is 3.4cnt/KWh;
I’m inclined to conclude that the cost price of an NPP that has only operating costs is >3cnt/KWh.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 4, 2015

Thanks for the nice presentation.
If you look at the site; very vivid business developments. While I miss the knowledge yet to judge the potential, it seems we can expect substantial price/performance improvements.

May be we will see these plants installed next to our greenhouses (now ~25% of Dutch electricity is generated by CHP plants at those green houses), as then the heat can be used for heating the greenhouse.

“…power lines through sea…”
We have ~1GW power line through the sea between NL and Norway. It seems to make a profit. An additional line is considered now. As AC/DC conversion becomes cheaper and more efficient, they become cheaper (those lines use DC).

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 4, 2015

“…400x for mice is 400x for humans…”
Agree. But it was for only 5 weeks, hence the dosage is not very substantial for humans. Especially since DNA repair occured.

But fetuses are xxx-times less capable for DNA repair due to their high cell division rate (at cell division no repair possible). Hence substantial serious health damage found at newborn after only 0.3mSv/a extra radiation (=~30% of normal background).
Sorry, but I consider the health of my (grand)children more important than my own health.

Latest RERF report
The reviewing scientists of RERF (=best universities) and those of the peer reviewed science journal accepted their statement that a formal threshold analysis indicated that the best estimate is zero threshold.

Linear No Threshold (LNT) is accepted in the scientific community. Except by some pro-nuclear folks who try to degrade the safety demands to NPP’s in the hope that such degradation will lower the cost price enough to make NPP’s competitive.

Note that the study also found:
– “increased risk of cancer mortality throughout life”
– “exposed at younger ages had a higher relative risk forcancer death”
Those are in line with the long (~2-6 decades) latency found with smoking, etc., and the results found in Germany regarding Chernobyl radiation damage.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 4, 2015

It’s not difficult to find more info about dr. Hagen Scherb at the Internet as he is one of the most prominent scientists in the low level human radiation effects research field.
So you can find his thesis in the field of Mathematical Statistics here
Thesis = publication which earned him the dr. (=PhD) titel.

Try ‘google scholar’ if you want to find more about his scientific career.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 4, 2015

Bashing nuclear elsewhere is no target of the Energiewende. However nuclear that creates health damage to the population is a source of concern for the authorities and hence also for the official environmental research institute; Helmholtz in Munich.

So the researchers had to explain, incl. the mechanisms (after slide 18 by Kusmierz) that create the DNA damage at people living up to 30km away from the nuclear storage facitility.
And they had to advice what to do about it (page 19 etc of this report); 

Similar research in US seems advisable. It is rather simple; compare the sex-ratio of newborn in population registers with before/after the start of the NPP and the distance from the nuclare facility, etc (assuming the population is big enough).

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jan 4, 2015

The SolarFuel presentation you linked does provide a good motivation for power-to-fuel.  I agree that solar-to-fuel is rather implausible in most locations (due to low capacity factor), but consider instead using wind power from the US central plains, or better yet from nuclear (with nuclear-to-fuel as a dispatchable load, we would not need any CO2-emitting peaking power plants).

The 60% efficiency claim is similar to the promise of ammonia fuel.  I think both rely on high temperature fuel cells used in reverse for electrolysis.  Nitrogen from the air can be easily captured to make ammonia (NH3), but the methane (CH4) requires a CO2 source (the presentation talks about capturing CO2 from the air, but this will likely stay expensive, due to the extreme dilution).

The main problem I have with their approach is the addition of carbon to the fuel.  Climate scientists are begging us not to emit CO2, and the power-to-gas people want us to take carbon-free H2 fuel and add carbon!  Worse yet, synthetic methane encourages people to believe the lie that we can continue using our existing (fossil fuel oriented) infrastructure.  We can’t and shouldn’t grow enough biomass to provide enough CO2 for all our fuel needs, and CO2 from powerplants needs to be sequestered, not released as exhaust (because there is too much of it).

The Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project teaches us that most uses of methane today (e.g. space and water heating in homes and businesses, electricity production, etc) must stop!   Hydrocarbon fuels are needed for transportation and certain industries like steelmaking (where CO2 capture is possible).  The rest can be replaced by electricity, steam/hotwater, and carbon-free synfuels like H2 and ammonia (NH3 and hot water were not studied by DDPP).

Math Geurts's picture
Math Geurts on Jan 5, 2015
Agora’s director, Deutschlands führender EE-Lobbyist: “Wir haben uns geirrt bei der Energiewende”


Math Geurts's picture
Math Geurts on Feb 7, 2015

Germany’s Energiewende is in fact only a “Stromwende” (Strom = Power). For a real Stromwende a country needs thermal power plants with low capital cost. Germany had never many of these.

Lessons to learn from Germany:

“Integration Costs Revisited:  An Economic Framework for Wind and Solar Variability”

“Synthesis of the findings:

· Wind and solar integration costs are high if these technologies are deployed at large scale: in thermal systems, wind integration costs are about 25-35 €/MWh at 30-40% penetration, assuming a base price of 70 €/MWh. Integration costs are 35-50% of generation costs.

· As integration costs can be large in size, ignoring them in cost-benefit analyses or system optimization can strongly bias results.

· The size of integration costs depends on the power system and VRE penetration: integration costs can be negative at low <10% penetration), they generally increase with penetration, and are typically smaller in hydro than in thermal systems.

· System adaptations can significantly reduce integration costs.  For example, dispatch models estimate profile costs to be 50% higher than investment models.  Authors should be explicit about the time horizon and boundary conditions. High-penetration studies should account for system adaptation.

· Balancing costs are quite small (< 6 €/MWh).  The cost of scheduled thermal plan cycling, the flexibility effect, is even smaller. This is surprising, as these phenomena receive much attention in the literature and public debate.

· In thermal systems with high VRE shares, the utilization effect amounts to more than half of all integration costs. Maybe this is the most important finding of this study: the largest integration cost component is the reduction of utilization of the capital embodied in the power system. Most previous integration cost studies have not touched upon this effect. VRE-rich power systems require flexible thermal plants, but even more so they require plants that are low in capital costs.”








Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 8, 2015

Political steering is not entirely coherent … lower levels of government might still head into different directions and undermine federal decisions.

That is the reason that continued overwhelming support for the Energiewende by the population is of utmost importance!

That suport (>85% of the population) restricts the possibilities for interest groups and politicians to obstruct progress.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 8, 2015

You base yourself on the results of a Vattenfall employee (Hirth) that support the portfolio of Vattenfall.

His results are highly inconsistent with those of think-tank Agora studie, and NREL studies.

Those much thorough studies by many scientists, estimate the integration costs a factor 10 lower. Results that are in line with experience!


Math Geurts's picture
Math Geurts on Feb 8, 2015

According to Fraunhofer ISES (institute for Solar Energy):  Germany in 2050

Energy demand has to be approx.  50% of today.  But be aware:  Germany will have considerably less inhabitants than today.

Still 34% non-renewable energy needed.

Contribution of biomass to renewable energy share comparable to solar PV + wind on-land.

Contribution of fluctuating  renewables to power generation:  78%

Power load: between 23 GW and 61 GW

Power from fluctuating RE:  2 GW to 202 GW

Residual load from  -145 GW to 53 GW

Negative residual power load during most hours of the year



Math Geurts's picture
Math Geurts on Feb 8, 2015

According to Fraunhofer ISES (institute for Solar Energy):  Germany in 2050

Energy demand has to be approx.  50% of today.  But be aware:  Germany will have considerably less inhabitants than today.

Still 34% non-renewable energy needed.

Contribution of biomass to renewable energy share comparable to solar PV + wind on-land.

Contribution of fluctuating  renewables to power generation:  78%

Power load: between 23 GW and 61 GW

Power from fluctuating RE:  2 GW to 202 GW

Residual load from  -145 GW to 53 GW

Negative residual power load during most hours of the year



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