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Why Germany's Nuclear Phase Out is Leading to More Coal Burning

Robert Wilson's picture
, University of Strathclyde

Robert Wilson is a PhD Student in Mathematical Ecology at the University of Strathclyde.

  • Member since 2018
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  • Jan 20, 2014

Germany and Nuclear Phase Out Consequences

In September 2012 Germany’s Environment Minister opened a new lignite power plant, arguing the following: “If one builds a new state-of-the-art lignite power plant to replace several older and much less efficient plants, then I feel this should also be acknowledged as a contribution to our climate protection efforts.”

Peter Altmaier is not alone, recently the climate benefits of Germany’s new and apparently ultra-efficient coal power plants have been extolled not only by manufacturers such as Siemens and power companies including RWE, but even some of the German nuclear phase out’s most vocal proponents.

We are also now seeing increasing numbers of people suddenly noticing an uptick in coal power, and deciding it has little to do with Germany’s decision to move away from nuclear energy. These arguments however require both an alternative arithmetic, and an alternative history. Here is why.

In the aftermath of Fukushima, Germany prematurely shut 8 nuclear power plants. Respect for arithmetic and the intelligence of my readers dictates that I do not explain why this should lead to an increase in carbon dioxide emissions. However, the relationship between Germany’s nuclear phase out and the construction of new coal power plants deserves an explanation.

Between 2011 and 2015 Germany will open 10.7 GW of new coal fired power stations. This is more new coal coal capacity than was constructed in the entire two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The expected annual electricity production of these power stations will far exceed that of existing solar panels and will be approximately the same as that of Germany’s existing solar panels and wind turbines combined. Solar panels and wind turbines however have expected life spans of no more than 25 years. Coal power plants typically last 50 years or longer. At best you could call the recent developments in Germany’s electricity sector contradictory.


(Coal production: author’s calculation based on 80% load factor projected by Pöyry. Wind and solar production from Fraunhofer ISE. )

These new power plants are sometimes blamed by nuclear proponents on the post-Fukushima decision to shut all nuclear power plants by 2022. This is a myth. Any large piece of infrastructure takes a long time to build, and Germany simply could not respond to Fukushima by building new coal power plants at this scale and speed. Investment decisions for these power plants were made in 2005-2008 (see table 2 here). In response supporters of the nuclear phase out claim this shows that construction of new coal power plants have nothing to do with Germany’s decision to phase out nuclear energy. This however is historical revisionism.

A terse history lesson. In the year 2000 the government of Gerhard Schröder announced that all of Germany’s nuclear power plants must close by 2022, and this was passed into law in 2002.. This policy was revised by Angela Merkel in September 2010 to extend the lives of nuclear power plants so that the phase out would occur by 2032. Then after Fukushima, Merkel wisely or opportunistically – take your pick – decided to revert largely to the earlier phase out plan, closing eight nuclear power plants immediately and ruling that all would close by 2022.

The policy to phase out nuclear power was vital to the decisions to build new coal power plants. Closing down a quarter of your electricity generation leaves a gap that must be filled by something, and Germany realised it would largely have to be filled by one thing: coal. This is more or less beyond doubt, because Germany’s then Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said so. Gabriel, now Germany’s Minister for Energy and Economics told climate scientist James Hansen that Germany had to build new coal power plants because of its nuclear phase out, and stated elsewhere that Germany would have to build 8 to 12 coal power plants to replace its nuclear fleet.

And this is exactly what he got. In the first half of this decade Germany will open 9 new coal power plants.

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Jan 20, 2014

Robert, Germany’s need to build new coal power (baseload) plants to replace existing nuclear (baseload) plants was very obvious.  Even though Germany has helped lead the World with the construction of new wind and solar power in recent years, the increased burden of large penetration levels of these variable renewable power sources on in-country and neighboring-connected EU power grids’ balances is becoming more obvious.  As you are very aware, baseload power cannot be totally displaced by variable power sources and state-of-art smart grids; something has to give to balance supply with demand independent to daily weather condition variables.  Viable power supply options include supplying ‘interruptable’ power to most customers (thereby expanding the need to distributed power storage/generation) or replacing baseload power generation in-kind; i.e. displace nuclear with coal, natural gas, petroleum and possibly biomass power generation.  While Germany’s EU neighbors including France and the UK will continue to use nuclear power, Germany must compromise their carbon emission reduction promises and return to coal.

Lindsay Wilson's picture
Lindsay Wilson on Jan 20, 2014

A terse history lesson. In the year 2000 the government of Gerhard Schröder announced that all of Germany’s nuclear power plants must close by 2022, and this was passed into law in 2002.’

And therein I learned something interesting.  Nice digging Robert!  

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on Jan 20, 2014


I wouldn’t stricly speaking characterise is at as a “return to coal”. It is more a case of not being able to move away from coal. Over the next decade the increase in renewable electricity will roughly cancel out the decrease in nuclear, so fossil fuels will stay roughly where they are. Unless demand goes down significantly of course. It’s possible that higher carbon prices, regulations or cheap gas could result in significant coal-gas fuel switching. The first two don’t seem to have much political support currently, and the final one is highly uncertain.

On baseload versus flexible generation. Germany’s new coal fleet actually shows how wrong many people are. The general narrative is that renewables will harm inflexible power plants and help flexible ones. In Germany it is the exact opposite. Gas plants are tanking. Plus, the new fleet of German coal plants are actually designed to be ultra flexible to provide balancing services. Even the operators of the new 2.2. GW lignite power plant boast of how it will help integrate renewables.

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on Jan 20, 2014

Thanks Lindsay

What’s rather telling here is how little effort nuclear advocates have actually made to get their facts straight on this issue. I regularly hear that Germany is building coal plants because of the Post-Fukushima phase out. This indicates that a lot of self proclaimed experts don’t know some simple realities of energy generation.

On the other hand you have anti-nuclear people claiming that Germany has built “minus six” coal power plants since Fukushima. This sadly is what passes for “debate” in the energy world.

Lindsay Wilson's picture
Lindsay Wilson on Jan 20, 2014

Click through Roberts Pyory link, I think it is table 8.  Forecast to decline, but that is a forecast

Lindsay Wilson's picture
Lindsay Wilson on Jan 20, 2014

Yes, the willingness to embrace a baseless factoid when it support ones own thesis renders many an energy ‘analysis’ unreadable.  Its serves as an important lesson to constantly recheck your own evidence

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on Jan 20, 2014


As you imply forecasts have limits. Quantiative energy forecasts of course are particularly questionable.

The two key issues for coal long term is total electricity demand (historically forecasts of this have been dreadful), carbon prices, and coal/gas prices. Currently the carbon price is about ten times lower than would be needed to see coal to gas switching. Pyory however seem to assume the carbon price will begin to have an impact in future. This is pretty uncertain. Another problem in Germany is the willingness to pay extra for energy. Environmentalists have tried for a long time to claim costs weren’t an issue in Germany. This is now clearly not the case, and it is a big issue there, as it is in the UK. This then makes it difficult to forecast. Cost pressures may just make politicians more willing to keep with coal for as long as possible.

A shale gas “revolution” might change things, but current trends are not good as far as coal consumption are concerned.

Lindsay Wilson's picture
Lindsay Wilson on Jan 20, 2014

Yep, an all the current exposure to Qatar LNG prices means, together with cheap US coal, continues to put pressure on nat gas plants.  Every time they close another brand new gas plant you have the feeling more and more coal is being locked in.  I see the coal/gas price differential as the main player

donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on Jan 21, 2014

I found an interesting blurb which was written in 2011 (albeit is too agressive in its predictions). It references two decent articles below. The contradiction between more coal plants and CO2 has been around in some commentators heads for a while but yet it is these points of view that are ignored.

There were many releases in the media regarding Germanys announcement that it would phase out nuclear power by 2022 a few months back. Indeed these stories have been around from at least 5 years ago (Ny timesBusiness week: Coal boom). “

donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on Jan 21, 2014

Power magazine has been highlighting this issue for a while now; worth a read of its latest issues take on Germany below. The power prices referred to below are wholesale I believe.

By August 2013, German energy giant E.ON had idled about 6.5 GW of capacity and was considering mothballing about 11 GW more. Four months earlier, the company even proposed shutting down its advanced Irsching 4 and 5 CCGT units, which have efficiencies close to 60%. Low power prices, cheap coal, and low carbon permit costs had made the units uneconomic, the company said.”

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on Jan 21, 2014


It’s difficult to say if these plants would have been mothballed. Currently Germany has over capacity, which is resulting in gas plants being unprofitable. If they had kept with the 2010 policy then the overcapacity problem would be worse I guess. That would favour mothballing. On the other hand these new plants are much more efficient than those closing, and would be penalised less by carbon prices etc. Therefore the utilities may have just closed older plants and opened the new ones.

But broadly speaking the reaction to Fukushima has resulted in more coal burning simply because the nuclear gas has to be filled by something, and coal is the thing on the grid the Germans are most capable of ramping up to meet that demand.

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on Jan 21, 2014


My guess is that you have not read what I wrote before accusing me of writing propaganda.
Incredibly you are accusing me of lying, and saying that Germany decided to build new coal power plants since Fukushima. I explicitly stated in the piece that this is a myth.

It’s also rather tiring to find someone accuse me of being anti-renewables on the basis of this post. These accusations seem to be thrown at anyone who supports a mixture of renewables and nuclear power. Sadly I have long since lowered my expectations when it comes to the quality of debate on these issues.

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on Jan 21, 2014


Thanks for both staying on topic, and getting my name correct for the first time.

However I cannot claim to share your rather absurd view that new coal plants will help reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

And you have stated that replacing old, inefficient nuclear plants with new highly efficient coal plants will reduce coal consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. This is an Orwellian arithemetic.

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on Jan 21, 2014


I provided evidence to back up all of my claims. And if you actually have evidence to show my claims are wrong you have not bothered to provide it. However you have provided evidence of your unwillingness to read something properly before casting judgmement on it.

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on Jan 21, 2014


Your desire to misrepresent me is applaudable. However can you please take your small mindedness to another part of the internet? Thanks.

Scott Luft's picture
Scott Luft on Jan 22, 2014

The pro-wind and solar contingent is going to have to grasp more serious issues as, or if, Germany’s energy transition moves forward.

Related to this article; I doubt Fukushima had much to do with decisions to build or not, given that the timeframe between Merkel’s announced extension of reactors and her reversal was not only short, but a period of economic stagnation.  I haven’t located a copy of BDEW’s list of planned generation facilities from last April, but I did locate a press release from the period which begins:

“A new ice age in power plant construction is impending. The plans for plants to be implemented after 2015 are, in particular, to be put on ice even if the necessary authorisation has already been granted in part. Today, for almost a third of all projects, the date of commencement of operation is unclear.”

Most of the capacity that is under construction is to be fueled by hard coal – which I suspect is because it has the greatest dispatchable capacity.  Meanwhile, uneconomical plants are increasingly the target of gov’t arrangements to keep the capacity available (payments).

Prior to the Merkel’s post-Fukushima decision, renewables had, in my opinion, been particularly appealing because they were seen as incompatible with nuclear.  The once, and now again, minister, Sigmar Gabriel, has said “Nuclear energy and renewable energies cannot be combined.”  Now he’ll have to face up to the reality that wind and solar, above a minor share of overall generation, may not be combined, economically, with anything.

In Germany I’ve heard solar produces ~50% of it’s annual output in ~10% of the hours; wind is likely better, but not much, and neither can be relied on to make any contribution to peak demand – which comes on a winter’s night.

New solar won’t be compatible with old solar – when it’s sunny, and, if they ever get a significant new build-out going, new wind won’t be compatible with old wind -when it’s windy.

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on Jan 21, 2014


Once again, can you make an effort to stay on topic? You are lurching, for no apparent reason, into providing us with an anti-renewables rant. The piece has nothing to do with the rights or wrongs of Germany’s renewables build up, and I would prefer that you and others not try to hijack the discussion and make into one about renewables.

Sorry for the repetition on this point Willem, but you are going off topic continually.

James Hopf's picture
James Hopf on Jan 22, 2014

While replacing old, inefficient coal plants with more efficient ones would result in a small reduction in CO2 emissions, a far greater reduction would occur if the old coal plants were replaced with (literally) anything else.  Clearly this is not a path to meeting the longer-term emissions reductions goals, and a new coal plant is a ~50+ year investment.  Heck, even natural gas plants can’t meet the longer term goals that will apply over that timeframe.  The simple (one would think) bottom line is that spending large amounts of capital to construct huge, long life span, CO2 factories is not the way to achieve a goal of significant long-term reductions in CO2 emissions.

Building new coal plants is clearly not a viable or correct policy if one cares at all about reducing emissions.  As old coal plants are retired, they must be replaced by gas, nuclear or renewables, period.  In the US, at least, there is clearly no excuse to build new coal plants, given the low price of natural gas.  Heck, there’s almost no argument for keeping the older, dirtier ones open, as the incremental cost to replace them with gas is miniscule. 

The coal plant policies being put in place by the Obama EPA are extremely enlightened, especially given the intractable situation in congress.  It’s probably THE main reason I voted for Obama in 2012.  Actually, the US no new coal plant policy is all but moot, however, since the price of natural gas would have to almost double before a new coal plant would make economic sense.  The only conceivable downside of a no new plant policy would be that industry would keep old ones open if they can’t build new ones.  But new plants generally can’t compete with continuing to operate existing ones anyway.  If existing ones close, it will be due to pollution regulations, and not due to a situation where replacing them with a new one would actually save money.  And again, in the US, utilities would never build a new coal plant anyway.  They’d build a gas plant.

All that said, what is really needed are policies that result in a phase out of the existing, old, dirty, coal fleet.  Obama’s EPA is working on that……

James Hopf's picture
James Hopf on Jan 22, 2014

Obviously, a CO2 tax or cap-and-trade system, which creates a disincentive to emit CO2 and lets the market decide how to respond, is the most efficient and cost-effective way to reduce CO2 emissions.

However, Germany’s experience shows that if you insist on a simplistic, ham-fisted, govt. mandate approach, you should ban coal, as opposed to requiring renewables.  That is, a better policy would be that you *must not* build (or perhaps even operate) coal, as opposed to you *must* build renewables.

That would solve most of the problems being reported here.  The result (compared to the renewables mandate/subsidy approach) would be far greater reductions in air pollution and far lower cost.  And of course, another lesson is that mandating the closure of existing nucleasr capacity, that generates huge amounts of emissions-free power at a very low, stable (going forward) cost, is decidedly unhelpful to any emissions reduction effort.  Or effort to maintain grid stability…., or effort to keep power costs down….

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jan 22, 2014

“…the engineers show that baseload power – coal and nuclear – will have to go as the country switches to renewables…”

Right.  This is actually a very bad thing, at least economically.  Demand is typically around 1/2 baseload and 1/2 variable (historically satisfied by similar amounts of baseload and flexible generation). 

The high-renewables generation scenarios (without storage) are typically 30-40% renewable and 60-70% flexible generation, with limited opportunity for use of baseload plants.   Baseload power is the cheapest kind; renewables and “flexible generation” are the expensive kind.

As the renewable fraction goes above 30-40%, more curtailment occurs, hence storage becomes more appealing (both of which further degrade economics).

Note that biomass and coal both have the high capital cost that characterize baseload plants (although biomass is not a low cost fuel).  With clever design, they can be used as flexible generation (for load following), but with degraded economics.

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on Jan 22, 2014


Can we please not turn this into a discussion about renewable energy simply because Davis is incapable of reading even the title of the piece? Or more probably he is actively misrepresenting what I wrote, either way he is not wroth engaging with.

donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on Jan 22, 2014

The following graph alone destroys Wilson’s ‘analysis’:

Well I had a look at that graph and I immediately thought that it would be unlikely that Germany would use exactly the same TWh in 2007 as in 2013. so I went the IEA electricity statistics which are based on the figures given to the IEA by the German electricity regulator. Unfortunately all the data from 2013 is not there so first lets compare the decrease/increase from 2012 to 2007 (2012-2007) in TWh

Total combustible fuels: -9.7. Nuclear: -39.1. Hydro: +0.9. Geothermal and other: 33.4. Export – Import: +4.

Now comparing 2012 to 2013 from Jan to Oct (2013-2012)

Total combustible fuels: 4.7. Nuclear: -2.10. Hydro: .1.4. Geothermal and other: -1.60. Export – Import: -2.3.


There would seem to be significant differences between the data set you are using and the IEA. I further find it hard to believe that the AGEB (your dataset) has all the data for 2013 considering that its latest release was only for a preliminary analysis for the first half of 2013. Normally around this time they will be releasing their prelim analysis for Q3.


Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on Jan 22, 2014


As I suggested please take yourself to another part of the internet. You have accused me of being a liar, and having a mendacious agenda, but then complain about me hurling insults in your direction?

You also accuse me of being anti-renewables. A completely false accusation as any fair reader of my stuff would recognise. You also label me as a “rabid” pro-nuke who throws propaganda around. Suddenly I have visions of a pot and kettle in conversation. If you think that someone who supports both nuclear and renewables is by default “anti-renewables” then I suggest you should check your dogmatism.

But since you are obviously a small minded dogmatist, please respond by calling me a liar and an opponent of renewable energy once again. And perhaps actually tell us who you are instead of standing behind faux-anonymity.

donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on Jan 23, 2014

Again Davis I read your link and I find it hard to believe. This claim from Goppel was made in March 2013 so it seems obvious that he woulde be using 2012 as his baseline.

In 2012 Germany coal production had increased over 2010 levels by about 16 million short tons. The price of coal depends on its grade i.e. low ran fuels are lower in price than high quality coals. Most German coal is low rank and or brown. Taking an approximate value of 80$/ton, that yields somewhere in the region of 1.3 billion in savings just from the increase in production (note this will be an underestimate as import coals would be more expensive; average coal prices from the US are around the $100 mark according to the OSMRE). 

Further coal imports are increasing with 2013 set to reverse some of the trends of the previous year. From 2010 coal imports in the country dropped by around 6 million short tonnes but for the first quarter both E.On and REW increased their imports by 25% 

Taking Goppel’s claim on face value, we can certainly see that not all of that fuel saving is due to renewables. In any case the real test is at what cost these savings were achieved? Some sources report that over the past decade Germany has spend €100 billion on solar subsidies alone with 2011 seeing approximately $8 billion and 2012 seeing slightly more. Suddenly those impressive savings do not appear to be good value for money with carbon costs being priced so low.

I could add more regarding Goppels source and its inclusion of the merti order effect as being a positive (?) but that is not linked to the topic above in any way. At least coal data is.

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on Jan 23, 2014

“Davis”. Thanks for at least giving me an idea of who you really are.

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on Jan 23, 2014


“Davis” (obviously this is not his real name) is not discussing he is attacking. Please just ignore him. Based on his comments it is a guy who came on to my blog months ago and attacked me, and is now doing the same here. He’s clearly just interested in wasting people’s time.



donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on Jan 23, 2014


I will do so in future. I would usually ignore comments like these as they are as you say but I felt in both cases that providing some underlying data and my point of view might add something to the overall discussion.

Mark Goldes's picture
Mark Goldes on Jan 23, 2014

New science is emerging which can inexpensively replace fossil fuels far faster.

A prototype program is developing a NO FUEL PISTON ENGINE that will run 24/7 on atmospheric heat. The solar resource known as Atmospheric heat contains many thousands of times the total energy available from all of the fossil fuels. This untapped source of energy can at last be utilized.

See to understand why and how.

SECOND LAW SURPRISES on that site discusses the potential, difficult for most scientists to believe, to circumvent the Second Law of Thermodynamics in suitably designed heat engines.

These engines, and FUEL-FREE TURBINES that follow, will exhaust cold air. Many millions of them of all sizes could slow climate change.

A few scientists post extensive rants in the erroneous belief that such claims must reflect dishonesty and fraud. Working prototypes validated by independent laboratories will prove them wrong in the not-too-distant future.

Desktop examples will be first, followed by 1,000 watt emergency generators. Home power units are also on the agenda.

FUEL-FREE TURBINES promise hybrid cars and trucks with unlimited range, able to sell power to utilities when suitably parked, perhaps eventually paying for themselves. No wires needed.

Similar turbines will power propeller driven aircraft of all sizes in the future.


These engines will signal the dawn of a new age of cost competitive green energy. 

Mark Goldes's picture
Mark Goldes on Jan 23, 2014

No applications for patents by AESOP Institute have been withdrawn.

You were reading an application by a Russian inventor which was never completed. We have developed proprietary turbines designed to run on atmosperic heat and pressure and are preparing a patent application. We have included the Russian work as it pioneered such turbines. Since the Russian economy depends on revenue from oil and this turbine was aimed at eliminating the need for fuel for transportation, the withdrawal may reflect Russian government pressure.

I suggest you read SECOND LAW SURPRISES on the website if you are seeking engineering.

Skepticicm is understandable until independent labs validate these engines.

Willem Jan Oosterkamp's picture
Willem Jan Oosterkamp on Jan 24, 2014

In the Netherlands four new coal powerstations have been build by German utilities. They are intended for the German market. The situation of the big utilities is precarious as ther eis a large overcapacity. Mainly due to energy efficiency and the close down of energy intensive industries like aluminum producers. 


Willem Jan Oosterkamp

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jan 25, 2014

We all need to ditch coal in favor of up to 20% machine automated wind and solar, and for mega base load closed cycle, sustainable and melt down proof nuclear.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jan 25, 2014

What would require more fossil fuels to back up, solar and wind, or nuclear? Load following is also a trait of France’s nuke plants.

No shutdowns required for some reactor designs…

Solar and wind is good for up to only about 20% (until machines make storage for free).

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jan 25, 2014

I can’t fathom why anyone would justify the expense on a new coal plant when it is cheaper (and cleaner) to do NG. I believe clean coal plants require more energy input to make them more efficient as well.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jan 25, 2014

Toxic nukes have killed less people (and per unit of energy also) than toxic fossil fuels. And now that the “West” is shutting down nukes, they must use more fossil fuels because they don’t have the magic machines with which to make renewables and their storage for very cheap (it takes hundreds of thousands of sq miles of solar to power just half of a planetary civilization).

Guess which country has the lower e rates, France or Germany? That’s because nuclear is intrinsically less expensive at the base load level.

Every country’s energy policy is governed by price and politics but there are people in every country that want cheap, clean and abundant base load power. Simple logic (and some research) proves that nuclear is the only way to prevent fossil fueled depletion into an over heated biosphere (until magic machines or fusion comes along).

I am not much obsessed either way about Germany’s decision (but I DO like the idea of solar and wind IF made for cheap), just fed up that the rest of us can’t re-develop a closed cycle molten fuels (melt down proof) reactor and scale to global proportions so that the developing world can also have access to modern life. And guess who is going to use more energy in the long run.

Consider: just 10,000 tons (or less) of heavy metal can provide the power to displace the billions of tons of coal, trillions of cu ft NG and the 65,000 tons of uranium (burned in the water reactors) per year humanity consumes! I would rather deal with the 10,000 tons of fission products (which decay in about 300 years instead of tens of thousands) than bring the biosphere of an entire planet down with our depletions.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jan 25, 2014

We should let Germany be Germany. You’re for 100% renewables. I’m for 95% clean energy. I would hope that we all can promote ALL (cheapest) clean energy. Right?

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 25, 2014

“<i>..The policy to phase out nuclear power was vital to the decisions to build new coal power plants…</i>”
This suggests that nuclear electricity is replaced by electricity produced by coal plants.
That is wrong and will stay wrong in next years.

In 2013 renewable produced ~23% and nuclear ~16% of Germany’s electricity (figures from BDEW. E.g:

In 2025 renewable will produce 45% of all electricity (recent updated target).
So the share of renewable will grow with ~2%/year.
That implies that the share of renewable will grow with 18% in the 9 years between 2013 and 2022.
So that overcompensates the loss of all nuclear!

Same applies for the past:
If one counts all closed nuclear production since 2000 (the start of the energie wende) and compare that with new installed production, than you also see that new renewable produce more than closed nuclear did.

Germany installed new coal plants, replacing the old plants, because the old plants are not flexible enough and less efficient. The more efficient new plants imply less CO2.
Furthermore (thanks to the low temperature circulating fluidized bed process) they:
1- produce far less toxic’s (NOx, etc); and
2- can also burn mixes of lignite, biomass, waste, coal, fuel; and
3- can be up- and down regulated faster and deeper (no need for baseload plants in the new era; last autumn there were days in which Denmark’s wind turbines produced all electricity, and Denmark will install 40% more capacity before 2020)
4- most of these new plants are situated at open lignite mines, so no transport costs or GHG. This makes them extremely cost efficient.

So, yes German utilities close all the old plants (while the are technical still fine), because they are at the end of their economical life cycle. Continue with the old plants bring only losses. 
And anyway they have no future in a near 100% renewable situation, while the new plants than can burn waste, biomass and synthetic fuel produced out of surplus electricity (BMW has a 2MW pilot plant running that produces car fuel out of electricity and CO2! Many other projets going on).

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 25, 2014


The amount*  of fossil (coal, gas) burned went down. It will go down further in the future as:
 – Electricity savings is part of the Energiewende. So consumption is going down with few % year during the last ~6years.
 – The new installed renewable capacity in the 10year period until 2024 will be ~20%. All nuclear produces on ~16%.
Renewable deliver now ~23%. Recent upgraded renewable target for 2025 is 45%.

Capacity may stay near the same, but capacity factor of the new plants will go down due to the increased wind+solar competition, for which it is even economic to continue production if the price is down to $5/MWh.

That is one of the major reasons to build new plants. The utilities can down regulate them very deep. That is necessary for the P&L situation as whole sale prices become more negative at times of over-production (wind+solar). Last year the Leipzig wholesale market did see prices of $100/MWh negative! With that levels of payment in order to deliver to the grid, a not flexible plant becomes very fast unprofitable.

Some predict that utilities may want to close some of their NPP’s earlier, as those are not flexible enough and have to continue to deliver near full power. While prices are negative… 

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 25, 2014

Willem Jan,

The Dutch energy intensive aluminum smelter closed because it could not compete against the German smelters as the whole sale electricity prices in Germany are much lower.

Our national grid operator Tenant (Dutch government owned), should have installed the extra high capacity interconnections with Germany already a year ago. It was 4 years ago already clear that the German whole sale price levels would go far below ours, taking into account the Energiewende regulations in Germany.
But Tenant only recently decided to install more interconnection capacity…

And they could have installed it easily as they own and manage also the western parts of the German grid. So it was only an internal operation for them. 
Taking also into account they paid many billions euro’s to much for those old German grid parts (which now have to be upgraded), our government should replace topmanagement of Tenant as they are clearly not capable to look a few years ahead.
Due to their ignorance, we in NL pay more for electricity than necessary.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 25, 2014

“<em>Germany, and other European nations, will backtrack from RE and go nuclear after all, with some renewables, say 20%, for show.</em>”

For Germany that will not happen at all:

 – Last autumn they had national elections and the voters throwed the only party, the FDP, that wanted to delay closure of NPP’s (with only 10years) out of parliamment with an historic defeat after being in parliament since its founding in ~1950 (from ~16% down to 4.8% which is below the 5% threshold).

 – Opinion polls in Germany during the last 12years show increasing support for the Energiewende (now 90%).  

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jan 25, 2014

By the time Germany goes even 50% renewable, the developing nations will be consuming more than the West, causing fossil fuels to become too expensive, and efficiency and conservation can only go so far.

Humanity in depletion mode will probably be more detrimental to the biosphere than excess CO2. When that happens, there will not be enough energy to mine all the resources to build the hundreds of thousands of square miles necessary for solar (and “magically cheap” storage) to do any real good.

A world with less energy is a world at war.

Therefore, the obvious path to take is the development of the source that is intrinsically less expensive, providing base load power and that is fossil free. It needs to be some sort of a passively safe molten fuels reactor design produced in a factory setting.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 25, 2014

” <em>By the time Germany goes even 50% renewable</em>”
That was at 2030, but after the recent elections they increased the goal for 2030 towards 55-60% renewable.

” <em> Humanity in depletion mode … A world with less energy is a world at war…</em>”
Not so pessimistic. One of the targets of the Energiewende is less energie consumption.
And the Germans succeed. Their consumption is going down for many years with about 2%/year.

While their economy is going better than any other economy in the EU (e.g. hardly any budget defizit)!
Far better than ‘similar’ but nuclear countries France and UK.
German economists say that the Energiewende is an important contribution to their success, as it creates many jobs (isolating houses, exporting wind turbine and know how, etc).

“<em>the source that is intrinsically less expensive, providing base load power and that is fossil free. It needs to be some sort of a passively safe molten fuels reactor design </em>”
USA tried similar at Oak Ridge during ~6years. Not a real succes. Neither did breeders (look at the sad and expensive Japanese experience with Monju).
But no worry.

There is no need for those expensive (far more than solar/wind/storage) dreams.
Last year the world installed ~75GW wind+solar, growing with 20%/year.
Far more than nuclear (~1GW last year).
So the real solution is coming from wind + solar + (pumped)storage + electricity to fuel/gas conversions.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 25, 2014

Germany is the only bigger industrialized country in the world that already reached and surpassed the Kyoto CO2 targets of 20% reduction in 2020 compared to 1990!
They are now at ~27% reduction level already!

USA is above the 1990 level. Other nuclear countries not much much better.
So Germany can afford to give Kyoto lower priority as they kept even surpassed their Kyoto promises, while no ‘nuclear’ country did that. Not even near.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 25, 2014


“<em>If new coal plants are chosen, … to … replace …nuclear plants </em>”
Look at the German renewable implementation speed, and realize that the new governement will accelerate that. The share of renewable grows with ~2%/year (now ~23%)

So that share will be ~18% more in 2023.
Nuclear that delivers ~16% will then be closed.
So the closed nuclear will be replaced by renewable (not by coal)!

After 2023 the share grows further (55-60% in 2030) at the expene of fossil plants which will get an ever lower Capacity Factor the more renewable grows as they cannot compete with the very low whole sale prices with which wind+solar can deliver.

Note that those plant owners (the utilities) complained last autumn in Brussels that their plants should get subsidy (capacity payments) in order to keep the power plants open, and realize that the holes those plants fill are becoming smaller the more renewable is installed…

Math Geurts's picture
Math Geurts on Jan 28, 2014

A lot of numbers and facts. Unfortunately in German: “Energiewende ins Nichts” ?

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jan 28, 2014

I like the idea of pumped storage. And I also like the idea of molten fuels closed cycle nuclear because they are melt down proof.

You say that Germany is learning how to use less energy. Is there any way to pump water using less energy, to grow food using less energy, and to develop the underdeveloped nations usig less energy? ONLY to the degree of the highest efficiency possible.

It’s impossible to surpass the bounds of physics. Therefore, in order to power a completely developed planetary civilization (~10 billion happy humans) it will take close to a half a million square miles of solar (for just half) and millions of wind turbines (for the other half) and lots of pumped storage. This is possible but most of the enviro’s simply won’t allow that much land to be used.

I always like to make aware that it is best to advocate the least expensive sources. In order to do all that solar and wind, we will need lots of machine automation with very little profit motive to offsett the great material costs (and the cost of all that land). With nuclear, the material costs are FAR cheaper because there are FAR less materials (because the energy source is far denser.

The REAL problem is the add on costs aside from the intrinsic material costs. These are from silly nimbo’s, fear mongers and so called enviro’s that hate to see anything built except for that which is already built which supplies them. I guess such costs are also contributed by the power companies themselves who would like to make more, for less. Unfortunately, solar and wind is not exempt from these costs either!

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jan 28, 2014

I don’t think it is possible to power 10 billion people at even a minimum of necessary modern infrastructure without have to use more than what the world “wastefully” uses now. Therefore the need for lots of cheap, energy dense power, whether centralized or not.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 28, 2014

Thank you for this very interesting presentation!

In summary:
The presenter is a wellknown German economist who made calculations on his own, and concluded /  explains that Germany misses the storage facilities for 100% renewable energy generated by wind+solar only. So the only solution is to rely on nuclear energy.

Regarding Germany’s storage facilities I agree as they have only 35 small pumped storage facilities at the moment (building new ones stopped, as existing ones make a loss due to the overcapacity which causes that the wholesale price <4.5cent nearly all the time).

He further states that electricity to natural gas conversion and storage of the gas is no solution, as Russia would not accept that they have to take gas back and store it in their gasfield (apart from the long transport line).
Here he misses that we, the Dutch, would be very happy to store such gas in our gasfield (we have an earthquake issue because we deplete our gasfield to fast). And our gasfield is quite near the German border and has already big pipes intor Germany (we deliver part of our gas to Germany).

In the discussion it shows that he also missed:
 – the huge pumped storage capacities of Norway, which can be developed further easily as those are in uninhabitated areas in the north. Statkraft (Norway’s state utillity) would be happy to serve Germany more, They do that already (also for Netherlands and Denmark).
 – the present gas storage facilities inside Germany. Bayern has already gas stored for 36TWh (which implies that 10GW power plant capacity can run during ~4 months on it, so enough to pass the winter).
 – extension of the grid / long distance powerlines to e.g. Greece (for solar, Greece made a proposal for that), Desetec, etc. 

Furthermore he misses the electricity-to-fuel conversion (e.g. BMW has a pilot plant of 2MW producing fuel for its cars. Such fuel is much easier to store than gas.

Regarding nuclear and radiation, it showed that he really does not have any knowledge.

Despite that, he showed for me why Merkel did not agree last autumn to enhance the Energiewende target for 2050 from 80% renewable towards 90% renewable (what the SPD, her new coalition partner wants). It is not sure yet, that 90% in 2050 is reachable against affordable costs.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Jan 28, 2014

Willem,At this page you can see the Feed-in-Tariffs (FiT) including those in previous years:

In 2009 the FiT for big solar was 0.33 euro/kWh
March 2012 the FiT for big solar was reduced to 0.13 euro/Kwh.
Still more was installed than the grid could handle (wind+solar ~10GW in 2012). 
So I doubt whether this new decrease will slow the installation rate much.

They will raise the share of renewable from ~23% now towards 45% in 2025 (increase 22%).
In the same period the will take off all nuclear which deliver 17%.

So renewable will not only fill the gap, but even overcompensate.

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on Jan 29, 2014


All of your comments are just old fashioned whataboutery. But I’ll address them nonetheless.

1. By “more coal burning” I obviously mean “more coal burning than if the nuclear phase out did not occur”, which ought to be obvious to anyone. 

2. The plans to build these new coal plants do not pre-date the nuclear phase out policy. This was first passed into law in 2002, as the article says. Please read the piece before saying I am wrong.

3. This again is what aboutery aimed at dodging the issue of whether Germany is building 11 GW of coal plants because of its nuclear phase out policy.

4. You say I minimize the impact of Germany’s “unprecedented growth in renewables.” This is just an assertion. Where have I minimised it, can you point me to the point in the article when I did this? And I would challenge the idea that Germany’s growth in renewables is unprecedented. This language is far too strong. Less than 5% solar electricity. Less than 8% wind electricity. Given the scale of what is needed to deal with climate change these percentages are rather underwhelming, and even more underwhelming when you put them in terms of total energy consumption and not just electricity. 

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

This year a German household pays ~€250 for the Energiewende. It may rise somewhat coming years (I expect less than 20%). Compare that to the average income of ~€35.000.
So we talk about <1%.

You should also take into account that the Energiewende created ~0,5million jobs which is substantial for a population of 81 million (renewable is local labor; oil/gas is import is money flowing out of the country; nuclear is little labor too).

German economist say that the Energiewende is on of the main causes that the German economy goes better than any other economy within the EU.
The other one is the flexible labor market, but has UK too. And UK goes far worse economically.

One may question whether the Energiewende does deliver more economic benefits than it costs.

This also explains the rising support under the population since they decided the Energiewende in 2000. Then ~55% now ~90%! Where do you find 90% support for nuclear?




Robert Wilson's picture
Thank Robert for the Post!
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