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Here Comes the End of the Energiewende, Again

Yet again, an expert – this time, a German – has announced that Germany’s energy transition cannot succeed. He has a surprising insight for Energiewende proponents: the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. How could we have missed that, wonders award-winning energy author Craig Morris? Courtesy Energy Transition/Global Energiewende.

German economist Heiner Flassbeck recently argued that Germany will never be able to rely on renewable electricity. His central argument is that the month of December up to the date of the original publication (20 December) shows that Germany’s energy transition is doomed to fail. Here is the chart that got Mr. Flassbeck going:

The low levels – nothing usual, by the way: here’s me writing about exactly the same thing in December 2014 – led Flassbeck to conclude the following:

“This winter could go down in history as the event that proved the German energy transition to be unsubstantiated and incapable of becoming a success story. Electricity from wind and solar generation has been catastrophically low for several weeks.”

What Flassbeck, who says he is a “lay person,” has just discovered for himself is well known in the German debate as the Dunkelflaute: the “dark doldrums,” or a time of very low solar & wind power production. I wrote about it here last year, mainly to explain my surprise at how close even the worst periods are to the original target (!) of 20 percent renewable power by 2020 (since raised to 35 percent). I have also published load duration curves going back at least to 2012 (see chart 1 in this PDF); these charts show how frequent periods of, say, low wind and/or solar power production are.

The solution to all of this is “flexibility options”: first, all power plants that can ramp; second, demand that can react; and third, storage – in that order

It is thus revealing, but not surprising, to read Flassbeck’s next statement: “We have attempted unsuccessfully to find Energiewende advocates willing to explain that inconsistency. Their silence is not easy to fathom.”

His statement is not surprising because Energiewende critics often accuse their proponents of having overlooked things already studied in depth. Here, it’s as though Flassbeck thought the best German minds didn’t know that it’s dark half the time. (The irony of Energiewende critics using charts made by Energiewende experts to show what those experts have allegedly not addressed is often lost on these critics.)

Assuming Flassbeck is using the royal “we” in the quote above, he obviously didn’t look hard. This website is not exactly unknown to those interested in the Energiewende (and I have also published at Energy Post). Likewise, the Wikipedia entry (in German) for Dunkelflaute (yes, there is one) specifically references texts from Agora Energiewende, the source of the chart Flassbeck uses. At, Fraunhofer ISE has highlighted times of the lowest annual solar & wind power production going all the way back to 2011. The chart below from 2011, for instance, emphasizes a long-forgotten concern about a possible power outage that June.

 What’s the solution?

Not only have German experts coined a term and spoken about the danger of “dark doldrums” for years, they have even produced studies about what to do about them. Last year, I created two videos with the head of Fraunhofer IWES, the institute behind the Combined Power Plant study, which visualized the reliability of German power supply with 100% renewables (a goal, it should be noted, more ambitious than the German government’s actual target of 80% renewable power by 2050): see here.

The short answer to the obstacle of the dark doldrums begins when we extend the chart Flassbeck uses to cover all of December. Days of high wind & solar are never far from days of low wind & solar.

On the day Flassbeck originally published, wind power was just picking up again. It hit near record levels for five days in a row. As Fraunhofer’s chart below for the same month shows, conventional power was pushed below 10 GW as a share of domestic demand, with exports once again “rescuing” these plants.

Indeed, Germany posted a new record level of wind power production on January 3 of around 36 GW at 9 pm, as the chart below for the first half of January shows.

The solution to all of this is “flexibility options”: first, all power plants that can ramp; second, demand that can react; and third, storage – in that order. Ho hum.

We are just entering the second stage, requiring more demand shifting. Right now, dispatchable power plants ramp to accommodate spikey wind and solar. As boring as the issue Flassbeck addresses currently is, it will become interesting – and the Dunkelflaute is the central technical challenge of the Energiewende in the power sector. The scariest chart I have seen shows the residual load for 2050 with 100% renewables (below).

Does that chart not prove that Flassbeck is right and the Energiewende is doomed to fail? He certainly puts his finger on the main challenge, yes. (But don’t forget charging electric vehicles and electric heat – and the 80% target, not 100%!). The problem with his analysis is that he acts as though there are no solutions – indeed, as though no one had even looked for any.


Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of Global Energy Transition. He is co-author of Energy Democracy, the first history of Germany’s Energiewende, and is currently Senior Fellow at the IASS. He is a winner of the Excellence in Written Journalism Award of the International Association for Energy Economics.

This article was first published on the blog Energy Transition/The Global Energiewende and is republished here with permission.

Content Discussion

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on March 3, 2017

Craig, the Energiewende will never end because – like organized religion – its foundation is in superstition and not scientific method. It will be marginalized as it continues to fail to deliver predictable results. See below, “Germany’s Electricity Was Nearly 10 Times Dirtier than France’s in 2016”.

The foundations of Santaria go back millennia. There’s no evidence the religion will disappear, or that adherents will stop believing they can enter trances, and speak with their ancestors.

Jarmo Mikkonen's picture
Jarmo Mikkonen on March 3, 2017

In 2022, Energiewende will reach its main goal: the last nuclear PP in Germany shuts down. 50 % of German electricity will still be generated by fossil fuels.

By that time, 90 % of Finnish electricity generation will be carbon-free. Our own Greens will scatter ashes on their heads and moan: Why aren’t we like Germany!!

Jarmo Mikkonen's picture
Jarmo Mikkonen on March 3, 2017

France in fact exceeded the target set to it in the Kyoto Protocol. Germany’s per capita emissions are 50% higher than those of France today.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on March 3, 2017

Don’t “forget” to mention German carbon emissions rising – both per capita, and total – for the last three years in a row. The Energiewende is failing, the only question is how long stubborn Germans will take to admit it.

Thorkil Soee's picture
Thorkil Soee on March 4, 2017

If possible, you should give some data and references.

Jarmo Mikkonen's picture
Jarmo Mikkonen on March 4, 2017

You are confused or trying to mislead, Bas.

Kyoto does not have 20/20/20 target. EU has. Individual countries have also set themselves their own targets.

Germany’s target is 40% reduction from 1990 which it will miss. Despite the apparent “ambition”, German per capita emissions would remain way above France even if they reached the target.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on March 4, 2017


You are writing about the present time, and I agree, so far no problem.

If such wind and solar lulls occurred in 2050, with mostly wind and solar, and minimal fossil and no nuclear, there would need to be TWh level of storage to cover those 100 hour lulls.

Other countries could not help, because they would have wind and solar as well and lulls.

Several energy systems analysts have already analyzed the 2050 scenario in detail, and their findings agree.

Seasonal storage would be at least 5 times a 100 hour lull storage.

See my wind and solar energy lull article on TEC

Germany Seasonal Energy Shifting: Below are estimates of the storage that would have been required in 2014:

– If all of Germany’s wind and solar energy had been stored/smoothed, about 11.29 TWh.
– If all nuclear plants had been closed and replaced by W&S (resulting in 2 times 2014 W&S), about 15.25 TWh.
– If all fossil plants had been closed and replaced by W&S (resulting in 3.5 times 2014 W&S), about 26.6 TWh.

In 2050, at 6.5 times W&S, about 69.9 TWh would be required. Note: The US 2016 gross electricity generation was 4000/648 = 6.2 times Germany’s gross generation.

The seasonal storage quantities would need to be increased by up to 20% for round trip losses, in case of pumped hydro storage. In case of syngas storage, to generate the above 69.9 TWh, the required gas input to CCGTs would need to be 69.9 TWh/(CCGT efficiency, 0.55 x 0.845 LHV/HHV) = 150.4 TWh, and the storage caverns would need to hold at least 300 TWh for operational purposes.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 5, 2017

The countries of the world agreed that they would each decrease their emissions. Such that their emission level in 2020 would be 20% lower than that of 1990.

It’s a pity that the by far biggest polluter pp, USA (>30% more than Germany!), didn’t take any serious action and is now still at the 1990 level, while:
Germany lowered its emissions by >25% already;
France lowered <15%.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 5, 2017

Smart people start with removing nuclear as that is by far most damaging!

The French started to follow smart Germany in 2015 by installing 2 new laws intended to reduce nuclear and to increase renewable!

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on March 5, 2017

As I believe has been pointed out several times before, Germany’s “success” in meeting its Kyoto target was entirely due to German reunification. East Germany had a lot of obsolete, high emissions industrial infrastructure that was shut down after reunification.

The Energiewende itself, far from contributing to a reduction in carbon emissions, has increased them. The fossil fuel savings from its wind and solar installations has been exceeded by the increases in fossil fuel consumption from the shutdown of nuclear power plants.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 5, 2017

The Energiewende, which started in 2000, is primarily about electricity generation. So let’s see the effects:
2000 all fossil generated 66% of production.
2016 all fossil generated 57% of production.
So no increase but a reduction.

The reduction could be more if all nuclear out wasn’t first priority (nuclear share decreased from 29% towards 13%).
But taking the by far most dangerous method out first and then the second most dangerous is quite sensible.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 5, 2017

Of course German scientists studied and discussed what to do regarding:
– long lulls in wind & solar (mainly in winter);

– overproduction by wind & solar.
With present expansion path Germany will increase its wind+solar capacity from ~85GW now towards ~285GW in 2050, while their average consumption is ~70GW! So wind+solar capacity will then be ~4 times more than average consumption. That implies a lot of overproduction

It are two of the reasons behind the speedy development of Power-to-Gas since ~2003 in Germany. Especially since there is more than enough very cheap storage capacity.

B W's picture
B W on March 8, 2017

Shame on Craig Morris, award winning or not, either for not being able to understand, or not being willing to address what is actually the clear issue here.This article is written as if the economics of energy production are irrelevant.

Of course it is technically possible to power Germany largely on intermittent generation capacity and energy storage. That’s not earth-shattering news, and writing a quite condescending article about this technical feasibility is really silly. Let’s grow up. What is the issue here is whether it is either economically feasible or desirable to do so.

Mr Flassbeck is voicing very valid concerns, validated by the very high historical costs of energiewende, the recent reductions in energiewende funding and clean capacity deployment rates in the country, and the continued over-reliance on burning wood and coal for the majority of energy.

What Mr Flassbeck is actually arguing with huge amounts of evidence to support him (beyond just one graph) is that energiewende has not thus far been demonstrated as a feasible means by which to produce competitively priced energy to sustain a highly productive economy.

Again, Mr Craig Morris, I ask that you act as an adult and provide serious analysis for serious concerns, not condescending fluff.

B W's picture
B W on March 8, 2017

Yes but it was quite expensive and much of what is counted as “renewable” energy in the country is burning of wood chips in a non-carbon neutral and land intensive manner.

B W's picture
B W on March 8, 2017

Nuclear has caused objectively little damage in comparison to other major energy sources.

You can support the energy generation sources of choice without being in complete denial of demonstrated reality.

Coming to Energy Collective comment sections to argue that nuclear power is dangerous is such an utter waste of time as the members here already know better. Continuing to repeat over and over the evils of nuclear power in the face of such a mountain of evidence to the contrary is completely irrational. I think you should give it a rest.

I suggest you commit your energy to something more useful, like identifying and perhaps working towards the much needed solutions necessary to make the energy generation options of your choice actually economically scalable.

B W's picture
B W on March 8, 2017

Let’s comment as though economic constraints matter – Because they do.

If you want to make your suggestion actually interesting to discuss then understand that to economically deploy the large over-capacities you are suggesting, photovoltaics will have to be considerably cheaper per watt and wind turbines bigger and cheaper per watt. Then you could research possible solutions and related details to achieving these necessary requirements – such as the developmental status and potential of perovskite solar cells or other fitting solutions, or the projects concerning major increases in wind turbine swept area and output. And of course there are a myriad of details to be sorted out regarding p2g.

It is good to be optimistic but better to be optimistic based on a rational understanding of potential solutions.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 9, 2017

It’s clear that (almost all scientists of) the 4th economy of the world, Germany, think quite different about the dangers of nuclear.

Pro-nuclear does everything to depict that nuclear is less dangerous than …
Denying health harm despite rock-solid evidence, etc.

But nuclear is the only method of electricity generation which harms our genes and may harm those of our next generations substantially.
Which incapacitates them as clearly shown in areas with substantial increased radiation such as along the Tech river, etc.

Why would we go along with that, while there are safe and cheaper methods for electricity generation which also emit substantial less CO2?

Of course I can go to a renewable site so we all stay in our own section, don’t communicate with the other party and can despise those others freely. Seems to me a bad future for society, as in the end we need each other.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 9, 2017

Less than a decade ago many declared the Energiewende goals to be unreachable, impossible high expensive, etc. After Fukushima, when Merkel closed 8 of the 17 NPP’s in Germany, even Bloomberg stated that Germany would suffer major outages in the coming winter (non occurred)…

I assume that they didn’t realize that Merkel has a PhD in chemistry and never would take such decisions blindly. Or was it nuclear propaganda in order to prevent that USA would follow Germany? Bloomberg has a correspondent in Berlin….

Of course it is technically possible to power Germany largely on intermittent generation … the issue here is whether it is either economically feasible or desirable to do so.

Thanks to the price decreases of wind & solar the costs are no longer an issue as French govt institute ADEME also found out. Their simulation studies concluded that 80% renewable would deliver cheapest electricity in 2050. So my estimation is that French reduction of nuclear share will go on after 2025.

Your Mr Flassbeck makes fuzz about fluctuations. Think tank Agora and others executed many simulation studies with increasing renewable shares towards >95% (which mix, which speed of the transition with the costs, etc.) in order to schedule the situation for at least next 30years most accurately.
The Energiewende is at least 2 years ahead of their original scenario. So they decided to drop the 35% renewable target in 2020 as that will be surpassed greatly, which may provoke a lay back reaction from population & politician (target replaced by 45% renewable in 2025).

What should Graig Morris add to the many simulation studies (he reported about some of those on his site)?

High costs of the Energiewende?
The Germans decided in 2000 that a mass market would bring the costs of wind and PV-solar down which was considered to be necessary to succeed with the Energiewende. So there were years (~2003/4) in which house owners with new rooftop solar got 70cnt/KWh guaranteed for all produced rooftop power during 20years (incl. their own consumption!!). But it worked as predicted by their scientists; the costs came down with mass production!

Now the Germans have to pay off those expensive long term high guaranteed prices (luckily only 15yrs for wind). Studies show that the Energiewende levy (now 7cnt/KWh) will increase only a little and start to decrease in 2022/3 and will then follow a long term decrease path towards a few cnts in 2040 or so (don’t remember the exact numbers).

The 7cnt/KWh is only part of the cost story. The Energiewende also generated more intense competition (power is a free market product here) resulting in a price decrease from ~5cnt/KWh towards ~3cnt/KWh (Futures show that price won’t increase in next 6 years; there is no Futures market for delivery after 2023).
So the real costs are the 7cnt/KWh minus the 2cnt/KWh price decrease at the whole sale market.

Note that average German household pays less for its electricity consumption than average US household. Seems people are here more aware that it costs money and houses are smaller here.

Or low costs of the Energiewende?
Assume the Germans decide to increase nuclear in order to move towards less emissions.
New nuclear costs >15cnt/KWh. That is substantial more than the 3cnt+7cnt of the present (and after 2023 declining) costs of the Energiewende!*)
While nuclear:
– has a lot of negative side effects and leaves unsolved problems for our next generations….
– emit nowadays 2-5 times more CO2 per generated KWh than wind & solar.
– will emit more as its costs increase, while wind & solar will emit less as their costs decrease.
*) Even the price of offshore wind in the North-Sea is now 4-5cnt/KWh moving downwards (excl 1.4cnt/KWh grid connection costs, but those costs are not included in the costs of classic power plants either).

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 9, 2017

During overproduction (by e.g. wind & solar) the price on the power market will be <2cnt/KWh. So the PtG plant can buy for an av. price of ~1.5cnt/KWh. Experts widely predict a roundtrip efficiency of PtG-storage-GtP of ~40%. That that implies the price of the regenerated power will be <4cnt/KWh. Add equipment costs for the unmanned remote computer controlled PtG plant, etc. Than selling at 6cnt/KWh will be economically. Nowadays 6cnt/KWh is a relative high price, but it may be reached more often when fossil generators are off the market.

For now (and I think at least next decade) the produced H2 gas is sold to chemical, injected in nat.gas pipelines, locally produced at car refuel stations to refuel H2 cars, etc. Check this map

Of course the average price of wind & solar have to come down substantial before they can compete without any subsidy in such low priced market.
But there are (e.g. Agora) studies who predict a price level of 2 -3 cnt/KWh for solar in insolation poor Germany (Arabic Gulf states for solar and a.o. Maroc coast for wind are already at that price level).

Noth-sea offshore wind may follow with wind turbines of 16-20MW (the max is now the 9MW MHI Vestas). EU study concluded that 20MW is the max. feasible wind turbine capacity with present technology.
Note that with the increase in capacity the capacity factor*) will also increase. The ~780MW Borssele offshore wind farm (under construction, ready in 2020) equipped with 8.2MW wind turbines is scheduled to have a capacity factor of 52%.

*) Capacity factor of a generator = average production / capacity of the generator.
Bigger wind turbines implies higher towers and at higher altitudes the wind blows more and is more stable.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 9, 2017

The Kyoto climate conference agreed that wood is climate neutral if new plants/trees are planted.
German biomass (~7% of produced electricity) meet those criteria.

But anyway, very little expansion of biomass. Probable first reductions before 2020 as its too expensive compared to wind, solar and storage…

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on March 9, 2017

Using link shorteners to conceal your use of a discredited bunch of nonsense AGAIN, Bas?

You have no shame.  The lengths you go to to conceal your sources proves that you KNOW you’re lying.  Who’s paying you to do this?

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 9, 2017

That study is published in a peer reviewed scientific journal. Not strange as it’s rock-solid due to the unique circumstances that:
– nearby similar districts got totally different levels of radio-active contamination after Chernobyl (rainfall from the passing radio-active cloud was very local);
– districts birth registers noted already all birth defects (down, malformations, etc).

Same scientific researcher found such increased DNA damage in newborn around nuclear waste store Gorleben (sheet 16-19) while the dry casks were stored in an extreme thick walled building(!), that German govt closed it prematurely while the huge building was still largely empty(!), after due diligence research by pro-nuclear scientists found even worse genetic damage to newborn!

Note that the genetic damage was shown for newborn up to 40km away. Almost unbelievable that nuclear waste dry casks behind thick walls can spread so much damage so far away! But especially the extreme high significance levels of the due diligence study by the pro-nuclear scientists don’t leave space for another conclusion.

B W's picture
B W on March 9, 2017

I don’t know if that claim about Kyoto and biomass is true, but Germany’s practice of burning would is widespread and determined by researchers NOT to be carbon neutral in practice.

B W's picture
B W on March 9, 2017

Buddy, give it a rest. Nuclear power plants emit less harmful radiation than many much more common sources. You’re making a boogeyman where there isn’t one.

B W's picture
B W on March 9, 2017

You need to learn more about radiation epidemiology. You comment in radiation from a place of fear and ignorance, not knowledge.

B W's picture
B W on March 9, 2017

yes, more interesting to discuss the “how’s” of actually making this feasible.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 9, 2017

B W,
If that would be true, than newborn around NPP’s up to 40km away wouldn’t show significant increased levels of genetic damage.
Please note the links to publications in peer reviewed scientific journals in the presentation I linked.

Neither would independent studies in France, Germany and USA show increased cancer chances in young children living near NPP’s. Though these results all have a significance value of p=0.05, the combined results make it a strong claim.

Jarmo Mikkonen's picture
Jarmo Mikkonen on March 9, 2017


Changes is sex ratios have been recorded since 1950 in industrialized countries. If you want, you can show some correlation with stock market, use of antibiotics, watching of TV. Or, as with Scherb, radiation. But correlation is not causation.

Studies show that hormone levels, frequency of intercourse, chemicals, among others, change sex ratios. More boys are born during wartime.

douglas card's picture
douglas card on March 9, 2017

lol clueless post. There is ZERO superstition involved in climate science you 1d10t

Michael Hogan's picture
Michael Hogan on March 9, 2017

Craig, the only issue I would take with your contribution is to challenge the contention that the Dunkelflaute is “the central technical challenge of the Energiewende in the power sector.” Depending on how one defines “central challenge” that prize is probably more properly awarded to the issue of reduced system inertia. Most people don’t talk about the inertia challenge because most people don’t even know it exists, and most of those who do know it exists don’t really understand what it is. The good news is that system operators like EirGrid in Ireland – where the issue is probably most acutely felt at the moment – are pioneering solutions to that problem as well. That said, at the moment the state of the art is to be able to manage the system reliably under a 60-65% instantaneous in-feed from asynchronous resources – a level that would be reached frequently on a system with 20-30% of its annual energy coming from variable renewables, a level at which we already know how to manage variability very well.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 9, 2017

Nuclear Power Plants are also not carbon neutral. Nowadays they emit 2-5 times more than wind & solar per KWh generated.
Worse, Nuclear Power Plants inject major new heat into the atmosphere (a 1GW NPP injects 3GW of heat).

Even power generated by wind & solar is not carbon neutral.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 9, 2017

Can you show such correlations with the high significance level (P=0.001) with which the genetic damage in newborn around Nuclear facilities is shown?

Would be interesting as it implies other factors may also play a role.

B W's picture
B W on March 9, 2017


This is tiresome. Accept the best avaible data. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change offers the most extensive review of available lifecycle carbon emissions of various energy generation methods – and established nuclear as among the very lowest emissions sources from cradle to grave. Nuclear power is estimated to release around 1/4th the lifecycle carbon emission per unit energy produced as solar photovoltaic, and about the same as wind. This is before considering the carbon impacts of the supplemental energy supply systems that must be coupled with wind and solar for their expanded use – i.e. the increase in natural gas ramping and decrease in efficiency. It’s also before considering the extended achievable operating life time that nuclear plants are capable of achieving.

Next generation nuclear power plants will see a substantial further decrease in carbon emission due to far lower fuel mining requirements, higher fuel utilization rates, higher thermal efficiency, and leaner material requirements resulting from operation at ambient temperatures.

Thermal pollution from thermal power plants has very little impact on global climatic conditions. Greenhouse gases are substantially more potent climate drivers because they perpetually prevent some portion of incident long wave radiation from being reflected back into space, so the effect of greenhouse gases is cumulative in regards to time, whereas thermal emission is not.

In addition solar photovoltaics may contribute collective thermal emissions comparable to nuclear power plants on a per unit energy basis. Would be an intersting topic to investigate.

B W's picture
B W on March 9, 2017

Do you not realize that the instrumentation necessary to directly measure radiation emission from any point source already exists? Do you not understand that?

Measured dose for nuclear power plant workers in the US and Canada is very low, lower than many civilan jobs. In the US, EPA requirements for allowable nuclear power plant radiation release are extremely stringent – much lower than the the variation in natural background radiation.

So if significant radiation emission is not able to be measured from either inside or outside of these plants, then by what magical mechanism would you explain your proposed correlation with genetic damage?

B W's picture
B W on March 9, 2017

You need to remove the bias and agenda. If photovoltaics and wind turbines become objectively the most practical means of affordably delivering reliable electricity to a modern economy, then I will with little hesitation acknowledge this. But that’s just not the case at all. Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it is raining.

Due to an utter lack of correlation between output and electrical demand, wind and solar become more expensive as they scale, and at the current state of technology the task of getting large portions of societal energy from these sources in a country such as Germany would without a doubt be incredibly expensive. That’s not debatable, it has been demonstrated by the costs and performance of Energiewende wind and solar fleets. The opinion that the current state of technology is adequate is nothing other than extremely biased bull$hit.

If wind and solar are to be primary energy sources, they will have to come down substantially in cost, and society must make very very large investments in energy storage infrastructure to accommodate them. It’s very much a work in progress.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 10, 2017

Check the underlying studies of that ICRP report (or that of EIA). Then you find that their position is based on old studies & data from in general more than a decade ago.

At those times:
– new nuclear was thought to be ~2 times cheaper than it’s now in our western world
– PV-solar and wind did costs 2-10 times more than it cost now.

When you correct for these changes and incorporate an estimation for the emissions of storage (mainly Power-to-Gas & batteries) then you find that nuclear emits now 2-5 times more than PV-solar, wind, storage.*)

And nuclear’s position regarding emissions will degrade further as nuclear doesn’t decrease in price while wind, solar and storage will continue on their price decrease path during at least next decade.

Let see what and when regarding next generation nuclear.**)

Heat insertion
Agree that the insertion of heat into the atmosphere has far less influence than the CO2 emissions with fossil power plants.
But with non-fossil, such as nuclear, that heat insertion becomes a factor too.

solar photovoltaics heat emissions
Assume you point to the less light reflecting surface of solar panels. It should be researched.

Note that those heat emissions become less with the continued efficiency increase of PV-panels. Furthermore that thinner cells with reflective surfaces at the back-side will reflect substantial more unused photons back into the air. So the problem will decrease in coming decades.

*) Emissions of non-fossil burning methods of electricity generation are highly associated with the costs.
As in the end near all costs are income for people (workers, banks, govt’s, etc) who spend it for CO2 emitting activities and products.

With PtG-storage-GtP there is no need to burn fossil during winter when there is no wind during long periods.

**) SMR may have a chance to become slightly cheaper if produced in substantial numbers. Remember that small is left behind because bigger reactors need less material (steel, etc) per KWh produced.
But SMR won’t reach mass production due to the unsolved problems with radiation and:
– the shifting of costs of nuclear waste to next generations;
– the shifting of risks (costs of accidents) to govt, hence the population.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 10, 2017

As UNSCEAR noted, extreme low emission levels may already
create significant genetic damage in newborn due to the extreme high cell division rate of sperm when it’s produced.
It’s the reason they stated that the m/f ratio of newborn can be an extremely sensitive radiation measurement instrument their 1958 report to the UN.
The mechanisms probably operates via escaping neutrons.*)

Near all radiation instruments don’t measure neutrons. Neutron measurement is rather difficult and inaccurate. It’s done via a material that absorbs part of the neutrons and emit e.g. a gamma quant with each absorption. The gamma radiation is then measured in the instrument.

… dose for nuclear power plant workers … is very low.
That may be true. The dose for radiation workers at Sellafield is so high that the male workers get 39% more boys than girls (Dickinson etal)**)

I’m not aware of good research regarding the m/f ratio of newborn of male workers in the nuclear part of nuclear power plants??

*) Neutrons can pass through thick steel (think at the neutron bomb intended to kill the crew in USSR tanks behind 50cm steel, without damaging local infra).

Escaped neutrons collide with Argon40 in the air creating ionized Ar41 (ionized due to the recoil of the emitted gamma quant). The ionized Ar41 attracts moisture and will loose altitude ending near the surface where it is inhaled…
Ar41 is radio-active with a half-life of ~2hours.
So with winds of ~10km/hr the effect is restricted to ~40km which is in line with the increased m/f ratio of newborn measured around significant nuclear facilities.

**) Of course also increased cancer risks for those children found by several studies> despite the low numbers.
Also increased levels of stillbirth found by Parker etal.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 10, 2017

You should not look at present situation but that the expected prices of e.g. PV and Wind in 2050. Same as French ADEME institute did, who concluded that 80% renewable is the cheapest solution. Check their nice simulation presentation.

The issue is that new nuclear (Vogtle, Hinkley C, etc) has no chance to compete in the 2050 environment. Far too expensive, as 2-3cnt/KWh by wind & solar will then be the standard.

…lack of correlation between output and electrical demand, wind and solar become more expensive as they scale…
Not really. The regular overproduction will be consumed by PtG plants who will sell the H2 to a variety of applications (incl. storage if that if profitable).*)

…getting large portions of societal energy from these sources in … Germany would … be incredibly expensive.“Sorry, reality is opposite!
The costs are decreasing all the time. They are now substantial below the costs of nuclear. Even old nuclear has problems to compete now, as shown by the preliminary closure (due to losses) of the 1.3GW GrafenRheinfeld NPP.

German simulation studies show that the costs will decrease further as also shown by the French ADEME simulation study.
With the ending of the expensive FiT guarantees (during 20/15yrs) of the first decade, the Energiewende levy will also gradually decrease (starting in 2022 or 2023).

…society must make very very large investments in energy storage infrastructure…
For sure not. We in NL and Germany have more than enough extreme cheap storage capacity available, a lot already in use. More than enough more caverns available.

I’m convinced that US also has enough of such underground caverns.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on March 10, 2017

The issue is that new nuclear (Vogtle, Hinkley C, etc) has no chance to compete in the 2050 environment. Far too expensive, as 2-3cnt/KWh by wind & solar will then be the standard.

Nuclear becomes cheaper if you scale it, probably even moreso than solar and wind. It is now 5-6 cents/kWh and could easily go to 2-3 cents/kWh if scaled, and have far less of the external costs of intermittent power.

Even old nuclear has problems to compete now, as shown by the preliminary closure (due to losses) of the 1.3GW GrafenRheinfeld NPP.

It was forced by government to shut down end 2015 but closed half a year earlier. The reason was that the plant was out of fuel and the hefty tax of €145 ($161) per gram of fissile fuel that Germany has imposed. It made it impossible to recoup costs of refueling when less than half of the fuel could be used in the remaining time to forced shutdown.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 10, 2017

Nuclear … is now 5-6 cents/kWh.” Check the costs of Hinkley C or Vogtle 3/4. Both already >10cnt/KWh, despite the many subsidies for both projects.

could easily go to 2-3 cents/kWh if scaled” That is what pro-nuclear promised during past decades. But even with 8 standard AP1000’s under construction, no economy of scale visible. Only costs increases and delays, in line with history during last century.

Agree that major part of the costs increases are caused because regulators became aware how dangerous the designs were (thanks to Chernobyl, etc) and want more security.

E.on the owner of GrafenRheinfeld could have:
– reused the fuel rods in one their other NPP’s
– make a deal with govt as the fuel rod will be ‘burned’ for only ~25% in Grafenrheinfeld,
– sell the still rather new fuel rods.

But E.on stated that 1.3GW Grafenrheinfeld was making losses in recent years due to the low whole sale prices…. and closed the plant prematurely….

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on March 10, 2017

Check the costs of Hinkley C or Vogtle 3/4. Both already >10cnt/KWh, despite the many subsidies for both projects.

Nope, not if you do an LCOE calculation with a low interest rate. More like 5-6 cents.

That is what pro-nuclear promised during past decades.

And this is what would have been supplied, had nuclear supply chains and learning been kept alive.

But even with 8 standard AP1000’s under construction, no economy of scale visible.

Wrong as always. The second reactor at the US sites have lower costs, for instance. Then of course one should keep on building after first reactors have started commercial operation. Only then have you gone through a complete learning cycle.

Agree that major part of the costs increases are caused because regulators became aware how dangerous the designs were (thanks to Chernobyl, etc)

Agree that regulatory ratcheting is the major cause of supply chains being killed off and industrial learning rolled back. Don’t agree that it’s because regulators “became aware”. They suboptimize, partly because of political pressure from anti-nuclear camps, especially the gas lobby and their lap-dogs, the greens.

E.on the owner of GrafenRheinfeld could have

All your suggestions are impractical. There’s some major costs involved in handling hot fuel rods like that and guys like yourself might decide to try to sabotage or hinder the transport. And of course, having a difficult time economically is not shameful when you are heavily taxed while competing tech receives several hundred biliion in subsidies.

B W's picture
B W on March 10, 2017


Caverns are not equal to storage capacity. Preparing caverns for storage of a gas requires significant investment. Regulatory assessment must occur, Distribution to and from the cavern must be constructed. Equipment to convert power to suitable gas or liquid fuel must also be invested in. At current moment all of these things remain expensive and constitute a cost in addition to generation capacity.

I happen to have a lot of experience with photovoltaics. Without significant innovation regarding the semi conductors and packaging used, photovoltaic systems will not see major cost reduction. In fact as environmental and occupational regulation inevitably tightens in the manufacturing centers of Asia, the long term cost of producing the standard silicon cell module could rise faster than inflation.

There are certainly promising means by which precipitous cost reductions in solar cells and modules could occur, but you assume these reductions will happen. We could just as soon assume that the huge potential design improvements and regulatory streamlining of Nuclear reactors will also occur. We shouldn’t assume.

Discussing the technical means by which your proposed solutions could become cost effective would lead to a far more fruitful conversation than jumping to unfounded conclusions.

As far as your comment about nuclear, I very highly doubt you understand the extent of storage and generation infrastructure required to make wind or solar capacity in Germany function like a nuclear plant. There is no commercially available ‘power to gas’ equipment that could be paired with solar in Germany to provide the same function as any of the AP1000s being built at a desirable cost. Not even close, I’ve run the numbers. And that is true on a 30 year basis. Nuclear power plants can operate upwards of 80 years, whereas the operational lifecycle of most wind solar and p2g equipment is closer to 20 years. So in terms of long term return on investment there is simply no comparison.

Blunt opposition to any nuclear fission technology is a terribly closed-minded view. Fission energy offers very unique and valuable attributes relating to land use, resource use, reliability, industrial grade heat supply, and length of operational life. For these reasons fission technology will be extremely valuable in a transition away from mass combustion of fossil fuels for global energy.

B W's picture
B W on March 10, 2017


Your response is puzzling. The cost of constructing a nuclear power plant has nothing to do with carbon emission of the plant. The cost of western built nuclear power plants is largely tied up in financing and administrative activities, unrelated to GHG emission.

Your rationale that higher plant cost means more capital for workers to spend on carbon-producing goods and services makes absolutely no sense, because the inverse that a lower plant cost means more capital for stakeholders and ratepayers to spend on carbon consuming goods can also be claimed. Clean energy capacity is precisely what lowers the GHG intensity of goods and services, so it is completely irrational to argue that the profits from a clean energy generator will lead to carbon emission that should be accounted for in a lifecycle carbon assessment.

Again, thermal emission of nuclear power plants is not a significant climate driver, and disruption of wind by wind turbines and the resistive heat produced by solar panels which disrupt radiation reflection, are probably each comparable in effect to nuclear power plant thermal emission – though none of these are of significance in comparison to the cumulative long term heat-trapping effects of greenhouse gases.

You’re blatantly opposed to nuclear technology due to adherence to stubborn ideology, not knowledge. The more you learn about the technology the more you will realize how beneficial its continued use will be.

B W's picture
B W on March 10, 2017


You’re being quite dishonest.

From UNSCEAR on Feb 8 2017:

“VIENNA, 8 February (UN Information Service) – The results of a report released today by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) confirmed that for members of the public, annual exposure to radiation resulting from generating electricity (via the coal cycle, nuclear fuel cycle, or other electricity-generating technologies) is small and typically much less than one per cent of the corresponding average natural background exposure.”

It is later noted that Nuclear Power Plants contribution to the “much less than 1 percent” of background radiation is less than 8%…. in other words very very small.

In addition there is no demonstrated correlation between varying levels of natural background radiation and incidences of cancers disease or low fertility rates.

You’re making claims for which you have no basis of scientific understanding, and you continue to cite whatever fringe sources offer any slight support for your agenda while completely ignoring at large the established science on these issues. Radiological epidemiology is a very advanced and established area of study, to the extent that radiation exposure can be prescribed and administered extensively as a medical treatment. We know for a fact that the modern day operation of nuclear power plants has an effect on human health so low that it is not detectable or quantifiable. You’re claims are stubborn and ignorant. Enough is enough.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 10, 2017

The cost savings due to sizing the gas condition plants on average consumption and not on peak consumption were bigger than the costs to create seasonal storage in the deep under-earth caverns. So those costs are not very high.
USA has empty gas fields, etc…

PV-panel production
Compare the simplicity of a PV-panel with the complexity of a TV and compare the costs. Than it’s clear that there are still big cost decreases possible with PV-panel production. The automation level in PV-cell & PV-panel production is still low.
The mass production of chips with ever smaller details (now 14nm) is a great help as same technology and improvements in (accuracy of) machines can be used for PV-cells. .

PV innovation
Present standard PV is still primitive and has a max. efficiency of ~22% (Sunpower). As already used in PV for space and race applications, multi-junction PV with efficiencies of ~33% will gradually develop for rooftop and utility PV-solar.
The big benefit for rooftop solar is that production is 50% higher with the same installation costs.

So I agree with the study of German think tank Agora (and most experts), which predicts that the price level of PV-solar in 2050 will be a factor 3 lower than now.

Nuclear improvements?
Nuclear’s costs went up and up in past 50years.
The new designs that are now in development are revivals of earlier designs which didn’t make it in the sixties and seventies of previous century.
Alas revivals with only little new… So little reason to assume those will produce for much lower costs.

The issue is that PV solar is gradually moving towards mass production. And that such mass production is unreachable for nuclear due to a few unsolved problems:
– the gene & health damaging radiation it spreads around;
– the nuclear waste.
While present reactors (not being gen4) have the additional killing problem that they can easily develop into a real disaster for the wide surroundings.

Try to understand what the consequences are of a real free and highly competitive power market (which US doesn’t have). Each activity in the German market has to earn it’s own money.
PtG also has to earn its money. Hence it doesn’t operate in combination with solar or whatever. PtG buys cheapest possible and sells highest possible.

The problem with NPP’s is that they can and do fail totally in a few seconds. Similar surprise doesn’t occur at all with wind and solar thanks to the distributed nature of wind & solar!

So the reliability of German grid improved substantially in the 2004 – 2010 period when wind & solar took steam. German grid is now >10 times more reliable than US grid according to recent IEEE study.

Land-use, resource use
The figures show that nuclear performs inferior even on these less important parameters!

operational life cycle
The real operational life cycle of NPP’s is ~40years now, during which they need at least one expensive major overhaul which takes the NPP roughly a year out of service.

PV solar is fully guaranteed during 25years by the supplier. So normal expectation is that it will last ~100yrs (4 times guarantee period). Not strange as it has no moving parts.

Wind turbines are simple machines. I have a >300yrs old one ~400meter from my house. First modern wind turbine still operates >40yrs old.
All 11 wind turbines of the first offshore wind farm, installed in 1991, still operate.
Modern wind turbines last at least 30yrs and have the potential for a much longer life cycle.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on March 10, 2017

Wrong about everything, as usual:

3.)  Ar-41 would be neutralized instantly, because its ionization energy is greater than every other constituent of air.  Its next collision would leave it neutral and something ELSE ionized.
2.)  Ar-41 is a very rare product of neutrons in air, because argon is only a trace constituent.  Most neutrons are swept up by nitrogen, forming carbon-14 and hydrogen by the (n,p) reaction.  C-14, half-life 5760 years, is evenly distributed world-wide.
1.)  Concrete structures like dry-cask overpacks are strong neutron absorbers, because they contain lots of light water.  Hydrogen captures neutrons via (n,γ) forming deuterium.

But the BIGGIE:

0.)  THERE IS NO ACTIVE FISSION GOING ON IN SPENT FUEL STORES AND NO SIGNIFICANT NEUTRON EMISSIONS.  The entire ridiculous model Bas touts here is supported purely by p-hacking of epidemiological data.

In short, Bas (Bentvels) is a pathological liar pushing anti-nuclear propaganda.  He probably does it for a living; his globe-trotting, mountain-climbing lifestyle is not something that could possibly support itself, and involves massive GHG emissions.  Oh, that makes him an enormous hypocrite too.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on March 10, 2017

You’re blatantly opposed to nuclear technology due to adherence to stubborn ideology

Bentvels is Bas Gresnigt.  He appears to be an outdoors afficionado, climbing mountains, doing long-distance bicycle tours, and the like.  IIUC he has sponsorships for this, so he’s getting paid to do what most people pay for.

Needless to say, this lifestyle involves a lot of long-distance travel and related fossil fuel emissions (largely from jet fuel).

Sponsors are notoriously fickle and demand that the sponsored remain on-message at all times.  It’s certain, given his level of activity, that anti-nuclear fear-mongering is part of what Bentvels is being paid for.  You’re not going to convince him of anything that threatens his paycheck.  You can only ban him.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on March 10, 2017
B W's picture
B W on March 10, 2017

Comparing simplicity of a PV panel to complexity of a tv doesn’t tell us anything about the energy expenditure required to make either. Silicon is an energy intensive material to make, that’s a big reason solar panels remain expensive.

“Rooftop solar production is 50% higher”

Umm no. Whether on a roof or ground mounted makes no difference. Tilt angle and orientation dictate yield. In fact roof mounting usually creates elevated operating temperatures and lower output.

Multi junction cells are unlikely to be used in commercial solar panels any time soon. The likeliest path to increasingly cost effective solar is actually ultra cheap and less efficient cells.

I don’t think even you believe your own claims.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on March 11, 2017

Comparing simplicity of a PV panel to complexity of a tv doesn’t tell us anything about the energy expenditure
I wrote the PV paragraphs to illustrate that there are still major cost decreases possible regarding PV-panels.
Energy expenditure is another topic, though also there improvements ongoing.

Of course ground mounted solar will also produce 50% more when 33% efficient solar panels are installed.

Multi junction cells … likeliest path … ultra cheap and less efficient cells.
That may be true in areas with cheap surfaces. The reason I mentioned rooftop is that it is expensive surface due to the high installation costs for rooftop solar. So there you will see the first use of those more expensive panels ($/W).

Gradually you the penetration of multi-junction progressing. They are now not only standard in space but also on solar race cars, solar race boats, etc.

With the improvements, better accuracy, of production machines (especially thanks to the demands of the chips industry) the yield and needed material for multi-junction will improve. There huge space for further improvements in this area. So the current cost decline will continue for multi-junction solar cells.