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Writing Off Germany's Energiewende as a Failure Is Unwise

German renewables transition

“I think we need to start over,” Germany’s new Minister of Economics and Energy, Sigmar Gabriel, told a popular German weekly newspaper at the close of 2013 (dw.de). Gabriel was referring to Germany’s Energiewende, which translates to “energy revolution,” the country’s push to transform its economy from one reliant on fossil and nuclear generation to one powered chiefly by renewable energy sources.

Gabriel’s about-face shocked those committed to seeing the Energiewende through, but it resonated with those who have anxiously watched Germany’s electricity prices climb amidst widespread operational problems on the nation’s grid. At a recent energy conference in Berlin, Gabriel advised his listeners, “We need to keep in mind that the whole economic future of our country is riding on this…The energy transformation has the potential to be an economic success, but it can also cause a dramatic de-industrialization of our country” (New York Times).

With hopes to reign in runaway electricity prices, Gabriel is grappling with how best to reform the Energiewende’s lifeblood – the EEG, or Renewable Energy Sources Act, passed by the Bundestag in 2000.

Nearly fourteen years ago, the EEG gave electricity from wind, solar and other renewables priority access to the grid over conventional fuels by creating a feed-in tariff. As intended, it yielded the aggressive deployment of renewable energy capacity across Germany’s residential, commercial and industrial sectors. Thanks to this act, the country today boasts more than 63 gigawatts of solar and wind power capacity. It has also become home to some of Europe’s highest electricity prices. 

Germany’s residential consumers shoulder the costs of the EEG, in the form of a surcharge, and over the years their electricity bills have increased steadily to levels three times the U.S. national average. Such surge in prices has pushed some into “energy poverty,” where leaving the lights is no less than a luxury. Stoking further controversy, the EEG exempts some of Germany’s energy-intensive commercial and industrial consumers to avoid hindering their ability to compete in the global economy.

The values underpinning the Energiewende were and remain environmental, social and economic; they are rooted in a desire to address global climate change, foster public ownership of renewable generation assets and stimulate job growth within a clean energy economy. Through this movement, Germany aims to supply 80 percent of the country’s electricity demand with renewables by 2050 while dramatically cutting carbon emissions.

Boldness rarely goes without criticism. The nation’s energy shift receives denigration and praise both domestically and abroad. Those who consider climate change a top priority praise Germany for their leadership in taking action to address it. Those who downplay the implications of climate change, as well as those who value short-term economic prosperity over long-term environmental stewardship, condemn the effort as yet another example of failed government policy.

American energy expert and IHS Vice Chairman Daniel Yergin recently spoke with the Wall Street Journal about Germany’s energy dilemma. He believes the country should consider developing its domestic natural gas supplies through the proven, yet globally controversial, process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. IHS estimates Germany could meet 30 percent of its gas demand if it fracked.

In addition to burning cleaner than Germany’s robust reserves of brown coal, gas offers further value through its reliability and flexibility, making it a strong complement to renewables. Despite these benefits, Chancellor Angela Merkel and others hesitate to pursue fracking due to the broad environmental concerns it arouses.

Outside Germany’s borders, countless industry leaders and government officials deem its Energiewende a failure. Such an assertion, though considered reactionary by some, in reality harkens back to the success of the traditional utility business model. Utilities take issue with Germany’s high electricity prices and misalignment between electric generation and demand resulting from a liberal deployment of intermittent renewables. These critiques are valid and should be acknowledged as the EEG is reformed.

Nevertheless, writing off Germany’s Energiewende as a failure is unwise. In the grand scheme of electric system transitions, the Energiewende is in its infancy. Edison’s model was designed and built over more than a century to meet the affordability and reliability standards it offers today. The Energiewende needs time to mature in the hands of motivated, intelligent people with the technology of the 21st century at their disposal.

Let me offer just one example of how Germans have responded to the challenge of renewable intermittency. A recent article from designworld.com covered Germany’s largest utility, E.ON, demonstrating the conversion of surplus renewable power into hydrogen fuel via electrolysis. The hydrogen can be stored in pipelines or containers as physical energy for consumption at a later time. Such ingenuity may not have occurred on its own – it blossomed from the hurdles of 21st century modernization.

Germany’s boldness should be fairly criticized but absolutely recognized. Gabriel and other policymakers should welcome ideas and collaboration as they address tough issues and reform their approach. And finally, if nothing at all, we should all observe Germany in the coming decades, as it could show the world how to power a vital economy in a clean way.

Photo Credit: Energiewende a Failure?/shutterstock

Content Discussion

Keith Pickering's picture
Keith Pickering on March 17, 2014

Luke says:

Those who consider climate change a top priority praise Germany for their leadership in taking action to address it. Those who downplay the implications of climate change, as well as those who value short-term economic prosperity over long-term environmental stewardship, condemn the effort as yet another example of failed government policy.

Well, I consider climate change a top priority, and I certainly don’t think the Energiewende has much to boast about. The net effect is a massive shift of wealth from the urban lower- and middle-classes to suburban and rural property owners who can install solar panels and wind turbines. Meanwhile Germany’s carbon emissions, which had been going down during the early “good times” of Energiewende, have been going up since they began turning off their nuclear plants. (see http://www.umweltbundesamt.de/en/press/pressinformation/greenhouse-gas-emissions-rise-again-slightly-in)

The real test will come when the FITs begin to expire as scheduled under EEG. The stated reason for the FIT was to give the renewables industry time to mature. But if renewable installation collapses without the subsidy, even after a decade or more of “maturity”, then we’ll know it was all a facade in the first place. My personal prediction is that without the FIT subsidy, solar installation would collapse entirely and wind installation would be cut to a small fraction. I could be wrong, but time will tell.

And sure, using excess electricity for demand-dispatchable (i.e., load-balancing) hydrogen electrolysis makes sense. (Especially when coupled with a Fishcer-Tropsch process for conversion to gasoline.) But it makes the most sense when it uses the lowest-cost non-fossil electrical source, which is nuclear.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on March 17, 2014

Luke, you write

Nevertheless, writing off Germany’s Energiewende as a failure is unwise. In the grand scheme of electric system transitions, the Energiewende is in its infancy. Edison’s model was designed and built over more than a century to meet the affordability and reliability standards it offers today.

The difference, of course, is that there were no alternatives in Edison’s time. Compared to reading by candlelight or gaslight, to frequent fires and explosions, it was the crowning achievement then that it is now.

In truth the Energiewende isn’t a failure – it’s provided a valuable but stern lesson in the difficulty and expense of extracting renewable energy in a way that’s useful. The failure would be to continue down a path which is clearly leading in the wrong direction.

 

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on March 17, 2014

Just follow German priorities then it is quite logic:

1. nuclear out (done at 2023)
2. democratize energy; ongoing. So rooftop solar, many small cooperations, etc.
3. renewable generate 80% of all electricity in 2050.

That third goal implies that fossil will in 2050 be only one third compared to 2001 for electricity generation.

Regarding GHG, Germany reduced already 27% compared to Kyoto 1990.
Which other major countries will reach the Kyoto target of 20% GHG reduction in 2020?
Did I understand correct that USA increased GHG emissions compared to Kyoto 1990?
While USA consumes and emits far more (2x) per person?

So who should be critical here?

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on March 17, 2014

Sadly, my country is NOT doing anything to reduce GHG’s even though we have spent BILLIONS of dollars on renewables. What we need to do is make a mandate to develop closed cycle nuclear (so there’s no reason for others to complain about it!).

This, then would surely get the US into reduced emissions!

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on March 17, 2014

Robert,
Apart from the issue that a 1GW nuclear plant heats the earth with 2.5GW, I’m not aware of any closed cycle nuclear?

donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on March 17, 2014

Ken 

So!at is case and point for folly in Germany. Solar in Germany is a liability. Not only according to the Agee stat does it employee similar amounts of people as the bio mass sector, it requires about 10 times the investment, produces 1/6th the revenue, takes more subsidy than any other renewable energy source and accounts for a measly 8% of renewable energy. Biomass in Germany is at 63%. Look for ‘ development of renewable energy sources in Germany’ on Google. You will find data for 2010, 11 and 12.

donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on March 17, 2014

So bas all your arguments are about could be futures.

Pray do tell us why that 27% occurred. I think i t would do you good Togo into detail considering the limited amounts of renewables pre 2000 no?

Paul O's picture
Paul O on March 17, 2014

Please read the below.

 

http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/04/05/usa-meets-kyoto-protocol-without-ever-embracing-it/

 

USA meets Kyoto protocol goal – without ever embracing it

New EIA data shows USA inadvertently meets 1997 Kyoto protocol CO2 emission reductions without ever signing on thanks to a stagnant economy. Lowest level of CO2 emissions since 1994.

In 2012, a surprising twist and without ever ratifying it, the United States became the first major industrialized nation in the world to meet the United Nation’s original Kyoto Protocol 2012 target for CO2 reductions.

WUWT readers may recall that Kyoto was an international agreement proposed in December 1997 requiring nations (according to the U.N. press release then) to reduce CO2 emissions by 5.2% by 2012.  It became international law when ratified by Russia in November 2004. The United States never ratified Kyoto and is not legally bound by it, even though then vice president Al Gore signed it much to the annoyance of many.

It expired on December 31st, 2012, with no replacement agreement to follow it.

Well, it seems like killing the economy went hand in hand with CO2 reductions, imagine that. The graph below is from EIA with my annotations.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on March 18, 2014

“Those who consider climate change a top priority praise Germany for their leadership in taking action to address it.”

Actually, the opposite is true. What really defines those who praise the energieewende is that they are very laid-back on climate change. This is because Germany obviously does not take leadership, it does the opposite. It is decommissioning nuclear, builds new coal and increase its carbon emissions.

France transitioned to nuclear energy and it took some 20 years. So did Sweden. Both countries have had virtually no GHG emissions in electricity since 1990 or earlier. That is leadership! Germany aims to go carbon-free by 2050 according to optimistic non-binding slideware, so it is at least 60 years behind!

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on March 18, 2014

Yes, somewhere in the future all countries may reach the -20%.

But the Kyoto target is -20% at 2020.

My own EU country, The Netherlands, has postponed reaching that target to 2024, which we may also not reach as we do little.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on March 18, 2014

If you would try to detect what is fiction in your post and then take those out, your argument may get somewhere. To help, I’ll show one of your many fictions:

Last year Germany burned more brown coal than it has since 1990.”
The overview here, shows that Germany generated in 1990: 171TWh and in 2013: 162TWh (5% less) via brown coal. Not only that, but Germany did that with ~10% (~30% vs ~45%) more efficient ‘new’ power plants*). So ~15% less CO2 compared to 1990.

Coal was reduced from 141TWh in 1990 to 124TWh in 2013 (-12%), with increased efficiency: ~20% less CO2.

All, while total eletricity production went up 15% (1990: 550TWh, 2013: 634TWh).

___
*) The new circulating fluidized bed power plants that can also burn waste, etc. and burn at low temperature in a rich oxygen environment which imply also very little poisoneous NOx’s, etc. They replace the old power plants. Base load plants have no future.

English publications only spew about these new lignite plants, while those emit ~15% less CO2 and far less toxics then the old plants. The publications forget that more old plants are closed than new plants opened.
This delivers a distorted view with people that cannot read German.

Btw.
Your second link ends at a story with a mis-interpretation of Gabriels statement. That statement was intended:
– to get people quiet that want faster than the coalition agreement of Okt. last year;
– to create space to install controls such that the installation speed of other renewable (wind, etc) are monitored and corrected more close. Similar as with solar now.

After 2 years in which solar increase got out of hand, solar FiT’s are now adapted each month according to a scheme that is adjusted every quarter.
If not enough solar installed the FiT goes up. If more installed than targeted, the FiT goes down. FiT goes down more, the more extra was installed.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on March 18, 2014

Kyoto is -20% GHG compared to the 1990 level in 2020.

From the graph I read: USA is ~5% above the 1990 level.
While Germany is 27% below the 1990 level.

Worse, there is no real indication that USA will reach the 20% below 1990 level in 2020.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on March 18, 2014

How much capacity do they have to build to reach 80%?? At what cost? Only thing you can be sure of is that nobody in Germany knows the answer to those questions.

How come you think that the accurate and always calculating Germans just jump into such expensive nation wide change? 
While they have major institutes such as Fraunhofer with many scientists that make scenario’s which are discussed involving other scientists, such as at Agora, etc.

How come you think that a stable democratic society with 81million people, the most powerful, technological advanced and one of the richest in Europe,
behaves like a banana republic?

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on March 18, 2014

Polls show that 85%-90% of the public support the Energiewende.
Those poll results were confirmed at last elections in Okt.2013.

The voters threw the only party,  FDP, who wanted to postpone the closure of NPP’s with some years out of parliament (after being in since its foundation 60years ago and having ~17% of the votes in 2009 elections).

Is there any country with such massive support for nuclear? Not even near.

Btw
That residential ‘burden’ is less than 1% of the lower German household income.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on March 18, 2014

I think this is quite scary, actually, that there are so many are coal apologetics nowadays. “Oh, look, new shiny lignite plants, with fluidized beds and whatnot. They are X% more efficient and thus great for the climate. In 25 years we’ve managed to go from bad coal to good coal.”

It confirms my earlier statement, that greens nowadays are very relaxed about climate change. There is no urgency at all.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on March 18, 2014

Jesper,German policy is quite logical:
The most dangerous (=nuclear) first out. Done in 2023.

Then the second dangerous out (fossil): In 2050 80% renewable, implies that fossil will then be reduced to ~30% of the present volume.

My estimation is that even in the 9 year period until 2023, part of fossil will be taken out also. Just as in the 2007-2013 period:

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on March 18, 2014

First of all, nuclear is the safest of all of the energy sources, according to the life cycle analyses. Nuclear power has so far saved some 1.8 million lives in the world compared to replacing it with the average non-nuclear mix, according to a recent NASA study. This is known by politicians, so German coal-loving policies are knowingly killing roughly 3000 every year, while the triple meltdown of Fukushima doesn’t kill at all. Chernobyl, even, was to the world about as harmful for health as a few weeks of global coal combustion is.

Second, anyone who claim that nuclear is more dangerous than coal confirms being relaxed on climate change. Climate change should be regarded as a threat to the entire human civilization. It also risks flooding enormous areas for thousands of years, while Fukushima and Chernobyl proved that nuclear, at worst, risk quite small areas (and no lives) for time frames of decades. (Cesium-137 has a half-life of 30 years.)

Third, the speed of German transition is truly underwhelming. Considering wind plants have a life time of 20 years, Germany will wait until 2030 to build the wind plants that are supposed to help with the 2050 target. As I mentioned before, Germany is fully 60 years behind leaders such as France and Sweden in fighting climate change.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on March 18, 2014

3GW of thermal is like a thousand times less heat trapping as the excess CO2 emitted by its counterpart which is coal because plain thermal (infrared) escapes whereas GHG’s trap.

I keep telling you but you don’t get it… WE NEED TO STOP BURNING COAL!

Edit: Closed cycle nuclear could power upwards of about 100 billion people at a high standard of living (much electrical consumption).

If we could figure out how to make storage for really cheap, then wind and solar would at least be able to power up to about a few billion people and their electric cars, until land restrains become an issue. Of course, the countries lacking good solar and wind would still either have to “go nuclear” OR be dependent on a “global grid” (or both).

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on March 18, 2014

The US could reach that (no problem) if we started building molten salt reactor or fast reactors NOW! Consider (again) that it takes about 3,000 1MW wind turbines (and lots of storage) to do the work of a single 1GW power plant. Guess which of these two options use more materials?

Remember that a molten salt reactor does NOT need the giant containment building (because it does NOT use water for core cooling), spits out about 100x less wastes and which wastes last pnly a thousandths of LWR waste. Thus a small (and hardened) reactor compared to thousands of wind turbines and lots of pumped hydro (or whatever).

Therefore, the one with the less material WINS in a “which is best to displace coal with” scenario! No argument!

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on March 18, 2014

Luke,
Your post gives some readers the impression that the Energiewende is in a crisis and may be delayed, or so. I assume the way Gabriel’s statement: “I think we need to start over,” is presented, contributes to this misunderstanding / wrong impression.

Gabriel is one of the socialist leaders of the SDP, the new coalition partner of Merkel. He and his party targeted to speed up the Energiewende greatly. E.g. not 35% renewable in 2020, but 40%-55%, not 50% but 75% renewable in 2030, etc.
Far more offshore wind (only ~1% of onshore until now, while ~20% scheduled), etc.

In the Nov.2013 coalition agreement with Merkel (CDU/CSU), little is left of Gabriels intentions.
Only the 2030 target is increased from 50% towards 55-60% renewable. The official offshore wind target went down to ~10%. Merkel’s argument that the Energiewende levy should not increase much further, succeeded.

Nevertheless Gabriel took the job to implement this agreement. 
His predeessor (Altmaier) lowered the FiT’s for solar too slow, which created a solar boom in 2011/2012 (~8GW/a) causing grid and financial (unscheduled rise of costs & levy) problems. In 2013 Altmaier corrected by implementng a scheme of monthly decrease for solar FiT’s, which scheme is quarterly adjusted.
While that correction brought solar expansion in line with the Energiewende (~3GW/a), it also met a lot of critics (installation branch reduced with >50%).

Gabriel wants to prevent a repeat of the uncontrolled expansion story and implement similar unpopular controls regarding wind, etc. Of course that meets stiff resistance (FiT’s less predictable, etc).
And he already had a row against the president of the state ‘Sleeswijk-Holstein’ who, supported by 3 other states, declared that: “all wind turbine capacity Germany needs can be installed onshore in ‘Sleeswijk-Holstein’ alone. So expensive offshore is a waste.”
Gabriel needs the cooperation of Sleeswijk-Holstein for his offshore target…

Hence he declared within ~ a month after he took the job: “we need to start over’. 
In the hope that would bring him more manoeuvre space to implement tighter controls for wind, etc and to implement the coalition agreement / his ideas.

One can see it also in his statement a few weeks later: “Da herrscht zum Teil Anarchie. Alle machen mit, aber keiner weiß, wohin.“(There is some Anarchy around the Energiewende. All talk with, but nobody knows which direction).

May be Gabriel is a little too much of a straight socialist for this job, which requires so much tactical manoeuvring, good relations, etc. A pity the SPD no longer seems to have politicians such as Gerhard Schröder, who even succeeded to solve the apparent unsolvable political labyrinth around the Russian-German gas pipeline through the Baltic sea.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on March 18, 2014

No explanation of closed cylce nuclear?
So it is virtual, not even a dream which could become reality in some future.

… wind and solar would … be able to power up to about a few billion people and their electric cars, until land restrains…
Land restrains are a non issue.
Even not for relative dense populated Germany at relative high latitude.

Only for countries such as Finland it will stay difficult / expensive.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on March 18, 2014

It takes China >10years and cooperation of ‘enemy’ India, to develop such reactor type.
Then USA has to build them. So we speak about 2033 or later.
Then the reactor has to compete in 2033 against solar producing for $30/MWh and wind for $40/MWh.
So not sure your reactor will be economic viable. 

At that time 20MW wind turbines and possible bigger are the standard (even now 1MW wind turbines are obsolete, so your 3000 is nonsense).
Those wind turbines also harvest a much higher and larger vertical strip of the wind, which implies a wind park produces more per km². My estimation ~4times more per km² than a wind park with 1MW turbines.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on March 18, 2014

Current reactors are good enough and can be taken to high penetrations, unlike wind and solar, but of course nuclear is in its infancy and has a far larger potential for cost savings than already mass-produced solar and wind.

Sorry, 20 MW wind turbines will not become standard. Let me quote wikipedia: “For a given survivable wind speed, the mass of a turbine is approximately proportional to the cube of its blade-length. Wind power intercepted by the turbine is proportional to the square of its blade-length.” So, a cubed negative is racing a squared positive. Guess what wins. That’s why land based wind power does not progress from 2-3 MW. It’s simply the sweet spot.

And when you say “3000 is nonsense” you miss the obvious fact that a 3 MW wind turbine is producing 1 MW on average. That’s why the previous commenter had it right.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on March 18, 2014

Closed cycle nuclear refers to a fuel breeding factor of at least one, so that as much fuel is produced and recovered as is burned in the reactor. Thus we get rid of almost all waste and mining operations – the nuclear fuel cycle has (almost) no inputs nor outputs. There are such reactors capable of such operation in existence, notably the BN series in Russia and Monju in Japan.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on March 18, 2014

..a big, big, big problem for Germany right now…
Not to the opinion of German population. Speak with them in Germany, they feel rather happy with the Energiewende. Neither to German economists.
So only to the judgement of (pro-nuclear) folks from other (English speaking) countries, that are only half informed…

…rob the poor to enrich the rich…
A phantasy. And impossible as the Energiewende levy involves <1% of the income of the poor.

nuclear infrastructure – which as of today is still the largest source of climate change gas free energy in Germany
Renewable are the largest source with ~24% share. Check the figures.

___
Regarding the opening post, it invites faulty interpretations.
Read my response direct below it.

Thomas Gerke's picture
Thomas Gerke on March 18, 2014

“Your post gives some readers the impression that the Energiewende is in a crisis and may be delayed, or so. I assume the way Gabriel’s statement: “I think we need to start over,” is presented, contributes to this misunderstanding / wrong impression.”

The original statement was “Wir brauchen einen Neustart der Energiewende” which is more like a “reboot of the Energiewende”. 

Your assesment of Gabriel is abit off the mark I think. In Germany Gabriel is not seen as pro-renewable, but he has to balance all the different more or less legitimate interessts. The SPD is home to some of the most pro-renewable and pro-coal people. 

Stoping renewables won’t happen though. 

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on March 18, 2014

Getting off coal is more important than an Apollo style effort. If we could land a man on the moon just one decade, we could surely do this. Remember, I’m not against solar and wind, just against expensive solar and wind and storage when there is also that nuclear option.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on March 18, 2014

Search LFTR, which would probably take the longest to develop, re-develop, that is. Search PRISM which is the fast reactor that had more development time, read what others here say also. These are not impossible dreams type but already proven. They are prevented by people like you who do not realize or care about the excess co2 problem.

Again, I must repeat, it is your business to promote wind and solar, it it’s NOT your business to impede the development of melt down proof nuclear. It may appear that I’m trying to impede wind and solar but only when I compare them to nuclear does it seem to be that way. Otherwise, I’m ALL FOR machine mass production of solar, wind and storage for very cheap. 

Again, we will need them ALL (built for less expensive) in order to properly solve the excess CO2 thing!!!

donough shanahan's picture
donough shanahan on March 18, 2014

Bas

Why does this graph not agree with either eia or IEA data? I have asked this three times now and you have yet to produce a comprehensive answer. Further the Agee stat have not released results for the second, third and fourth quarter of 2013 so could you clarify what this data is covering?

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on March 18, 2014

I used to think that the world should be powered by nothing but CSP with molten salt storage until I realized that even that was inferior to nuclear. At least, I did some simple math and figured that in order to power a fully developed planetary civilization of 10 billion people at slightly less than the American standard (slighty less because efficiency will improve to some degree), we would have to cover close to a million square miles which is about two percent of the land.

(This is for Bas, too)

I had no problem with that as long as we put “an Apollo effort into the advanced machine automation required” to make it happen for cheap and and stop the expensive and wasteful subsidies of today (yes, I actually figured that much out, then, though I didn’t want to truely search for anything that could go against CSP). Being mostly mirrors and conventional steam turbines, I felt that ANY enviromentalist that was against “this most awesome plan” was a traitor. And nobody was going to tell me otherwise. People tried to tell me about nuclear but I put that consideration off thinking that “well, this is the best solar because it has storage, so we should just do that on the global scale because nuclear is dead”.

But, as I realized that the prices were never really coming down (and that China was blowing it away via their own subsidized panels) I finally began to realize:

There is no way to compete against nuclear (especially meltdown proof closed cycle reactors).

But most of this (all of this) is just as much of a dream as the renewables are to the kids. Otherwise, it would already have been built by now (instead of shut down decades ago). And it should have been built by now.

Yes, I’m pissed off too! These people telling us that nuclear is “more expensive”. Ya, maybe but only because of the fear and BAU tactics. I believe intrinsically, a few thousand advanced molten salt reactors (or fast reactors) would cost FAR less than its equivalent in diffuse and intermittant/storage capacity.

Fear stands for Forever Eliminate Advanced Reactors.    We can’t allow that!

Bty, I have observed that the same class of people that love wind and solar actually impede and stop it at the large scale saying “oh no, we can’t have that either“.

 

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on March 18, 2014

I couldn’t explain in detail when at work (this morning), thus why I said to simply search them. From my own memory: Closed cycle melt down proof nuclear consumes almost all of its fuel, does not require water for core cooling (not to be confused with the steam cycle which would most probably be used for electrical generation, as in the coal plants being built at record numbers around the globe lately) and thus “spits out” far less wastes because it burns almost all the heavy metal. The “normal” nuclear (which is called the light water reactor, LWR) uses water for core cooling which can turn into hydrogen should something go wrong but nothing ever goes (seriously) wrong, unless in cold war USSR. That is, if the water leaks or boils out of the vessel. The containment (which the USSR didn’t have) would contain the steam which occupies a volume of about a thousand times that of the water from which it would come from, hence the extra large dome and its associated costs. Now, when you make solid fuel from u238, you need to add some u235 to make it fission. Natural u238, which is fertile has less than 1% u235 which is fissile. The LWR needs only like a few percent, hence its popularity among nuclear and non nuclear advocates alike. However, as the 235 fissions into its components (fission products), some of these tend to want to boil out of the solid fuel cladding, which causes it to crack. Furthermore, the fission products themselves act as a show stopper to the fission process (neutron absorbers). So, the fuel is removed as “spent fuel”. It is actually only about a “few percent spent”. It is wasted and is left lying around for the advent of molten salt or fast reactors to burn it up. Since it has been bombarded by neutrons, there is a lot of radioactivity going on in the wastes, but mostly that of what little has actually been fissioned. Fission products have a halflife of about 30 years. So, in 300 years, there will be 2 to the tenth power less radiation coming from it which is about the same as natural radiation. But wait, there are also actinides, which are the heavier elements made from uranium, such as plutonium and so on (I need to search actinides, again). These tend not to be so radioactive, but in return, they have MUCH longer halflifes. For example, natural uranium’ halflife is just less than a million years (it isn’t going to hurt anyone unless they eat it). But the actinides must be somewhere in between (hence the long lasting but still dangerous radioactive waste issue).

Now, the molten salt reactor has its fuel, u233 (from thorium) 235, or plutunium, melted in a mixture of salts. Ya, it can not melt down (unless it melts the vessel down so to speak and stops the fission process). When solid fuel melts, the giant containment building must be used and if the vessel itself melts down, there is no water to cool the solid fuel, hence all the engineered safety (which France and the US has been very successful about). But if the vessel of a molten salt reactor melts, the molten fuel goes into a chamber that has neutron absorbing material in it (to stop the fission). Chances are, the stuff wouldn’t fission anyways, laying as a molten pool on the ground! In the MSR, there are no cladding and solid fuels that crack and act like unwanted nuetron absorbers. All the fuel can be fissioned and even the actinides (or transuranics, I got to search again!) are mostly burned. If from thorium (which is transmutted into U233 via neutron bombardment) there is WAY less plutonium created, and again, that is also burned. Therefore, molten salt reactors (MSR such as LFTR) are much superior.

The problem is that they need a little bit more enriched (fertile) material to get them started, like up to about 20% (instead of the few percent as needed by the water reactors). Weapons material has to be like 90% enriched, hence the centrifuges used by Iran, etc (if it was easier to get the stuff they want from a civilian NPP, they would simply do it that way). However, this is still a concern that has to be managed if we are to:

REALLY displace coal as must be done.

LFTR’s only need about a ton of the 20% enriched fissile material to get going (for about a 1GW machine). Once operating, thorium would be the only fuel necessary to keep it going until the vessel itself has to be replaced. Being only like the size of just a piece of a large wind turbine tower, the whole thing ought to be buried rather easily (or machines could deliver it to be melted and vitrified in glass as with the nasty fission products for a more proper isolation).

Fast reactors are even better in the sense that they can fission depleted uranium (which is just u238 that got its u235 sucked out of it). Fast reactors also got more development time. They require like 20% enriched also but also require more of it to start up. These things could create more fissile material needed for a larger LFTR deployment.

In any closed cycle, at least two neutrons must come from a fission event, one to fission another heavy metal atom and the other to create a fissile atom from a fertile one. Regulation must be an accepted cost of such a process but that regulation should not become the majority of that cost! The IFR, for example was designed to make physically possible that regulation, so that much plutonium could physically not be produced (to greatly reduce proliferation concerns)! But hat was killed by the wind, solar, fossil fuels and other business as usual interests and by fear and scientific illiteracy within the governing processes decades ago, thus causing costs to be artificially inflated by having to “re-invent” them again. No wonder the venture capitalist are afraid to invest in them!).

China shows interest in all the flavors, as does India and a lot of other countries. And, (again) France has actually reduced its carbon footprint considerably per each of the citizens use of electricity.

All sources of energy will have their pros and cons, just as fire. Are we to go backwards (and be afraid to use what we already learned so long ago)? As long as we want to drive, play with electronics (and eat and have fresh water) etc, we will have to learn to control and contain that fire on a larger scale, properly.

If you have any questions, just search any word or phrases listed that you ever see on the internet (I will do so to know what the differences between actinides and transuranics are).

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on March 19, 2014

A reboot won’t happen.
If, the coalition agreement, a few month earlier, would have mentioned it.
Minister Gabriel has not the authority for such far reaching decisions.
Even adaptions in the FiT of old solar is excluded by Merkel (before 2005 installed sytems get a FiT of €0.50-€1,00/KWh). 

The coalition agreement of Nov. last year will be implemented, except that Gabriel will not succeed to increase the share of offshore wind towards 10%.

Telling that your discussion partners “talk without knowing which direction” and “are participating in some Anarchy”, does not enhance the willingness of those partners to give in. Especially since they have tools enough to frustrate your ideas.

So Gabriel will loose or already has lost the discussion with the president of Sleeswijk-Holstein. 
That imply that the compromise will be something like increasing the offshore share from 1% towards 3% of onshore wind only… 
So Sleeswijk-Holstein can get the other 7% of the wind turbines originally for offshore, which is what their president wants.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on March 19, 2014

So no closed cycle.
Only less volume of radio-active waste, that society has to pay for.

As the OakRidge experiment showed, even melt-down are a very real possibility with the extreme high temperatures that can develop. Then taxpayer and citizens in the far neighborhood also have to take the majoritiy of the damage costs. 

Btw.
Model studies regarding fast reactors showed that those can also escalate very fast!
One of the main reasons to stop Kalkar despite an investment of ~$20billion.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on March 19, 2014

…machine mass production of solar, wind and storage for very cheap…
Those produce for ~30% of the costs of a new NPP such as Hinkley, UK.
That implies that for each $1 society gets three times more electricity than using nuclear.

So if only a certain amount of $ available to fight climate, it is far more productive to invest all in renewable. Spending part of it to nuclear is a waste, as it delivers 3 times less than spending it for more renewable.

So it seems quite illogical to think that nuclear is needed.
Nuclear will only be a burden in the climate change fight, as it delivers so little return on the investment.

 

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on March 19, 2014

Just read the tragic about the huge lost investment in Monju.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on March 19, 2014

Check the figures regarding German electricity production and consumption since 1990 at AGEB.
Wind+solar produce ~14% of consumption. Other renewable 10% (total ~24% in 2013).
For 80% renewable, wind+solar has to increase a factor 3 (=210GW total) only.
(no increase of other renewable).

Now capacity Wind: 33GW; Solar: 37GW.
Solar will reach whole sale price of €40/MWh in 2028. 
Wind will be €50/MWh in 2028.
This implies solar will expand much more (assume 2x).

Wind installs at 2GW/yr, that implies in 2050: 33GW+36yrsx2GW=~100GW in 2050
Solar: 37+36x4GW=180GW in 2050. Total 280GW
More than the ~230GW wind+solar needed but by then we have electric cars, etc.

Remember that Germany installed in 2011 and 2012; 7GW/year of new solar.

The costs
As showed in another post, and stated by Merkel in line with scenario studies, the Energiewende levy (now 6cent/KWh) will go up slightly until ~2023 (max <8cent/Kwh) and then go down as the decrease of FiT’s continues, and older installations loose the guaranteed FiT rights after 15/20years.
My estimate is that it will be <3cent/Kwh in 2050.

Note that it is now already economic for home owners to install rooftop solar in Germany even if the FiT is 4cent/KWh (whole-sale tariff) only. They save 28cent/KWh electricity they have to buy from the utility now. Cost price unsubsidized rooftop solar in Germany is now 10-13cent/KWh (depends on location).

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on March 20, 2014

The graph is in line the German data.
At the page check the PDF:
“Stromerzeugung 1990 – 2013”.
(= electricity generation 1990-2013)

IEA gets its info from the Germans.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on March 19, 2014

The Hinkley Point reactor gets a lower strike price than wind and solar, so obviously it is cheaper. Also, this is for the first reactor build in the UK for decades, of the most expensive reactor type in the world. There are complaints that EDF will likely earn too much money by this strike price. So there is no doubt you’re wrong even when nuclear regulation is hostile and quixotic and when the construction industry hasn’t even begun amassing learning effects.

In China, there is a viable nuclear construction industry and regulation is geared to promoting and enhanching development rather than opposing it, so there, nuclear costs some $2/W, just as wind and solar. However, nuclear has 3 times the life time and 3 times the capacity factor compared to wind, and 2 times the life and >5 times the capacity factor compared to solar. Thus nuclear delivers 9-10 times more in a raw comparison. Considering interest rates in a LEC, the advantage goes down to 2-5 times higher delivery.

We also see this in Germany. Had it used the solar money for nuclear power, it would have 100% nuclear instead of 5% solar by now.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on March 19, 2014

I don’t expect experiments and prototypes to make profit.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on March 19, 2014

1. That NASA study is actually not NASA, but the highly biased James Hansen etal study.
Using similar biasses I conclude that nuclear is by far (at least 10 times more!) the most dangerous method. Chernobyl alone will kill already a million and create serious heredity damage to millions of people as a.o. changes in the sex-ratio in huge affected areas, in which ~200million live, show.

2. Anyone who takes climate change serious will stop support for nuclear as:

– it wastes money to stop climate change. Same amount of money used installing renewable is 3 times more effective!

– nuclear, emits substantial GHG emissions with a.o. the uranium fuel production.

3. New nuclear takes 10year time to install. New renewable only few years. So much faster.
The world installed ~100GW new renewable last year and only ~1GW nuclear.

Nuclear is a declining technology as statistics show.
~25year ago nuclear produced 17% of the world’s electricity, now ~10% only.
During the last years even the production of nuclear in MWh/year went down.

Even France is moving away from nuclear with the new target to reduce nuclear to 50%, closing the first big NPP in 2015 (Fessenheim).
Not strange as new nuclear is now ~2 times more expensive than wind+solar+storage despite the huge subsidies that new nuclear gets (check Hinkley).

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on March 19, 2014

It’s not really reasonable to assume current installations will survive 34 years. A few will, but the majority likely not.

Also, you miss the fact that high-penetration solar and wind outcompete themselves. Given a negative spot price when they produce well and a really high spot price when they don’t produce, when low-capacity-utilization (and thus inefficient) lignite or Russian gas needs to be used, the consumers will be stuck between a rock and a hard place forever.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on March 19, 2014

Bas, the most dangerous source of energy is what?

Dude, you need to get your priorities straight!

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/14/power-plant-air-pollution-coal-kills_n_833385.html

http://350.org/coal-kills-report-reveals-deadly-impacts-coal-india/

http://www.greenpeace.org/india/en/publications/Coal-Kills/

Every country knows this. Now, let’s do the search on nuclear…

http://www.newscientist.com/special/rescuing-nuclear-power

That coal actually produces MORE radiation than nuclear

http://www.newscientist.com/special/rescuing-nuclear-power

And some trivial comparisons

http://notrickszone.com/2011/03/14/even-candles-kill-many-more-than-nuclear-power/

Here’s an actual scare letter…

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/07/29-0

Note, it says “building progressive community” which, when translated, means “imposing communist thought patterns upon Americans”. Therefore, NOT to be trusted as a news source.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on March 19, 2014

… land based wind power does not progress from 2-3 MW….”
So we have e.g. the land based 7.5MW Enercon wind turbine running in NL…

Everybody knows that Wikipedia rule, also the EU study group that concluded the 20MW to be feasible. Never heard of significant blade design improvements, etc??

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on March 19, 2014

Anyone that takes climate change seriously will do what I JUST DID… search about it (and post links to your above comment). We who care about this serious EXCESS CO2 problem will promote just about any reactor design. 

1, Hansen is not a crackpot (or as you say, highly biased). He is a scientist (are you???)

2, Nuclear is listed as one of the best EROEI

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2013/07/08/1221552/-GETTING-TO-ZERO-Is-renewable-energy-economically-viable#

3, New nuclear takes ten years… SO WHAT! Let’s get on it! (Best to make it meltdown proof, I mentioned about that in another comment under yours somewhere here).

4, Nuclear can only decline if scare tactics continue progagated by your beloved COAL companies. The low EROEI (#2) proves that nuclear is the BEST way to stop excess CO2 for electrical generation.

5, More such electrical generation could then charge billions of electric cars furthering masive reductions of excess CO2.

Relavent data for LFTR, MSR, PRISM, IFR and others are not in BECAUSE GOVERNMENTS SIMPLY WON’T ALLOW THEM! If we were to build the closed cycle in place of the reactors at Fukashima, That event would NOT have happened, global warming would NOT have been started, and we would have CHEAPER energy. Common sence!

 

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on March 19, 2014

IT will take carbon graphene to make 20MW a sweet spot.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on March 20, 2014

The decrease of weighted average of FiT’s is going on with that speed some years now, in line with the cost price decreases.
E.g. PV solar FiT was >20cent/Kwh a few years ago. Now it is 10cent/Kwh.
So a decrease of 30% is nothing new. 

Capacity corridors
Implemented for solar at the end of 2012 already.
In order to avoid another sudden upward jump of the solar installation rate (happened in 2011 and 2012, creating grid and financial problems).

Now Gabriel wants to install that too for wind, etc. Seems he meets resistance, which I can imagine as the lead time for a wind park is far greater than for rooftop solar. So he has to find a compromise which seems not his strongest side.

achieve 2030 RE goals
Remind the increase in the Nov.2013 coalition agreement:
Was 50% renewable,  now 55-60% renewable.
So this implies that Gabriel got the task to speed up with the Energiewende.

Reboot
Being new, Gabriel of course wants to create the impression he does much better than his predecessor (Altmaier). But the only I have seen is more emphasis on offshore, capacity corridors and the necessity to speed up with the Energiewende in order to come in line with the increased goals for 2030.
That does not fit with my understanding of a reboot.

__
I think it would be smarter for you, to do your calculations on a simple per user basis. Then readers may understand. Billions have no meaning for the citizen.
Relevant is whether German citizens, farmers, cooperations, villages, towns find it worthwhile to continue to invest in more renewable. Indications are they do.

What counts is the actual levy the German citizen has to pay.
Estimations are that if the Energiewende levy stays below 10cent/Kwh (<1% of his income), the Energiewende will keep enough support in the population.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on March 19, 2014

Bas,

You seem to be making things up.

1) Where in the H@!! do you get your Chernobyll information from? Some Quacko Wacko greenie site?

2) Where in th H@!! do you get your Nuclear CO2 information from?

3) It doesn’t take China 10 yrs to install a new Nuclear plant.

4) Don’t compare Baseload, Night or Day, 99% capacity factor Nuclear to  Rubbish renewables which need CO2 producing Natural Gas, and are unreliable.

5) Blame the fearmongering greenies for infesting France, but even so, France’s record under Nuclear power is still better than Germany’s or any other place with renewables.

 

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on March 19, 2014

As visible at the new nuclear plant at Hinkley, UK;
New nuclear is >2 times more expensive than wind+solar+storage.

Similar for the new NPP’s in USA.
Though less clear there due to the more concealed subsidies

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on March 20, 2014

Prove that the most expensive NPP is more than the diffuse and intermittent over capacity and storage needed.

I want actual documented lowest cost wind and or solar, actual capacity factors, actual storage methods and storage efficiency. For example, solar at $3 watt installed at 20% capacity, and pumped storage costing $100/kWh (re-usable capacity for at least a hundred years) at 70% efficiency. Nevermind the powerlines, we will need more of them anyways (to handle the charging of electric cars, the electrification of industry and developing nations)…

After doing the math, I believe it is still more than the expensive “custum built” NPP.

Consider: The solar or wind can be mass produced for cheaper in a factory automation setting. Nuclear is not (yet). If we allow the best kind of nuclear, to also be mass produced in a traditional factory setting, they, too, will become less expensive (and will give the renewables something to compete against). Why should we do this?

ESSENTIAL COAL REPLACEMENT!

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on March 20, 2014

You did not read the above, so why did you comment on it???

You have NO clue about how a fission reacton takes place, what is required and the various different ways to control it, therefore you have NO business telling the rest of the world to stop trying to develop it!

You also NEVER read a single sentance past the “it’s a pro-nuclear” statement and ALL you want to do is keep yourself in that “warm and cozy, coal won’t hurt us” feeling.

Do I need to post the same links over and over? No, you are wasting everybody’s time.

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