December 16, 2011
In 10 years Germany will have to do without nuclear power, which contributed 20 per cent to German electricity supply in 2010. Will Germany replace nuclear power essentially through coal and gas; or will it be able to make a big leap forward towards renewables and higher energy efficiency?
Six months after the German parliament decided to quit nuclear energy the debate on how to face the challenge of living without it is getting more intensive.
Whatever the differences on details of the implementation, four key parameters are no longer controversial:
- Germany needs to lower its electricity consumption projections.
This requires investing much more in efficiency, above all by discouraging consumers to use electricity at peak hours. To this end, the country has to allow electricity rates fluctuating according to supply and demand and to invest massively in intelligent transmission and metering systems.
In addition, Germany needs to boost the thermal renovation of its buildings, the single biggest, but hidden energy potential, though unrelated to the closure of nuclear reactors.
- It must rapidly extend its grid.
This is a precondition for balancing the enormous fluctuations in the generation of wind and solar electricity and preventing much wind and solar power being wasted due to the absence of demand.
To that end, Germany needs to urgently implement at least 10 major projects for grid extension.
- In order to ensure its security of supply Germany will rely on a combination of wind parks and photovoltaic installations on the one hand and gas-fired hybrid (thermal and electric) power plants .
The latter, which will be much more flexible than nuclear plants, intervene when wind and solar power will not suffice to cover the aggregate demand.
- The grid will constitute a gigantic storage; hydro-power from Norway and pump-storage from the Alps and other mountains will be complementary. Battery, hydrogen or heat storage will be for the long term.
The German network system regulator has outlined scenarios for the German power mix in 2022. These show that Germany will be able to shut down all its nuclear power plants, even while increasing electricity consumption and emitting less C02 than in 2010!
This will be possible by
- trebling the photo-voltaic power capacity. In 2022, PV installations might reach a capacity of 55 GW, 20 per cent more than that of coal power plants;
- boosting off-shore and on-shore wind parks. In 10 years, wind will be Germany’s major source of electricity generation;
- replacing outdated coal power plants by efficient gas turbines.
Gas power plants and a sophisticated network of smart high tension transmission lines and pump storage power generation will be crucial for the security of supply, compensating for the intermittent supply from wind and solar sources.
To get from the scenario to reality will require huge investments by utilities and network companies . The government will have to follow-up very closely and, if necessary, intervene by appropriate regulations or financial/tax incentives.
In conclusion, it remains a gamble; the deal is doable though at a substantial loss of capital due to the premature write off of major components of the present power infrastructure. In the end Germany will dispose of the most advanced power infrastructure in the world.Author : Eberhard Rhein