Rhein on Energy and Climate

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.

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Comments

  1. Dear Sir/Madam:
    I worked for Ontario Power Generation in Ontario for 25 years. We had several coal (Fossil) generating plants, one of them called Nanticoke is the largest coal generating station in North America. Data from 2004 the burning of fossil fuels produces around 6.3 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide (Co2 ) which is a very large amount of “Greenhouse gas” per year. Estimates reveal a net increase of 3.2 billion tonnes of atmospheric carbon dioxide per year which, our best scientists believe, leads to global warming. As but only one example, due to the warming trend, the Polar Bear, “Icon of the Arctic” can not reach formations of ice where it can hunt for seals which are their primary food source.Scientists estimate we may see the last of the Polar Bears by 2050. We have a serious problem and it is coming fast.
    At Nanticoke, we washed the coal with little effect, we bought Western coal which burns cleaner but this was not the solution and we constructed multi-million dollar “Scrubbers” which did not remove a sizable amount of the CO2 and wore out very quickly. Given all of the above, how can you sit there and boast about “Clean coal”? We have not even talked about all the miners that die each year from “lung disease”, clean disposal of the multi-ton disposal of the ash, and the very destructive strip mining along the top of the Appalachian Mountains. I invite your written response. Jan.19, 2012. Lower consumption,as you say, is a very good first step. California does this well and constructs one less plant per year.

  2. @rob evans
    Are you sure your reply is in the right place? I read Mr. Rhein’s post twice, looking for a mention of “clean coal”, which you appear to think he does. He doesn’t, and everything Mr. Rhein says has been confirmed by a personal contact of mine who works on energy policy in the German Parliament. In Germany, renewable energy sources now have feed-in priority, so that conventional power sources will become less and less economically viable as electricity generation from renewable energy sources rises. Their share in Germany’s power generation now stands at 20%, and is rising rapidly. Constructing new coal-powered plants in Germany is not a very likely scenario at this point, because if the country stays on track in implementing its renewable energy roadmap, the capital invested in new fossil-fuel plants will never be recouped. If they are used at all, it will only be as back-up, and they are not even well-suited for that because of the longish switch-on/shut-down lead times. Thus “clean coal” is not even an issue in Germany. In fact, it is increasingly likely that coal burning will be completely phased out by the mid-2020s.

  3. Dear Sir/Madam:
    I worked for Ontario Power Generation in Ontario for 25 years. We had several coal (Fossil) generating plants, one of them called Nanticoke is the largest coal generating station in North America. Data from 2004 the burning of fossil fuels produces around 6.3 billion metric tonnes of carbon dioxide (Co2 ) which is a very large amount of “Greenhouse gas” per year. Estimates reveal a net increase of 3.2 billion tonnes of atmospheric carbon dioxide per year which, our best scientists believe, leads to global warming. As but only one example, due to the warming trend, the Polar Bear, “Icon of the Arctic” can not reach formations of ice where it can hunt for seals which are their primary food source.Scientists estimate we may see the last of the Polar Bears by 2050. We have a serious problem and it is coming fast.

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