Rhein on Energy and Climate

Germany is in the beginning of its nuclear phase-out to be completed by 2022.

To that end, it has to replace nuclear power accounting for 18% of its electricity supply, compared to more than half from coal, by higher energy efficiency and renewable energy.

It will also have to close some 30 conventional coal- and gas-fired power plants with a total capacity of 7 GW, which can no longer compete against wind and solar electricity.

To cope with these closures north-south grids will be necessary to transport large volumes of wind power, but their construction suffers delays because of technical hiccups and public opposition. German utilities have therefore begun buying electricity from Austrian, Italian and French sources for the winters 2014-2016.

This is to be applauded. European power producers have an intrinsic interest to trade electricity according to daily and seasonal availabilities and costs.

The wider the geographic scope for trading wind and solar electricity the easier will it be to do without “stand-by” power plants: somewhere in Europe hydro, biomass, sunshine or wind should normally be available. Gas-fired stand-by capacities should be an exception, as they are expensive to operate because of low capacity utilisation.

In order to obtain energy security and sustainable supply Europe will need pan European grids and optimal energy efficiency. That will take time and huge investments. The EU has laid out a strategy until 2050 to that end. It should start implementation 2014-20 with support financing from EU structural funds.

Eberhard Rhein, Brussels, 10/10/2014

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