Germany’s ‘Energiewende’ as a model for Australian climate policy?

Guest Post by Graham Palmer. Graham recently published the book “Energy in Australia: Peak Oil, Solar Power, and Asia’s Economic Growth” (“Springer Briefs in Energy” series).


Germany’s Energiewende as a model for Australian climate policy? A critical review.

Graham Palmer, June 2014

The Energiewende is the world’s most audacious energy policy experiment and comprises Germany’s biggest infrastructure project since post-Second World War reconstruction. No other national energy policy has attracted such international interest, nor polarised opinions. Energiewende – literally translated as “energy turn” or “energy transition” – has two main elements – a withdrawal from nuclear power and an increase in the penetration of renewable energy via a feed-in tariff (FiT) system. The FiT scheme, originally introduced in 1991 and enshrined in the EEG Act, is based on the principle of protecting renewable investors with a guaranteed grid connection and revenue, with differing returns based on the type of renewable generator. In theory, this was also supposed to encourage innovation, although most of the benefits have come through volume manufacture driving prices down the cost curve, and the benefits of “learning by doing”.

But for Germany, this is about much more than their national energy policy. This is Germany’s Apollo space program. If it were to work, Germany would be the world leader in renewables integration with a potential multi-billion Euro export industry. But unlike the essentially technical challenge of putting man on the Moon, the Energiewende faces unprecedented challenges beyond merely the technical. A nation’s standard of living is underpin by the capital and labour productivity of its energy systems, along with a sufficiently high net-energy.

While the planned German nuclear exit following Fukushima was, at face value, an over-reaction given the lack of seismic and tsunami risk, German ambivalence towards nuclear has been building since the 1970s. The student protests of the late 1960s produced a fusion of anti-Americanism, anti-capitalism, and anti-nuclear, where nuclear power became aligned with distrust of capitalism and militarism. The “laughing sun” symbol appeared everywhere – Atomkraft? Nein Danke (Nuclear power? No thanks!) – and became recognizable as an expression of “polite dissent” as it became cool to be anti-nuclear [1].

This alignment was not altogether surprising – the legacy of the Holocaust and the Second World War, West Berlin as the focal point of the Cold War, with Germany hosting NATO Cruise and Pershing missiles along with American, British and French forces. These fears became entrenched through anti-nuclear activism by scientists such as Klaus Traube Traube, who was originally a proponent of nuclear power, but became one of the most prominent and influential critics [2]. And it was also the local “Citizens’ Initiatives” organised around local issues that formed the basis of the grassroots campaigns, such as opposition to the siting of a new nuclear power plant in the wine-growing village of Wyhl in 1975 [2].

Similarly, the Australian anti-nuclear movement grew out of the 1960s protest movement but had a unique Australian flavour [3]. This was the period of the Vietnam War, land rights for Aboriginal people, French nuclear testing at Mururoa atoll, the aftermath of Maralinga weapons tests, and the hero of the left, Gough Whitlam. This was also the period before the functional separation of state-sponsored weapons programs and commercial nuclear vendors – the choice of the British Steam Generating Heavy Water Reactor (SGHWR) for the proposed Jervis Bay nuclear power plant (NPP) in the late 1960s, together with the reluctance to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, suggested a strategy of retaining a future option for dual-use capability [4].

Upon winning government in 1972, Whitlam signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), banned nuclear power, and introduced universal higher education. Suddenly, it became de rigueur in academia and the political left to oppose nuclear power.  This earlier period defined Australian anti-nuclear canon, which remained as unchallenged doctrine for decades. Jim Green’s [5] introduction of the term “radiation racism” in the late 1990s, representing a drawing together of Green-left activism, uranium mining, Aboriginal land rights, weapons testing, and nuclear power, typifies this enduring but now archaic narrative.

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Off to Russia

Well, I’m just about to hop on a plane to Russia to visit for a week — destination Moscow. This is part of my duties as a member of the International Awards Committee for the Global Energy Prize (see here for details).

Whilst in the heart of the former Soviet Union, I’ll hook up with Tom Blees (President of SCGI) and Evgeny Velikhov (President of the Kurchatov Institute), among others. It’s going to be my first trip to the country, and although I’ll only get to see Moscow this time around, I’m returning to the country in again June (partly for the GEP awards ceremony, after which I go directly to the U.S. for lots of other exciting activities); on the June trip, I’ll go to the wonderful old city of St Petersburg. Lucky me, eh?

Anyway, I hope to be able to post one or two updates on BNC during the trip, provided I can hook up to the internet from time to time.

In the meantime, here is something that will be of interest to many readers, given recent discussions on the blog. Apologies if you’ve seen it before.

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Economic/Business Case for the Pyroprocessing of Spent Nuclear Fuel (SNF)

While many still claim that conservation together with wind and solar will solve the world’s energy problems, they are dead wrong. Nuclear power is the only proven alternative source of carbon-free energy that can be developed rapidly enough and to sufficient scale to meet the world’s growing need for energy. This report outlines the actions which must be taken; both to reduce the amount of troublesome nuclear waste called Spent Nuclear Fuel (SNF) and simultaneously create the fuel needed by Fast Reactors. The authors are certain the use of Pyroprocessing to close the nuclear fuel cycle, and Fast Reactors, particularly in the form of Integral Fast Reactor (IFRs), are inevitable in a fossil fuel-free world.

Read entire article (This is a large file. Please be patient while it loads.)

Saludos desde Mataelpino

I haven’t published an energy or climate-related article on BNC for almost a week, for a good reason:

Damien Fordham, Barry Brook and Miguel Araújo enjoy the cool Spanish mountain air

Yes, I am enjoying myself (but working too!). We (me, and some colleagues from University of Adelaide: Corey Bradshaw, Damien Fordham and Salvador Herrando-Perez) are visiting a research collaborator in Spain (Miguel Araújo). Our workshop is being held at the El Bosque Hotel in Mataelpino, a village located 1,000 m up in the Madrid Sierra.

We’re investigating the shifts in the geographic ranges of over 200 bird species in the U.K. in relation to climate and land-use change, as well as developing a multi-species population viability analysis metapopulation model on the predator-prey-habitat interactions of the critically endangered Iberian lynx, rabbits, disease and climate change.

Although it’s the height of winter here, the region is currently experiencing a drought, and so conditions are very mild for this time of year. As such, the weather is incredibly beautiful, with bright blue skies and crisp dry air. Yesterday we went for a hike (at about 2,100 m elevation) in the Parque Natural de Peñalara. There was some snow about, but not a lot. This is the area where some of the scenes of one of my favourite movies was filmed. It’s just like being in Cimmeria

Barry Brook at Peñalara Natural Park, Spain

I’ll be back in Adelaide in the middle of next week, with some new BNC posts on sustainable energy and climate.Meanwhile, feel free to use the comments list of this post as an especially open “Open Thread” — one not necessarily limited to climate or energy topics! As for me, I’ll sign off with some more photos (taken by Corey): Continue reading

BNC as a resource – call for help

UPDATE

1. I have menus working now — if you look at the top-of-the-blog pages, you’ll see the ABOUT page has a pull-down menu. This can now be expanded to cover many relevant pages (that need to be created).

2. I have posted a PAGE which lists all BNC posts, with a hyperlinked title.

3. Here is an Excel file of the BNC posts, including title, link, author etc. This can be sorted and manipulated in various ways to extract material useful for building index pages.

4. Here is a CSV flat file version of the above.

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The Brave New Climate blog started out in Aug 2008 as a modest affair. But over the course of 333 posts (and counting), it has grown into quite a resource, covering a wide variety of topics on sustainable energy and climate change. It is about to launch into its 4th year on the circuit!

The blog format has a number of terrific advantages — it keeps the website live and active, with regular posted updates, it allows for topical and up-to-date user feedback via comments, and it provides a platform for easily archiving material by date.

A number of problems exist, however.

For new readers, the site can seem daunting and impenetrable. Digging up relevant information is tough. The top-of-the-site pages, such as Sustainable Nuclear, Renewable Limits and Top 10, are one crude attempt to organise material, but they lack a proper structure and end up becoming little more than washing lists. Same deal with the category classifications (see left sidebar, e.g. TCASE). The new F.A.Q. page serves a somewhat different purpose again (but needs work too).

All in all, I think more innovation is needed to better present the source material to new readers, and to aid existing users with lookups.

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