Emissions Nuclear Policy Renewables

Germany’s grand energy experiment

Most readers of BNC know the story — after the Fukushima nuclear crisis, the German government announced that Germany would phase out all of its nuclear generation capacity by 2022. In almost the same period, Germany also aims to cut its national greenhouse gas emissions to 40% of 1990 levels (by 2020). Their emissions have already fallen by 22% since 1990, due in part to the reunification of West and East Germany and the subsequent closing down of the most polluting industrial and energy plants. So they have another 18% to go. Given the nuclear policy, can it be done?

According to this study by the Ecologic Institute (published prior to the nuclear shutdown announcement), Germany will have to initiative a range of aggressive measures, focused on energy efficiency, smart metering, car taxation, renewable energy heating systems, etc. etc. This was to make up a ‘gap’ compared to 2009 policies of 70 – 90 million tonnes (Mt) of CO2-e. The gap is now much larger.

Let’s look at the task ahead.

In 2010, 16.9% of Germany’s electricity came from renewable energy sources; nuclear provided 23.3%. The relative share, spread across renewable-based electricity (not final energy), is shown in the figure on the right. The installed renewable capacity was 55.7 GWe, producing 101.7 TWh of electricity, for an all-tech-averaged capacity factor of 20.8%. The aim is for renewables to provide 35% of electricity by 2020.

Nuclear provided 141 TWh of electricity in 2010. If this had come from coal instead (assuming an EI of 1.12 t/MWh), it would have produced about 158 Mt of additional CO2-e. Germany’s total emissions for 2010 were 960 Mt CO2-e, compared to 1230 Mt in 1990. The 2020 target is 740 Mt, with the remaining gap, to fill in the next 9 years, being 220 Mt. If we wipe out consideration of the now-to-be-retired nuclear fleet, that brings the ‘gap’ up to almost 380 Mt CO2-e.

Note that total final energy use in Germany in 2010 was 8,984 PJ, which is 2,495 TWh. So the economy-wide emissions intensity (EI) is 0.385 tCO2-e/MWh. This breaks down to a mix of 34.6% oil, 22.5% coal, 21.7% gas, 11% nuclear, 1.5% wind, 0.8% hydro, 0.9% solar and 7.9% biomass combustion. I calculate, based on standard EI values, that about 40% of Germany’s total 960 Mt CO2-e comes from oil emissions, 39% from coal, 20% from gas and ~1% from other.

So where do the 380 Mt of required 2020 savings come from? Nuclear is zeroed, so wind/hydro/biomass/solar need to swallow that 11% (and be not backed up by gas etc.) to even take this share (158 Mt). Then the remaining 220 Mt would have to come from further (massive) increases in renewables, little or no growth in total energy demand, large-scale energy storage to offset the requirements to back the wind and solar with gas. I doubt there will be much more biomass – maybe a 25% increase, so let’s take that up to 12% of the total. Hydro we can leave the same.

Let’s assume oil falls to 25% of total final energy in 2020, gas rises to 35%, and coal drops to 10%, biomass rises to 12%, hydro stays on 0.8%. This leaves 17.2% from wind/solar, which would cut emissions by 163 Mt according to my calculations (assuming the wind/solar is not backed by gas and the energy demand is held level) — but we need 380 Mt if we include the nuclear phase out.

Renewable energy sources as a share in final energy consumption in Germany - 2010. Source:

Okay, let’s try another, much more drastic scenario for Germany in 2020: oil 20%, gas 21%, coal 5%, biomass 12%, hydro 0.8% and wind/solar 41.2%. This yields 382 Mt savings — we’re there! However, that would mean a 17-fold increase in installed wind/solar capacity in just 9 years (!), rising from 33.7 GWe peak in 2010 (23.9 GWe wind and 9.8 GWe solar PV) to 579 GWe peak in 2020, and all the extra transmission and energy storage that implies. Wow, quite a task… I suppose I could try to put some Euro-€ costs on that that, but let’s leave it to another post, shall we?

The current reality in Germany is that subsidized coal-fired electricity (with the funds generated by the trade in CO2 emissions certificates – yes, turn up the irony dial) will be ‘filling the gap‘ (interesting euphemism) left by the nuclear phaseout. We’re talking here of upwards of 20 GWe of new fossil fuel power plants to be built in Germany over the next decade, with Chancellor Merkel being pretty blunt:

If we want to exit nuclear energy and enter renewable energy, for the transition time we need fossil power plants. At least 10, more likely 20 gigawatts [of fossil capacity] need to be built in the coming 10 years.

I don’t really understand the ‘transition time’ statement — maybe it’s a poor translation. After all, coal-fired power stations last 50-60 years and cost about $2 billion per GWe to build, so this seems like a rather expensive and major long-term energy proposition to me. Built in 10 years, damaging the climate system for half a century. Just great.

Still, there are few others options, according to Oxford University’s Prof. Dieter Helm. Here is an interesting quote:

STEPHEN BEARD: Germany is bowing to the inevitable, claims Dieter Helm, an energy expert at Oxford University. He says if the Germans do abandon nuclear power, they will have to build more fossil fuel plants. Ironic, he says, that this follows pressure from German environmentalists.

DIETER HELM: What they have succeeded now in doing is pushing Germany to a fossil fuel-dominated system. And they’ve committed Germany to making a bigger contribution to increasing global warming.

Back in 2009, Tom Blees wrote an article for BNC on Germany’s solar programme, ‘crunched by the numbers‘. Here is what Tom said to me about the latest German news:

An interesting quote from this Spiegel article:

One of her most vocal critics has been Jürgen Grossmann, head of energy giant RWE. At the end of May, he complained publicly of an “eco-dictatorship” before writing a letter directly to Merkel earlier this week blasting details of her plans.

On Friday, he took the battle a step further, warning in an interview with theSüddeutsche Zeitung that Merkel’s phase out plan could result in large companies turning their backs on the country as a result of climbing energy prices. “The de-industrialization (of Germany) won’t come all at once. It will be a gradual process,” Grossmann said. “Soon we will have to do without entire industrial sectors: companies like BASF and Thyssen-Krupp won’t be here anymore.

California has already seen this happen to some degree, but nowhere near what will likely transpire in Germany if they go through with this. Either they’ll lose industries or they’ll crank up more and more coal plants to keep the prices somewhat within reason, though their feed-in tariffs are still driving their prices up. So they end up cutting deals with the energy-intensive industries to give them rates that’ll keep them from fleeing the country, and bump up the prices to regular citizens even more.

Why do I feel a distinct lack of compassion for the poor German citizen who’s bearing the brunt of all this? Oh yeah, because they keep voting these people into office. To be fair, though, I don’t think people expected this when they voted Merkel in. She just couldn’t hold up to the pressure from the environists after Fukushima. Kind of reminds me of the situation in any democracy that’s going off the rails: millions of people voted for sanity, but they end up taking the brunt of the insanity nevertheless. So yeah, I guess I can feel some empathy for those Germans who see this as the insanity that it is.

So, what’s your view on Germany’s ‘Großes Energie-Experiment’, and the likelihood of them achieving their 2020 emissions reduction and renewable energy expansion goals?

Perhaps, I reflect, it’s actually quite good that Germany is following this path. Why? Because it will surely prove, once and for all (okay, I’m still an optimist at heart), that either:

(i) less nuclear power = more fossil fuels + higher carbon dioxide emissions, or

(ii) renewables + energy efficiency really can cut CO2 emissions, displace fossil fuels, and do so cost effectively, without any need for nuclear.

If (i) transpires, the argument for governments to pursue nuclear energy becomes significantly bolstered. If (ii) miraculously comes to pass, then terrific! — Germany will have led the way. Either way, other nations will be armed with the right sort of real-world evidence to know which is the correct path to follow — hypotheticals be damned.


By Barry Brook

Barry Brook is an ARC Laureate Fellow and Chair of Environmental Sustainability at the University of Tasmania. He researches global change, ecology and energy.

108 replies on “Germany’s grand energy experiment”

It’s a terrible pity that such a basic science lesson will have to be learned via such an enormous experiment.

Option (i) appears most probable and the delay – say, another 5 or 10 years – will make ever so much more difficult the task of saving our climate, food, water, security, biodiversity and cultural systems and resources.

Option (ii)… an optimist, indeed!


There are a couple of bright sides to this mess.

For one, Germany sits right next to 400 Tw/h of nuclear generation (2010) in France, and will be able to easily tap that. That’s a big difference to Japan, where we face an even faster phase-out because of incompetent politicians and a nuclear industry afraid to fight.

While I am one of the only about 3% of Germans supporting nuclear power, I quite agree with the other side that renewable energy should be developed aggressively. For example, this is probably good news for the Desertec project. Germany will continue to be a leading market for solar PV, helping to bring down costs even further.

I might also mention that Germany had a target of 18% primary energy from renewables set by the relevant EU directive in 2009, and that target remains unchanged. Also, carbon emission limits are set under the EU emission trading system for the whole area, so firing more coal for electricity Germany means that the price for carbon will go up, but does not necessarily mean that more carbon will be released in the EU as a whole.


Discussion, mostly pessimistic, about the ability of Gazprom to provide Germany and Europe sufficient gas and at what price, is starting to heat up.

See a political economist’s opinion here:

Germany have scored four own goals with one kick:
* Unaffordable and unbudgetted cost of both renewables and gas;
* Inability to meet even the current carbon pollution targets;
* Loss of political independence, which can be dictated by Russia and Gazprom via a valve on a pipeline – Germany becomes just another vassal state to Russia; and
* Loss of power system stability.

Probably five goals:
* Loss of industry due to high power costs.

Let’s hope that sanity prevails sooner rather than later.


@ Karl-Friedrich:

You write of imports of power to make up the shortfall. Even assuming that neighbours are ready and willing to sell more power across the borders, what about Merkel’s undertaking that this will not happen?

“Merkel asserted that Germany’s energy policy would be safe, reliable, and independent from imports, with affordable prices…”

If imports are not going to do the job, how good a reception will the proposed N-S transmission lines from the north to the south through iconic forests of Germany be? Resistance has started, even amongst anti-nuclear folk.

“North-south energy route. The difficulty is that many of the threatened nuclear power stations are in the south, situated conveniently for the big energy users like the cities of Munich and Stuttgart and manufacturers like Volkswagen. If these southern nuclear generators are decommissioned, the idea is that wind farms in the north might take up the slack. But that implies new high-voltage cables with very high pylons to match.”

Germany’s task is impossible. Something must change, and soon.


“[Germany’s] emissions have already fallen by 22% since 1990, due in part to the reunification of West and East Germany and the subsequent closing down of the most polluting industrial and energy plants.”

Anybody knows if these are actual emission reductions, or if the factories have simply been moved to, for instance, China, and are now polluting from there instead, so the end result is the same?


I think it’s inevitable that Germany is going to be compared to the UK. The UK has set a very ambitious target of 50% emissions reduction by 2027. If the planned nuclear build goes ahead in the UK and if Areva/EDF etc don’t screw up the cost/schedule, then comparisons will be impossible to avoid.

The work of the UK Climate Change Committee has a lot to recommend it, not only for the work on electricity generation where they clearly favour a mix of nuclear and wind, but also renewable heat and transport. You almost get the feeling that the objective may be achievable because of the level headed approach utilizing established technology and engineering. It all depends on government policy, but at this point of time it really does seem to be worthy of strong support.


Does anyone else recognize that the “Greens” are probably just closet fossil fuel salesmen?

I pay attention to actions, not words. The absolutely predictable consequence of shutting down currently operating nuclear plants is to increase fossil fuel sales. Who says that the consequences are “unintended” and why do you believe them?

Rod Adams
Publisher, Atomic Insights


@ Quokka,

See my post re UK’s power in Open Thread #17. It is only a few minutes old. Your favourable opinion of wind in the UK cops a beating and solar PV is listed as having a capacity factor of 7%, ie useless roof ornamentation.


Okay, let’s try another, much more drastic scenario for Germany in 2020: oil 20%, gas 21%, coal 5%, biomass 12%, hydro 0.8% and wind/solar 41.2%. This yields 382 Mt savings — we’re there! However, that would mean a 17-fold increase in installed wind/solar capacity in just 9 years (!), rising from 33.7 GWe peak in 2010 (23.9 GWe wind and 9.8 GWe solar PV) to 579 GWe peak in 2020, and all the extra transmission and energy storage that implies. Wow, quite a task…
If gas is going to provide 21% electricity not a lot of additional storage would be required if gas fired generation was operating at 21% CF.
In 2010 Germany had 17GW solar and would need to add about 30GW per year if solar was to provide 290GW of that 579 GW wind/solar capacity( it added 7GW in 2010).
Other savings could come from lower oil use in transportation due to improved vehicle efficiency.


Neil Howes, that is gas providing 21% of final energy, not electricity. Which is what it currently provides, while backing only 2.4% wind/PV. Do the numbers, and think…

The 42% wind/solar I proposed to meeting the emission reduction target is also final energy. Assume half of that is delivered as electricity. That means >80% wind+solar for electricity, all by 2020. Crunch those numbers and tell me how likely it is.


John Bennetts,

My favorable opinion is of the CCC not necessarily the UK government, though I think it will be difficult for any government to blatantly ignore the advice of the CCC.

One of the issues the CCC considers is availability of suitable sites for nuclear, wind etc. It (sensibly) considers ‘political’ objections to siting and gives weight to them alongside other factors in accessing the practicality of various options. For nuclear they do not find enough readily available sites to power all of the UK. They also have a good look at siting issues for on shore wind and conclude that it probably has less potential than nuclear because of siting issues. I like this level headed approach.

The CCC finds PV to be of very limited utility and way too expensive in the UK, and tidal barrages etc way to expensive. Overall their assessment of costs look realistic. Electricity is going to cost more regardless of technology and the CCC assesses nuclear a likely the cheapest.

Of course the govt may just settle for lotsa gas, but it seems to me that the CCC is the most important body driving forward significant nuclear build in Western Europe and deserves support.


Neil Howes,

290GW of PV in Germany would be “interesting”. What’s peak summer demand during the day? 60 GW? I’m not sure, but it’s surely not 290 GW. Assuming that on a really good day they get 80% peak of nameplate, that’s and enormous pulse of 230 GW belting the grid. It would be “fascinating” to see how they would deal with this.



“Gewähren Energie Experiment”

I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean … ;)

“Grand Energy Experiment” translates into “Großes Energie-Experiment”.

greetings from the country of ever rising energy costs …



Max, thanks for the correction! Helmut, TerjeP and others — note that I did add that I am an eternal optimistic (within the bounds of reality). You are both probably right, but energy follows certain laws of physics that can only be denied for so long, even if you are a German, Italian or Swiss anti-nuclear green, or a politician, in fact.


If (i) transpires, the argument for governments to pursue nuclear energy becomes significantly bolstered.

Well, (i) was the case for Italy after Chernobyl but the Italians didn’t listen to such arguments and simply repeated the anti-nuclear decision after Fukushima.


I do wonder if Germany and Greece and the other PIIGS will drag down the EU and result in bankuptcy in the not too distant future? Its going to take this kind of collapse for people to come to their senses. Possibly the US will speed up the demise of the EU as I have suggested in this brief report I prepared for my Sunday school class on July 24, 2011 – see


We see a lot of nonsense on this site about the cost of coal plants based primarily on ancient polluting units that are no longer legal in OECD countries.

Here’s an example

Maxim’s new Calgary Alberta 500-megawatt state of the art coal plant will cost $1.7-billion. According to EIA the capacity factor of these monstrosities is 63%.

So $5.4B/Gw + 4 cents kwh for fuel and maintenance financed at Pirate Power’s Wall Street demanded Alberta PUC approved 12% discount rate comes out to 12 cents a kwh.

That’s about 4 times the cost per kwh of a Candu built by EPCor a public power utility,


Rod Adams, the anti-nuclear greens are ideological and unrealistic. They don’t want nuclear, and they don’t want fossil either. Their demands are completely divorced from reality, and they are heedless of actual outcomes. Dogma blinds equally on the left and on the right.


While it is a useful exercise to start with the political commitments about greenhouse gases emissions, one should remind that the Kyoto protocol targets were massively breached by nearly all countries except those of the former communist block.
cf (p13)

I expect the newer self committed target of the EU to be dumped along the way if they prove too hard to be met.

That said there is some truth in what says K-F Lenz in the 3rd comment: Germany is linked to the other EU countries by an emission trading scheme, which means that Germany making a dash for fossil fuels may result in other countries going for more nuclear power (eg the former communist countries). That is a free rider’s behavior, but that may work.

Still things are going to be tricky for Germany: in France, the firm charged with maintaining the grid RTE has just released a report showing that there are risks of power outings starting in 2016 because of pollution regulations that will force the stoppage of coal plants in France. So hoping for France to make up for the shortfall may be the wrong idea after all (and note that France also export massively to Switzerland and Italy that shun nuclear too) (p11) (it’s in french but there are tables and graphs).


Which is summed up nicely by the aphorism: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”


@ Karl Friedrich. Would you agree to your superannuation fund(or pension fund if you prefer) to invest in Desertec ? Observe what is happening in North Africa politics wise. Desertec is not gonna happen.
I have said this before on this blog, and it is worth repeating.
” For a clever people , the Germans are pretty dumb”.
I suggest you translate it in German , and print it on a T shirt together with a “Atomkraft? Ja bitte”


For those countries which have announced 2020 emissions targets I think it is reasonable to expect them to be another 1/9 or 11% of the way along the path this time next year, 22% along the year after that and so on. That should exclude the use of offsets purchased from other countries.

I suspect that Germany will not have made that large cut by next year meaning they will have to cut harder in subsequent years. It will be hard to keep up the pretence if the cuts fall short 2 or 3 years running. So far they’re keeping the dream alive; I heard that a German exchange student I met a few years back is now working on the giant rock piston discussed on BNC.


seth, on 30 July 2011 at 1:43 AM said:

Maxim’s new Calgary Alberta 500-megawatt state of the art coal plant will cost $1.7-billion. According to EIA the capacity factor of these monstrosities is 63%.

The capacity factor on US coal plants is due to lack of load, not lack of ability to run at 90 or 100% capacity.

It’s regrettable that US EIA uses capacity factor when describing both ‘capability’ and ‘actual utilization’.

Averages aren’t particularly helpful when trying to evaluate the cost effectiveness of a particular plant in a particular location. I’m sure we have some coal plants in the US running near 100% of capability…and others that are running at 20 or 30% of capability.



Folks…this Desertec is a fantasy at many levels. A friend of mine in Algiers raises this with Algerian trade unionists. They want *nothing* to do with this Euro-yuppie, NGO created project this is designed from the get go to destroy any energy sovereignty North Africans have achieved in the last few years.

Algerians and Tunisians apparently don’t like the idea of being “responsible” for Europe’s energy needs and giving them an excuse to “intervene” in their internal affairs (as they have been doing for 200 years) should Europe’s “energy security” be threatened. It’s one thing to sell gas and oil, it’s an other to have your country be the major source of energy for their *grid*. There is a lot of opposition to this from grass roots north Africans who *haven’t been consulted* as to this project; who are being treated with another dose of European arrogance; and whose wishes are apparently being ignored.



Barry, this is an interesting analysis but starts from the premise that all the abatement will be achieved within Germany. Emission trading schemes allow (even encourage) international abatement where this is a cheaper option.

The recent Aus Treasury carbon price modelling anticipates in it’s core policy that half of the abatement with come from international sources by 2020 and stay at 50% by 2050.

The Germany abatement task may seem jaw-dropping without any international abatement but might be more realistic if the 380 Mt savings needed were actually only 190 Mt.

Interesting to compare this with Australia’s abatement task of 159 Mt by 2020 in an economy using around 6,000PJ of energy compared to Germany’s 9000 PJ.


Seth 30 July 2011 at 1:43 AM – thanks for this and the link. I live in Calgary and haven’t been following the local energy stories (!shame on me!). There are reasons to be concerned about this – not least because of the last paragraph:

Late on June 30, the [Alberta Utilities Commission] commission approved the project, ruling that there was no need for a hearing because it deemed there were no opponents who would be adversely affected by the plant.

harrywr2, on 30 July 2011 at 6:57 AM, thanks for your comment as well. We should definitely separate out ‘capability’ and ‘actual utilization’, and maybe even add a ‘dispatchability’ rating, measuring how a plant can and does perform relative to demands placed on it. I suspect that wind and solar producers wouldn’t like to have to report dispatchability.

Barry – thanks as always for the post.


@John Bennets: Imports from France will happen if the market wants them, irrespective of what Chancellor Merkel says. It would be interesting to see Germany enacting a law against selling French nuclear electricity in Germany, since that would run against the idea of an “internal market” in electricity and be probably illegal under current EU rules. But anyway, there is no such restriction right now.

Of course, one might expect the market price for nuclear energy from France to go up somewhat, just as the market price for gas from Russia.

@unclepete Calling people “dumb” does not seem a clever way of getting their support to me, so I will pass on that suggestion.

@Desertec sceptics: I sure hope this will work out some way, but that was not my point. All things equal, there is more of a chance for large-scale renewable from the desert if Germany (and possibly Japan) dump nuclear, since more effort will need be invested there.


Various contributors have suggested that Germany will achieve its carbon reduction targets by exporting euros and importing France’s nuclear energy, Russia’s gas and un-named third world carbon credits.

I’m no economist, but surely that negative cash flow is a persuasive argument for nuclear powered self-reliance.

Further, the political strings attached to Desertec, French nuclear and Russian gas will affect Germany’s political future security from external influences and thus harm its prospects of taking an independent stance on matters relating to energy, perhaps more.

Third, even though KF-L correctly points out that EU rules will not permit Merkel to unilaterally ban the import of French power, there are no options but to do so. Her party and that of the German Greens will be judged harshly by their electorates when the impossibility of delivering on the promise not to rely on foreign power is exposed fully.

Fourth, several authors have expressed an opinion, based in part on IEA and other projected costs of energy in its various forms, that the German problem will rapidly become much worse. Gazprom, being from outside the EU, will have monopolist’s power in a constrained market. There is absolutely no hope that the Russians will take pity on Germany and the remainder of the EU. They will do exactly what any monopolist would do: they will ramp up prices to follow what the market will pay, assisted occasionally by supply shocks due to pipeline shutdowns. These shocks will ensure that their captive customers remain focussed on two things:
* The real value of their energy supply – ie very valuable, indeed; and
* The fact that it is not the customer, but the supplier, who calls the shots.

It will be ugly.

All of this will be because the nuclear option has been buried on emotional grounds.

I emphasise that I am not anti-Green. I am, however, anti-stupid and the Greens in Germany and Australia and many other places appear to have saddled themselves with a stupid energy policy which could well bankrupt their countries, delay effective response to climate change and fail to deliver energy supplies.

Prediction #1: Merkel’s policy will fail explosively within months and the current German federal coalition will collapse, resulting in huge political turmoil at a time when Germany should be providing Europe with believable leadership in energy and economic matters.

Prediction #2: Australia, ditto, but a year later, perhaps not till the 2013 election.

BP’s Energy Outlook 2011 booklet gives a strong indication that world carbon emissions will continue to rise up to and beyond 2030. See Page 22 of

This report indicates very strongly that we are heading towards a worse future, not a better one, with projected growth in nuclear energy’s share of the total energy market going backwards, when it should be going rapidly the other way. Consumption of oil, gas and coal are projected to increase, nuclear and hydro remain flat and renewables remain smaller than any of the five energy sectors just named, even by 2030.

There is room for hope and it is this: that all stops are pulled out globally on both renewables and nuclear, thus driving BP’s fossil fuels projections downward.

Demand management? Forget it! Look at the graph on P16: Non-OECD (ie developing) countries are the major source of growth in energy usage and in CO2-e emissions. Poor nations will not sacrifice their futures in order that western countries may continue unabated. They need nuclear and renewables even more than do OECD nations, but can afford neither. Perhaps Australia should finance some NPP’s in developing nations and harvest carbon credits therefrom. It makes much better sense than to pay not to cut down forests which we all know will eventually become far too attractive to leave standing when there are few other income and energy options.


Barry – I love your optimism. However voters suffer from a condition called “rational ignorance”. A voter in 2022 with a sence of historical perspective and an understanding of energy systems and a concern about emissions may indeed look back and conclude that decisions make in 2011 were flawed and should not be repeated. However I doubt it will happen much. Voters tend to vote for the purposes of social signaling and identifying with an ideal and not on the basis of detailed empiracle policy analysis. Sorry.


My forebears were German [krieg means war for those interested],and I don’t think they’re dumb. But they are confused to say the least. They’ve gone from phasing out nuclear back to leaving it in [others convinced them that it would be foolish to turn off 23.8% of their power] and now, in a classic knee-jerk reaction, back to the phase out again. In 2007-8 they subsidised solar to the tune of $4.3 billion and for just 0.7% of their power. That’s a bit wasteful in my view. They’re all over the place with their future power plans. Their ambitions for the renewacbles are over-optimistic, France may or may not be able to help with nuclear, the Russians will flog them lots of gas but my guess is they’ll start burning more coal again. Then again, when the dust over Fukushima settles and they stop to think about it, they’ll probably develop a new fleet of nuclear reactors over coming decades, say from about 2015 onwards. And John Bennetts, thanks for your very reasoned and sensible post. Greens around the world and especially here in Australia certainly have some stupid policy positions.


@ TerjeP

Perhaps the general understanding will come via a push from more academics, policy makers and bureaucrats, rather than the public at large making the decision for themselves. In particular, more of the scientific community needs to throw its weight behind proven, *viable* energy technologies, as scientists can have a very significant impact on public perception and policy.

In the same way the scientific community has largely thrown its weight behind the problem of climate change and brought it to the forefront of public discussion (media, politics etc.), greater support for atomic power might do the same. The big difference being that climate change presents a massive problem to society, and so is often met with resistance, while nuclear power presents a massive benefit in just about every conceivable way.

Then again, perhaps I’m just being naive/wishful in thinking.


Addressing the matter of change in risk (as a derivative from increasing scale), coal is indeed a fascinating source of comparison. Complicated filtration stacks, more thorough burn and other technologies related to mining, have made coal much safer in well-developed nations. Unfortunately the estimate of $2000/KW for a modern coal plant sounds a lot like the cost of a new reactor, and the tipping point would be long-term fuel expense. With aggressive (and hopefully more efficient) recycling, nuclear could easily become cheaper than “safe” coal. With a larger install base plus recycling, the cost and risks of nuclear would of course change in a way that is not entirely predictable, just as the cost and risks of coal also changed. Biggest difference is that coal emissions processing does not return 99% of the coal to the fuel cycle, while increased nuclear fuel processing/shipping increases the chance of minor accidents. Major nuclear accidents are not sufficiently predictable at this time, so I hesitate to provide a guess toward the future.

Aren’t efficiency claims and carbon credits creating a huge numbers issue? For example the cost of a new coal plant built in the 90’s can not represent the cost of one built after 2010. The cost of operating fossil plants *before* and *after* implementation of carbon trade, also greatly impacts the relative price of things. Similarly, most new reactor designs have not enough guidance in how much a “real” full-scale model would cost to build and operate, and I have heard conflicting opinions on the qualification of nuclear for emissions credits or other subsidy.

Does anyone have carbon charts and/or maintenance estimates for large-scale wind and solar? There’s plenty of debate on nuclear carbon offset ( I would like to know how much conventional energy INVESTED in construction needs to be offset by each “unit” of generating capacity, only then would operational capacity figures indicate how long each site will take to BEGIN offsetting carbon emissions. :) These things aren’t beamed down from space, a half-terawatt of natively manufactured “Innovative” power requires external input to install. Unless Germany plans to halt all other industry to offset this demand spike? What a load of-

Also: Will they provide incentives to purchase a Fiat 500 or electric car?


@ Terry Kreig:

“Greens around the world and especially here in Australia certainly have some stupid policy positions.”

I am really only worried about the Green’s irrational approach to energy options. Their anti-nuclear power policies are firmly rooted in the anti-war movements of the 1960’s and 1970’6 and they have remained wedded to fear of atomic war and radiation ever since. My suspicion is that many of the Green cold war warriors are getting on in years and their passing may see a review, perhaps an enlightenment. I share Barry Brook’s optimism in this regard.

Most Green policies are neither worse nor better than the baggage which other parties bring with them. We can live with common or garden stupidity. What bothers me is monumental stupidity regarding climate change, which is not optional or minor or constrained by political borders – it is the biggest game in town, economically, politically and environmentally, yet it receives very little rational consideration. In this world of PowerPoint presentations, everything seems to be reduced to dot points. The future of my world is not a dot point.

Barry’s blog is like an oasis in a desert. Even with the 3 millionth visitor to BNC imminent, let’s hope that many more come here to drink at this well of science-based clarity.


I am now mentally exhausted.

(2008) (3000 EUR/kW?)
Worse, no estimate how much land area those 66GW in Germany will need. Or what the economic impact of such land occupation will be. What about erosion control?

It is a common claim that wind “starts producing from the first tower”. While romantic, it is also deeply unrealistic. Much infrastructure is required to carry turbine power to where it is needed, and the planning process and legal issues are deeply significant. There is planning, zoning, permitting, financing, acquisition. Offset from residential property must be considered. Possible damage to milk and egg producton is rumored but not properly quantified, but these fears of “unsettling vibration” have instigated a number of civil suits against wind developers. In my region, some projects have already been stalled for more than five years without a single turbine erected. Local wind paranoia far exceeds nuclear concern, with nukes the power can be 100 miles away (rather than looming over crops and roads). I can dig up some articles from the local newspaper to show how long this has been going, if anyone is interested.

The “new” nuclear claims of designs that are just as modular as wind or solar, but with much less distribution infrastructure and a negligible space requirement. It is PROVEN that sites operate with high availability over lengthy periods, which simplifies load management. It is ASSERTED (though largely untested) that nuclear plants could eventually be zoned and installed faster and more cheaply than coal, though certainly not as fast as small-medium gas turbine facilities. It is HYPOTHESIZED that new large-scale recycling, coupled with new reactor designs, could reduce the carbon footprint of nuclear by an additional factor of ten (below some of the most aggressive renewable scaling claims).

All of the carbon footprint guidances which I have dug up carry the same assertions. 1: Uranium is THE nuclear fuel, and it is mined, processed, and used only once. 2: The carbon footprint of mining will drastically increase as good ore is consumed and low-grade ore becomes the mainstay, same as quality of coal has degraded. 3: Decommissioning can only rise in cost over time, with no consideration for low-contamination or longer-lived reactors. 4: The amount of dangerous waste increases rapidly, adding a deep accumulative “hidden cost” to nuclear that becomes crippling over time. 5: EOL’ed renewable power modules can be melted down to build new modules, reducing the carbon footprint of renewable energy as its presence becomes ubiquitous. 6: Magical efficiency improvements (with no concern to transition expense or materials availability) will reduce global energy consumption to a level sustained by renewables. 7: The demands of large populations in rising economies, the realities of ideal siting for renewables, and the up-front technology investment to convert world energy are WHOLLY IGNORED.

My assertions are guided by the data I have access to. 1: With no thought for recycling, Thorium is still another potential source of fuel. I have no good numbers for its cash/carbon footprint though. 2: Recycling could stretch existing Uranium supplies while reducing demand for new ore. Nuclear-powered recycling would deeply reduce the carbon footprint of reactor fuel. 3: Better designs and better decontamination are major research priorities, decommissioning a newer reactor should have a much smaller footprint. For example constructing a new reactor assembly inside an existing containment structure, rather than tear it all down and build from scratch. 4: Recycling and pyroprocessing CLAIM to be able to mitigate nearly all accumulation of significant waste. If true, this would moot the long-term storage argument. In fact by transforming the harmful and expensive WASTE into a reprocessing COMMODITY, the monetary cost of operating and fueling a nuclear plant could be nearly halved.5: Most of a good reactor could be re-used after suitable inspection, some could be recycled and a little may need to be sequestered. (Ideally less than 1% of materials unusable) 6: Efficiency is a worthy goal, and would benefit ANY generating strategy. It is PARALLEL and EQUAL to other carbon reduction schemes, and must NOT be used as an argument AGAINST investing in any particular form of fossil-free sustainable power. 7: A transition away from fossil fuels will be very expensive, and it will not happen overnight. Those who can afford to begin a transition now, will offset some increased consumption in developing nations. Over the long term, this will reduce the cost and uncertainty for said developing nations to make their own transition. This notion somehow feels like hubris, but optimism is better than not even thinking about it.

I should have been asleep two hours ago, and one nagging thing has occurred to me as a further problem with wind: You Must Construct Additional Pylons. Maybe it won’t be as bad as this example, but “supply-locked” seems like a good analogy to the real-world mineral investment of decentralized renewables. What a damned bloody nightmare to balance, too.


This is at least the third extremely stupid decision that the Germans have made in the last 100 years.With that sort of record they really can’t be considered a rational nation.

Not that Australia is much better with the current predominance of the conventional wisdom that nuclear is bad,gas is good,coal can be made clean (at least in the minds of the believers) and renewables are the absolute answer to every maidens prayer.

From what I’ve been seeing for some time in the energy,economic and other fields I think we are now well into yet another Great Weirding.This phenomenem is where just about every mothers son(and daughter in this age of gender equality)collectively lose whatever minds they may have and go off chasing moonbeams.

It’s all really too sad to contemplate.


It would be a disturbing development if Germany resorted to international offsets to meet emissions targets. In my view offsets or carbon credits are largely illusory since they are not permanent emissions reductions from a constant baseline. Note that Australia also proposes to buy up big in 2015 when emissions fail to meet interim targets.

The EU emissions trading scheme disallows carbon sink type offsets such as tree planting. Non-EU Norway paid Bolivia to conserve an area of forest but it seems the Bolivians took the cash then razed the even bigger adjoining forest. However the EU scheme allows for ‘clean development’ offsets which create a saleable credit if emissions are less than a presumed entitlement. A good example is methane flaring whereby you actually can get paid to emit CO2. Surely the best option must be to re-inject or leave the methane in captured form. Other CDM offsets seem to involve villagers struggling to improve their lot. Typically offsets are cheap say $5 per tCO2 allegedly saved and the cash left after brokerage goes to less developed countries.

The scam works well because it lines the pockets of rich and poor alike. Westerners feel they are helping the poor as well as themselves. However the CO2 reduction is less-than-otherwise not less compared to some base year. To paraphrase Richard Feynman we can fool ourselves but we can’t fool Mother Nature. If Germany uses international offsets used to ‘erase’ 10s of Mt of CO2 this will be a monstrous copout and fraud.


“We can’t fool Mother Nature.”

Somebody quoted this as “Nature bats last – and owns the stadium.”

Both carry the message for those who would deny scientifically demonstrated principles by which Mother Nature works. Richard Feynman was one of many who made this phrase their own.


Relgoshan, on 30 July 2011 at 4:16 PM said:

Those who can afford to begin a transition now, will offset some increased consumption in developing nations. Over the long term, this will reduce the cost and uncertainty for said developing nations to make their own transition.

Just as a nitpick.

I would assert that the cost uncertainties for developing nations are far less then the cost uncertainties for developed nations. A Westinghouse AP1000 is generally quoted as costing $2-$3 billion in China and $4-$6 billion in the developed world.

The Kyoto protocol disallowed credits for nuclear projects while allowing credits for advanced coal.


In a sense, China does technically qualify as a developed nation and does have deep pockets. *only* $2bn-3bn is a lot of money in places where the average household can barely pay its food bill, and scraps of governance are fed by international subsidy. Those nations could only get an AP1000 via extreme charity or (more likely) a devil’s bargain with some wealthy faction.

In a developed nation you may assume that nuclear is very expensive to start up, and there will be some protestors against nearly any proposed location. However if a full transition strategy is enacted, the costs will decline over time and someone will contribute enough bribes to loosen the approval process for mass-production blueprints. Add in carbon credits and the promise of a nearly carbon-free fuel cycle, install reactors at existing coal-plant grid junctions, the mix of savings and subsidy could even convince investors to “eat” the extra $1bn disaster deposit.

A good strategy would require plenty of cash and plenty of political juggling. I maintain that any nation which CAN afford the investment should get started NOW. As developing nations grow their industrial base, they will increase pressure on fossil fuels. This makes it more prohibitive to construct new facilities and containment vessels etc. If a modular plant is built with a 100yr structure, it will host two or three different cores during its useful lifespan. How much would such a large structure cost to build 30 years from now? 50 years?

Developing and/or unstable nations have a bad rep for building fast and cheap. This increases pollution and the further decline of price/quality metrics in coal will eventually make them desperate on a plain cost basis. I do not want these countries using nuclear until modular reactors have been proven. I want them to buy parts from highly industrialized countries that have invested effort in the technology, parts for small reactors with turnkey management. I do not want Uranium/Thorium demand to drastically rise before good recycling technology is available. I especially do not want to see any more daring airstrikes against third-world has-beens and their pet projects.

If we build it, we can sell it. If we only pursue fossil and renewables, we’ll still buy nuclear eventually but it will cost several times more than it would now.


This is especially surprising given that Germany has the highest average IQ in Europe, tied with Italy and Austria, at 102. In France, the average IQ is just 98. Go figure. And these 20 new coal plants will be fueled by lignite coal– the dirtiest coal.


Since when is this discussion about intelligence? Smart and dumb are not mutually exclusive attributes in humans.


Relgoshan, on 31 July 2011 at 10:17 AM said:

*only* $2bn-3bn is a lot of money in places where the average household can barely pay its food bill, and scraps of governance are fed by international subsidy

The coal fired plant is going to cost them at least $1 billion to build. If they have to import coal they can be expecting to pay at least $120/tonne by the time ‘shipping and handling’ is added on. They’ll need to burn in the neighborhood of 4 million tonnes of coal per year to keep their coal fired plant going which will cost in the neighborhood of $500 million/year.

‘Inexpensively’ extractable coal is not evenly distributed throughout the world. The biggest pile of ‘inexpensively’ extractable coal in the world sits in Wyoming($12/ton extraction cost).

Even if we in the US decided to give away our ‘inexpensively extractable’ coal to poor developing countries they wouldn’t be able to pay the shipping and handling.

There is a reason Bangladesh ordered two 1,000 MW Russian nuclear reactors.

The Germans can afford to import coal…the Bangladeshi’s can’t.


The russian solution is $1bn per GW, (not $2bn-3bn per AP1000) and is claimed to offset efficiency losses approaching $1bn per year. Supposedly Bangladesh HAS coal but IS NOT mining it.

As to the Germans….the has exposed a lot of coal but it certainly will not last until 2045 anymore. With so much increase in coal consumption, the gigantic lignite fields may only go until 2030-something.


Yes, IQ probably irrelevant on this blog. However, if German average is 102, France 98, then Australia probably comes in at about 80. Which leads me to a very good anti- Australian joke. It must surely be time for a laugh or two in these extremely serious discussions. Son asked father what he could be were his IQ 180, then 150, then 120, then 100, then 80. Father replied succesively, neuro-surgeon, QC, university professor, top chef etc. The 80 IQ [actually it was considerably lower than 80] was seen as so low that the person so afflicted would probably be unable to do up his own shoes and would very likely be in an institution. “Oh” said the son. “Is that why all Australians wear thongs” Go on guys. Have a laugh.


I’ve just found out that Jesse Jenkins of “The Breakthrough Institute” did a similar analysis for Germany, but focused only on the electricity generation sector rather than final energy. The plan published by the German Environment Ministry relies heavily on 11 GW of new coal-fired plants and 5 GW of new gas-fired plants to replace their nuclear fleet. Read more here:

My conclusions line up pretty well with Jesse’s, but there are differences. For instance part of my scenario, for instance, included a displacement of transport oil (via a presumed increase in the electrification proportion of total final energy, e.g. from BEV or synthetic fuels) and heating gas (e.g. via electric heaters, heat pumps, etc.) – the latter presuming that total gas use could only remain constant with a higher proportion of wind if gas was diverted from heating to OC electricity peakers. Hence the higher required numbers across the board in my scenario, and the even more extreme expansion needed for renewables to do the job (the 17-fold increase on today’s installed capacity). I’d taken Germany’s goal of a 40% reduction in emissions by 2020 as covering their whole economy, rather than just their electrical generation sector.


The Aussie average IQ is 98, still solidly in the First World spread. In England and New Zealand it is 100, but only 93 in Ireland, which probably explains Australia at 98. Still equal to the U.S. though, and higher than in Canada. The Third World spread begins at about 92, with the notable exception of China, still a Third World nation, at 100. This is probably due to many biological and environmental pressures, such as extreme overpopulation. I doubt nations with IQs below 87 will ever make significant use of highly technical metallurgy through atomic fission fast reactors. This includes India, at just 81. Using the IFR in Haiti or Africa is a pipe dream. The IFR was invented by the First World, and is therefore First World culture, like nearly everything else. It will probably be used mostly by the First World, especially now that the Japanese are backing away from nuclear after Fukushima.


One thing that might just keep Germany (and other EU countries) from being totally owned by Russian gas companies is if they start fracking. Poland, among others, allegedly has enough frackable gas reserves to change the equation in Europe. Please note that I am NOT a proponent of doing so, of course, but it’s a distinct possibility that the gas situation may develop along those lines during the coming decade or two.


Juan, the assumption that a nation’s average IQ (with all the faults inherent in such calculations) will dictate whether or not they’ll use nuclear power is absurd. Do you imagine for an instant that out of a billion people India doesn’t have enough smart ones to proceed? The concept is ludicrous on its face. Careful, someone may begin to question your IQ…


I agree wholeheartedly with Tom Blees – the whole concept of a ‘national IQ’ is as ludicrous as the utterly flawed concept of IQ itself. It is based on tests that have been shown to be heavily determined by background, general knowledge, income level, exposure to education etc. and so at best is a very, very crude measure of affluence. I’ll have no more talk of national IQ or similar issues on my blog, thanks.


Thanks Barry. I’m over the IQ stuff as well. Unclepete, if the Germans should revert to lignite then they really are not very bright. Give them a few years and they’ll come back to nuclear, once they start to ignore the anti-nuclear Greens etc.


Some other references, maybe of interest:

Frondel/Ritter/Schmidt/Vance, Economic Impacts from the Promotion of Renewable Energy Technologies, The German Experience, 2009, (found at Mark Lynas’ book “The god species”) and

National renewable energy action plan, July 2010, (European Union server).


Relgoshan, on 1 August 2011 at 10:31 AM said:

Bangladesh HAS coal but IS NOT mining it.

Lot’s of places have coal..deep in the ground, in thin uneconomic seams or remote places inaccessible by rail or ship.

Cost of extraction and cost to transport to place of consumption are important factors as to whether or not the existence of a coal field is a determining factor in domestic energy policy.

India has the 5th largest coal reserves in the world…with more then 100 years of reserves left at current consumption rates…yet they import Australian, South African and Colombian steam coal at a price of more then $100/tonne.



Unclepete: They think it is possible to push lignite-based compounds closer to anthracite-grade performance. Linkstorm follows.
Talking about chemistry.
178 Megatons per year produced, 93 percent burned locally, 1 in 4 kWh produced by lignite in Germany ca 2006.

Click to access can_backgrounder_summer_2010_111.pdf

Micropaper on lignite and its uses generally.’-economy-turning-brown-coal-into-black-gold/
I do not believe the company line about this tech, but sharing anyway.
Obligatory Wiki links.

So yeah, Germany uses a LOT of lignite, and probably ALL of the new plants will continue this tradition. Nice trade, yeh?

Also I asked this on the other guy’s blog too, but really wondering if someone knows: How much extra base renewable capacity would Germany need to get through the winter? Solar becomes less efficient, Wind needs to be kept at operating temperature; usage of indoor light and heat will increase.What amazing strategy could possibly save them from this fact?


Relgoshan, that article about lignite to syngas in Arkansas sounds to me like a plasma plant. I’ve got a partner in Texas where it’s being developed who will look into it. Us plasma guys have been all over this technology for a while now. It is definitely doable, and of course would eliminate a lot of the emissions, but any CO2 that’s produced is still going to end up in the air (from tailpipes instead of power plant stacks), and you’d still have the huge emissions of CO, CO2 and methane from the strip mining, which according to some accounts exceeds that of the lignite combustion itself. So it is hardly a solution to the climate crisis. All it’s trying to do is to reduce dependence on foreign oil, and it could likely do that like they say. Until the USA policymakers get their head out of the sand on climate change this is what we’ll probably see more of.

As to your rhetorical question, ” How much extra base renewable capacity would Germany need to get through the winter?” This touches on a logic gap in the pitches of wind and solar advocates that you could drive a truck through. Not only do they consistently avoid including the costs of their backup systems (capital cost and O&M) when they put out their fuzzy numbers, but when talking about an all-renewable future the line is always that you make it a Europe-wide, or USA-wide grid, so that when the sun and/or wind is absent in one area the other areas can feed juice to it. Their argument is that this would effectively make wind and sun into reliable baseload power.

What’s so amazing is that they get away with this consistently, at conferences and testimony before governments and in the media. Yet it’s absurd on its face. Anyone who’s paid attention to this topic at all knows that vast areas are sometimes becalmed for days, and if it’s in the winter and it’s overcast (as is often the case) wind and solar output over large areas would be virtually nil. Meanwhile, what’s happening next door? Is the wind blowing like a banshee so that every windmill is cranking out its maximum output (oops, hopefully it’s not blowing TOO hard or the windmills can’t be used. It’s just got to be blowing at the sweet spot). Even if the wind is blowing at the Goldilocks speed in all the neighboring areas, those turbines would have to provide not only all the energy their own areas need but be producing enough excess (minus line loss, don’t forget) to power the calm areas. Given the far greater likelihood that the wind in surrounding areas would be blowing at normal or even sub-normal speeds, that would mean that in order for the concept to work EVERY area of such a supergrid would have to be overbuilt by a factor of what—three? Five? After all, once we create this all-renewable fantasy it’ll be hard to get anybody to build and maintain backup fossil fuel plants that almost never run, yet when meteorological conditions are uncooperative we can’t afford to just have blackouts, even if it would only happen once a year or less.

Realism, on the other hand, would dictate non-wind/solar backup capable of filling in on those unfortunate and perhaps rare times when huge areas are becalmed in winter. If we don’t do it with fossil fuels (and we don’t want to, do we?), we can most definitely do it with nuclear. But if we eventually build in 100% nuclear backup and are using IFRs, which utilize fuel that’s virtually free and that are just fine running full-out 24/7, then what would be the point of having wind and solar installations at all? In fact, given the capability to run 24/7 and knowing that peak demand is only an hour or two a day, all the extra energy produced could be automatically channeled for desalination and the production of liquid fuels.

Which future looks more likely: Grossly overbuilt wind and solar installations carpeting the landscape at huge costs (both economic and environmental) with occasional blackouts, or mass-produced safe modular nuclear plants with essentially free fuel providing not just electricity but vast amounts of clean water and carbon-free liquid fuels producing zero emissions with complete dispatchability?


Carbon-free liquid fuel? Some type of hydrogen model again? Certainly there is not enough lithium for that many batteries, probably there is not even enough silver if that technology even becomes reliable… The newest Fiat 500 I mentioned earlier can exceed 60-70mpg with decent road performance and NO hybrid battery/engine weighing down the vehicle; it shows that Obama’s 50mpg+ target will be trivial on technology side. Still carbon intensive but 3x the city mileage would help a lot. From that side hydrogen still seems touchy, but I suppose larger vehicles could accommodate this technology. Maybe this crazy SpaceX crap will yield a decent H-plane engine for purely atmospheric transit. E100 engines have a growing market in Central and South America, they apparently have thermal efficiency which *more than* offsets the loss of energy density.

But that aside, these renewables advocates have no answer for the winter capacity issue? The German government should be having similar issues as the UK, they’d best understand what their nation is being committed to. Supposedly in 4Q ’10, UK wind CONSUMED more power than it generated. The quarter average was more power consumed than generated. Larger grids and offshore wind could help a little but the UK could never depend entirely on renewables. So why does Germany think it makes sense to commit huge volumes of land for unreliable power that could leave them hanging for a month or more at a time? I would like to see them release charts for time-based renewables generation, not some crude annual capacity estimate.


Barry, your analysis lacks a short part on politics. Germany is currently run by a conservative party (CDU) and economic liberal party (FDP) some of the federal states (which will ultimately have a bigger part in the decision making) are governed by the social democrats (SPD), who still have some relations to the coal and mining industry.

at the same time, there are massive protests against new coal plants at the local level and they are also having big technical difficulties (wrong type of steel has been used)

i am pretty optimistic about the transformation of our energy sector. i see no unsolved technical problems. it is all about alternative energy getting cheaper by increasing production.


I know thast this is picky, but Relgoshan presumably knows that land does not come in volumes, but in area. That is, unless you’re mining it.

“…it makes sense to commit huge volumes of land for unreliable power that could leave them hanging for a month or more at a time?”

Back on topic, I am convinced that Quokka, on 29 July 2011 at 7:59 PM raised a valid point which has not been answered:

What will German grid managers do on a fine, sunny summer day when the load swings between say 30GW overnight and 60 or 70GW during the day, but is fed by his estimate of 230GW more than that from solar alone?

Will there be 30GW of lignite fired power backed off, 230GW of solar disconnected remotely and all the wind turbines parked? How does this market work? Who pays how much money to whom for renewable power not utilised? Are the solar and wind types happy to be turned off like this, even though it means that their already poor (20 to 25%) capacity factors will be reduced even further?

Alternatively, is there some kind of overbuild of energy storage proposed so that all of this free, renewable energy can be stored for later use? If so, what technology and at what cost?

Unlikely, but humorous as a thought exercise, will consumers, industrial and domestic, be offered a negative tariff to manage demand upwards to soak up some of the short term oversupply, just to keep some generating plant on line? I have in mind thousands of pool pumps being run, a million air conditioners being turned on by remote operators, lights and ovens cranking up, just to provide load.

Of course, this cannot happen, due to transmission constraints.

The answer to the question is that the system operators may have to park much more than half of the renewable power generation capacity under these conditions. Current typical market rules, which provide for take-or-pay support for wind, in particular, will have to be scrapped – the cost to consumers will be horrendous if the parked capacity becomes as great as suggested by Quokka, ie perhaps 3 or more times the system load.

My point now is that the overbuild of renewables in search of reliability and availability must be accompanied by market changes which remove all guarantees of payment for anything else than energy delivered, and even that energy will have to be at market price; ie no feed-in tariffs or subsidies. Garnaut said as much and has been ignored by the Australian Federal Government.

This will result in:
1. Increased share of the capital cost of RE to be carried by the proponents (no subsidies);
2. Substantially reduced cash returns to those who invest in RE; and
3. Exposure to market prices and risks.

The RE industry has consistently demonstrated, world-wide, that it will fight strongest when these three factors are threatened, essentially demanding emotional ransom by use of the threat that we must pay up or we won’t feel good.

That argument operates at the logical level of a 2-year-old’s child’s tantrum.

Well, I don’t feel too good about propping up the RE industry’s apparently limitless and amoral waste and ineffectivness through taxes and tariffs about which I have little or no say. I imagine that the Germans will soon come to agree with this conclusion.


Proteos comment:

“That said there is some truth in what says K-F Lenz in the 3rd comment: Germany is linked to the other EU countries by an emission trading scheme, which means that Germany making a dash for fossil fuels may result in other countries going for more nuclear power (eg the former communist countries). That is a free rider’s behavior, but that may work.”

Interesting thought and I can believe it.

With all due respects please review your assumptions on the lb/kwh of CO2 assumption in these calcs for natural gas.. If it’s a new plant coming on, it could be a GE Flex 50 plant very trick and excellent CO2 (but not zero like Nuclear). The link below is for one that is combined w/ solar so the base power and intermittent power iare all in one plant.


Relgoshan writes: “Carbon-free liquid fuel? Some type of hydrogen model again?”

Actually yes, you can run cars and trucks on ammonia. I still think boron will ultimately prove to be a better option, but we can do ammonia right now. And despite the fact that it takes some special handling, we certainly know how to do it and it’s not too difficult or expensive. It does away with the practical roadblocks of using straight hydrogen, essentially borrowing nitrogen to act as an energy carrier.



Supposedly in 4Q ’10, UK wind CONSUMED more power than it generated. The quarter average was more power consumed than generated

Got a reference for that? I’m not much of a wind energy advocate, but I doubt that is true.


@ sod

Your final comment indicates you are confident possibility (ii) will materialise. I have no idea why, given the new fossil fuel plant builds in the works.

I wonder, are the “massive protests against new coal plants” in Germany as big as the post-Fukushima-crisis protests against the nuclear power plants were?

And do you have a reference for your statement that there are “big technical difficulties” and that the “wrong type of steel has been used”?


Jon Bennets, I had the intent to not exclude varying utilities for the land in question. This includes towers and pylons above, solar at surface and/or further mining. Germany is not limitless in size and already they own farmland in other countries, import food from elsewhere. Further building and mining for their grid will exacerbate the ruination of their limited ecology until only raccoons skulk among the power stations. ;) VOLUMES of land.
This was the original article where I read that wind and solar were underperforming in the UK. I shall try to find additional sources closer to the facts.
Dude has got a ton of links, though chosen to support his views.
A little more detail about power issues, apparently the numbers were provided to the public by the National Grid itself.
Obligatory wiki link…

Maybe I can find the original reports hiding somewhere on an official department site. This is the type of granularity I want from Germany, how well do renewables service their grid?


Hi, Relgoshan,

I suggest that you look at my very recent post on Open Thread. Follow the path to the original publication. You will find heaps of stuff to chew over, mostly indicating that the time for dreaming must soon give way to rational planning, else the money will run out. Coolibah Consulting’s Coolibah Commentary, #76 can be accessed via (Disclaimer: I am not a shill for that site… no commercial links at all.)


Relgoshan above asked for monthly renewable generation figures. I found this recent study of the German Fraunhofer Institute (PDF, in German, relevant is Figure 5):

Based on five different sets of real data, they conclude exactly what Relgoshan assumed, and what is only common sense. Most generation of solar is in spring and summer. The winter months of December and January only account for about 2% of total yearly generation each.

In contrast, the same study reported no seasonal effects on wind, hydro, or biomass, which makes sense as well.

If you go close to 100% renewable energy, the solution would probably be to use solar mainly for running coolers in summer, or to have long-term storage capability, something Germany is paying attention to as well.


the name of the steel is t24.

“According to information of the magazine are cracks in the steam boiler problem. To increase the efficiency of coal power plants, a novel, previously insufficiently proven steel alloy called T24 was used. Accordingly, the engineers are known problems at the plant in Duisburg-Walsum, Hamburg-Moorburg Boxberg and Wilhelmshaven. Affected but could be another five coal piles.”


Thanks for that report. Solar varies seasonally by a factor of EIGHT?? Even worse than I expected, why the hell are they doubling solar commitment? Also, it appeared that “Windenergie” often declines up to 30% in winter? Or did I misread that. (My German is crude and underutilized) The charts indicate a move toward offshore wind, maybe it will perform better. Because if solar declines to nearly nil AND wind is down more than 20%, it will be a very cold winter for industry.

Am I reading that the Dutch have seen a decline in wind over the last couple years?

And what is this cost per MWh as a factor of Phelix Base? Because a factor of ten difference in energy cost is damned terrifying.



Actually, Germany is not doubling solar commitment, but has further reduced the feed-in tariffs in the latest legislation of June 2011. Legislation reducing them last year has already resulted in a strong drop of installed capacity this year.

Installed capacity is less than for the same month last year for all months except January. Adding all available figures up results in 1.743 Gw for 2010 and 1.080 for 2011 (January to May). (German National Solar Energy Association).

While there is some fluctuation in wind, that does not seem to be distributed evenly over the seasons.



There is an interesting paper from Odeh S, Behnia M, Morrison G titled Performance Evaluation of Solar Thermal Electric Generation Systems published in Energy Conversion and Management Sept 2003.

It shows that there can be a significant difference in solar power density between summer and winter. This variation can be as much as 10:1 in some locations and will often be 4:1.


The few factors Germany has going for it toward option (ii) are that :

a) They are a homogenous society (relatively), making it easier for them to act together.

b) They live in a densely compacted populace (again relative), this means that moving things around is easier as they go about upgrading their efficiency.

c) They are whealthy (relatively), so they can afford to burn lots of Deutch Marks.

d) The majority of them believe in enviro-green dogma and voted for it.

All these factors not withstanding, I have a hard time seeing how it will succeed, herefore I am glad that they are willing to be the Green Guineapigs for the rest of us.

My main regret is the time it will take for all of this to play out, before we find out where this is all going. The world could really have used German know-how and German technology to make a quicker dent solving the remaining Engineering difficulties laying in the way of the effort to bring about Fourth Generation Nuclear power.


Karl: Thanks for the extra file on solar.

On the first document, pg4, Abbildung 3. I can’t decipher enough of this report, so what are these seasonal declines representing?



I did not cite that graph directly, since it does not show the amount of wind electricity produced, but rather how much one kw/h from wind was worth in monthly average in relation to market prices for electricity. This is not a direct measure of production. While it is reasonable to assume low prices for wind electricity when there is much available (wind blowing), there are many other factors.

Anyway, the authors say that there is no clear seasonal fluctuation for wind. The changes in the graph are not related to the seasons.


Karl-Friedrich Lenz, on 3 August 2011 at 2:55 PM said:

Anyway, the authors say that there is no clear seasonal fluctuation for wind. The changes in the graph are not related to the seasons.

That would be different then the US Experience.

US Generation Statistics –

If I look at the US 2010 statistics…wind generation was greatest in April with 9,838 GW/h, the lowest month for demand of the year. The the highest month for demand in 2010 was July when wind produce 6,613 GW/h for the month. 30% less then April.

It’s interesting that with a relatively small geographic separation German wind production doesn’t show a seasonal variation when US wind turbines, much more geographically separated do show a seasonal variation.


Still having trouble pulling out those “solid” numbers on UK wind; assuredly they at least aren’t good enough to brag about, or it would be front-and-center hard math arguing to multiply the rate of development.
Annex E, especially. Projected rise in renewables won’t even offset the current expectation of loss in nuclear capacity. (phase-out) Meanwhile Gas alone is expected to shoulder the burden of leaving coal, CCS Coal is projected as a non-starter in capacity terms. So by 2025 the DECC thinks Gas power will double while both Nuclear and Coal dramatically shrink. Renewables will nearly triple, but it is still a drop in the bucket and it does not factor grid backups to the “annual production” estimate.
France appears to have some of the cheapest power in the EU, I wonder why that is….
Examining the face value of this article points to a serious issue with the DECC energy plan. National Grid estimates a precipitous decline in domestic gas production for the UK. If their in-house output falls away to nearly nothing, this means the UK will be consuming twice as much Gas as it does now….and importing almost ALL of it.

So by doubling Gas commitments and importing nearly the entire consumption, marginally expanding renewables, DECC somehow estimates that this will raise prices but keep them ~5% below where they would have been without a transition strategy. I bet that 5% was only achieved through carbon credits which would have battered all of the old coal plants.

Meanwhile as UK’s DECC envisions a nearly coal-free 2025, Germany – the former frontrunner in emissions decline – plans to double its coal commitment using normal plants and the local (huge) supply of lignite.

Did I miss something? Or is nuke-free power looking to be really expensive and heavy on emissions?



If you haven’t already done so, I recommend reading some of the work of the UK Climate Change Committee which examines the low carbon options for the UK. In particular, the Renewable Energy Review and the supporting studies are very good reports and likely to be influential on government policy. (It’s not just about renewables, it’s also about nuclear).

EDF has recently has had approval granted for site preparation work to begin for the EPR at Hinckley Pt and concluded contracts for Areva to produce the forgings for the plant. It may be significant that this has happened before the Office for Nuclear Regulation has published it’s final Fukushima report. Something of a signal that new nuclear build is going to proceed. Areva has also said recently that it is in commercial negotiation with Horizon and NuGeneration for up to a further six EPRs for the UK in addition to the two planned by EDF.

There is some reason to hope that there will be significant new nuclear build in the UK. Without it, there is virtually no chance of achieving the official 50% emissions reduction target by 2027. I suspect that the powers that be in the UK are a bit more pragmatic than their German counterparts.


Hopefully those making those nuclear build decisions in the UK will not have AREVA blinders on and will give thoughtful consideration to opting for AP-1000s or ESBWRs (due to be certified for building by the US NRC next month, I believe). Why build those expensive EPR monstrosities when you can build a slick modular passive-safety plant instead? Sure, the EPR will work, but the economics and complexity just don’t make sense when you’ve got the other options available. Hopefully the pragmatism of the UK decision makers that quokka gives them credit for will be in evidence as nuclear plans move forward.


@Tom Blees,

It does not seem especially promising for the AP1000 at the moment. Apparently Westinghouse has requested a pause in the UK Generic Design Assessment until somebody is prepared to pay for it:

Realistically EDF was never going to choose anything other than EPR. The other consortia may be different.

Let’s hope there are not serious cost or time overruns for the EPR(s) as they would be quite damaging politically.


Click to access CCC_Chapter%201.pdf

Pie chart on p50: More than 3/4 of the projection rely on super science, and may have significant impact on ocean currents over time.

Line graph on p55: There was a point on the chart where the all-renewables average was ~0% of installed capacity, an intersection like that could bring down the whole grid even with 30% renewables and 50% redundancy on those renewables.

Box 1.8 on p58 In-home meters? Local supply constraint (what, blocking the oven and dryer?); PRICE ALERTS. These ideas look good on paper but customers would be driven berserk.

Still digesting the rest of the chapters, but this report paints a shockingly rosy image for nuclear. All of their models place it at the border of our fabled “too cheap to meter”, and suggest up to 50% of all electricity could come from nuclear operating at high capacity factor with other sources to manage the variable load. Interesting to learn that France added 48GW generating capacity in only ten years, that provides optimism in the face of a crash transition scenario.

Of course the European Pressurized Reactor would be up for consideration in the UK. Apparently strapping the term “Euro” on anything at all, can make up for any cost overruns or gross incompetence (see also: Eurofighter). I suppose 35% conversion efficiency is…decent, but it should be much better by now. A few Gen III+ and GenIV designs (listed on Wikipedia tho) claim power efficiency in the 40-50% range albeit with certain operational caveats. (extra containment, extra fuel processing, unproven design etc etc)

Click to access JK0430217.pdf

On the improvement of transfer loops and emergency shutdown schemes. Also put forth are claims that certain materials may improve loop transfer efficiency up to 50% IF the plant operates continually within the narrow high power range that these materials prefer.

I guess this is why I want harder estimates on combined-output nuclear sites. If waste heat can be channeled for steam plant duties, and the transmitted water condensed locally as drinking water, I don’t see why total efficiency could not be higher. Everyone focuses on simple, uninvolved nuclear solutions where much of the residual power goes to waste, I wish there was more reading material published.

Germany seems to be planning to fail on its carbon targets, perhaps they should preemptively purchase carbon credits before the open-market price rises? Certainly they are screwing themselves in the long term, if this coal/renewables push doesn’t work out a nuclear crash program will cost much more in thirty years’ time.


Relgoshan, regarding your comments on efficiency: There have been great strides made in supercritical CO2 generators/heat exchangers, and they seem perfect for IFRs. Plus they’re quite tiny and simple. If we would use them with PRISM modules we could very conceivably be building 500MW PRISM modules (which are designed to be paired). In other words, one power block would produce 1GW, and you can build multiple power blocks at a single site. It’ll be a game-changer. I’m very excited about what we’ll be seeing five years from now.



I don’t see why you say the CCC review gives a “shockingly rosy image for nuclear” costs. The CCC ranges are quite similar to IEA estimates for Europe. The LCOE for the much delayed and expensive EPR in Finland should still be within the range given by the CCC.

The big takeaway message from the CCC is that it’s some mix of wind and nuclear for the UK or fossil fuels. We can debate the importance or otherwise of wind, but in the current political climate, recognition of the importance of nuclear is very significant. Governments will find it difficult to ignore this.


I note also that CCC have not considered OCGT. It is too carbon intensive to claim a place in Britain’s future.

So, Quokka, I’d say that their list included three or four:
Some tidal.

All supported by stronger links to France’s nuclear and with a wish list item being geothermal from Iceland.

It makes very good sense. Let’s see what the politicians do with it.


John Bennetts,

You are of course right, it’s not just nuclear and wind though it is these that are going to have to do the heavy lifting. And as you say it does make good sense which seems to be a rare quality in many of the future energy scenarios that pop up on a regular basis.

One can pick any of their future scenarios and I don’t think it matters all that much at this time because the mix is something that will be worked out in practice over the next couple of decades. What is important is that all options are on the table and a realistic view is taken of costs, technical and political feasibility. I think the CCC does rather well on these counts.


And that is why I said it was “shocking”. I anticipate certain groups will immediately jump on it as “blatantly pro-nuclear”, even though – for once – they are working from the long history of same. Their optimism for the future also anticipates a unit price decline in nuclear technology, rather than some runaway inflation where the cost logs upon itself up to infinity.

At the very least, their scenario is a hundred times less depressing than the DECC “gas replaces everything” system wherein the entire UK would be hostage to a single energy commodity.


quokka writes: “You are of course right, it’s not just nuclear and wind though it is these that are going to have to do the heavy lifting. And as you say it does make good sense which seems to be a rare quality in many of the future energy scenarios that pop up on a regular basis.”

I don’t mean to pick on you, quokka, because the belief that wind power is going to be a significant player is widespread even among many people on Barry’s blog. But the idea that wind can do any heavy lifting at all is baseless. How can an energy system be counted on when you cannot predict when it will be completely out of commission? And as I’ve said before, if nuclear is its backup then wind is superfluous.

I realize that wind turbines are politically correct and give people warm and fuzzy feelings about energy production (unless they live by them, of course), but the data from Denmark and Germany (and others, but they’re the true guinea pigs here for the last few decades) simply don’t support the idea that wind can accomplish much at all, and that it is absolutely useless to think of it in terms of baseload power. It is completely unreliable. That’s no way to build an electrical grid.

There are scads of people who’ll sing the praises of wind power, but the numbers don’t lie. It’s not a question of how nice it feels, it’s a question of how well it works. When I wrote Prescription for the Planet I went out of my way not to try to alienate wind and solar advocates, not wanting to create enemies needlessly. But in the years since then I’ve looked at wind much more deeply and have come to the conclusion that continuing to feed the fantasy that wind turbines can actually be a valuable part of a non-fossil-fuel energy future does a disservice to policymakers, and to the citizens who end up paying (and paying and paying) for them.

I’m prompted to write this today because I just got a copy of Discover magazine with an article called Building The Green-Collar Economy featuring four “energy experts”. The tone of it can be guessed by the comments of one of said experts, Ken Zwiebel of the George Washington University Solar Institute:

“Solar and wind energy are capable of meeting all the energy needs that we have. There’s plenty of sunlight. There’s plenty of wind energy. It’s just a matter of shifting to a new paradigm and seeing a future without some of the fuels that have become an albatross.”

This sort of nonsense is sadly typical in the media today. While I don’t like to go out of my way to joust at windmills (figuratively or literally), I think that glib nonsense like this has to be challenged even if it’s politically incorrect to do so. We’re not doing anybody any favors to just roll our eyes and ignore it if this is the sort of vacuous thinking that’s going to drive policy.


Power import Options for a Nuclear-free Germany is, IMO, a blackly comic list of ‘options’ that apparently are intended for serious consideration. It begins with

Germany will seek to use domestic and imported wind, hydroelectric, solar and other forms of renewable power. That choice opens new opportunity for Iceland and also Greenland that urgently seeks foreign investment to build their national economies.

Previous studies have examined the concept of linking a submarine power cable across the relatively shallow waters of the Northeastern Atlantic Ocean, between Germany and Greenland. There is also scope to extend such a cable between Iceland and the eastern coast of Greenland, to the largest fjord in the world called Scoresby Sound with some 38,000 Km2 or 14,700 square-miles of water surface area. The tidal current through the relatively narrow entrance to this inlet is estimated at just over 2m/s, the minimum velocity needed for viable installation of kinetic turbines.

and goes on from there.

I wasn’t quite sure where to post this, but this thread seems like the right place. In view of Tom Blees comment, above, I agree – I should jump in. But where does one start on such a mountain of misconception?


The German PV experiment has cost Germany dearly.
China has taken over the PV panel market.
Germany still has most of the inverter market.
That leaves minor components, brackets, sizing and installation for others; relatively low-skilled jobs.
Germany’s capacity factor is about 0.095, (theoretical CF is 0.115) after adjustment for roofs not being true-south-facing, not properly-angled, dirty/dusty panels, aging of panels, etc.


More straws in the wind from the great German energy experiment. The following just appeared in Der Spiegel: Greenwashing after the Phase-Out:
German ‘Energy Revolution’ Depends on Nuclear Imports
which has just come out in Der Spiegel.

It’s devastating. Some choice quotes:

The country’s economy is still growing, but only barely…The Federal Statistical Office believes the nuclear phase-out has helped cause this anemic growth. “Electricity has increasingly had to be imported in order to satisfy demand,” the organization explains.

This has noticeably weakened Germany’s economic strength. In fact, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) even believes the country is headed toward an economic downturn. Last Thursday, OECD chief economist Pier Carlo Padoan said that one of its causes will have been the “uncertain consequences of the nuclear phase-out.”

The computer system also indicates the sources from which electricity flows into Europe’s pipelines. A thick arrow is constantly pointing from France to Germany. Since France hardly has any other energy sources, this electricity obviously comes from nuclear power plants.

Another thick arrow is coming from the Czech Republic, and it mostly represents electricity from the nuclear power plant in Temelin.

…the phase-out has turned out to be more of a switch-over, with nuclear replacing nuclear. “The only difference is that other countries now bear the risk,” says Konrad Kleinknecht, former climate representative at the German Physical Society (DPG), the world’s largest organization of physicists. He calls this policy nothing but “German hypocrisy.”

But the Germans just need a little more time to make renewable replacements work, you might say? Don’t count on it:

…they would certainly like to get into the business of pumped-storage power plants. RWE and EnBW hope to open Germany’s largest facility of this type near Atdorf in the Black Forest .

Planning for this project was finished long ago, but environmental-protection organizations are opposed to it. Local Green Party officials are also against it.

Fossil Green hypocrisy has never been more glaring. Will they ever wake up to themselves?


Leave a Reply (Markdown is enabled)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s