Posted by Mark Halper

Rising energy prices are not politically popular. That will be on Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mind as she prepares to run for a third term.

Word is leaking from Germany that grid operators will jack up the surcharge that consumers have to pay for renewable electricity by nearly 50 percent.

As the country abandons nuclear power following the Fukushima disaster, it is trying to increase the mix of “green” technologies like solar and wind. But someone has to pay for that shift, and that someone, increasingly, is the consumer.

The surcharge, levied by operators to recoup costs – they have to buy the power in the first place from producers at above market rates –  will jump from  3.6 eurocents per kWh in 2012 to 5.3 cents per kWh in 2013, reports Reuters, citing a government source.

Watch for an official announcement on Oct. 15.

That 47 percent escalation could feed an 11 percent jump in the average electricity bill, Reuters notes.  Like most people around the world, the average German certainly can’t expect an 11 percent pay rise, so the surcharge will put a solid dent in household budgets.

NO FREE BRATWURST

It’s the old cliché about no free lunch. If German people don’t want nuclear power and instead want to shift to solar and wind, then the German people will have to pay for it. There is no solar Santa Klaus.

The same has held true in other countries. In the UK, for instance, “have not” utility customers foot the bill for photovoltaic panels that the “haves” can afford to put on their rooftops. A government mandated “feed-in” tariff requires utilities to buy the solar electricity at hefty rates; the utilities then recoup the expenditure by increasing the bills of the people who can least afford it.

It’s an effective way of stimulating renewables – and to be clear, renewables belong on the energy landscape – but one that not everybody realizes comes out of the consumer’s pocket.

AN ALTERNATIVE

As long as we’re all reaching into our hard earned cash, why not try something like this for alternative nuclear – for the thorium, molten salt, pebble bed and other technologies that could help turn nuclear into the efficient, meltdown proof, proliferation resistant, waste-light power source that it could be?  Remember, that power would be CO2-free, and would run ‘round the clock, not just when the wind blows and the sun shines.

It would also eliminate the price volatility associated with fossil fuels (two utilities in Britain, British Gas and Npower, today announced hefty increases in gas and electric charges, blaming rising wholesale gas price in part).

The UK government wants consumers to help foot the bill for conventional nuclear, through a proposed scheme called “Contracts for Difference,” that guarantees a return to utilities that would tap into a new nuclear plant.

It’s time to think creatively in terms of financing alternative nuclear, which could outperform conventional nuclear in so many ways.

THE PEBBLY ROAD NOT TAKEN

Circling back to Germany, one of those alternatives which we just wrote about  – the thorium-powered pebble bed reactor (PBR) – coincidentally has a strong German history. Today the PBR reflects a new attempt at an innovative financing scheme, as South Africa’s Steenkampskraal Thorium Ltd. is reaching out to potential industrial users as financial partners. China also has a considerable pebble bed initiative under way.

The pebble bed technology originated in Germany in the 1960s. The country gave up on it in the late 1980s, a couple of decades before walking away from all nuclear last year. Now it’s asking consumers to foot the bill for renewables that can only chip away at the nuclear gap.

Then there is the other cost that Germans are paying: the environmental one. So far, Germany is making up a lot of its nuclear shortfall with fossil fuels. Hello CO2 and its global warming act. That’s a considerable price for anyone to pay.

Photo: Jacques Grießmayer via Wikimedia

 

Comments

  1. Martin Kral says:

    Mark,

    “Remember, that power would be CO2-free, and would run ‘round the clock, not just when the wind blows and the sun shines.”

    So what you’re saying is that it works “where the sun don’t shine and the wind don’t blow”. Add my Texas drawl to that.

    I do not understand why the US Government is wasting so much money on renewable and not a penny on MSRs?

    As a German-American I can’t believe how Germany would give up on thorium. I thought Germans were a determined and stubborn people. I know I still have that quality.

    • Adriana says:

      Randell, The reason why you see steam from only one tower, is beuasce only one reactor is operational at Watts Bar. Watts Bar Unit 2 is the only reactor in the United States to actually be under construction today. Watts Bar Unit 1 was completed in 1996, and was the last power reactor completed in the United States during the 20th century. The construction of Watts Bar Unit 2 commenced in 1973 and was suspended in 1988, when the reactor was 80% complete. Construction on Unit 2 resumed on October 15, 2007. The reactor is expected to begin operation in 2013. Watts Bar Unit 2 will be the first reactor completed in the United States in the 21st century.

  2. Martin Kral says:

    FYI, The Obama Administration is following the bad example that Germany is setting for the US energy policy – large utility-scale renewable. What kind of a footprint is that going to leave on the earth.

    Read about it for yourself here: http://www.doi.gov/news/pressreleases/Obama-Administration-Approves-Roadmap-for-Utility-Scale-Solar-Energy-Development-on-Public-Lands.cfm

    Our President needs to go through a serious re-education program. Or we could just vote him out and find someone else with a little common sense.

  3. Robert Hargraves says:

    Germany built the first pebble bed reactor. “The experimental Arbeitsgemeinschaft Versuchsreaktor (AVR) was built in Germany in 1960. Dr. Rudolf Schulten was the originator of the pebble bed reactor design. The experimental AVR at the Julich Research Center operated at 46 megawatt thermal power, about 13 negawatt electric. The safety test was performed in 1970 by stopping the cooling and preventing the control rods from activating. The temperature rose, Doppler broadening absorbed neutrons in U238, the chain reaction slowed, temperatures fell, and the unit stabilized at 300 kilowatts.”

    Later China literally took the AVR and rebuilt it at Tshinghua University. China is now building commercial PBRs.

    This pattern may well be repeated with the thorium molten salt reactor, originally built at Oak Ridge in the US, now under development at the Shanghai Institute of Nuclear Physics, with operation set for 2017.

    If you want to learn more about the PBR technology, start reading (in chronological order) my old blog, http://pebblebedreactor.blogspot.com/

    If you want to learn more about advanced thorium molten salt reactor technology, learn about the liquid fluoride thorium reactor in the new book, THORIUM: energy cheaper than coal, described at http://www.thoriumenergycheaperthancoal.com

    • Martin Kral says:

      Robert, after watching some of your presentation videos on YouTube, I ordered your current book this week and it should be here tomorrow. I am looking forward to reading it. I have commented several times on this blog about my newly found interest in thorium. I am also interested in what we can do with hydrogen as a fuel source. I live in the middle of the Gas and Oil industry here in Roswell, New Mexico where Fearless Felix Baumgartner just broke all kinds of records jumping from the edge of the stratosphere.

  4. John McGrother says:

    I have just finished reading Robert Hargraves’s book, and would recommend it to anyone interested in the question of how the human race might solve its energy v environment dilemma.

    It is interesting to compare Robert’s new book with Professor David MacKay’s Sustainable Energy – without the hot air. The latter is now three years old, but gives a comprehensive analysis of the various forms of renewable energy, including their limitations. He offers five example plans of how Britain might kick its fossil fuel addiction. Incidentally, he does not recommend any of them, but insists that whatever plan you favour, it must add up! His final plan is dominated by a massive boost in nuclear power, but understandably he was extrapolating from conventional solid-fuelled reactor technology. His less than one page on thorium only hints at liquid-fuelled molten-salt technology with the sentence: “Thorium can be completely burned up in simple reactors (in contrast to standard uranium reactors which use only about 1% of natural uranium).”

    Robert’s new book is not only an interesting and coherent read, tracing energy history, through the present to the future possibilities, but also a comprehensive and up-to-date energy reference, covering fossil, renewable and nuclear technologies, in particular the molten-salt options: LFTR, DMSR and pebble-bed. The final three chapters, on safety, a sustainable world, and energy policy are worth a read.

    So, the two books are quite complementary. Overall, if you are concerned about the (energy and environment) future of the human race, then with the combination of both these books, you have pretty well all you need to know, by way of a general reference pack.

  5. Martin Kral says:

    I was shocked after watching this video series that there was not a single mention of nuclear energy in the future. For those interested in what is considered rational energy in the US, check this documentary out: http://www.rationalmiddle.com/movies/the-great-transition/

    • Abdual says:

      Yes, I believe that cutrnerly it is not harmful for anybody outside of the radius. Of course that might change but at the moment there isn’t any danger if you living in Tokyo for example.I should add that I live in Japan and my father in law is working for the ministry of defense in a high position.

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