Posts Tagged Germany

Germany going backwards – will it take Europe with it?

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on July 21st, 2015

Germanys oldest nuclear power station, the Grafenrheinfeld reactor, which had been providing energy since 1981, has been shut down. It is the latest closure in Germany’s plan to switch off all its nuclear power plants by 2022. The move was made in response to the Fukushima disaster in Japan, which – despite killing no one – has done much to put the world off nuclear power. This overreaction to an imagined threat of radiation has lead to real threats to energy security and climate change mitigation, not only within Germany but across Europe. In 2011, when Angela Merkel’s affinity for nuclear came to an abrupt end, the country’s reactors provided 25% of Germany’s energy. The supposed replacement has been a huge push for renewables, with an aim of 80% renewable electricity by 2050. But with renewable consistency challenges, and a long timescale of realization, Germany is having to plug the gaping gap left by nuclear closures, and it has had little choice but to turn to fossil fuels – especially coal. Not only does this have huge implications for air quality, and climate change targets within Germany and across Europe, it will also have knock on political effects across Europe. Germany’s influence may put others off nuclear power, to the detriment of the entire continent.

Exploring space by exploiting nuclear

Posted by Stephen Tindale on June 16th, 2015

The Philae lander has woken up. When Philae landed on the comet, it was on its side in a valley, so its solar panels could not generate enough electricity to keep the lander’s technology operating once the batteries ran out. As a result, Philae did excellent scientific research for 60 hours, then ‘went to sleep’. Seven months later, the comet is closer to the sun so the solar panels are generating enough power to resume research. This is excellent news. But seven months of research have been lost unnecessarily. Philae should have carried a nuclear power source, as NASA’s Mars Curiosity rover did. Stephan Ulamec, Philae lander manager, was asked last November why Philae didn’t have one. He replied that ‘launching nuclear power sources carries safety and political implications and, in any case, Europe does not have that technology’. (http://www.spacepolicyonline.com/news/is-philaes-time-coming-to-an-end.)

The safety issue is – as so often with nuclear power – overstated. Mars Curiosity was powered by a small, solid amount of Plutonium-238, completely insoluble in water. Physics professor Ethan Siegel writes that: “This means that even if there’s a disaster on launch, the radioactive material won’t go anywhere, and can not only be retrieved, but reused in future missions.” (http://www.forbes.com/sites/ethansiegel/2015/06/15/first-probe-to-land-on-a-comet-is-awake-but-our-nuclear-fears-cost-us-seven-months-of-data/ )

Would Europe have been able to obtain the necessary nuclear equipment from NASA? Surely the answer is yes. The space race is over. The Soviet Union put the first person in space; the USA put the first person on the moon. The European Space Agency, Philae’s owner, has been working with NASA on the International Space Station since 1998.

So it was down to politics. Theological opposition to all things nuclear, led by Germany (as most things in Europe are at present), meant that Philae was sent to land on a comet with only intermittent solar photovoltaics to replenish its power supply. Angela Merkel, who has a PhD in quantum chemistry, allowed her politics to obscure her scientific desire for knowledge.

Nuclear back in German competition following court ruling

Posted by Mark Halper on August 29th, 2013

GreenTec FranHealyTravis

When celebrities and stars like Fran Healy of the rock band Travis gather for the GreenTec Awards in Berlin, they’ll have to entertain the notion of nuclear, as well as solar and wind.

Remember my story last month about how Germany airbrushed a molten salt nuclear reactor out of the finals of a green energy competition?

Well guess what: A Berlin appeals court has reinstated the reactor, which now stands a chance of grabbing gold in the high profile GreenTec Awards, an event that honours “ecological and economic consciousness and commitment.”

For a quick review: GreenTec’s organizers disqualified the Dual-Fluid Reactor (DFR) after the public voted it as one of three finalists in the vaunted Galileo Knowledge category. Under the competition’s rules, the public selects one finalist of three in each of the contest’s eight groups, while GreenTec judges select the other two. The grass-roots selection of a nuclear technology in a country where the government opposes nuclear rankled the GreenTec panelists, who promptly booted it. Otherwise, things might have become a tad uncomfortable for anti-nuclear Germany’s energy minister Peter Altmaier, who is GreenTec’s patron and who will be on stage for the glitzy awards ceremonies this Friday, Aug. 30, in Berlin.

NOT FAIR

Outrage followed the elimination, and the DFR’s developer, Berlin’s Institute for Solid-State Nuclear Physics, appealed to a German court, which forced GreenTec to readmit the reactor into the finals.

German blogger Rainer Klute reported:

“The DFR’s expulsion from the GreenTec Awards was unlawful and must be undone, the Berlin Court of Appeal decided now (case 25 W 22/13)…Greentec Communications GmbH must accept the results of the online voting, treat the DFR according to the original contest rules and allow it for the finals. Consequently, the jury must repeat its vote for the overall winner, taking into account the Dual-Fluid Reactor as a regular candidate.”

As I wrote last month, the organizers told me they eliminated the DFR because the applicants were not truthful. After the story ran, they elaborated that the nuclear folks essentially lied by stating that the DFR is safer than wind power. I guess that would upset people in a country that has walked away from nuclear following the 2011 accident at Fukushima, and that prioritizes renewables like wind and solar.

But it was an odd accusation considering that the safety comparison with wind is debatable. Many level-headed people argue that wind can be less safe for a number of reasons. For instance, the building and installation of wind turbines requires fossil fuels and their attendant unsafe CO2, pollutants and mining; and wind farms take up vast tracts of land that could be used for other purposes.

GreenTec also said that the Institute for Solid-State Physics misrepresented the truth when it said in its application that the DFR does not produce any radioactive waste.

The Berlin court subsequently overruled GreenTec’s argument.

LET THE SHOW BEGIN

Now, scientists from the nuclear institute will don dinner jackets this weekend for the gala and star-studded final in Berlin, which will be full of German celebrities. The Galileo prize for which they are contending salutes “a technological idea that can help protect the environment, regardless of whether the project has been successfully implemented or if it is still in the developmental stage.”

That certainly describes the DFR – a molten salt reactor under development that, like other MSRs, augurs safer, more efficient and less costly nuclear power that could offer the world a significant source of CO2-free electricity generation. That might be an inconvenient truth to GreenTec’s organizers, but it’s one that they now have to reconsider.

Wouldn’t it be something if the DFR actually wins this Friday. Given the events of the last few months, it seems unlikely. But chalk up the DFR’s reinstatement alone as a moral victory, and one that, in at least a small way, starts to brush nuclear back into the German energy discussion.

Image is a screen grab from the GreenTec Awards home page

DFR Lesson Weibach

Molten salt seminar. Nico Bernt of Berlin’s Institute for Solid-State Nuclear Physics gives a tutorial on the Dual Fluid Reactor, which is a molten salt reactor that he advocates as a source of industrial process heat, as well as for electricity.

A funny thing happened on the way to the final round of Germany’s prestigious GreenTec Awards. A molten salt reactor that the public had voted into the August 30th gala gathering vanished from the competition, muscled out by none other than the contest’s organizers.

It seemed like an odd turn of events, considering that GreenTec exists to honor “ecological and economic consciousness and commitment,” as it says on its website.

What could be more ecologically sound than the Dual-Fluid Reactor, an MSR entered into the contest by Berlin’s Institute for Solid-State Nuclear Physics. MSRs and other advanced nuclear designs auger a CO2-free energy future and represent clear improvements in nuclear safety, efficiency, and waste management when compared to conventional nuclear. The Dual-Fluid Reactor (DFR) is no exception (click on the video below to learn more about it, including how it can be used as a source of industrial process heat to make hydrogen and synthetic fuels).

Clearly, a significant portion of the German public understands this. The Dual-Fluid Reactor (DFR)  made it to the finals on the strength of an open, online voting round. Under the rules of the competition, GreenTec judges select two finalists in each of the contest’s eight categories, and the public selects the third.

PUBLIC APPROVAL

While the judges did not send the DFR to Berlin, some sensible common folks did, bestowing the DFR as one of the three shortlisted contenders for the vaunted Galileo category, a science-oriented award sponsored by German media company Pro-Sieben.

But this is Germany, where the energy lords extol renewables like solar and wind, and where the government decided two years ago to walk away from nuclear in the aftermath of Fukushima. GreenTec, backed by clean technology company VKPartners GmbH, counts Germany’s energy minister Peter Altmaier as its patron. Altmaier will be participating on the Berlin awards stage (where it might have been a tad uncomfortable for an anti-nuclear government to potentially salute a nuclear energy technology).

So GreenTec took swift action, and disqualified the DFR. Airbrushed it right out of the picture.

DFR Comparison Weibach

Economic case. The DFR compared to conventional reactors, or “LWRs” (light water reactors), according to developer Daniel Weibach.

The development stunned the Institute.

“On June 4, we have been disqualified and denominated by the jury, with no explanation,” it wrote on its website. “Rules have been changed afterwards to allow for a denomination of the online voting.”

Outrage ensued, as DFR supporters accused GreenTec of changing the voting rules to suit their own interests.

German blogger Rainer Klute – a regular commenter on Weinberg blogs –  noted:

“People who had campaigned for the award and for the DFR were heavily shocked. Not only they found the decision as such completely incomprehensible, but also the procedure to make it. Changing rules in the course of the game is something that is usually considered less than fair. Most of us (but obviously not all) learned this early in our childhood. No wonder the award’s makers were criticized violently in blogs and social media, especially on their own Facebook page.”

GreenTec has posted an explanation on Facebook. It’s in German which I unfortunately don’t read. I asked GreenTec to clarify its actions for me in English. A spokeswoman replied via email that, “Indeed, it is true that our jury disqualified the project Dual Fluid Reactor (DFR) in the Galileo category. However, it is not true that we in any way changed the rules of participation for this specific case!”

VIOLATION

The spokeswoman said that the Institute had violated a clause in the application process “which obliges participants to provide truthful information about their projects, ensuring an objective evaluation process.” She also noted that “The organizers are authorized to disqualify the applicant as well as take away his/her rights to the title.” They also stripped another finalist, called Care Energy.

She did not elaborate on the violation in the DFR application. I asked her to provide more details, which had not arrived at the time of publishing this blog.

Meanwhile, GreenTec is looking forward to its glitzy Aug. 30 evening, sans nuclear, when they will anoint winners in the Galileo category as well as in production, energy, mobility, aviation, recycling, communication, and building and living.

On that night, GreenTec says, stars will step out “demonstrating their enthusiasm for climate protection.”

Attention stars: You could shine brighter with MSR power.

Go to DFR class with the designers Nico Bernt and Daniel Weibach in this YouTube video:

Images are screen grabs from the Institute for Solid-State Nuclear Physic’s DFR video, via YouTube.

Germany’s energy challenge, part 2: Greenhouse emissions are up

Posted by Mark Halper on February 26th, 2013

While Germany has been increasing renewables, it has also brought in a lot more of this since deciding to close nuclear power. That’s a coal-fired plant in Datteln along the Dortmund-Ems Canal near Dortmund.

In our previous post, we noted that Germany wants to trim the $1.3 trillion (yes, trillion) in subsidies that it would provide to build renewable power in the wake of the government’s 2011 decision to abandon nuclear power.

Now, the other shoe has dropped in the walk away from nuclear: Greenhouse gas emissions including CO2 rose in 2012 as the country relied more heavily on coal and other fossil fuels – along with renewables – to replace production from 8 nuclear plants that it has already closed. (It plans to shutter its remaining 9 by 2022. Nuclear had provided about a quarter of the country’s electricity before the post-Fukushima decision).

The rise was slight – 1.6 percent in greenhouse gases, and 2 percent in CO2, the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety reported on its website (the account is in German; an English version should post soon). But it came came amid slow industrial production.

But the World Nuclear Association calculated that if Germany had left the eight nuclear reactors operating, it would have reported a drop of 18 million-to-34 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, rather than a rise of 14 million tonnes. Thus, WNA says, Germany would have reported its all-time low of 897 million tonnes per year.

Bloomberg noted that Germany emitted 931 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents last year as the use of lignite rose 5.1 percent.

“We must make sure that this was an exception and that it doesn’t become a trend that’s repeated,” Environment Minister Peter Altmaier said in the Bloomberg story.

According to Reuters, industrial CO2 emissions were flat from 2o11 to 2012, while emissions from household and transport use increased. Renewables helped to keep the level from rising above 2 percent.

But as Altmaeir noted last week, it will cost Germany $1.3 trillion in subsidies by 2022 if the country were to continue with its current support program for energy technologies like wind and solar. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has proposed cutting close to $400 billion, which would still leave the government with a hefty subsidization bill of over $900 billion.

As I said last week, if the country were to recommit some modest portion of those funds – say, 25 percent – it could go a long way toward developing efficient and safer nuclear reactors that run on thorium and other alternative nuclear technologies like molten salt and pebble bed reactors, among others.

Photo from Arnold Paul via Wikimeda.

 

Germany’s $1.3 trillion energy challenge

Posted by Mark Halper on February 22nd, 2013

How to trim a trillion. A plan favored by Germany’s Environment Minister Peter Altmaier and the coalition government would knock €1 trillion in renewable energy subsidies down to a parsimonious €700 billion.     Just think what a portion of that would buy in nuclear R&D.

Today’s blog is an “equal time” posting.

I’ve written several entries over the last few months on how nuclear power looks ready for a comeback in Japan, where authorities virtually shut it down following the March 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant.

What about that other industrial powerhouse that also decided to walk away from nuclear – Germany?

I haven’t written as much about that, in part because Germany is not giving out the same “bring it back” signals as Japan is.

But there have certainly been subsurface rumblings from Deutschland, most recently this week, when Environment Minister Peter Altmaier warned that the decision to close all nuclear plants by 2022 could by that time cost the country one trillion euros ($1.3 trillion) in government subsidies alone, Bloomberg reported.

Exercising financial prudence, Altmaier and the coalition government to which he belongs have proposed cutting €300 billion ($395 billion) from that amount, the article states. That would bring the bill down to a mere €700 billion ($923 billion).

WHAT ELSE €700 BILLION COULD BUY

Yes, €700 billion, with a “b”, for a reduced bill. That’s enough money to build at least 70 conventional nuclear reactors  with significant cost overruns (more than 70 really, but I’ll keep the math neat and simple). And 70 is about 4 times more than the 17 reactors the country had been operating prior to the shutdown decision, when nuclear had provided a quarter of Germany’s electricity.

That means that the money that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government plans to spend subsidizing renewables could in theory enable the country to convert to 100 percent nuclear, with plenty of electricity left to also export to neighbors. And that’s if it were to start from scratch with all new and conventionally designed plants. It’s a slightly cheeky, disingenuous point to make, in part because the whole idea of Germany spending on renewables is to, well, transition to renewables. And to shut nuclear.

Nothing wrong in general with a strong mix of renewables. We’re going to need them in our climate fight.

But let’s look at it another way. If Germany were to put even, say, a quarter of the €700 billion into research and development of nuclear alternatives like thorium and molten salt reactors and pebble beds, among others, it could seed a bright, safe, efficient, low waste, CO2-light energy future with minimal weapons proliferation risk.

Alas, Germany aims for renewables like wind and solar to furnish 35 percent of its electricity by 2020, and 80 percent by 2050. It has already closed eight of its 17 conventional reactors, and will shutter the other nine by 2022.

It is currently filling the gap in large part with fossil fuels, in the process increasing its CO2 emissions at the expense of global warming. In 2012, renewables accounted for 22 percent of German electricity, nuclear for 16 percent, coal for 45 percent, and natural gas for 11 percent, according to industry group BDEW, Reuters reported via the Financial Post recently. (Some of the rest was almost certainly imported nuclear electricity from France).

ON THEIR MINDS?

To be clear, Altmaier to my knowledge said nothing this week about rethinking the renewables target, nor anything about reconsidering nuclear.

What he did say was that he wants to cut the costs of the transition to renewables. After a 2012 in which national GDP grew by a mere 0.5 percent, that makes sense. You have to also wonder whether German business, industrial and political leaders might, just might, be ruminating nuclear in the back of their minds. I give it a few years before those thoughts come forward.

“I don’t want to limit the renewable expansion, I want to make it affordable,” Altmaier told reporters in Berlin, Bloomberg reported.

The subsidies are costing Germany in more ways than one. Subsidies are distorting financial realities and scaring away real investors, who know that renewables are not truly competitive without the government aid, the Reuters January story noted.

What’s more, as I wrote in December,  the renewable expansion requires a $56 billion investment in grid infrastucture.

Renewables also come with the stigma that they do not provide round-the-clock power, the way  low-CO2 nuclear or CO2-intense fossil fuels can. As Reuters pointed out, “A study drawn up by the Swiss Prognos Institute in November projected a possible gap of 8 gigawatts (GW), or 9 percent of the assumed maximum amount of energy required by 2020, if nuclear plants were phased out as planned and not replaced by equally reliable alternatives.”

A trillion euros for an energy shortfall?

I’m not even sure what a trillion euros looks like. But I’m envisioning an attractive hue if a portion of it is wrapped up in alternative nuclear reactors.

Photo from Christian Doppelgatz/KUXMA via Wikimedia


The bill for connecting German renewable energy, such as from these Siemens wind turbines in the Baltic Sea, will be substantial.

As Japan’s new prime minister took office today with a view toward reversing the nuclear ban that the previous government sought, it doesn’t take too much mental latitude to wonder whether the other country well known for its nuclear abolition might also reconsider.

I’m talking of course about Germany, which in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear meltdowns announced it would close all 17 of its nuclear power stations by 2022.

The decision has thus far cost the country dearly environmentally, as Germany, like Japan, has had to increase the percentage of electricity it generates from CO2-emitting fossil fuels.

And then there are the financial costs of Germany’s longer term, ambitious push toward renewable energy.

We already knew that solar and wind farms do not come for free, and that the German consumer is looking at hefty rate hikes to help pay for them.

ON THE LINE

But news began emerging earlier this month of an extra bill:  €42.5 billion ($56 billion) to upgrade Germany’s electricity grid so that it can handle the unique requirements thrown at it by renewables.

That’s according to the country’s own state-owned energy agency, Dena, as reported by Bloomberg.

The costs would cover new lines that carry power extra distances from the new locations of wind and solar installations. It would also cover equipment and processes to help prevent grid overloads that can happen when intermittent solar and wind spike high.

“We will be able to consume the electricity from decentralized renewable generators only if we expand the grid infrastructure accordingly,” Dena head Stephan Kohler said.

A Dena study estimated that Germany would have to build 120,000 miles of new lines, and upgrade 15,500 miles of existing ones if the country were to expand the share of renewables from 26 percent today to 82 percent by 2030, as targeted,

The cost would be €42.5 ($36.4 billion) if Germany were to settle for a 62 percent renewable mix, Dena calculated.

Opposition Green Party member Oliver Krischer told Bloomberg that Dena’s observation is misleading because the costs reflect neglect in the power grid over the last decade, and are not tied to a shift to renewables per se.

Photo from Siemens.


The price of ditching nuclear in Germany

Posted by Mark Halper on October 12th, 2012

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

 

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