Monday, October 3, 2011

Germany's Will to Power

“If someone declares publicly that nuclear power would be needed in the baseload because of fluctuating energy from wind or sun in the grid, he has either not understood how an electricity grid or a nuclear power plant operates, or he consciously lies to the public. Nuclear energy and renewable energies cannot be combined.”—Siegmar Gabriel, then-Federal Environment Minister of Germany

This quote was included in the anti-nuclear “World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2010-2011”, and it introduced two points: the first being that “overcapacity kills efficiency incentives,” and the second being that ‘renewables need flexible complementary capacity.’  The implication here is that because renewables need “flexible” capacity, and too much capacity isn’t desirable, inflexible nuclear baseload is undesirable.    If one buys into this premise, and if the question arises, “which is better,” a nuclear supporter is born.

That question doesn’t seem to come up very often.

Siegmar Gabriel, quoted above, is a German politician currently chairing the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD).   Hermann Scheer’s name was mentioned, in Ontario’s election coverage, as being brought, by David Suzuki, to meet Ontario’s Premier McGuinty;  The German parliamentarian (also SPD), arrived in Mr. McGuinty’s office in the Ontario Legislature with a blueprint for building a new economy from scratch."  Scheer is noted as “one of the initiators of the German Feed-in tariffs” in 1999. 

Rational people should have a look at Germany  and Ontario since the year 2000.  If the goal is to reduce CO2 emissions, or to reduce the use of fossil fuels in general, there is a clear winner:

The return of 2 nuclear units at Pickering, and 2 at Bruce Power, between 2002 and 2005, boosted Ontario nuclear production by almost exactly the reduced amount of fossil fuel-fired generation.

There is no rationally-based contest in terms of addressing climate change.  Nuclear energy is vastly superior.

Ontario is now experiencing the same events Germany experienced when adding wind capacity.  The previously noted World Nuclear Report noted;
“ October 2008, wind energy generation was so high that some non-renewable electricity had to be offered for “negative” prices on the power market because utilities could not reduce the output from nuclear and coal plants quickly enough—even though some 8 GW of nuclear capacity was off line for maintenance.Since then, negative electricity prices, legal in Germany since September 2008, have become a more frequent phenomenon: in the six months between September 2009 and February 2010, power prices in Germany dropped into the red on 29 days. Negative prices, a sort of financial penalty for inflexibility,reached stunning levels: on October 4, 2009, one power producer had to pay up to  €1,500 per megawatt-hour (15 cents per kilowatt-hour) to get rid of its electricity.”
Lunacy is required to twist that into an argument for wind turbines, but lunacy is worn like a favourite sweater by wind proponents.  Returning again to the data available at entsoe, we also see the frequently noted pattern of wind-driven exports (in Ontario we sell exported power, on average, at less than half what the residents of Ontario pay): 

Solar Output Is far less likely to be exported

We also see that growth in wind production, prior to the nuclear moratorium, had ceased to exist.  With hindsight what surprises me about Ontario's unfolding, expensive, wind experience, is that the inability of wind output to produce reliable supply, the impact of wind’s variability on pricing, and bloating supply (until fossil plants age, or are retired for environmental reasons), was not only known, and not contested, but it was wilfully turned into an argument to carry on with the nuclear withdrawal experiment in Germany.

The German machine has become very good at twisting reality into an argument to will an expansion of their desires – in this case ‘renewable’ energy.    A couple of years ago the press, perhaps at the urging of actual environmentalists, caught onto the fact that carbon trading was actually blocking possible gains in reduction GHG emissions.  A Spiegal online article addressed the issue of the growth in renewable driving down the cost of carbon credits in Europe:
Germany was able to sell unused certificates across Europe -- to coal companies in countries like Poland or Slovakia, for example. Thanks to Germany's wind turbines, these companies were then able to emit more greenhouse gases than originally planned. Given the often lower efficiency of Eastern European power plants, this is anything but environmentally beneficial.”
Following the decision to spur on the renewable energy experiment by discontinuing nuclear operations, the government has totally flipped this argument.  Tyler Hamilton reported on a discussion he had with Dr. Harry Lehmann, executive director of Germany’ federal environmental protection agency.   Hamilton summed up the argument: 
Take nuclear out of the equation and the lower supply of emission-free energy will lead to an increase in the price of carbon. German utilities can choose to burn more coal, but it will cost them. For this reason, he says, the market will shift to less carbon-intensive energy sources, such as natural gas — and more renewables. The cap-and-trade system in Europe, in other words, will prevent the shutdown of nuclear plants in Germany from leading to increased reliance on coal.”  
The argument has been turned from increased wind only cheapens the carbon credits (preventing actual reductions in emissions), to reducing generation without emissions will drive up the price of carbon credits (preventing actual increases in emissions).  That is the same reversal tactic we saw with windy periods driving down pricing and driving up exports somehow becoming an argument against nuclear.  

The silliness of what is referred to, in my school of thought, as the 'you are rubber I am glue' argumentative technique emphasizes that the will to increase renewables obviates, in the view of proponents, the arguments against doing so.


  1. Scott,

    The report you reference at the beginning of this post -- "World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2010-2011" -- addresses the incompatibility of inflexible nuclear generation and intermittent renewable generation, but only as one of a long series of detailed quantitative discussions. The subject of grid compatibility of nuclear with renewables is interesting for Germany's power system but of much greater significance in Ontario, where our reliance on inflexible generation is much greater than Germany's.

    The main thrust of the cited report is however to document the unfavourable economic prospects for new nuclear. I note that the authors of the report, have a long record of addressing the subject of nuclear economics. Perhaps you can point to counter examples, but I believe that the authors of this report have the most distinguished record of any long-published energy economists on the subject nuclear economics when surveyed with the benefit of hindsight.

    The authors of the "Status Report" see renewables as the main competitor to nuclear. After accounting for the boost in renewables capacity additions attributable to subsidies, it appears that gas-fired generation is a far greater threat to nuclear. That said, the conclusion in the "Status Report" that new nuclear using available technology is profoundly uneconomic would appear to warrant attention, particularly from those who advocate for nuclear expansion.


  2. Tom, thank you for the comment.
    Obviously I am pro-nuclear, but my reference to the report doesn't review the report - which does contain a foreward written by Amory Lovins. My description of it is anti-nuclear is defensible.
    I'm not going to flatter the authors, but the nonsensical arguments in the passage I addressed stood in stark contrast to much of the report.
    Perhaps the authors of the report should apologize for including the arguments.
    I won't apologize for noting they are there.

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