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Earth Power Science

The Coming Energy Turnaround In Germany 394

An anonymous reader writes "Germany has decided to close all of its nuclear power plants by 2022 and embark on an energy turnaround that focuses on large increases in sustainable energy production. What will it take in terms of investments, and will it mean cost hikes for German consumers? Will it really mean more jobs in the 'green energy' sector? Quoting: 'Total investment over the next decade for such an energy turnaround is estimated to be roughly €200 billion (or almost $290 billion). ... At the moment, more than 20 new coal-fired power plants are being planned or already under construction; together, they would achieve a total output of 10 gigawatts and could, in terms of power supply, replace nuclear power plants that are still operational. But coal-fired power plants do not fit into the concept of the sustainable energy turnaround that the government has put forward.'"
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The Coming Energy Turnaround In Germany

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  • Backup and fill-in (Score:2, Insightful)

    by msobkow ( 48369 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @06:39PM (#37357966) Homepage Journal

    Most of the green energy sources are not viable by themselves. They're too unstable. Wind gusts cause surges for wind power. Solar doesn't produce anything at night. The only one that sounds like it might be viable is wave energy, and that only on shorelines that are never flat.

    So to fill in, you need nuclear, coal, or gas plants.

  • Re:Be patient (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 09, 2011 @06:47PM (#37358034)

    You're just not thinking long-term.

    I think the German government has the same problem, like that time where they decided they should shut down all their nuclear power plants.

  • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @06:49PM (#37358068)

    Unless/until we can develop some form of industrial scale fusion, any of the base load options (nuclear, gas, coal, oil) are going to be necessary and will come with a serious environmental price tag attached. Solar and wind need to be developed and widely used but absent some miracles in battery technology and/or transmission losses (high temp superconductors) they will have limits.

    If Germany wants to use fossil fuels instead of nuclear that is their prerogative but they are simply trading one problem for another one, possibly worse than the original. I don't really understand what they think they will accomplish other than to mollify people who are (reasonably or unreasonably) terrified of nuclear fission.

  • Re:Gah (Score:4, Insightful)

    by zzen ( 190880 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @06:52PM (#37358094)

    I agree. This story is such an excellent example of why environmentalism can be so dangerous and *must* be subjected to intense criticism, not adopted automatically "because that's what we should all do, right?".

    It plays on people's fears, causes them to act irrationally and in the end can achieve environmentally negative results - as in the case of Germany introducing 20 new coal power-plants - the same that we've been so fighting so many years to get rid off, since they pollute the air and deplete non-renewable resources. (Yeah, my country neighbors with Germany, so I actually care about the resulting pollution.)

    Yay! Progress... :(

  • Badass expensive (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 09, 2011 @06:54PM (#37358116)

    Like all decisions driven by irrational fears, this is a bad move.
    Germany already has some of the highest electricity prices in Europe (22 Cents/kWh versus 12 Cents/kWh in France, for example) and switching to super-expensive solar power and unstable wind turbines will prove to be eye-wateringly expensive, especially since there's very little energy storage capacity (eg. storage basins) and the existing energy transport infrastructure (ie. pylons across the country) is proving to be rather inadequate and has to be upgraded, naturally at huge economic and political cost (read: lots of NIMBY demonstrations).

    Germans are very unrealistic about a lot of things (I'm German, BTW), and I think a lot of people are going to come down with a loud thump in this country when they're finally presented with the inevitable sky-high bills for all this energy utopia.

    Hard figures: I'm reckoning on electricity prices of around 30 Cents/kWh in 5 years or so.

    My 30 cents to the discussion.


  • by rahvin112 ( 446269 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @06:57PM (#37358138)

    Wind gusts do not cause power surges. Modern Turbines and windmills (the ones with the hundred foot long wings) spin at very low RPM. In high winds brakes are applied to keep the speed down because rapid rotation would destroy the windmill.

    I just don't understand why people like you bring up a couple weaknesses of renewable energy then walk away like the only answer is non renewable fossil fuels. The real answer is sustainable energy production that uses multiple renewable sources. Base load from geothermal and nuclear, then you handle summer peak air conditioning load with PV and solar thermal, add in some wind for ~10% of base load, maybe some wave power for a few more percent. Some renewable gas generation from waste digestion (sewage or other organic waste), throw in Hydro where it's available and you have a system that's no entirely dependent on a single source of fuel. Not only that but you don't export several hundred billion dollars a year to hostile countries buying dino by-product to burn.

    Energy generation is a national defense issue. Burning coal has made fish uneatable due to mercury content. Fossil fuels will run out someday and it is in the national interest to move away from non-renewable sources of energy because in the long run they will run out.

  • Re:Be patient (Score:4, Insightful)

    by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @07:00PM (#37358156)
    "Long term" in politics means "after my next term." To a politician, 2022 seems like a million bajillion years. They are in fact thinking "long term." Specifically they're thinking long term in the way they always think: it will be someone else's problem by then.
  • by RudyHartmann ( 1032120 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @07:02PM (#37358166)
    This will mean more and more hydrocarbons will have to be used to sustain the German economy. This is a hysterical political response from form uniformed and misguided environmental do gooders. I made an earlier post in another article about thorium reactors. These have no where the dangerous consequences of uranium/plutonium reactors. Thorium reactors have already been built in the US. But the reason why they never went commercial is because you cannot produce nuclear weapons from them in a practical sense.They better hope that fusion becomes viable soon. But I doubt it. People need to be more educated themselves and stop listening to lying politicians and self serving demagogues of fanciful ideologies.
  • by interkin3tic ( 1469267 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @07:12PM (#37358208)
    Except that it's not a level playing field. Fossil fuels get heavily subsidized. According to this, (which I have not independently verified or checked sources on) solar would be cheaper if that was turned around. [suntimes.com]

    At the very least "less optimal economy" seems like disingenuous or stupid way to judge the cost/benefit to me. The costs of global warming, asthma, coal-related deaths, and smog would massively tilt the scale in favor of green. We've let the economists and corporations convince us that fossil fuels' external costs will never ever ever have to be paid off though, just as we let economists and irresponsible politicians convince us that deficits don't matter.
  • Re:Be patient (Score:4, Insightful)

    by VitaminB52 ( 550802 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @07:22PM (#37358256) Journal

    They are in fact thinking

    Why do you say politicians are thinking, given all the evidence to the contrary?

  • Re:Gah (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MimeticLie ( 1866406 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @08:27PM (#37358768)
    That's why it's happening now, but it couldn't have happened without decades of attacks on nuclear power by some environmentalists.
  • by rhakka ( 224319 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @08:42PM (#37358904)

    are we glossing over that the "fraction of the time of current nuclear waste's lifespan" STILL exceeds the current lifespan of nearly every... modern nation?

    It would be like if the "West Francia" had to bury nuclear waste. What, never heard of them? well gosh. I'm sure that pile of deadly, weapons-grade nuclear waste they left behind is around here *somewhere*.

  • Re:Wrong direction (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Grishnakh ( 216268 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @09:28PM (#37359266)

    So, Japan got hit by an earthquake and the reactor failed, shit happens, without risk there is no gain...

    There's acceptable risks and unacceptable risks. Locating a nuclear plant on a seashore, next to a fault line, is not an acceptable risk, it's downright dumb. We've done the exact same thing here in the USA with a nuclear plant in California that was on the shore and right next to a fault line.

    If you're going to do totally stupid stuff like this, you shouldn't be using nuclear power at all. Leave it to someone smarter, like the French, who apparently don't do these idiotic things and have been running tons of nuclear plants safely for decades.

  • by Rockoon ( 1252108 ) on Friday September 09, 2011 @11:46PM (#37359942)
    Just because Rome has fallen, that doesnt mean that we forget where the Colosseum is.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 10, 2011 @02:04AM (#37360428)

    The world has settled on very very very expensive, highly highly highly radioactive uranium to power nuclear reactors, so that we get neeto byproducts like being able to build nuclear bombs and blow other people to kingdom come! This has left us with a nuclear power grid that is fragile (one worker in Arizona switches off a single piece of equipment and 4 states go dark), dangerous, expensive and unable to scale into the 21st century. World war 2 started --in part-- as a fight over oil, and was ended with --in part-- nuclear weapons. Since that time, nuclear power has been used to power the world. Very expensive uranium. Thorium is wildly cheaper to build a plant for, burns much more completely, can be made intrinsically safe (if there is any kind of failure, reactions automatically stop with no external intervention, produces a million times less waste, and the waste that is produced has very short half lives --one reaction product has a half life of 12 minutes, the other about 90 minutes). We have tried one of the more dangerous types of nuclear power for about 50 years. No one wants to try a safer way.

  • by DrBoumBoum ( 926687 ) on Saturday September 10, 2011 @08:08AM (#37361554) Journal

    I don't see how you could possibly argue that a modern plant design, with safety mechanisms in place that would have withstood the Japan quake and tsunami by passively stopping reactors in the quake -- yeah, they don't melt down because a loss of power causes things to shut down, they actually require power and stability to keep them going instead of needing those to stop -- and reactors that would turn our hundreds-of-centuries-dangerous nuclear waste into hundreds-of-years-dangerous nuclear waste, could possibly be a bad idea.

    The problem is that the reactors you're talking about do not exist yet. Yes they are very neat on paper and everybody would like to have these, however you don't have in your briefcase the plans for a 1GW such reactor that one could start building tomorrow and operating in 3 years. So what you're really advocating is research, arguing that the benefits will be tremendous. Well I'm all for research, but then going this way I can't help thinking that solar power too has a tremendous potential and would benefit a lot from research. Sun is bathing the Earth on average with 5000 times the current total energy consumption of humanity, so if we could tap 0.2% of that input somehow we would kind of have solved the energy problem of humanity once and for all. Isn't this a nice perspective too? Sure there are technical challenges along the way (energy storage, long-distance distribution, smart grid, etc), but not necessarily infinitely more complex or impossible to solve than with nuclear power. So unless somebody comes with an argument convincing me that renewable energy cannot possibly be a solution to our energy needs, I will lean towards them because they have one hell of an advantage: they are intrinsically clean, renewable and safe, contrary to nuclear power which may become almost clean and safe after risk mitigation.

    Which brings me to the other reason why I think nuclear reactors are a bad idea: what is going to happen once I say "ok nuclear is the way of the future, let's build NPP all over the world"? What "they" will build is not the nice and shiny reactors that you're talking about, what they are going to build is the cheapest piece of crap they'll be able to get away with, cutting as many corners as humanely possible, bribing as many politicians as necessary along the way, twisiting as many regulations as the creativity of their lawyers will permit. It's even worth than that: their gauge to decide how much "over-security" they are doing at any particular point in time is wether any serious accident happened lately or not. If not, some pointy-haired boss will show up with a plan to "cut costs" that will basically boil down to grind security measures until the next major accident happens, at which point the cycle restarts, just like it did with Fukushima, Deep Water Horizon, Bophal and countless others. The Mafia will keep on dumping nuclear waste in the ocean [wikipedia.org], in fact they're going to do it more and more, and China will start doing it too, trust me on this, western countries did dump a lot of nasty things in the ocean too in the past. And heck why on Earth wouldn't they do it?

    So this is why I argue that even "a modern plant design, with safety mechanisms [...]" is very probably a bad idea: the scientists and engineers that promote and push for these technologies and would like to see the world covered in NPP are definitely meaning well and understandably frustrated at the current status quo which is the worst possible situation, and I personally trust (most of) them; however the guys who ultimately will be in charge of the completion of the plan I do not trust, I know these guys don't give a single molecule of shit about me, my children or my grand-children, they will do whatever to line their pockets and let us die face in the mud; they

"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." -- Bertrand Russell