Germany´s Energy Future – part 2

One year ago Germany decided to quit producing nuclear energy by 2022. Since nuclear power plants are a central pillar the German energy mix, contributing some 22.5% to the entire electricity output in 2010, this means that until 2022 the equivalent of 140.6 TWh (2010) has to be replaced by other sources. This is a minimum estimate ignoring increase in consumption.

Already at this moment Germany begins to face the consequences of last year’s decision. As nuclear plants are successively being phased out, more strain is put on other sources, in particular renewables. In addition, the power grid is experiencing severe tensions as more controllable sources of energy are being replaced by less controllable (and predictable) ones. Especially the latter is a constant, or rather growing source of trouble.

One the one hand, it’s a clear goal of German policy to increase the share of renewables substantially. On the other hand, it seems implausible to be able to replace the entire nuclear bloc by wind and solar capacities only. Thus, it appears inevitable to commission a number of conventional, i.e. thermal power plants which are supposed to act as a backup for the fluctuating input from e.g. wind farms.

In my view, it is pretty obvious that wind will be the main source of renewable energy in the future, considerably outnumbering all other renewable sources taken together.

In 2010 the total capacity of German wind farms amounted to some 27190 MW which produced some 36.5 TWh. Taking into account the average specific output of wind farms as calculated in one of our previous postings we may estimate the extra capacity needed in order to fill the gap. Then we could show that the average output of wind power installations amounts to some 1600 MWh annually per MW of installed capacity.

Having these figures at hand we may easily estimate how much extra wind capacity is needed in order to replace nuclear in its entirety. Thus if wind power is supposed to be the only substitute (which is certainly an oversimplified approach) it would mean that Germany needed almost 88000 MW of additional wind power by 2022, thus an extra three times as much as was installed up till 2010. This in turn would mean that the country needed more than 115000 MW in wind turbines by the time the last nuclear power station is decommissioned.

Between the year 2000 and 2010 an average of 2000 MW was commissioned annually, in total some 20000 MW of wind power. Extrapolating this trend to 2022 implies that some 24000 MW of new capacity could be added to the grid until D-day. However, what is needed is almost four times as much. Thus the annual growth rate should be close to 7800 MW. Even if we assume that wind will only replace half of the nuclear output, a growth rate of about 4000 MW annually would be necessary, i.e. twice as much as has been the case during the boom period 2000-2010.

The figure below shows two different scenarios for Germany´s wind power capacity. The business-as-usual scenario (BAU) is based on the assumption that wind capacity will grow at a rate of 1900 MW per year, which is equivalent to the increase in 2010. The Target scenario on the other hand assumes an annual growth of 7800 MW which would theoretically be sufficient to replace Germany´s entire nuclear production as seen in 2010.

Total installed wind power in Germany.

Given that there is considerable resistance among the population against onshore wind farms, it is indeed hard to see how this can be achieved. In addition, as  subsidies for renewable energies are becoming a serious burden for consumers, they are likely to be reduced in the future. This in turn may jeopardize further investment in wind power, and thus even the more conservative BAU scenario may, in fact, be too optimistic. As a consequence, other energy sources are desperately needed if Germany wants to maintain her standard of living. We will come back on this issue in another posting.

8 comments on “Germany´s Energy Future – part 2

  1. Interesting take on strain on renewables. But I feel alongside this view you should also consider the necessity of change in behevior.
    Till date we measure the use of energy that is locally consumed. For an example, if you are using a computer to post a comment, the energy that is used by this computer is measured by US as energy consumed in the country. But the energy that is required to manufacture the computer, international transport, packaging ( also remind you, all the small small spare parts travelling from one country to the other just before it’s ready for assembly) is not counted as energy consumed in US because all this energy was burnt in many developing countries.

    Now when we talk about CO2 emissions, US will measure the CO2 emissions and its responsibility towards the environment based on energy consumed by the use of computer, not based on the whole chain of manufacturing, etc.

    Developing nations are now held responsible for controlling its CO2 emissions at the cost of its growth, citing reasons that they need to play a responsible role in the world. But developed nations forget that just using renewable energy in their country will not solve the emission problem.
    I have a full blog on this:

    Let me know what you think. Cheers.

    • The question is where you want to count the CO2 emissions incurred – at the place of production or where consumption occurs. Imagine a Chevrolet produced in the USA and sold in China. According to your reasoning the respective carbon footprint is to be allocated to China. Personally, I think that it is better to attribute the greenhouse gas emissions to the place of production, independently of where the final consumption occurs.

      Nevertheless, it would be an interesting exercise to look at the issue from a consumption point-of-view. Certainly, some parameters would shift significantly.

      • Well if we start counting the energy spent on Chevrolet and allocate it to China, then china will need to take more measures to reduce its CO2 emission responsibility. One measure automatically the government would have to take is, to put economic liability on citizens demanding such high energy consuming goods by taxes, etc. People who live in environmentally friendly way, do not have to worry. This would create a mass reduction in imports and also mass reduction is emissions, since demands goes down.

        If we now continue to blame US for producing high energy Chevrolet, the person in China will continue to have its demands and US government cannot tax its own companies for exporting. Hence the problem of emission is not tackled.

      • Indeed, taxing the consumer is one possible way to deal with this matter. Technically speaking, the tax would act like the VAT and may depend on the carbon content (or energy consumption) of the product. Those who like to buy products which are not environmentally friendly will accordingly pay more, while others with a more modest lifestyle are less exposed to the tax. In theory, this sound plausible, however, in practice I am afraid this may turn into a bureaucratic monster.

        Apart from that, are there any estimates about the potential impact of that kind of tax?

      • Well, I am not so convinced about your chain of reasoning. I believe that trade between two peoples is beneficial to both sides, thus leading to a lower price level for goods and services and thus increasing welfare. On the contrary, if free trade is limited or even completely banned, then both parties will see their welfare declining. Take the T-shirt made in China. How many people would be able to afford an identical T-shirt made in the US or Europe at, say, twice the price?

      • Yes, I too agree the chain of reasoning is not so straightforward.

        I do not mean that people should stop buying from developing countries and instead buy from developed countries or locally.

        I meant, people should change habits to make smart choices. There is no need of changing your mobile phone every year just for status symbol. Such people should be taxed heavily. Instead of building drive in ATM’s, the banks could give better interest rates to people to attract them.

        I also believe that humans should not mechanize the farming sector. Earlier US had 70% of its population employed in farming and now only 2-3% as energy consuming machines do most of the work. This excess population is now forced in other sectors which just puts pressure on that sector to grow. Hence the increase in trade of mostly useless stuff.

  2. Just think, in South Carolina , power company Scana and its partners are investing about $11 billion to construct two 1,100 mw nuclear reactors on roughly 1,000 acres. To get the same amount of electricity out of wind (remember that turbines operate at an average of less than 50% capacity because of wind’s intermittancy) and you’d need more than 1,700 turbines stretched across 200,000 acres, for an upfront investment of $8.8 billion. The nukes might cost more upfront, but they last longer, they provide reliable base load power and they emit zero carbon.

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