by Katja Hoyer
Tuesday, 21
June 2022
Explainer
13:30

Germany’s Greens embrace coal

But nuclear energy remains verboten
by Katja Hoyer
Green Party leaders Annalena Baerbock (L) and Robert Habeck (R). Credit: Getty

That German politicians spoke of ‘blackmail’, ‘neo-imperialism’ and even a ‘declaration of economic war’ when confronted with Germany’s energy dependency on Russia may hardly seem surprising. But those words weren’t uttered recently, nor were they about the Russian president. They were said two years ago and directed at the Americans — for trying to shake Germany over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

The war in Ukraine has finally opened Germany’s eyes to the fact that it Putin who is engaging in blackmail. Last week, Gazprom announced that it would cut gas flows to Germany by reducing supply to 40% of the regular amount. In response, Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck said that the country would turn to coal.

It can’t have been easy for Habeck, a Green politician, to make the decision to safeguard German energy supplies by replacing the missing Russian gas with domestic coal. But that is exactly what Habeck plans to do. Gas, which is used to produce both heat and electricity is to be saved (storage is only at 57% capacity at the moment), while more coal will be used temporarily (until 2024) to make electricity.

Habeck looked more than a little dejected when he announced the measures on Sunday. “This is bitter, but the situation just makes it necessary,” he said, adding that it would lead to “slightly higher” emissions. Bear in mind that Habeck is part of a coalition that had planned to increase renewables to 80% of electricity production by 2030 while phasing out nuclear energy by the end of 2022 and coal by 2030.

Still, his pragmatism is admirable. Recognising that Germany would make itself vulnerable to “political blackmail” if it allowed its gas supplies to run low, he found it in himself to abandon the ideological dogma of his party. Germany on the whole is finally waking up to the unpalatable reality that a diverse range of fossil fuels are still needed while we find ways to build up reliable renewables.

The Liberal Party, also part of the governing coalition, has even begun to push a debate around fracking which has been banned in Germany since 2017. Their leader, Christian Lindner, has also argued that North Sea oil and gas should be looked at again as Germany currently only produces 5% of its gas demand itself.

It seems every available domestic energy resource is back on the table. With one exception: Germany’s nuclear industry. The country only has three reactors left but many have argued that switching them off could at least be postponed to help with the crisis. A new survey showed that only 35% of people did not think a return to nuclear energy for electricity production would be helpful.

Yet both Scholz and Habeck remain adamant that Germany’s last reactors must be switched off in six months. It seems the chancellor cannot even bring himself to discuss the issue on an argumentative footing. Instead, his contribution is that the exit had long been decided and the necessary fuel elements could not be procured anyway.

The Bavarian Minister President Markus Söder called this “nonsense”, pointing out that this is an “ideological debate” and amounts to “pure stubbornness at the expense of a lot of people”.

Germany needs to have a full rethink of its energy and security policies now that it is beginning to see the link between the two. Habeck was right to turn to coal as an emergency measure, but the country will need sustainable transition fuels in every sense of the word.

Although he is right in that coal is not a long-term solution, a diversification of the entire energy sector is. The government needs to get off its high horse, admit that mistakes were made in the past and discuss the way forward without ideological blinkers.

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Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
3 months ago

It is pretty amusing to see progressive ideology run into the laws of physics. Reality is that which remains even when you wish it not to be so. What makes this even more bizarre is the fact that greens should embrace nuclear power as our salvation from ‘the climate catastrophe.’ The fact that they don’t shows you that they don’t really believe their own rhetoric. If they truly believed global warming was an existential threat they would adopt any technology that produces CO2 free energy. Instead they burn coal and take private jets to conferences. What corrupt priests they are.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

Quite right. The reluctance to embrace nuclear energy highlights the fact that much green and climate change rhetoric is merely ideological. We have experienced nuclear accidents and survived them with minimal loss of life compared to the global catastrophe we are warned of through the climate catastrophe. The choice is clear if you actually believe the climate rhetoric. As usual we have unserious wordsmiths in charge. Snake oil salesmen.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

On another article here I used an old quote from Philip d**k: “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, does not go away.” It could equally apply here.

Insisting that the German power grid will be supplied by solar and windmills does not actually change reality, which is that wind and sun are quite intermittent.

However, since Europe appears to still be embracing a green (mostly solar) energy production strategy long term, it wouldn’t surprise me if China and Russia and Iran were all investigating cloud seeding strategies. If your adversary is fool enough to rely on the sun to power his industries, having the ability to turn off the sun would be quite useful. What is the green equivalent of a “strategic petroleum reserve”?

Saul D
Saul D
3 months ago

So frustrating. We need cheap, abundant electricity and lots more of it to transform heating and transport and cope with economic growth. Instead, we’ve wasted 25 years chasing renewables to get to only get to about 20-25% of carbon-free electricity.
Meanwhile France had already demonstrated that a country could switch to nuclear and go carbon free in about 15-20 years if the state made it a priority. So much wasted time. Think about it. Climate change would be solved by now.
And now the German’s abandoning perfectly good nuclear power stations, even in the middle of an energy crisis, is a nonsense that can only be explained if environmentalism isn’t actually about climate change, but just more uninformed wishful thinking.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
3 months ago
Reply to  Saul D

Could we buy the nuclear power stations Germany is closing and transfer them to the UK and reopen them? We might recover some of the lost time.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
3 months ago
Reply to  Saul D

climate change?

Raymond Inauen
Raymond Inauen
3 months ago

People or ideologies will do anything to survive! The Greens will embrace nuclear too when winter comes around and their voters start to complain their homes are to chilly for them. More than a few generations of bad mouthing nuclear is not going to be easy to undo.

Philip Stott
Philip Stott
3 months ago

If only, in the UK, our prime minister would have a similar Damascene conversion with regard to net zero, which we simply cannot afford in the current economic and geopolitical environment.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
3 months ago
Reply to  Philip Stott

It’s not the PM that needs the conversion – it’s his own personal snake-oil saleswoman!

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
3 months ago

I am absolutely amazed and depressed in equal measure, that so many people actually believe the patently implausible and so obviously flawed politically driven and artificial neo religious mantra of the ” Global warming/climate change/zero carbon” zombiezealots: far worse that politicians bow to them, without there being any open forum and channels to counter this movement?

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
3 months ago

Habeck has been a very positive surprise in this coalition. The pragmatism he has shown thus far has been admirable and he is doing a good job with the communications too, telling Germans to find ways to save energy. Compare that to the Austrian Minister for Energy, Leonore Gewessler and you can see Germany has the better deal. She’s doing her very best impression of a rabbit in the headlights while gas supply to Austria falls and falls. The current uncertainty does require politicians to be upfront – even if that is to deliver an unpleasant truth.

burke schmollinger
burke schmollinger
3 months ago

We, in the West, should not be closing a single additional coal or nuclear plant.

Every coal plant that is ‘uneconomical’ due to regulation and cheap gas should be kept in working order with nitrogen on the drums and 6 months worth of coal at the site. A fleet that is able to answer the call as needed in emergencies.

Mary Bruels
Mary Bruels
3 months ago

In 2021 Germany imported 64% of its energy needs. it seems as if the government was mesmerized by the shiny bauble called “clean energy” and completely ignored the reality of physics and potential/probable geopolitical issues. Did it really believe Putin is a paper tiger?

John Riordan
John Riordan
3 months ago

Germany needs to have a full rethink of its energy and security policies now that it is beginning to see the link between the two.”

How can it be possible that Germany’s political class as a whole couldn’t see this simple thing all along. Everyone else can – well, everyone else outside the global political class generally. This seems to be another one of those things that everyone except the people in charge can see is blindingly obvious.

I almost hope that the Germans actually carry out this insane, demented ambition to shut down nuclear power in six months. It might finally wake up all voters in the West to the fact that with a few honourable exceptions, we are all governed by ideologically-driven lunatics.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
3 months ago

I like Germany, but how it is that we get so many fawning accounts of its brilliant political system when this sort of insanity prevails beggars belief. And actually, it seems that quite a few individual Germans do want to put on their blinkers and live in a geopolitical and environmental fantasy land. One such recently told me, arguing against arming Ukraine, that Russia was not a threat ‘because its arms do not work’. An intelligent guy. Seriously?! It is just any convenient argument to seize onto to allow Germany to justify its retreat to its mercantilist comfort zone. Allied to a snobbish and disdainful anti-Americanism, of course, while expecting the US taxpayer to defend them. Plus oodles of hypocrisy – the VW emissions fraud for example.
One recent narrative we’ve heard is that the German Greens are now a ‘mature’ party – it seems that even when it comes to their pet issue, climate change, not quite so mature after all!

Last edited 3 months ago by Andrew Fisher
Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
3 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

The Germans are the most dangerous people in Europe right now. Totally unreliable just to keep warm for the coming winter……and many others to come because to think you can power the country with solar and wind energy alone, you must be high on poppies.
Cars running on petrol are to be forbidden in 2035, electrical cars taking over. Merkel government weighted heavily on this decision…….and I say decision because no one in Europe had a say about this, thanks to the jupeterian wisdom of Brussel. I say…..you do.
It is going to be great seeing electrical cars in Germany running on coal produced electricity. Sure thing the environment is going to be the winner on this one.
What now ?? Volkswagen is not so hot on the idea…….anymore…….and would like to see the decision moved to 2040. Christian Lindner ( Finance Minister ) is in favour, german greenies are not …….just fire up another coal power plant and that’ll do the trick ! No one will ever see…….or maybe not.
France ? Yes, sure, 80 % of its electricity is produced with nuclear energy…….problem is…..half of the units are stopped right now, either for maintenance or technical problems. One EDF engineer I talked to the other day was telling me how french know how in the field ( once top notch) was evaporating. The country used to export electricity…..by the way, nuclear……to Germany…..no problem for the there for the Germans who forced us to stop Fessenheim. We will most likely have to restart it for the above reasons. The French also want to be warm next winter. France built crap buildings for decades bleeding heat like crazy, relying on the very cheap regulated price of electricity.
I love it when German hypocrisy is labelled as pragmatism…….hilarious.

Tim Lever
Tim Lever
3 months ago

Strange blackmail from Russia – offering to sell cheap gas! I thought Gazprom was cutting supply because sanctions prevented it from operating the Nordstream 1 pipeline at full capacity. Maybe Germany is blackmailing itself?

Bruno Lucy
Bruno Lucy
3 months ago

…..And what I love best is when you look at the ZDF Mediathek page ( Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen ……second Channel ) , the invitation to watch a a documentary…..title ….Polen, Krank Macher Kohle.
This one is really for the books….translation, Poland, the coal the sick maker !!!
This is what I would describe as the text book definition of passing on the hot potato.

Last edited 3 months ago by Bruno Lucy