by Katja Hoyer
Wednesday, 22
September 2021
Dispatch
10:13

In Germany, our energy crisis is far worse than yours

Since the removal of nuclear energy, we don't have many options left
by Katja Hoyer
Anti-nuclear protests in Berlin, 2010. Credit: Getty

As Britons fear (or look forward to) a return to three-day work weeks this winter, Germany too is staring down the barrel of an energy crisis. Neither country seems to have found a solution to supplying millions of their citizens with reliable, affordable and sustainable energy.

Boris Johnson has brushed off looming supply problems and rising prices as a ‘short-term problem’ for the UK. But as wholesale gas prices have soared (there has been a 70% increase since August alone), the industry has warned that many suppliers could go bust even with a record-level energy price cap of £1,227 from next Friday. While companies may be offered state-backed loans to keep them afloat, there are no plans to help families who are struggling to make ends meet, just a promise that ‘‘the market is going to start fixing it’.

But at least Britain has the option to scale up its own production of energy in the long run if it can find the political will to do so. There are 13 nuclear power plants in the UK, which supply around a fifth of the country’s electricity and public opinion is largely favourable. Even a section of hardline climate activists in Britain accept nuclear energy as an important element on the route to meeting zero emissions targets. Zion Lights, a former spokesperson for Extinction Rebellion, last year called on her fellow activists to ‘embrace nuclear power’.

However, environmentalists are not so accepting of nuclear energy in Germany, leaving the country few options to find a way out of its energy crisis. When environmentalism emerged as a political movement in the late 1970s, the frontlines of the Cold War still ran right through the country and its capital city. This made many Germans deeply suspicious of nuclear technology. Both the Soviets and the U.S. had placed nuclear weapons on German soil, which created to a powerful political cocktail of pacificism and anti-nuclear environmentalism.

While this was initially a relatively small-scale movement, the Three-Mile-Island accident, a partial meltdown of a nuclear reactor in Pennsylvania in 1979, and the Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine in 1986, reinforced German suspicions. The Green Party, created in West Germany in 1980 as a fringe party, became a serious political force, drawing votes. Under pressure, chancellor Helmut Kohl began the phasing out of nuclear energy in the early 1990s.

Then in 2011, when the Fukushima accident occurred in Japan, the German government came under renewed pressure through public opinion as well as opposition in the Bundestag to end nuclear power production on German soil for good. 513 out of 600 MPs voted to phase out nuclear power stations by the end of 2022.

One good outcome of this energy transition is that nearly half of Germany’s electricity consumption is now sourced from renewables. The rest is still fossil fuels and nuclear energy (the latter only making up 11.3%). Emissions have also gone down 42% from 1990 levels.

The huge drawback is that Germany is much more vulnerable. Renewables are weather dependent and can often put too little or too much electricity into the system. At half-and-half, this model works fine. There is always backup from coal, gas and nuclear sources when needed, and when there is too much, the surplus is sold at a handsome profit. Only 12 minutes of power outage is experienced by the average German each year, the the lowest rate in Europe.

But Germany will need to expand the proportion of renewables over the halfway line when nuclear stations close next year because it’s lights out in coal plants by 2038. Meanwhile, the construction of new wind turbines has gone into a steep decline as residents oppose the building of unaesthetic wind parks near their homes and wildlife protection often poses powerful obstacles. It’s an issue the Germany’s federal system finds difficult to tackle as each state will protect its own citizens’ interests over the national one.

If coal and nuclear energy are phased out as planned, Germany will rely entirely on unreliable renewables and imports. The latter will not in small part be supplied by Nord Stream 2, the giant pipeline from Russia to Germany, making the country dependent on collaboration with Moscow while alienating its allies in Europe and across the Atlantic.

In Britain, energy prices may rise and the feasibility of renewables might cause headaches, but the deep suspicion of nuclear energy in Germany is creating a longer-term supply crisis with serious geopolitical consequences. That is a question that Merkel’s successor will have to grapple with.

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Ferrusian Gambit
Ferrusian Gambit
10 months ago

The irony that so called ‘Greens’ end up demonising the cleanest source of energy there with their addled hippy brains.

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
10 months ago

Well said. The degree of groupthink over this as over every matter was already a scandal twenty years ago; now, it has ossified into an orthodoxy. Dissent is therefore heresy, to be stifled and punished. Meanwhile, the established view, as always, depends on public ignorance and fear to do its legwork. It’s so easy to chant mantras, you see – “ten years / five years / two seconds to save the planet”; so delectable to feel the frisson of misgiving and so flattering to believe oneself an angel of foresight and self-sacrifice in confronting the “inconvenient truth”. Worst of all is the perversion of “science”, now referred to as “The Science” and quite openly touted as an elite consensus rather than the fluctuating suppositions of a million scrupulous sceptics. The result is that ordinary “concerned” persons think themselves oh-so-rational as they offer the latest alarmist tripe from the Guardian or the BBC; and presume to damn genuinely enquiring minds as “rednecks”, “Trumpists” and so on. The sustained confusion of language is key, as ever, to the left’s stranglehold and its control of the media grants it access to that key. If ever we get a government authentically committed to freedom, discussion, enlightenment and truth – a long shot, these days – its first duty must be to abolish the BBC and all other organs of state led misinformation.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
10 months ago

It’s bizarre that in Germany, nuclear power stations are to be phased out in 2022, but coal not until 2038.
I feel no confidence in UK policies. Governments are terrified of the media, which overwhelmingly takes the view that UK governments, especially Conservative ones, are not concerned about the environment.
For example, it’s surely blindingly obvious that gas will remain important for a long time, and yet attempts to explore or exploit fracking within the UK, which has given significant benefits to the US economy, have been suspended for spurious reasons. In contrast, Germany builds more and more pipelines to convey the same stuff from a country which makes no secret of its desire to do harm to the democracies.
It’s a pity there aren’t more scientists and engineers amongst politicians and civil servants, and with the moral courage to say what they think despite the inevitable hostility. I’d hope that the electorate would distinguish between rational and irrational policies.

John McGibbon
John McGibbon
10 months ago
Reply to  Colin Elliott

If the tertiary qualifications of those at the top of government and the Civil Service are all in subjects such as classics, PPE, etc, then government will be by slogan rather than strategy.
For example, banning the selling of ICE cars by 2030 is simple slogan based approach – Britain commits to green transport to save world- but it is absent of a strategy to deliver. How for example do we have sufficient charging capacity within roughly 8 years, what impact does this have on the grid and energy security, what about all those that live in terraces or flats how do they charge, what happens when there is a congestion on a motorway and cars run out of charge, they can’t simply be towed to the side and fueled with a petrol can, what about the logistics sector, remote communities etc. They teach none of this on a Classics course and PPE courses won’t help either. Although STEM subjects will not tell you the answer straight away, they will allow sensible questions to be asked before the slogan lot blurt out nonsense.

Last edited 10 months ago by John McGibbon
D Glover
D Glover
10 months ago

Three Mile Island and Fukushima killed hardly anyone. The only really significant nuclear accident in terms of casualties was Chernobyl. That was caused by soviet engineering and secrecy.
How ironic, then, that the beneficiary will be Russia. In a cold winter the Germans will rely on their piped gas and do as they are told.

Last edited 10 months ago by D Glover
Simon Denis
Simon Denis
10 months ago

Britain may indeed have the option of scaling up energy production, but the political will to which you so blithely refer is quite absent. In that useless lump which passes for our prime minister, we have the embodiment of defeatist apathy, happier to float on the crest of the woke wave than to advance effective policy. True, his polling remains in shouting distance of Labour – but this just demonstrates the continued decline of a once left-of-centre party. Had it not lurched towards extremism over the last ten years, it would be looking at power in the next parliament. The facts which underlie the reassuring illusions of the polls, then, are that the whole electorate is now mightily annoyed with every party and we are yet again entering a period of turbulence, anger and sour resignation. This can only benefit an insurgent – and since the public has been let down so frequently – over heating, over taxes, over Brexit, over migration – the insurgency may well change the political landscape for good, this time. Let’s hope it is not another form of extremism which leads the charge – for this is always the danger.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
10 months ago

In addition to Nordstream 1 & 2 from Russia (and proposed Baltic pipe via Denmark) , there is Europipe 1 & 2 from Norway, and pipe from the LNG terminal in Rotterdam (and a new LNG terminal proposed near Hamburg) and gas from Austrian gas fields and gas storage wells
Germany still gets some oil and gas from the Mittelplatte/Dieksand complex in the Elbe estuary and onshore fields in Lower Saxony like Völkersen . You are allowed to do development drilling on these brownfield sites but not allowed to explore or develop any new gas fields in Germany.
And here’s the rub: more renewables (and let’s stop the RN waffle: it means hectares and hectares of ugly wind and solar. Geothermal etc is a pitiful percentage by comparison) means more gas will be required, because its dispatchability is essential to plug the gaps caused by the unreliability and intermittency of wind and solar.

Last edited 10 months ago by Brendan O'Leary
T Doyle
T Doyle
10 months ago

The feminisation of the West is at the root of a lot of the problems that will hit us badly.

William Hickey
William Hickey
10 months ago

It’s amusing to read the rational arguments of intelligent people attempting to counter the emotional “truths” of politicized neurotics.

Force, folks, and not reason, is the answer to the conflict — the time-tested answer you’re all desperate to not acknowledge.

Last edited 10 months ago by William Hickey
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
10 months ago
Reply to  William Hickey

Well said! Another armchair warrior! At least I admit I am one!