Friday, June 1, 2012

Konstantin Jacoby: Is The “Energy Turnaround” That Green as Promised?

The Fukushima nuclear accident, which occurred with the earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan, caused a lot of changes in perceiving risks and in reconsidering safety issues – which basically is a positive conclusion. On the other hand, a policy- and media-driven wave of fear overran public opinion making and influenced decision making – a fear spiral was started, a polarization between renewables and nuclear energy appears deepened and is marketed intensively, suggesting already a “banning” of rational German thought on nuclear energy  application.

However the issues of global warming, growing demand for energy along with actually available energy resources and fuel supplies and with the still dominating CO2-prone fossil ones, are the same today as they were on March 10, 2011 (L. Stricker, WANO, March 2012). This includes that renewable energy technologies gained considerable progress during the last decade, including the start of the integration of information networking technologies with energy transmission and distribution.

Nonetheless, the so-called “energy turnaround” (German: “Energiewende”) is pushed through Europe with a strong German political ambition as a conclusion from the nuclear accident – causing serious impact in one strike to electricity generation capacities, availability of adequate electricity transmission and trade means, and respective development demands. A “renewable energy” hype spreads; nuclear stop gets an ambitious political export article of Germany to enforce major changes to energy industries and utilities, to domestic ones and to those of the neighboring countries in the EU. The cost of realization for the “energy turnaround” appears to be very high or even unpredictable. Its technical and financial implementation remains an imperative yet, where the suggested solutions appear vague and questionable, whilst interests and possibilities of neighboring states appear neglected.

Isn’t it time to reach an ordered and rational thought and decision process? Other problem areas are around, too:

The earthquake-like crash of finance banking in the U.S. in 2008 caused another tsunami, a financial-economic one of historical dimension, the peak hit of which struck the world’s economy and the Euro zone in 2011 – ways out being still on trial.

Since a few years Europe got a union of 27 states, the new members are working hard to consolidate their economies and to modernize and integrate their infrastructures and industries in a European context.

Electricity connections and energy corridors of and through Slovakia, the V4 countries, the Central / South-Eastern European region and beyond need a comprehensive and rational approach – they play a central role in the highly networked energy community of Europe and its Eastern neighborhood.

Again, it appears reasonable and consequent to have sharpened awareness towards safety issues of nuclear energy. What about applying higher awareness towards safety issues in other areas, here in particular in those, strongly affected by energy strategy? This concerns the enormous impact of energy security to the stability and improvement of a country’s economy and social security, whilst observing proper and sustainable use of natural resources of all kinds and its impact to the environment, including comprehensive approach to treatment and management of emissions and waste of all kinds.

Security of energy supply to end-users (electricity, heat) and related services requires providing sufficient capability for diversity and development in generation, transmission and trade. This is a prerequisite to maintain and improve living standards, industrial productivity and industrial localization, as well as political independence and individual freedom. Aren’t there user-oriented, intelligent and integrated services required to open opportunities and provide solutions, rather than stressing polarization and conflict?

The first conclusions from the so-called stress tests result in safety requirements which got design criteria already more than ten years ago for the Generation III reactors of the KONVOI-type (units Emsland NPP, Neckar-Westheim NPP-2, NPP Isar-2) and for the reactor EPRTM. Further, more than 95% of the material of spent fuel elements is reusable.

Looking at studies and analyses for and about the energy turnaround, using the data provided by the German Umweltbundesamt (Federal Environmental Agency), Bundesverband der Energie und Wasserwirtschaft, (BDEW, Federal Association of Energy and Water), Bundesnetzagentur (Federal Transmission Grid Agency) etc., than the perspective of a successful and in-time realization of the turnaround plan appears questionable (s. Table 1, Jacoby, ENKO-2012, Bratislava, [1]). In particular, the weakest areas of the plan bear a high impact already now to energy security: electricity from offshore wind parks in the North of Germany, combined with the shutdown of 8 of 17 nuclear power units in Germany, caused already serious problems to the Eastern neighbours Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Table 1

The transmission grid capacity is inadequate to handle the present North to South transmission demand as well as for large scale transport of RES generated electricity as it is foreseen for the future. And the slow speed of its extension, which may be expected to continue for technical and commercial reasons, deepens the impression that the backbone of electricity supply continues for years to constitute a thread to Central / South Eastern Electricity Connections of Europe. The growing divergence between trade flows of electricity and physical layout of grids in this region of connections drove the situation already twice within a few months close to “electricity blackout” in Czech Republic and Slovakia - a thread which is continuing.

Comparing the two energy scenarios of Germany – nuclear exit (August 2011) and lifetime extension for nuclear power plants (August 2010) – and their underlying framework data for planning the electricity supply (CIEP, [2], [3]) the following four demanding characteristics can be observed as a result of the decision for nuclear exit:

  • Natural gas and coal, as well as oil, will fill most of the gap left by the nuclear exit,
  • and net electricity import shall increases significantly beyond 2021
  • supply by wind energy (onshore and offshore) shall double
  • and the consumption of primary energy shall decrease.

These observations suggest that unrealistic promises of establishing sufficient RES-based replacement capacities for the nuclear exit in Germany will very likely end up in increased use of gas and coal capacities for electricity generation and in electricity import, due to an artificially created shortage of electricity generation capacity. Meeting CO2 emission targets appears questionable under this forecast for the 2020-ies, in particular when the origin of the increased primary energy resource “biomass” comes into the play. The disastrous and unaccepted introduction of E10-gasoline in Germany in 2009/2010 gives us a pre-impression of the upcoming scenario. The real confrontation in the energy market appears between enlarged carbon based primary energy sources and introducing sustainable RES-based electricity and heat generation.

Hence, it may be anticipated that the economic foundations of the “energy turnaround” play a more important role for the export oriented economy of Germany than the arguments used for marketing the energy turnaround as a must to achieve a safe (anti-nuclear) and environment protecting energy mix. The idea of a redirecting of the financial flows within the country and the export of technology towards emerging RES markets and the gas market for the respective domestic industries may serve as an explanation. The huge discrepancy of cost estimates of a few 100 bln. Euro to 1.700 bln. Euro for the energy turnaround is alarming, one made by a utility the other by a technology vendor [4] [5].

However, the neighbors Czech Rep., Slovakia and Poland think different and rely on a different energy infrastructure, explicitly including nuclear. Russia finances to a good extend of its nuclear energy program, the domestic one and the export oriented one, by the profits of Gazprom, and Germany actually reduces its capabilities in energy development.

Nuclear energy as a stabilizing factor in the energy mix is a need for Europe and the V4 countries do right to count on it at highest safety requirements without neglecting the transition to a significant increase of RES - based electricity generation, but reducing fossil energy resources.

Konstantin E. Jacoby
(author acts as energy technical-institutional consultant)

[1]     Konstantin Jacoby, Question to Energy Turnaround:  “Is it really that green as promised?”, panel discussion, 24.04.2012, 9th Slovak Annual Congress on Power and Energy EN•KO 2012,
[2]     Rick Bosman, Germany’s “Energiewende”, CIEP Briefing Paper, Clingendael International Energy Programme, 16.02.2012
[3]     Rick Bosman, How Germany's powerful renewables advocacy coalition is transforming the German (and European) energy market, European Energy Review, 27.02.2012,
[4]     Reuters, Siemens puts cost of nuclear exit at 1.7 trillion euros, 17.01.2012

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