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Germany quits nuclear power. Renewables will lead the way
In contrast to British plans to build an expensive nuclear power plant, Germany’s nuclear power phase out is happening thanks to renewables and innovation.
Hinkley Point in western England will be the first nuclear power plant to be built in Europe since the meltdown of Japan’s Fukushima reactor in 2011. Whilst the British government sees nuclear energy as a safe and reliable power source, Germany’s nuclear power phase out is moving energy policy in the opposite direction.
Germany’s nuclear power phase out
After Fukushima, German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged to switch off all nuclear power by 2022 and fill the gap with renewables. The push for green energy has its roots in the anti-nuclear protests of the 1980s and currently 26% of Germany’s electricity comes from wind, solar and other renewable sources such as biomass, although 44% continues to be produced from coal.
The country’s government wants to increase the share of renewables in electricity to 40-45% by 2025, as reported by The Guardian. No other country of Germany’s size has attempted such a radical shift in its power supply in such a short space of time, with an estimated cost of 1 trillion euros over the next two decades. Described by Merkel as a Herculean task, the transition is Germany’s most ambitious economic project since the one that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall – known as die Wende – and for this reason the energy tranformation is known as energiewende.
The energy transition is, however, not uncontroversial, not least due to the rising cost of subsidies paid by ordinary bill payers, which has triggered complaints that poor households are subsidising affluent people to put solar panels on their roofs.
Yet the transition is supported by Germany’s main business lobby, the BDI, despite lingering concerns about what the transition means for the country’s manufacturing base at a time when confidence in the Made in Germany brand has been damaged by the Volkswagen scandal.
One of the principle companies caught in the transition is Trimet Aluminium, one of the nation’s largest energy consumers, utilising 1% of Germany’s electricity every year. The business operates 270 furnaces that run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with peak temperatures of 960°C and an annual electricity bill of 120 million euros.
Along with another 2,000 energy-intensive companies, Trimet is spared the renewable energy levy, a contentious exemption that limits its energy costs at a time when ordinary consumers face rising bills. However, the company isn’t immune to the Chancellor’s shift in energy paradigm: “We see the energiewende as an opportunity, but we basically have to reinvent our processes,” said Trimet’s head of operations Andreas Lützerath. At its plant in Essen, northwestern Germany, Trimet is experimenting with using its molten metal furnaces as a virtual battery. If the project is successful, the factory could store 3,360 megawatt-hours of energy over two days, enough to power 300,000 homes for a day.
Notwithstanding challenges, Germany’s dash for renewables has helped create new industries. About 370,000 Germans work in renewable energy industries, twice the number who work in fossil fuel ones according to the Heinrich Böll Foundation, an environmental thinktank.
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