Nuclear exit to unleash wind power in Northern Germany

Turning off the last nuclear plant in the German state of Schlesweig-Holstein would boost wind energy according to the Greens' environment minister Jan Philipp Albrecht. [EPA/CARSTEN KOALL]

The shutdown of the last nuclear power plant in Schleswig-Holstein will unclog the electricity grid and unleash wind power in the northern German state, according to its environment minister Jan Philipp Albrecht, reports Clean Energy Wire.

“Nuclear power is clogging our grids, especially in the direction of the south,” Albrecht told press agency dpa.

Due to grid bottlenecks, offshore wind turbines indeed have to be switched off in some cases. 

“The importance of nuclear power as a whole is therefore overestimated,” Albrecht added.

After the shutdown of the nuclear plant at the end of this year, the north of Germany could cover 160% of its electricity needs with renewable energy and there will be more wind power exports to the south, Albrecht said. 

Fears of power blackouts due to the nuclear phaseout are unfounded, he said. “After all, we will continue to massively expand renewable energies in Germany now. In the future, we will not be dependent on nuclear power being generated in France.”

His anti-nuclear party, the Greens, have recently entered federal government in Germany, with Super-Minister Robert Habeck in charge of boosting the expansion of renewable energies up to 80% of the country’s power supply.

New German coalition aims for 80% renewable power by 2030, more gas as back-up

The new German coalition on Wednesday (24 November) announced big plans to accelerate the energy transition, aiming to “ideally” exit coal by 2030, quadruple solar PV installations on all rooftops and push renewable energy capacity to 80% of the country’s electricity mix by 2030.

Germany is set to turn off the nuclear reactors Grohnde, Gundremmingen C and Brokdorf by the end of December.

Shutting down the remaining three nuclear reactors in 2022 will then conclude a decades-long struggle by the anti-nuclear movement that gave rise to the Green Party and other environmental groups in the 1980s. 

The move has raised concerns among analysts about the security of energy supply in the midst of an energy price crisis in Europe.

“I’m looking for a flashing orange traffic light emoji when the German government will have to face blackouts later this winter,” tweeted energy analyst Thierry Bros, in reference to the “traffic light” coalition comprising the social democrat SPD, the Greens and the business-friendly liberal FDP.

But researchers are confident that the shutdown of Germany’s last nuclear power plants will not cause supply shortages, according to calculations by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin).

In order to keep grid operation stable, congestion management will need to be adjusted. But “the lights will not go out in Germany,” study author Claudia Kemfert said in statement. 

“On the contrary: the [nuclear] shutdown paves the way for the overdue expansion of renewable energies. Nuclear energy was uneconomical from the start and characterised by incalculable risks,” she added.

Although the authors of the study did admit that phasing out nuclear power would temporarily lead to an increase of German greenhouse gas emissions, as polluting power plants running on fossil gas and coal would temporarily replace nuclear reactors before being shut down.

The increase would then be quickly reduced by the accelerated expansion of renewable energies, they added.

German nuclear power shutdown will not lead to power shortage: report

The shutdown of Germany’s last nuclear power plants will not cause supply shortages, according to calculations by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin), CLEW reported. 

In a recent survey, a slight majority of Germans said the country should not rule out using nuclear energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Additionally, the recent hike in electricity prices has increased support for keeping nuclear reactors on the grid.

“Nearly one in three (31%) would stick with nuclear power for cheaper electricity,” found a study by a price comparison service, after conducting a representative survey.

However, nuclear reactor operators and policymakers have repeatedly made clear in recent months that the country does not plan a return to nuclear power or even delay the phase-out.

“Launching a debate on whether nuclear power plants make an important contribution to climate protection shortly before they are shut down in Germany is disconcerting,” Leonhard Birnbaum, CEO of utility company E.ON, told Handelsblatt.

Intellectuals urge Germany to keep nuclear plants online

“Dear Germany, please keep your nuclear reactors online,” 25 leading foreign and domestic writers, journalists, and intellectuals wrote in a joint letter, warning that dropping nuclear power would only increase Germany’s carbon emissions.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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