Angela Merkel is the Prime Minister of Germany, and also a quantum chemist by trade. One of the tools of the trade in that field is probabilities – for example, what is the probability of going from one quantum state to another (used to design photovoltaics, LED’s, fluorescent lighting and MRI’s, for example). She would be no stranger to statistics – how to use and abuse them. She is also quite aware of many of the details of nuclear energy/nuclear fission, too. And also how CO2 induced global temperature and climate changes happen, as well as what would be the effect of rising ocean levels on the lowland areas of Germany (a lot of prime agricultural area in the northern part of Germany is very close to sea level in altitude).
Until recently, she was a strong proponent of nuclear energy as a way to provide acceptable cost electricity without CO2 pollution. But after she saw the first hydrogen gas explosion at the Fukushima reactor complex, well, that was a “Come to Jesus” moment for her. You can read more about this at http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2011-05-09/germany’s-unlikely-champion-radical-green-energy-path. And the result is that a very conservative leader of Germany will now be leading her country to a renewable energy future in a way that no other major country can match.
Oh well, it also helps to have a Renewable Energy Feed-In Law in place. That is the secret of Germany’s renewable energy success to date, and how it can realistically replace all nuclear sourced electricity (now about 20% of the country’s electricity) in less than 10 years.
And, attention NY State politicians: you could do this, too, but you need a sensible renewable electricity energy pricing system(s), something which does NOT exist in NY at the present time. No Feed-In Law (at best) or Quebec style Power Purchase Agreements with NYPA and LIPA (second best option) means effectively no significant new installations of electricity in NY State – it’s that simple.
Up until the partial core meltdowns (3 reactors, including a reactor vessel melt-through of the 6″ thick pressure vessel for Unit 1) and the problems in four spent fuel rod storage pools, Ms. Merkel had been supporting the nuclear revival in Germany, much to the dismay of environmentalists, renewable energy advocates and the renewable energy industry. To facilitate new nukes, some massive subsidies would be needed for them, and she was prepared to deliver those subsidies. She was also prepared to allow old reactors to get “life extensions”, including ones with the same design as the Fukushima ones (GE boiling water reactors (BWR’s) made in the 1970’s). After all, no CO2 is produced in the nuclear fission reaction, and total CO2 emissions via nukes are around 60gm CO2/kw-hr of electricity, about 15 times less than for coal and about 8 times less than for natural gas (which almost always has to be imported, too, requiring exports of money). Global Climate Change will not be kind to Germany, as significant parts (especially northern parts) will be flooded out with the Greenland icesheets as well as glaciers on the Alps melt/decompose.
The quoted odds of a partial core meltdown were listed as something like less than one chance in 100,000 reactor-years for BWR’s. With approximately 438 reactors operating worldwide, that would be one “oops” per 228 years, assuming the current number are kept constant, and supposedly newer ones are even less prone to an “oops” than the older ones. The Soviet accident at Chernobyl was explained away as sloppy operations/primitive Soviet design, and unlikely to occur in the west (Three Mile Island was cited as an example of a success in the face of an “oops”, since only the reactor was damaged, and not too much radioactive material escaped (at least compared to Chernobyl, anyway) – officially, that is).
But then came not one but THREE reactor core meltdowns, and THREE massive hydrogen (which was made by reaction of the red hot zirconium clad fuel rods with steam) gas explosions in Units 1, 2 and 3. Well, it was pretty obvious that once in 100,000 or one in a million reactor-years statistic was just a lie, or to put it kindly,”an overestimation of safety and security”. In fact, that statistic implies a Gaussian (bell curve) probability/predictability of a partial core meltdown, but this is just completely inappropriate, as continuous probability distributions are inapplicable in this case. These are nuke disasters are “Black Swan events” (see http://www.fooledbyrandomness.com/TAS.pdf), unpredictable, but even worse, known to occur far more frequently than is deemed socially acceptable in Germany. Japan is a technologically advanced country, and if it could happen there, it can happen anywhere, including Germany.
Maybe this decision is all political; if you support nukes in Germany these days, you will be kicked out of office, as there is no significant public support for nukes. And in spite of all the money than many German companies want to make on designing, constructing and making parts for them, that is now irrelevant. And we are talking big money with regards to making and operating new nukes, lots of jobs (about 100,000 job-years per 1 GW reactor in direct jobs) in a country hurting for jobs and lots of bank financing fees for each nuke, plus all that avoided natural gas and coal purchase from abroad which the German government also considers as important.
So, the three least safe (oldest) BWR units were shut, and will never be restarted. Four more were stopped and are now being thoroughly inspected and also may never start up again. Now plans to install new reactors are scrapped, and all reactors in Germany will be shut down as of 2021. Germany was getting 20% of its electricity from nukes, and this electricity is to be replaced by…. renewable energy. How’s that for a bold promise?
And by U.S. standards, the renewable energy potential of Germany, aside form the North Sea, is pathetic. Wimpy solar potential, and mostly very sub-standard wind resources, a location averaging at the 45 to 50 degree latitude, not much of a growing season and densely populated, too. Any renewable energy they make would most likely be more expensive than that which could be made in the U.S. But no matter, this is the path they are on. And they have a “secret” asset (at least to almost all U.S. politicians, who seem pretty brain dead when it comes to renewable energy pricing systems and what makes renewable energy implementation possible) which will more than overcome the U.S. wind, solar and biomass potential – they have sensible renewable energy pricing.
So, they will use ingenuity to enhance the efficiency of wind turbines -0 things like taller towers (120 and 135 meters versus the 80 meter “standard” in the U.S.), more aerodynamically efficient blades (Enercon and their patented “winglets” on its blades), gearless technology, and high volume, high quality manufacturing. And they will proceed to populate the North Sea with 5 MW and larger wind turbines, in conjunction with Danish, Spanish and French companies/countries. Biomass and biogas is playing an increasing role in co-generation/electricity production, as little is going to be allowed to go to waste. Their solar photovoltaic industry has been a windfall and wonderful event for their chemical industry (that’s how PV materials get made), and Germany has a major PV industry. And with their Feed-In Tariff (FIT) system, hundreds of thousands of people can now be investors and electricity producers, and this is becoming ever more popular.
The FIT system allows investors a very decent chance of making a reasonable return on an investment in a renewable energy system, because the prices German utilities are required to buy this electricity are set on a cost plus reasonable (and none too high, either) basis. But, bankers love it, because they can loan out money and lots of it with a tremendously high possibility of getting repaid. For example, a $4 million dollar wind turbine only requires a 5% ($200,000) down payment; in the U.S., a 60% equity share ($2.4 million) would be required for the same unit. The huge volume of renewable electricity has actually forced the price of polluting (nukes, coal, natural gas) down via the Merit Order Effect, making these systems less profitable (their prices are set on the marginal price system used in NY State, though during windy times, polluters actually have to PAY people to take their electricity (it gets put into pumped hydro storage, for example).
No one claims that Germany has the cheapest electricity in the world, or even in Europe, but as a result, people get really efficient with it. And it turns out for most forms of renewable (wind, biogas, biomass, offshore wind), people and companies CAN afford it. Besides, the so far 300,000 jobs and billions in wealth created by the FIT system is considered a fair trade. As for PV, this is now a major export business, too, and a major source of employment. After all, what’s the use of having cheap electricity if you can’t have a job to pay for this cheap (but, no money, no honey) stuff? And what happens when the natural gas or coal runs out? See
http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2011-05-13/peak-coal-year for the coal aspect, and just ONE of the downsides of not going the renewable route. And if you have delusions of endless natural gas supplies, you need to read this: http://www.energybulletin.net/stories/2011-05-12/will-natural-gas-fuel-america-21st-century-new-report.
As for jobs, renewable energy can be a prodigious job creator, especially via a FIT system. The reason the FIT system was evolved was mostly as a JOB CREATION system for high quality manufacturing; the pollution free electricity was just the frosting on the cake, so to speak, though that situation is changing to one where the energy will now power up larger and larger amounts of the country. And once these get paid off, the price for this electricity will drop like a rock.
As an example of what can be done with sensible renewable electricity pricing, consider the Bard Gruppe, which did not exist to any extent 5 years ago – see http://www.bard-offshore.de/. Their first wind turbine model was a 5 MW (new ones are 6.25 MW) one designed for offshore only, in conjunction with their distinctive “tripile” foundation. Aside from a couple of pilot projects in some harbors, their first project is a 400 MW wind farm located in 40 meters of water almost 60 miles offshore next to the Dutch border. By now, it’s over 25% complete (55 MMW now feeding into the grid, completion expected this year). The total project will cost about $1.8 billion, and then two more just like this are in the works. That is what is possible with a FIT arrangement. Meanwhile, the Cape Wind project struggles on, with financing now their major challenge, though we wish them well. But there are so many extra hoops the Cape Wind developers have to go through versus what Bard 1 had to do despite the much greater technical and construction challenge of deep water far offshore versus the shallow water close to shore project in Massachusetts.
We in America have hobbled ourselves severely, and in effect, given away the store with our crazy gambling based, tax-credit (= subsidies via avoided taxes on the super-rich investors for a project) electricity pricing system. We revel in cheap electricity with respect to the generation price, yet pay absurd costs to monopolies to distribute it; in NY, transmission, distribution and connection is more than twice as much as is the price generated electricity. Pension funds don’t invest in U.S. wind offshore farms not because they don’t want to but because their is not financial stability for the offshore business (or onshore, for that matter, in the U.S.), but in Europe, they sure do. We can’t even put our savings to work, but are instead rewarded by gambling on commodity prices (like oil), which just raises the price of oil higher than it should be. Cute…
So, if you want to make a hundred thousand of so jobs in NY in a value added, create real wealth mode that also makes the world a better place, the best place to start is not subsidizing “public private partnerships” in industries like “pharma” that are a decade past their prime. It’s as simple as getting a sensible renewable electricity pricing system, and then letting the people of NY get to work. Or is that too much to ask? Must we instead only allow subsidized industries and Wall Street Gambling to rule, to the detriment of the vast majority of our state’s people?
Oh well, maybe I don’t really want to know the answer to that one…. as there is not enough beer in the state to drown out the wrong answer for most but the right answer for some extremely rich, extremely predatory few. And their friends in the nuke industry, too….