One of my sources posted a link to this brief video clip from Russia Today titled Fukushima Legacy: Nuclear phase-out hits Germans with high energy prices regarding Germany’s Energiewende, a well-publicized effort sold to the German public as a replacement of nuclear energy with renewable energy. According to this and many other stories, the reality is that nuclear energy from German plants is being replaced by coal, natural gas and imported energy, often from nuclear plants located in countries that are Germany’s neighbors.
Part of the reason that the transition is not going very well is that the renewable system pushers have exaggerated their overall capacity factors. As the above video declares, the actual output of German wind farms has been roughly half of what the wind system marketers told their customers it would be, averaging about 16% of the nameplate capacity during the past ten years instead of the 30% that was projected in the sales literature.
Admittedly, early nuclear power plants often had the same issue with capacity factors in the range of 45-50% compared to an advertised 75%, but the underlying technology was not the problem. Improving capacity factors was a matter of learning how to better operate the plants and schedule the required maintenance.
In the US, our installed fleet of nuclear plants demonstrated an ability to maintain average fleet capacity factors in excess of 89% for a ten year period. It is not easy to imagine ways to improve the capacity factor of mechanically reliable wind turbines that can only produce as much energy as the weather will allow.
It is entirely possible to operate a modern economy without any nuclear energy. The question worth asking, however, is why would anyone want to do that. Nuclear energy has a demonstrated record of being safe, reliable and economic to operate. Even the dreaded Fukushima nuclear plant accident, where three nuclear reactors experienced fuel melting, has not resulted in a single injury more serious than a mild sunburn.
In contrast, a single natural gas explosion in San Bruno killed eight people in a residential neighborhood in December 2010. Though the “authorities” have not yet conclusively stated the cause, a similar explosion occurred at about 11:00 pm on Saturday, November 10, 2012 in Indianapolis, IN, obliterating 2 homes, catastrophically damaging at least two more, and making another 29 homes temporarily uninhabitable.
Nuclear energy’s primary disadvantage is that the opposition has worked diligently to make it as difficult as possible — you can translate “difficult” into “expensive and time consuming” if you desire — to build new stations. Reluctance to spend the time and money required to build new nuclear power plants under current conditions is almost rational if your horizon is short; a decision to prematurely shut down 17 well-maintained and properly designed facilities is completely irrational.
There is an excellent, relevant post at Yes Vermont Yankee titled Phobias Should Not Determine Policy: Guest Post by Peter Roth.
Irrational fear of nuclear energy is a costly phobia for everyone but the people who are collecting large quantities of money from selling inferior energy products. Here is a thought provoking quote from a June 2012 article in Spiegel Online International titled Germany’s Nuclear Phaseout Brings Unexpected Costs (and undeserved wealth).
New Class of Millionaires
Cash-strapped energy consumers find themselves pitted against profit-hungry entrepreneurs who have been spoiled by subsidies. They are businesspeople such as Frank Asbeck, a photovoltaics manufacturer who has become a multimillionaire — with his own private castle, hunting grounds and a Maserati — thanks to the EEG.
Asbeck received an appointment with Altmaier, the new environment minister, right away last Tuesday, to express his views on the issue. The energy transition will also prove profitable for investors in the project to expand Germany’s power grid. The return on such investments is guaranteed by the government to be around 9 percent, an interest rate of which mere mortals with standard retirement plans can only dream.