Jim Conca recently published a blog on Forbes titled European Economic Stability Threatened By Renewable Energy Subsidies. One of the earliest comments in the growing thread on that blog provided an interesting point of view about Germany’s decision to abandon nuclear energy in favor of unreliable power sources backed up by flexible lignite, coal and natural gas plants. Here is the quoted comment:
You can be assured Germans consulted extensively (government works hand and hand with industry) to calculate costs and risks of shutting down nuclear. The difficulties in absorbing renewables was part of the consultations. Nuclear was not a growth industry for Germans; renewables is. Adjustment will not take long. In 3-5 years this problesm will be distant memories with Germans exporting and utilizing German technology. Worry more about the car industry.
That comment gave me the opportunity to share my own theory about the way that the consultations behind Energiewende might have progressed. My summary be an over simplification, but I think it may be close to the fundamental truth about how the seemingly irrational decisions were made. If you take issue with my use of the word “irrational”, please help me to find another word that describes a decision to close ultra low emission nuclear, build massive quantities of unreliables, and keep burning fossil fuels when the publicized energy supply system goal was supposedly to slow and eventually halt CO2 emissions.
I have no doubt that you are correct and that German industry consulted extensively with the government to calculate the costs and risks of shutting down nuclear. The people at the negotiating table evidently determined that there were more profitable avenues of growth — for them — than nuclear energy. They also calculated that the costs and risks of shutting down the industry were acceptable — for them.
As is often the case in those kinds of discussions, the customers were not invited to the table. Neither were future generations.
Representatives of the coal and natural gas industries were there in force, in the form of people like Gerhard Schroeder. They helped others to remember how much more immediately profitable it is to sell electricity and heat when the market perceives that the supply is limited.
They pointed to their international challenges in selling new nuclear plants and their limited room for growth in Germany. They probably pointed out that the Nuclear Suppliers Group had struggled in its attempts to limit the availability of uranium and were starting to lose the battle to limit people’s understanding that thorium was even more abundant than uranium.
Since there is no real way to establish a supply-controlling cartel for widely distributed, abundant actinide fuel sources, the industry/government coalition determined that they might achieve the desired market supply control by working to push nuclear fission itself out of the market. Those pesky nuclear plants are too reliable, only need new fuel every 12-24 months and last too long to be substantial money makers for the fuel or equipment suppliers.
Low density, inherently unreliable energy sources like wind and solar — energy sources that some people call “renewables” — in contrast, require a LOT of equipment and parts replacement requirements. They provide a vast array of construction opportunities, need skillful engineers and craftsmen, and still provide plenty of room for coal and natural gas to fill in the gaps.
As hydrocarbon fuels are gradually used up and as more restrictions are placed on their inevitable environmental discharges, there is even more room for scarcity-driven profits. Heck, if people get REALLY serious about CO2, just think about the engineering requirements, the construction opportunities, the additional material requirements and the additional fossil fuel consumption per unit of produced power when you start trying to capture and sequester CO2!
As you point out, the Energiewende is all about producing economic growth and rewards for all of the people invited to the table for the strategy sessions. The problem is that the invitation list was restricted and most of us were left off of the list.
Publisher, Atomic Insights
My comment on Forbes was getting too long, so I cut it off there, but I probably could have added that the people at the table might have also pointed out to each other that if the implications of their plan in terms of energy prices and grid stability became too painful at some time in the future, they could always “volunteer” to solve the problems by building a lot of new nuclear power plants. Planned — or forced — obsolescence is a time-honored way for profit-focused businesses to attempt to stimulate growth in manufacturing or construction.