An article in The Guardian titled UK’s faith in nuclear power threatens renewables, says German energy expert is full of evidence of the alliance between natural gas salesmen and the advocates of unreliable sources of energy like wind and solar in an effort to discourage the use of nuclear energy for economic, market-based reasons.
Jochen Flasbarth, identified as “climate advisor to the German government and Federal Environment Agency president” made the following statement:
We are not missionaries, and every country will have to find its own way in energy policy, but it is obvious that nuclear plants are too inflexible and cannot sufficiently respond to variations in wind or solar generation, only gas [power stations] do.
The notion that power plants relying on uranium fission cannot respond to load changes is absurd. There have been hundreds of responsive ships powered by nuclear reactors in the fifty-plus years since the USS Nautilus reported that it was underway on nuclear power. Designing and building load-following nuclear plants is an engineering choice. Many existing nuclear plants have the technical capability to change loads at least as rapidly as other steam plants, including the steam plants that are a part of high-efficiency gas turbine combined cycle stations.
A more rational thing to say is that nuclear plant operators have no logical reason to reduce their output to allow wind and solar operators to sell more product. Nuclear fuel is cheap, its “all in” cost averages about 50 cents per million BTU (roughly 0.6 cents per kilowatt hour in typical plant with a 33% thermal efficiency). Nuclear plants also do not produce any CO2 during operation. Even in a scheme requiring plant operators to purchase CO2 emissions credits, the marginal cost of operating a nuclear plant is far below the market price for electricity. Nuclear plant operators can make a good profit on every kilowatt hour they sell at market clearing prices.
Of course a large nuclear plant building program will discourage irrational, taxpayer and ratepayer subsidized expenditures in industrial wind and solar energy systems. However, since those systems generally produce less than 20% of their nameplate capacity, they are actually just cover for the coal and gas that has to be burned to supply the demand about 80% of the time.
Here is another piece of evidence for my assertion that Flasbarth is, in effect, a natural gas salesman. In Germany, that is equivalent to being a strong advocate for additional profits for Gazprom, Germany’s largest gas supplier.
Flasbarth also rebutted suggestions that Germany’s nuclear phase-out could increase its greenhouse gas emissions, which it plans to cut 40% by 2020. Stephan Kohler, head of the German Energy Agency, has criticised the phase-out, saying that it contradicts the government’s carbon-cutting efforts as more coal will be burned.
Although eight of Germany’s 17 nuclear reactors have been shut down immediately and the remaining nine are to be taken offline by 2022, Flasbarth said greenhouse gas emissions will fall due to the European-wide emissions trading system. If companies burn more coal they need more emissions certificates – limiting certificates elsewhere. “There would only be a problem if energy suppliers lobby successfully against strict greenhouse gas limits after 2020, or for new subsidies for coal power plants,” Flasbarth added.
Notice that Flasbarth does not express any concern about the additional emissions that will come from burning natural gas instead of fissioning uranium. Every kilowatt hour produced by burning natural gas releases about 620 grams of CO2 while each kilowatt hour from an already constructed fission reactor releases about 10 grams of CO2 – even less than that if the enrichment is done in efficient, nuclear powered centrifuge enrichment facilities.
He expresses no concerns about the increased cost of making steel, paper, beer or chemicals as a result of those industries having to purchase emissions certificates in a purposely constrained market where the power producers have bought most of the available supply.
He does not express any concern for new subsidies for gas plants. That is partially because gas plants do not need subsidies. More than 90% of the cost associated with producing electricity from burning gas comes from buying the fuel. Stated another way – when electricity comes from burning gas, the gas suppliers capture 90% of the revenue.
For a certain segment of the German establishment, the ideal result from shutting down the nuclear plants would be to burn more gas, which Gazprom would be happy to supply. A natural gas supplier could give away the plants required to burn that gas – using the well-established marketing strategy of giving away razors so they can sell more razor blades.
The Russian government is Gazprom’s majority owner. Gerhard Schröder, the former German Chancellor who negotiated the original nuclear plant phase out program, currently works for Gazprom with responsibilities for building a pipeline under the Baltic Sea to directly connect Russia to Germany, providing an alternative delivery path to the pipelines through Ukraine. The Nord Stream, the world’s longest underwater pipeline, officially opened earlier this month.
The Nord Stream is sized to carry 27.5 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas each year. In electrical power plants with an average thermal efficiency of 50% that quantity of gas would produce approximately 150 billion kilowatt hours of electricity. In 2010, German nuclear power plants provided 133 billion kilowatt hours.
Germany is a fully industrialized country that has worked hard on energy efficiency measures in order to constrain increases in annual energy demand. It is intuitively obvious to me that the people who built the the Nord Stream needed to force nuclear plants to shut down to make room in the market for all of the new gas supply that their project would be delivering. Without that action, who would have purchased all of that gas and who would have paid off loans taken to build the pipeline?
The Nord Stream project was started several years ago, at a time when there was a nuclear phaseout plan that was already in effect. The Fukushima event was just an excuse to get back on that planned path. Though it has been attributed to politics driven by popular sentiment, I suspect that some people with money at risk made some phone calls or participated in some closed door meetings with the current German leadership.
If all of the above does not motivate people to dig more deeply into the motives of those who are pushing for the nuclear phase out, here is one more irritating fact about energy politics. European customers pay about four times as much for Russian gas as Russian industrial companies are. The price of gas in Europe is indexed to the price of oil, so it is currently selling for approximately $13.50 per million BTU ($475 per 1000 cubic meters).
According to a recent Bloomberg article, the Russian government has just recently decided to raise the price of gas for its industrial customers to $3 per million BTU ($107 per 1000 cubic meters). Perhaps more German industrial firms should move east and take their jobs and taxes with them.
Maybe that is part of the overall strategy?
CleanTechnica (November 29, 2011 Charis MichelsenGermany vs. the UK on Nuclear Power