• Wednesday, June 12, 2024
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Germany shuts three nuclear plants as focus shifts to renewable energy

Epileptic power: Experts make case for nuclear energy development

Germany has pulled the plug on three of its last six nuclear power stations as it moves towards completing its withdrawal from nuclear power as it turns its focus to renewables.

The decision to phase out nuclear power and shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy was first taken by the centre-left government of former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in 2002.

His successor, Angela Merkel, reversed her decision to extend the lifetime of Germany’s nuclear plants in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan and set 2022 as the final deadline for shutting them down.

The three reactors now being shuttered were first powered up in the mid-1980s. Together they provided electricity to millions of German households for almost 40 years.

“By massively increasing renewable energy and accelerating the expansion of the electricity grid we can show that this is possible in Germany,” Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck said.

The end of nuclear power in Germany will likely push prices up even further, according to Sebastian Herold, a professor of energy policy at the Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences.

“In the long term, the hope is that an increase in renewable energy will balance things out, but this will not be the case in the short term,” he told AFP.

Read also: Renewable electricity growth is accelerating faster than ever worldwide – IEA

Until Germany can really ramp up renewables, it will remain dependent on fossil fuels to plug the gap left by the nuclear exit.

“This will make Germany more dependent on natural gas overall, at least in the short term, and thus also a little more dependent on Russia,” Herold said.

The transition may also take longer than Germany would like, with progress on renewables slowed in recent years by opposition to energy infrastructure projects.

The proportion of energy generated by renewables is expected to fall in 2021 for the first time since 1997 — to 42 percent, compared with 45.3 percent in 2020.

As well as driving up prices, the nuclear plant closures will also remove a key source of low-carbon energy in a country that is already struggling to meet ambitious climate goals.

The new coalition government under Social Democrat Olaf Scholz has pledged to bring forward Germany’s planned coal exit to 2030 and wants Germany to generate 80 percent of its electricity from renewables by the same year.

But Robert Habeck, the co-leader of the Green party and head of a newly created super-ministry for the economy and climate, admitted this week that Germany is already on course to miss its climate targets for 2022 and probably also 2023.

Other EU countries, including France, are continuing to push nuclear energy and campaigning for it to be included on the EU’s list of sustainable energy sources eligible for investment.

Even in Germany, public opinion towards nuclear seems to be softening.

In a recent YouGov survey for the Welt am Sonntag newspaper, around 50 percent of Germans said they were in favour of reversing the planned nuclear shutdown due to the recent sharp rise in energy prices.

Monika Schnitzer, a member of the German Council of Economic Experts, told the Rheinische Post newspaper that it would make sense “economically and ecologically” to delay the shutdown.