Banking on renewable energy to show growth is possible without nuclear power
BERLIN: Germany wants to show countries which decide to abandon nuclear power - or not start using it - how it is possible to achieve growth, create jobs and prosperity while shifting the energy supply to renewable energies. But Chancellor Angela Merkel will find it a tall order to deliver on that.
Germany, Europe's economic engine, said on Monday it will close all of its nuclear power plants over the next 11 years, the latest aftershock from the March 11 Japanese quake and partial meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear plant that it set in motion.
The move is an about-turn for Dr Merkel, whose government until recently had supported nuclear power as a way to generate electricity without releasing additional greenhouse gases - and without increasing reliance on Russia.
Her party, the Christian Democratic Union, had earlier advocated the extension of the operating licences of the country's 17 nuclear power plants by an average of 12 years, saying that nuclear power is needed as an important 'bridging technology'.
But in the wake of the crisis in Japan, Dr Merkel announced the temporary closure of seven of the plants. Now, after another wave of demonstrations against nuclear power, she said those plants would remain closed, there would be no extensions and all remaining plants would be shut by 2022.
She also said Germany will set an example to other nations debating over nuclear power. One reason why that will be a tough nut to crack is it gets nearly a quarter of its electricity from nuclear power.
With an aggressive programme of subsidies, renewable energy's share has climbed to 17 per cent. Now the German government hopes to double that share to make up for the loss of nuclear power - but that will require advances in power storage and management because nuclear power runs constantly. while wind and solar power run intermittently.
The German government also said it would try to cut energy use by 10 per cent. The country's power industry is less than sanguine about the coming transformation of the energy landscape.
German energy conglomerate RWE's chief executive Juergen Grossmann said: 'In the short term, without nuclear energy, one cannot ensure a supply of energy that is gentle on the environment and provides security of supply at affordable prices, without jeopardising Germany as an industrial nation.'
Power companies warned last week that Germany could face blackouts during cold months without nuclear power as solar power diminishes during the winters and winds that spin turbines slacken.
If that proves to be the case, Germany would have to turn to its coal reserves, to Russia for additional natural gas supplies, or to France, which exports electricity from its nuclear power plants.
But European nations have been seeking to reduce their reliance on coal and Russian gas. And France already exports surplus electricity to Italy.
Dr Merkel said details on how Germany would fill gaps in supply would come later. She added it would stick to its targets for the slashing of carbon emissions, suggesting coal would not be the answer.
Switzerland, which gets 40 per cent of its electricity from nuclear power, also announced last week that it plans to shut down its reactors once they reach their expected life span of 50 years. The last plant would come off the grid in 2034.
[Big Hairy Audacious Goal? Or Political posturing? Seems like giving in to political blackmail.]