Germany has made one of the most radical policy changes in the wake of Fukushima. Like Japan, it decided to phase out nuclear power by 2022. Furthermore, by the middle of the century, fossil fuels shall only play a minor role in the energy supply of the country. Some authors and commentators of theenergycollective.com see this “German experiment” as very critical. To bring in another perspective, I spoke with Hans-Josef Fell, Member of German Parliament and Spokesperson on energy policy for the Alliance 90/The Greens parliamentary group. The expert is one of the masterminds in the German Renewable Energy legislation (e.g. he framed the feed-in tariff for renewable energies).
How can Germany succeed in phasing out nuclear energy while also decarbonising its energy supply?
Hans-Josef Fell: The current growth rates of power generation from renewable energies have significantly accelerated within the last 6 months. Germany’s amount of power generation from renewable energies has risen from 17% to 20.8 % between late 2010 and the middle of 2011. If Germany held this growth rate, a total supply of eco-power could be reached in Germany until 2030. That means that all power plants could be closed down much earlier than 2020 and that all fossil power plants could be closed until 2030. That would mean a complete decarbonization of the electricity industry could be achieved.
What about energy security – will the Germans continue to always have enough power available?
Hans-Josef Fell: If we continued to rely on fossil resources, a continuous energy supply would be difficult. Energy would become more scarce, less safe and more expensive. But renewable energies don’t know scarcity of resources and thus lead to a safe and cheap energy supply. Ups and downs in supply of energy generated out of sun and wind can be compensated by a mixture of storeable renewable energies such as water, biogas, geothermics and by additional storages. In Brandenburg, Germany, the first mixed power plant – a mixture of windfarm, biogas plant and hydrogen storage system – is put into service.
Will the abolition of nuclear power plants increase the dependence on energy supply from abroad?
Hans-Josef Fell: No. Germany will be totally independent and it’ll even increase its electricity exports to its neighbor countries if enough wind and solar supplies are available. This will especially be the case during the summer period, when French nuclear power plants can’t cover Frances needs because they aren’t able to cool their reactors because of low water and high water temperatures in the French rivers.
What are the costs of the energy change and are the energy prices in Germany going to rise?
Hans-Josef Fell: The recent investments in renewable energies turn to account within only a few years, because high costs for purchasing fossil and atomic fuels can be avoided. Without a changeover to renewable energies, which do not require fuel costs, energy prices would rise significantly because the scarcity of normal resources would push them up. A study of the Californian universities Stanford and Davis already proved that the investment costs for renewable energies are only half as high as the required fuel costs for twenty years without any renewable energies. This study also shows that a global supply of energy with 100% of renewable energies until 2030 would be technologically and industrially possible as well as it would be of economic advance.
How do you estimate the risk that Germany fails at this whole task?
Hans-Josef Fell: Germany will be able to make the nuclear phase-out without any serious risks, as 80% of the people back up the government and even themselves massively invest in renewable energies. At the same time the economy profits from 100,000 new jobs and enterprising tasks.