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Climate-Policy Goals Of German Government No Longer Attainable After Anti-Nuclear U-Turn

The climate-policy goals of the German government are no longer attainable after the decision last month to phase out nuclear power plants, according to Prof. Hans-Werner Sinn, president of the Ifo Institute for Economic research at the University of Munich.

We wrote last week that fresh from a victory in forcing the German government to abandon its nuclear policy, NIMBYs (people afflicted with the Not In My Back Yard syndrome) are bracing to battle against the massive new power lines and wind turbines that are being built across the country as part of the green energy program.

Dealing with objections to the inconveniences of green energy is one big challenge and according to Prof. Sinn electrical power from the sun and wind can indeed replace the electricity that comes from nuclear power plants in Germany – – on paper at least – – since atomic energy only provides 4.6% of Germany’s final electricity supply, whereas electricity from wind and solar power amounts to 1.8%. He says the phase-out option is indeed in the realm of possibility, if one disregards the irregularity of the supply but the original hope that nuclear power would displace fossil fuels in order to curb global warming cannot be fulfilled with wind and solar power. Energy from fossil sources accounts for 84.7% of German final energy consumption.

Prof. Sinn says replacing nuclear electricity will be hard enough; replacing the electricity generated by fossil fuels on top of that is well nigh impossible. If the electricity supply in Germany, which amounts to 20.3% of final energy consumption, were to come from wind power, using present technology, a surface area the size of North-Rhine Westphalia would be needed, with turbines packed as closely together as technically feasible.

He says it is downright utopian to think that considerable portions of transportation, which consumes 26.1% of final energy, could also be driven by electrical motors fed with energy from the wind and sun. Should Germany yield to French pressure to increasingly electrify European transportation, the German strategy based on wind and solar power would not stand a chance against French nuclear power.

With bioenergy, which accounts for a good two-thirds of renewable energy, the energy calculation is more favourable. Here, however, there is the basic problem of competing with food crops. If bioenergy is restricted to biowaste, its potential would be correspondingly limited.

Since Germany is in the process of relinquishing the nuclear option for a gradual substitution of fossil energy sources, it will not be able to prevent persistently high CO2 emissions. The climate-policy goals of Chancellor Merkel will not be attainable.

Prof. Sinn says Germany can hope that its continued reliance on fossil energy sources will force the other European countries, via increasing prices in the European emissions trading system, to achieve the planned reductions in CO2 emissions themselves. But Germany cannot prevent other countries from attaining these savings by way of a further expansion of atomic energy.

Finfacts, 26 April 2011