Analyzing the implications of phasing out nuclear energy in Germany
Why it is important:
As G7 tightens its grip on sustainable energy goals, Germany is taking a U-turn. The country terminated its atomic era last Saturday, closing its last three nuclear plants.
However, the country’s coal consumption has been rising for the past two years. And Amid the phase-out of nuclear power from the country, the dependence on fossil fuels will rise further.
So, in this case study, we will analyze the short-term and long-term accountability of the decision to phase out nuclear energy in Germany.
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Sustainable energy is the modern global goal. With worsening climatic conditions, every country thrives to achieve sustainability. And Germany is no exception. The country is at the forefront of sustainable inventions and is a leader in transitioning from conventional to sustainable energy.
And its recent move was aimed at achieving the same.
Last Saturday, Germany bid adieu to the country's last three remaining power plants. The remaining three nuclear power plants, namely Isar II, Emsland, and Neckarwestheim II in Germany, were out of service.
However, shockingly, Germany is phasing out nuclear power at the cost of coal- the dirty fuel. In the past year, the country’s 33.3% of energy needs were met by coal in 2022, which is 3.1% higher than the country’s coal output in 2021.
So, the question remains, will Germany again shift to coal to meet energy demands?
The answer is certainly yes. As government officials confirm, the short-term dependence on coal and natural gas will increase. Germany plans to replace 6% of the energy produced by these nuclear power plants with renewable sources, but most of it will come from coal and gas.
However, things will improve as the country develops its dependence on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy.
In this case study, we will analyze the short-term and long-term implications of Germany’s decision to end its atomic era.
The initiation of nuclear energy phase-out:
The history of nuclear energy phased out in Germany dates back to the early 2000s. Following the Chornobyl disaster in 1986, public opposition to nuclear energy in Germany grew rapidly.
In response, the government established a commission to evaluate the safety of nuclear power plants in the country, which ultimately led to the implementation of stricter safety regulations and the decommissioning of several older nuclear reactors.
However, the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011 was a turning point in the country's nuclear energy policy. The disaster, which resulted in a nuclear meltdown and widespread radioactive contamination in Japan, prompted the German government to take decisive action.
Before 2011, a quarter of its electricity was coming from Nuclear power; however, in the wake of the disaster, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that all nuclear power plants in Germany would be phased out by 2022.
This decision was met with both support and criticism. Some argued that phasing out nuclear energy would increase Germany's dependence on fossil fuels and hinder progress toward a more sustainable energy system.
However, the government maintained that the decision was necessary to ensure the safety and security of the country's citizens and to accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources.
Since then, Germany has made significant progress in phasing out nuclear energy and transitioning towards renewable. As of 2021, eight of the country's 17 nuclear reactors have been shut down, and the remaining reactors are scheduled to be decommissioned by the end of 2022.
However, the decision was delayed due to rising energy crises in the country due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Now that Germany has phased out of nuclear energy let us look at the implications of the decision:
The short-term impact of phasing out nuclear energy in Germany:
Increased dependence on fossil fuels:
Germany has shut down its nuclear power plants without any sustainable backup. At present, the German energy sector rides on the shoulder of coal, contributing to more than 30% of the country's total energy demand.
Delving at the graph that compares the rise in coal demand after the pandemic, in one year, coal demand rose from 26 percent to nearly 32 percent in 2021.
Although Germany is extensively trying to phase out fossil fuels since 2001, the Russian war in Ukraine averted the decade-long progress of Germany, rising coal’s share in energy production sources.
According to the Federal Statistical Office, coal generation in Germany is rising for the past two years due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the global energy crises.
So, the biggest short-term implication of halting nuclear energy would be increased dependence on fossil fuels. This could have negative environmental consequences and hinder Germany's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Energy price fluctuations:
The phase-out of nuclear power has led to fluctuations in energy prices in Germany. In the short term, prices may increase as the country adjusts to nuclear energy loss and seeks to replace it with other sources.
The cost of electricity this year has risen by 8% compared to pre-war months last year.
However, in the long term, expanding renewable energy sources may help stabilize prices and reduce dependence on foreign energy imports.
Job losses and economic impacts:
The phase-out of nuclear power has led to several nuclear plants' closure, resulting in job losses in the energy sector. Additionally, the transition to renewable energy sources may require significant investments and infrastructure changes, which could positively and negatively impact the economy.
For instance, dismantling a single nuclear power plant requires an investment of more than $500 million over the normal dismantling duration of two-three decades.
Increased use of renewable energy:
Germany's phase-out of nuclear power has accelerated the expansion of renewable energy sources, particularly wind and solar power.
The country is already a global pioneer in renewable energy production, where renewable energy made up 46% of the total energy demands of the country in 2019. But irrespective of production, more than 30% of energy demands are still met by a single dirty fuel-coal, which is the next in line to be kicked out of the German economy.
Improved energy security:
By expanding its use of renewable energy sources, Germany is reducing its dependence on foreign energy imports and improving its energy security. This is particularly important in the context of geopolitical tensions and potential supply disruptions, as noticed in the case of the Russian-Ukraine war.
The expansion of renewable energy sources in Germany is expected to have significant environmental benefits in the long term, including reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, and dependence on fossil fuels.
The Federal Government passed a Climate Protection Act in 2019, which outlines the expectation of greenhouse gas neutrality by 2045 in Germany. Phasing out highly radioactive and polluting nuclear energy in Germany is an appreciable step towards achieving the same.
Impacts on energy infrastructure:
The phase-out of nuclear power has required significant changes to Germany's energy infrastructure, including constructing new transmission lines and expanding energy storage capacity.
As of 2021, Germany had already poured over 13 billion Euros into constructing renewable power plants, whose share is expected to increase multifold by the end of 2040.
And going by the numbers, the share of renewable energy witnesses exponential growth, evident by the graph.
With the ongoing war in Ukraine and the upcoming recession, investment in the short term is challenging. Still, it is expected to improve the reliability and efficiency of the country's energy system in the long term.
Impact on public opinion:
Germany's phase-out of nuclear power has significantly impacted public opinion both within the country and globally. As Greenpeace describes it, the decision is beyond politics and economics. For Germany, the anti-nuclear debate is about people's victory over powerful politicians and wealthy businessmen.
Ever since Germany encountered the catastrophic impact of the Chornobyl disaster, millions of people have fought to bring down nuclear power in the country; the Fukushima disaster was just the icing on the cake, which brought things into motion.
This has helped to spur a global conversation about the safety and risks of nuclear power and has influenced the decisions of other countries regarding their nuclear energy policies.
The transition to renewable energy sources in Germany has required significant technological innovation, particularly in energy storage, grid management, and renewable energy generation. This has led to the developing of new technologies and solutions that are likely to have applications beyond the energy sector.
Overall, the short-term impacts of Germany's phase-out of nuclear power have been challenging, but the long-term benefits are expected to be significant. By accelerating the transition to renewable energy sources, Germany is building a more sustainable and resilient energy system for the future.
And from the closure of three nuclear power plants by the end of 2021, Germany’s electricity output dipped by 5%. Still, people were not electricity-deprived, and no blackouts were reported.
In conclusion, the short-term and long-term impacts of Germany phasing out nuclear power are complex and multi-faceted. While there have been some challenges in the short term, including increased reliance on fossil fuels and job losses in the energy sector, the long-term benefits are expected to be significant. By expanding its use of renewable energy sources, Germany is building a more sustainable, resilient, and secure energy system for the future while also contributing to global efforts to address climate change and improve public health.
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