Germany, Italy shift focus from nuclear to renewables

The following is taken from the Platts Renewable Energy Report (May 2011). It has been edited for brevity.

An interesting quote about wind energy:
“Wind energy is considered to have the greatest potential for swift, cost-efficient expansion of renewable electricity generation”.

Germany, Italy shift focus from nuclear to renewables

A month after the earthquake and tsunami that struck northern Japan crippled  the Fukushima nuclear complex and triggered fears of a catastrophe, Germany and Italy have taken steps to swiftly move from nuclear energy to renewable resources.

Germany’s government plans to have new legislation drawn up as
early as June to close down its seven oldest nuclear reactors along with the Kruemmel nuclear station and speed the phase-in of renewables.

Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel outlined the schedule on April 15 after discussions with the heads of all 16 federal states. In the light of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in March, “We all want to exit nuclear power and switch to renewables as soon as possible,” she said. Following the Fukushima accident, Merkel on March 14 called for a nuclear moratorium, freezing for three months a law to extend the life-spans of nuclear plants and halting seven reactors that were built before 1980 for a safety review with a new risk assessment (RER 227/10)

An internal government document setting out a six-point plan for a swifter change of energy course in Germany indicates the new direction of thinking.

The first of the six points concentrates on renewables, stressing the need for more coordination with conventional power generation.

Renewables should generate electricity to link more closely with demand and provide system services for network stability and security of supply, according to the document.

In parallel, electricity storage facilities and an increasingly flexible conventional power station fleet are to provide more compensation for the fluctuating output from renewables generation.

Wind energy is considered to have the greatest potential for swift, cost-efficient expansion of renewable electricity generation. Onshore wind is to be speeded with changes to planning law, greater effort to set aside areas for onshore wind development and removal of restrictions on turbine height. Despite development of prime wind resources across Germany, onshore wind power is seen as still having enormous potential, the German engineering federation reports.

For offshore wind, the initiatives include a €5 billion ($7.3 billion) credit program to facilitate investments, larger payments for offshore generated electricity — although for a shorter period than currently allowed — a master plan for offshore wind station connections to shore, and more efficient permitting procedures for offshore wind farms.

A week before Merkel’s statement, Germany’s biggest utility group, the German Energy and Water Association, or BDEW, called for phasing out nuclear energy in Germany by 2020.

“The reactor catastrophe in Fukushima has changed the energy-political debate in Germany overnight, with almost all groups and political parties re-evaluating the risks associated with nuclear power,” BDEW President Ewald Woste said April 8 after an extraordinary meeting of the group’s federal board. The association represents some 1,800 utilities in Germany covering 90% of gas and power sales, including nuclear operators E.ON and RWE.

Germany’s energy industry, organized through the association, advocates the rapid and complete phaseout of nuclear energy while ensuring security of supply, climate protection and affordability, according to a BDEW statement. The closures should be complete by 2020 or, in accordance with the nuclear phase-out law enacted by the previous government, by 2022.

“In addition to accelerating the development of renewable energy, fossil fuels, coal and natural gas will remain essential for a long time for a reliable and economical energy supply. Their role was largely ignored” in the government’s recent energy strategy, Wose said.

Though on the surface all political parties are now pulling in the same direction — toward renewables — major energy companies with substantial nuclear capacity are warning of the potential for major costs and high power prices that a faster switch to renewables could produce.

German utility EnBW said in April that it aims to double its renewable capacity to over 6 GW by 2020 but warned that the government’s energy policy may limit the company’s ability to make those investments.

CEO Hans-Peter Villis told shareholders at the utility’s annual general meeting that around €8 billion ($11 billion) would be necessary to shoulder a renewables expansion.

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