Shortly after Al Gore’s film was released, I had a discussion with my brother. We were talking global climate change. It was not our typical agree to disagree discussion. I was presumed to be wrong, horribly wrong. Global disaster was coming and coming soon. And then I asked him the difficult question.
Where do you stand on Nuclear Power?
He could not, or more accurately, would not answer the question. Therein lies the problem. Increased Nuclear Power is absolutely necessary if the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is correct in their recently leaked gloomy predictions of world climate. There is no solution that will work right now that does not include increased use of Nuclear Power.
Germany has been leading the charge into a renewable world. Let’s try to learn something from their experience.
Germany has embraced solar and wind with some interesting consequences. Despite it’s northern location, Germany is the largest solar power market in the world. And it has a significant amount of wind power too. Today, Germany has 35 gigawatts of installed solar and 32 gigawatts of installed wind. On any given day they need about 70 gigawatts of power. Sounds promising.
Germany gets less power from wind and solar than you might expect. I know I was surprised. Solar produces about 5.3% of the total, wind a bit over 8%. Wow.
Wind and Solar both are becoming more affordable. Unfortunately the stuff is notoriously and predictably unreliable. Germany provides detailed data on their production. It’s chock full of interesting graphs. Some weeks like week 2 make wind and solar look really bad:
Very little wind (green) or solar (gold) on the chart and lots of conventional fuel (grey). But a week earlier there was lots of wind and the renewable picture looked more promising:
Germany has a system that takes the renewable energy when it’s available. It’s base load plants (mostly coal and nuclear) cannot be easily started and stopped. The result is surplus power that is exported (bright green) to other countries in Europe. On December 31, 2012 something a bit odd happened. Lots of wind on a day when not much power was needed. German utilities had to pay people in other countries to take their excess power! Notice how the price of energy in the wholesale market (blue) fluctuates.
As the sun approaches equinox, the solar picture begins to improve and the energy picture looks a bit different:
March 17, 2013 had a few hours during the day where half the power being generated was from renewable energy. Once again, as the wind came up, wholesale prices for power went down. The utility pays a fixed rate for the power and must take it under Germany’s system. German utilities are going broke.
Lots of wind on Saturday, none on Wednesday. Throw in a bit of cloudy weather and nearly no power is generated by renewable energy (Wednesday March 13).
The utility has to provide power all day every day. And the only way that can be done without carbon dioxide emissions is with Nuclear Energy. Every northern climate in the world faces the same problem. German utilities must provide service when neither wind nor solar is available which happens to be most of the time. They in effect must build 100% redundant power systems.
Germany is walking away from Nuclear power. They are closing old plants and not replacing them. The 2011 disaster in Japan has them running scared. They fear Nuclear Power more than they fear global climate change. Germany talks tough on climate change, but do they really believe?