This May, a 1,100 megawatt coal-fired power plant was commissioned in Germany. On Twitter, in the thread started by Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who inspired the climate strike, many responded by connecting this decision to the German government’s decision to phase out nuclear power. This connection has become all too common since 2011, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated commitment to the phaseout, which was originally signed into law in 2002. The oft-repeated message is that the decision to shut down nuclear power resulted in Germany increasing its use of coal and thus increasing carbon emissions. This is misleading. Germany’s progress in bringing down emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from its electricity sector by increasing uptake of renewable energy — while simultaneously lowering both coal and nuclear energy generation — has been quite remarkable and shows that a nuclear phaseout and climate mitigation are compatible. The data underlying this assertion are out there for anyone who wants to look, for example with the International Energy Agency (IEA). The IEA’s analysis of global CO2 emissions in 2019 was forceful in its account of Germany’s evolution: The country, it said, “spearheaded the decline in emissions in the European Union … Its emissions fell by 8% to 620 Mt [metric tons] of CO2, a level not seen since the 1950s, when the German economy was around 10 times smaller.” Since 2007, German government sources have mentioned a target of a 40% decline in its emissions in 2020 relative to the emissions in 1990. The large drop in 2019 has meant that Germany’s emissions are now almost 36% lower than 1990 levels. With the unanticipated decline due to Covid-19, Germany may end up reaching its original reduction target after all. Just as with any policy measure and its implementation, Germany’s nuclear phaseout and Energiewende can be faulted for errors of commission or omission. But the data are unambiguous: Germany has reduced its emissions of CO2 and its use of coal substantially while phasing out the use of nuclear energy, which comes with its own set of hazards and environmental impacts. The bottom line: Phasing out nuclear power is quite compatible with mitigating climate change.
Energy Intelligence 7th July 2020 read more »