Germany readies itself for renewable energy as the world watches

By  Maureen Aylward

Germany announced that it is closing all of its nuclear power plants by 2022. Experts think that the country will move toward filling the energy gap with renewable energy. We wanted our Zintro experts to explain whether renewable energy technology will be advanced enough by then and what needs to happen in the meantime.

Alan Herbst, an energy consultant, says that Germany’s decision to end its nuclear power production by 2022 will have a significant affect on that nation’s economy, the environment, and possibly regional geopolitics. “Currently, nuclear power provides 23 percent of Germany’s electricity requirements. The loss of this base load generation will prompt a near-term switch to more costly and dirtier fossil fuel alternatives, which will increase power prices, negatively affect Germany’s economic competitiveness, and pump millions of tons of carbon emissions into the environment,” says Herbst.  “Germany’s greater reliance on natural gas for electric power generation will also require the nation to increase its purchase of Russian pipeline gas, which could negatively affect the energy security of the nation.”

Herbst explains that Germany’s long-term plan to offset the loss of its nuclear generation involves the doubling of its renewable energy production to provide 35 percent of its electric power requirements. Germany’s greater reliance on renewables will require the nation to build upwards of 10 GW of new natural gas-fired generation capacity to back up the intermittent nature of its renewable generation assets.

“Closing its nuclear units and doubling its reliance on renewable generation are lofty goals for such a short time frame,” says Herbst. “Other nations will be closely monitoring Germany’s progress in accomplishing these tasks, but are not as likely to undertake such an extreme course of action due to the fact that they face considerably less domestic opposition to nuclear power.”

Dr. Ib Olsen, an energy storage and cleantech consultant, points out that nuclear power serves as base load on the grid, meaning that it is the backbone of the electricity supply. “Because wind and solar are very intermittent, they cannot in and by themselves replace nuclear as base load,” he says. “The only way this can be done is by pairing the wind and solar power with significant amounts of energy storage, which can help compensate for intermittent behavior.” However, Olsen says that if Germany includes waste-to-energy in the renewable portfolio, this generation could replace nuclear as base load generation. “This area needs research, and I don’t know if there is enough waste in Germany to make up for its current nuclear power reliance. Several other European countries are reconsidering their nuclear policy and may follow Germany.”

AppliedEcoTechnical, a renewable energy and sustainable civilization research and development expert, says that Germany has long been a leader in the field of organic waste-to-energy anaerobic digestion facilities. “Companies such as Schmack and Hertzen have operated systems for decades, and they are in the top five for efficiency,” he says. “There exists a breakthrough system which is efficient and greener than other energy producing facilities, which is the integrated waste-to-energy biofuel system that has features and benefits such as bioremediation, aquaculture/aquaponics, and algal biodiesel powered by waste products of the system,’ says Applied EcoTechnical.

The digestion core is the powerhouse of the design, producing more methane per ton of material than other systems. “Such systems can be operational within six months and have a projected return on investment of approximately three years at current energy and construction cost,” says Applied EcoTechnical. “With peak oil becoming a growing reality and nuclear being unsafe, this is a solution to the world’s need for energy, preserving fresh water and organic nutrients, and replacing fossil fuels in a safe and sanitary fashion.”

Douglas Ruby, PhD, a consultant to the photovoltaic industry, points out that as of June 1st, 2011, Germany’s solar industry is subjected to four subsidy cuts over the next 12 months, according to the revised draft of the country’s Renewable Energy Act [EEG]. “In order for the solar industry to make an appreciable contribution towards providing for the replacement of German nuclear power, solar-generated electricity will have to become cost-effective without subsidies,” says Ruby. “This means a factor of four reduction in electricity production costs along with cost-effective means of providing energy storage.”

By Maureen Aylward

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