August 8, 2017

ANGELA MERKEL’S GREEN HYPE: The Kaiser Has No Clothes.

Modern German energy policy is in a period of upheaval, as the country pursues what it calls its energiewende—a comprehensive plan to overhaul the way it produces and consumes electricity with the ultimate goal of reducing carbon emissions. On some fronts, Berlin has been extremely successful in this endeavor: for the past two years, it has sourced 29 percent of its power from renewables. Of course, in order to kickstart its clean energy industries, Germany was forced to subsidize the production of wind and solar power by offering producers long-term above-market rates for their supplies. Those feed-in tariffs, as they’re called, have produced some of the highest power bills in Europe, though Berlin is moving to roll back that government support as the costs of renewables drop and the outcry against high power bills grows. Increasing renewables’ share of the national energy mix to nearly one-third wasn’t cheap or easy, but getting it there is still a major achievement. It’s also why so many people think of Germany as a green leader.

But the reality is a lot more complicated—and a lot “browner”. One major part of the energiewende has been the phase-out of nuclear power, a process that Germany accelerated in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Germany’s decision to nix nuclear was motivated partly by security concerns (not exactly a rational fear, considering nuclear’s safety and the relative lack of natural disaster threats that German reactors face), and partly by the long-held revulsion the environmental movement has held for the energy source. How ironic, then, that a phase-out so foundational to a green energy transition would end up increasing greenhouse gas emissions: nuclear power is a zero-emissions energy source, which means that unless every watt taken offline during this systematic shuttering is replaced by a similarly clean supplier, German emissions are going to rise.

Sure enough, German emissions crept up 0.7 percent last year. Some analysts are pinning that increase on the growing German economy, but the country’s biggest brown problem is its reliance on coal. Coal is just about the dirtiest fossil fuel around, but it’s been in increased demand in Germany following all these nuclear shutdowns.

If you don’t support nuclear power, you don’t care about climate change or greenhouse gases. Sorry.

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