Germany’s Green Energy Faceplant

No sooner do I post an item yesterday about Germany’s pathetic energiewende than the thesis is confirmed today in, of all places, the New York Times!

German journalist and Times op-ed contributor Jochen Bittner today writes of “The Tragedy of Germany’s Energy Experiment,” where these familiar-sounding highlights appear:

My country has embarked on a unique experiment indeed. The Merkel government has decided to phase out both nuclear power and coal plants. The last German reactor is scheduled to shut down by the end of 2022, the last coal-fired plant by 2038. At the same time, the government has encouraged the purchase of climate-friendly electric cars — increasing the demand for electrical power. And despite efforts to save energy in the past decades, Germany’s power consumption has grown by 10 percent since 1990. . .

The plan risks more than a shortfall in supply. It could also prevent the country from dealing with climate change. By shutting down nuclear plants faster than those for coal, Germany may consign itself to dependence on fossil fuels, and all the damage to the climate they cause, for longer than necessary. Nevertheless, Germans’ opposition to nuclear power endures: 60 percent of them want to get rid of it as soon as possible. . .

The tragedy about Germany’s energy experiment is that the country’s almost religious antinuclear attitude doesn’t leave room for advances in technology. Scientists in America, Russia and China believe that it is possible to run nuclear power plants on radioactive waste — which might solve the problem of how to store used fuel elements, one of the core arguments against nuclear. Certainly, these so-called fast breeder reactors have their dangers too. But as we transition to a completely renewable energy supply, wouldn’t they be a better alternative to coal and gas plants?

By shutting down its entire nuclear sector in a rush, Germany loses more opportunities than dangers. It forfeits the capacity to connect to a technology that might prove the safest and most climate-friendly mankind has yet seen. At the very least, using Germany’s existing nuclear plants would make an expeditious move away from fossil fuels possible.

Is it irrational not to do so? Maybe, maybe not. But letting this chance slip away could turn out to be one of the gravest mistakes of the Merkel era.

Separately, Grist—the deep greenie Grist!—writes also today on “The Cost of Germany Turning Off Nuclear Power: Thousands of Lives.”

Back in 2011, Germany decided that it was done with nuclear power. The Fukushima Daiichi plant had just melted down in Japan, and the threat of disaster seemed overwhelming. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, which had intended to keep Germany’s plants open, did an about face and voted to shut down all of the country’s 17 plants by 2022 The only politicians opposing the measure were those who wanted to shut down the plants even faster.

At the time, nuclear provided a quarter of German electricity. In the years since, Germany has closed 11 plants, and is scheduled to shutter the remaining six in the next two years.

Multiple studies since then suggest that Germany did more harm than good. In the latest of these studies, a working paper recently published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, three economists modeled Germany’s electrical system to see what would have happened if it had kept those nuclear plants running. Their conclusion: It would have saved the lives of 1,100 people a year who succumb to air pollution released by coal burning power plants.

The epidemiology behind the claims of large health effects from conventional air pollution is likely shakier than we are usually told, but it is still notable that even the slowest of learners among the environmental left are actually starting to recognize that real life involves tradeoffs. I never thought I’d live long enough to see any environmentalists express second thoughts publicly about their previous reflexive anti-nuclear position, but here we are.

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