‘Green superpower’ Germany plots the way to a low-carbon world, closing Grafenrheinfeld nuclear power plant via The Sydney Morning Herald

Many countries face challenges in cutting greenhouse emissions but few set their bar as high as Germany.

Germany will permanently close the Grafenrheinfeld nuclear power plant in the country’s south on Saturday, the latest in a phase-out that is scheduled to see the European powerhouse’s last nine fissile fuel plants closed by about 2022.

Leaving nuclear is not without its critics, especially among big utilities: Sweden’s Vattenfall is reportedly suing the German government for €4.7 billion ($6.9 billion) to compensate for its losses.

And yet, German policymakers seem determined to stick to an ambitious – and unilateral – goal of slashing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent on 1990 levels, even if that means shutting near zero-carbon nuclear plants along the way. The cuts deepen to 55 per cent by 2030 and 80-95 per cent by 2050.

The country is also betting big that renewable energy mainly from wind, solar and hydro power will continue to surge beyond its current share of about 28 per cent of total supply.

That ambition contrasts with the Abbott government’s push this week to get its 20 per cent reduction of Australia’s 2020 Renewable Energy Target through the Senate. The current bipartisan goal is a 5 per cent cut of 2000 levels, also by 2020, with the government likely to release its longer-term targets next month.


Germans freely admit that overly generous feed-in tariffs paid to those supplying renewable energy to the grid meant the country paid billions of euros too much to install solar panels on the roofs of some 3.5 million homes and small businesses in a country not known for its bounteous sunshine. Sunshine hours in Berlin, a relatively northern city, peak at an average of eight hours a day in May-July, but drop to just one hour by December, according to a local tourist guide.

The levy now costs users 6.17 euro cents (9¢) per kilowatt-hour, boosting residents’ costs for power to about 26 euro cents/KW-hour. [By contrast, this correspondent pays about 31¢ in Sydney for 100 per cent renewable power.]

The subsidies underpin Germany’s Energiewende, or energy transition, a policy which is gaining international attention. The term is apparently the most commonly searched-for German word, eclipsing angst and blitzkrieg, according to one local supporter.

Renewable energy’s share of the country’s total electricity supply has almost quadrupled. Nuclear’s share has roughly halved over the same period from 27 per cent to about 14 per cent.

The Grafenrheinfeld nuclear plant closing this weekend will take another 1.345 gigawatts of capacity off the market. The plant, built in 1981, produced about 1.6 per cent of the country’s total power output last year, Reuters reported.


Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, says Merkel – herself also a theoretical physicist by training – has understood the risks of climate change since she was a federal environment minister in 1994 hailing from the former communist East Germany.

Even in the wake of the failed Copenhagen climate summit in 2009, Merkel brushed aside Professor Schellnhuber’s readiness to counter sceptics’ claims that climate change wasn’t real.

“It was almost disappointing to me. I tried to explain to Merkel but she said, ‘I don’t want to hear it. This is crystal clear to me anyway,'” he said.

Likewise, she remains convinced Germany has to switch from fossil fuels to renewables, or as some officials said, would you bet against German industry?

“‘This is a no-brainer to me, but tell me rather what we can do about it,” Professor Schellnhuber recalls her as telling him.

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