How renewables and innovation are taking Germany “beyond” nuclear

How renewables and innovation are taking Germany “beyond” nuclear

Hinkley Point, in western England, will be the first nuclear power plant to be built in Europe since the meltdown of Japan’s Fukushima reactor in 2011. But while the British government sees nuclear energy as a safe and reliable source of power, Germany is going in a different direction.

After Fukushima, Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged to switch off all nuclear power by 2022 and fill the gap with renewables – a process known as the energiewende (energy transition). The country’s government wants to increase the share of renewables in electricity to 40%-45% by 2025. No other country of Germany’s size has attempted such a radical shift in its power supply in such a short space of time. Described by Merkel as a herculean task, the transition is Germany’s most ambitious economic project since die Wende – the phrase used to describe the fall of the Berlin wall and subsequent reunification of east and west – with an estimated cost of €1 trillion over the next two decades. That push for renewables has its roots in the anti-nuclear protests of the 1980s and currently more than a quarter (26%) of Germany’s electricity comes from wind, solar and other renewable sources, such as biomass (not forgetting that 44% comes from coal).


One company caught in the transition is Trimet Aluminium, a family-owned business that is one of the nation’s largest users of power, consuming 1% of Germany’s electricity each year. At Trimet’s smelter near Hamburg in the north, 270 furnaces run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Inside each furnace, sparks like strobe lights dance on molten metal as temperatures peak at 960C. The annual electricity bill for this plant runs to €120 million.

Along with 2,000 other energy-intensive companies in Germany, Trimet is spared the renewable energy levy, a contentious exemption that limits its energy costs at a time when ordinary consumers face rising bills.

However, the company is not immune to the energiewende. In 2014, production was stopped more than 70 times to maintain electricity supplies to domestic consumers. “We see the energiewende as an opportunity, but we basically have to reinvent our processes,” said Trimet’s head of operations, Andreas Lützerath. The company is looking at how it can adapt to a world of fluctuating power. At its plant in Essen, north-western Germany, Trimet is experimenting with using its molten metal furnaces as a virtual battery. If the project is successful, the factory could store 3,360 megawatt-hours of energy over two days – enough to power 300,000 homes for one day.

The energy transition is not uncontroversial, not least due to the rising cost of subsidies paid by ordinary bill payers, which has triggered complaints that poor households are subsidising affluent people to put solar panels on their roofs. But the transition is not opposed by Germany’s main business lobby, the BDI, despite lingering concerns about what the transition means for the country’s manufacturing base at a time when confidence in the Made-in-Germany brand has been knocked by the Volkswagen scandal.

Germany’s dash for renewables has helped to create new industries. About 370,000 Germans work in the renewable energy industry, twice the number who work in fossil fuels, according to the Heinrich Böll Foundation, a green political thinktank.


Read the article on Behind Energy

Date: November 2015

Source: The Guardian

Read the article

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