Germany has called a timeout on seven of its nuclear power plants, and if the timeout becomes permanent, the lights will stay on thanks to the renewable energy sector in Europe’s largest economy.
According to BEE, a renewable energy lobby group in Europe, renewable energy could fill the void left behind if the German government decides to make its current shutdown of seven plants in the country permanent. "Renewables could be ready to provide 47 percent of German power supply up to 2020. This way they would not just compensate for the nuclear withdrawal (meant to happen by 2021 at the latest), but in addition offer affordable and sustainable power," the group said.
In 2010, nuclear power is reported to have supplied Germany with 585-kilowatt hours of electricity, which is about 23 percent or the nation’s total supply. This is not far off from the energy the country gets from the nuclear power industry. Germany is reported to get about 23 percent of its energy from the nuclear sector.
So, the natural question is how would Germany bridge the gap between now and 2020. The BEE makes a noteworthy point by bringing up what happened last time the country shut down nuclear facilities. "In 2007, up to six nuclear reactors were out of action at one stage (due to summer heat), but Germany still had one of its biggest power export surpluses that year," a BEE spokesperson told Reuters.
That same report also underscores the PR challenges left by energy lobby groups across all sectors. While nuclear is obviously taking all sorts of hits right now, this isn’t exactly how many other energy sources wanted to be elevated to the forefront of the world’s energy future. The Reuters article points out, “Power sectors based on coal, gas and renewables have so far been shy to present their merits, because they do not want to appear as winners of the negative publicity for nuclear that has been caused by the Japanese disaster, observers say.”
And while we are on the topic of energy portfolios, let’s compare Germany and the United States. Nuclear power makes up just eight percent of the energy Americans use, and just seven percent comes from renewable sources. A whopping 86 percent comes fossil fuels. As for prices, the average United States household pays about 9.28 cents for every kilowatt-hour of energy it consumes. German households pay more than three times that, 30.66 cents per kilowatt-hour. As for Japan, over the last decade their prices per kilowatt-hour have held steady at about 20 cents for each household. Before the earthquake, about 15 percent of Japan’s energy came from nuclear power, hydroelectricity made up four percent of the overall portfolio while coal, oil, natural gas made up almost all of the remaining 80 percent of the nation's energy supply.
Just some things to ponder during a tragic and interesting time for energy around the world.