The EU is to have carbon emissions targets, but nothing binding in terms of renewables or efficiency for specific member states. Craig Morris reports on what one energy expert in Brussels thinks the effect might be on the German Energiewende.
The EU plans to have binding targets for carbon emissions, but only a 27 percent target for the share of renewable energy by 2030 – without specific targets for each member state. Recently, I wrote that this proposal might not upset too many Energiewende campaigners in Germany. After all, Germany’s energy transition has been about democracy all along. If the British want to see what a future based on shale gas and nuclear is like, shouldn’t they be allowed to? The Germans will continue their transition to renewables along with a nuclear phaseout, with a coal phaseout probably not really kicking in until afterwards – in 2022. At least then we will know what these two options look like when implemented.
But some of my colleagues below the top level of government in Germany were not convinced. They warned me that it might be hard to get support for renewables from the German Industry Ministry without a mandate from Brussels. And indeed, the target for renewables was part of the justification behind the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) ruling that feed-in tariffs for renewables do not constitute legal state aid, but are instead a policy to reach mandatory targets. Is the door now open for the ECJ to rule feed-in tariffs illegal? And what else could happen?
In a recent interview with German climate change website Klimaretter, Claude Turmes, deputy whip of the Greens in the European Parliament from Luxembourg, confirmed that the current proposal is largely supported by the UK (“Barroso’s approach is actually British Prime Minister David Cameron’s”); he believes there is broader support among the member states for the 2030 goals to include efficiency and renewables along with carbon emissions, “including Germany, France, and Belgium.” Recently, French President Hollande called for a sort of European Airbus for solar – a partnership specifically between Germany and France.
Turmes says the 40 percent carbon reduction target lacks ambition anyway. “There are so many allowances in circulation that the carbon price will remain just below €10 per ton even with back-loading and the strategic reserve.… Coal plants will then continue to run full blast in Germany over the next few years – an absurdity that calls into question the credibility of German climate policy.”
Perhaps the most interesting thing about that interview is that Turmes says the original proposal contained a specific target for efficiency, but “I worked with others to get it taken out.” The proposed new target was 25 percent, “a completely ridiculous number which would have led to less, not more energy efficiency.”
Right now, of course, the targets for 2030 are not law, but just proposals. As the policy take shape, it will be interesting to see what others think the impact on the Energiewende will be – stay tuned…
Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of German Energy Transition. He directs Petite Planète and writes every workday for Renewables International.
“The Germans will continue their transition to renewables along with a nuclear phaseout, with a coal phaseout probably not really kicking in until afterwards – in 2022. At least then we will know what these two options look like when implemented.”
Why is there a preference for nuclear power phase out before coal-fired power?
1) Because the consequences of a nuclear accident would be locally (say, within a 25 kilometer radius) too devastating
2) Because Germany is the biggest producer of electricity from Brown coal in the world, all of which is from domestic resources. It is perhaps best to think of Germany as an addict. Switching from brown coal to natural gas, for instance, means switching from an inexpensive source to a more expensive source – and also from a domestic source to imports. Domestic jobs will be lost in the process, and we haven’t even factored in the higher cost of electricity.
@Morris: However the surface destroyed by open pit brown coal mining is just as large. Including several evacuated village.
With the nuclear phaseout, I don’t see how Germany could achieve a 40% reduction target without a very strong deployment of renewable. One that would be much stronger than the new targets minister Gabriel has announced.
I’ve just read that after 2020, no international credits will be allowed on the EU ETS. So Germany would have to be riding on the back of other EU member doing much better than 40% in order to allow itself to slow down transition to renewables and respect the target. I don’t believe in it since at a high reduction rate, carbon credit will start to become significantly more expensive. Germany is very big in the EU carbon market, so that the amount to provide for the other countries would be significantly larger that the percentages alone may make it look like.
It may be true however that during the next few years due to the various loopholes conducting to large allowances in the EU ETS, carbon price will continue to be very low.
Also because the lobbying for nuclear phaseout here started after Chernobyl – there has been no new nuclear plant planned since then (the last went online in 1989, which means they started building years before the disaster), because there would have been no public support for it. So the West German plants are getting old and would have been decommissioned soon anyway. (The few East German ones were already switched off as a security risk back when the country was reunited.) The wavering before Fukushima was about whether or nor to prolong the running time the plants were originally designed for. For the plants that are still online now, we’re back to the original schedule now.
This means this movement is considerably older than the worries about carbon emmissions. And the Green party in Germany was founded largely on the anti-nuclear platform, so they’ve got to deliver on that now that they’ve finally got some power in this last decade or so. Plus, it’s considerably easier for the government to close a nuclear plant (there is an oversight agency determining if it’s too much of a risk for the public, or example) than to force the corporate owner of a coal plant to close that down. Not just because coal has a big lobby both on the corporate and on the mining unions’ side, but simply because of the legal situation.
Do remember also that most people around here were affected by the fallout cloud from Chernobyl at least tangentially and can still remember the scare about not being able to give cow milk to their children, not being able to eat the salad – and in the East, even though the disaster was officially denied for a while, being pressured by doctors to abort their unborn babies. Even now you still get told not to eat locally collected wild mushrooms more than once a year and to be careful with buying them from sellers at the side of the road (because they’ll likely have been collected in Poland or even closer to the disaster site). In the southern states, they still have to check hunted game for radiation and hand the carcass in at a government agency if the values are too high. So people here aren’t likely to forget what a nuclear plant disaster means, even so far away and even a generation later.
And lastly, the spent fuel transports caused a lot of negative press in the 1990s, with large protests, people chaining themselves to the rails, thousands of policemen and water cannons, and so on. I read in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists that these transports eventually cost the tax payer up to 50 million in security – each. And there’s still no final burial site that I know of. Gorleben was the plan originally, because that was at the eastern edge of Western Germany, away from the core of the country and with low local population. But the Reunification put that site slap in the middle of the now larger voting public. And there’s been leakage. So the government understandably wants to limit that pile of radioactive waste with nowhere to go before it gets any bigger.
I’m not trying to say that the nuclear phaseout is more important or that climate change will be any less devastating than a few nuclear disasters. I’m just saying that the anti-nuclear movement in Germany has been at it longer and therefore has a lot more traction than true climate change awareness. And for most people the consequences of a nuclear disaster are a lot less abstract than what 4 to 6 °C more in 50-100 years really means. “Radiation = bad” also has had a lot more press than “coal burning contributes to thousands of premature deaths from respiration illnesses each year”. Every child knows the former, but not many people know the latter.