Swiss reject nuclear phaseout schedule in referendum

At the end of November, Switzerland clearly rejected a proposal by the Greens for a fast closure of the country’s five reactors, leaving the Swiss with a phaseout plan without a roadmap. Opponents argued that a power shortage would be more likely if so many reactors are switched off so quickly. A look a France reveals that have a point. By Craig Morris.

The proposal to close Beznau next year was rejected; the factory stays on for now (photo by Thomas Kern, Public Domain)


With a clear majority of 55 to 45%, the Swiss rejected a plan to limit the service lives of reactors to 45 years, which would have meant the closure of Beznau 1, Beznau 2 and Mühleberg next year. The last reactor, Leibstadt, would then have closed in 2029; the older Gösgen in 2024. The outcome was much clearer than expected, with the contest called a close race up to the last minute.

The country now falls back on its post-Fukushima phaseout plan of 2011, which has no roadmap at all. Reports that “Swiss Voters Save Their Nukes” (Forbes) thus overstate the case, and Swiss reactors remain in financial trouble. But the Forbes report points out an ironic twist: all of the 6 (of 26) cantons that supported the referendum for a fast phaseout are French-speaking.

Experts opposing the proposal argued that the removal of three of five reactors within a year would have increased the likelihood of a power shortage – and they need to look no further than France for evidence. The French are now importing electricity from the UK, a reversal of the normal situation. 18 of 58 reactors are currently down due to safety issues.

Two weeks after I first reported on the matter, a major price spike occurred on France’s intraday market, which corrects for inaccuracies in forecasts, with prices briefly exceeding 1.50 euros per kilowatt-hour, roughly ten times the French retail rate and nearly forty times the usual wholesale rate of around four cents. The last time French prices were so high was February 2012, when German lines to France ran at full blast to prevent a blackout in France. Note in the chart below that the trading volume was also up during those hours, a clear sign of urgent demand given the high price level.

http://bilder.klimaretter.info/filestore/1/8/4/3/7_e67b28954e1ef02/18437_d88ffeb35870dec.jpg?v=2016-11-30+14%3A04%3A45

Graphs from Epex, via Klimaretter 

During those hours, German power reached 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. Indeed, while spot power prices have shown a reliably downward trend year over year, the average price in November 2016 for Germany was slightly higher than in November 2015 (3.82 vs 3.71 cents) partly due to the increasing demand in France for electricity from its neighbors (report in German). But the main trend is the growing disparity between French and German spot prices. In October, the average peak price in France was already more than 50% higher than in Germany (6.98 cents versus 4.42 cents, PDF). Not surprisingly, Germany is poised to hit a record level of power exports this year.

Note that the chart above shows only physical trading, not commercial. As Fraunhofer ISE’s PDF overview for 2015 points out: “Germany imported electricity from France, mainly in order to pass it on to neighboring countries.” In other words, Germany does not actually import this electricity for itself; rather, France uses the German grid to sell electricity to Switzerland (or vice versa: Switzerland uses the German grid to buy French power). In other words, we are indicating the price of physical flows, not commercial flows. France reports commercial flows, and as the charts below show France has historically been a net buyer of German power.

With one month left in the year (and December also being traditionally a month of great power exports), Germany is close to the record level of power exports from 2015. Source: Fraunhofer ISE, energy-charts.de.

With one month left in the year (and December also being traditionally a month of great power exports), Germany is close to the record level of power exports from 2015. Source: Fraunhofer ISE

French exports to Germany are also at a record low level for the year as a whole, as the chart below shows.

Fraunhofer ISE

Source : Fraunhofer ISE

Note that the chart above shows only physical trading, not commercial. As Fraunhofer ISE’s PDF overview for 2015 points out: “Germany imported electricity from France, mainly in order to pass it on to neighboring countries.” In other words, Germany does not actually import this electricity for itself; rather, France uses the German grid to sell electricity to Switzerland (or vice versa: Switzerland uses the German grid to buy French power). In other words, we are indicating the price of physical flows, not commercial flows. France reports commercial flows, and as the charts below show France has historically been a net buyer of German power.

As winter sets in, the situation in France remains tense – and that’s why I personally welcome the outcome of the Swiss referendum. You see, it took Germany three years to replace the electricity from the eight reactors shut down in 2011 with renewables. Those reactors made of roughly 40% of total nuclear capacity, which in turn covered some 30% of German power supply – so Merkel closed more than 10% of power supply in March 2011. The Swiss proposal would have closed nearly a third of its nuclear capacity next year, and Switzerland gets easily a third of its power from nuclear – so once again, we are talking about a tenth of power supply. Even with a plan to replace that power with renewables (which the Swiss don’t have), it would have taken a few years to replace that generation with green electricity. A more realistic proposal would therefore have been a phaseout of the three oldest reactors by 2020, giving the country time to fill the gap – especially crucial now that France’s nuclear fleet is struggling.

Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of German Energy Transition. He is co-author of Energy Democracy, the first history of Germany’s Energiewende, and is currently Senior Fellow at the IASS.

 

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Craig Morris

Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of Global Energy Transition. He is co-author of Energy Democracy, the first history of Germany’s Energiewende, and is currently Senior Fellow at the IASS.

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  1. Pingback: Swiss referendum adopts energy transition with nuclear phaseout - FueladdictsFueladdicts

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