Losing nuclear power delays the clean energy future

Posted: February 1, 2019

Recognizing that coal-burning power plants significantly raise CO2 emissions, Germany’s Coal Exit Commission recently announced that they will shut down all such plants by 2038.

This sounds like good news, but it doesn’t compensate for the serious mistake Germany has already made in its quest for a clean energy future.

In 2011, following the Fukushima disaster, German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged to close the country’s 17 nuclear plants by 2022. As of now, only seven of these plants continue to operate.

This abrupt and massive nuclear phase-out meant that fossil fuels had to fill the gap—and today, 40 percent of Germany’s energy is generated from coal. The phasing-out of coal plants, combined with the continued shuttering of nuclear facilities, creates a very ambitious goal for the country’s remaining sources of power.

Wind and solar currently comprise 27 percent of Germany’s energy portfolio, but the plan is to raise that number to 80 percent by 2050. In the intervening years, fossil fuels other than coal will have to take up most of the slack—and will create more carbon emissions than would be the case had Chancellor Merkel not made a rash decision about nuclear power based on another nation’s failure to manage a single plant safely.

The United States, and New York in particular, should take Germany’s example as a warning. Without nuclear power, and with renewables requiring significant territory and capital to develop, fossil fuels must be burned to support energy demands. We’re relatively fortunate here to have abundant natural gas, which is the lowest-carbon fossil fuel and far superior to coal—but it’s not zero-carbon.

Without nuclear power, the decades of waiting for renewables will represent an avoidable and regrettable delay in achieving a clean energy future.

Read more about the problems posed by Germany’s nuclear phase-out at the link below:

CLEAN ENERGY WIRE: The challenge of Germany’s nuclear phase-out