Looks like Germany’s green energy plan did quite work out

28-06-2022 |   |  By Robin Mitchell

Recently, Germany has had to turn to coal power after restricting the use of Russian fuel and dependency on green energy. How has Germany created the perfect storm, what coal plants are being fired up, and why does this incident demonstrate the benefits of nuclear power?


How German energy created the perfect storm


Germany is well known for its forward-thinking and advanced use of technology (in fact, the term German is often synonymous with precision engineering and supreme quality). Furthermore, Germany has proudly boasted of its large-scale use of renewable energies such as wind and solar and has gone out of its way to reduce carbon emissions as much as possible.

On its journey to achieving a carbon-neutral society, Germany also decided to avoid using nuclear fuel. Understandably, the resulting waste from nuclear reactors can remain highly radioactive for thousands of years, and trying to store the waste presents numerous challenges. Additionally, nuclear energy use is shunned due to the risks associated with meltdowns, leaks, and terrorism.

So instead, Germany has relied upon foreign nations for gas and oil that help make up the rest of its energy demands which are far cleaner than fuels like coal. Thus, German energy is comprised of unreliable renewable sources for reducing CO2 emissions and foreign nations for creating a stable energy supply.

In all their wisdom, Germany decided that it should be reliant on Russian fuel. The Russian invasion of Ukraine saw countries all over the world deny access to Russian goods and services, and Germany had no choice but to follow suit. In conclusion, Germany is now struggling with soaring energy prices and the lack of a stable energy source along with unreliable renewables is forcing Germany to turn to some desperate measures.


Germany fires up its coal plants


In what can only be described as irony, Germany has recently announced that it will be falling back onto coal power plants to help reduce the cost of energy. The current plan is to suspend as much energy generation from gas as possible, store the gas up, and then distribute it during winter. This is likely to ensure that citizens have a gas supply for heating homes as, like in the UK, German homes use gas for heating. Thus, sourcing electricity from another fuel can help reduce gas use.

The need for gas storage also comes from Russia restricting gas exports to the EU due to increasing sanctions and shipment of weapons from the EU to Ukraine. This restriction is one of the contributing factors to the rising cost of living and is a prime reason for the sudden jump in energy prices.

Coal power plants have the advantage that coal is far easier to source than oil and is relatively cheap. Furthermore, coal prices are far more resistant to dramatic changes, unlike oil, and coal plants are highly reliable for stable energy. However, they are by far one of the dirtiest fuels that can release all kinds of compounds into the atmosphere, including volatile organic compounds, soot, and radioactive particles.


How this demonstrates the power of nuclear


Germany’s refusal to consider nuclear power, combined with its overreliance on foreign fuel and renewable energy, has now forced it to turn back to coal, an archaic energy source that has been eliminated in multiple countries, including the UK. Worse, burning coal will have a significant environmental impact and may even deteriorate the health of those who live nearby through respiratory disease.

If Germany had instead turned to nuclear energy three decades ago, it would not be facing this current crisis. Sure, energy prices would have gone up because no energy system can currently operate on 100% renewables. Nuclear energy can only provide a fixed base supply of energy as nuclear plants cannot alter their output easily (nuclear plants operate on a steady-state principle of consistently producing the same energy output). But having the bulk of energy come from nuclear significantly reduces the amount of fossil fuel needed to run a country.

Nuclear energy may be problematic regarding waste storage, but with the exception of Fukushima and Chernobyl, they have demonstrated themselves to be extremely safe and reliable energy sources. In the case of Chernobyl, poor management and fear of punishment resulted in a series of abysmal decisions that led to a meltdown, while Fukushima was built in a geologically unstable area which begs the question if areas near fault lines should be allowed to construct nuclear sites.

Germany’s culture of adherence to rules, strong regulations, and precision engineering, combined with its stable geology, makes it one of the ideal places to construct nuclear power stations. Maybe the use of coal power will help change the attitude towards nuclear power, but unless Germany can find a cheap source of gas, it will have to continue its use of coal power as nuclear power stations take years to construct.


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By Robin Mitchell

Robin Mitchell is an electronic engineer who has been involved in electronics since the age of 13. After completing a BEng at the University of Warwick, Robin moved into the field of online content creation developing articles, news pieces, and projects aimed at professionals and makers alike. Currently, Robin runs a small electronics business, MitchElectronics, which produces educational kits and resources.

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