In my previous article I criticized an article by journalist Mark Hertsgaard and activist Terry Tempest Williams. My article received nearly 90 comments. This is a follow-on.
In the comments, several of the bunnies have warned me against reliance on the bourgeois media like Der Spiegel. So I checked out a report from Greenpeace Deutschland, entitled Impacts of Germany's Nuclear Phase-out on Electricity Imports and Exports. (warning: big pdf file). To summarize the 99-page document: Greenpeace claims that Germany's imports of electricity from nuclear-power plants in neighboring countries have not increased as a result of shutting down 40% of German nuclear power plants in 2011.
Suppose the Greenpeace is right on this point. If they're right, then this refutes Der Spiegel's claim that Germany went from an exporter to an importer of electricity.
However, I have looked through the Greenspeace document, and discovered that (according to their figures) Germany is a net importer of electricity from France and from the Czech Republic (This is an annual average figure: Germany exports a smaller amount of electrical power to France but the net is that Germany imports from France). And the electrical power exported by France and the Czech Republic is generated in nuclear power plants.
So we have to parse the statement carefully: Statement A: "Germany is a net importer of electrical power" is a false statement.
Statement B: "Germany is a net importer of electric power FROM FRANCE AND THE CZECH REPUBLIC" is a true statement, according to the Greenpeace document.
Several bunnies thrashed me for believing statement A is true, as Der Spiegel claimed. I no longer have any confidence in statement A. But statement B is true, even according to Greenpeace.
Actually, whether Germany is a net importer or not is not the main issue.The main issue is this:
As the US Energy Information Administration writes (at this link)
Coal use [in Germany] has increased since the Fukushima reactor accident since it can be used as a substitute for nuclear power in electricity generation.
In other words, Germany is phasing out nuclear power, increasing fossil fuels, and increasing renewables.
This confirms what James Hansen wrote in his 2009 book, Storms of My Grandchildren:
Germany provides useful empirical evidence about progress in quitting the fossil fuel addiction. Germany is making a major effort to improve energy efficiency. It is also trying hard to promote renewable energy, with large subsidies for wind and solar energies. Wind provides up to 20% o the country's electric energy in winter, but on annual mean the wind and sun produced only 7.3% percent of Germany's electricity in 2008…But what is disturbing about the empirical evidence from Germany is that, despite technical progress and strong efforts in energy efficiency and renewable energies, there are no plans to phase out coal. On the contrary, there are plans to build new coal-fired power plants, which the German government claims will be necessary once the country closes its nuclear reactor plants. The bottom line seems to be that it is not feasible in the foreseeable future to phase out coal unless nuclear power is included in the mix. [Storms of My Grandchildren, pp. 188-189].
It should be added that in addition to using fossil fuels for electricity, Germany imports large amounts of petroleum for use in the transportation sector. The Energy Information Administration (link above) also points out that the primary source of Germany's energy is petroleum, which made up 38% of Germany's total primary energy consumption in 2011.
Journalists like Mark Hertsgaard don't realize the problems that arise when attempting to integrate intermittent sources like wind and solar into a grid with other sources. I spoke with a top engineer at my local electric utility. The utility doesn't like solar because it fluctuates so much. When a cloud suddenly covers a large solar array, the utility has to come up with several MW of power in a real hurry. Their solution is to run a coal or natural gas plant below its capacity, so they can crank it up in a hurry to compensate for a decrease in solar-generated power. This causes some inefficiency because fossil-fuel plant is running below its maximum capacity. But the real problem is that the fossil-fuel plant needs to be comparable in size to the solar or wind power.
So when countries are able to generate 20% or 30% of their electricity generated by wind, the activists rejoice: "Oh great, in only a few more years it will reach 80% or 90%." The celebration is premature. Actually there is a natural barrier because of the need to provide a stable source of power when solar and wind provide little power.
On a related topic, Hertsgaard claims that nuclear power plants are "fantastically expensive". Actually the cost of electricity from nuclear power is comparable the cost of electricity from fossil fuels. [The comparison is apples and oranges, because nuclear has a large up-front capital costs and low fuel prices, while fossil fuels plants have lower capital costs and higher fuel costs.]
One final point: Hertsgaard wrote an admirable book, On Bended Knee (about the Reagan Administration and the Press), but he wandered WAY off the reservation with a scare story about the alleged dangers of fluoridation, contrary what the dentists tell us. For a science-based view, check out the entry in QuackWatch.