As Nuclear steps aside, Renewable Energy steps up to power Europe

As Nuclear steps aside, Renewable Energy steps up to power Europe | 16/08/14
by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Nuclear reactors are starting to shut down in Europe

It began in earnest in the wake of the Fukushima disaster when Germany inspected its problem-plagued nuclear power plants and decided to take 9 of its nuclear power plants offline in 2011 and the rest offline by 2022.

There is plenty of public support in the country for Germany’s planned nuclear closures, even with the additional fee added to each German electricity bill to pay for nuclear power plant decommissioning, which completes in 2045.

Switzerland likewise has decided to get out of the nuclear power business beginning in 2015 and decommission their nuclear power plants by 2045.

Other European nations are also looking at retiring their nuclear power plants. But the news today is about the UK, Belgium, Germany and Spain.

Heysham_Nuclear_Power_Station UK operated by EDF
Heysham Nuclear Power Station in the UK which is operated by EDF of France. Image courtesy: CleanTechnica.com

In the UK, four (French-operated) EDF reactors built in 1983 have been shut down after one of them was found to have a crack in its centre spine. (EDF stands for Electricity de France which is a French utility responsible for managing many nuclear reactors)

At first only the affected unit was taken offline (in June) but upon further inspection it was determined that the other three were at risk to fail in the coming months. Whether or not these four reactors can be repaired economically — all were scheduled to be decommissioned before 2020.

The shortfall in electrical generation due to these unscheduled nuclear power plant shutdowns has been met by 5 GW of new wind power generation, which has seamlessly stepped in to fill demand.

Additional to that, 5 GW of solar power has been added to the UK grid within the past 5 years. And that’s in cloudy olde England, mates!

In Belgium, 3 out of 5 of their nuclear power plants are offline until December 31, 2014 due to maintenance, sabotage, or terror attacks — depending who you talk to.

Belgium’s Doel 4 reactor experienced a deliberate malfunction last week and workers in the country’s n-plants are henceforth directed to move around inside the plants in pairs.

Also, their Tihange 2 reactor won’t be ready to resume power production until March, 2021. See this continuously-updated list of nuclear power plant shutdowns in Belgium.

Further, the utility has advised citizens that hour-long blackouts will commence in October due to a combination of unexpected n-plant shutdowns and higher demand at that time of year.

Belgian energy company Electrabel said its Doel 4 nuclear reactor would stay offline at least until the end of this year after major damage to its turbine, with the cause confirmed as sabotage.

Doel 4 is the youngest of four reactors at the Doel nuclear plant, 20 km north of Antwerp, Belgium’s second-biggest city.

The country has three more reactors in Tihange, 25 km southwest of the city of Liege.

Doel 1 and 2, which came on line in 1975, are set to close in 2015. Tihange 1, which also started operation in 1975 and was designed to last 30 years, got a 10-year extension till 2015.

The two closed reactors Doel 3 and Tihange 2 were connected to the grid in 1982 and 1983. Doel 4 and Tihange 3, which came on line in 1985, were operating normally until the closure of Doel 4 last week.

The shutdown of Doel 4’s nearly 1 gigawatt (GW) of electricity generating capacity as well as closures of two other reactors (Doel 3 and Tihange 2) for months because of cracks in steel reactor casings adds up to just over 3 GW of Belgian nuclear capacity that is offline, more than half of the total.

In Britain, EDF Energy, owned by France’s EDF, took three of its nuclear reactors offline for inspection on Monday after finding a defect in a reactor of a similar design. – Reuters

In Germany, the nuclear power generation capacity missing since 2011 has been met by a combination of solar, wind, bio, natural gas, and unfortunately some coal. But that sounds worse than it is.

According to the Fraunhofer Institute, renewable energy produced about 81 TWh, or 31% of the nation’s electricity during the first half of 2014. Solar production is up 28%, wind 19% and biomass 7% over last year.

Meanwhile, with the exception of nuclear energy, all conventional sources are producing less. The output from gas powered plants was half of what it had been in 2010 and brown coal powered plants are producing at a similar level to 2010-2012. – CleanTechnica.com

Let’s see what our friends at the Fraunhofer Institute have to say in their comparison of the first half of 2013 vs. the first half of 2014.

German electricity production H1 2013 - H1 2014
Fraunhofer Institute compares energy production between the first half of 2013 and the first half of 2014.

Although unspoken by power company executives operating in Germany, Spain, and some other European countries, the panic felt by traditional power generators is due to the massive changes in ‘their’ market since 2009.

Things move slowly in the utility industry — ten years is seen as a mere eyeblink in time, as the industry changes very little decade over decade. Recent changes must be mind-blowing for European power company executives.

European-union-renewables-chart
European Union renewables by Eurostat — Renewable energy statistics. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons This map displays 2012 results with a total of 20-30% renewable energy for 2012, but in 2013 renewable energy in Portugal registered 58.3% overall. By 2014, Portugal expects that 70% of its energy will come from renewable energy.

It occurs to me that the end of the conventional energy stranglehold on Europe parallels the ending of Star Wars VI.

Help me take this mask off

It’s a mask to hide behind when conventional power producers don’t want the facts aired.

Fossil and nuclear don’t want their Subsidies or Externalities advertised. Global fossil fuel and nuclear subsides topped $600 billion dollars in 2014, while the externality cost of fossil and nuclear may be as high as $2 trillion dollars annually. That’s a lot of hiding, right there.

Fossil fuel and nuclear power power producers don’t want the subsidies they’re paid to be publicly advertised — and they don’t want the renewable energy industry to have subsidies at all

Externalities are simply another form of subsidy to the fossil fuel and nuclear power industries which often take the form of massive public healthcare spending or massive environmental spending to mitigate the gigatonnes of toxic airborne emissions, or to monitor or repair environmental catastrophes such as oil spills.

Spain has ended it’s Feed-in-Tariff subsidy scheme for renewable energy, while keeping conventional power producer subsidies in place.

Not only that, suddenly homeowners aren’t allowed to collect power from the Sun or harvest power from the wind unless it is for their own use. Electricity cannot be collected by Spanish residents and then sold to the grid for example, nor to anyone else.

Spain’s government has taken it yet another step in a bid to keep the conventional energy companies from drowning in their tears. After a meteoric rise in wind and solar capacity, Spain has now taxed renewable energy power producers retroactively to 2012 and ruled that renewable energy will be capped to a 7.5% maximum profit. Renewable energy returns over the 7.5% threshold becomes instant tax revenue for the government. (Quite unlike conventional energy producers in the country which can make any amount of profit they want and continue to keep their subsidies)

While all of this has been going on, Spain and Portugal have quietly lowered their combined CO2 output by 21.3% since 2012 (equal to 61.4 million fewer tonnes of CO2) thanks to renewable energy.

But you’ll die

Not only has European renewable energy now stepped up to fill the multiple voids due to nuclear power plant maintenance and sabotage shutdowns, it has scooped incredible market share from conventional power producers.

In January 2014, 91% of the monthly needed Portuguese electricity consumption was generated by renewable sources, although the real figure stands at 78%, as 14% was exported. – Wikipedia

Unwittingly, the German and Spanish power companies have provided the highest possible compliment to the renewable energy industry, which, if publicized would read something like this;

We can’t compete with renewable energy that has equal amounts of subsidy. Therefore, remove the renewable energy subsidy while we keep ‘our’ traditional subsidies, until we can reorient our business model – otherwise, we perish!

Nothing can stop that now

Ending the European renewable energy Feed-in-Tariff schemes will only temporarily slow solar and wind installations as both have reached price-parity in recent months — and that, against still-subsidized conventional power generators!

Even bigger changes are coming to the European electricity grid over the next few years. Nothing can stop that now.

Tell your sister; You were right about me

Conventional power producers in Europe provided secure and reliable power for decades, it was what has powered the European postwar success story — but having the electricity grid all to themselves for decades meant that Europe’s utilities became set in their ways and although powerful, were not able to adapt quickly enough to a new kind of energy with zero toxicity and lower per unit cost.

Renewable energy, at first unguided and inexperienced, quickly found a role for itself and is now able to stand on its own feet without subsidies. Quite unlike conventional power generators.

Considering the sheer scale of the energy changes underway in Europe, conventional energy has been superceded by a superior kind of energy and with surprisingly little drama.

Related Articles

Fukushima Pledges to be 100% Renewable Energy by 2040

Originally published on ThinkProgress by Guest Contributor Ari Phillips

Image Credit: Fukushima map via Shigenobu AOKI
Image Credit: Fukushima map via Shigenobu AOKI

The province of Fukushima in northeast Japan, devastated nearly three years ago by the earthquake and tsunami that caused a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, has pledged to go 100 percent renewable by 2040.

The energy will be generated through local community initiatives throughout the province of nearly two million.

Announced at a Community Power Conference held in Fukushima this week, it goes against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s agenda to reboot nuclear power throughout the country.

“The Japanese government is very much negative,” said Tetsunari Iida, director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies in Japan.

“Local government like the Fukushima prefecture or the Tokyo metropolitan government are much more active, more progressive compared to the national government, which is occupied by the industry people.”

Former Japanese Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa is running for mayor of Tokyo on an anti-nuclear platform.

The February 9 election is seen as a referendum on Abe’s efforts to restart nuclear reactors and on the future of nuclear power in Japan in general.

“Tokyo is shoving nuclear power plants and nuclear waste to other regions, while enjoying the convenience (of electricity) as a big consumer,” Hosokawa said during a late January news conference. “The myth that nuclear power is clean and safe has collapsed. We don’t even have a place to store nuclear waste. Without that, restarting the plants would be a crime against future generations.”

Fukushima currently gets 22 percent of its energy from renewable sources. In November, a 2-megawatt offshore wind turbine started operating about 12 miles off Fukushima’s coast. Two more 7-megawatt turbines are in the planning stages. The Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has said that total offshore wind capacity may reach up to 1,000 megawatts.

“Fukushima is making a stride toward the future step by step,” Yuhei Sato, Governor of Fukushima, said at the turbine’s opening ceremony. “Floating offshore wind is a symbol of such a future.”

A 26-megawatt solar power station also just broke ground in the prefecture. Japan’s solar market is booming and far exceeded solar analysts’ 2013 predictions, in large part due to government incentives such as a feed-in tariff that was passed into law shortly after the Fukushima meltdown. The shuttering of Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors after the incident forced the government to focus on alternative electricity sources.

“There’s still a long way to go in Japan because the official government position is still very pro-nuclear, so it would be naïve to say this is an easy way, that we just need to set an example and other regions will follow,” Stefan Schurig, Director of the Climate and Energy Department of the World Future Council, said at the Community Power Conference in Fukushima.

The debate over the future of nuclear power on a global scale is hardly a two-sided polemic. Nuclear power is still staggeringly expensive, and has not become cheaper over the decades as many expected.

Yet James Hansen, a prominent climatologist advocating for immediate action on climate change and further investment in nuclear power recently told the National Journal, “It seems to me that there are a lot of environmentalists who are beginning to look into the facts and appreciate the potential environmental advantages of intelligent development of nuclear power.”

However in Japan the scars of nuclear catastrophe are still fresh in the public’s mind. A September, 2013 survey found that that 53 percent of Japanese people wanted to see nuclear power phased out gradually, and 23 percent wanted it immediately done with.

The local situation is still unresolved, with nuclear radiation around the Fukushima power plant about eight times government safety guidelines as of mid-January.

Radioactive water leaks from the plant have also been an ongoing issue of concern — both for locals and the international community — with about 300 metric tons of contaminated groundwater seeping into the ocean each day, according to Japan’s government. On Monday the government announced new guidelines for capturing water before it becomes contaminated and flows into the ocean.

The government is also negotiating with the National Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations to gain approval to dump groundwater from the Fukushima power plant into the ocean under the assertion that the radioactive contamination would be under the legal limit.

In the meantime, a Renewable Energy Village (REV) with 120 solar panels and plans for wind turbines has sprouted up on the contaminated farmland surrounding the power plant.

This is an example of the type of project renewable energy advocates in the region hope to see more of in the quest toward the goal of 100 percent renewable power by 2040.

Radiation-tainted water from Fukushima is expected to arrive at American shores this year. In December, Nuclear Regulatory Commission chairman Allison Macfarlane said that water would reach U.S. at levels less than 100 times lower than the accepted drinking water threshold. Scientists are prepared to test waters, but are skeptical that dangerous levels of contamination will be found.

“We don’t know if we’re going to find a signal of the radiation,” Matt Edwards, a UT San Diego scientist working on one such project, told RedOrbit.

“And I personally don’t believe it’ll represent a health threat if there is one. But it’s worth asking whether there’s a reason to be concerned about a disaster that occurred on the other side of the planet some time ago.”

This article, Fukushima Pledges To Go 100% Renewable, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.