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.

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Top 20 Utility Scale Solar Countries Graph Of The Day

by Giles Parkinson – Special to JBS News

This article originally published on RenewEconomy

The latest update of utility scale solar developments round the world shows that the US has just joined China as the second country to have installed more than 3 GW of “big solar” and will soon be joined by Germany.

But Australia still does not make the big solar top 20 list compiled by Wiki-Solar – although countries such as Ukraine, Portugal, Thailand, the Czech Republic, Peru, Romania and Bulgaria do.

Screen-Shot-2013-09-03-at-8.09.45-AM

[Although there are thousands of small rooftop installations in the country] Australia has only one utility-scale solar installation at present — the Greenough River solar farm in WA — that meets the 10MW qualification for inclusion in the table, although four other projects are due to be built over the next two years. One, the 20MW Royalla project, reached financial close last week and will be the first to obtain bank finance in the country.

Two others are to be built in the ACT under that government’s solar auction program and the other, the 155MW AGL Energy project at Broken Hill and Nyngan, will begin construction next year.

Wiki-Solar says it is thinking of redefining the cut-off for “big solar” to 5MW, given that many projects in Germany and other countries are being built in that range.

If that were to happen,  China, Germany and the USA would still be the only three countries in the 3-4GW range, and India and Spain would rank next with between 1 and 2GW. It would double the number of projects world wide to be included in the table, but would not change Australia’s ranking. It doesn’t have any projects between 1.5MW and 1.0MW either.

This article, Top 20 Utility Scale Solar Countries – Graph Of The Day, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

is the founding editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, an Australian-based website that provides news and analysis on cleantech, carbon, and climate issues. Giles is based in Sydney and is watching the (slow, but quickening) transformation of Australia’s energy grid with great interest.

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Germany’s looming skills shortage

Germany’s Looming Skills Shortage | 16/11/12
by Siobhán Dowling

BERLIN, Germany — It’s a problem many other European countries would dearly love to have.

Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse, is in the throes of a skills shortage. With the lowest unemployment level in two decades, firms are finding it increasingly difficult to find well qualified workers.

That’s right: In a world where millions of talented people are hopelessly idle, a shortage of qualified workers threatens Germany’s economic performance.

In fact, Frank-Jürgen Weise, the head of Germany’s Labor Office, recently warned that the skills squeeze could hinder the German economy more than the debt crisis.

According to the German Chamber of Commerce (DIHK) this is among companies’ biggest concerns at the moment.

“Every third company we surveyed said that they saw the skills shortage as one of the biggest risks to the development of their business over the next 12 months,” Stefan Hardege, head of the DIHK’s labor market unit, told GlobalPost.

Many sectors are hit, he explained, but companies that rely on engineering and other technical skills — the core of Germany’s powerful export economy — are particularly affected.

The problem is already costing a fortune. About 92,000 engineering jobs were not filled last year, leading to an estimated loss of about 8 billion euros, according to a study published in April by the German Engineering Association (VDI) and the Cologne Institute for Economic Research (IW).

The VDI says in March, 2012 there were 110,400 unfilled engineering jobs in Germany, an increase of 26 percent on the same month last year. The states of Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia were particularly badly hit.

Meanwhile, there are currently 38,000 open positions in telecoms and IT, according to industry association BITKOM.

More from GlobalPost: Is Germany catching the euro zone virus?

There are several causes for the shortage, including demographic change; a failure to educate enough young people to meet industry’s needs; barriers to female participation in the workforce; and the difficulties that skilled foreign workers have had in moving to the country.

Executives worry that the problem will only get worse in future decades, as demographic change starts to bite. After all, Germany has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe. Over the next 50 years the population is expected to shrink by 17 million from the current 82 million.

By 2025, Germany will face a shortage of about three million workers, predicts Weise, of the Labor Office.

Industry has complained about the trend for years, and politicians are starting to address it.

In early June, Chancellor Angela Merkel gathered ministers and industry and labor representatives in the Meseberg Castle outside Berlin for a summit to address the shortage. It was the third such meeting she has held in recent years.

After the meeting, she said that one way to address the problem would be to create a proper European labor market. She pointed out that while Germany is searching for workers, many other countries are suffering from high unemployment.

She also said that education should be improved for young people with immigrant backgrounds, and that more needed to be done to make work more flexible for women, so that they can combine families and careers.

On women, Merkel has a good point, and one that has been the topic of vigorous debate. Many German women only work part time because of a lack of adequate childcare facilities. And while the government has pledged to provide state daycare places for 35 percent of 3-year-olds by 2013, implementation is lagging behind. Furthermore, critics warn that a proposed new state payment to stay-at-home parents, known as Betreeungsgeld, will act as a disincentive for women who might otherwise have sought work.

Currently, only 11 percent of engineers are women. And though more young women are now taking technical courses at universities, they still lag behind the boys.

Michael Sommer, head of the German Trade Union Confederation, also urged better training, saying that 1.5 million young people lacked proper qualifications.

“The complaints from employers and the government about the skills shortage is not credible as long as they don’t do more for the employment and further training of young people, women, migrants and old people,” he said.

Two-thirds of companies say that young people are finishing school without basic skills, according to Hardege, of DIHK.

Meanwhile there is also a lack of high tech graduates. VDI estimates that there is an annual need for 80,000 new engineers yet only around 50,000 are currently graduating from universities.

Germany has many programs to encourage people to study math, science and the like at university, but the drop out rate is around 50 percent.

Industry representatives want Germany to attract more skilled workers from abroad. Already, steps are being taken to loosen up Germany’s previously outmoded immigration system. Last year it opened up immigration from Eastern Europe, which it had initially hesitated to do, thus losing out to countries like the UK and Ireland who availed of workers from

Poland and other countries

Furthermore, the government is making it easier for highly qualified workers from non-EU countries to work in Germany, by reducing the minimum salaries that such immigrants have to earn once they arrive. Instead of the previous minimum salary of 67,200 euros, now very highly skilled professions such as doctors and engineers, can earn just 34,944 euros a year, while other skilled migrants will need to earn 44,800 euros.

The Education Ministry has also made the recognition of foreign qualifications easier. That is not only of benefit to those abroad but also to the thousands of foreigners living in Germany for years who have not been able practice the professions for which they trained back home.

Meanwhile the government is launching an information campaign aimed at attracting talent both at home and abroad. While the www.fachkräfte-offensive.de provides information to companies and workers in Germany, www.make-it-in-Germany.com is aimed at well qualified foreigners, and includes both job offers and information about working in the country.

At a recent launch of the campaign, Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen warned of the problems that industries face.

“There is work there that is not being done, and there are orders there that are not being filled,” she said.

Economics minister Philipp Roesler, whose department is also involved in the campaign, warned that the looming skills shortage could be a “growth brake” for Germany. He said he wanted to see more skilled workers coming to Germany, adding:

“We will start further advertising campaigns in those European neighboring states like Spain, Italy and Portugal, where there is high unemployment.”

Indeed migration from those countries has already started to increase, due to the lure of Germany’s strong economy.

Yet Hardege of the DIHK says more need to be done.

“It is not that well known that Germany is looking for skilled workers or which workers are being sought, or what kind of possibilities for migration exist, and that it is being made easier and less bureaucratic than before,” he said. “So it is important that this is actively communicated.”

Many industry representatives would also like to see a points system like that in operation in Australia and Canada, whereby immigrants are selected on the basis of how their skills match the gaps in the labor market.

“A points system would certainly be the easiest and most efficient way because it is more flexible and less bureaucratic,” Hardege argues. “And it allows workers abroad gain an overview: can I come, can I not, what qualifications have what points? Furthermore, domestically we would be in a position to steer immigration based on the needs of the labor market.”

Yet German politicians seem to balk at the idea. After her summit Merkel said that there was no need for such a system when there was already a pool of labor available in the EU.

“We have freedom of movement in 27 countries. Everyone who has found or is looking for work can come to us.”

Read the original article here: This article first appeared on GlobalPost, June 25, 2012 and has been reblogged with the kind permission of the authour, Siobhan Dowling.

@SiobhanDowling

Berlin · http://siobhandowling.wordpress.com/

Dublin-born editor and journalist, reporting from Berlin, mainly for GlobalPost and the Guardian.

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Greek and French Voters Overturn Austerity

By John Brian Shannon

Greek and French voters have overturned austerity in Europe, but voters have really overturned a change to sustainable economic policies.

The structural changes there have caused some level of financial problems for individuals and families.

But the alternative was to let the outrageous, drunken-sailor spending continue until there was nothing left of the economies in question. Eventually that would have caused a real pan-European depression  – instead of five years of austerity in only those countries foolish enough to have overspent themselves for decades.

It is the obscene deficits which have run year after year (and have piled up into unaffordable debt) that are responsible for the lowered credit ratings in those countries and the poor economic performances found only in those particular European countries, it must be said. I note that the rest of Europe is doing quite well – even accounting for the combined drag and multi-billion euro bailouts of Greece, Portugal and Spain.

Blaming austerity, is like blaming the doctor who is now fixing your broken arm for the original accident — as you drunkenly stumbled out of the casino! The Greek economy was a basket-case long before austerity ever arrived and it will be a basket-case now that austerity is leaving Greece.

Greek and French citizens have voted for the former glory days of unrestrained spending with lots of toys and goodies from their governments – and to hell with paying for it!

“Let the EU bail us out forever, for tonight, we drink like drunken sailors!” And, if you think that isn’t being hollered at full volume at many thousands of cantina’s and spilling out on to the streets of Greece tonight, you’ve never been there!

Follow John Brian Shannon on Twitter: https://twitter.com/@JBSCanada