Germany’s meltdown over nuclear power risks a costly winter

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Following nuclear’s shutdown this year, Germany is set to stop using coal-fired power by 2038 at the latest. The new coalition government, led by the Social Democrats’ Olaf Scholz, says “ideally” it wants to close it earlier, in 2030. 

Politicians want to fill that gap with a massive ramp-up of renewable power.

Solar, wind, and hydropower accounted for about a third of German power production in 2021, with renewables generating 41pc once biomass is included. Politicians want this to hit 80pc by 2030, even as demand for electricity rises by a third.

Under the three-way coalition deal signed in December between the centre-left Social Democrats, the Greens and fiscally more conservative, libertarian Free Democrats, Germany wants to quadruple solar panel capacity, treble offshore wind capacity and increase onshore wind capacity by about 70pc within the decade. 

That will be challenging. Progress on wind turbine installation was slow last year, with obstacles including building the cables to transport electricity from the windy north to the energy-hungry south and west, and overcoming bureaucracy and local resistance. 

The coalition agreement includes plans to make solar panels mandatory on new commercial buildings, and give over 2pc of Germany’s land mass to wind turbines. Nearby communities should “profit appropriately”, it adds. 

Efforts should “lead to more intensive cooperation with the communities on the ground,” says Maria Pastukhova, senior policy adviser in the Berlin office of E3G, the environmental think-tank.  

Despite efforts to cut carbon emissions, Germany plans to rely on gas-fired power stations to help pick up gaps in renewables as the system is overhauled. Experts estimate up to 44 gigawatts of new gas-fired capacity could be needed by 2035 to help meet this need.

Hydrogen’s holy grail

Politicians insist using natural gas will not be a permanent measure. Gas-fired power plants and pipelines will need to be ready to run on hydrogen instead, which does not produce carbon emissions when burned, ahead of an expected massive ramp-up of hydrogen produced using renewable electricity.   

Germany is investing heavily to try to ensure that increasing hydrogen production does happen. About €8bn is being poured into more than 60 hydrogen projects, of which about €2bn will go to help steelmakers make the shift to create demand. 

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