November 27, 2020

Business Briefing | Energy: Officials in Germany Support Closing 7 Nuclear Plants

FRANKFURT — Seven nuclear power plants in Germany that were shut down after the Fukushima disaster in Japan are likely to be closed permanently after a decision Friday by state environment ministers.

A government agency warned, however, that without the seven plants Germany could have trouble coping with a failure in some part of the national power grid.

The shutdown “brings networks to the limit of capacity,” the Federal Network Agency, which regulates utilities, said in a report published Friday.

Meeting in Wernigerode, in eastern Germany, the state environment ministers recommended that the seven plants be closed. The decision rests with Chancellor Angela Merkel and her cabinet, which will consider the issue on June 6.

Mrs. Merkel is under heavy political pressure to speed Germany’s exit from nuclear power after public alarm about the nuclear disaster in Japan cost her party votes in recent elections. In late March, a few weeks after the tsunami and earthquake hit Japan and led to the crisis at Fukushima, the Green Party, representing environmentalists, drove Mrs. Merkel’s Christian Democrats from power in Baden-Württemberg, a state the conservatives had dominated for decades.

The Green Party is pushing for Germany to close all of its plants by 2020 if not sooner. “An exit during this decade is very doable,” Franz Untersteller, the environment minister in Baden-Württemberg, said in a statement Friday.

But businesses have expressed concern that the price of electricity could rise because Germany does not yet have enough other sources of energy to compensate.

The Federal Network Agency, in its report Friday, said Germany had transformed from energy exporter to energy importer since the nuclear plants were shut down.

When weather is ideal, Germany can generate almost as much power from wind and solar energy as 28 nuclear reactors, the agency said. The renewable energy fluctuates significantly, however, often requiring German utilities to buy power from other countries and creating problems for neighbors that had depended on German power.

The Federal Network Agency acknowledged that so far there had been no serious power failures since the seven plants were closed.

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Renewable Sources Could Provide 77% of World’s Energy by 2050, Report Says

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in a report that the availability of renewable sources like the wind and sun was virtually unlimited, and could provide up to 77 percent of the world’s energy needs by mid-century, but governments needed to adopt policies to take advantage of them.

“The report shows that it is not the availability of the resource, but the public policies that will either expand or constrain renewable energy development over the coming decades,” said Ramón Pichs Madruga, a member of the I.P.C.C. and the director of an economics research center in Cuba.

The report said renewable sources — bioenergy, wind, solar, geothermal, hydropower and ocean energy — currently accounted for about 13 percent of global energy supply.

To reach the goal of generating nearly 80 percent of the world’s energy from those same sources would require investments by governments and the private sector amounting to $5.1 trillion through 2020, and nearly $7.2 trillion between 2021 and 2030, according to the report.

The benefits would include better public health from cleaner air, as well as fewer greenhouse gas emissions, which would help hold an increase in global temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius.

Even so, a “substantial increase of renewables is technically and politically very challenging,” said Ottmar Edenhofer, a member of the I.P.C.C. and the chief economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

Among the most challenging factors is using a wider variety of technically and geographically diverse sources of energy in the future, according to the report.

Under the I.P.C.C. process, 120 experts and researchers prepared a Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation of about 1,000 pages comparing more than 160 scenarios on renewable energy.

In the second part of the process, government representatives of U.N. member states took until the early hours of Monday to agree on an outline of that report, called a Summary for Policy Makers. That summary is hugely important to clean energy companies and activists to press government leaders and international lenders to adjust energy policies and pay for new investment and infrastructure.

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