Germany is about to close its final nuclear power plants, but it’s still lagging on renewables

Isar 2 nuclear power plant, which the Germany will start decommissioning on 15 April
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Germany will shut down its three remaining nuclear plants on 15 April. The country believes it can fulfil its green ambitions without nuclear power, despite the energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine.

At a time when many Western countries are ramping up nuclear plants in their transition to greener energy sources, Europe’s biggest economy is resolutely sticking to its plans. The nuclear plant in Neckarwestheim, near Stuttgart will soon be closed, as will the Isar 2 complex in Bavaria, and the Emsland plant in the north.

Germany has sought to phase out nuclear power since 2002. Former chancellor Angela Merkel accelerated the decision in 2011 after the Fukushima disaster in Japan. The exit decision was popular in a country with a powerful anti-nuclear movement, fueled by fears of Cold War conflict and disasters such as Chernobyl. However, not everyone agrees.

Germany still relies on coal

The German government had initially planned to switch off the three remaining nuclear power plants on 31 December 2022. However, high energy prices resulting from Russia‘s invasion of Ukraine earlier in the year led to calls to extend their lives. As a result, current chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government, which includes the fiercely anti-nuclear Greens, agreed to extend the life of the plants to 15 April.

Jochen Winkler, the mayor of Neckarwestheim, said:

There might have been a new discussion if the winter had been more difficult, if there had been power cuts and gas shortages. But we had a winter without too many problems [due to liquified natural gas imports]

Germany has closed sixteen nuclear power plants since 2003. The three final plants provided 6% of Germany’s energy last year, compared with 30.8% from all nuclear plants in 1997. Meanwhile, Germany produced 46% of its energy from renewables in 2022, up from less than 25% a decade ago.

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However, coal currently accounts for a third of German electricity production. This increased by 8% following Russia’s cutting of its gas supplies to Europe. This led to Germany missing its climate targets in 2022.

Germany is planning to phase coal-generated electricity out by 2038, with the first round of plant closures planned for 2030. Despite this, it is going ahead with an expansion of Lützerath coal mine even in the face of widespread criticism and resistance.

Germany isn’t building turbines fast enough

As a result, the current rate of progress on renewables will not be enough for Germany to meet its own targets. Scholz said Germany will need to build “four to five wind turbines a day” over the next few years to meet its need. In 2022, the country built just 551. Germany also needs to more than double the rate at which it is installing photovoltaic equipment, according to the Agora Energiewende energy and climate think tank.

A series of regulatory relaxations has been adopted in recent months in a bid to help speed up planning processes. Planning and approval for a wind power project currently takes an average of four to five years, according to industry association BWE. It said that shortening this by one or two years would be “a considerable step forward”.

Featured image via Bjoern Schwarz/Wikimedia Commons

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

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