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Germany Set To Miss Their Emissions Targets For A Ridiculous Reason
Why we must adopt all climate technology and not leave any behind
Over the years, I have covered the idiocracy of Germany’s nuclear phase-out multiple times. You see, when you look at the data, this decision makes zero sense. Despite what pop culture might tell you, nuclear power is incredibly safe, with a death rate per TWh 80% lower than solar! It’s also one of our cleanest energy sources, only emitting 4g of carbon dioxide per kWh of energy. Yet, Germany turned its back on this incredible energy source, and the last of their nuclear power plants shut down a few months ago. If you’ve been paying attention to the global political scene, you will know that this has coincided with an ongoing energy crisis in Europe, and Russian gas flow to the continent has been severely throttled back. As such, Germany has had to increase their use of coal power — the worst polluting energy source with emissions of 950g per kWh- to meet energy demand. So when I saw a recent headline declaring that Germany will miss their emissions targets, I was intrigued to see why. What I found was a very slight but effective bit of political PR.
Let’s start at the beginning. Germany has incredibly ambitious emissions targets. It wants to reduce its emissions by 65% compared to 1990 levels by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2045, 5 years before the Paris Agreement mandates. Their reason for this is that they are the largest economy in the European Union and, therefore, need to take a decisive lead to ensure the whole continent works together to fight climate change.
With this as a backdrop, their nuclear phase-out is even more baffling, but I digress.
Despite the nuclear phase-out, Germany has made some giant leaps towards these targets. For example, as of 2022, 22% of their energy came from wind power, and their entire automotive industry is rapidly transitioning towards EV technology. As such, their emissions are already 40% below their 1990 levels.
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This all sounds excellent, like Germany is on track to meet their targets. But a recent report from the German government themselves paints a different picture. This report states that the current level of emission reduction is not enough, and even worse, Hans-Martin Henning, the chairman of a council of climate experts that advises the government, said, “The expected overall reduction is probably overestimated.”
In other words, Germany needs to do something drastic; otherwise, it will miss its targets and, in turn, potentially jeopardise the entire continent’s climate momentum.
This is where I got excited. Has Germany recognised its nuclear phase-out as the catastrophic failure it is? It isn’t too late to rejuvenate their nuclear industry or adopt newer, cheaper, faster-to-build reactors that will be coming to market in the next few years. But to do all of this in time to meet their targets, they need to act now.
In hindsight, I was maybe too optimistic at this prospect. I mean, when do politicians actually use scientific advice and rigorous data to make decisions…
So, instead of admitting their mistake, the German government used the oldest trick in the book and shifted the blame. According to the report, the building sector and transport sector are to blame. By 2030, the building sector is predicted to emit 35 million tonnes of carbon dioxide over the 2030 target, and the transport industry is expected to emit at least 117 million tonnes over the 2030 target.
So, let’s dig a little deep here and see if that actually is the case or if nuclear phase-out is to blame.
In 2010, before Germany started their inane nuclear phase-out program, they had 17 reactors pumping out 133 TWh per year, which constituted a quarter of the country’s energy production! Now, with emissions of 4g per kWh, this equates to the German nuclear industry emitting only 532,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.
All of these reactors are now shut down. While renewables have expanded dramatically in Germany since 2010, they haven’t expanded enough to compensate for the downturn in nuclear output. Germany wanted to use natural gas to prop up their energy supply, as it is the least polluting fossil fuel power. However, that is like me saying I’d like to be stabled in the foot rather than the hand, so I can continue writing. Sadly, Putin had other ideas and decimated their natural gas supply, so Germany has had to significantly increase their use of coal power to meet energy demands. That’s why by the end of 2022, 31.3% of Germany’s energy supply (159.3 TWh of 509 TWh)came from archaic and filthy coal.
Coal emits 950 g of carbon dioxide per kWh. This means that Germany’s coal-fired power plants are currently emitting 151,335,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. I believe that is what is known as a s**t-tonne! Now, let’s do a little thought experiment. Let’s assume that Germany didn’t phase out nuclear power, and they still had those 17 reactors supplying 133 TWh per year. Well, in that case, they would only need 26.3 TWh of coal power per year, or just 16% of their current supply.
In this scenario, nuclear and coal together can supply the same 159.3 TWh per year that coal supplies today but only emit 25,517,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. That is 125,818,000 tonnes less!
If you recall, this recent report stated that the building and transport sectors were the main areas stopping them from reaching their emissions goals, as they are predicted to be 35 million and at least 117 million tonnes per year over the target, respectively.
I’d argue that this is complete nonsense. If Germany kept its nuclear industry and just maintained it, then the predicted deficit to their rapidly approaching emissions target would be in the order of tens of millions of tonnes per year, not hundreds of millions of tonnes. If they actively expanded their nuclear industry, as experts have been begging countries to do for years now, then they might actually be on course to hit their climate targets early!
There is a lesson here. We can’t pick and choose our climate technologies. The margins for success in our struggle to save the planet from ourselves are too small. We need every piece of climate technology we can get, and not overly rely on a single one to save us. Germany phased out nuclear power to appease voters who were misinformed about the risks surrounding nuclear power, rather than tackle widespread misinformation. While Germany can’t undo the damage this decision has caused them (though they can sure as hell stubbornly refuse to admit their fault), the rest of us can learn from this unfortunate tale, tackle misinformation and keep our climate progress on track.
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