Germany’s Success, Japan’s Failure

Here is an interesting blog post from the Rocky Mountain Institute which contrasts the German phase out of nuclear power with the Japanese failure to get control of its electrical system following the beginning of the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster.  (I say “beginning” of the disaster, because this disaster will last for hundreds of years.)

Here is the gist of the post:

Japan thinks of itself as famously poor in energy, but this national identity rests on a semantic confusion. Japan is indeed poor in fossil fuels—but among all major industrial countries, it’s the richest in renewable energy like sun, wind, and geothermal. For example, Japan has nine times Germany’s renewable energy resources. Yet Japan makes about nine times less of its electricity from renewables (excluding hydropower) than Germany does.

That’s not because Japan has inferior engineers or weaker industries, but only because Japan’s government allows its powerful allies—regional utility monopolies—to protect their profits by blocking competitors. Since there’s no mandatory wholesale power market, only about 1% of power is traded, and utilities own almost all the wires and power plants and hence can decide whom they will allow to compete against their own assets, the vibrant independent power sector has only a 2.3% market share; under real competition it would take most of the rest. These conditions have caused an extraordinary divergence between Japan’s and Germany’s electricity outcomes. [emphasis mine]

There are a lot of parallels between the iron grip that Japanese electric companies have over the Japanese economy and the WV electricity industry controlled by two Ohio-based holding companies and a complicit WV political and regulatory culture.

The RMI post focuses on the way Germany and Japan have dealt with decisions to reduce or eliminate their dependence on dangerous nuclear power:

Before the March 2011 Fukushima disaster, both Germany and Japan were nearly 30% nuclear-pow­ered. In the next four months, Germany restored, and sped up by a year, the nuclear phaseout schedule originally agreed with industry in 2001–02. With the concurrence of all political parties, 41% of Germany’s nuclear power capacity—eight units of 17, including five similar to those at Fukushima and seven from the 1970s—got promptly shut down, with the rest to follow during 2015–22.

In 2010, those eight units produced 22.8% of Germany’s electricity. Yet a comprehensive package of seven other laws passed at the same time coordinated efficiency, renewable, and other initiatives to ensure reliable and low-carbon energy supplies throughout and long after the phaseout. The German nuclear shutdown, though executed decisively, built on a longstanding deliberative policy evolution consistent with the nuclear construction halts or operating phaseouts adopted in seven other nearby countries both before and after Fukushima.

Moreover, the Energiewende term and concept began before 1980, and Germany’s formal shift to renewables—now well over 70 billion watts installed—began in 1991, 20 years before Fukushima, then was reinforced in 2000 by feed-in tariffs. Those aren’t a subsidy but a way for customers to buy, and hence developers to finance and build, the renewables society chose, with a reasonable chance for sellers to earn a fair return on their investments. FITs’ values have plummeted in step with renewable costs, so developers now commonly opt to earn higher market prices instead.

This integrated policy framework and the solid analysis behind it meant that the output lost when those eight reactors closed in 2011 was entirely replaced in the same year—59% by the 2011 growth of renewables, 6% by more-efficient use, and 36% by temporarily reduced electricity exports. Through 2012, Germany’s loss of 2010 nuclear output was 94% offset by renewable growth; through 2013, 108%. At this rate, renewable growth would replace Germany’s entire pre-Fukushima nuclear output by 2016. [emphasis mine]

Remember that stupid story in The State Journal last week?  While WV’s Jeff Herholdt and AEP’s Charles Patton whine that renewable power is just too hard, Germany replaced the capacity of 8 nuclear reactors in one year and will entirely make up for all nuke closures in a five year period, mainly with reductions in electricity use and new renewable generation capacity.

And remember the false statement by the WV Coal Association’s Bill Raney about coal generation in Germany?  Here’s the truth:

Contrary to widespread misreportage, closing those eight reactors did not cause more fossil fuel to be burned. Whenever renewable sources run in Germany, both law and econom­ics require them to displace costlier sources, so renewables always make fossil-fueled plants run less, though often in more complex patterns. The data confirm this: from 2010 through 2013, German nuclear output fell by 43.3 TWh, renewable output rose by 46.9 TWh, and the power sector burned almost exactly as much more coal and lignite as it burned less of the costlier gas and oil. German utilities bet against the energy transition and lost. Now they gripe that the renewables in which most of them long underinvested have made their thermal plants too costly to run.

Despite those big utilities’ self-inflicted woes, Germany adopted a coherent and effective strategy of boosting efficiency and renewables and ensuring their full and fair competition. In contrast, Japan replaced its own, larger lost nuclear generation almost entirely by increasing its imports of costly fossil fuels. These opposite policies produced opposite results.

Note the statement above that Germany’s energiewende began before 1980.  The Germans created their energy transformation with a consistent and long term commitment and a lot of hard work and innovation — and by breaking corporate control of the country’s electrical system.  It’s not rocket science.  You just have to make the decision and do it.  Both WV and Japan have far more renewable resources than Germany.  The only difference is that the Germans are committed to innovation and democratizing its energy economy, and Japan and WV are not.


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