Tag Archives: Energy

Renewing Algeria

Photo credit: raulsantosdelacamara (CC-BY-SA)

By Claudia Pollio

Chakib Khelil, at the time when he was still the Algerian Energy Minister, claimed that Algeria was in the race to see who would control renewable energy technologies. “We have the human and financial resources, and we have the will.” In this period of energy confusion, Algeria is working hard to get what it is missing to be competitive in the race.

After the secession of Southern Sudan from Sudan, Algeria became the biggest country in Africa, with a population of more than 35 million, in an area of around 2.4 million square kilometers. It is a country rich in resources, but the socio-political situation leaves one quarter of the population below poverty lines. The high number of unemployed people, in particular in the younger generation, has lead to the problem of mass emigration to Europe.

Besides ‘human and financial resources’ it has another resource. Algeria, the largest OPEC member country, has a huge portion of the Sahara within its borders. The idea to use the desert to generate solar and wind power, shows African resources in a different light.

The Algerian desert can be an eternal source of welfare. As Professor Bachir Bouchekima, member of the Scientific Committee of the Algerian Center for Renewable Energy (CDER), argues, “The average duration of sunshine exceeds 2000 hours on average per year, with more than 3000 hours of sunshine in the Sahara. The total energy received is estimated more than 500 times the annual electricity consumption of the country.”

The after-hydrocarbons in Algeria

Today Algeria is the third largest supplier of natural gas to Europe, after Russia and Norway. Some European countries, such as Italy, are dependent on this supply. On the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, Algeria is dependent too. The hydrocarbons sector is the backbone of the economy, accounting for more than 95 per cent of export earnings.

Algeria faces a decline in natural gas reserves. According to EIA, the Hassi R’Mel gas field accounts for a quarter of Algeria’s total dry gas production and it is estimated to have only 25 more years of production left. In this context, one of the priorities of the Algerian policymakers is to diversify the country’s economy, indeed the energy sector.

The debate around nuclear energy, stimulated after Fukushima disaster, is not new in Algeria. Youssef Yousfi, Minister of Energy and Mines and Mayoub Belhamel, CDER director, argued in the last months about the nuclear power option. “Algeria has no other choice but to start a long-term nuclear energy plan for electricity production”, claimed the Minister. “Algeria should focus on clean energy” replied Belhamel.

Hakim Darbouche, from The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies notes “Algeria has spoken about nuclear plants for 20 years if not more. It is not going to happen in the next years at least. Maybe after 2020.”

However, the country is seeking to diversify into renewable energy and decrease its reliance on fossil fuels. Algeria declared in February, its intention to invest 60 billions dollars in renewable energy projects in the next 20 years. The goal is to produce 12,000 megawatts by 2030, with the short term goal of 650 megawatts by 2015.

This production is not just for the European market, it is also to cover the growing domestic electricity consumption. “Electricity consumption should reach 16,500 to 20,000 MW per year by 2019, hence the idea now to produce electricity from renewable energy” argues Bouchekima.

This 20-years plan is divided into three short periods. The first one, three years, is devoted to the research. It aims to “identify technologies in renewable energy that are best adapted to climatic conditions in Algeria”.

The challenge is daunting

So, as the former Energy Minister Khelil declared years ago, Algeria has the human and financial resources, and the will to be in the race to control renewable energy technologies. And, it has the largest solar field in the world, with an estimated capacity of over 3000 hours of sunshine per year.

Ironically, what it is missing is the portfolio is an appropriate level of national technology and industrial development. It is not surprising then that one of the priorities of the Algerian policymakers is filling the technological gap with other countries.

Yousfi clarified that Algeria is not interested in joining international projects in renewable energy without some conditions. The important one is a technological partnership for the knowledge transfer. “We can not afford to develop renewable energy by importing technology and without having the ability to innovate and expand in this field” Yousfi declared last October. As Bouchekima summerizes: “The governments do not want that Algeria only serve as a basis for the installation of foreign equipment for renewable energy.”

For their proximity to Europe, South Mediterrannean countries, specifically Maghreb countries, are natural interlocutors for Europe in terms of business and cooperations. Relationships and interdependences exist between the two rives of the Mediterranean Sea on the hydrocarbons field.

Europe’s ambition is also, to create an EUMENA (Europe – Middle East – North Africa) green electricity market. From the European perspective Africa is an important partner in order to reach its ‘green’ targets. From the African side, Europe is seen as a market for the clean energy that might be produced.

While Morocco and Tunisia respond enthusiastically to the projects coming from EU, Algeria has reservations and poses conditions to join these projects. Darbouche underlines that “Algeria is in a slighly more comfortable position compared to other countries in the region, both in term of energy supply and revenues.”

In the last years, a lot was said about the participation of Algeria in the Desertec initiative, a pharaonic project that aims at producing up to 15 percent of Europe’s elecricity needs by 2050, with an investment of 400 billions euros. According to Darbouche, “Algerians did not respond publicly because the people promoting Desertec did not ask explicity”. But, the main reason for the delay is the priviliged position that the country could have in the negotiations compared to other countries from the region.

Can Algeria use this comfortable position to fill the technological gap between itself and European countries? Can Algeria exploit western countries’ technologies, through this kind of projects? At least, this is the goal that Algerian policymakers want to reach in order to be competitive in the race to control the green market.

Desertec and Algeria

The last 19th of May Minister Yousfi said, in a statement after a meeting with the Desertec CEO, Paul Von Son, that Algeria is defenetely interested in a long term partnership with companies involved in the project.

What is Desertec? Desertec is mainly an idea, a concept. The ‘dream’ of using the solar power in the desert is the backbone of the project. But, the Desertec Fondation, based in Germany, was created in 2003 to explore the potential of the Sahara desert. In 2009, twelve firms joined the Desertec Foundation in the Desertec Industrial Initiative (DII), in order to realize the dream of using the sun in the desert to produce energy. The motto of the Desertec is that “whitin six hours deserts receive more energy from the sun than the humankind consumes within a year”. The representative imagine is a red square in the Sahara desert that represents the size of the solar plant necessary to provide the world’s total electricity demand. Actually, the idea is to build a power grid across the Mediterranean and several plants in the Saharan desert. Two technologies are the fulcrum of the project: Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) and High Voltage Direct Current power lines (HVDC). The latter is an option to deliver the energy generated in the desert with a loss of energy of 3% per 1000 km. The system that is currently in use in much of the world is High Voltage Alternative Current (HVAC) and it has bigger energy losses. CSP is a technology already in use in the world, but is not common. It mainly uses mirrors to concentrate the sun’s direct rays to a receiver, which uses the energy to run a generator, which produces electricity. CSP differs from photovoltaic because it permits a production of electricity also during night.

The project aims to produce by 2050, 15 percent of Europe’ electricity needs and supply to MENA (Middle East – North Africa) countries consumption. 2050 is not a random deadline. The EU has the goal to reduce greenhouse emissions by 80 percent by 2050. In the short period there is the 20-20-20 targets. By 2020 EU aims to have 20 percent of renewable energy in its energy mix, incraese its energy efficiency by 20 percent and reduce greenohouse emissions by 20 percent compared to 1990. The Desertec project goes in that direction. Elena Ricci, researcher in FEEM, an institution devoted to the study of sustainable development, said “If Europe wants to decarbonize its production of electricity in the short term, Desertec is a feasible solution. The implementation of large plants can produce large amounts of electricity without greenhouse gas emissions.” However, according to Ricci “from a striclty economic point of view, in the long period it would seem that it is not worthy invest in this market now”. But Europe, in order to contribuite to the challange of climate change really needs this green energy soon. It does not matter that it is very expensive to start this kind of investment now.

Everything seems to be working. After the investments there will be more energy avialable. And this energy will be ‘clean’. But the issue is more complex. Why does some of this energy have to go to the European market? One of the main critic to the project is that it represents a continued expolitation of African reseources for the benfit of the West. A new form of colonialism, critics say. “What to do with solar power in the MENA region? – is the main question, said Dourbache. “Energy consuption and water consumption in the region is growing very fast, has been growing very fast in recent years, and it will continue to grow very fast.” Critics also underline how the energy could be used to resolve water security issues and domestic needs before being directed to Europe. Algerians and Africans need more energy, their fossil fuels are running out and they want to be competetive in the increasing green energy market. Darbouche points out that Algeria is trying to approach this renewable energy possibility, in a way, to avoid the same experience they had with the hydrocarbon industry. “In other words, developing renewable energy industry that does not aim to export electricity based on solar energy and import everything else from outside.”

One of the characteristics distinguishing developed, developing countries and underdeveloped countries is their tecnhological levels. This technology permits that countries use the resources that they have in their borders. The difference between countries that have natural resources and that do not have them, is that the latters have to import these resources. Tecnhology, an ‘artificial’ resource to exploit the natural ones, is nowadays even more profitable than the others. With the technological partnerships that Algeria hopes to obtain, it can become a bridge between Europe and Africa. It looks to be a mirage. But, who would have thought that the sun in the desert could have produced such a great wealth? Algerians did not. But, after decades of being black as the oil, gold might became gold again. Gold as the sand struck by the sun in the desert. And Algerians know that gold is the best bargaining chip.

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Winds of Discontent


Photo credit: andjohan (CC-BY)

By Lea Sibbel

An environmentalist observing the steady rotation of the hundreds offshore wind turbines at the coast of Germany’s North Sea, stretching from the Dutch border all the way up to the islands of Fohr and Sylt, gets a sense of a peaceful tranquility and hopeful enthusiasm: This could be the future of green energy, one possible way to help fight climate change.

Meanwhile, the troubles under the surface of the water usually go unnoticed.

Read the full story on Earth Times

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when was it that you were there?

First World Trade Dispute on Green Energy Settled -with the Next Already in Line

Photo credit: Sebastian KirschThe United States and China solved their dispute over wind energy subsidies. But further cases about green technology could pile up at the World Trade Organization (WTO) over the next years without specific regulations between states.

By Sebastian Kirsch

United States officials celebrated, when they announced on June 7th that China had eliminated subsidies for its domestic wind energy sector. The United Steelworkers Union (USW), which initiated the WTO complaint with a 5,800 page petition last year, was relieved to hear about the dispute settlement.

Leo W. Gerard, USW International President, said: “The Steelworkers Union petition and the Obama Administration’s pursuit of our complaint on the Special Fund provisions brought the Chinese to the table with a commitment to end this program.  That’s good news for our members, U.S. companies and American workers”. US Trade Ambassador Ron Kirk joined the ovations, promising, that from now on, “American manufacturers can produce wind turbine components here in the United States and sell them in China”. But the winner of this first WTO dispute on green energy might still be the Chinese.

The case was officially filed in December 2010 by the US, and later joined by Japan and the EU, against Chinese subsidies for domestic wind energy producers. Such measures are prohibited, according to the WTO Subsidies and Countervailing Measures Agreement Article 3.1 b. Subject of the dispute was the Chinese “Ride the Wind” program that endowed localized wind power equipment with special loans between US$6.7 million and $22.5 million per case.

Furthermore, export subsidies for Chinese manufacturers and the “Special Fund for Wind Power Manufacturing” were criticized, supporting domestically produced wind turbines with $92.55 cents/KW. On June 6th, after nearly six months of negotiations under guidance of the WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB), China agreed to intermit the measures criticized by the US.

It is a case that goes deeper than the achieved settlement appears at first sight. The green technology cases US vs. China and Japan vs. Ontario, CA are the first two, brought up to be consulted by the WTO, as no formal guidelines are applicable apart from the Kyoto Protocol, yet. They might set the guidelines, on where the WTO can bring cases of this sector and go beyond simple industrial cases for the benefit of environmental protection.

And even though the United States declared “victory” on this dispute against China, they could have actually lost the battle on the Chinese wind energy market. Marie Wilke, international trade law program officer at the non-governmental organization ICTSD in Geneva said, Chinese officials presented proof in March and April that their criticized “Ride the Wind” program and the export subsidies had already expired in 2009. After cutting down the “Special Fund” over the first quarter of 2011, the last program that would have counted as prohibited subsidy under WTO law was eliminated this year and the dispute settled out of court. And while the official announcement might have been a surprise to the US, it appears to be only a minor issue for the Chinese.

China already world leader in wind energy

Sticking to their programs would have been counterproductive for the Chinese government, Wilke went on to explain. “Subsidies are distorting the market and they are extremely expensive for the government.” And it turns out that these subsidies had already reached their desired effects, long before the United States officially filed the WTO complaint. As in 2009, China became the world leading producer of wind turbines. And with 17GW newly installed wind power last year, is now the biggest market worldwide, according to a study by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Shi Pengfei, Chinese Wind Energy Association vice-president, told China Daily: “It is understandable that the Chinese government is ending subsidies to an industry that is strong enough to compete with international players.” His statement underlines that the US-American win of the WTO dispute is far less than an actual improvement for foreign companies on the Chinese wind energy market. A fact that could quickly weaken Ron Kirk’s and Leo W. Gerard’s expectations for successful integration of US companies on the Chinese market.

In 2009, six domestic wind turbine producers dominated the Chinese market, with 73.8% cumulative market share. The European producers Gamesa and Vestas – the biggest foreign companies on this market in China – combined for a total of 14.9%, according to the 2010 China Wind Power Outlook. The American GE Wind Power played a minor role with 3.7%.

Simone Menshausen, Asia/Pacific consultant of Germany Trade and Invest, the foreign trade association of Germany, evaluated the outcome of the dispute settlement for foreign producers of wind technology. “While equal treatment of foreign companies on the Chinese wind energy market is genuinely positive, we have to wait how this will effectively influence the market share of these manufacturers over the next few years.”

Especially the local infrastructure makes it easier for domestic producers to supply new wind energy farms with their products. And according to Simone Menshausen, open tender on the Chinese market, still largely favors domestic companies. While foreign investors have to bear immense additional costs to ship in their material from overseas.

To eliminate these disadvantages, first foreign companies are starting to install their own production sites in China. Like Vestas, the leading global manufacturer of wind turbines, which is equipped with two manufacturing plants in wind energy centers in Tianjin and Hohhot.

But at the same time, the expansion of Chinese manufacturers continues. Two years ago, they started exporting their turbines. The biggest producer Sinovel sold 10 sets of their turbines to India, and Goldwind has set foot on the US market with three sets.  “The subsidizing policies have been running for several years, and they were quite successful. So, the Chinese wind industry became extremely competitive in China, but also in other countries. Whether this development would have occurred, without the subsidies, in the same way, cannot be evaluated at this point”, said Marie Wilke, from ICTSD in Geneva.

Subsidies as common support for global wind energy

While they were highly criticized due to their effectiveness, the Chinese subsidies for wind energy are by no means the only ones granted by governments worldwide. For them, the renewable energy sector is attractive; developing rapidly and promising large numbers of newly created jobs. And above all: it is green.

The loans by the Chinese Development Bank for domestic products under the “Ride the Wind” program proved to be WTO inconsistent. But loan support for the renewable energy sector is a prevalent technique in several other countries, as well. Germany for example, still one of the leading countries in the renewable energy sector, is granting low-interest loans for green technology projects. In 2009, the German development bank of the Federal Republic, KfW, granted specified loans for 54% of all newly installed wind energy generators on the German market.

The difference to the Chinese program however: these loans are not restricted to domestic or local content. Still, 60% of the newly installed turbines in Germany in 2009 were mounted by their domestic manufacturer Enercon, while the Danish competitor Vestas came in second with 19.5%, according to the German Wind Energy Institute.

Explicit data about loan support for domestic or foreign companies are not available from KfW. But Marie Wilke, trade law expert from ICTDS stresses, “These loans are no illegal subsidies under WTO law. They are granted in several countries, specifically promote the wind energy sector and are regular support measures for the economy”.

Feed-in tariffs on the edge of legal subsidies

Apart from low-interest loans, governments are trying to stimulate their renewable energy sector with so called feed-in tariffs. These are surcharges on the market price of wind energy for the producers.

From the US perspective, they were illegally awarded in the Chinese case, for local and domestic content only.  But without this specific restriction, they are applied as large-scale support measures worldwide, according to the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Group.In Europe, feed-in tariffs combined for $19.5 billion in 2009 with Germany alone, spending $9.6 billion of tax money on these subsidies. The United States totaled $18.2 billion.

“The really interesting question for all green technology cases at the WTO is now, if green energy support measures, including feed-in tariffs, as such, are prohibited subsidies under WTO law”, said Marie Wilke. Most governments appear to be operating in a legal grey area, to stimulate the renewable energy industry in their country. And even more so, they are steadily increasing their public debt. Leading European economies like France, United Kingdom and Germany are already indebted for more than 72% of their GDP, 12% above the EU-wide allowed maximum.

Local content – Japan versus Ontario

This connects the second WTO green energy dispute to the US-China case. Japan requested consultations at the WTO Dispute Settlement Body in September 2010, over feed-in tariffs, granted in Ontario, Canada for local content requirements in their “Green Energy Act”.

Local, or domestic content requirements are governmental supports for goods that are produced or sold in a specific country and contain a certain amount of its local or domestic production. These subsidies are inconsistent with WTO law, specifically Article III, 4 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). In Ontario, they are granted for local community power projects with additional payment of up to 1.5 CAD-¢ per KW. After a dissatisfactory consultation period, Japan requested the installation of a panel on June 1st, to solve the dispute.

Apart from special treatment of local communities, the Canadian Green program attracted foreign investors, as well. In 2010, South Korean Samsung C&T Trading and Investment Group and Siemens signed an agreement in Ontario – Samsung guaranteeing 16,000 jobs with its project, 300 of which will be created by a new Siemens blade production facility. The Japanese Mission to the WTO would not comment on this issue, but was rather confident of eliminating Canadian subsidies with the help of the WTO.

Industry over environment?

After the first WTO green technology case could be solved out of court, the question is now, whether the WTO is able to handle future cases like this. It will firstly be portrayed this year, when the Japan-Ontario dispute ends with a panel decision of the DSB.

The trade law expert Marie Wilke is quite optimistic. “There are no special regulations in the WTO system regarding climate change issues, but from what we have seen so far, it is well-equipped to handle these disputes”, she said.

But these first cases were only scratching the surface of what might come to court in future disputes. US-China and Japan-Ontario are mainly treated as regular industrial WTO inquiries. They did not tackle the aspect of environmental protection through local content measures.

Robert Howse, international law professor at the New York University presented in March, that the Chinese subsidies for local content were not as easily to be recognized as prohibited subsidies, if the WTO panel and Appellate Body considered Article XX, GATT. This allows exceptions for certain measures “necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health”.

His idea was debated heavily by international law experts. But ultimately, this thinking will determine future cases in front of the WTO. Even the Chinese Ministries of Finance and Energy realized the possibility of this regulatory exception, according to their first statements after the official US complaint in December 2010. They declared that their measures were necessary, due to the high demand for clean energy in China.

The question evolves, how international trade law and environmental protection can be combined, without any binding agreements, so far. The Kyoto Protocol will expire at the end of 2012 – the only treaty that demands Annex I countries to implement policies against climate change in concordance with international trade law. The international community will have to take this issue seriously, instead of turning green energy into a carte blanche for national economic success.

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Europe Shifting Gears after Fukushima

Photo credit: Marcel Mettelsiefen / 350.og

By Simona Štrimaitytė

Few weeks after Fukushima’s accident two Swiss nuclear lobbyists have been injured after a parcel bomb explosion – it’s hard times for nuclear attorneys. In the wake of the nuclear disaster in Japan the ongoing renaissance of nuclear energy in Europe has come to a grinding halt. Switzerland has joined German policy to exit from nuclear energy; plans for new nuclear plans are on hold throughout Europe.

And this is happening at a time when Russia’s export-rich nuclear power sector started taking baby steps towards Europe since Chernobyl. Is Russia losing its chance to gain more energy influence over Europe? Is Europe ready to become more energy self-sufficient, when renewable energy takes the spotlight?

Once again, nuclear power has shown its ugly side. The world has lost appeal in it and this has been proved during the latest round of United Nations climate negotiations, attended by 183 countries in Bonn, Germany.

“Presently, nuclear power is not accepted as climate friendly technology and its development is not supported. Some countries say they will use nuclear power on a national level, some even ask to include nuclear power into the list of technologies which can be supported as climate friendly in the framework of UN climate convention. But so far those efforts did not succeed because many countries oppose nuclear here”, summarizes one of the participants of the UN talks, Vladimir Slivyak, co-chairman of the Moscow environmental organization Ecodefense.

Something similar happened 25 years ago in Europe. It got scared and became reluctant to use nuclear power after Chernobyl’s accident. But Russia didn’t abandon its industry and exported reactors to Iran, China and India. However, recently it has turned to the old continent to provide Europeans with nuclear reactors that should help fight global warming by keeping carbon emissions low.

The Russian state nuclear company Rosatom has already poured the first concrete for two reactors in the middle of Europe, Kaliningrad that belongs to Russia. Rosatom has begun the construction work in Turkey for at least two intended nuclear power plants that are located in a coastal and earthquake-prone area. Rosatom is also set to supply Belarus with a 2,400 MW power plant.

Russia’s intentions to develop nuclear energy in Europe are still possible, but getting complicated. The greatest ambition for Rosatom is to win the bid for two reactors in Temelin, Czech Republic, with the option for further three reactors against two major French and Japanese rivals. The bid is worth about 17 billion EUR and in case of success these would be the first Russian reactors built within the EU.

But the Czech case is exceptional in the EU context, because “the current right-wing government bears strong resentment against renewables and the public acceptance of nuclear in the Czech Republic is (with 49 percent “for”) third or fourth highest in the Europe,” comments Jan Rovensky, Greenpeace Climate and Energy campaigner in the Czech Republic.

Whereas in general, Fukushima’s effect will definitely overshadow Russia’s nuclear industry prospects in Europe. Vladimir Slivyak, the head of Russian environmental group Ecodefense, agrees: “I think Rosatom export plans will be very much affected by Fukushima. Even Rosatom said it is likely to happen. There is no way they can sell around 50 reactors to other countries in the next 10 years as they planned in the past. Right now, it is very hard to say how many they will sell actually, because it’s not clear yet what various developing countries will decide as a result of Fukushima. But what is more important, who will fund new reactors now. Money for nuclear renaissance is located in Western Europe, absolutely most of it. Even before 2011 it was hard to get private funds for new reactors. And after Fukushima, I guess it will be even harder. Because there will be very low financial support, new nuclear plants will not be many. But some will still appear”.

Not an alternative anymore?

On the other hand, in energy hungry Europe nuclear power is considered as an alternative to fossil energy, and as an alternative to lower its dependence on Russia that is the biggest oil, gas, uranium and coal provider to Europe.

So officially, nuclear power is still on the menu: “we have indications to assume that nuclear energy will be part of the overall European mix for the next years and decades”, says European Commission’s representative Nicole Bockstaller.

But current ongoing nuclear reassessment by European national governments might provide a different perspective. Vladimir Slivyak, co-chairman of Ecodefense, doesn’t think that Europe considers nuclear as an alternative: “Otherwise various countries would have new reactors under active construction by now. Germany is phasing-out nuclear power; many other countries are cancelling plans for new reactors. Spain is softly getting out of nuclear. UK government does not support new nuclear reactors with money from the state budget, which therefore means no new reactors will be built there. It’s true that there are talks in some countries (especially new countries of the EU), but from talks to active construction there is a very long way, and most of the countries will not even start this construction. In fact, only France and Finland have reactors under active construction, one in each. This will not be enough even to replace existing reactors when it will be finally stopped. The amount of nuclear energy produced in Europe will go down quite soon. And after Fukushima, nuclear renaissance will not happen in the near future.”

A cloudy prospect for nuclear energy brings a promising future for renewables. “The EU tries to decrease its dependency on Russia and also in order to be able to meet the EU’s growing energy demand the EU of course also pushed for renewables (20% until 2020), integrate solar energy from North Africa (Sahara solar desert project), wind energy from the North Sea (wind parks) into the central European electricity grid”, says Nicole Bockstaller, spokesperson for Energy in European Commission.

When push comes to shove

But still renewable energy market has to be “pushed”. Europe has gotten into a lazy comfort zone due to nuclear energy that has helped to hold the balance between high dependence on oil and gas imports and expensive renewables.  But Germany took Fukushima’s accident as an incentive to leave this zone and find its own and quick way towards renewables.

Germany’s decision is radical, but it’s the country that could actually come up with such an idea for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s not that much nuclear dependent: according to the World Nuclear Association, France, Slovakia and Belgium are the biggest nuclear dependent nations; whereas Germany is not even on the top 10 list.

Secondly, Germany is not that import energy dependent, compared to other European countries. Its dependence rate on energy imports situates the country in the middle between less and more dependent EU countries, according to Eurostat, 2010. It’s clear that to fill the gap between nuclear and renewable energy Germany will have to increase natural gas imports from Russia, but it’s a decade that we are talking about.

Thirdly, Germany already uses a large mix of energy sources: gas and oil, nuclear and solid fuels, plus renewable energy. Energy mix is a key policy objective set by the European Commission to promote sustainable, competitive and secure energy, a similar policy that was set up in Denmark in 1973 after First Oil Crisis.

Fourthly, Germany is already known for having an “aggressive” renewable energy policy that is mainly based on feed-in tariffs that are set up to pay a premium for energy generation by, for example solar panels. The tariffs have been so successful that the federal government had to cut down on them, because they caused many more installations and became difficult to afford.

Finally, nuclear phase out was already discussed in Berlin in 2010, but at the end the nuclear lobby won and the permit to operate was given to all nuclear power plants in Germany. However, Mother Nature made a mess in Japan and now Germany is rethinking its priorities. And while 2010 saw the renewable energy industry in Germany complaining about losing out to nuclear power, today they are chosen as the only option.

Taking into the long-lasting successful German renewable energy policy and current growth of the renewables sector – the country was ready for a nuclear phase out.  Nuclear power could be replaced by renewable energy in Germany within 3 to 4 years, estimates Andreas R. Kreamer, Director of Ecologic Institute, Berlin, an international environmental think tank.

“The date can be brought forward if load-based tariffs would provide incentives for demand flexibility and feed-in from dispatchable renewable power generators and combined heat and power plants,” he says. “If, in addition, electric car batteries provide grid-connected power storage, again, the conversion can be accelerated”.

From political to economic

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance report, Germany’s feed-in tariff on clean energy subsidies were the most expensive costing taxpayers 6,7 billion EUR. A similar amount is spent on such tariffs however shared among European countries as whole. But big investments pay off by promising future perspective: according to a project financed by the German Federal Ministry of Research it is possible for Germany to achieve 100 percent of renewable power from domestic sources by 2050. Andreas R. Kreamer assesses that Germany could become totally renewable energy self-sufficient between 2030-2035 taking into consideration the demand-side measures and the large capacity of storage that is expected from electric vehicles.

The renewable energy industry is growing at a brisk pace in Germany; soon it could join Denmark, the only EU country that is energy self-efficient. But Nadine Lobnig, the manager of Statkraft, one of the biggest Europe’s renewable energy companies notes that renewable energy remains a highly political subject in Germany as well, because yet lots of investments are needed to build a stable net. The German Energy Agency forecasts that 12 GW more installed capacity have to be developed to have a stable net. Moreover, “as long as for example France is producing a lot with nukes there is the risk that Germany imports this cheaper power”. To conclude, it should not be a single country’s effort to bring renewable energy closer to crossover point in Europe – the point when the price of renewables becomes lower than, for example, building a new nuclear power plant.

But as renewables are not competitive yet in the energy market, in European as well, the goals of becoming more energy self-sufficient are harder to reach. “Germany is part of the internal market in electricity in the EU and the European Energy Community Treaty, and in consequence self-sufficiency is neither possible nor desirable. The overall objective should be for the EU and the member countries of the European Energy Community Treaty to phase out nuclear power”, suggests Andreas R. Kreamer, director of Ecologic Institute.

Recently Europe has expressed a common safety standard by agreeing in one voice to develop “stress tests” for nuclear power plants after the disaster in Japan. But yet Europe is lacking a common energy standard that could help it reach “clean” goals and gain more energy independence faster by developing its potential in the renewables market, whereas an absence of it slows the progress.

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