German Chancellor Angela Merkel this week released a detailed proposal to close all of Germany’s 17 nuclear reactors by 2022. Merkel promises an orderly transition to replace nuclear power, which accounts for nearly one-quarter of the country’s supply, with renewable power. But opposition from reactor operators could inflate the cost of that transition.
The construction of new reactors in various countries has slowed in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident, but Merkel’s plan would make Germany the first to scrap nuclear altogether.
The proposal could have a number of impacts on Germany’s energy supply. Federal Economics Minister Philipp Rösler has estimated that the plan would raise power costs to German consumers by roughly one cent per kilowatt-hour, which translates to an annual increase of roughly 35 to 40 Euros ($50 to $57) per household. But Rösler’s modest price tag assumes that the government will defray the cost of building offshore wind farms—currently Germany’s smallest power source—to provide one-fifth of generation within two decades.
Blackouts are a near-term concern because, under Merkel’s plan, Germany’s eight oldest reactors—seven of which she ordered offline for safety inspections in March, and another undergoing maintenance—would never run again, and ramping up supply from other sources could prove difficult. Germany’s Federal Network Agency has determined that southern Germany, which stands to lose five reactors producing 5,200 megawatts, could run short of power this winter. During cold snaps, demand for power is at a peak, and output from Germany’s more than 17,000 megawatts’ worth of solar capacity is also at a minimum. Electricity imports are also harder to come by during the winter, as neighboring countries confront their own power peaks.
Merkel’s plan seeks to counter the blackout threat over the next two years by keeping some of the shuttered reactors in “cold reserve,” ready to be restarted in a pinch. For the longer term, it proposes a doubling of renewable power generation, from 17 percent now to 35 percent of supply by 2020, and power grid expansions to share that power around the country. “We need an entirely new architecture for our energy system,” Merkel acknowledged on Monday in a statement distributed by Germany’s embassies.