As we noted in September, natural gas prices are sky-high in Europe. Coal-burning power plants have been shut down and the windmills have not spun as fast as expected, which led to a drawdown of European natural gas stocks for electric power generation. The Russians are not sending as much gas as hoped through their pipelines, so Europe is scratching around for (very, very expensive) liquified natural gas to be shipped by ship from the U.S. and the Middle East.
As noted, this hurts European economies in various ways. Fertilizer plants and aluminum smelters have shut down because of too-costly natural gas feedstock, consumers are paying much more in utility bills, and some governments are going deeper into deficit by paying subsidies to partially cushion consumers. This energy shortage also makes Europe very vulnerable to Russia, at a time when Putin is menacing Ukraine with invasion.
France derives about 70% of its electricity from nuclear energy. Due to its low cost of generation, France is the world’s largest net exporter of electricity, earning over €3 billion per year from this. China and other countries are ramping up nuclear. (The U.S. is sadly dysfunctional when it comes to building nukes; we can’t seem to do anything without years of delay and billions in cost overruns).
Like nearly everything in Germany, the German nuclear power plants are well-run. They have never had a serious incident. Nuclear power plants pump out gobs of electric power with essentially no CO2 emission. If you think that green advocates in Germany would therefore desire to keep these plants running, you would think wrong. Such is the loathing for nuclear power that Germany is shutting them down. Every single one. Katja Hoyer writes:
Just before midnight on Dec. 31, Germany switched off three more of its nuclear power plants [including one in Grohnde]. Once it had 17; now only three are left, and they too will be shut down at the end of the year. Soon Germany will produce no nuclear energy at all. But the activists were wrong to celebrate. Germany’s hasty nuclear retreat is neither safe nor green. It’s a disastrous mistake that will have ramifications well beyond the country’s own borders.
The Grohnde plant is a perfect example of what Germany is giving up. It was one of the most productive nuclear power plants in the world. It provided enough electricity to cover 15 percent of Lower Saxony’s annual energy needs single-handedly, saving 10 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions a year in the process. The site even made headlines in February 2021 for producing more electricity than any other nuclear power plant in the world. Now it will have to be dismantled at a cost of around 1 billion euros.
The loss of these nukes puts further strain on the European-wide grid. The irony of shutting these plants down and therefore buying more power from other countries generated by nuclear power and by burning more gas and coal seems to be lost on the Germans. Their plan to mitigate the effects of calm winds is to build even more windmills, even if that requires deforesting vast tracts of woodland.
Let Them Eat Porridge
The U.K. utility Ovo, which prides itself on providing all-renewable power, sent customers a link with advice for keeping warm whilst turning down their thermostats this winter. These suggestions included cuddling your pets, eating hot porridge, cleaning the house, having a hula hoop contest, doing star jumps (jumping jacks), and leaving the oven open after you are done baking. I leave to your imagination how this advice was received by the British public. In lieu of affordable electricity, the utility company E.ON which shut down one those German nuclear power plants sent out 30,000 pairs of socks to encourage people to get by with less power and heat.
You couldn’t make this stuff up.