German government institutions, research institutions, power plants, and policymakers shared their experience with Energiewende. Energiewende is Germany’s policy to transition to a low-carbon, environmentally-sound, reliable, and affordable energy source. This shift in energy policy was brought by decades’ worth of public clamor.
The study visit was organized by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) and the Network for Social Democracy in Asia (SOCDEM Asia).
Dr. Christine Wassilew, head of a division of the German environment ministry, and a physicist by profession, explained how costly nuclear power turns out to be. Millions of euros are allocated for nuclear research yearly just to ensure that the risks associated with nuclear, she added. On top of that, billions more euros are now being spent by the German government to decommission nuclear plants and safely dispose radioactive wastes.
“In general terms, the cost of decommissioning is double the cost of putting up the plant. I think in 20 years, we won’t need one billion euros to decommission a plant, but maybe 10 billion, or more”,
Dr. Wassilew further clarified.
“The consumers pay for everything.”
A visit to the Rheinsberg nuclear plant revealed how hard it is to fund nuclear decommissioning. “This plant was built without considering how much it will cost to decommission”, Jörn Möller of the Rheinsberg plant explained. “We spent more money to decommission this plant compared to its earnings when it was still active.” Rheinsberg is the first nuclear plant to be decommissioned by Germany.
“Before building a nuclear plant, all decommissioning costs must be accounted first.”
In a landmark decision in 2011, Germany decided to shut down all nuclear power plants by 2022. This decision was triggered by the Fukushima incident, where Japan – despite being an industrialized, technologically advanced nation – was helpless in the face of its nuclear disaster.
Nuclear accidents such as Fukushima release radioactive wastes that, according to the German environment ministry, are harmful for at least one million years.
Money is pouring in on renewables. Half of those investments are owned by the citizens themselves.
"A lot of people in the countryside actually take part in the energy transition", Manuela Matthess, coordinator of the international climate policy team of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, said. "People could now install solar power on their rooftops and energy providers are required to buy it. Prices given to those who participate will have secured income for 20 years. Thus, there’s investment security."
Whole communities actually earn big in renewables, the policymakers learned. The delegation went to Feldheim, a district of Treuenbrietzen which is now world-famous for being an energy self-sufficient village, to learn more about this.
Feldheim currently exports 99% of the electricity it produces to the grid. Residents also save on their electricity bills since local electricity prices are 50 percent lower than the national average.
Energy production in Feldheim started in 1995 when an entrepreneur rented land from a local farmer to build a wind turbine. Many farmers soon rented their land to energy companies when prices for agricultural products fell. Local energy prices fell after locals decided to build their own smart grid.
Germany targets to increase the renewable energy share to 60% of the total energy consumption, Dr. Felix Matthes of the Öko-Institut said in a meeting with the participants.
There will be no need to supply for baseload. “Instead of supplying base load, we should build capacity for residual load. This is the demand left over after deducting energy produced by renewables”.
When some of the participants asked if renewable energy is reliable enough for Germany’s needs, Matthes explained, "Energy supply is still reliable even if renewables reach up to 80% of total energy mix."