Germany’s Nuclear Energy Conundrum

The population of the Federal Republic of Germany is approximately 83.92 million people[1]. In 2019, 100% of the people in this central European country had access to electricity[2].

In 2019, Germany’s economy was ranked 4th in the world in gross domestic product (GDP)[3]. The country’s economy is dependent on the export of machinery, computers, vehicles, electronics, pharmaceuticals, optical equipment, aircraft, spacecraft, and chemicals.

Nuclear power was strongly supported by the Germany government, when oil prices sky-rocketed in the 1970s. Support for nuclear power quickly changed to opposition, as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.  In 2011, the German government implemented a plan to shutter all nuclear power plants by 2022.

In 2016, the European Union (EU) signed the Paris Climate Agreement and committed to a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emission by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. Germany, as a member of the EU, committed to the Paris Climate Agreement [4].

Germany also committed to the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive,” which requires each country to use renewable energy for 20% of its total energy needs by 2020 and 27% by 2030.

In 2020, German utilities used renewable energy (44.6%), coal (23.8%), natural gas (16.2%), nuclear (11.4%), and oil (4.0%) to generate electricity for the country. Onshore wind, solar, biomass, offshore wind, and hydropower were the primary sources of renewable energy in Germany.

Germany is actively developing a diverse range of new, renewable energy projects, including:

  • 200 MW Offshore Wind Project – In June 2020, German power company, Trianel GmbH commissioned the second phase of the Trianel Wind Park Borkum. The offshore wind project is located approximately 28 miles off the  northern coast of Borkum Island, Germany.
  • 187 MW Solar Project – In December 2020, German utility, EnBW commissioned a solar project, which is located near the German capital, Berlin.
  •  112 MW Offshore Wind Project – In January 2020, EnBW commissioned the Albatros offshore wind project, which is located approximately 65 miles off the German coast.
  • 15 MW Floating Wind Pilot Project – In November 2020, the twin-rotor floating wind turbine, Nezzy2 successfully passed its two-month test in the Bay of Greifswald. The EnBW and Aerodyn Engineering pilot project has the potential to dramatically reduce the cost of electricity from offshore wind projects.
  • 1 MW Agrivoltaic Project – In October 2020, German solar developer, Next2Sun completed the co-development of agricultural land with a solar photovoltaic power plant. The agrivoltaic project is located in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg.
  • 750 kW Floating Solar Project – In September 2020, German solar developer, Rheinland Solar commissioned a floating solar project near the town of Weeze in eastern Germany.

In 2021, Germany will shutter three nuclear power plants[5], which have the capacity to generate over 35. 1 billion kilowatt hours in a year. In 2022, Germany will shutter the last two nuclear power plants in the country, which have the capacity to generate over 23.9 billion kilowatt hours in a year.

 How will Germany replace the power from the five nuclear power plants over the next two years? It is unlikely that Germany will be able to build new wind and solar projects with sufficient capacity to replace the power from these five nuclear power plants.

 The most likely answer to Germany’s nuclear energy conundrum is to either produce more domestic coal or import more natural gas from Russia. Nuclear power generates zero greenhouse gases. Replacing 11.4% of Germany’s nuclear power plants with fossil fuels, like coal or natural gas will result in a dramatic increase in the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Jack Kerfoot

Website – “Our Energy Conundrum”


[1] Germany Population (2021) –  January 4, 2021

[2] Germany – The World Bank Group

[3] Gross Domestic Product 2019 – World Bank DataBank

[4] Carbon Brief – “2015: Tracking Country Climate Pledges”

[5] World Nuclear Association – “Nuclear Power In Germany”

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