Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Post-Nuclear Germany – a Green Myth?

In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, Angela Merkel managed to transition from being a Centre Right politician loathed by the European Left to being a darling of the Green Movement. 

The deed that achieved this transformation in sentiment was the precipitate announcement that Germany would phase out all its nuclear power plant fleet by 2022. It would be replaced by alternative energy sources such as solar, wind and tidal power, combined with energy consumption savings, under an initiative known as the Energiewende, or energy transformation. This sudden decision to phase out the nuclear plants also involved adherence to the pre-existing goal of reducing national CO2 emissions to 4% below 1990 levels by 2020, and by 80-90% by 2050. Easily said by a politician who won’t be around in 2050 to face the music on non-compliance!

All this sounds like, as they would say in the US, a “mom and apple pie” issue. Who wants to complain about all this good stuff going on? Well, the slight wrinkle in this plan is that to achieve this Quixotic goal, Germany is now burning more lignite coal than before Merkel made her shock announcement. Yes, in the age of reducing carbon emissions and after the acid rain scares of the 1980s (largely created by East German lignite being burned by power-generators) we now have Germany pumping out more of this stuff to reduce its dependence on nuclear.

While those of Green sympathies in Germany may be cognizant (and acquiescent) of this fact, more of the environmentally-aware in other places are environmentally-unaware that the price they pay for less of the clean energy of nuclear is more of the same old, same old carbon pollution that the EU has been hot and heavy for decades against. 

The German Nuclear Scene

In her first flurry of panic, Angela Merkel shuttered eight reactors, reducing the country’s capacity to nine reactors with 12,003 MWe capacity, and then to eight reactors with 10,728 MWe. The country's 17 nuclear power reactors, comprising 15% of installed capacity, formerly supplied more than one quarter of the electricity (133 billion kWh net in 2010). Many of the units are large (they total 20,339 MWe), and the last came into commercial operation in 1989. Six units are boiling water reactors (BWR), 11 are pressurised water reactors (PWR).

According to the Frauenhofer Institute, German generating capacity in April 2014 was 169.6 GWe comprising:

Ø  12.1 GWe nuclear
Ø  5.6 GWe hydro
Ø  33.7 GWe wind (0.6 offshore)
Ø  36.9 GWe solar, 28.2 GWe gas
Ø  21.2 GWe lignite
Ø  26.3 GWe hard coal  
Ø  5.6 GWe biomass

In the first half of 2014 wind and solar PV had capacity factors of 18% and 11% respectively, compared with 85% for nuclear. In 2011 Russia provided almost 40% of the natural gas, followed by Norway, Netherlands and UK, while only 14% was produced domestically.

Some outside Germany perceive that the actions were taken due to some legacy issue with Soviet-era facilities, but when Germany was reunited in 1990, all the Soviet-designed reactors in the East were shut down for safety reasons and are being decommissioned.

The Coal Splurge

Lignite is the cheapest source of electricity from fossil fuels, and Germany has the world’s largest reserves of it. But lignite causes the highest CO2 emissions per ton when burned, one-third more than hard coal and three times as much as natural gas. The three German coal-fired power plants are among the largest point-sources of CO2 emissions in the world.

Germany’s CO2 emissions have started to show a retrograde trend:
  • Ø  1,051m metric tons in 1990
  • Ø  813m tons in 2011
  • Ø  841 m tons  in 2012 and 2013

As a result, Germany could very well fall short of its 2020 CO2 target by five to eight percentage points.

Perversely for industrial users, Germany has become a source of cheap electricity, but not for private consumers in Germany, who have had to foot the bill for the renewable power sources putsch, as a result of German feed-in tariffs.

In 2014, the German government parties passed the Climate Action Program 2020, a rather idealistic strategy to reduce emissions by around 70m tons annually by 2020, in light of the fact that they are increasing, rather than decreasing the burning of coal! The hefty cost of this policy: US$2.2bn to $3.3bn per year, will be divided half and half between the federal government and private consumers who have to pay more for their electricity.

The overall share of coal in German electricity production has shrunk from 56% in 1990 to 43% in 2014. During the same period, the share of renewables in electricity production has risen from 4% to 26%.


It is ironic that Germany comes across to the outside world as one of the most “green-conscious” nations in Europe, if not the world, but few seem to have realized that its precipitate disavowal of nuclear energy has plunged many neighbouring countries into a zone of heavier carbon emissions than would otherwise be the case, while making a mockery of global warming and lower emissions concerns.

While Germany continues to expand solar and wind power, the government’s decision to phase out nuclear energy means it must now rely heavily on the dirtiest form of coal, lignite, to generate electricity. The result is that after two decades of progress, the country’s CO2 emissions are rising. The Merkel administration seems to have been given a “free-pass” by the environmentalists because the quid pro quo for this move has been the eventual removal of nuclear power from the country. This is a Faustian bargain indeed.

With Japan reopening its nuclear plants and most other nations unfazed by nuclear power, Germany is the odd man out in eschewing an energy source that is carbon-neutral. There are limits to how much solar or wind power that can be installed and some nations are starting to run into the buffers, particularly with regards to offshore wind farms.

The remarkable consensus from both sides of the German political fence towards the self-defeating retreat from nuclear energy, makes most think that the 2022 shutdown is inevitable. Frankly the pressure should be coming from EU partners baulking at the emissions raining down on them. That, plus a failure of alternative energy sources to reach the sufficient level of participation to replace nuclear, might just prompt a rethink. The share that coal possesses even now is massive compared to that of nuclear. Remove the nuclear and do not reduce the coal-fired and you have actually seen a deterioration of the share from cleantech. 

Monday, 21 September 2015

Read My Lips: No Seat Reduction

I just got back from two days at the Conference in Bournemouth. The absence of discussion of strategy was deafening. However, no less than three people either said to me, or mentioned from the dais, the reduction of seats from 650 to 600 "which the Tories are going to do".

I have bemoaned the lack of psephological nous in the party before but really some members seem to like to wallow in misery and fantasy.

It is true that the seat reduction as proposed WAS to disadvantage us and Labour at the Tory benefit. That is a given. However time and events have moved on.

Let me make this clear. A reduction of 50 seats would take:

  • probably ten in Wales with nine from Labour and one from Tories (where previously the loss would have been one from us)
  • take around five from Scotland which would now be all SNP (and before would have been mainly Labour)
  • the other 35 seats lost would be in England and a very large number of them would now be Tory seats, with a skewing of new seat creation to London (which would favour Labour)

Ergo, with a skinny 12-seat majority (likely be to be reduced over the term via by-elections by 3-5 seats), the Tories would be insane to move towards a net reduction in seats because it would endanger their narrow majority and worse, set off an internecine battle for selection in seats that had been merged or substantially altered.

There WILL however be a boundary redraw as it’s now massively overdue. This is a process that we can master if we get smart. The Boundary Review Commission staff are not Tory lackeys. I met an IOW councillor who said that the division proposed by the Tories and Labour for the Isle was North/South and he argued for East/West and it was his suggestion that was adopted. Interestingly one of the few relics of the ditched review will almost certainly be a division of IOW into two seats (the one seat currently has 110,000 voters).

My point here is that members need to GET INFORMED about matters psephological and not leave it to Tories to dominate the consultative sessions for the redraw. We can throw a major spanner in the Tory works and advantage ourselves by arguing for a level playing field. The BRC WILL accept logical boundaries if someone argues for them. If we leave it to Tories (and Labour) we will get more (or less) of what we currently have. There is more to electoral reform than quixotic pursuits of AV, STV and PR.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Online Polls and the LibDem Luddite Faction...

I was sent this by another LibDem activist today:

It's an online poll.. one votes (and verifies one's vote as unique by Facebook). One can claim to be a voter anywhere (by inputting a postcode) but you only get one vote.. you can change your vote/seat, but presumably it cancels the old vote. 

The thing that interests me is that Greens were all over it first... and still dominate but a slow tide of other colours are appearing.. however Greens, UKIP and the SNP are in their element here and "first movers"..

When shown to one of our veteran activists he said "better off delivering Focuses".. but to me that pretty much sums up part of our strategic problem. It takes thirty seconds to vote in the poll so not doing so to "deliver Focuses" smacks more of being curmudgeonly than anything else.

The US had its "aha moment" with the Obama campaign of 2008 when the internet started to play a big role. It's playing a big role this time here but many LibDems and others are fighting the last war. The polls are garbage-in/garbage -out because people are using cellphones and either don't have landlines or won't use or answer them. Probably one third of our PPCs don't have Twitter while another third didn't establish anything until it was "too late".. Facebook likewise.. is it no surprise that that Greens are first movers on this survey and dominate..

I have encountered severe trogolodytic (even Luddite) tendencies towards technologies and new ways amongst the activist population. This election is going to bury some of the old ways and is definitely a transitional election and I expect 2020 to be very different in the way voters are approached.

I find the whole concept of this poll interesting as it is somewhat how the votes come in on election night at US elections. At this moment in time we are "winning" in five seats.. Norfolk North (no surprise), OXWAb (nice to see), Wimbledon (??), Bosworth (being contested for us by the tech savvy Mike Mullaney) and my bailiwick of NW Hants.. funny that....

Early in the day we held Cambridgeshire South East then lost it to NOC.. must be out delivering Focuses..

From being innovators in campaigning decades ago the party has become stodgy precisely because what it did between the 70s and 80s worked so well. Time for a rethink. 

Monday, 16 February 2015

The Twitter Master List for LibDem PPCs

Well... not quite... it's a list of all the selected PPCs up until mid-February with the twitter addresses of the ones I know or follow..

I am of the opinion that all PPCs should have a Twitter account but many seem afraid of the medium... 

Welcome extra addresses so scour your list of your favorite (LibDem) PPCs and add them in the comments... and I will add them to the spreadsheet..

and by the way mine is @liberateandover

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Regionalism Should Rule on Decisions on Gatwick (and HS2)

One of the most disgraceful votes in recent history at a LibDem conference was that in 2014 which voted against the construction of a second runway at Gatwick. From the most basic point of view the Gatwick runway is a London/SouthEast issue and frankly no conference delegate from branches beyond 70 miles form London should have been allowed a vote on this. 

It is all too easy for a delegate from York, Manchester or the Highlands to get on their high horse and vote against a desperately needed new runway at Gatwick on the basis that airports should be more decentralised around the UK but it flies in the face of Gatwick being the nearest airport to the tens of millions (yes, that many..) that live in this part of the country. 

Just imagine the hullaballoo if in the run-up to the Scottish referendum if the party had voted down a runway expansion at Edinburgh on the same grounds.

Once again, like Defence and Foreign Policy, where this party has a woeful lack of adept practitioners (and not even inspired amateurs) a decision has been made without access to the full facts and left those branches and PPCs in the region to live with the consequences. Was there any discussion of the fact that a second runway at Gatwick would, for instance, be a major attraction for one of the major airline alliances to decamp in toto from Heathrow to Gatwick, producing a massive rebalancing away from the West of London location? 

I, for one, do not regard this issue as settled will be pushing to have votes on this (and HS2) restricted to those that are most effected in the future. The party is content to give lip-service to regionalism and then comes up with votes like this. Those not effected by the airport issue in London should butt out of the process....