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German Christian Democrats and Liberals changed their mind after the catastrophe in Fukushima

Germany decides to phase-out nuclear energy at the end of 2022

More specific:

Details of the phase-out

The time-limits for each power plant

Review: Nuclear energy in Germany

How is electricity produced in Germany?

Failed projects of nuclear technology in Germany

First consent on the further use of nuclear energy and lengthening of the operating time

Nuclear energy in the former GDR

Renewable energies - the energy of the future?

Risks of a phase-out, reactions

Nuclear energy around Germany

Other decisions accompanying the phase-out

Comparison: Electricity prices in Europe
This subject in German


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Germany has made a significant course correction in its energy politics. On 30 June 2011, the German parliament passed a law which regulates that at the end of 2022 the last nuclear power stations in operation have to be shut down. As a first step, the oldest eight reactors were taken off-line immediately. In further steps, more nuclear power plants will be decommissioned in two-years-terms beginning in 2015. This all comes as a reaction to the disaster in the Japanese nuclear power station Fukushima Dai-ichi caused by an earthquake and tsunami on 11 March 2011.

With this decision, the German government revoked the prolongation of the operating times of the country's nuclear power stations which had been adopted by the political majority in the parliament eight months earlier.

The future of the nuclear energy has always been controversially debated. In the 1970ies, citizen's initiatives began protest actions against the expansion of nuclear power. In 1980, the Green party of Germany was founded which made the nuclear phase-out to one of its most important goals. Some time later, the Social Democrats, now out of government, became more and more influenced by green ideas and on a party conference in 1986, the party voted for a shut-down of the nuclear power plants within some years. But this party had to wait until 1998 to form the government and they did so with the Greens. The red-green majority tried to find an understanding with the nuclear power producing industry. In 2000, an agreement was made by the government and the companies which included a limitation of the operating time of the power plants. Each plant was granted a certain amount of energy to be produced. In general, this limitation meant an average operating time of 32 years. One has to know that in Germany, the last nuclear power plant was put on stream in 1989. Christian Democrats and Liberals opposed this decision and called for longer service times of nuclear power plants. These parties emphasized that Germany's reactors were safer than those in other countries and that there were no sufficient alternatives for a reliable and competitive electricity supply. From 2009 to 2013, both parties were building the government again and on 28 October 2010 the conservative-liberal majority in the parliament voted for longer operating times of nuclear power plants. On an average, these times were lengthened for 12 years. In contrast, the decision of 30 June 2011 for an abrogation was supported by a great majority of Christian Democrats, Liberals, Social Democrats and most Greens.

When the catastrophe in Japan occurred, Christian Democrats and the liberal FDP had already lost the majority in opinion polls. The Green Party was said to be able to win more than 20% in a national election and a win of the Greens and the Social Democrats in the forthcoming state elections in Baden-Württemberg on 27 March 2011 was predicted. This might have been the political background when on 14 March 2011 chancellor Merkel announced a temporary suspension of the extension of the nuclear power plants' operating time and the temporary closure of the oldest nukes. In addition, the government called for an Ethics Commission that should investigate the justification of the further use of nuclear energy and the reliability of alternative energy supply. During three months, all German nuclear power plants should have been checked intensively.

Although it is very unlikely that an earthquake or a tsunami like in Japan will ever happen in Germany, the conservative-liberal government became more and more opposed to the use of nuclear energy and finally proposed the phase-out of nuclear energy at the latest by the end of 2022. In the parliament, the Left Party was the only party that rejected this proposal and asked for an immediate closure of all nukes and an amendment to the constitution forbidding the use of nuclear energy.

The phase-out shall be accompanied by an increase of the renewable energies that according to the government's plans shall produce eighty percent of the electrical energy in Germany in 2050. Further on, massive investments in the grid are planned.
A short overview:

Phase-out of nuclear energy in Germany
  • At the end of 2022, electricity production in German nuclear power plants will have come to an end.
  • A first departure from nuclear energy was adopted in the time of a government formed by Social Democrats and Green Party in 2002.

  • After the 2009 election, the Christian Democrats and the liberal FDP revoked this step and granted longer operation times for nuclear power stations.

  • Influenced by the catastrophe in the Japanese reactor of Fukushima, Christian Democrats, Liberals, Social Democrats and Greens adopted a second phase-out in 2011 that is even faster and more comprehensive than the one of 2002.

  • At the time of the second phase-out, the Green Party had good figures in the polls. In state elections in Baden-Württemberg in March 2011, the Greens and the Social Democrats won a majority and took over this state which was traditionally governed by the Christian Democrats.
  • Eight older reactors were shut down in spring 2011 in a first step. The other reactors follow from the end of 2015 until the end of 2022 in two-years intervals.

  • A commission was set up for proposals on the final handling of nuclear disposal.

  • In 2016, 13% of the electric energy in Germany was produced in nuclear power plants. Coal is used for 40% of the electric energy production. The amount of renewable energies in electricity production has risen to 29%.
  • Together with Denmark, Germany has the highest electricity prices in Europe.


Progress in climate protection: According to the German Federal Environment Office greenhouse gas emissions in Germany have been reduced by 27.7% from 1990 to 2017. Carbon dioxide (CO2) was the most common of these gases with 88.%. The share of methane (CH4) was 6%, followed by nitrous oxide (N2O) with 4.2%. Fluorinated greenhouse gases (F-gases) also play a role. These F-gases stand for only 1.7% of Germany's greenhouse gas emissions, but some of them have a strong harmful greenhouse effect. In 2017, all German greenhouse gas emissions reached a total of 904.7 million metric tons CO2 equivalent (CO2equ), 4.7 million tons less than the previous year. The transport sector plays an important role with 170.6 million tons, 2.3% more than 2016. 192.9 million tons derive from industrial processes. The rise in the transport sector is caused by a higher number of vehicles and the well performing economy. Emissions of the energy industry went back as electricity production in coal-fired power stations was replaced to a certain extent by wind turbines. In addition, some power stations that used hard coal or lignite were shut down or put into stand-by mode. (Source: press release of the German Environment Agency of 2018-03-27).

Many critics say that this lowering has been achieved by the collapse of the East German industry after the German reunification.


Details of the phase-out

It was the position of the federal government that not all nuclear power plants can be shut down at once without endangering power supply. So, only the oldest eight power plants had to stop the production of electricity immediately. Beginning in 2015 and continuing in two-years-steps, more power plants will be put away from the grid. Primarily each nuclear power station will be allowed to produce a certain amount of terawatt-hours and the time limits become only effective if a power plant has not exhausted the maximum amount of producible electricity. As a result, the amount of electricity guaranteed by the red-green majority in 2002 will be maintained and combined with a time limit for every plant. The electricity that every plant may produce corresponds with the normal electricity production in a 32-years-term. It is possible to transfer the guaranteed production volume partially to other power plants but this will not postpone the time-limit for the plant. It was possible that one from the eight power plants which had been shut down could have been kept as a reserve until the end of March 2013. The Federal Network Agency was allowed to arrange this until 31 August 2011 but on this day the authority renounced this because additional reserves in conventional power plants were found. (Source: press release of the Federal Network Agency of 2011-08-31).

Review: Nuclear Energy in Germany

When the first German law on the use of nuclear energy
was adopted in 1959 there was a wide consent about
this new method of power production which had relied on hard coal and brown coal. Already in 1954 commercial power production began by the use of nuclear fission in the Soviet Union, in 1956 in Calder Hall in England. The plants of that time like the first German nuke in Kahl on the River Main showed only moderate capabilities compared with the possibilities of the present time. The first bigger nuclear power plant in Germany was Gundremmingen A which began service in 1967. The plant Lingen came one year later, 1972 a reactor in Stade on the River Elbe and 1975 the reactor Biblis A in the highly populated Rhine-Main-area.

The 1970ies and the 1980ies were years of a massive expansion of nuclear energy that reached approximately one quarter of the national electricity production in Germany. But this country never relied entirely on nuclear energy like neighbouring France, where around 80% of electricity derives from nukes. Since 1989 no new power plant has been inaugurated in Germany. The last new plants were Neckarwestheim 2 (April 1989), Emsland (June 1988) and Isar/Ohu (April 1988). Also in the 1970ies a protest movement against nuclear energy began. Accidents like the one in Three Mile Island in March 1979 cast a bad light on this new industry. In many places citizen's initiatives were created and mass demonstrations against planned reactors were organized. Another remarkable phenomenon was the foundation of the Green Party of Germany in 1980. Three years later, it was elected into the national parliament. In August 1986, the Social Democratic Party, now in the opposition, gave up its support for nuclear energy and called for a phase-out within some years. This turn was certainly but not only influenced by the nuclear catastrophe of April 1986 in Chernobyl. This was also one reason for the creation of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Protection and Reactor Safety. Before this, more ministries were responsible for these subjects.

First consent on the further use of nuclear energy and lengthening of the operating time

The red-green government which came to power in 1998 sought to find an agreement with the nuclear energy producing firms. The result was a declaration both signed on 14 June 2000 by the government and the firms which included a limitation of the operating time and a guarantee of quantity of energy producible by every plant. The assured quantities were equivalent to the average power production in a 32-years-time. The quantities were transferable. These regulations became law in 2002. Before this, the operating licenses were not limited. The Grand Coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats that came out of the national elections 2005 could not find a common policy on nuclear energy and so the regulations adopted three years before were kept.

The elections of 2009 were won by the Christian Democrats and Liberals. Both parties soon started attempts to allow the longer use of nuclear power plants. On 28 October 2010 the German parliament adopted a new law which increased the amount of producible electricity by every plant. This was preceded by an agreement found by the government and the nuclear industry on 5 September 2010. On average, the now allowed additional quantities corresponded to power produced in 12 years (8 years for plants which began operation until 1980 and 14 years for newer plants). Further on, a taxation on nuclear fuel was introduced. The project also contained the establishment of a special fund which should be fed by the extra profits caused by the longer operating times. The revenues of the auctions of greenhouse gas certificates and the revenues of the taxes on nuclear fuel should also flow into this fund (as long as the revenues from the taxes exceed a certain level). The capital of this fund should be used for additional programs for energy efficiency, renewable energies, new technologies for the storage of energy, grid technologies, and climate and environmental protection.

There were severe concerns about the lengthening of the operating times because the federal government did not asked the expressed consent of the Bundesrat for this project. The Bundesrat is the representation of the 16 German federal states and Conservatives and Liberals had no majority in this constitutional organ whereto every law has to be brought after it is adopted by the parliament, the Bundestag.

Picture above: This plant was built to serve as a heavy breeder reactor in Kalkar in North Rhine-Westphalia (CC BY-SA 4.0, author: Raimond Spekking). Not all bold projects of the nuclear technology have been realised in Germany.

Nuclear projects in Germany that were planned but not realized

Some projects of the German nuclear energy have not been realized or have simply failed to exist for a longer time. These projects do not only include the reactors of Wyhl, Mülheim-Kärlich or Würgassen but also a fast breeder reactor, a nuclear reprocessing site and a thorium high-temperature reactor. The nuclear power plant in Wyhl (near Freiburg in the Southwest of Germany) was not built due to the decision of the court of first instance. Massive protests with a temporary occupation of the building site influenced the operator to give up the project. The power plant of Würgassen on the River Weser in the East of North Rhine-Westphalia was put from the grid prematurely in 1994 after 19 years of service because serious fissures were discovered and a repair would have been uneconomical. The nuclear power plant of Mülheim-Kärlich was forced to stop production in 1988 after a one year's service because one regulatory approval was missing. A new administrative procedure would have been necessary which should have included an investigation on the effects of a possible earthquake.

Another project not realized was the nuclear reprocessing site in Wackersdorf in Bavaria. Heavy protests and judicial difficulties made the realization more difficult. In the end politicians decided to give up the project and to carry spent nuclear fuel to the sites in La Hague (France) and Sellafield (England) for reprocessing.

An accomplished heavy breeder reactor in Kalkar on the River Rhine northwest of Duisburg may be an example for a stranded investment that costed billions of euro. The reactor was finished in 1985 but never produced power for the public grid. Additional security requirements made the project more and more expansive. Quarrels between the social-democratic government of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and the conservative federal government foiled the starting of power production and in 1991, the project was abandoned.

Until today there is no concept on the final disposal of highly radioactive waste in Germany. A definite decision on this subject has not yet been made. One possible solution could perhaps be the salt dome in Gorleben in the Northeast of Lower Saxony. The exploration was stopped by the red-green majority that prescribed the construction of interim storages around the nuclear power plants. There are no more transports of spent nuclear fuel from German power plants to recovery plants in England since mid-2005. The moratorium on Gorleben was lifted by the new conservative-liberal government in October 2010. On 9 April 2013, the federal government, the 16 German states and the political parties found a compromise on the handling of this question. A bill for the procedure of choosing a suitable location passed the German parliament on 28 June 2013. All political groups in the parliament except the party "The Left" supported the proposal. A committee of 33 persons should work out proposal until 2015, members of the German parliament shall have no voting right. There will be no further transports to Gorleben, the exploration works there will be stopped. Highly radioactive waste deriving from Germany and still deposited abroad shall be removed to other interim storages than Gorleben. The compromise does not contain a preliminary decision for or against a special location. A final decision on a suitable place shall be made until 2031.

Nuclear energy in the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany)

Power production in East Germany's first nuclear reactor of Rheinsberg began in 1966 at a moderate extent. From 1974, the much more bigger plant of Lubmin near Greifswald at the Baltic Sea started service. There eight reactors were planned, but only six accomplished and only five were connected to the grid. After the fall of the Berlin wall all reactors were shut down because they did not meet Western safety standards.
How is electricity produced in Germany?

The shares of different energy sources in electricity generation in Germany in 2016 (provisional figures, partly estimated, figures rounded):

energy source share
(in percent)
produced electricity in billions of kilowatt-hours
brown coal (lignite) 23.0 149.5
hard coal 17.3 112.0
nuclear energy 13.0 84.6
natural gas 12.5 81.3
mineral oil products 0.9 5.8
renewable energies
among them
- hydropower
- wind power
- biomass
- photovoltaics
- waste to energy


other energy sources 4.3 27.3
source: Bruttostromerzeugung in Deutschland von 1990 bis 2016 nach Energieträgern, published by the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Energiebilanzen, Tabelle zur Stromerzeugung nach Energieträgern 1990 - 2016 (pdf document)

Picture above: The lignite power plant of Niederaußem west of Cologne (CC BY 3.0, author: Stodtmeister). The share of lignite in power generation in Germany is higher than the share of hard coal or nuclear energy.

Renewable energies - the energy of the future?

Many people have great hopes for the replacement of traditional energy sources by renewable energies whose use is not connected with the consumption of finite resources but derive from sources that are inexhaustible and have no harmful impact on the world's climate.

In historical view, water power was one of the earliest renewable energies. Some countries have also a long experience with geothermal energy for electricity production. In recent decades, wind energy, photovoltaics and biomass have become more common. There are various countries with a high amount of water energy in electricity generation, for example Canada, Brazil, Sweden, Switzerland or Austria. But large hydropower plants are criticized by environmental organizations because they believe that such plants are a too big interference with nature.

In Germany, renewable energies have now reached a share of nearly 30% in the country's electricity production. The background for this development is the political wish to increase renewable energies by a law which guarantees the payment of a certain price for delivered energy from the grid companies to energy producers. By this, the comparatively high costs of the production of power by renewable energies shall be compensated. As a result, the electricity supply companies charge the consumers of energy with this financial burden. The first law supporting renewable energies, the "Stromeinspeisungsgesetz" (Electricity Feed Act) became effective in 1991 and was followed by the "Erneuerbare-Energien-Gesetz" (EEG, Renewable Energies Act) in April 2000. Apart from the obligation of grid companies to buy power from renewable energies at certain prices there are direct subventions and interest-free or low interest credits for the installation of renewable power sources. The higher production costs are one disadvantage of renewable energies what especially plays a role in the supply of large industrial consumers. By mass production, this disadvantage on the market should be lowered. Apart from the general higher costs, there are plant-specific disadvantages. Wind power plants do not produce power when the wind does not blow, solar panels do not produce power at night. The energy efficiency of water power plants depends on the quantity of available water, drought means less electricity. One also should mention the floor space required, especially of wind power plants which also have negative acoustical and optical effects.

General objections against nuclear power are one reason for the support of renewable energies, resource protection and climate protection are some more reasons. Fossil energy sources such as coal or gas emit greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. The accumulation of these gases in the atmosphere causes an increase of average temperature with harmful impacts on the climate which ends with devastation, soil erosion and the melt-down of polar caps and glaciers. Biomass power plants only emit as much carbon dioxide as the plant (wood, straw) has bound during its lifetime.

The electricity generation of most industrialized countries is dominated by coal, gas and nuclear power. Some countries (for example Canada) have a high percentage of hydropower in their electricity production but in many cases this is based on large hydroelectric plants.

Germany intends to increase the share of renewable energies but for the very next future coal will be the main electricity source.

Nuclear energy around Germany

Even if one day all nuclear power plants in Germany have been shut down there will be at least the hypothetical danger of men and nature damaged by a nuclear accident because most other European countries are willing to use nuclear energy as before the accident in Japan.

The Swiss government announced in May 2011 that no new nuclear power plants should be built in that country but the four existing nuclear power plants should not be taken prematurely from the grid. This means that the Swiss reactors have an average operating time of 50 years. In 1984 the last Swiss reactor began production.

There are some more nuclear power plants not so far from the German border, for example the French plants of Cattenom and Fessenheim or the Czech plant of Temelin.

The populations of Italy and Austria have a critical view on nukes. In Italy, all four nuclear power plants had been shut down until 1990 after a referendum that was overshadowed by the catastrophe in Chernobyl. The government of Prime Minister Berlusconi planned the re-entry into nuclear power production but in a referendum held three months after the events in Japan a majority of more than 90% of the Italians voted against it (the participation was 57%). But one should mention that Italy imports considerable amounts of electricity from France.

In Austria, the country's only fully accomplished reactor in Zwentendorf had never been connected to the grid because the majority of Austrians spoke against it in a referendum. Since 1999, the non-use of nuclear power production is part of the Austrian constitution.
(The statements on the use of nuclear energy outside Germany is based on the article Kernenergie nach Ländern" of Wikipedia).

Picture above: Wind power plants near Oesterwurth in Schleswig-Holstein (CC BY 3.0, auhtor: Dirk Ingo Franke)

Picture above: Open-pit mining of lignite in Hambach west of Cologne. In contrast to brown coal (lignite), hard coal is being extracted by tunnelling in the Ruhrgebiet and in the Saarland. German hard coal cannot compete with coal from abroad without subventions. This support will run out in 2018 and means the end of hard coal mining in Germany. Lignite is a domestic energy source that is not subsidized. In general, it is only used for power generation. The big disadvantages are the high exhaustion of carbon dioxide and the utilization of land which forces people to give up their homes. But exhausted open-pit-mines will be renaturalized.

Picture above: Solar panels (CC BY 3.0, author: Sideka Solartechnik). The share of solar energy in the power generation in Germany has climbed significantly.


The time-limits for the nuclear power-plants

Name Location Closure at the latest Begin of power production Operator Assured amount of electricity
from 1 January 2000 in terawatt hours
Biblis A in the Hesse, on the River Rhine, southwest of Frankfurt 2011 1975 RWE 62.00
Biblis B in the Hesse, on the River Rhine, southwest of Frankfurt 2011 1977 RWE 81.46
Neckarwestheim 1 in Baden-Württemberg, on the River Neckar, south of Heilbronn 2011 1976 EnBW 57.35
Brunsbüttel in Schleswig-Holstein, on the River Elbe, northwest of Hamburg 2011 1977 Vattenfall 47.67
Isar/Ohu 1 in Bavaria, on the River Isar, northeast of Landshut 2011 1979 E.ON 78.35
Unterweser in Lower Saxony, on the River Weser, southwest of Bremerhaven 2011 1979 E.ON 117.98
Philippsburg 1 in Baden-Württemberg, on the River Rhine, north of Karlsruhe 2011 1980 EnBW 87.14
Krümmel in Schleswig-Holstein, on the River Elbe, southeast of Hamburg 2011 1984 Vattenfall 158.22
Grafenrheinfeld in Bavaria, on the River Main, south of Schweinfurt 2015 1982 E.ON 150.03
Gundremmingen B in Bavaria, on the River Danube, northeast of Ulm 2017 1984 RWE + E.ON 160.92
Philippsburg 2 in Baden-Württemberg, on the River Rhine, north of Karlsruhe 2019 1985 EnBW 198.61
Grohnde in Lower Saxony, on the River Weser, south of Hamelin 2021 1985 E.ON 200.90
Gundremmingen C in Bavaria, on the River Danube, northeast of Ulm 2021 1985 RWE + E.ON 168.35
Brokdorf in Schleswig-Holstein, on the River Elbe, northeast of Hamburg 2021 1986 E.ON + Vattenfall 217.88
Isar/Ohu 2 in Bavaria, on the River Isar, northeast of Landshut 2022 1988 E.ON 231.21
Emsland in Lower Saxony, on the River Ems, in Lingen 2022 1988 RWE + E.ON 230.07
Neckarwestheim 2 in Baden-Württemberg, on the River Neckar, south of Heilbronn 2022 1989 EnBW 236.04
(This table is based on the article "Liste der Kernreaktoren in Deutschland" from Wikipedia and on the third enclosure to the German Law on Atomic Energy). In March 2014, the company E.ON announced to close the power plant of Grafenrheinfeld seven months earlier at the end of May 2015 (Source: Press release of E.ON of 2014-03-28).

Risks of a nuclear phase-out, reactions to the decision of 30 June 2011

One of the risks of a nuclear phase-out in Germany is that the price for electricity could climb because the farewell to the nuclear energy is combined with a massive support for the renewable energies. The compatibility of the German industry on a global market could be endangered. Electricity prices in Germany are already the second highest in the European Union (see below). On the other hand, energy supply companies could buy cheap electricity made in coal or power plants around Germany which would undermine the political decision on a phase-out.

The fast shut-down of seven old reactors (the reactor of Krümmel had already been shut down in July 2009) has changed the situation in the European energy market, the Association of the German Energy and Water Industries (BDEW) says. Whereas Germany posted a trade surplus in electricity of 70 to 150 gigawatt-hours a day in the first half of March 2011, there was an import surplus of 50 gigawatt-hours a day in the second half of March. The imports from France and Czechia have doubled, the exports to Switzerland and to the Netherlands have fallen to half. (Source: Press release of the Association of the German energy and water industries [Bundesverband der Energie- und Wasserwirtschaft], BDEW, of 2011-04-04).

According to the Association of the Bavarian economy (vbw, Vereinigung der Bayerischen Wirtschaft e.V.) the phase-out will cause costs of 335 billion euros until 2030. Hereby the government's plan to increase the part of renewable energies in the electricity production up to 35% until 2020 and to 50% until 2030 is being used. (Source: press release of vbw of 2011-07-26). The German Institute of Economic Research (DIW Deutsches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung) estimates costs by the phase-out of 35-74 billion euro, depending on whether nuclear power plants should be more replaced by coal-fired power plants or gas power plants. The institute indicated that already during the three-months-moratorium of spring 2011 the power price climbed by 10% on the wholesale market. If this price maintains at this level even consumers will feel the rise. The state will miss some tax revenues because the profits of the electricity producing firms will decline due to switched-off plants and higher costs. In addition, the tax on nuclear fuel and profit recoveries from the prolongation of operating times will fall away, the institute says. (Source: press release of the DIW of 2011-06-27). The association of high energy-intensive industries of Germany VIK (Verband der Industriellen Energie- und Kraftwirtschaft) told the public that the consequences of the change in energy politics can already be felt. The electricity price for commercial end users will rise by 9% in 2012. Frequency fluctuations and millisecond power failures happen more often, the VIK says. Although private households are not been affected, these irregularities have influence on complex production lines. (Source: press release of the VIK of 2010-10-19).

The German trade union DGB (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund) sees great chances for the industry, craft and commerce with the phase-out. Apart from the renewal of conventional coal and gas plants a rapid development of the national and local grid,  unbureaucratic procedures and innovative financing solutions are essential. Until 2030, industrial and trade establishments cannot be operated only by wind or solar energy, the union says. (Source: press release of the DGB of 2011-07-15).

Most German environmental organizations feel disappointed by the German parliament's decision of 30 June 2011. They wished a shut of all reactors much more earlier than 1 January 2023. The immediate closure of eight old reactors is only a stage win, the Union for the environment and nature conservation Germany (BUND, Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland) says. The protest against nuclear energy will continue until the last nuclear plant has been shut down. The decision of the German Bundestag only postpones the phase-out of a dangerous technology, it cements the power of the nuclear industry and it delays the energy change. Who now wants a fast extension of renewable energies has to put nukes from the grid, must not built new coal-fired power plants and must be committed to lower energy consumption and to a decentralized energy production, the BUND stated. (Source: press release of the BUND of 2011-06-30).
Every day with atomic energy is one too much - these were the words Greenpeace used for expressing its dissatisfaction. A quicker phase-out until 2015 is realistic and feasible without big difficulties. The organization also calls for an amendment to the German constitution. Greenpeace cites the ethics commission that has come to the conclusion that a total phase-out is possible within a decade but that this should not be understood that the phase-out shall not come earlier than ten years. According to Greenpeace the longer operating times mean 2,200 tons high-radioactive material which corresponds to 230 CASTOR containers. (Source: press release of Greenpeace of 2011-06-30). In July 2012, Greenpeace presented a study carried out by the German Institute for Economic Research which came to the conclusion that the nuclear phase-out would not necessarily mean higher electricity prices. The wholesale price will rise only minimally if the phase-out is accompanied by a more efficient use of energy. If these measures are realized and emissions trading remains on a moderate level one kilowatt hour will be sold for 0.051 euro on the electricity market in the year 2020. This will be the same price if nuclear power plants are not shut down and no optimization of energy use is pursued. Ten years later, the price would be 0.065 euro. (Source: press release of Greenpeace of 2012-07-03).

Picture above: The nuclear power plant of Cattenom in France, not far away from the German border (CC BY 3.0, author: Stefan Kuhn)
Other decisions accompanying the phase-out

On 30 June 2011, the German parliament did not only vote to give up nuclear energy but also some other important decisions in relation with the phase-out were made.

Extensive revision on the Renewable Energies Act
It is the wish of the German federal government to increase the share of renewable energies in electricity generation up to at least 35% in 2020, 50% in 2050, 65% in 2040 and 80% in 2050. Much of the development should be done by offshore wind power plants. The energy concept of the government foresees offshore wind power plants with an installed capacity of 25 gigawatts until 2030.

The emission of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide should be reduced by 40% until 2020 and by 80% until 2050 compared with 1990.

The general principles of the law will be maintained (priority intake of renewable energy, fixed prices for renewable energy, obligation for connection of renewable energies to the grid and the expansion of the grid). The new law contains a market premium (Marktprämie) and a flexibility premium (Flexibilitätsprämie). The first one has to be paid by the grid company if the power producer sells the electricity directly on the market and the latter one is paid for the provision of additional power by a biogas plant. The market premium is the monthly difference between the price paid according to the previous system and the average price reached by direct marketing. The flexibility premium is only for biogas plants that provide additional energy if the entire electricity is sold directly. In general, there is a new concept for the remuneration of biogas at a lower level.

Later developments: The expansion of the share of renewable energies in electricity production is now even regulated by law. Until 2025 up to 40-45% of the German electricity production shall be based on renewable sources. The share shall rise up to 55-60% until 2035 and up to 80% until 2050. The 2018 built Grand Coalition of Christian Democrats and Social Democrats strengthens the wish to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% until 2020 compared with 1990 although the efforts yet made seem to be insufficient (see above). The government is also determined to fulfil the obligations of the Paris Convention On Climate Protection signed in 2015. This treaty foresees a worldwide greenhouse gas neutrality up to 2050. Global warming shall be reduced significantly to under 2.0° Celsius, or better, to only 1.5°C. In a speech delivered to the German parliament on 21 March 2018 Chancellor Merkel announced to implement a climate protection act. This shall include a plan for a long-term phase-out of coal-fired power plants with accompanying social and structural measures (Source: Protocol of the Bundestag 19/22 p. 1818 B).

Expansion of the electric grid
The German extra high voltage grid and the high voltage grid should be expanded fast. The Federal Network Agency will be charged with the examination of territorial impacts and with the plan approval of power lines of European or nationwide significance. The connection of offshore wind power plants to the grid will be a duty of the network operators, the costs will be taken into account with the price for the use of the grid. Power lines of the voltage level of 110 kilovolts should generally be laid underground. Communities should receive a compensation up to a certain level if their territory is being affected by important power lines.

Unbundling of grid companies
The companies that operate the electric grid should be strengthened. In general, these companies are part of a group of companies working in the energy branch. It is the goal of the new regulations that the grid companies become more independent from the producers of electricity. A state certification of network operators is planned. Further on, the different network operators should cooperate more with each other. There are also some regulations for consumers: A conciliation board will be created and electricity bills have to be more transparent and understandable. The change of a power provider should be done within three weeks beginning with the enrolment at the new supplier. The combined heat and power production will be supported also for plants built after 2016 and until the end of 2020.

Another law strengthens the aspect of climate protection in the public building law.

A project for the tax funding of energy rehabilitation measures has been stopped by the Bundesrat, the representation of the 16 German federal states. Any law adopted by the parliament, the Bundestag, also has to pass through the Bundesrat. In contrast to the quarrels about carbon capture storage a compromise could not been found. The proposal contained a tax relief for measures that reduce significantly the energy consumption of buildings built before 1995.

Picture above: The phase-out of nuclear energy and the increase of the renewable energies in power generation demand a modernization and expansion of the electric grid

Household electricity prices in the European comparison

The statistical office of the European Union EUROSTAT found out the following average household electricity prices of 100 kilowatt-hours in the first half of 2017:
Electricity price
in Euro
Electricity price
in PPS
Electricity price
in Euro
Electricity price
in PPS
EU entirely
Italy 21.4 21.7
Latvia 15.9 23.6
Lithuania 11.2 18.1
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Luxembourg 16.2 13.5
Malta 12.8 15.6
18.6 Netherlands 15.6 14.2
18.6 21.0 Norway 16.4 11.0
Poland 14.6 25.9
30.5 22.9
Portugal 22.8 28.6
Romania 12.0 24.2
12.8 Slovakia
14.4 21.6
16.1 20.1
23.0 25.4
Sweden 19.4 15.1
United Kingdom 17.7 16.0
Ireland 23.1
Eurozone (18)
22.0 21.4

The household electricity prices refer to households with annual consumption between 2,500 and 5,000 kWh and include taxes. "PPS" means "Purchasing Power Standard" which is an artificial common reference currency unit that eliminates price level differences between countries. Thus one PPS buys the same volume of goods/services in all countries. Taxes and levies in Germany made up 54% of the electricity price charged to households, the EU average was 37% (United Kingdom 24%, Ireland 20%, Malta 5%, France 36%, Italy 38%, Spain 21%, Denmark 67%, Poland 24%, Czechia 18%). (Source: press release of EUROSTAT nr. 180/2017 of 2017-11-29).

Picture credits: The picture with the plant of Kalkar is based on the picture "Kernwasser Wunderland - Schneller Brüter Kalkar (0746).jpg" (author: Raimund Spekking), the picture of the power plant Niederaußem is based on the image "Kraftwerk Niederaußem.jpg" (author: Stodtmeister), the picture with the wind power plants on the picture "Oesterwurth kuhs m winrads.jpg" (author: Dirk Ingo Franke), the picture with the image of the nuclear power plant of Cattenom on "Nuclear Power Plant Cattenom.jpg" (author: Stefan Kühn), the picture with solar panels on "Sideka Solartechnik Ibbenbüren 13.JPG" (author: Sideka Solartechnik) of the file repository Wikimedia, theses picture are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported-License. The pictures with the power lines (author: Zonk 43) and with lignite mining (author: Johannes Fasolt) are in the Public Domain.

Last update: 28 March 2018