Only three days after the beginning of the nuclear catastrophe in Fukushima, Japan, on 11 March 2011, the German government ordered 8 of the country's 17 existing nuclear power plants (NPPs) to stop operating within a few days. In summer 2011 the government put forward a law - passed in parliament by a large majority - that calls for a complete nuclear phase-out by the end of 2022. These government actions were in contrast to its initial plans, laid out in fall 2010, to expand the lifetimes of the country's NPPs.
The immediate closure of 8 NPPs and the plans for a complete nuclear phase-out within little more than a decade, raised concerns about Germany's ability to secure a stable supply of electricity. Some observers feared power supply shortages, increasing CO2-emissions and a need for Germany to become a net importer of electricity.
Now - a little more than a year after the phase-out law entered into force - this paper examines these concerns using (a) recent statistical data on electricity production and demand in the first 15 months after the German government's immediate reaction to the Fukushima accident and (b) reviews the most recent projections and scenarios by different stakeholders on how the German electricity system may develop until 2025, when NPPs will no longer be in operation.
The paper finds that Germany has a realistic chance of fully replacing nuclear power with additional renewable electricity generation on an annual basis by 2025 or earlier, provided that several related challenges, e.g. expansion of the grids and provision of balancing power, can be solved successfully. Already in 2012 additional electricity generation from renewable energy sources in combination with a reduced domestic demand for electricity will likely fully compensate for the reduced power generation from the NPPs shut down in March 2011.
If current political targets will be realised, Germany neither has to become a net electricity importer, nor will be unable to gradually reduce fossil fuel generated electricity. Whether the reduction in fossil fuel use will be sufficient to adequately contribute to national greenhouse gas mitigation targets significantly depends on an active policy to promote electricity savings, continuous efforts to increase the use of renewables and a higher share of natural gas (preferably used in combined heat and power plants) in fossil fuel power generation.
Wuppertal Institut für Klima, Umwelt, Energie