Pall of a sudden the gas storage tanks are emptying pretty quickly. Since the temperatures in Germany have dropped so low, the levels have been falling so quickly that cautious people are paying attention. This is not only because the Germans heat so much. It is also due to the failed electricity policy.
Naturally, private households used a lot of gas on the cold days. But industry has also burned more of the scarce commodity – essentially for electricity. Because that’s the problem with this weather: It’s not just cold, the sun doesn’t bring enough energy and the wind isn’t blowing. The share of renewable energies is vanishingly small. There were enough days in December when even five times the number of solar cells and wind turbines would not have covered Germany’s electricity needs.
Only the German one, mind you. Here the story persists that French nuclear power plants and their delayed maintenance are the problem in the power grid. The only truth is that many nuclear power plants are still not connected to the grid. Nevertheless, Germany’s gas-fired power plants mainly work for domestic consumption. At no time in December was more than 5 gigawatts of electricity delivered to France. However, the gas-fired power plants had to produce up to 21 gigawatts of electricity. In addition, up to 14 gigawatts came from hard coal and up to 17 gigawatts from lignite. In Germany, everything that can only fire is firing.
Germany wants too much at once
Large blackouts are not imminent in the near future as far as we can judge. But between Flensburg and Garmisch, no one is being considerate anymore. Not on the climate, because compared to all these coal-fired power plants, the climate impact of a speed limit is just a rounding error. And the gas storage facilities are of no real interest to anyone in terms of electricity policy.
German energy policy only takes two things into account: the sensitivities of the anti-nuclear lobby. And on those of the electricity companies. The two are stupidly more united than one would think.
At the same time, Germany wants to make its energy CO2-neutral, make itself independent of Russia and also phase out nuclear power. That’s too many goals at once.
Renewable energies alone are not enough
The Germans want to move into the beautiful new house of renewable energy soon. But no responsible builder would demolish his old house before the shell of the new one is finished. But that is exactly what Germany did. And now it’s getting cold.
This winter shows: Renewable energy sources alone are not enough. The country also needs energy storage systems that can bridge the gap for several weeks in winter if necessary. For this, Germany needs a hydrogen infrastructure that imports energy as gas from energy-rich countries and can burn it if there is a shortage of electricity.
But before this new energy world is built, the country tears down the old one. Literally. Even now, the decision has been made that the nuclear power plants should be shut down next spring.
The blame does not lie solely with the federal government. There is also a generation of managers at work in the electricity companies who have long since given up on nuclear power. In order to continue operating the power plants, they would have to bring employees back from retirement or recruit colleagues from abroad. You’d have to get new fuel rods. After their use, they could go to the repository that Germany has to build anyway. None of this would be easy, it would be work, and a lot of it. Better to start right now.
Because the alternative is bleak. No one can say today whether Germany will be able to fill up its gas storage tanks as much as they did last summer. The current winter is therefore still comparatively comfortable. Nobody knows how difficult the winter of 2023/2024 will be. Only one thing is certain: without nuclear power plants, it will be harder than it needs to be.