Order of Operations
Rezwan Razani - February 12, 2014
What energy do you vote off Earth Island first?
I watched Pandora’s Promise again at the Princeton Environmental Film Festival. During the Q&A, director Robert Stone pointed out that Germany purports to be green, with its emphasis on solar and wind and other renewables. However, by choosing to shut down nuclear BEFORE coal, it loses credibility.
This observation struck a chord.
The Present Path
At present, Germany is expanding its coal use. And not just any coal - lignite, the dirtiest kind, as the BBC Reports.
Renewable energy requires backup power, and Germany is choosing to avoid nuclear energy, which leaves coal and oil as the backup. This decision is hard to fathom. Nuclear energy is thousands of times cleaner and safer than coal.
The order of operations that Germany is presently following is:
- Shut down Nuclear power
- Increase Renewables
- Increase use of coal to back up renewables
- Suffer thousands of excess deaths from burning coal
- Suffer dirty air from burning that coal
- Suffer high energy prices, economic troubles
- Suffer wind NIMBY backlash
A Quicker, Safer Path
Now, imagine a different order of operations to help Germany achieve its clean energy goals more quickly:
- Re-open Nuclear power
- Keep increasing Renewables (no change in this part of plan)
- Systematically phase out coal and replace with nuclear and renewables
- Eliminate thousands of excess deaths from burning coal
- Eliminate dirty air from coal
- Have more stable energy prices that help with economic planning
- Deal with a combination of nuclear and wind NIMBY - but keep in mind, you only need a few nuclear power plants that affect a far smaller area (pdf), so the NIMBY coefficient will be less
And then, AFTER you’ve phased out the coal and all those deaths and dirty air - feel free to replace nuclear with renewables.
Perhaps by then, energy storage solutions will be available so that renewables don’t require backup power. And perhaps by then, Germans will have overcome their nuclear prejudice and be filled with pride in the optimal, regionally appropriate mix of renewables and nuclear that emerges.
Now that’s an environmentally appealing strategy. With no time to lose: Clean air is at stake. Lives are at stake.
Germany, check your environmental priorities. Fair enough, you want to get rid of nuclear, oil and coal, and replace everything with solar, wind and efficiency. Just consider your order of operations.