Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Energiewende Damages German Industry

Germany's Isar Nuclear Power Plant
We've been following the unintended consequences of Germany's "Energiewende" for some time now. Ever since that nation made the hasty decision to phase out its nuclear power plants in favor of renewables in 2011, the news has been nothing but bad.

Electricity prices are rising along with coal use and carbon emissions. Now comes word that German industry, the heart of its export-led economy, is beginning to suffer thanks to the inevitable grid instability wrought by the "Energiewende."

Here's the latest from Spiegel Online:
It was 3 a.m. on a Wednesday when the machines suddenly ground to a halt at Hydro Aluminium in Hamburg. The rolling mill's highly sensitive monitor stopped production so abruptly that the aluminum belts snagged. They hit the machines and destroyed a piece of the mill. The reason: The voltage off the electricity grid weakened for just a millisecond.

Workers had to free half-finished aluminum rolls from the machines, and several hours passed before they could be restarted. The damage to the machines cost some €10,000 ($12,300). In the following three weeks, the voltage weakened at the Hamburg factory two more times, each time for a fraction of second. Since the machines were on a production break both times, there was no damage. Still, the company invested €150,000 to set up its own emergency power supply, using batteries, to protect itself from future damages.

"It could have affected us again in the middle of production and even led to a fire," said plant manager Axel Brand. "That would have been really expensive."
When Spiegel looked at the numbers, it found that the situation at Hydro Aluminum wasn't an isolated case:
A survey of members of the Association of German Industrial Energy Companies (VIK) revealed that the number of short interruptions to the German electricity grid has grown by 29 percent in the past three years. Over the same time period, the number of service failures has grown 31 percent, and almost half of those failures have led to production stoppages. Damages have ranged between €10,000 and hundreds of thousands of euros, according to company information.
The lesson here: you can't remove a baseload source of energy like nuclear from the electric grid and replace it with intermittent sources like renewables and not take a hit in reliability. That was part of the point of the online package we produced a few weeks ago concerning nuclear energy's unmatched reliability. It doesn't matter whether the grid gets stressed by sustained heat, cold, or a long production run at a major industrial facility, without always-on power, you're putting a lot at risk.

So what's next for German industry? Apparently, a lot of businesses are wondering if it isn't time to leave.  "In the long run, if we can't guarantee a stable grid, companies will leave (Germany)," says Joachim Pfeiffer, a parliamentarian and economic policy spokesman for the governing center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU). "As a center of industry, we can't afford that."

So where might they go? I've got a few ideas. Why not follow German auto manufacturing giant BMW? The company opened a manufacturing facility in Spartanburg, South Carolina in 1994. The state has seven reactors that provide more than 51% of its electricity. There won't be any questions about reliability there.

Photo Credit: Shot of Isar Nuclear Plant by Flickr user Bjeorn Schwarz. Photo used under Creative Commons license. In the wake of Germany's nuclear phaseout, Isar Unit 1 was closed in May 2011. Unit 2, one of the best performing plants in Germany, is scheduled for shutdown in 2022.

2 comments:

GRLCowan said...

"The latest" is from almost two years ago.

Haruchai said...

Given the increase in electricity production from renewables in the past few years, all manufacturing in Germany should have halted and there should have been numerous cascading failures like the US Northeast Blackout of 2003.

So why hasn't that happened?