As I read up on Germany's plan to move towards a no-nuke energy policy last week, I stumbled onto a stack of other interesting factoids that are worth sharing here and putting into broader context. (See: Germany’s Nuclear Power Predicament.)
While Germany has been vocal in wanting to shut down its 17 nuclear power plants in the wake of the Japanese disaster last spring, the UK is going in another direction. It's building eight new nuclear facilities around England and in Wales.
It's unsurprising that politicians have decided to go that route: The Guardian recently reported that a recent British Science Association poll showed 41 percent of respondents think nuclear power is beneficial or even desirable, and a Globescan study indicated a 37 percent approval rating for nuclear power among UK respondents. Those numbers have been growing in recent years.
But this blew my mind: The Guardian reported the other day that it had gotten access to documents showing:
- The British government has been quietly exchanging intelligence on key policies with multinational companies in an effort to protect and promote their plans for new nuclear power stations…
Internal emails revealed by the Guardian in June showed that British government officials approached nuclear companies to draw up a coordinated public relations strategy to play down the Fukushima nuclear accident just two days after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March.
In this case — and in many other places globally — it's obvious that political and corporate agendas dictate the local energy picture. We all know that. It's out there in plain sight pretty much all the time. And we know that doesn't just mean nuclear power decisions. Look at massive government subsidies that have fueled the green technology and renewable energy space these last few years. Wind farms, smart grids, and solar panel installations throughout Europe, the US, and in emerging markets are directly linked to big-ticket stimulus initiatives and tax-dollar investments.
So that brings up another point that deserves consideration. What happens to energy policies in times of severe economic downfalls? Well, it seems, that issue is coming up for debate in Europe, which also has aggressive greenhouse gas reduction targets, with 2020 and 2050 milestones front of mind.
On one hand, while decommissioning nuclear plants may win large swathes of the popular vote throughout Europe, it comes at a huge price. In Switzerland, for instance, it will cost nearly €17 billion to withdraw from the nuclear power sector, which is 10 percent higher than estimates from five years ago. And the EU, currently mired in all sorts of economic and political crises, will pony up €500 million to support the decommissioning of nuclear plants in Bulgaria, Lithuania, and Slovakia, according to documents from the European Commission.
The same concerns come up for large-scale green infrastructure installation. Even while EU governments have long been strong advocates for renewable energy, and the promise of a green economy has won lots of attention and funding, cash-strapped ministries the world over can only go so far with limited financial resources. Indeed, some countries are even reversing their policies as tradeoffs become clearer.
What does that mean then? Well, for one, if Time magazine is right, the world will become dirtier, from an energy perspective. There will be more coal production, and we'll all remain dependent on oil despite our best efforts to not be.
In all this, what's lost on me is how exactly high-tech companies can plan smart-building strategies, develop energy efficiency plans, and generally take more control of their power footprint when everything seems to be in flux and rubber-banding in so many directions. I'm curious to hear what the industry is doing to light its own way (yes, I know I should let up on the puns, but they're so hard to resist). Tell me in the comments section.