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Europe’s Energy Picture

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.

22 comments on “Europe’s Energy Picture

  1. AnalyzeThis
    December 7, 2011

    Thanks Jennifer, some really interesting stuff in here…

    And thanks to the link to the Time article. I agree with the quote in there about how the future of energy is very difficult to predict, but given the current financial difficulties much of the world is experiencing, I think the fact that “we're getting dirtier” should come to no surprise and will very likely be a continuing trend for decades.

  2. Barbara Jorgensen
    December 7, 2011

    Europe is facing the classic problem of theory versus practice. In theory, we'd all go green. In practice, many of us have no choice, unless we want to foot the bill for installing a windmill or solar panels in our homes. I can see the dilemma.

  3. Daniel
    December 8, 2011

    “Germany has been vocal in wanting to shut down its 17 nuclear power plants in the wake of the Japanese disaster”

    Jennifer I don’t think they will shut down any of their nuclear reactors in near future. Instead of that they may incorporate more security measures in order to make it safer. Also, they may deploy some disaster management systems in order to make sure that, nothing wont happens in unfortunate event. Recently I read that Germany is planning to buy nuclear energy from other EU countries.

  4. FLYINGSCOT
    December 8, 2011

    It will take government policy to make us go green.  As an extreme example if it cost me > $10 for a gallon of fuel for my car I would take the bus or cycle or walk or simply not go.   Hang on it does cost me > $10 a gallon……..yikes.

     

    One thing our company is doing is allowing people to telecommute. This is a small thing as we are not a large CO2 producer but at least we are doing something.

  5. bolaji ojo
    December 8, 2011

    Jennifer, What are the alternatives to nuclear energy and how viable are these on a large scale? All the nations that are dumping nuclear energy have good reasons but many of them also depend heavily on energy generated by nuclear facilities. How do they plan to replace these? Are they not possibly playing to the gallery because of current sentiments in Europe following the Japan disaster in March?

  6. prabhakar_deosthali
    December 8, 2011

    To be able to find a real alternative to today's oil and coal dependent energy generation, and also do away with that disaster prone nuclear energy, the global leaders will have to unite and blow whistle  and have a program to shift to alternate green energy sources come what may. Such global forced shift to alternate energy only, can  bring some economies of scale in the currently expensive techniques , thereby bringing the costs down and make them competitive with the comventional sources.

    Such independence will also change  the global political balance which is currently heavily tilted towrads the oil producing nations.

    Here I see the example of Israel to solve the water crisis. They had shortage of water for farmimg. They developed new techniques of farming and new techniques for pottable water generation from sea water. Today India is learning the Israel way of farming!

    So I support  the bold decision taken by Germany to shut down their nuclear plants bythe end of next decade.

    When your normal road is closed you automatically find an alternate route to your detination.

  7. jbond
    December 9, 2011

    I still believe this hastily move to remove decommission nuclear power plants is fear based and will eventually bite these countries in the rear. So now these countries not only face billions of dollars in cost, they also have no new plans for energy. These plans will most likely cost even more money to implement. What will eventually happen is there will be grand plans to go with a safe green energy source that is very expensive at first, then when cost becomes an issue they will scrap the green ideas and continue to pollute with no end in sight.

  8. mfbertozzi
    December 9, 2011

    In my modest opinion, main point is the fact a common and shared plan, across the globe or at least across named “G20” coutries, is still not outlined. As consequence, each country is trying to moving ahead in alternative energy implementation, not to say alone, but it looks like that, at the end. Is it only a matter of time or there are political interests in delaying a real and global plan?

  9. Jennifer Baljko
    December 9, 2011

    FlyingScot – Good on your company for allowing telecommuting…. every little bit helps, in theory, but it only scratches the surface for reducing energy needs, doesn't it? 

    The dilemma is how to take small steps – or other steps – that produce big results.

  10. Jennifer Baljko
    December 9, 2011

    Right, Bolaji, that's the million dollar question. How do keep producing the same volume of energy you need when shut down a quarter of your domestic supply?  The alternatives – solar and wind and renewable energy – comes with huge upfront expenditures and cash-strapped governments and tax-weary citizens are not able to support those measures. Similarly, you can't really goal back to coal either. Shale natural gas seems to come now and again in conversation, but I don't know much about that. will be interesting to see how countries keep pace with their own demand.

     

  11. Clairvoyant
    December 11, 2011

    Finding alternative energy will become even more of an issue when we start having oil shortages. I don't think it is a good choice for countries to stop using nuclear energy. They should just be sure that the processes in place are safe.

  12. Ashu001
    December 13, 2011

    Guys,

    Iran recently announced they were testing blocking the Straits of Hormuz as a Militiary excercise.

    In the event of what looks like a most certain war betteen the US,Europe and Iran ;Iran will end up blocking the Straits of Hormuz which carry more than 30% of all crude Oil exported globally.

    What will that do to Crude OIl prices???Especially for Energy deficent regions like Europe???

    Social Spending and various subsidies will be the first victims here.

    Not a fun place to be in.

    Regards

    Ashish.

  13. Jennifer Baljko
    December 13, 2011

    @tech4people – thanks for the heads up. I'll read up on that.

  14. Cryptoman
    December 16, 2011

    The obvious concern about nuclear energy is its safety. The recent diseaster in Japan is still fresh in our minds. However, Japan sits in the middle of fault lines that make the use of nuclear plants a very risky business. The United Kingdom on the other hand does not need to worry about earhquakes because it is lucky enough not to have a single fault line under it. This certainly makes it a less risky location for using nuclear power. Of course, there is always risks associated with the human factor involved in the operation of a nuclear plant however these can be minimised and often be eliminated by deploying strict security measures and conducting careful inspections. Therefore, the risks of using nuclear power certainly varies depending on the geography and these should be taken into account before panicking upon hearing the word 'nuclear'.

  15. Ashu001
    December 18, 2011

    Jennifer,

    The more you look and understand Geopolitical strains globally,the more worried you get(and especially for Europe).

    The Straits of Hormuz and the Bhosphorus straits are both major choke points through which most of the Oil Destined for Europe flows.

    If for any reason either point gets shut down(for whatever reason),then Europe is most certainly going to see the mother of all Depressions(with Oil most certainly above USD 200/Barrel).

    The big problem,is that alternative supplies(North America, South America and Africa) do not have enough supplies(what with Libya not yet upto full production levels & Nigeria seeing continous and non-ending Sabotage of Oil Pipelines.. ).

    Europe is not best served by backing America in their fight with Iran over Nukes at this very moment.

    Europe will be better served by thinking about its own self-interest right now & that means dragging Iran back to the negotiating table and making sure America backs off from its threat to attack Iran.

    Regards

    Ashish.

  16. Ashu001
    December 18, 2011

    Crypto,

    I agree.

    Nuclear energy is(& remains an important part of the Energy equation for most countries worldwide).

    Why else would an oil Surplus nation like the United.Arab.Emirates decide to build Civilian Nuclear plants in cooperation with the Koreans???

    Politicians tend to over-react in reaction to events that happen around the world.

    And with todays 24/7 news cycle ,politicians are constantly on the defensive regarding each and every major event.

    Looking at it simply from the viewpoint of TEPCO(The company behind the Fukushima disaster)-They cut a lot of corners in the construction of the reactors(in order to save costs).And after such a unprecedented disaster the focus on all new reactors becomes more intense.Which is a very-very good thing.That will mean Construction is done only under the safest conditions with all manner of safeguards in place.

    I know its tough to escape the NIMBY phenonmenon(Not in my Backyard),which is so common everywhere.But if you want to consume more and more amounts of electricity you have to accept that all kinds of power plants (including Nuclear)will have to be build.There is no escaping this fact.

    So far,only the Chinese seem to appreciate this inescapable fact.

    Regards

    Ashish.

  17. Ashu001
    December 18, 2011

    Bond,

    This is exactly the problem which most European countries are facing today.

    Italy,Spain and Germany have slashed subsidies across the board for Solar Power,at the same time they are decommisiong all Nuclear plants(without any new ones coming online);so the burden of producing power falls on Heavily Polluting Coal and Fuel Oil Power Plants as well as extremely risky Natural Gas fired plants(risky because most of Europes natural gas supplies come from Russia which turns the tap off whenever it suits its fancy).

    Only France is not giving into to this short-term thinking and forging ahead with is use of Nuclear energy.

    Regards

    Ashish.

  18. Ashu001
    December 18, 2011

    Clairvoyant,

    Wish there were more sane heads in Media & Govt who thought exactly like you did.

    Unfortunately most Politicians are extremely short-term in thier thinking and right Nuclear bashing feels like the right thing to do.

    Unfortunately they are extremely short-sighted and will come back to bite when countries when they get hit with all manner of brownouts and rolling blackouts(because of lack of investment in the electric Grid).

    Regards

    Ashish.

  19. Ashu001
    December 18, 2011

    Jennifer,

    Energy efficency (& smarter grids) seems like the key(as far as I am concerned).

    If we an cut our individual per-capita usage by 10-20% through usage of more efficent devices and appliances,better insulation for our homes and use smarter Grids(like smart meters) more actively (which would help more if Utilities gave incentives for using power at different times).

    Lets say(hypothetically) if peak usage is from 9AM-12PM and then from 7PM-10PM ,those are the hours when rates should be double.Which will automatically force consumers to shift their pattern of electricity usage(to off-peak hours);its not a revolutionary concept and can lead to not just more efficent utilization of existing resources and power plants and means there is less idling capacity lying around(for peak power requirements).

    Regards

    Ashish.

  20. Jennifer Baljko
    December 19, 2011

    Hi

    I think what's coming out of all this is that mixed models for energy sourcing will remain for all countries in the foreseeable future. No country will have one go-to plan like a nuclear-only strategy, nor will they be able to meet all their needs from green grid or gas. Even on an individual basis, we choose different utilities, i.e when there's an electrical blackout I know I can still take a hot shower because that runs on gas. I'm not changing that scenario any time soon either; suspect countries have to follow a similar divide-resources plan.

  21. Ashu001
    December 20, 2011

    Jennifer,

    You pinpoint a very interesting strategy,Only thing I would like to know is this-

    Is this strategy open to consumers of Energy everywhere?

    In many countries Utilities are Government-ownedand serve to  fulfill the Goverment mandate.

    What do we do there in a situation where there is No competition to speak of ?

    You need to build your own power backup ,again here I don't really know how many people can afford to do that in todays cash-stretched times.

    We are very close to reaching those times when the Govt will be unable to deliver all the most essential services we take for granted today.

    What happens then?Civil strife? Chaos? I shudder to think of the consequences.

    Regards

    Ashish.

  22. Ashu001
    December 20, 2011

    Jennifer,

    You pinpoint a very interesting strategy,Only thing I would like to know is this-

    Is this strategy open to consumers of Energy everywhere?

    In many countries Utilities are Government-ownedand serve to  fulfill the Goverment mandate.

    What do we do there in a situation where there is No competition to speak of ?

    You need to build your own power backup ,again here I don't really know how many people can afford to do that in todays cash-stretched times.

    We are very close to reaching those times when the Govt will be unable to deliver all the most essential services we take for granted today.

    What happens then?Civil strife? Chaos? I shudder to think of the consequences.

    Regards

    Ashish.

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