Three of Germany’s eight remaining nuclear reactors have been off for most of April (and you thought they ran reliably 24/7…). What does power production look like now?
According to a report in IWR Online (in German), more than four gigawatts of nuclear capacity has been off for most of this month:
- Phillippsburg 2 was shut down on 8 April after it was revealed that the operator had reported, but not conducted, security checks. (Checks were also faked from Q4 2014 until March 2015 in Biblis, but it is in the cool-down phase after being shut down in 2011.)
- Gundremmingen B was shut down on 7 April for its final revisions before it is phased out (in 2017).
- Grohnde was shut down on 2 April when leaks in the volume control system were detected. A pump was found to be defective, and Eon says it will need a few more weeks to remedy the problem.
But back to our topic today: what has the impact been on German power production? The IWR report points out what the Germans focus on: the lights stayed on – this statement is important for them because they were told for so many decades that Germany could not do without nuclear. But for foreign onlookers, the question is carbon emissions – and hence, coal power.
If you want to call that “load-following,” I won’t argue with you – except that the kind of load following we need to complement wind and solar power looks a bit more like what’s happening with hard coal:
Now, let’s review some basic assumptions so we can analyze the overall picture in the uppermost chart above – I’m comparing April 2015 to April 2016:
- In line with the merit order, we would expect lignite and hard coal to slip into the gap left behind; the nuclear phaseout (which will be completed at the end of 2022) provides some brief breathing room for electricity from fossil fuel in Germany.
- On the other hand, as electricity production moves up the merit order, wholesale prices in Germany could increase, thereby reducing foreign demand and power exports, which would decrease coal power production in Germany.
- Finally, renewables have also been growing, and they might keep coal power in check despite the reduction in nuclear, as has happened since 2011.
It’s also a bit early to investigate 1) and 3), but the data already revealed something interesting:
- Lignite has fallen from 10.76 TWh to 9.45 TWh (down 1.3 TWh), whereas
- Hard coal grew from 7.42 to 8.29 TWh (up 0.9 TWh), and
- Nuclear fell from 7.21 TWh to 4.49 TWh, leaving a gap (I’ll round up a bit to account for the last few days of the month) of around 2.5 TWh.
The differences in power production from both types of coal suggests that we can expect the level to remain basically flat or drop slightly. This leads me to assume that renewables must have filled the gap. Yet, wind power production is apparently flat at 5.8 TWh in both months, whereas solar is down dramatically from 4.7 to 3.5 TWh. We will have to wait for final data for the month to see whether a drop in power exports made the difference.
The possible reduction in electricity from lignite is interesting because it would indicate that this source of electricity is indeed increasingly being squeezed out; renewables of simply push down into baseload too often. Clearly, lignite follows demand far more than nuclear.
The increase in hard coal would then indicate that this source of electricity will benefit the most from the gap left behind by nuclear – simply because lignite is still able to run so close to its maximum so often.
In conclusion, the phaseout of the remaining reactors by the end of 2022 will leave a lot of space for electricity from coal plants, but two other factors might keep this potential growth in check: greater renewable energy production; and lower foreign demand for German electricity as the power plants moved back up the merit order, eventually allowing natural gas turbines to play a larger role. In April 2015, Germany generated 1.86 TWh of electricity from natural gas, compared to 1.89 TWh already this month, which is not over yet.
Source: Renewables International. Reproduced with permission.