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Goodbye Nuclear Power: Germany's Renewable Energy Revolution

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To many a casual observer, Germany's reaction to the Fukushima disaster seemed knee-jerk to say the least.

Nuclear power produces nearly 20% of Germany's energy, but in July 2011 (only three months after Fukushima) the German government vowed to shut down its nuclear capability within 10 years. Not just that, but to replace it with renewable energy, cut greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions by 40% by 2020 and 80% by 2050, ensure renewables contribute 80% of Germany's energy by 2050, and ensure energy consumption drops 20% by 2020 and 50% by 2050. It even has its own word: 'Energiewende', or 'Energy Transformation'. And Angela Merkel, not known for hyperbole, has described it as a 'Herculean task'.

Energiewende: persuading the public

But Professor Dr Manfred Fischedick is not a casual observer. As vice president of the Wuppertal Institute, he is scientific adviser to both policy makers and industry. Energiewende, he says, didn't simply fall from the sky in 2011. "Discussions about Energiewende had started already in the 1980s", says Fischedick. "There is a long tradition here in talking about alternative energy transformation. We had a lot of good scientific background and a very good basis for the government to come to such decisions in a very short timeframe... Just three months' discussion for such an ambitious energy concept would not have been possible without that."

Discussions are one thing. The reality, however, is proving quite another. "Now we have to construct new power lines, now people will see new biomass facilities very close to their houses, they will see new wind farms... the [crucial] social challenge is really to get public acceptance for all these many new investments."

The sight of thousands of kilometres of power cables slicing through the German countryside, and the costs involved, are beginning to bite. A renewable energy surcharge has already seen the average family's energy bill increase by 47% in the past two years.

There are also question marks over the transportation and storage of intermittent wind energy. However Fischedick argues that, "90% of the technologies are already available... our analysis is we [will need] more long-term storage systems after 2030. That's not a short-term challenge it is more of mid-to-long term. The short-term challenge is how to realise appropriate infrastructure on the electricity grid side... the main question at the moment is how we will be able to construct and get public acceptance for new power lines."

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