And that’s that: after a word of authority from Chancellor Scholz, the Emsland nuclear power plant in Lower Saxony surprisingly continued to run until next year. Paradoxically, the price of electricity could even rise as a result of continued operation, critics warn. Is it really like that?

It’s always said that you can’t choose your relatives, but that also applies to a certain extent to your coalition partners. The nuclear dispute between the FDP and the Greens made it clear once again that the current traffic light coalition is an alliance of convenience rather than a love affair.

The decision by Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) to allow all three nuclear power plants that are still available to run until spring 2023 gives both brawlers a big toad to swallow: the FDP has to accept that nuclear power in Germany will finally be over as of next summer . And with the Emsland nuclear power plant, the Greens must now also continue to run a third nuclear reactor, where they had already struggled so much with the other two power plants.

The Greens are still generous these days. “But my God,” said the prominent Greens politician Anton Hofreiter on Tuesday to the television channels RTL and n-tv, “the FDP is just ideologically stubborn.” And for the sake of peace, said the former parliamentary group leader, “one has to accept a certain ideological obduracy.” Actually, the decision was “not the smartest”: Northern Germany already has a surplus of electricity, which sometimes leads to wind turbines that produce cheaply would have to be shut down – and the price of electricity would actually rise as a result instead of falling.

I beg your pardon? Will the continued operation of the Emsland nuclear power plant lead to higher electricity prices, although the extension actually expands the electricity supply in Germany? “The 11 terawatt hours of electricity from Emsland will slow down the wind turbines in Lower Saxony,” warns Bengt Bergt, deputy spokesman for climate and energy of the SPD in the Bundestag. “The nuclear power plant is located between 6119 wind turbines with 11 megawatts, which we are already unable to get southwards.”

The theory goes like this: Thanks to wind power, the northern German federal states produce significantly more electricity than they can consume themselves. The surplus goes abroad on the one hand and on the other hand to the south, to federal states such as Bavaria, which has become a net importer of electricity in recent years. But the expansion of the necessary power lines is several years behind. The result: the north sometimes does not get its vast amounts of wind power transported away quickly enough.

In order to avoid overloading the power grids, the grid operators have to switch off some plants in the north in these situations and thus artificially throttle production. In the south, expensive replacement power plants have to be ramped up to compensate – “redispatch” is the technical term. From an economic point of view, it would make sense to switch off the nuclear power plant in Emsland first instead of the wind turbines. According to an estimate by the Ministry of Economic Affairs in 2019, German nuclear power plants can produce for around 13 cents per kilowatt hour, a wind turbine on land can do this for four cents, according to figures from the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems.

But nuclear power plants are complicated, inflexible structures that cannot simply be switched off. So when electricity production has to be curtailed quickly, the first thing that hits is wind turbines. Even if that makes electricity more expensive. In the past year alone, 2643 gigawatt hours of renewable energies from wind power, solar and biogas were switched off in Lower Saxony, says Silke Weyberg, Managing Director of the Lower Saxony State Association for Renewable Energies (LEE). If the nuclear power plant in Lingen runs longer, line capacity will also be required for this. The result: More wind turbines are switched off. And the grid fees are rising because the owners of the wind turbines have to be compensated financially for the shutdowns.

That would be the final punchline of this coalition theatre: the FDP is arguing so vehemently for the continued operation of Germany’s third nuclear power plant – and thus only achieves that electricity becomes more expensive. But can that be? At least experts don’t want to rule it out. “The problem with the networks is well known,” says the electricity market expert Mirko Schlossarczyk from Enervis, a management consultancy for the energy industry. “So it’s quite possible that continued operation will increase the need for redispatch.”

However, as Schlossarczyk qualifies, that of course depends on how much wind will be available in winter. “The weather models I know assume a warm winter, which indicates less wind,” says Schlossarczyk. “In this case, the problem would not arise at all.” The network operators responsible for the power lines, on the other hand, point out that geography can sometimes be misleading. In any case, the Emsland nuclear power plant is not located to the north but to the south-west “in terms of network technology”, says Ina-Isabelle Haffke, spokeswoman for the network operator Tennet. This means that it is also “south of the network bottlenecks between northern and southern or western Germany”.

In other words: If the North has an electricity surplus again, switching off the nuclear power plant won’t help either. “Therefore, network expansion remains the key lever,” explains Haffke.

“You should also look at it from a European perspective,” adds Schlossarczyk. “The electricity can also flow to France via the Benelux countries.” And France is currently going through an outright electricity crisis: Normally, the German neighboring country produces 70 percent of its electricity requirements from nuclear power, but due to postponed maintenance work due to the Corona crisis and corrosion problems, half is the 58 reactor is currently not connected to the grid. The result: France, otherwise a reliable exporter of electricity to Germany, has suddenly become an importer. Not only does this mean that Germany has less electricity available, it also has to sell more of the electricity it produces itself.

“Our analyzes have shown that they can also supply around five terawatt hours of electrical energy,” says Haffke about the continued operation of the three German nuclear power plants until spring. “In short, every megawatt hour helps us.” And Schlossarczyk also considers continued operation of the Emsland reactor “definitely sensible”, as he says. “In this situation, the main thing is to avoid risks,” explains Schlossarczyk. “No politician wants to be accused of not having done enough if a disaster does occur.”

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