Blackouts in Store for Germany?

Germany is backing away from nukes and coal-fired plants and might see power shortages as soon as this summer

Germany likes to see itself as a pioneer when it comes to promoting renewable energies. But with the country maintaining its desire to shut down the last of its nuclear power plants in 2021 and steering away from coal-fired power plants as well, many see power shortages in the country's future.

And according to Matthias Kurth, head of Germany's Federal Network Agency which oversees Germany's power, gas and telecommunications markets, those shortages could be coming sooner rather than later. On Wednesday he said that Germany might experience power shortages as early as this summer.

Even as the country exported more power than it imported in 2006, "the balance over 12 months says very little about what the situation looks like during periods of high demand," Kurth said. Should there be a period of low wind in Germany during the summer -- when nuclear power plants reduce production anyway due to the limited availability of cooling water -- then a shortage could result.

The comments play directly into the hands of those who have long been arguing that Germany cannot afford to leave nuclear power behind. Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats have long railed against the shutdown plan -- which was passed by the Social Democrats and the Greens under former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Germany's energy companies have likewise said that relying on renewable energies as compensation is not practicable. Plans to make coal-fired power plants more efficient or to capture the carbon dioxide they release may also make such power prohibitively expensive.

Both RWE and E.on have recently warned of shortages like those mentioned on Wednesday by Kurth. A number of power plant projects in Germany have been postponed or abandoned entirely in the face of growing political opposition to coal-fired plants. Germany's power companies are demanding that nuclear power be welcomed back into the country's energy portfolio.

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