It Ain't Half Hot Mum! Well, turn down the nuclear power plant son

At midday on Friday 25 and Saturday 26 May 2012 Germany set a world record for solar power by producing 22 (gigawatts) GW, amounting to a third of electricity needs on Friday and almost half on Saturday. That was equal to 20 nuclear power stations at full capacity. Germany decided to abandon nuclear power after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. They closed eight plants immediately and will shut down the remaining nine by 2022. They will be all be replaced by renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and bio-mass.

This record breaking production of solar power proved that one of the world's leading industrial nations is capable of meeting a third of electricity supply needs on a working day, Friday, and almost half on Saturday when offices and factories are closed.

They already get about 20% cent of its entire annual electricity from renewable sources. They already have almost as much installed and operational solar power generation capacity as the rest of the world and produce about 4% of overall annual electricity needs from the sun alone. They aim to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2020 at the latest. The climb to above the 20 GW level was due to increased capacity this year and exceptionally brilliant sunshine across the entire country.

Solar power production in Germany has grown considerably with the country's ‘feed-in tariffs’ for renewable energy, introduced by the German Renewable Energy Act (Erneuerbare Energien Gesetz (EEG)) in 2000. Prices of photovoltaic (PV) systems have decreased more than 50% since 2006.

For those of you technically minded, they had solar PV capacity in 2011 of almost 25 GW) and the solar PV industry installed about 7.5 GW in 2011 so that PV provided 18 terawatt hours (TWh) (or a billion kilowatt-hours) in 2011 which was in the region of 3% of total electricity. Market analysts expect this may reach 25% of production (or more) by 2050. They already have half a dozen solar energy parks contributing to the output but the promotion, sales and financial support for households and businesses in encouraging far more private use of all forms of solar energy particularly.

Now here we are in good old France where sunlight hours are far greater than Germany. France has 59 active nuclear power plants run by EDF and a few that are closed at present. In fact, nuclear power is the primary source of electric power in France. The most recent available figures show that in 2011 French electricity generation was 542 billion kWh net. National consumption was 478 billion kWh (less than the 513 billion kWh in 2010 due to the mild year), the ‘surplus’ was sold to other countries such as Belgium and Italy. That is about 6800 kWh per person or roughly 90% of electricity production which is the highest percentage in the world. EDF are building a third-generation nuclear reactor at Flamanville in northern France, although opening the plant will be delayed until 2016 owing to structural and economic reasons. If François Hollande is true to his word, there may be a partial nuclear phase-out in France, since his party is in favour of closing the oldest 24 reactors by 2025.

Occasionally we get a half-hearted cold sales call from somebody trying to sell PV. The incentives offered are not worth mentioning. Our house has solar panels but so far the PV deals we have seen have not been attractive enough to persuade us because whilst we can ‘sell’ it to EDF, the installations and equipment do not come with the subsidies offered in Germany. We have looked at buying PV to make us as independent of EDF supplies as possible. It would mean importing equipment, finding an electrician with the skills (and reliability) to install a secondary power supply so that we could retain the conventional one for when it is needed and use the PV supply whenever possible, plus store some of what it produces. That is a big order here. It is also prohibitively expensive.

Should we not expect the Fukushima example to persuade France like Germany, Switzerland and other countries reducing nuclear, coal and other dangerous or polluting power supplies in favour of renewables? Much of France has more than enough sun to do far better that Germany, there are enough people using solar power already to use as examples of how money and energy saving is already available, but there does not appear to be the political will. Perhaps we have to wait for a Fukushima type of nuclear accident here but if that is the case then I hope it is sooner rather than later for obvious reasons.

On verra! Si.

We are jusst sooo behind germany, but it's just like the monomur discussion we had Brian, it's across the board ignorance and acceptance that it's like that, arrogance that because it's france it must be the best, and total lack of real investment in the green market. The government investment in subsidising the PV schemes soon comes back into the system with the increased jobs and PV market. One way forward is for all new build to be fitted with them as standard. the BBC houses are good but go down the wrong road with everything based on internal not external or integral insulation and heat pumps instead of investing the same sum in PV, double flux VMC etc. We'll get there one day but I think we'll always be two steps behind the germans and scandinavians in their open minded search for improvement in general. come sempre qua, "on verra" !

I think they lost their way when nuclear replaced coal fired generation and was already far less polluting. Sadly the population at large has no idea what the consequences of a serious nuclear accident are and nobody talks about increased incidence of cancers amongst people living within a very few kilometres of power plants. USA, France and Japan accountfor about 50% of nuclear generated electricity in the world but post-Fukushima Japan are working on reduction as quickly as possible and there is discussion in Washington at least. France are also using fission rather than fusion, so producing more waste. As you say, they are power wasters, but as the bills go up they might just start to put the heating off in unused rooms.

And not happening near any of us I take it. The French are extremely wasteful of electricity. They have little concept of efficient use. I was amazed to find a radiator in every room in French homes. In NZ we put a heater on in the main room we are in, only, because our power is more expensive, even though we use a lot of hydroelectircity. So even in winter we shiver if we have to move but we know how to keep our bills down and not use too much power. Yes it's the 21st century but we need to change our attitudes and behaviours before we'll see a plateau or reduction in demand. France could go renewable more than it does but the French don't have the will (needs to be led by the politicians- alas).