Discover more from Bismarck Brief
The German Retreat From Nuclear Power
Germany's economic priorities are torn between industrial growth and energy degrowth. As its last nuclear plants are shut down, the choice is between relying on fossil fuels or closing factories.
On New Year's Eve 2021, the German government powered down three of its remaining six nuclear power plants. The final three are scheduled to be shut down by the end of 2022. This is the culmination of a phaseout of nuclear energy that goes as far back as the 1960s. From 1989, when Germany’s last reactor was commissioned, to 2021, nuclear-generated electricity fell from 29% of overall German electricity production to 11%.1 Meanwhile, electricity generation from wind, solar, and naturally occurring bioenergy grew from 4% to 44%.2 Bionergy refers to fuels extracted from living organisms like trees, crops, and recycled waste. The most common bioenergy in Germany is solid biofuel such as wood, followed by biogases created from organic matter like meat processing waste.3 Germany’s energy transition—in German, Energiewende—appears incoherent at first. In the name of environmentalism, Germany has rapidly phased out low-carbon nuclear power, replacing it with a combination of Russian natural gas4 and highly subsidized renewable energy. The cost of this transition is higher energy prices and increased dependence on politically sensitive Russian imports. The payoff has been a reduction in emissions slightly less than that achieved by pro-nuclear France.5 The new government is anticipating that the country will not meet its climate goals for either 2022 or 2023.6
You can listen to this Brief in full with the audio player below:
Energy consumption is defined by three stages. Firstly, there is primary energy. This refers to energy that is stored in natural resources like uranium, methane gas reserves, or solar radiation. Secondly, resources are then exploited through an energy system, such as a nuclear power plant, a gas pipeline, or a photovoltaic panel. Thirdly, the systems produce energy that is then distributed through energy carriers like capacitors, batteries, the electric grid, and fuel. The energy carried can be used for electricity, heat, fuel, or mechanical work. Different countries require different amounts of energy in different patterns and this determines which energy sources can meet their economic needs. Countries with very little manufacturing capacity, a sunny climate, and low population can rely mostly on electricity generated from renewables, as in the case of Costa Rica.7 Such a feat is impossible for Germany, which is much more heavily industrialized. In 2017, mining and manufacturing accounted for 30% of German energy consumption, compared to 19% in the United States.8 The country’s energy consumption peaked in 1979 at 4373 terawatt hours (TWh).9 By 2019, consumption had decreased to 3515 terawatt hours (TWh). Some of this can be attributed to efficiency gains, government regulation favoring renewables and a larger service sector, but most of it can be attributed to a slowdown in economic growth and the start of Germany’s long demographic contraction.10 The makeup of energy sources has also changed. In 2000, over 99% of energy came from fossil fuels, nuclear energy, or hydroelectric power. By 2020, that had fallen to 84%, with wind, solar, and bioenergy increasing.11
Germany’s post-war economic development has had two main goals. Since 1945, its economic policy has specialized in manufacturing, in large part to serve the American consumer market. This has evolved into an increasingly unbalanced, export-oriented economy. With a slowdown in domestic consumption and the ability to devalue its currency via the Euro, the effective industrial strategy of the post-war period has morphed into a more limited strategy based on maximizing trade surpluses to offset stagnation at home. This strategy is reliant on continual cooperation from the United States and Germany’s European partners. Since 1968, the German elite have also had to factor in the increasing influence of anti-nuclear and environmentalist ideology. Through institutional takeover, elite consensus, and activism, German leaders now prioritize the reduction of energy consumption through the phaseout of nuclear energy and the prioritization of “soft energy” solutions like bioenergy, wind turbines, and photovoltaics. Leaders have viewed these two trends as compatible or even mutually beneficial. But Germany’s economic strategy always relied on the American-led order championing free trade, while Germany itself engaged in protectionist policies to gain advantage. Now faced with an equally protectionist China and a long term shift in American attitudes towards trade, German industry is losing its competitive advantage. As geopolitical reality constricts German export growth, an increasingly limited, expensive, and unreliable energy supply compounds the problem. The country is effectively pursuing a growth-seeking industrial strategy in tandem with a Malthusian energy strategy. The two aims are becoming irreconcilable.
From Nuclear Spring to Nuclear Winter
Nuclear energy refers to energy in the nucleus, or the core, of an atom. This energy can be accessed, but it must first be released from the atom via nuclear fission. In nuclear power plants, controlled nuclear fission splits atoms to release energy in the form of heat. This heat produces steam, which turns a turbine generator and produces electricity. The primary fuel for modern nuclear plants is uranium. In most designs, the uranium has to be highly enriched so that the fissile isotope U-235 accounts for 3 to 5% of the total mass. The fuel is turned into pellets and arranged into fuel rods. When the nucleus of a U-235 atom captures a moving neutron it splits in two (fissions), releases some energy in the form of heat, and new neutrons split off from the core. If enough of these expelled neutrons cause the nuclei of other U-235 atoms to split, releasing further neutrons, a fission “chain reaction” can be achieved. This process requires regulation by a moderating force, usually water. The purpose of this is to slow down the fission process. Another key component are the control rods. These are made with neutron-absorbing material such as cadmium, hafnium, or boron, and are inserted or withdrawn from the core to control the rate of reaction.
There are a wide variety of potential nuclear plant designs and there has been interest in alternative fuels such as thorium, but the vast majority of operating commercial plants are light-water reactors (LWR). The first commercial nuclear energy operation was the Calder Hall reactor, opened in 1956 at Sellafield in the United Kingdom. Nuclear energy has abundant fuel, produces minimal emissions or pollution, and has a very high capacity factor, meaning it utilizes almost all of its potential capacity over a given period of time. In 2019, the capacity factor for American nuclear energy was 94% of capacity.12 For gas it was 57%, for wind it was 35%, and for solar it was 25%.13 Its primary drawbacks are the concerns about safety, fuel disposal, and proliferation of nuclear weapons. These fears have increased the financial and political costs as well as the complexity of building nuclear reactors.
German nuclear power flourished in the 1950s thanks to both West German industrial policy as well as assistance from the United States. Local companies like Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG) and Siemens partnered with American companies Westinghouse and General Electric (GE) to build initial capacity. AEG and GE built the initial Kahl nuclear plant in 1959. From 1965 to 1980, German nuclear generation grew at a faster rate than that of the United States, going from 0.01% to 3.65% of primary energy consumption.14 In 1985, 26.53% of German electricity production was nuclear.15 Though Germany never exceeded the nuclear deployments of neighboring France, it nevertheless relied on nuclear power for electricity more than the United States or Britain from 1985 until 2011.16
Siemens and AEG quickly consolidated their efforts into the corporation Kraftwerk Union (KWU) in 1969. Siemens eventually became the major shareholder and KWU became the key industrial group responsible for Germany’s nuclear efforts. The vast majority of German reactors were second-generation light-water reactors (LWR) of American design. Germany itself would develop prototypes for third and fourth generation experimental reactors. This included the 15 megawatt (MW) pebble bed high temperature reactor (AVR), a very high temperature reactor which was commissioned in 1969 and shut down in 1988. Another example was the THTR-300, which only operated from 1985 to 1987.17 Ultimately perceived as great failures, these experimental reactor designs are now being improved upon by China. A 210 MW HTR-PM reactor, opened in Shandong province in September 2021, is essentially a scaled up version of the AVR’s fundamental technology.18 Germany was not merely a consumer of first and second generation light water reactor technology, but an active contributor to the fourth-generation nuclear fission technologies that are still being developed.19
As an economy reliant on high value exports, the West German government of Helmut Schmidt, who served as Chancellor from 1974 to 1982, treated nuclear plants like any other high-value commodity, and as demand at home was met with increasing opposition, it became ever more ambitious in its foreign deployments. German firms increased their share of nuclear plant construction projects in the non-communist world from 7.5% in 1969 to 20% in 1979.20 KWU signed a deal to build eight reactors in Brazil in 1977. There were also attempts to export uranium enrichment and reprocessing services to Brazil, Iran, and Argentina. This raised concerns from non-proliferation experts, particularly from the U.S.21 KWU was known for providing additional consulting and training services, making it the most desirable nuclear partner for developing states.22 Alongside KWU, companies like Linde and Thyssenkrupp Uhde offered construction services. Another company, Borsig, attempted a deal to build heavy water reactors with India, but this was quashed due to proliferation concerns.
Nuclear export policy was influenced by various other companies and agencies—notably, Hoechst for fuel cycle, Dresdner Bank for capital, RWE AG as utility provider, and the German Federal Ministry of Research and Technology and the Ministry of the Economy.23 Ultimately, this thriving export market was curtailed by the U.S. Ford and Carter administrations from 1974 to 1981. The U.S. was concerned about nuclear proliferation following India’s detonation of a nuclear weapon in 1974, but also saw Germany’s sector increasingly competing with their own nuclear export market. The German Schmidt government was less cooperative than the French government in allaying these concerns, in part because anti-nuclear sentiment at home made the German nuclear industry increasingly reliant on exports. Export-led growth in nuclear power became effectively impossible in 1991 after revelations about German nuclear exports to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s weapons program caused international outrage.24 Despite this, Germany continues to be the world’s second largest exporter for both enriched and depleted uranium. Total German uranium exports were worth €520 million in 2020.25 Much of this is depleted waste sent to re-enrichment facilities in Russia. This industry, partially the last byproduct of the phaseout, has faced increased scrutiny.26
This closing up of export opportunities happened at the same time as Germany's domestic market for nuclear plants dried up. From the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 onwards, public opinion turned against nuclear power. From 1990 to 1991, six reactors with 3.3 GW capacity were canceled before they could be constructed.27 The Atomic Energy Act of 2002, coupled with the 2000 energy act and the prioritization of wind and solar power, made building more plants impossible. Upon inauguration as Chancellor in 2005, Angela Merkel wanted to slow down the phaseout, but this was reversed after the Fukushima disaster in 2011, when an earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Japan caused the most severe nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986 at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
Transition to Renewables Necessitates Natural Gas Imports
German plans call for lost nuclear energy to be replaced by wind and photovoltaics for electricity and bioenergy for heat.28 But there is increasing evidence that these technologies are not sufficient to power the German economy. Globally, photovoltaic growth has been impressive, and there are regions where the level of solar irradiation makes mass-scale deployment economical. This is not the case in central Europe. Based on 2020 capacity and generation figures, the average solar fuel cell efficiency for Germany is 11%, below the world average of 14% and well below comparable figures in the U.S. and China.29 Solar power in Germany will therefore be permanently reliant on subsidies, and even then cannot hope to provide reliable energy output for the industrial sector without a sustained reliance on gas.30
The phaseouts and the wider Energiewende were not primarily about ending fossil fuel use, which explains the continual importance of natural gas to the German economy. While overall use has not expanded markedly, natural gas is currently critical for the industrial economy and especially for industrial heating. The Haber-Bosch process relies on natural gas to produce ammonia, which is vital for fertilizers and chemical products. Natural gas is a vital fuel used in process manufacturing for goods like steel. High industrial heat demand (over 400 degrees celsius) takes up a considerable amount of energy for industry and in order to electrify these processes, it would require unprecedented electricity abundance.31 Though promoters of the phaseout note renewable shares in Germany’s electricity generation, fossil fuel consumption of German manufacturing has been remarkably stable, with natural gas producing 20% of all energy in this critical sector in 2020. From 2015 to 2020, manufacturing consumption of energy from renewable electricity sources only grew from 3.2% to 4.1%.32 Even coal represented 15.6% of energy consumption in manufacturing for the same year.
Natural gas is also critical because it provides the baseline demand that stabilizes the intermittent nature of renewable electricity—wind and solar cannot reliably produce the same amount of electricity 24 hours a day, but vary according to natural factors such as wind strength or cloud cover. It is very easy to kickstart a gas plant relative to a nuclear or coal plant, meaning that gas and variable renewables are natural complements. This is noted by the United Nations as well as by promoters of the natural gas industry.33 This relationship is only likely to strengthen as gas is pitched as a key component in the production of hydrogen, a largely prospective storage technique that has yet to be commercialized.
In 2020, 55% of Germany’s natural gas imports came from Russia, totaling 56.3 billion cubic meters (Bcm).34 That is a major increase from the 35% share in 2016.35 In 2020, the whole of Europe imported 57% of its non-European gas from Russia.36 This reliance has been growing as Europe’s internal sources of natural gas, namely the Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom, have collectively decreased their production from 238 Bcm in 2010 to 171 Bcm in 2020 (-29%) due to exhausting supplies.37 While the U.K. has untapped shale gas reserves, the British government implemented a moratorium on fracking in 2019.38 Both German and wider European demand for gas have been stable throughout the decade. Between 2009 and 2019, Germany’s demand rose 0.5% while Europe’s dropped 0.4%.39 Demand for natural gas is likely to remain steady or increase as the rollout of renewables, if anything, cements gas as an essential resource. This was the logic behind the laying down of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Nord Stream is a $20 billion initiative headed by Gazprom, Russia’s premier state-owned energy corporation and gas producer. The original Nord Stream 1 (with two pipelines) transports up to 55 Bcm of Russian gas per year from Vyborg to Lubmin in Germany’s Mecklenburg-Vorpommern region. Nord Stream 2 adds another two pipelines and doubles total capacity to 110 Bcm annually. The project is owned by German company Nordstream, which is in turn owned by Gazprom. It is a lucrative project for European companies, with Italian oilfield contractor Saipem laying down the pipes. Importantly, Nordstream provides Germany with direct access to Russian gas, rather than through onshore pipelines that go through transit countries like Ukraine and Poland. This would allow Russia to limit gas supplies to these countries while maintaining supply to Germany and Western Europe.
Besides further reliance on Russia, Germany’s options for securing natural gas are limited. It could fund costly pipeline infrastructure with distant Algeria, hope for friendly neighbors like the U.K. to begin fracking, or use liquified natural gas (LNG) imports supplied by seaborne tankers. The main LNG suppliers to Europe in 2020 were Qatar, Algeria, Nigeria, Russia and, increasingly, the United States. In 2020, 42% of American LNG exports (25.6 Bcm) went to Europe.40 Though imports of LNG are increasing, the relative cost-efficiency of pipeline transportation makes continual Russian imports more economical. In early 2022, German developers delayed the construction of an LNG terminal at Brunsbuettel near Hamburg.41 A major issue for LNG development is that gas demand in Germany and Europe is not expected to grow significantly in the long term, something that Russia has also implicitly recognized with plans to increase hydrocarbon integration with China. With limited opportunity for growth, the economic and structural advantages of existing pipeline infrastructure strongly counter the geopolitical value of potential LNG infrastructure. The recent Russian invasion of Ukraine has led to an apparent reversal of Germany’s gas strategy and the freezing of Nord Stream 2’s certification, but such reliance also increased after the 2014 invasion of Crimea. Altering this strategy now will take years and cost tens of billions that could have been deployed elsewhere. In the wake of Russia’s invasion, Germany’s government raised the possibility of delaying its nuclear phaseout, but only to downplay the viability of doing so.42
German Economic Elites Accept the Nuclear Phaseout
Dependence on Russian gas has led to questions about the ability of the German government to meet its obligations as a member of the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In some cases, politicians are actively accused of being compromised. Former social-democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, alongside the Green Party, legislated for the nuclear phaseout in 2002.43 He has become a controversial figure due to his close association with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the energy arms of the Russian state, including Gazprom and Rosneft.44 He was chairman of the Nordstream initiative as early as 2005,45 and is expected to replace the former President of Kazakhstan on the board of Gazprom.46 Schroeder is one of a number of influential German elites who leverage connections with Russian industry. The businessman Klaus Mangold is also a close associate of the Putin government. Ironically, he has been credited with facilitating talks between Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Russian state-controlled nuclear company Rosatom.47
Critics of Schroeder accuse him of working on behalf of autocrats, but his outlook aligns with the transactional and export-oriented economic strategy Germany has pursued since 1945. From the environmentalist perspective, there is also an irony that the chancellor who enacted the nuclear phaseout has enriched himself through growing the Russian hydrocarbon economy. But from Schroeder’s perspective, an energy transition away from nuclear power is compatible with greater natural gas dependency from Russia. Nuclear phaseout is not a component of the Energiewende, it is the main target, and questions of fossil fuel use and energy security are secondary. This is due to the interests of the two key constituencies responsible for energy policy. For environmentalists, any resultant increase in imports due to the nuclear phaseout inevitably means more subsidies for renewables. But this also comes with the permission of Germany’s business community.
Wider German industry generally accepted the nuclear phaseout. Chancellor Schroeder campaigned on closing all plants in 1998, and eventually reached a deal with four main energy companies in 2000 while partnering with leading Green Party politician Joschka Fischer.48 These companies, Vattenfall, RWE, E.ON, and EnBW, have contributed little to renewable energy growth, but ultimately could be negotiated with to accept a nuclear phaseout.49 When courting industry lobbies, the Schroeder Government found support from the German engineering association, due to the influence of wind turbine manufacturers.50 From an industry perspective, subsidizing renewable energy and abandoning nuclear power can make sense because there is a far greater number of inputs like steel, cement, polysilicon, and other materials needed to get equivalent generation to that of nuclear plants. Meanwhile, prestigious institutes like Fraunhofer were leading the world in benchmarking photovoltaic solar cell efficiencies. Out of 503 benchmarks for photovoltaics from 1976 to 2021, 69 (14%) were conducted in German institutions.51 Germany had never achieved technological parity with France or the U.S. in nuclear power, and with fewer export opportunities, entrepreneurs saw photovoltaics as an exciting new market to dominate.
The 2011 Fukushima disaster led to Siemens exiting the market for construction of new nuclear plants permanently. This decision was made by then-CEO Joe Kaeser. The same man compared the cultivation of solar panels in Germany to the cultivation of pineapples in Alaska.52 Kaeser and his successors are pragmatic and will market fossil fuels to high-growth foreign markets while building wind turbines at home. Other stakeholders have been more enthusiastic. The German banking system allows for considerable coordination in terms of financing long-term projects for specific industries.53 The largest state-owned investment bank, KfW, spent $17.4 billion in “green financing” in 2021 alone.54
Against this opposition, the nuclear lobby in Germany was comparatively weak. Unlike in France, there was no influential military establishment or explicitly pro-nuclear party. Though nuclear industries can employ hundreds of thousands of very well-paid workers, variable renewables offer the prospect of many more lower-paid construction and maintenance jobs. Nuclear energy was also increasing markedly in price due to increasing legislation, which only increased with any major incident.55 Unlike fluctuating commodity prices or reductions through manufacturing efficiency, costs incurred from regulation can only go up. Barring a regulatory overhaul, which was politically impossible, nuclear power was effectively priced out of Germany.56
The nuclear industry has, on some level, been a casualty of lobbying and dysfunction, much as it has been in other countries. The U.S. has only opened one new commercial reactor since 1996. The U.K.’s last reactor opening was in 1995, while for France it was 2002. But only in Germany has the phaseout been comprehensive. The Energiewende and its anti-nuclear precepts stem not from individual institutional interests but from a developed intellectual framework.
Ordoliberalism Conflicts with the Energiewende
Germany’s energy transition is more than just an energy policy. It is a national strategy built on the premise that energy consumption should be reduced. It therefore impacts Germany’s older and most established post-war economic strategy, known as “ordoliberalism.” Having previously built its enormous industrial capacity in the service of large militaries, the West German state devoted itself to integration within the American-led Western order and shifted from the controlled economy of the Nazis to a social market economy. This was built on both explicit and implicit government management. To paraphrase Walter Eucken, the most prominent German economist of the immediate postwar period, it does not matter whether the state intervenes much or little. It is how it intervenes that determines economic success.57 This guiding principle of coordinated capitalism served as the basis for what was termed ordoliberalism. This emphasis on private-public coordination, holistic thinking, and long-term planning would ultimately be applied beyond the post-war recovery. Underpinning this was specialization in manufacturing durable goods to sell into the massive and comparatively open American market.
This strategy proved immensely successful and largely continues to this day. However, ordoliberalism has had to modify its outlook due to a changing consensus within the German elite. During the latter half of the twentieth century, many intellectuals shifted from a positive view of economic growth and instead oriented their aims towards finding an equilibrium between society and nature.58 David Brower, a prominent American conservationist, split from the Sierra Club in 1969 and set up the Friends of the Earth (FoE). The organization has since grown a network of national environmental subsidiaries across 73 countries. The international organization had a 2019 income of $2.8 million,59 but the German chapter has 450,000 members and a 2020 revenue of $46 million.60 For Brower, nuclear energy was much more of a problem than fossil fuels. FoE’s first employee, Amory Lovins, would become one of the most influential proponents of the Energiewende.
In his 1976 article “Energy Strategy - the Road not Taken,” published in Foreign Policy, Lovins contrasted “hard” energies like uranium and coal with “soft” energy like wind, bioenergy, and solar. The distinction was between centralized generation built on growth versus decentralized generation built on providing adequate but not excessive energy. Lovins effectively built a policy framework to accompany the wider critique of industrial society. Lovins’ 1976 essay was a critique of 1970s American energy policy, which was built on abundance allowing for growing energy consumption and the minimization of fossil fuel imports. Lovins argued that growth and energy security were both unsustainable goals and proposed alternatives. The first was to “do more with less,” effectively producing similar levels of output with alternative, less negative technologies. The second was to have smaller energy outputs through a change in behaviors and lifestyles. There is almost no mainstream political party or organization in the contemporary developed world that does not fall somewhere within these two poles. Lovins would go on to be recognized as one of the critical intellectual fathers of the Energiewende and received the German Order of Merit in 2016.61
Growth through hard energy and efficiency are mutually exclusive. The pursuit of growth accrues infrastructure and demand that makes reductions in consumption challenging to justify. Likewise, the prioritization of efficiency will make capital-intensive and long-term investments seem increasingly economically irrational.62 By the same token, the phaseout and deprioritization of nuclear energy depletes the institutional capacity to ever build nuclear plants again. The intellectuals and decision-makers of the era thought nuclear-powered industrial society would be more dangerous both due to safety and proliferation concerns, but further would also lead to a markedly more centralized society. The term Energiewende was first coined in 1980 in a study by the German Institute of Applied Ecology.63 This institution’s founding in 1977 required FoE as an essential partner.64 The Institute is now aligned with the modern Green Party and is funded by the Party’s key foundation, the Heinrich Boll Foundation (HBF).65
The Power Of Green Politics in Germany
The anti-nuclear movement was supported from the beginning by prominent elites from both sides of the Atlantic engaging in institution building. The grassroots activism that would define anti-nuclear movements relied heavily on these elites not just for intellectual arguments, but for status, financial support, media attention, and policymaking. The movement was disparate and wide-ranging until it became more uniform through the rise of the Green Party. The party formed in 1980 and quickly gained space within German politics, winning parliamentary representation in 1983, with opposition to the atom as the defining feature of their policy platform.66 The Greens served as a rallying point for the fractured movement and offered better organization. While representing activists in the legislature, they provided infrastructure and crucial logistical support, such as offices and copy-machines and access to national media. They also coordinated court filings across Germany’s distributed judicial system to hold up and oppose new plants.
The most prominent Green party member throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s was Joschka Fischer. As leader of the Green Party, Fischer would go on to be the Vice-Chancellor when it formed a coalition with Schroeder’s Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1998. Through this, Fischer secured subsidies for renewables and a phaseout of nuclear energy in 2002. While the Greens were the most avowed in their anti-nuclear demands, SDP members like Schroeder had lost all positive feelings for the industry as well. The phaseout became something mainstream parties would trade for taking portions of the Green vote.
Any hope that Angela Merkel would reverse the phaseout was dashed with the Fukushima disaster. In March 2011, a major earthquake off Japan's east coast caused a tsunami that inundated the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and broke the cooling systems. The fuel inside three reactors subsequently overheated and melted. This released highly flammable hydrogen gas, leading to major explosions that destroyed the plant. Despite the meltdown of three reactors, post-accident analyses verified that radiation from the accident did not cause a direct impact on human health.67 Merkel almost immediately accelerated the nuclear phaseout, believing that photovoltaics and wind would be sufficient and dismissing claims of greater dependence on Russian gas.68
Despite modern criticisms of Germany’s energy transition, the matter has been decided decades ago. Ordoliberalism and the Energiewende are firmly entrenched at the institutional level. The policy consensus of German elites implicitly accepts the limits of growth and the necessity for material stagnation via a shift to “soft” energy techniques. But to the public, this undertaking is advertised as pro-growth and compatible with Germany’s continued success as an industrial exporter. The trajectory of fossil fuel use in Germany has been in steady decline for decades. Annual carbon dioxide emissions fell from 1 billion metric tons in 1990 to 644 million in 2020.69 If the aim was to phase out nuclear power, decrease fossil fuels, and avoid economic collapse while maintaining public support, supporters would argue the Energiewende has been successful.70 But despite €510 billion in investment and subsidies, 77% of energy consumption was fossil-fuel based in 2020.71 Further Germany, like other developed countries, offshored heavy, high-emitting manufacturing. As China’s manufacturing output grew from $625 billion in 2004 to $3.85 trillion in 2020, so did its reliance on coal as a low-cost but carbon-intensive power source. Chinese coal generation rose from 13,155 TWh to 22,853 TWh from 2004 to 2020.72 This means much of the reduction in carbon emissions is virtual, with the work of emitting carbon dioxide exported from Germany to China.
This illusory reduction in emissions has coincided with the stagnation of Germany’s manufacturing sector. In 2008, manufacturing output was valued at €660 billion.73 In the twelve years since, it has exceeded that figure only four times, topping out at €702 billion in 2018 and falling to €598 billion in 2020.74 German industrial stagnation is directly related to the rise in energy prices. In a survey by the Federation of German Industries (BDI), 23% of 400 companies surveyed said energy price rises threatened their existence, while another 65% said it caused a strong challenge. A further 20% were considering moving their operations abroad.75 Germany’s trade balance with China is also worsening, with a €20 billion deficit in 2020. In 2021, the deficit increased to €38 billion.76
As Germany loses competitiveness and deals in a multipolar world, the German strategy of ordoliberalism is reduced to furthering dominance in European markets. This means widening trade surpluses with stagnant European economies through informal mercantile banking practices and the advantages of having an already established industrial base. These German advantages are further protected through exercising EU political and regulatory pressure on Eastern European states to forgo the kind of energy intensive industrialization that gave Germany its economic edge in the first place. This includes threatening litigation against the Polish government for proposing to build nuclear reactors, as well as litigation against attempts led by France to designate nuclear energy “green” for the purposes of EU financing.77 This process has flatlined the EU’s prospects for growth while Germany’s relative share of the union’s GDP has surprisingly increased, from 23.8% in 2011 to 25.2% in 2020.78 Europe’s aspirations for growth, especially those of its poorer members, seem permanently throttled by Germany’s implicit policy of degrowth.
Analyzed as an environmentalist strategy, Germany’s transition to renewables is ultimately a self-defeating one, since carbon emissions are moved to overseas jurisdictions without similar degrowth policies. Degrowth viewed as a European foreign policy is an approach of self-marginalization, since it undermines the economic base of power the EU would hope to leverage to export environmental and social policies, norms, and laws favorable to its values and interests abroad. Only if evaluated as a German policy that ensures no economic competitors will emerge among EU member states at the cost of the bloc’s relative global decline does the policy come to have some political merit. This political reconciliation of German ordoliberalism and the Energiewende through the arbitration of emissions, slower growth, diminishing competitiveness, and deindustrializing the rest of Europe, will become increasingly untenable both domestically and internationally as other European countries seek greater strategic autonomy, including both established powers like France and ambitious states like Poland.
“Implementation of bioenergy in Germany – 2021 update,” IEA Bioenergy Technology Collaboration Programme, October, 2021, https://www.ieabioenergy.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/CountryReport2021_Germany_final.pdf
Natural gas refers to naturally occurring mixtures of hydrocarbon gasses primarily consisting of methane. It is formed by layers of plant and animal matter that decomposes under the earth’s surface, in a process of fossilization that takes millions of years.
“Change in per capita CO₂ emissions,”Our World in Data, 2021 https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/co-emissions-per-capita?tab=chart&stackMode=relative&time=2000..latest&country=DEU~FRA
Hans Von Der Burchard, “Germany will ‘probably miss’ climate targets for 2022, 2023,” Politico, December 29, 2021, https://www.politico.eu/article/germany-climate-change-targets-2022-2023-emissions/
Lindsay Fendt, “All that glitters is not green, Costa Rica's renewables conceal dependence on oil,” The Guardian, January 5, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/05/costa-rica-renewable-energy-oil-cars
William Wilkes, Hayley Warren and Brian Parkin, “Germany’s Failed Climate Goals: A Wake-Up Call for Governments Everywhere,” Bloomberg, August 15, 2018,https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2018-germany-emissions/
Rina Goldenberg, “Germany's birth rate drops, confirming dramatic predictions for the whole world,” Deutsche Welle, July 31st 2020 https://www.dw.com/en/demography-german-birthrate-down-in-coronavirus-pandemic/a-54395345
Capacity factor measures the overall utilization of a power-generation facility. Capacity factor is the annual generation of a power plant divided by the product of the capacity and the number of hours over a given period. A higher capacity factor means a higher utilization rate and therefore higher efficiency. As a result, 1 GW of new nuclear capacity produces considerably more energy than 1GW of solar capacity. For more see: “Capacity Factor-An Overview,” Comprehensive Renewable Energy 2012, Science Direct, 2012, https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/capacity-factor#:~:text=The%20capacity%20factor%20is%20defined,From%3A%20Comprehensive%20Renewable%20Energy%2C%202012
“What is Generation Capacity?,” Office of Nuclear Energy - US Government, 2022, https://www.energy.gov/ne/articles/what-generation-capacity
“THTR-300 - Power Reactor Information System,” International Atomic Energy Agency, 2021, https://pris.iaea.org/PRIS/CountryStatistics/ReactorDetails.aspx?current=92
“Demonstration HTR-PM connected to grid,” World Nuclear News, December 21st 2021, https://www.world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/Demonstration-HTR-PM-connected-to-grid
“2020 Annual Report,” Generation IV International Forum, July 29th 2021, https://www.gen-4.org/gif/jcms/c_178286/gif-2020-annual-report
Sarkar, Jayita (2019). U.S. Policy to Curb West European Nuclear Exports, 1974–1978. Journal of Cold War Studies, 21(2), 110–149.
William Glenn Gray, “Floating the System: Germany,the United States, and the Breakdown of Bretton Woods, 1969–1973,” Diplomatic History, Vol. 31, No. 2 (April 2007), pp. 295–323.
Erwin Hackel, “International Nuclear Commerce and Nonproliferation: A West German View,” in Jones et al., eds., The Nuclear Suppliers and Nonproliferation, pp. 71–79.
Sarkar, Jayita (2019). U.S. Policy to Curb West European Nuclear Exports, 1974–1978. Journal of Cold War Studies, 21(2), 110–149.
John Hooper, Suzanne Goldenberg, “Germany was 'key supplier' of Saddam supplier,” The Guardian, December 18th 2002 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/dec/18/iraq.germany
Daniel Workman, “Uranium Exports by Country – Germany,” World’s Top Exporters, September 6, 2021, https://www.worldstopexports.com/uranium-exports-by-country/
Amée Zoutberg “Germany’s uranium export to Russia may have violated EU law,” The Brussels Times, October 9, 2020, https://www.brusselstimes.com/134959/uranium-germany-russia-eu-sanctions-european-union-military-nuclear-heiko-maas-sylvia-kotting-uhl-oliver-kirschner-european-commission
“Germany - Nuclear Power Country Profiles,” International Atomic Energy Agency, 2021, https://cnpp.iaea.org/countryprofiles/Germany/Germany.htm
“Bioenergy in Germany Factsheet,” ETIP Bioenergy, 2020, https://www.etipbioenergy.eu/images/ETIP_B_Fact%20sheet_Bioenergy%20Germany_feb2020.pdf
“Renewable Energy,”Our World in Data, 2021https://ourworldindata.org/renewable-energy#solar-energy-generation
”Levelized cost of energy (LCOE)” is a method used to highlight the affordability of solar and wind. The most famous LCOE analyses have been conducted by asset management firm Lazard. This method does not factor in intermittency or the broader impact of renewables on the grid. There are new analyses being developed to account for the system-wide costs of wind and solar. See - Falko Ueckerdt, Lion Hirth, Gunnar Luderer, Ottmar Edenhofer, “System LCOE: What are the Costs of Variable Renewables?” Energy, 63 (2013), 61–75.
Elie Bellevrat, Kira West, “ Clean and efficient heat for industry,” International Energy Agency, January 23rd 2018, https://www.iea.org/commentaries/clean-and-efficient-heat-for-industry
“Energy consumption in manufacturing,” Destatis, German Government, 2021, https://www.destatis.de/EN/Themes/Economic-Sectors-Enterprises/Energy/_Graphic/_Interactive/energy-consumption-manufacturing.html
“How Natural Gas can Support the Uptake of Renewable Energy,” United Nations economic commission for Europe, 2019, https://unece.org/DAM/energy/se/pdfs/CSE/PATHWAYS/publ/NG_RE.pdf
“Natural Gas - Statistical Review of World Energy 2021,” British Petroleum, July 4th 2021, editionhttps://www.bp.com/content/dam/bp/business-sites/en/global/corporate/pdfs/energy-economics/statistical-review/bp-stats-review-2021-natural-gas.pdf
Aurélie Bros, Tatiana Mitrova, and Kirsten Westphal, “German-Russian Gas Relations: A Special Relationship in Troubled Waters,” Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik German Institute for International and Security Affairs, December 2017, “https://www.swp-berlin.org/publications/products/research_papers/2017RP13_wep_EtAl.pdf
“Government ends support for fracking,” Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, November 2nd 2019, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-ends-support-for-fracking
Ibid; Europe includes the EU, Switzerland, Norway, United Kingdom, Turkey, Ukraine and other non-EU jurisdictions.
Vanessa Dezem, “German Gas Terminal Faces Headwinds as Major Investor Steps Back,” Bloomberg, December 30th 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-12-30/german-lng-terminal-faces-headwinds-as-major-investor-steps-back?sref=ZqW0mZJf
“Germany mulls extending nuclear plants' life-span - economy minister,” Reuters, February 27, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/germany-mulls-extending-nuclear-plants-life-span-economy-minister-2022-02-27/
“The 2002 amendment to the German atomic energy act concerning the phase-out of nuclear power,” International Atomic Energy Agency, 2002, https://inis.iaea.org/search/search.aspx?orig_q=RN:33070504
Thorsten Benner, “ Schröder’s Russian sell-out,” Politico, August 17th, 2017, https://www.politico.eu/article/opinion-schroders-russian-sell-out/
Luke Harding, “ Schröder faces growing scandal over job with Russian gas giant,” The Guardian, December 13th 2005, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2005/dec/13/russia.germany
Nastassia Astrasheuskaya, Guy Chazan, “Former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder nominated to join Gazprom’s board,” The Financial Times, February 4th 2022, https://www.ft.com/content/f6814055-26ac-4a48-8dff-c295a1a1bafd
Szabo Andras, “The Mysterious German Behind Viktor Orban’s Russian Deals,” Direct 36, October 10th 2017, https://www.direkt36.hu/en/a-rejtelyes-nemet-aki-orban-orosz-manovereit-egyengeti/
“Germans Reach Deal to Phase Out Nuclear Energy-Associated Press,” The New York Times, June 15th 2000, https://www.nytimes.com/2000/06/15/world/germans-reach-deal-to-phase-out-nuclear-energy.html
Wolfgang Gründinger, “Drivers of Energy Transition: How Interest Groups Influenced Energy Politics in Germany,” Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden, March 16th 2017, https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/Drivers_of_Energy_Transition/KRJhDgAAQBAJhl=en&gbpv=1&dq=germany+sdp+antinuclear+pro+coal&pg=PA108&printsec=frontcover
“Best Research-Cell Efficiency Chart,” NREL, 2021, https://www.nrel.gov/pv/cell-efficiency.html
Winand Von Petersdorff, “Siemens boss jokes about energy transition,” Frankfurter Allgemeine, April 23rd 2015, https://www.faz.net/aktuell/wirtschaft/energiepolitik/siemens-chef-macht-witze-ueber-energiewende-13555596.html
Vitols, Sigurt (2004) : Changes in Germany's bank-based financial system: A variety of capitalism perspectives, WZB Discussion Paper, No. SP II 2004-03, Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung (WZB), Berlin https://docs.google.com/document/d/1z9mRvadJC3q4IBRDWGzyGpTtxD7vNnJxDL5jhSbThTY/edit
Anna Ivanova, “KfW issues USD 3bn green bond,” Renewables Now, October 15th 2021, https://renewablesnow.com/news/kfw-issues-usd-3bn-green-bond-757502/#:~:text=October%2015%20(Renewables%20Now)%20%2D,billion%20(USD%2017.4bn).
Jason Crawford, “Why has nuclear power been a flop?,” Roots of Progress, April 16th 2021, https://rootsofprogress.org/devanney-on-the-nuclear-flop
Wolfgang F. Stolper and Karl W. Roskamp, “ Planning a Free Economy: Germany 1945-1960,”Journal of Institutional and Theoretical Economics, Bd. 135, H. 3., Currency and Economic Reform: West Germany After World War II: A Symposium (September 1979), pp. 374-404
Martin Heidegger, perhaps the most renowned German philosopher in the postwar period, had written on such matters in his 1954 essays concerning technology. Heidegger, heavily influenced by German Romanticism and critical of industrial society, emphasized his preference for certain technologies like windmills over modern technologies like hydroelectric dams, as “the windmill does not unlock energy from the air currents in order to store it.” The ability to store energy, for Heidegger, detached human civilization from the natural world. Heidegger became a formative influence for a wide range of intellectuals, who also described abroader alienation many Western elites felt with industrial society and its growth-oriented trajectory. Martin Heidegger has become considered a controversial thinker in recent years. He was a member of the Nazi Party from 1933 onwards, and posthumously released correspondence indicates he was much more enthusiastic than his post-war renunciations suggested. More can be found at Adam Soboczynski and Alexander Cammann, “Martin Heidegger: A Moral Disaster,” Die Zeit, Oct 12, 2016, https://www.zeit.de/kultur/literatur/2016-10/martin-heidegger-briefe-antisemitismus?utm_referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.theparisreview.org%2F
“Annual Report 2019,” Friends of the Earth International, 2019, https://www.foei.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Friends-of-the-Earth-International-Annual-Report-2019-English-1.pdf
“Financials,” Friends of the Earth - Germany, 2020, https://www-bund-net.translate.goog/ueber-uns/transparenz/finanzen/ausgaben/?_x_tr_sl=auto&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=de
Christian Roselund, “Amory Lovins Awarded the German Order of Merit for His Vision of the Energy Transition,” PV Magazine, March 19, 2016, https://www.pv-magazine.com/2016/03/19/amory-lovins-awarded-the-german-order-of-merit-for-his-vision-of-the-energy-transition_100023804/
Amory Lovins, “Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken,” Foreign Policy, 1976, https://rmi.org/insight/energy-strategy-the-road-not-taken/
“History of the Energiewende”, Heinrich Boll Foundation, 2018, https://web.archive.org/web/20181225175705/https://book.energytransition.org/timeline-energiewende
“Looking Back,” Oeko-Institut, 2022, https://www.oeko.de/en/e-paper/40-years-of-the-oeko-institut-special-anniversary-issue/article/the-1960s-and-1970s
The HBF’s budget totaled $77 million in 2018. More information can be found at Heinrich Boll Stiftung (HBS), “NGO Monitor,” May 20, 2020, https://www.ngo-monitor.org/funder/heinrich_boll_stiftung_hbs_/
Joachim Radkau, “The Anti-Nuclear Movement in Germany,” Université Paris, February 25th 2009, http://large.stanford.edu/courses/2017/ph241/chang-h2/docs/radkau.pdf
“Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Accident, Ten Years On: Progress, Lessons and Challenges,” OECD, 2021, https://www.oecd-nea.org/upload/docs/application/pdf/2021-03/fukushima_10_years_on.pdf
Judy Dempsey, “How Merkel Decided to End Nuclear Power,” The New York Times, August 13, 2011, https://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/13/world/europe/13iht-germany.html
“Germany CO2 Country Profile,”Our World in Data, 2021 https://ourworldindata.org/co2/country/germany?country=~DEU
Nikos Tasfos, “In Defense of the Energiewende,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, August 24th 2020, https://www.csis.org/analysis/defense-energiewende
“Coal Consumption - China,”Our World in Data, 2021 https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/coal-consumption-by-country-terawatt-hours-twh?tab=chart&time=2004..latest&country=~CHN
“Germany Manufacturing Output 1970-2022,” Macrotrends, 2022, https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/DEU/germany/manufacturing-output
“Almost a quarter of industrial companies see energy costs as a threat to their existence,” Der Spiegel, February 22, 2022, https://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/unternehmen/energiepreise-viele-industrieunternehmen-sehen-lage-als-existenzbedrohend-a-60e3d64c-580d-40dd-917c-9be79d612b7f
“Ranking of Germany's trading partners in foreign trade.” Destatis, February 18, 2022, https://www.destatis.de/EN/Themes/Economy/Foreign-Trade/Tables/order-rank-germany-trading-partners.pdf?__blob=publicationFile
Monika Sieradzka, “German Minister of Environment in Warsaw: Atom and Odra are the topics that divide us.” Deutsche Welle, February 22, 2022, https://www.dw.com/pl/minister-%C5%9Brodowiska-niemiec-w-warszawie-atom-i-odra-to-tematy-kt%C3%B3re-nas-dziel%C4%85/a-60874124; Nikolaus Kurmayer, “Germany considering lawsuit against EU taxonomy,” Euractiv, February 8, 2022, https://www.euractiv.com/section/energy/news/germany-considering-lawsuit-against-eu-taxonomy/
These figures control for the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union. See more at “GDP (current US$) - European Union,” World Bank, 2022, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.CD?locations=EU