Public perception, global warming, and nuclear power: playing the trump card

Did the recent weather catastrophe in the Philippines have anything to do with global warming? Great Britain’s prime minister thinks so. I won’t get into the scientific debate over whether it did. I will just point out that people think it did. And that less than two months ago the IPCC warned that “[h]uman influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes.”

The aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, Philippines, November 2013. According to the UK prime minister, the massive storm was caused by man-made global warming. Right or wrong, he is simply echoing the sentiments of growing numbers of people. Emitters of carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal man-made greenhouse gas responsible for global warming, should take note of what the UK PM has to say and why he is saying it.

This continues a public opinion trend that began in the 1990s and accelerated with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. And while there are many indications that many people are skeptical of the notion of global warming, policymakers would be very unwise to bank on that skepticism. That most agree with this is evidence by just about every mainstream conservative politician’s paying of at least lip service to the need to do something about global warming. The word “denier” is what they call loaded. Nobody wants to be labeled a denier. David Cameron knows that, and is using that knowledge to position himself in the global warming debate.

This begs the question of how other former leading climate policy nations will fare on the global warming issue. Take Germany, for example. Up to a couple of years ago, nobody talked the climate talk louder than Germany. And nobody has a more embarrassing record to compare against all that talk. Germany, as I mentioned last week, gets most of its electricity by burning fuel that emits carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal man made greenhouse gas. In the course of generating electricity in 2011, Germany dumped more than 325 million tons of CO2 into the same global atmosphere that people all over the world, including in the Philippines, rely on. More than half a kilogram of CO2 came with every kilowatt-hour of electric power generated in Germany and sent into the grid. For comparison, less than 40 grams of CO2 came with every kWh of Ontario electricity this morning; see Table 1 in the left-hand sidebar.

It is remarkable that this utterly embarrassing record occurred after Germany got into the green energy game. Remember all the headlines about all those wind turbines being built in Germany? Remember all the accolades that professional environmentalists showered onto Germany for all those wind turbines? The result was 540 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour, and 325 million tons of CO2 dumped into our air in 2011. And that number is going up.

If I were a German citizen, my blood would (or should) be boiling right about now. Because, not only has my country embarrassed me and my fellow citizens in front of the world at the least opportune time, but my electricity is far more expensive than my fellow Europeans! The OECD publication Electricity Information 2013 gives, on page 139 of the PDF, electricity prices for households in US dollars per kWh. (You have to pay for this publication, unfortunately, but because it is hugely useful it might be worth it.) As you can see in Table 3.9, German households paid the equivalent of 31.48 U.S. cents for each kilowatt-hour in 2011. That number is estimated to have risen to 32.96 cents in 2012.

By contrast, households in France paid 15.53 U.S. cents in 2011, and an estimated 15.75 cents in 2012. French electricity was literally half as expensive as German.

The German doing the benefit/cost analysis of his enormously expensive electricity would (or should) recoil with horror and anger at the environmental benefit his expensive electricity fetched. France in 2011 generated 537.3 billion kWh (see Electricity Information 2013, page 451 of the PDF). Only 51.8 billion kWh was generated with combustible fuels; the overwhelming bulk of French power in 2011—421.1 billion kWh—came out of nuclear plants.

This means the CO2 intensity per kilowatt-hour (CIPK) of French electricity in 2011 was around 70 grams (that is my estimate). Yes, 70 measly grams. How does that compare with Germany’s 540 grams? Do the arithmetic and you see that French electricity was 7.5 times cleaner than German.

So, the German doing his benefit/cost analysis of his country’s full-bore embrace of “green” energy would find that this was the upshot:

German electricity in 2011 was 7.5 times dirtier than French, and more than twice as expensive.

He could be forgiven for wondering exactly why he was being forced to shell out so much money for electricity that is so environmentally destructive.

How would he feel, hearing David Cameron say that the catastrophic Philippines typhoon was caused by global warming, which the IPCC has linked with high confidence to man-made CO2 emissions, like those billowing out of German gas- and coal-fired power plants?

If this gets out, I would not want to be a German politician who had forced “green” energy onto the country, on the false promise that “green” means clean. Green is not clean. It is horrendously and embarrassingly dirty, and expensive. Germans are paying hard-earned money needlessly so their government can pretend it is green. And, according to David Cameron, thousands of human beings in the Philippines are paying with their lives.

12 comments for “Public perception, global warming, and nuclear power: playing the trump card

  1. November 18, 2013 at 14:02

    When I divide 540 by 70, I get 7.8-something, not 8.5.

    • November 18, 2013 at 14:13

      you are right, it’s 7.5 not 8.5. I made the mistake of comparing Germany’s total electricity-related CO2 emissions in 2011 (~325 million tons) with France’s (~38 million) instead of comparing CIPK with CIPK.

      Thanks

  2. November 18, 2013 at 19:19

    So looking at my bill and doing a direct comparison to Ontario residential rates, would I include debt retirement charges? Reg charges? Delivery and G.A. ? What about Clean Energy Ben.?

    • November 19, 2013 at 06:27

      I would imagine it’s based on an “all in” approach. Take the total kWh on your bill, divide by the total charge over the same period, compare that with the OECD figure.

      At least I hope it’s based on “all in.” I shudder to think of what a German’s power bill is if only the electricity costs are 33 cents and the other charges are on top of that.

    • Maury Markowitz
      November 19, 2013 at 10:47

      “would I include debt retirement charges? Reg charges? Delivery and G.A. ? What about Clean Energy Ben.?”

      Definitely all-in, *including* HST. In Europe everything is quoted tax-in.

      What number do you come up with? I’m burning 13 kWh/day now (going down as we speak as I deploy my new Cree light bulbs) and seem to be paying around 14.4 cents pre-tax – but I haven’t seen a bill in ages.

      • November 19, 2013 at 20:50

        I’m at about 18 cents per ( I’m in small town Ont) and that’s also pre-tax. The bill’s all wrapped up with water charges as well. So basically Germans are paying double what we are and we’re (Ont) considered high in N America.

        • November 19, 2013 at 20:59

          That’s right — Germans are paying double the Ontario rate, and what are they getting in return? Their power is five times as dirty as ours! They dumped 325 million tons of CO2 into the air in 2011 from power generation. So much for all that wind, solar, and conservation.

          Their power is five times as dirty as ours because wind/solar can’t possibly meet the demand of a modern power system running a modern economy, and conservation has no effect on people’s demand for power.

          So they’re paying ridiculously high prices for dirty power. That’s called getting ripped off.

  3. November 19, 2013 at 12:39

    Steve:

    The evidence continues to pile up that the Green Party has been a rather cleverly disguised fossil fuel promotion party. Seen with that lens, the EnergieWende has been extraordinarily successful at accomplishing the objectives of its true architects.

    For now, you and I are in the minority. Many people continue to agree that the emperor’s non-existent clothes are actually rather fashionable and flattering.

    Someday soon, however, more and more people will stop denying reality and begin proclaiming that they have been aware of the fiction for years but were afraid to come forward.

  4. robert budd
    November 20, 2013 at 10:27

    In both Germany and Ontario the big winners appear to be the fossil industry. Coal in Germany, natural gas here. The methodology is axactly the same in that Germany used the anti-nuclear bogey man(obviously couldn’t use coal), Ontario used coal(already replaced) here, cause most people actually seem to prefer nuclear. http://www.energy.gov.on.ca/en/ltep/ (see question #3)
    The big driver though in both cases is that replacing nuclear represents a huge economic opportunity. Solar salesman come out of the woodwork telling people their roofs are a goldmine. Wind/solar corporations see vast areas of rural Ontario as 15% return on investment gauranteed revenue streams.
    If you cut up the public owned nuclear cash cow, greens get their ego’s tickled with visions of shiney surfaces and spinny things. Gov’t as salesman and gstekeeper cultivate lucrative kickback opportunities.
    Fossil interests are happy as its use continues unabated for transport and actually increases for electrical production . The emissions challenge gets answered with B.S. and the environment gets hammered with never ending deployment of low density,high impact energy sorces like wind, solar, storage etc.
    In Germany’s defense, at least they have spread the money around better. Ontario to date has been massive corporate feeding frenzy enabled by blinkered greens and an ideology confused NDP party.

    • Steve Foster
      November 20, 2013 at 12:51

      There is rich irony in the NDP supporting a policy that supports a corporate feeding frenzy! This shows how effectively the debate has been spun by the fossil-fuel lobby using wind turbines and solar panels as such effective cover.

      It makes me sick to think how well the people of Ontario have been played by turning electricity, an essential commodity vital to the public good, into a profit center for wealthy corporations and investors rooted in the fossil-fuel business.

      Our forebears (decision-makers at Hydro and in government in the 1950s-1960s with the vision, audacity and guts to create our own CANDU technology), who jumped at the opportunity to harness nuclear fission, figured it out a long time ago: nuclear energy is the best way forward for our economy and our environment. The trouble is “we” seem to have lost our way after decades of steady push-back by faux-enviros funded by interests friendly to fossil fuels. We need a new generation with the vision and audacity to over-turn the current paradigm supported by Big Oil.

      • November 22, 2013 at 14:22

        Steve, you’re on the money (as always). Notice that in the two phases of electric grid development in Ontario, the planners — who were operating on the humanitarian imperative of providing reliable electricity to everybody at affordable rates — did not put wind turbines onto the grid. Why was that? Because the regulated monopoly electric utility model is… to provide reliable electricity to everybody at affordable rates.

        That instantly rules out inefficient and unreliable sources like wind.

        Imagine proposing wind turbines in that era. They’d have laughed you out of the room. Today, they’d cut you a check, courtesy of fixed-income seniors and single mothers.

  5. November 23, 2013 at 03:42

    Wynne and Gore are misleading the public. Wynne banning coal is a clever trick that wins over those who want to believe renewable energy is the answer. Now is the time for the nuclear industry to take credit in order to discredit Wynne and Gore. They are happy to let the masses think it is the renewable energy movement that’s responsible. The Liberals needed to come up with another regulation in an over-regulated world. So an outright ban makes the Liberals appear noble. Very sinister. This is like the Simpsons in reverse. Al Gore is like Mr. Burns but the evil business is not nuclear but sending out his zombie “Climate Leader” automotons. Saying Black is White is propaganda. Giving no credit to nuclear is pure manipulation.

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