Affordable low-carbon development: Romania shows Germany how it’s done

Germany has some of the highest electricity prices in the European Union. German households pay upwards of 38 Canadian cents for each kilowatt-hour of power. Romanian households pay some of the lowest: less than 16 Canadian cents. Which is to say, Germans pay more than double what Romanians pay. (You can see a comparison of their respective Euro prices for power here; to convert Euros to Canadian dollars, click here.)

On the environmental front, the carbon content of electricity is about the same in Germany and Romania. Each kilowatt-hour of German and Romanian electricity comes with about 570 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2), the principal man-made greenhouse gas pollutant.

I base this assertion of this International Energy Agency document: page 111 of the PDF for Germany’s CO2 intensity per kilowatt-hour (CIPK) of 468 grams up to 2010; p. 112 for Romania’s of 570. The year 2010 was before Germany decided to phase out nuclear power, which emits no CO2. Since 2011, Germany’s CIPK has skyrocketed; I predict it will reach close to 600 grams by the end of 2013.

So Romanians pay less than half what Germans pay for electricity that is about as dirty. If I were German, I would feel like I have been misled. German programs to support wind and solar were solely intended to clean up German electricity. That was the explanation for why I am now paying ruinous prices for a commodity that I literally cannot or should not do without. And now I find out that though I am paying more than twice as much as my counterparts in Romania, my power is now dirtier than theirs.

And the kicker is, Germany’s power will get dirtier while Romania’s will get cleaner. Why? Because Germany will stop using nuclear power, and Romania will use more. Look at their respective CIPKs on pages 111 and 112 of the IEA document that I referred to earlier. Romania is represented by the thick line. That data is represented up to 2010 in the chart below; the years following 2010 assume the same CIPK for Romania, and a higher one for Germany.

It is interesting to note Romania’s plummeting CIPK between 1990 and 1995. That occurred mostly because of plummeting demand for electricity in the economic chaos that followed the overthrow of Nicolae Ceau?escu and the fall of communism. But the economy and demand for electricity slowly rebounded after 1995. Within 10 years, by 2005, it had reached the 1995 level; and in the years following it bounced back to 1990 levels. But the CIPK kept dropping. Why?

Again, nuclear power. The first Cernavoda CANDU nuclear generator came online in Romania in 1995. The second one came online in 2007. Though electricity demand has been generally rising since 1995, Romania’s grid CIPK has been dropping.

Germany’s slowly declined from 1990 through 2010. When Germany decided in 2011 to get out of nuclear power and began phasing out nuclear plants, its CIPK jumped. It has been rising since.

Romania’s CIPK will drop further still when it adds new reactors at Cernavoda. A letter-of-intent announced last week between the state electric utility, a Chinese nuclear builder, and CANDU Energy, which has an exclusive worldwide license on CANDU technology, will see two new CANDUs at the site. This will add more than 1500 megawatts of capacity. Given the stellar operating record of the first two CANDUs in Romania, the country has taken an economically smart and environmentally responsible decision. Cernavoda unit 2 came online as mentioned in 2007; the project was ahead of schedule and under budget.

How much will Romania’s CIPK drop? Well, the two CANDUs at Cernavoda cut Romania’s 1990 CIPK in half. Adding two more will likely do that again. Romania will wind up with a CIPK of under 300 grams. That is a 75 percent reduction from the 1,373 in 1990.

The Cernavoda experience shows how rich countries like Canada can finance massive CO2-free economic development overseas. Canada loaned Romania money to build the first two Cernavoda reactors. Romania got more than 1,200 megawatts of reliable electricity, and chopped its grid CIPK in half—a huge achievement. Romania paid back the loans. It’s a viable financing model for CO2-free development.

Nuclear exports have proven to be the most direct and effective way for Canada to lead CO2 reduction efforts around the world.

14 comments for “Affordable low-carbon development: Romania shows Germany how it’s done

  1. James Greenidge
    December 2, 2013 at 23:56

    Congrats to CANDUs! May Germany and Japan shake the fear and wisen up!

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

    • Morgan Brown
      December 5, 2013 at 10:25

      I haven’t seen anything that guarantees that the next 2 Cernavoda units will be CANDUs. That would be the best option, in my opinion, but Iran has set a precedent in changing the reactor type half way through a project (i.e., Bushehr 1 began as a German design PWR, but ended up being finished by the Russians as a modified VVER). See http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Country-Profiles/Countries-G-N/Iran/

      • December 5, 2013 at 10:36

        You are right, there isn’t anything that guarantees units 3 and 4 will be CANDUs. We, Canada, should do everything we can to make sure they are. Our export agency put up well over $1 billion to finance the Qinshan units in China, and should do the same with the Dark Prince. More important, we should let that be known.

        The letter of intent between CANDU Energy and CNG is a good sign, but let’s not forget the cooperation agreement between Romania and China.

  2. Pete51
    December 3, 2013 at 10:26

    Do you have a link that shows how you get 570 grams/kwh for Germany? I have seen you use that number before, but I don’t get how Germany can go from 461 g/kwh to 570 when their coal consumption has not gone up that much.
    http://www.eia.gov/cfapps/ipdbproject/iedindex3.cfm?tid=1&pid=1&aid=2&cid=GM,&syid=2008&eyid=2012&unit=TST

    A big part of the calculation is knowing the average heat rate for Germany’s coal plants. In the US, it is 10,444 BTU/kwh. Do you have a similar number for Germany, or an average thermal efficiency?
    http://www.eia.gov/electricity/annual/html/epa_08_01.html

    Thanks for any information. Ontario and France should be commended for having such low CIPKs, but I don’t see how Germany can be as high as you claim.

    • December 3, 2013 at 10:44

      The IEA publishes monthly generation figures for Germany — the latest for 2013 shows combustible fuel use up. That’s because nuclear is down.

      Here are the IEA figures going back to 2011: http://www.iea.org/stats/surveys/elec_archives.asp. You’ll notice that as nuclear units come offline, combustible fuel use goes up. It’s a direct and natural relationship.

      Notice also that combustible fuel use has skyrocketed in spite of all those wind turbines and solar panels. Again, there’s a natural law at work here (natural as it relates to modern human economies). Economies like Germany need real electricity, not imaginary electricity. That is why they are building lots of coal plants.

      • Pete51
        December 3, 2013 at 22:07

        That IEA database is part of my problem. “Combustible fuel” could be coal, natural gas, diesel, heavy residual oil, even things like biofuels (wood chips) and waste. We don’t know the relative percentages of each. The following link, also from IEA, gives more detail:
        http://www.iea.org/statistics/statisticssearch/report/?country=GERMANY&product=electricityandheat&year=2011

        If you use the above interactive database, you can see German nuclear power production indeed fell from 140,556 GWh in 2010, to 107,971 GWh in 2011 when they shut down half of their nuclear plants. But coal generation ALSO fell in 2011 compared to 2010. Coal consumption might have gone up in 2012 and so far this year, but not the 20%+ to get to 570 g/kwh. This is why I am trying to find the average heat rate for German coal plants. Another complicating factor is the Germans burn a lot of lignite, which has very low heat content and generally produces more CO2 per MMBTU.

        One last important point. Looking at the following link from IEA for Germany:
        http://www.iea.org/stats/surveys/mes.pdf

        For 2012, the German nuclear fleet produced 94,111 GWh, while the renewables (wind, solar, etc.) only produced 76,175 GWh. But yet the combined wind and solar capacity is much larger than the total nuclear capacity (currently around 12 GW). The nuclear fleet is much smaller, but produces more energy. And yet the Germans can’t get the nukes shut down quick enough.

        • December 4, 2013 at 14:56

          the German nuclear fleet produced 94,111 GWh, while the renewables (wind, solar, etc.) only produced 76,175 GWh. But yet the combined wind and solar capacity is much larger than the total nuclear capacity (currently around 12 GW). The nuclear fleet is much smaller, but produces more energy.

          The way forward is not the way of Denmark.  It’s the way of France… which the French are abandoning.

          And yet the Germans can’t get the nukes shut down quick enough.

          Deutchland ist wahnsinnig.  All of Europe is.

          • December 6, 2013 at 12:05

            Poet, I hope you’re wrong about France. I find it incredible they would even contemplate scaling back nuclear. This appears pure pandering to “green” sentiment, which has apparently gotten the upper hand in the wider public debate. My guess is that that has happened for the same reason as here in North America: the “nuclear industry” (whatever that means) has not effectively entered the debate on its own behalf. So the only real pushback against green ideology has been from unions reacting to jobs in jeopardy. And that is routinely dismissed as a legitimate motivation to advocate for nuclear. It is amazing that fighting for one’s job would, even in the current economic climate, de-legitimize one’s argument. It is also quite depressing.

            But in no way unique. Other unpopular industries, even some popular ones, have similar challenges.

            Anyway, back to the grind!

          • December 9, 2013 at 20:15

            No one would be happier to be wrong about France than me, nor to see Germany realize its mistake and do an about-face.

          • Bas
            December 16, 2013 at 16:56

            Engineer-poet,
            We agree about France reducing nuclear from 70% to 50%.

            I assume they have seen the (secret) bill of the new more safe EPR that they are building now.
            Continue building the old unsafe NPP’s that cannot withstand a simple 9/11 plane attack at all, is no option…

            Deutchland ist wahnsinnig. All of Europe is.
            Nice. Only, they live substantially longer than people in USA. So may be they are not that insane!

        • Bas
          December 18, 2013 at 17:35

          Pete,
          If you do all the calculations, and take into account that:
          – their new coal/lignite plants are far more efficient, and they closed a lot of the old coal/lignite plants;
          – they increased their export of electricity, so that should be subtracted.

          Then I get the strong impression that the supposed CO2 rise of 2.3% between the first 9 months of 2012 and 2013 is in reality a decrease.

  3. Pete51
    December 6, 2013 at 20:23

    French President Francois Hollande is very unpopular. He recently had a public job approval rating of 15%. I don’t expect him to remain in office for a long time. Hollande started out very anti-nuclear, then he back-tracked somewhat and said France will go down to 50% nuclear. Now, from what I understand, the 50% number is a long term goal, and he only wants to immediately shut down the Fessenheim plant. Getting Hollande out of office, and replaced with someone who recognizes inexpensive, reliable and carbon-free electricity when he or she sees it, and I think the situation will change.
    http://news.yahoo.com/frances-hollande-hits-low-approval-rating-053340255.html

    • December 7, 2013 at 22:24

      yes, Hollande is dancing with the partner what brung him, which is about all he can do. So he dutifully goes about the public consultations, reaffirms his commitment to scaling back nuclear. But I cannot see how any government could or would reduce nuclear and scale up “renewables” — that would make power more expensive. That’s why the 50 percent target is for the government a long term goal — something to talk about today, to keep parts of their dwindling base in the fold. A lot of bread in France is baked in electric ovens. Bread riots figure prominently in the history of France. I would be really surprised if any politician would want to risk that.

    • Bas
      December 16, 2013 at 17:13

      Pete, Steve,
      I am afraid for you that the situation is slightly more complicated.
      France is obliged by the EU to install substantial renewable, so much that those renewable generate xx% of their electricity.
      And nuclear is not recognized as renewable despite several attempts

      The last failed shot this summer by UK in order to avoid great difficulties to get consent from the EU for their new NPP at Hinckley.

      So it is now unclear whether they will get allowance to continue.
      The huge subsidies for Hinckley falsify competition, are against the competition rules.
      But may be the UK and France together have something special to offer in order to persuade Austria and especially Merkel (Germany).

      Realize that Austria law bans import, transfer, etc. of all nuclear generated electricity. Which is in my eyes also against EU laws. So that may deliver something to negotiate, although I doubt it.

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