DW Interview: Coal, Nuclear or Renewable? Future of Energy Policy within the Weimar Triangle

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Rafał BajczukRafał Bajczuk, Junior Fellow and Energy Policy Expert in the Centre for Eastern Studies* explains how the future energy policy in Europe, especially within the Weimar Triangle countries, will look like.

Rafal Smentek: Almost every country stands before a revolution in the energy sector. We can see it very well on the example of the Weimar Triangle – France still maintains nuclear energy but also develops renewable sources, Germany sets up the Energiewende project (the final goal is the abolition of coal and other non-renewable energy sources) and Poland goes towards nuclear energy and shale gas. Do you think that any of these “roads” has more chances to be successful than others?

Rafal Bajczuk: In fact, each of these countries has different backgrounds and different history of energy policies. Western Europe had its first energy revolution after the Oil Crisis from 1973, when they decided make themselves less dependent from energy imports. Germany decided to develop nuclear power; France also embarked on nuclear energy, but also began developing green technologies (especially hydropower).

At present, we can observe a second energy revolution, which is determined by the  depletion of traditional energy resources and global warming. The latter was not an important factor in the choice of energy policy in the past. Now the European Union wants to be a leader in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and reduce its dependence on energy imports. This is the reason why each of these three countries will need to change its energy mix. It seems that coal has the ‘worst future’ because it emits most green house gases.

…but coal reserves are predicted to be the biggest…

Indeed, but the policy of the EU moves towards taxation of CO2 emissions. It is only a matter of time when other fuels will be the cheaper option. In case of nuclear technologies this condition, which could determine prices, are security norms. When it comes to renewable energy we are still waiting for the breaking point. Germany wants  to make this breakthrough by making renewable energy the core element of its power system. Berlin is also making efforts to promote green energy in the European Union and globally and of course benefit from that in the future by exporting “green technologies”.

Can renewable energy technologies be the main part of the energy mix? Many of them depend on unpredictable weather. Also, we still don’t know any effective storage method.

Renewable technologies are developing very rapidly. In the longer perspective the difficulties that you mentioned won’t be a problem. Furthermore there are ways to balance production from volatile renewable energy sources. For example if the sun doesn’t shine in the South, then wind blows in the North. In order to compensate energy production from wind and sun we can use energy from biomass or store energy in pumped-storage hydroelectric power stations. We only need to develop them.

Could Germany use its strong position to promote a certain energy policy on the EU level, which would be in line with the Energiewende project?

Of course, it’s possible. Germans made a similar thing in 2007 as it promoted the 20-20-20 package. According to this package every EU-member state must, among other things, increase the share of renewables in its energy mix. Now we can observe the same thing. Germany is lobbying to increase and extend the renewable energy target in the EU until 2030. Obviously, there are also some countries like Sweden, Denmark or Austria which support this policy. Germany cooperates also with France in this field. It’s certain that the EU will demand further steps towards increasing the share of renewable energy and Germany will surely support it.

Is it possible to work out an agreement for all member states within the Weimar Triangle? Every country in this group has a different energy policy? So maybe a compromise among them could serve as a model for the whole Union?

I really doubt such a scenario. Poland has other interests than Germany and until now there are no important common points of view. The only thing that those countries have in common is the fact that both Poland and Germany want to have access to secure and cheap energy. But this is too little to work out a common initiative. Germany wants to increase the share of renewables, Poland rather not – at least not as fast as Berlin.

Where do you see the future energy policy of Poland?

In the next 30 years, coal will remain the dominant energy source, but I can’t predict what will complete the Polish energy mix. Currently about 10% of energy is produced from renewables. According to the European directives Poland will increase its share of renewable energies in gross final energy consumption up to 15% by 2020 (19.13% in electricity sector) In the future there will be a need to fill the gap between coal and the “green energy”. It is hard to say now what it will be – maybe nuclear energy, shale gas or natural gas.

* The Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW) is an independent public research institution monitoring the events and analysing the socio-political and economic processes taking place in Russia, Germany, Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic states, the Visegrad Group states, the Balkan states and Turkey. The Centre also carries out regional research projects focused on security, integration of energy markets, migration and integration processes in Germany, Central Europe, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Nordic-Baltic and the Black Sea regions.

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Rafał Smentek

Absolwent nauk politycznych Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego i stypendysta programu Erasmus na Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität w Monachium. Zaangażowany w tzw. dziennikarstwo obywatelskie (Wiadomości24.pl, Stosunki Międzynarodowe). Dwukrotny praktykant Fundacji Konrada Adenauera w Polsce. Od marca do lipca 2012 stażysta w ramach Internationales-Parlaments-Stipendium w niemieckim Bundestagu w biurze posła Eckharda Polsa (CDU).

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