Climate News of the Week Roundup: UK Government Bets the House on Nuclear

This week’s roundup features the eye-watering subsidies the UK government is prepared to pay for new nuclear power stations, coal pollution shutting down a major Chinese city, institutional investors demanding that fossil fuel companies diversify, projections of an end to the increase of German retail power prices, claims that Germany’s largest power producer RWE is planning throw its coal-based business model overboard, and the strange composition of the working group that is to hammer out the energy part of the new German coalition agreement.

UK grants feed-in tariffs to nuclear. So they’ve really gone and done it. The UK government has agreed to pay Electricité de France a guaranteed power price for a new nuclear plant which is already today higher than what new renewables installations cost in Germany, and will be much, much higher when the plant goes online in ten years or so. Craig Morris does a breakdown of the numbers and concludes that, “the price tag should suffice to end, once and for all, the debate on whether nuclear or renewables are the way to go”. In a follow-up post he also provided some instructive charts. Even the rather conservative German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung noted that (article in German) nuclear has been getting substantial subsidies for 50 years and concluded that, “If a form of electricity generation still needs state support after such a long time, it is an economic cul-de-sac. Nuclear power is not only a risky but also a costly form of climate protection.”

Unclean Coal: Record-Breaking Air Pollution Nearly Shuts Down Chinese City. Katie Valentine reports that unbearable smog shut down the provincial capital Harbin only one day after winter heating had kicked into gear. Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) reached levels of 1,000 micrograms per cubic meter in some parts of the city, 40 times the level recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Investors worth $3tr warn oil and gas firms to diversify – or die. Nilima Choudhury reports that a coalition of 70 investors has sent letters to fossil fuel companies asking them to assess the risks that climate policy poses to their businesses and how they could manage these risks, for example by diversifying. If the 2°C target – or indeed any kind of meaningful temperature target – is to be met, the vast majority of the world’s fossil fuel reserves will need to remain untapped.

Coming soon: an end to rising power prices. Germany’s renewables surcharge is once again going to increase substantially next year (see last week’s roundup). However, German wholesale power prices have been cratering in recent years, and those cost reductions may finally make their way to retail consumers, canceling out the surcharge increase for next year, Craig Morris says.

A double standard: why complain about solar? Some complain that people who reduce the amount of power they buy from the grid by putting up solar are ripping of the rest of the world because grid maintenance is paid through the electricity tariffs. Thomas Gerke argues that reducing grid reliance by reducing energy use has exactly the same result, so he wonders why energy efficiency is considered a good thing while people who put up solar panels are considered to be grid moochers.

Exclusive report: RWE sheds old business model, embraces energy transition. I guess I’ll believe that when I see it, but Karel Beckman claims that internal strategy documents show that RWE, Germany’s largest power producer, has decided to radically depart from its traditional coal-based business model and will instead “create value by leading the transition to the future energy world”.

The quaint energy working group. Germany’s Social Democrats and Angela Merkel’s conservatives this week started full-fledged negotiations about forming a coalition. Jakob Schlandt looked (article in German) at the working group that is to deal with energy issues and drew a surprising conclusion: While the conservatives put a lot of rather green-minded people into the group, the Social Democrats sent a preponderance of people wedded to coal.

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