EXCLUSIVE: German Emissions Increase in 2016 Due to Nuclear Plant Closure

German emissions increased in 2016 for a second year in a row as a result of the country closing one of its nuclear plants and replacing it with coal and natural gas, a new Environmental Progress analysis finds.

German emissions would have declined had it not closed a nuclear plant and replaced it with coal and natural gas. 

Not only did new solar and wind not make up for the lost nuclear, the percentage of time during 2016 that solar and wind produced electricity declined dramatically. 

Germany added a whopping 10 percent more wind turbine capacity and 2.5 percent more solar panel capacity between 2015 and 2016, but generated less than one percent more electricity from wind and generated one percent less electricity from solar.

The reason is because Germany had significantly less sunshine and wind in 2016 than 2015.

As such, 2016 is a dramatic illustration of the limits of energy sources that depend on the weather. Their output varies dramatically not just hour-to-hour but also year-to-year. 

Anti-nuclear advocates have long insisted that this radical intermittency can be solved through more transmission and storage. But there's a problem: neither more transmission lines nor more storage would have made Germany any sunnier, or windier, in 2016.


The analysis is based on two sets of data and analysis by three German sources, two of which are think tanks that promote Germany's transition away from nuclear and toward fossil fuels and renewables. The data are preliminary and subject to change, but there is significant alignment between the different estimates. The Franhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems, January 6, 2017, derives its numbers from the German Statistical Office Data through Oct 2016, and Agora Energiewende, 2017 from AG Energiebilanzen, Dec. 2016. The two estimates are mostly aligned on all generation estimates with the exception of small differences in wind and solar and large differences  in natural gas generation estimates.

To calculate the emissions from Germany’s electricity production in 2016 that could have been avoided without nuclear plant closures, we estimated the electricity production of all of Germany’s historically operating reactors larger than 600MW.

This electricity production was then substituted into Germany’s current electricity mix, assuming a displacement of lignite, hard coal, and natural gas generation, in proportion to those sources’ 2016 share of total production.

The emissions for the year are unofficial totals calculated using the most current provisional production totals from Fraunhofer ISE, and the emissions factors used by RTE-France for calculating carbon intensity of electricity. Using these emissions factors is an approximation. However, our results for carbon emissions from electricity production move broadly in line with official year-to-year values for the entire power sector. Our calculation assumes that the average fossil fuel kWh in 2016 emitted 930g of CO2.

We have included estimated production at 90% capacity factor for the following reactors:

Biblis A and B:            2.41 GWe
Brunsbüttel:               0.77 GWe
Grafenrheinfeld:       1.28 GWe
Isar 1:                            0.88 GWe
Krümmel:                     1.35 GWe
Mülheim-Kärlich:      1.22 GWe
Neckarwestheim 1:  0.79 GWe
Philippsburg:              0.89 GWe
Stade:                            0.64 GWe
Unterweser:                1.35 GWe
Würgassen:                 0.64 GWe

Although the Greifswald nuclear power plant’s five small Soviet PWRs (pressurized water reactors) totaling 2 GWe have not been included, this model of reactor remains in successful operation in Europe and Russia in several variants.