German Denuclearization and Energiewende

Omar Fidawi
March 25, 2021

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2021


Fig. 1: Grafenrheinfeld nuclear power plant is no longer operational. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In 2010, the government opposition called for a referendum to discuss the future of Germany's nuclear energy policy, citing security and safety concerns with some of the older nuclear plants. The Fukushima incident of 2011 prompted additional support for the policy. Part of the public concern centered around the use of such a dangerous technology when there were other safer alternatives available. This was despite the fact Germany was not in a zone prone to earthquakes (or tsunamis) of magnitude capable of causing a catastrophe as large as the one witnessed in Japan. The government, in the midst of legislative elections and bowing to public pressure, reviewed the matter and decided that all nuclear power plants in Germany should be retired by 2022.

How They Took Nuclear Plants Off The Grid

Germany's plan to halt operations of nuclear plants was put in action in 2011. It required the eight nuclear power plants, already down for maintenance, to never reopen. It then mandated a gradual phase-out of all other nuclear power plants in the country, including the Grafenrheinfeld Nuclear Plant (Fig. 1), which taken off the grid in 2015. The energy systems in place in Germany served as the bedrock for industry in general, and such a swift decision had ripple effects on the rest of the economy. [1] 18% of German electricity in 2012 had been derived from nuclear power. [2] Immediately after the Fukushima incident, a three-month moratorium was announced on all nuclear power as safety inspections would be ramped up to ensure no issues of risk. [3] It was only after a long ethical review, conducted by former ministers, environmentalists, scientists, politicians and industrialists that the Bundestag voted to phase out nuclear power. Interestingly, a report by the reactor safety commission concluded that the nuclear power plants posed no risk to the safety of the country and the German population. But that was not enough to convince the people, or their government, that nuclear phase-out was unnecessary from a safety perspective. [3]

What They Replaced the Nuclear Plants With

Part of the objective of the Energiewende was the introduction of clean sources of energy to replace fossil-fuel-based power generation in a bid to reduce carbon emission. [4] The government set ambitious targets to become a leader in renewable energy, particularly in solar and wind technologies. In a way, the mandated nuclear phase-out paved the way for renewables to take over the energy landscape. The politically influential nuclear power companies might have blocked key regulations had nuclear power not been banned outright. [5] Germany still relies heavily on non-renewable electricity generation, presently 53% of its 516 TWh annual supply. But this number has been falling by as much as 14% annually. [6] Renewable sources have increased their supply of electricity, with wind energy leading the way at 24.6% of supply (127 TWh), followed by solar (9.0%, 46.5 TWh) and biomass (8.6%, 44.4TWh. [6] Overall, renewable sources for electricity generation have increased supply from 102 TWh in 2010 to 237 TWh in 2019, or an average of 9% increase per year. [6]

How Effective Is This Long Term?

Germany is one of the largest producers of equipment for renewable energy technologies. The advancement of CleanTech has contributed to its growth and development on the international stage, comparing favorably to other nations, including the United States and China. However, there were many concerns initially that higher electricity prices brought about by costlier renewables and increased instability with the supply (due to the intermittent nature of these sources) would undermine Germany's international competitiveness - not just in energy, but in industry. [1] Such concerns have been demonstrated to not be the case today, as power price increases have been very negligible between 2008 and 2018, with the downward pressures brought about by the expansion of renewables cancelling out the upward pressure of nuclear phase-out. electricity prices dropping. [7]


The German government might have rushed it plan to phase out nuclear energy to comply with public pressures. While seen as problematic by the scientific community initially, the resurgence of renewables and the advantages they bring clearly outweigh some of the downsides that come with them. Nuclear power does come with risks, but current tailwinds suggest renewables seem to be the future of energy and electricity.

© Omar Fidawi. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] D. Buchan, "The Energiewende - Germany's Gamble," Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, SP-26, June 2012.

[2] G. Rajgor, "Germany Grapples With Energy Plan," Renew. Energy Focus 13, 26 (2012).

[3] D. Jahn and S. Korolczuk, "German Exceptionalism: the End of Nuclear Energy in Germany," Environ. Polit. 21, 159 (2012).

[4] D. Jacobs, "The German Energiewende - History, Targets, Policies and Challenges," Renew. Energy L. Policy Rev. 3, 223 (2012).

[5] S. Lechtenbohmer and S. Samadi, "Blown by the Wind: Replacing Nuclear Power in German Electricity Generation," Environ. Sci. Policy 25, 234 (2012).

[6] B. Burger, "Public Net Electricity Generation in Germany 2019," Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, January 2020.

[7] L. Hirth, "What Caused the Drop in European Electricity Prices? A Factor Decomposition Analysis," Energy J. 39, 143 (2018).