The gravity of the Fukushima disaster has haunted the world over the last year, as fears of a nuclear crisis became a reality. Clean-up crews on the ground in Japan are still attempting to contain all of the spent-fuel rods and leftover radioactive dust. Reuters reports that Goshi Hono, the official in charge of Japan’s nuclear clean up, maintains that the No. 4 reactor at the Fukushima plant could now withstand a magnitude 6 earthquake on the Japanese scale safely.
Still, global fears about a second accident at Fukushima or even at another plant, have pushed many leaders to make drastic energy policy changes. Germany’s Angela Merkel appears to be at the head of this movement. Germany set a new world solar power record producing 22 gigawatts of power over the course of Friday and Saturday, Reuters reports. That amount was enough to power nearly 50 percent of the country’s energy needs at midday.
Germany closed down eight nuclear power plants immediately after the Fukushima disaster. The government hopes to shut down the remaining nine plants by 2022. The country also wants to cut 1990 emission levels by 40 percent by 2020, both ambitious goals. Although many of the energy policies have fallen slightly behind schedule, Merkel remains positive. Market Watch reports Merkel as saying:
We have developed a very detailed plan under the motto that energy supply has to be safe, it must be environmentally friendly and it must be affordable for the people in Germany. These three issues must be brought together. There is a lot of work ahead of us.
Some critics are concerned about the sudden shift away from nuclear power to solar and wind options. Electricity grids are outdated in Germany, and certain areas of the country, including Bavaria, have been affected by the sudden move away from atomic energy. Wind energy from the northern coast would need to travel south on a more updated grid, which has not been implemented yet.
Lawmakers are also concerned that Germany must maintain a reliable source of power from coal- and gas-fired plants in order to supplement renewable resources. Much of the success of solar power this past year is linked with exceptionally sunny weather, which may not be the case every year. Offshore wind farms are planned which would be six times the size of New York City.
Merkel hopes that by 2022 35 percent of power generation will come from renewable resources, such as solar and wind. Many lawmakers and business owners are concerned that Merkel retains the production of power within German companies, such as Solarworld, rather than buying technology from Chinese producers.
Even before Merkel begins to implement some of these impressive goals, Germany gets 20 percent of its energy from renewable resources. Photovoltaic prices are still relatively high, which may pose challenges in the coming months as Germany pursues its energy goals.