The EU Finally Admits Natural Gas And Nuclear Are Key To Decarbonization

February 28, 2023

 Originally published by  Written by Robert Bryce

Finally, the European Union has admitted the obvious: if decarbonization is the goal, natural gas and nuclear must be a big part of the continent’s energy mix. On Saturday, the European Commission released a statement which said “there is a role for natural gas and nuclear as a means to facilitate the transition towards a predominantly renewable-based future.” The move means that gas and nuclear could be classified as “sustainable investments” under certain conditions.

This is good news and a tacit acknowledgment by European policymakers of the energy disaster that is now shaking the region. But it’s also far too late in coming. Indeed, my immediate response was to ask: what the heck took them so long? If decarbonization is the goal, then natural gas and nuclear are the obvious ways forward. I have been making that point for more than a decade. More on that in a moment.

To be sure, the EU’s move didn’t please the catastrophists. Robert Habeck, a co-leader of Germany’s Green party called the move “greenwashing.” Leonore Gewessler, the climate action minister in Austria, said gas and nuclear couldn’t be included because they are “harmful to the climate and the environment and destroy the future of our children.”

It’s also worth seeing how big media outlets are covering the story. The New York TimesNYT -0.3% summarized the move by saying gas and nuclear would be considered “transitional” sources to be “used to bridge countries’ moves away from coal and carbon-emitting power toward clean energy technologies like wind and solar.” It continued, saying nuclear would be considered sustainable if the countries can agree on how to handle nuclear waste and that gas-fired power plants would be deemed okay if they “meet certain emissions criteria and replace more polluting fossil fuel plants.”

Before going further, let me state the obvious: Europe cannot — will not — move to “a predominantly renewable-based future.” The never-ending claims that Europe, or any other region with a large economy, can run solely on “clean energy technologies like wind and solar,” are not based on history, math, or physics. Indeed, Europe is already in the throes of an energy crisis due to its headlong rush to adopt renewables at the expense of traditional thermal power plants. Numerous news outlets have documented the causes of Europe’s predicament. Two days ago, Bloomberg ran a story with the headline: “Europe Sleepwalked Into an Energy Crisis that Could Last Years,” which said that Europe is “in the midst of an energy transition, shutting down coal-fired electricity plants and increasing its reliance on renewables. Wind and solar are cleaner but sometimes fickle…”

Fickle isn’t the right word. The right word is unreliable. On December 22, Reuters reported that “In Germany, Europe’s largest economy with the continent’s highest wind power capacity, combined output from both on and offshore wind farms fell around 16% this year-to-date.” Reuters also reported that “Europe’s largest wind producers ‘Britain, Germany and Denmark harnessed just 14% of installed capacity, in the third quarter, when gas prices hit record highs, compared with an average of 20-26% seen in previous years.”
Furthermore, the idea that Europe is going to add lots more renewable capacity ignores the backlash against Big Wind and Big Solar, a backlash that may be even more virulent in Europe than the ongoing rural backlash here in the States. Need proof of that? Back in 2010, the European Platform Against Windfarms had about 400 members in 20 countries. Today, it has 1,615 member organizations in 31 countries. In Germany, where climate catastrophists and the government are pushing hard for the vaunted “Energiewende,” rural opposition has led to, according to the news outlet Deutsche Welle, “a dramatic decline in the number of new onshore wind farms.” Nor is the problem limited to the citing of the wind turbines. It also includes resistance to transmission lines. The German government has estimated that it needs to construct about 3,700 miles of transmission lines to accommodate new renewable capacity. But by the end of 2018, less than 100 miles had been built.

In 2020, the International Energy Agency reported that land-use conflicts in Germany over high-voltage transmission have become a key constraint on the growth of renewables. “Connections to carry wind power from the north to the south are insufficient,” the agency reported. “Public opposition to north-south high-voltage transmission lines has slowed down construction of new overhead lines considerably and eventually forced costlier underground construction of interconnectors. Public opposition remains an impediment to the siting of necessary infrastructure.”

Now back to natural gas and nuclear. I am not bragging here, but I must note that I have been touting N2N — natural gas to nuclear — as the best “no regrets” policy for more than a decade. Natural gas and nuclear are not “bridge fuels” or “transition” fuels, they are the fuels of the future. Why? They are low- or no-carbon, have small footprints, are affordable, and scalable. In my third book, Gusher of Lies, published in 2008, I wrote that nuclear could provide “large increments of low- or no-carbon electricity to the world’s energy mix over the next couple of decades. Nuclear is the only sector that has enough momentum and enough capital behind it to make a significant dent in the overall use of fossil fuels.” I also explained that the world has a “surfeit of natural gas and more gas is being discovered all the time.” I continued, saying environmental groups “should applaud the increased use of natural gas as it is part of the ongoing ‘decarbonization’ of the world’s energy mix,” and that natural gas should be the dominant fuel of the 21 century. And that dominance should be welcomed.”

In 2010, in my fourth book, Power Hungry, I have a chapter called “Why N2N? And Why Now? (The Megatrends Favoring Natural Gas and Nuclear). In 2011, I published a 14-page report titled “Ten Reasons Why Natural Gas Will Fuel The Future.” In 2014, I published my fifth book, Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper, which has a chapter titled “Climate Change Requires N2N.” I wrote, “Regardless of what you think about carbon dioxide or the climate-change debate, it’s apparent that the best way forward is to embrace N2N.”

In my latest book, A Question of Power, published in 2020, I have a chapter called “The Nuclear Necessity,” in which I repeat one of my favorite lines: “If you are anti-carbon dioxide and anti-nuclear, you are pro-blackout. There is simply no way to slash global carbon dioxide emissions without big increases in our use of nuclear energy.” I concluded that N2N “provides the best no-regrets policy on climate change because those two sources will have minimal negative impacts on the economy and environment while providing significant decarbonization.”

To be clear, I am not gloating or bragging here. I am truly pleased that policymakers in Europe are, finally, embracing energy realism. It is about time.