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German groups demand efficiency strategy

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Stefan Nicola
Berlin (UPI) Aug 24, 2010
A group of German trade unions, environmental organizations and consumer groups have demanded an ambitious energy efficiency initiative for Germany instead of a revival of nuclear power.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday is to visit a nuclear power plant in Lingen, where she will meet with the heads of Eon and RWE to discuss the future of nuclear power in Germany.

The German government will unveil a new energy strategy next month that will stipulate for how many more years Germany's 17 reactors are allowed to produce power.

If it were up to Klaus Brunsmeier, the vice chairman of German environment group BUND, nuclear wouldn't have a future at all.

"Instead of prolonging the running times of reactors, energy efficiency measures have to be the core of a future-oriented energy strategy," he said Tuesday at a news conference in Berlin. "The utilities are first and foremost interested in making millions with their aging written-off nuclear power plants."

Merkel's government for the past months has lengthily debated whether to extend the lifetime of Germany's 17 nuclear reactors, scheduled to go offline by the end of 2020. Because of energy security and climate change concerns, Merkel's pro-business government generally agrees to keep nuclear in the mix but it wants part of the utilities' additional income in return.

The utilities had warned that a planned tax on fuel used in reactors could make them unprofitable, thus speeding up the country's exit from nuclear energy. The utilities want the opposite -- they are eager to extend the running times of their reactors beyond the current phase-out plan, well aware that they're significant cash cows, critics say.

Instead, Berlin should bank on energy efficiency, the cheapest of all climate protection strategies, Brunsmeier said. Energy efficiency measures can reduce Germany's energy consumption by 2 percent per year, saving around 100 million tons of carbon dioxide until 2020, he said.

An ambitious energy efficiency program could also create jobs, said Wolfgang Rohde, a senior official at the IG Metall industry union.

"Energy efficiency technologies are becoming increasingly important to stay ahead internationally when it comes to innovation and could spur job growth in the metal and electrical industries," he said.

Rohde added that the industry itself could still improve its efficiency levels. Around 40 percent of German companies haven't yet taken measures to reduce their energy footprint, he said.

Holger Krawinkel, of the consumer group vzbv, said that consumers could save energy and cash if they bought new appliances and urged the German government to lunch a cash-for-clunkers program for the household appliance sector. A similar scheme has already worked wonders in neighboring Austria, where sales of the most energy-efficient household products tripled, he said.

"Energy efficiency is the best bridge into the age of renewables," Krawinkel said, in a reference to Berlin's claim that it wants to extend the running times of nuclear reactors to bridge the time until are renewables are ready to take over.

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