The Czech government wants to strengthen atomic energy – even at the price of subsidies

January 9, 2013

In the Czech Republic, a new State Energy Policy is currently being prepared. The current energy policy dates from 2004, and its contents are inadequate for modern industrial trends. Unfortunately, the Czech government has decided to turn its back on opportunities to increase energy efficiency and the use renewable resources. Instead, the basis of the new energy policy is to be the construction of more nuclear reactors.


An atomic absolute vision

In the 2004 State Energy Policy, the Ministry of Industry, which is responsible for energy policy, planned for a significant expansion of nuclear energy as well. In reality, however, the construction of new blocks ran up against the economic health of the investor – ČEZ, which merely initiated the process of assessing environmental impact and contacted potential suppliers of the technologies.

The previous energy policy could at least be compared with the green scenario of economic development drawn up at the Ministry of the Environment which significantly accentuated the possibility of domestically produced renewables – albeit with the conservative view from the beginning of the previous decade.

The current government completely abandoned such a comparison, however, and thus a significant weakness in the draft State Energy Policy is the absence of variants for possible development of the energy sector. The draft energy policy, which moved through the government in October and will be assessed next year from the perspective of environmental impact (SEA, EIA), is thus unique: The plan through 2040 is based solely on the assumption that it will be possible to build several reactors at Temelín and Dukovany. The growth of nuclear energy from the current 35% of electricity production to 50% has not even been subjected to economic analysis, as the draft energy policy contains no relevant economic figures.

The preparation of the new State Energy Policy thus copies the previous experience with the process of assessing the expansion of the Temelín Nuclear Power Station with an additional two reactors. Here, too, the state – in the form of ČEZ – refused to elaborate a variant focusing on exploiting the possibilities of renewable resources in combination with increased energy efficiency in homes and industry.

Unfortunately, the absence of a realistic view of the economic negatives of atomic power is not the only weakness of the new energy policy. Other proposals are beyond reason: Nuclear energy is among the most expensive energy sources in terms of investment, and for this reason the government is considering providing financial assistance to ČEZ. According to calculations made by experts at Candole Partners, such support would cost Czech consumers almost CZK 17 billion annually. A family with an average annual consumption of 4,500 kWh would pay an extra CZK 1,434, i.e. at least 10%.

Where the draft energy policy wants to reduce support, however, is the renewables sector, which would lose what is the most widespread form of support in Europe today with the help of feed-in tariffs. The Ministry of Industry wants to replace these with a system of tenders for new capacities, or with investment support. An economic analysis of the change to the system is missing, however, and the proposal was not consulted with the industrial associations representing the individual sectors of green energy. New renewable resources could thus easily cease to appear in the Czech Republic.

The draft energy policy also returns to the question of continuing with mining brown coal in northern Bohemia. At present, communities in the Low Ore Mountains are protected by limits on mining adopted by the government in 1991. The purpose of these limits is to provide certainty to local people that their homes will not suffer the fate like hundreds of previous communities and towns forced to make way for mining during socialism. It is precisely thanks to environmental limits on mining that the needed impulses for renewal have managed to reach northern Bohemia. The present government’s return to the possibility of lifting these limits after 2035 brings back the uncertainty, and threatens further renewal of a ravaged landscape. Moreover, burning brown coal would make it impossible to contain greenhouse gas emissions, which today are already immoderately high.

The Ministry of Industry estimates that by 2040 total energy consumption will grow by 5.5% over the current level. The possibilities for increasing energy efficiency in buildings and industrial production were evidently dispensed with during the drafting process, and growth in domestic production is also accompanied by a strong pro-export strategy in electrical power. The government has thus performed an interesting circus trick in its draft energy policy: For the past two decades, Industry Ministers have argued that it is necessary to build more reactors and to continue mining brown coal because blackouts could occur on the grid due to insufficient power; now, it is necessary to raze communities for the sake of coal mining and to strengthen the role of nuclear energy so that ČEZ can export electricity, leaving a devastated landscape at home.


A chance for a green turnaround

The Czech Republic has great opportunities to make better use of its energy: It is not necessary to produce a great quantity of it, because current consumption levels can easily be reduced by modernising energy use in buildings and improving industrial production.

The main opportunities lie in reducing the energy requirements of buildings, which account for more than one-quarter of Czech demand for energy. Available expert studies have reached the conclusion that annual energy consumption in Czech buildings can be gradually reduced by 173 PJ – about 2.5 times as much energy as from coal production under the environmental mining limits in northern Bohemia. Thus, after renovating buildings, this coal could remain underground. The solutions involve in particular quality insulation, as well as replacing windows and heating systems. New buildings should be constructed according to a low-energy – or even better, a passive – standard. The costs for the best technology in buildings are only one-tenth higher than for those commonly built at present.

Industrial enterprises account for 41% of final energy consumption, which is substantially more than the EU average (28%). The Czech manufacturing industry’s high level of energy consumption is mainly a result of its composition – the share of energy-intensive segments is unusually high. Inefficient technologies contribute to this significantly, however. Renowned Prague company Ekowatt has determined that even with current technology Czech industry can reasonably improve its energy efficiency by 23%. The greatest potential for savings lies in the most energy-intensive segment – iron and steel production – while the greatest relative savings potential, compared to present consumption, is in the food industry. Mostly, this involves inexpensive measures: to improve energy management and to optimise heat production and distribution systems.

Domestic renewables currently account for only about 10% of electricity production. In 2008, the then government’s Independent Energy Commission elaborated a study which calculated that Czech green energy could potentially supply 44% of current heat consumption levels and could even cover 69% of present electricity demand. Thanks to progress in solar energy in particular, where prices have fallen by 75% over the last three years, the possibilities for economically viable solar power stations are even greater.

Environmental groups have explored the overall possibilities of green, modern energy in the study Smart Energy (English summary). The most progressive scenario of this study, called ‘Thoroughly and Cleverly’, assumes a significant reduction in energy-intensiveness and complete exploitation of the potential of domestic renewable energy sources. Thanks to widespread exploitation of the potential of energy efficiency, by mid-century final energy consumption is reduced by 40% of the 2007 level, and gross electricity consumption will decline by 13% of the present level. Imports of oil and natural gas will decline by 51% and 49% of current levels, respectively. In 2050, renewable resources will cover half of primary energy consumption (renewables will account for 94% of domestic electricity production).


Discord between the government and the public

At the start of the debate on the shape of the energy policy, the Alliance for Energy Independence commissioned a complete public opinion survey (1,000 respondents, proportionally represented throughout the Czech Republic, English summary of the results). The May results indicate that people would most prefer the energy sector to function as a self-sufficient system driven by renewable resources. An overwhelming majority would welcome more solar panels on the roofs of buildings, small hydroelectric plants and thermal biomass conversion plants, supplemented by wind or biofuel stations. The public currently supports gradually attenuating coal energy and restricting mining to coal and uranium.

The results of this survey were later confirmed by a questionnaire elaborated for Hnutí DUHA in the autumn: Two-thirds of the Czech Republic’s residents want the state to base its energy policy first and foremost on support for thermal insulation in buildings and other energy-saving measures, or on exploiting wind, solar or water power.


Again, and smartly

Clean energy is an opportunity to place Czech enterprises back at the forefront of technology, an opportunity to become energy-independent, and an opportunity to reduce the bills which millions of households and businesses pay for energy. With its tradition in machinery, great engineers and qualified workforce, the Czech Republic is well-positioned for this endeavour.

The government has a sufficient number of expert viewpoints warning against rash support for nuclear energy. It can draw inspiration from neighbouring Germany, and set up a system of support for renewables in such a way so as not to constrain industry while at the same time guaranteeing sustained growth of wind, solar and biomass resources.