While renewable energy lobbyists – as well as the German government – argue one
of the upsides of Germany’s planned abandonment of nuclear energy by 2022 will
be a rosier employment picture, some experts are unconvinced.
The DIW economic research institute has spoken of up to a million new jobs in the sector, while the government puts the figure at 400,000 by 2020 compared to 300,000 in 2009.
But Manuel Frondel, a researcher at the RWI institute, thinks those numbers are off. He argues that the figures did not take into account jobs lost because of the shift to renewable energy.
“Renewable energies demand a lot of capital but less manpower” than conventional energy sources, he said. Hundreds of staff are needed for the operation of a nuclear or coal-powered plant, while very few are required for the running of a wind or solar park.
Frondel points the finger at “blatant (political) mistakes” in the solar energy sector. While the installation of solar panels in Germany has jumped over recent years, it is dependent on a subsidy system financed by a surcharge on consumers’ energy bills, he said.
At the same time, the system has proved particularly beneficial for Asian producers of solar panels who have lower prices than their German competitors, said Frondel.
Every job in Germany in the solar sector costs electricity consumers €250,000, meaning they are unsustainable, Frondel said.
A study last year by Stuttgart University’s Institute for Energy Industry and Efficient Energy Use suggested the end of nuclear energy by 2022 would have a limited negative impact on jobs in the short term.
“But by 2025 job losses of about 185,000 people will be recorded here too,” it said.
Some other research institutes believe the expected rise in the cost of electricity in Germany will hold back growth and neutralise in the short term any employment benefits reaped from the move to renewable energy.
One recent example underscores their fears: German company SGL Carbon said it would build a carbon fibre factory in the United States rather than in Germany since electricity there is cheaper.
The government’s surprise about-turn in its nuclear policy came in the wake of Japan’s massive March 11 Fukushima nuclear disaster, the worst since Chernobyl in 1986. Berlin decided in March to permanently switch off Germany’s eight oldest nuclear reactors and to close the nine others currently online by 2022.