Nuclear power plant shutdown on April 15: electricity prices and security of supply: the most important questions and answers about nuclear power off

The last three nuclear power plants in Germany produce a lot of electricity until the end.

Nuclear power plant shutdown on April 15: electricity prices and security of supply: the most important questions and answers about nuclear power off

The last three nuclear power plants in Germany produce a lot of electricity until the end. For example, RWE's Emsland power plant in Lingen, Lower Saxony, will generate around two billion kilowatt hours by April 15 this year alone, according to the company. "That corresponds to the annual electricity requirements of around 500,000 households," says a spokesman. After switching off, this current is no longer available. But what exactly does this mean for consumers? The most important questions and answers at a glance.

"No," says the Federal Network Agency: "Sufficient secured power plant capacity is available from other plants to cover the electricity demand even after the nuclear power plants have been shut down." From the point of view of the Federal Ministry of Economics, the security of supply is still guaranteed.

A manageable contribution. According to the industry association BDEW, nuclear energy accounted for four percent of electricity generation in Germany in January and February - a third less than in 2022 as a whole. Manuel Frondel from the RWI Leibniz Institute for Economic Research in Essen said that continued operation was helpful in that than that large numbers of French nuclear power plants are still not connected to the grid.

"So the electricity supply in Europe was lower than usual in winter, and on the other hand demand is particularly high in winter, not least because many households in France heat with electricity." The continued operation of German nuclear power plants not only contributed to the security of supply, but also helped that expensive natural gas power plants were used less. This had a dampening effect on electricity prices. Overall, the effects of continued operation were manageable, but by no means negligible.

"Neither," says energy market expert Christina Wallraf from the consumer advice center in North Rhine-Westphalia. "The market players have already adjusted to the new situation. Electricity is already being traded for the coming weeks and months, and there are no signs of price increases on the markets." From the point of view of Mirko Schlossarczyk from the consulting company Enervis, the price effect would have been very manageable if the term had been extended until the end of the year. The wholesale electricity price in 2023 would have been three euros lower per megawatt hour on average over the year. "For household customers, that would be a price that is 0.3 cents lower per kilowatt hour, a drop of not even one percent."

The comparison portal Verivox also does not expect any concrete effects on electricity prices for household customers in the short term. "In the medium to long term, the shutdown could already have an impact, since nuclear power will take cheap electricity capacities out of the market, which will have to be replaced, especially in times of high demand," says energy expert Thorsten Storck. "Here it will depend on how quickly the expansion of renewables progresses and how well the missing capacities can be compensated for." Frondel says: "We are making ourselves increasingly unpopular with our European neighbors as the dual phase-out of nuclear and coal power is driving up electricity prices across Europe."

According to the consumer advice center, the electricity prices for household customers who want to conclude a new tariff have fallen significantly. "Currently, there are electricity tariffs from around 32 cents per kilowatt hour plus the basic price," says Wallraf. Price reductions for existing customer tariffs are still an exception. For the coming months, she expects further relaxation: "More providers will advertise for customers with prices slightly above the 30 cent mark."

The comparison portal Check24 sees “continued positive developments in electricity prices”. After the end of winter, households can expect low prices, especially from alternative providers, says Energy Managing Director Steffen Suttner. "However, the development remains dependent on global political events and the filling levels of the gas storage tanks." Schlossarczyk also expects end consumer prices to fall. However, it is questionable how cost components such as network charges or surcharges will develop: "Should these continue to rise, this could slow down a price decline in end consumer prices."

According to the NRW consumer center, many households are currently paying "very high prices" that are beyond 40 or even 50 cents per kilowatt hour. Wallraf therefore recommends changing as soon as possible if you can cancel your contract now. Tariffs from a municipal utility could also be an option, especially for customers who had had bad experiences with discounters during the energy crisis.

"In the long term, depending on their procurement strategy, retailers and suppliers have long stocked up on sufficient electricity for the coming months and years," says a spokesman for the network agency. The shutdown of nuclear power plants has long been taken into account. In the short term, market events on the spot markets decide which power plants actually produce electricity. "The cheapest, currently available generation technologies are used first."

"From today's perspective and taking into account various scenarios, security of supply should not be at risk," says Enervis expert Schlossarczyk. He also justifies this with the reactivation of coal-fired power plants from the grid reserve and security preparedness. "This means that around seven gigawatts of additional power plant capacity are now available to the market." Capacities in the transmission network have also been expanded and can be used more efficiently. Because the price of gas has fallen sharply, gas-fired power plants could increasingly be used to generate electricity. Expert Christian Rehtanz does not believe that security of supply will be at risk, at least for the next few months. Coal-fired power plants were brought back onto the market, says the professor for energy systems and energy management at the TU Dortmund.

After the nuclear phase-out, the federal government is also aiming to phase out coal-fired power generation by 2030. "This means we are getting out of important pillars for secure electricity generation, i.e. power plants that deliver when wind and sun are not available," says Timm Kehler from the industry association Zukunft Gas. In addition to renewable energies, hydrogen-capable gas power plants would have to be built as quickly as possible and other, flexibly controllable capacities such as electricity storage would have to be made available.

BDEW General Manager Kerstin Andreae makes a similar statement. With regard to the coal phase-out, RWI expert Frondel says that additional natural gas power plants should have been built long ago. "Germany is increasingly living on the principle of hope and trusts that the neighboring countries will compensate for the lost capacities. However, this is only possible to a limited extent due to limited cross-border network capacities."