Back to Know Your World

This facility at Temelin, Czech Republic, is one of only very few nuclear-powered plants to come on line since the end of the Cold War. Green sensitivities are on the rise across most of the world, with Western Europe often the most intensive. Similar sensitivities are driving the Europeans to adopt a wide array of alternative technologies, with solar and wind proving the most popular. Germany now boasts the world’s greatest installed solar capacity.

Generating capacity, unfortunately, is not the same as generation. Simply put, solar is not a wildly appropriate technology for often-cloudy Northern Europe. Europeans now have spent in excess of 1 trillion euros on next-generation technologies that are either not appropriate for their locations or were still immature. Again, solar is an excellent case in point. With the solar energy sector regularly improving the effectiveness of panels by 10% or more a year, panels installed as recently as 2011 are now less than half as effective as new panels. Since panels have a 20-year lifespan, Europeans have spent top-euro to install yesterday’s technology.

That leaves the gap to be filled by more traditional fuel sources, which leaves Europe humiliated and vulnerable. Humiliated in that coal is making a massive comeback as countries that decommissioned their nuclear industries are discovering that the green techs simply cannot keep the lights on. Vulnerable in that Russian oil and natural gas form the single-largest supply of energy to Europe. In a world in which Russia is quiet, this simply adds to Europe’s energy embarrassment. In a world in which Russia is conquering Europe’s neighbors, it is a strategic crisis.

But even facilities like Temelin are no panacea. It was built – and even now has its fuel supplied – by Russia.

For more on Europe’s struggles to cohere, see The Accidental Superpower, Chapter 11.