Saying Nein to Nuclear

What difference does it make outside Germany that Angela Merkel has taken an abrupt turn against nuclear power?

Perhaps not much. You're much more likely to be concerned if you're part of Germany's mighty industrial machine, in which case you now risk being left with a power supply gap, and a fear that the wind will drop and leave your machining lathe a bit deficient in elektrische leistung.

That fear of the lights going out is the response from much of Scottish business when facing a government that doesn't want a renewal of the country's nuclear power plants, but does want to bet the farm on renewable power.

There's much Caledonian fretting about "baseload", or back-up supply, particularly after two cold, still winters.

'Saudi Arabia of renewable'

The German chancellor's gone much much further, or at least much faster, than Alex Salmond plans.

Using Japan's nuclear calamity as cover, she ordered the shut-down of seven out of Germany's 17 nuclear plants. Last week, she said they are not to be allowed to re-start, and the other 10 face closure within ten years.

That's with nuclear power counting for nearly a quarter of Germany's electricity production - a higher share than the UK.

And it's amid rhetoric familiar to those who followed Alex Salmond on the campaign trail. It's not that Germany also wants to be "the Saudi Arabia of renewable" (an ambition Scotland shares with, among others, Indonesia, and, quite possibly, Saudia Arabia). But Chancellor Merkel does see this as an opportunity for pushing hard at renewable power.

Yes, wind power is an important part of it, but solar is seen as a technology that's going to become more commercially viable, and in a big way, over the next few years.

Germany, of course, doesn't suffer from much self-doubt when it comes to figuring out with the technological solutions required to make this happen.

Siemens has already used its Teutonic know-how to become one of the giants of wind turbine design and manufacture.

Supergrid boost

So with this abrupt change to energy policy, the German government has handed its own industry a big opportunity to make it happen, and to continue leading the world in doing so.

It has also used the moment of Japan's nuclear crisis, and Germans' mistrust of a nuclear future, to force the pace on internal change.

Angela Merkel talks about the citizens' responsibility to play their part in the energy transformation. This has echoes of David Cameron's Big Society idea of encouraging individual responsibility for providing collective goods.

Then there's the impact on the view. Taking renewable power from where it's generated to where it's consumed (largely from north to south) will take a lot of new cabling.

The dispute over the Beauly-Denny grid pylons marching through the central Highlands looks like a walk in the national park by comparison.

But accepting such change in Germany is being seen as part of the national duty, and the price to be paid for the widespread popular will to say nein danke to atomkraft.

For Scotland, it has two significant consequences.

One is that it gives Alex Salmond a right-of-centre, business-friendly and rather powerful ally in the campaign against new nuclear power plants. It's harder to argue that going non-nuclear is hopelessly unrealistic when you've got the German chancellor on your side.

The other is that, if Germany is to achieve its carbon emission targets without new nuclear, it will probably have to look outside its borders to find the most efficient sources of renewable energy.

That will require imports from the places the wind blows hardest and the tides flow strongest.

And in turn, that ought to mean investment in North Sea cabling, and an impetus to the supergrid that will be necessary to provide a market for the plentiful supply of wind, wave and tidal power to be found in Europe's far north-west.