If Germany Drops Coal, can the Industry Survive?


Germany is looking into cutting its use of coal power, at the same time that it is cutting out nuclear. If it does, there could be a ripple effect because Germany is a major player in the European energy market. A Berlin-based journalist said that Germany’s emphasis on renewables is already impacting electricity markets in Poland and the Czech Republic. (Denmark is also exploring how it might go coal-free, but even sooner.)


“The conservative government of Chancellor Angela Merkel last week issued a discussion paper proposing to implement the strictest controls on coal fired generation yet to be seen in Europe, and to redesign its energy system around renewables, which will account for around two thirds of supply within two decades,” Giles Parkinson reports.

Currently about 45% of Germany’s electricity comes from burning coal. However, it was reported recently that new coal plants will not be financed there. About 24% came from solar and wind last year, but that amount could expand to 45% by 2025, if targets are met.

Leading utility Vattenfall is examining the possibility of dropping its lignite-powered plants in Eastern Germany. About 10% of Germany’s electricity is generated by this handful of coal plants, which also produce an estimated 60 million tons of CO2 annually.

Germany may also look into importing more natural gas from Russia, which already supplies about 38% of Germany’s natural gas. Over 30% of its oil and about 25% of its coal also comes from Russia.

Of course, Germany is also a top nuclear power generator, but this status is going to change because of the shift away from that form of energy. It might be confounding to some to think of limiting coal and nuclear at the same time, but consider this: “60% of the lost nuclear capacity was replaced by renewable energy in a single year.”

Solar power costs have dropped dramatically in the last six years, and will surely continue to decrease. Solar power technology will also likely improve, meaning it will generate more electricity. Germany has already hit over 70% of its electricity production from renewables on occasion.

One advantage of solar and wind power is that it doesn’t take as long to construct these kinds of renewable plants. Energy storage for renewables is not close to catching up to renewable electricity production, but it does seem to be picking up some steam, so to speak.

The decision to dump coal is not the easiest one to make, but Germany has been a world leader in renewables, so it seems only logical for fossil fuels to be phased out. The speed at which the German government is moving on its energy transition is very impressive. Another issue is how much money Germany will save over time by reducing energy imports.

Jake Richardson

Licensed from CleanTechnica


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Ruptly from last summer: ”
Germany: Country smashes solar power record”

14 Responses

  1. That 60% of the nuclear capacity was replaced by renewables tells us little. That’s 60% of the x% of the nuclear capacity removed. The relevant figure is whatever we get when x is replaced by some number, and this has to represent capacity, not number of plants. Note too that the remaining percentage may be much harder to eliminate except through the use of coal. Finally, what is the figure represented by something like the 40% of capacity that was NOT replaced by renewables? What’s the increase in coal use?

    • the point is that since 2000 German CO2 emissions have fallen, and will plummet over the next 20 years. Keep your eye on the carbon

  2. I’d want to know the rate of decline compared to keeping nuclear. After all, it seems that matters are sufficiently urgent so that a substantial difference in the rate of decline would still make a case against abandoning the reactors.

    • There is no controlled experiment being run. More wind and solar is being installed, partly to replace Nuclear and partly to replace coal/gas. If they had determined to keep the Nuclear plants going there wouldn’t have been as much wind/solar built.

  3. In 2012 nuclear plants contributed 16% of the overall energy production in Germany. 45% came from coal, 22% from renewables.
    Source: link to bund.net

    No idea what the figures where this year. I guess renewables contributed more.

    No case can be made to keep the nuclear power plants, since they produce waste that in itself presents a major problem, while not producing a large enough amount of energy to justify the risk of them being around.

  4. What’s needed is to know what % of the nuclear contribution was represented by the reactors retired. The question is whether eliminating nuclear will require ongoing coal production, at least in the crucial short and medium run. Waste is a separate issue.

    • In 2006 nulear contribution was 31%, coal was 45%, renewables only about 4%.

      Source:link to google.de

      There were no new coal plants build to compensate for the nuclear ones, everything has come from reneables.

        • That is unfortunately true. There has been a slight increase in the use of coal. But not so much out of necessity, but out of monetary reasons.
          one source: link to manager-magazin.de

          Coal is currently very profitable, due to the very low price of’emission certificates’ in the european union. The idea of the emission certificates was created to encourage the use of less coal. But the opposite has happened. The certificates are so cheap, it pays to just keep an old coal plant active, instead of investing in technologies more friendly to the climate.
          source: link to spiegel.de

          The additional energy from coal is not consumed by Germany, but exported. In fact electricity exports have gone up four times, while Germany itself has become more efficent in its electricity consumption.

          By the way, that is the background of the article by Jake Richardson. The german government is about to admit, that something is not working out right, thus the plan to somehow shut down coal plants and reform the whole certificate trade.

  5. Solar power is nuclear power. The sun is, simply speaking, the largest nuclear reactor in our part of the universe. This power plant supplies all of our energy needs. We just have not yet figured out the best way to harvest that energy. Someday we will no longer have any need for coal, other hydrocarbons, wind, water or nuclear fission for supplying our energy—if we don’t first ruin the planet from toxins from old technology.

  6. The point here is that every renewable installed liberates demand from fossil fuels. The initial cost may be high, but since fuel is free the long-term savings are huge. This is coal being phased out, but the same logic applies to natural gas, too. Fossils have a lower initial cost only because of the existing infrastructure. Take away that advantage by eliminating the need for a centralized grid, and they become far less price competitive. Wind and sun, after all, are free.

  7. That point is too general. Of course nuclear also liberates demand from fossil fuels – but like renewables, not for some important uses such as autos.

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