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Assessing The Decline In German Coal Power

Across most of the developed world, industrial leaders and energy experts are working hand in hand to transition to greener and more sustainable forms of producing the power our society needs. Nowhere has the decline in coal power been more noticeable than in Germany, however, which continues to stand apart from others in its eager embrace of renewable energy systems that will enable the country to keep the lights on well into the future without adversely impacting the climate.

Assessing the decline in German coal power, we can see that a complete coal phaseout will occur sooner rather than later. Here’s why Germany’s so eager to ditch coal-fired power plants for good.

Environmentalism is on the rise

One of the biggest reasons that Germany has slowly but surely been eliminating its reliance on coal-fired power plants is that cultural environmentalism is on the rise. Across the country, everyday citizens are growing more conscious of global climate change and the negative ways that it will impact their lives. Whether it’s more frequent floods, more severe wildfires, longer lasting droughts or a myriad of other disasters, Germans understand that the most daunting threats of the immediate future demand sudden and irreversible cultural changes when it comes to energy and industry.

Germany’s politicians and politically-engaged voters were recently torn asunder by an influx of migrants into the nation, but these days the new culture war in Germany is centered around the climate and energy. Everyday Germans have realized that a failure to take global climate change seriously will be disastrous for current citizens and even worse for their future descendants. Recycling initiatives, pro-forest movements, and a diverse group of other pro-climate initiatives have thus sprung up, while industrial leaders and government officials are simultaneously being pressured to ditch fossil fuels.

A greater sense of environmentalism amongst the country’s populace is doubtlessly helping Germany on its path towards sustainable energy. It’s not merely cultural pressure that’s forcing German politicians and companies to pivot towards greener energy initiatives, however. Economic forces are also at play, and the ability for Germany to set itself apart from other major nations like the United States when it comes to energy production is also driving an embrace of renewable energy production.

The government has a plan

Whereas the United States remains jam-packed with cities still burning coal, German urban centers are beginning to wake up and realize that renewables are the way of the future. The country is now producing substantially less energy through coal-fired power plants, though natural gas consumption has increased modestly, which could offset some of these gains. With the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy having recently released a plan to phase coal out completely by 2038, it should be obvious that the dark substance relied upon for so long is finally on its way out the door.

Assessing the decline in German coal power, it’s thus clear to see that a unique mixture of political, cultural, and economic forces is steadily guiding the country towards a greener future. While some once feared that abandoning fossil fuels would economically jeopardize the nation, it’s now largely indisputable that continuing to rely on such unsustainable methods of energy production is climate suicide and economic malpractice. We should thus expect Germany to keep climbing upwards when it comes to its global renewable investment ranking, where it currently stands in fifth.

Another reason for the recent pivot towards sustainable energy production is that savvy innovators across the country realize this is a unique opportunity to demonstrate their scientific prowess. German engineering will continue to be lauded well into the future if the country can maintain its innovative mindset when it comes to wind turbines, for instance. While smaller nations have succeeded in going green entirely, Germany has led the way in terms of major economies adapting to renewables in no small part thanks to its continued production of excellent turbines and related renewable equipment.

Could a revival in German identity help the climate?

If Germany keeps mastering renewable methods of producing energy, it could very well be the case that a renewed German identity centered around innovation and climate consciousness could be born and nurtured across the country. Many Germans find themselves frustrated when it comes to forging a national identity for the nation, though an eager focus on European leadership and pioneering sustainable energy production methods could unite people around a positive and praise-worthy cause.

The decline of German coal power isn’t yet complete, but it’s growing more obvious by the day that fossil fuels are no longer the future of German engineering and energy production. While the country has seen an uptick in natural gas usage in recent years, its growing reliance on solar and wind energy proves that Germany’s dependence upon coal is a thing of the past.

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 9, 2019 11:41 am GMT

Many Germans find themselves frustrated when it comes to forging a national identity for the nation, though an eager focus on European leadership and pioneering sustainable energy production methods could unite people around a positive and praise-worthy cause.

This is an interesting take-- I don't see such cultural factors being weighed as much during these energy transitions, but they are very real factors

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Aug 12, 2019 3:23 am GMT

Here is some data on coal usage for electricity in a few countries (2015 source, 2017 source ):

Australia: 62.9 %
Germany: 44.3 %  (42.5% in 2017)
United States: 34.2 %  (27.4% in 2018)
Japan: 33.2 %
United Kingdom: 22.8%  (9.4% in 2017)
Euro area: 22.1 %
Finland: 8.3 %  (11.1% in 2017)
Belgium: 6.1  (3.1% in 2017)
France: 2.2 %  (1.9% in 2017)
Sweden: 0.7 %
Switzerland: 0.0 %

While Germany could be considered a leading proponent of renewables, it is certainly not a leader in phasing out coal.  In fact, Germany badly lags its peer nations using the Euro and even the fossil fuel rich US.  Simply put, Germany has done an amazing job of green-washing its dirty coal habit.

The countries on list above with the smallest coal usage are the ones most deserving to be emulated.  The thing they all have in common is substantial use of nuclear power.  Nuclear is only needed for 33% of Switzerland’s electricity, due to abundant hydro.  France has more modest hydro, thus needs 72% nuclear to keep the coal away.  The UK keeps coal usage down with only 19% of their electricity from nuclear, but pays a steep price of 42% fossil gas dependence as a result (giving them mediocre CO2 emissions performance).

Nuclear has been a proven solution for cutting coal and gas use for decades.  Germany is leading in a new direction, one that remains unproven 3 decades into the renewables era.  How long will it take for Germany to admit that their plan is not working?

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Aug 13, 2019 2:44 pm GMT

Some more recent data

Germany:

2018:

Coal share was down to 35.4% in 2018

2019:

Why German coal power is falling fast in 2019

In the first half of 2019, hard coal generation is 8TWh (24%) lower than a year earlier, while lignite is down 14TWh (21%) – with coal down 22TWh (22%) in total and 44TWh (36%) over five years.

The gap left by coal-fired electricity has been largely filled by renewables, with output from German windfarms up by 11TWh (19%) and solar up by 1TWh (6%) in the first half of 2019, while demand fell by 9TWh (3%) and gas generation only increased by 3TWh (16%). The shift means wind is on track to become the single largest source of electricity in Germany this year, overtaking lignite.

UK;

Meanwhile, the combined share of UK electricity generation from fossil fuels fell to 46% in 2018, its lowest level ever, as the chart below shows (grey line). This was primarily due to another 25% fall in coal, scotching fears it could make a comeback this year after precipitous recent declines.

Gas generation was down 4% in 2018 to 132TWh (blue line). It remains the single-largest source of generation in the UK, accounting for 39% of the total last year. Gas is expected to be overtaken by renewables in the early 2020s and must contribute no more than 25% of the total by 2030 if the UK is to meet its legally binding climate goals.

Nuclear generation fell 7% in 2018 to 65TWh after cracks were discovered at two of Hunterston’s reactors, keeping the site closed for an extended period. Nuclear is the single-largest source of low-carbon electricity in the UK, but is in decline as ageing reactors are being retired. Barring life extensions, all but one of the UK’s current nuclear plants will have closed by 2025.

 

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