No More Coal Plants in Germany
May 15, 2013
Remember that item from Fox News a few weeks ago? “Germany is doing well with solar energy because they have way more sun than we do!”
Another piece of the anti-renewable disinformation campaign commonly heard, and just as accurate, is something like: “Germany has had to increase reliance on coal because renewables are so unreliable.”
It is vitally important for the windbagger/anti-renewable crowd to cover-up, tear down, distort or distract from the example that Germany, Denmark, and other countries are setting for the world – maintaining world class manufacturing, exporting, and living standards, while switching to renewable power – so expect to see a lot of this in the future.
In a PDF published last month, consultants from Pöyry tell the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) not to expect any more coal plant projects after the current ones are completed.
Over the past two years, Renewables International has repeatedly argued that there will be no shift to coal power as a result of the nuclear phaseout. So it’s nice to see that other independent analysts see things the same way.
In their presentation to the UK government (PDF), researchers at Pöyry say there are three main reasons for the “apparent surge” in new coal plant construction, which is “due to highly unusual historic reasons”: a favorable market environment in 2007/2008; excess carbon allowances; and an “inability or reluctance of developers to cancel projects” when circumstances changed.
I had already written about the first two and am pleased to hear someone argue the third point. But going forward, the researchers say “there will be no major new unabated coal or date night projects in Germany for the foreseeable future beyond those currently under construction.”
Starting in 2009, the experts find that “developers’ appetites” for new coal projects has died down significantly so that there will be no further investment in coal plants “in this decade.” By 2035 (see chart above), installed coal power generating capacity will have fallen from around 42 GW to around 15 GW – and again, that installed capacity is likely to be running at lower utilization levels.
Is Germany Switching to Coal? Morris pointed out last December:
Opponents of renewables in North America are pouncing on the news of a new coal plant in Germany, especially because German Environmental Minister Peter Altmaier cut the ribbon, so to speak. Altmaier said Germany will need the conventional fossil power plants for “decades to come,” though he did not say it was, as Fox Business put it, to “complement unreliable and intermittent renewable energies such as wind and solar power.” In fact, he stated that “fossil energy and renewables should not be played as cards against each other” and that we have to move beyond “making enemies of the two.”
It took six years to build the plant, meaning that the process started in 2006. It is by no means a reaction to the nuclear phaseout of 2011. And as Altmaier himself points out, the new plant can ramp up and down by 150 megawatts within five minutes and by 500 megawatts within 15, making it a flexible complement to intermittant renewables. In the area, 12 coal plants more than 40 years old have been decommissioned, and the new 2,200 megawatt plant is to directly replace 16 older 150 megawatts blocks by the end of this year, so 2,200 megawatts of new, more flexible, somewhat cleaner capacity (the new plant has an efficiency of 43 percent, whereas 35 percent would be considered ambitious for most old coal plants) is directly replacing 2,400 old megawatts.
Germany has a target of 35 percent renewable power by 2020, rising to 85 percent by 2050 – meaning that 65 percent of its power supply will be conventional in 2020, and the country will still have 15 percent conventional power by mid-century. Obviously, Germany needs to build some new conventional power plants to reach even that ambitious goal for renewables.
There have been reports that Germany plans to construct some 23 coal plants, but as in Cologne these plans predate the nuclear phaseout of 2011. The question is how many of these will be built. German environmental organization BUND has a map (in German) of the power plants planned and those already blocked
In addition, Germany’s Energy Agency (Dena), which is not considered a blind advocate of renewables (on the contrary, the renewables sector considered its Grid Studies subservient to grid operators’ needs), estimates in a recent study (PDF in German) that 18.5 gigawatts of coal power capacity (both hard coal and brown coal) will be decommissioned by 2020, whereas only 11.3 gigawatts will be newly installed by that time. Most of the new capacity is expected to be gas turbines, with 20.7 gigawatts going up by 2020.
Renewables International has already put the current construction of coal plants in Germany into perspective. Essentially, the coal plants now going up were planned between 2005/2008 and therefore have nothing to do with the unnecessarily sudden nuclear phase-out of 2011 – and everything to do with the poor beginning of emissions trading in Europe during those years.
Now, the unpublished ECF briefing provided to Renewables International confirms these findings for the EU as a whole. Over the past two decades, coal consumption is not only down considerably in Germany, but also throughout the EU.
In early 2008, an astonishing 112 coal plants had been newly announced, but ground has only been broken on two of them (in Poland and Slovenia), with 73 having been abandoned and one under construction but in limbo (EDF wants the French and Polish governments to provide subsidies); the remaining 36 are still “announced” or “planned.” Of the 20 plants already under construction in early 2008, 14 have since been built, five are still entangled in courts, and one was switched to natural gas.
I’ll be updating this regularly. The renewable revolution in Europe continues unabated, and remains the best example for what we could be doing in the US, given the right policy initiatives.
Do I have to explain that the countries who run themselves on free energy will have a competitive advantage going forward?