Some critics have slammed Germany’s decision to exit coal power by the year 2038. For example the Wall Street Journal here called Germany’s energy policy “the world’s dumbest” (it is).
Yet, we need to remind ourselves that many in Germany had been calling for an exit within 10 years, or even sooner. For political leaders, however, shutting down what today is still Germany’s backbone of power supply so quickly would mean economic and political suicide. So the decision to push everything off to 2038 was yet again the German government punting the ball down the field, and leaving the messy issue to the next generation of leaders.
The government is not taking action; it’s avoiding it.
Keep in mind that a lot can happen between now and 2038. It’s entirely reasonable to expect that other forms of cleaner energy sources will be developed – 20 years is a long time. And climate can change rapidly, as a number of scientists are warning of cooling ahead.
Under the bottom line, it’s comforting that the Germans have given themselves the extra time, especially amid so many claiming that green technology is already available. Obviously it really isn’t.
World Future Council sees more coal burning
Even hardcore green energy groups are realizing they’ve been had and are beginning to voice their dissatisfaction with the new government-set 2038 coal exit target, for example the Hamburg-based, planet-rescuing World Future Council, Because of the deal, it expects coal CO2 emissions to climb by 16%!
What follows is their recent press release (my emphasis added):
Despite capacity reductions, coal-fired power generation and CO2 emissions can increase by up to 16 percent
Hamburg, February 7, 2019 – Dr. Matthias Kroll, Chief Economist of the Hamburg-based World Future Council, has recalculated the effects of the so-called “coal compromise” on the climate, with the result that coal-fired power generation could even increase by 2030 despite capacity reductions. The reason for this is the increase in the base load on the remaining coal-fired power plants due to the nuclear phase-out.
“The improvements suggested in the coal compromise for climate protection on the way to the 1.5°C target are a deceptive package,” says Kroll. The main criticism of the coal compromise to date has been the very late phase-out date of 2038.
However, the current compromise conceals yet another problem that has been lost in the debate so far: “For climate protection, it is not decisive how much power plant capacity is shut down, but how much electricity generation with coal actually decreases,” Kroll continues. “In the current model, I see a bottom line increase in electricity production from coal of around 16 percent. The situation is similar with CO2 emissions. Germany must take its foot off the brake and significantly push ahead with the expansion of renewable energies, the associated storage systems (‘power to gas’) and the construction of new natural gas power plants. Otherwise CO2 emissions will increase and not decrease.”
Although about 12 GW of the currently existing 42 GW coal-fired power plant are to be shut down by the end of 2022, it has to be expected that the planned remaining 15 GW of lignite and stone coal each will produce more electricity and CO2 emissions than today. The reason for this is the significantly increasing utilisation of the remaining coal-fired power plants, as it must be assumed that they will take over the last 9.5 GW of nuclear base load that will be eliminated.
While coal-fired power plants today are only used very irregularly because they are increasingly being forced out of the grid by wind and photovoltaic power, they can largely run at their maximum load. In terms of figures, this will amount to an increase of up to 16 percent in coal-fired electricity and the associated CO2 emissions compared with 2018. To ensure that the essential phase-out of nuclear power does not lead to a permanent increase in coal-fired power generation, the remaining 30 GW of coal-fired power from 2022 must be further reduced rapidly.
“It is questionable how Germany intends to achieve the 1.5°C target it has contractually agreed to in the Paris Agreement if CO2 emissions from coal-fired power generation are even higher than current levels for another decade, even though the reduction to zero is necessary,” criticises Kroll.