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Published on March 11th, 2013 | by Zachary Shahan


Coal Plants Out Of Style In Germany

March 11th, 2013 by  

coal power plants germanyGermany’s renewable energy revolution is a big deal. It gives people in other countries more hope that they can implement the same (and several countries and cities have done so to some degree or another). It busts myths about renewable energy. It has brought down the cost of solar PV around the world. It is shifting the balance of power (social power and electricity) within Germany. And it is keeping more of Germany’s wealth within its borders.

However, it is also threatening established, rich industries — such as the utility industry, the coal industry, and the nuclear industry.

Of course, the utility industry uses propaganda about costs and reliability in order to try to save its skin; the coal industry uses propaganda about costs, reliability, and the “lack of need” for low-carbon power sources; and the nuclear industry uses propaganda about reliability and CO2 pollution from coal-fired power plants.

Dr. Karl-Friedrich Lenz has coined an interesting label for the few remaining fossil fuel and nuclear propagandists — Fossil Nukes. Many of these people are genuine believers in the agendas they push. Unfortunately, they continually make very odd claims that don’t fit the facts.

Last week, Dr. Lenz decided to debunk one of the most widely cited claims from the Fossil Nuke bathing pool, that Germany’s starting up a record amount of coal power plants to deal with the country’s nuclear phaseout. He also references the always insightful Craig Morris, a Bloomberg article the Fossil Nuke he was debunking had referenced, and Friends of the Earth Germany in the process. Here’s part of that:

As explained for example here by Craig Morris, it takes substantially more than two years to build a new coal power plant. Even if, as Barry Brook seems to think, the German government had decided to build lots of new coal as compensation for shutting down nuclear right after the Fukushima accident two years ago, none of those plants could be “started up” this year.

The article cited by Brook nowhere says anything to base the “due to nuclear closure” claim on. But it does contain this:

“The growth in renewables and the decline in power consumption have already fully bridged the gap opened by the shutdowns of the eight nuclear reactors in 2011,” Norbert Allnoch, head of the IWR, said in today’s statement.

You wouldn’t know that from reading Brook, of course.

With regards to Friends of the Earth, Dr. Lenz notes that the organization proudly boasts about the high number of coal power plants that it has gotten shut down, as well as the targeted remaining coal power plants.

They claim to have stopped 20 coal projects, with only much less still left standing, in their latest overview from last November. Here is a map from their website showing all the cancelled projects:

coal power plants germany

The issue with the few new coal power plants that are actually going up, as I understand it, is simply this: there are a lot of old coal power plants in Germany that need to be shut down, and some of them are being replaced by new coal power plants (but most are not).

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, and Canada. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in. But he offers no professional investment advice and would rather not be responsible for you losing money, so don't jump to conclusions.

  • Bill_Woods

    … it takes substantially more than two years to build a new coal power plant. Even if, as Barry Brook seems to think, the German government had decided to build lots of new coal as compensation for shutting down nuclear right after the Fukushima accident two years ago, none of those plants could be “started up” this year.

    Where this argument fails is in forgetting that the nuclear phaseout policy was set back in 2000, long before Merkel’s 2010-11 flip-flop, and plans were made accordingly.

    Back in 2009,

    Germany’s environment minister [!!] Sigmar Gabriel (Social Democratic Party) is pushing for the construction of new coal-fired power plants in Germany. “We need eight to twelve new coal plants if we want to get out of nuclear energy,” Gabriel said on Friday at a meeting of the Mainz-Wiesbaden AG (KMW) in Mainz. With regard to the opponents of the planned coal-fired power in Mainz, the minister said: “Those who demonstrate against coal-fired power will get nuclear power plants instead.”

    • Bob_Wallace

      Germany’s new coal burning plants are replacing (not adding to) the older plants that either have been or will soon be decommissioned.

      By 2020, 18.5 gigawatts of coal power capacity will be decommissioned, whereas only 11.3 gigawatts will be newly installed.

      Furthermore those plants will be more efficient, releasing less CO2 per unit electricity produced than are the ones they are replacing. And the new coal plants are partially load-following.

  • Otis11

    Despite the numerous environmental benefits of solar PV, I actually think the social impacts of democratizing and distributing the power grid has more potential to revolutionize our society… Really facinated to watch this revolution develop.

    And why hasn’t the nuclear industry given up in Germany? I mean obviously they haven’t given up completely from a business perspective, but they have to realize with the entire country supporting a move away from Nuclear they are fighting an impossible battle… At least in Germany.

    • Yes, the social implications are what most people don’t get. Regarding the nuke industry in Germany, it’s a good question. I’d suspect they’re just trying to preserve their remaining profits. Also, however, I think this is all really in reference to the nuclear enthusiasts (many of which are not in Germany, but in the UK and US) who are convinced nuclear power is the best power option, and are trying to keep other countries from going the route of Germany.

      • Otis11

        Well to be quite honest I really don’t mind nuclear power – as long as I’m up wind of it and I don’t have to pay for it that is!

        If I’m buying the power I’d rather lock in 9c/kwh (What guaranteed 100% wind commitment is going for here in Texas) than 11c/kwh Nuclear (Average price of current FF/Nuclear mix in Texas). Both current rates with 2 year commitment for my local power grid – guess which one we chose?

    • jmdesp

      Yes, the social implications of rising so much electricity prices for all the people who are on the Hartz laws is what you all here don’t get.

      As well as the social implications of taking that money to distribute it to the home-owners with room on the roof for solar panels, and who also are the one who have savings to invest in a wind turbine project.

      It might revolutionize Germany, but maybe not in the way you think.

      • ThomasGerke

        This argument is used very often. When looking at it closly though, it’s mainly a strawmen argument by anti-renewable interessts.

        For starters only 1/3 of the price increases since 2000 can be attributed to the rise of the renewable energy surcharge. So blaming the expansion of renewables is already questionable.

        In general mixing social policy relevant to individuals with energy policy relevant to the macro-economic long term outlook of the entire country seems to be a silly notion.

        Did you know that the government charges an additional 0.99 cent / kWh of value added tax on top of the renewable energy surcharge? That’s approx. $1.5 billion Dollar in 2013… enough to finance an energy savings micro-credit program.

        But does the current government do that? Nope.
        They prefer to abuse poor people for their anti-renewable strawmen arguments.

        Dirty politics against clean energy. 😉

  • Nuclear proponents are not know for truth, so take their claims with a large helping of salt. They also fail to mention that any new German coal plant is required to have modern pollution reduction equipment, where the old plants being replaced have much worse pollution. The number of new coal plants if less than the old ones being replaced. In every society protectionism for existing business slows the rate of change, and Germany is not immune to those pressures. Another important point is that Germany decided many years before the Fukushima disaster to reduce nuclear power, and that effort continues, it is not a knee jerk reaction to Fukushima, but a choice made clear by the German people. Renewable energy is the bulk of new generation, and much more is in planning stages. Transmission facilities are running a bit behind, but planned expansion will allow much more renewable energy to be used. Germany is reducing it’s CO2 emissions every year and by law cannot ignore that goal. It is the lowering of electric generation costs that has nuclear operators begging for handouts and issuing propaganda against renewable energy, and the democratization of electric markets.

    • Great comments. Thanks.

    • jmdesp

      The claim originally came from IWR, not from pro-nukes :
      And the number of coal plant does increase for now, apparently replacing gas plants from the numbers.

      All the hype about wind & solar hides that maybe the best result in Germany to reduce CO2 have been coming from transport, the industry, better insulation, biomass use. After all Wind & solar were only 12% of electric power last year, with 10% coming from other renewable sources.

      About coal, the start point is using the death/TWh data from this report 8000 death caused every year :

      Even if the filters enhance things significantly and will reduce that number of deaths per TWh, it’s well documented they can’t remove 100% of the fine particles, so there’s still some deadly pollution. And anyway managing the coal ash is an unavoidable problem, should we talk about what happened in Kingston, Tennesse with coal ash ? The trouble is that the total volume is hundred of millions of tons.

  • Madan Rajan

    Its official, Germany consumed more coal in 2012 than in 2011.

    And its increasing in Europe, Asia and many other countries except USA.

    For sure, we are going to melt all of the Arctic.

    • ThomasGerke

      Since German domestic hard coal production will be ended by 2018, it’s no surprise that imports increase.

      But the trend can not be denied:

    • Otis11

      You’re citing imports and claiming it is consumption. Those are not equivalent.

      While the imports of coal have increased (Mainly from US sources as we transition over to more and more Natural Gas) their domestic production has decreased so dramatically that their overall consumption is actually in decline. 2011’s consumption is down some 38% from 1990’s level and lower than every year other than 2009.

      (What happened in 2009 to drop so much or in 2010 that made it rebound? Anyone know?)

      • JonathanMaddox

        > What happened in 2009


  • GRLCowan

    Out of style in Germay, but not in Germany, eh?

    Lenz’s “fossil nuke” nomenclature does not, if I understand it correctly, mean that the persons he applies it to are intentional fossil fuel boosters. Rather, he thinks this is an unfortunate side effect of our nuclear advocacy.

    • Sorry, I’m not sure what the first question is?

      Regarding Lenz, I follow his site closely and I’m pretty positive he means people who are obsessed with the outdated model of baseload power from fossil fuels and nuclear power. But feel free to drop him a question and let me know how he responds.

      • Otis11

        He’s referring to a spelling mistake in the title. It’s missing the n in Germany.

    • Lenz dropped me a tweet regarding this term (not sure if he saw your comment or just the post). here’s a post from him about the term:

  • ThomasGerke

    Great post 🙂

    Happy that the graphic about cancled new coal power station projects is getting out there…

    • Love the numbers. Thanks. 😀

    • jmdesp

      No, you are getting manipulated by coal power, and the motivations of BUND are extremely suspicious to me.

      What counts is indeed the tendency, and the tendency is that Germany is building more new coal than any other rich western country (except maybe Australia).

      What counts is not the decoy projects that BUND can boats about. The coal industry is using here the shower of missiles strategy of starting many more projects than they ever intended to actually build. Then BUND can claim having stopped many of them but in truth the industry has had build as much as they ever really wanted to build, and maybe even more, because I doubt they really wanted 4.3 GW of new power with a demand that is not growing, gaining less money and having badly performing stocks.

      But the first effect is that this power will replace gas generation, because it can still make a profit even at a much lower price, and push it almost fully out of the market. The Fraunhofer data shows in January and February gas was rarely running at less than 4GW, that’s so much power coal can take the place of running almost 100% of the time.

      The death sentence is for gas, not for coal.

      • ThomasGerke

        You have to understand the conflict in Germany and the parties that fight.

        You have King C.O.N.G on one side fully commited to a Coal, Oil, Nuclear & Gas based conventional energy mix… and you got mainly independent investors of renewables on the other side.

        If the other side would not exist, the conventional power companies would replace almost their entire existing 100 GW fossil-nuclear power stations. That was their goal at the beginning this century, because it suites their business model.

        Now. They did have plans to build at least 22 GW by 2020-2030…. they’ve started several projects between 2000-2006… most of those will propably come online. All of those approx. 6-8 GW coal power stations were designed & permitted as replacements of older power stations. (including those that went into operation last year)

        That’s the fossil fuel lobby / energy corperations side of the energy system. I don’t deny their motives nor their agenda… what I am telling you, is that their strategy is a failure and that those investments will not pay of as well as indented.

        Now to the other side: Renewables and their supporters.

        There have been noteworthy success stories of Anti-Coal Nimbyism… The coal power station near Mainz was stoped by protests & reason. There’s also the the ongoing legal battle of the already build Datteln-4 power station. (might never go online = several billion dollar wasted)

        Besides all that:
        Somewhere between 2020-2030 renewables will reach a share of 50% in the electricity supply. At that point the share of coal will be limited to approx. 25% in the electricity supply due to technological limits of coal plant flexibility.

        There are certain short term trends that you mentioned, but I know of no new coal power station that went into construction during the last 5 years. No replacement, shrinking market and political consensus for long term phaseout of the ENTIRE conventional power system. Why should anyone invest in coal?

      • Ronald Brakels

        Australia isn’t building new coal capacity. Let’s see what have we shut down in the past year or so: Yallourn – 360 MW, Half of Tarong – 700 MW, Playford B – 250 MW, Swanbank B – 125 MW, Munmorrah, and now that Northern Power Station is shuts down for half the year we may as well include half its capacity which would be – 260 MW. That makes for a total of about 2.2 gigawatts if I haven’t left anything out.

        • JonathanMaddox
          • JonathanMaddox

            Moreover Australia, unlike Germany, has not built any new coal-fired capacity to replace these closures. The last coal-fired power station built in this country was completed in 2007, at Kogan Creek in Queensland. It turns out that much of the additional capacity it provides was not needed (despite strong population growth and economic growth in south-east Queensland), hence the Tarong part-closure.

  • Amber

    Beautifully written, Zachary.
    Your first paragraph explains so much. Thanks for the excellent info and palatable presentation. Well done!

    • Thanks! 😀 Need to point those things out more often I think… Working on it. 😀

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