Germany To Dump Coal?

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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.

Image Credit: A. Savin, Wiki Commons

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Jake Richardson

Hello, I have been writing online for some time, and enjoy the outdoors. If you like, you can follow me on Twitter:

Jake Richardson has 1008 posts and counting. See all posts by Jake Richardson

48 thoughts on “Germany To Dump Coal?

  • So much for the contention that Denmark will replace its coal with imported German coal generated power.

    • super true!!

  • I’m a bit surprised that coal isn’t a bigger target than nuclear. It’s the lesser of two evils, as are many decisions in life, but Coal is just bad on so many more levels (to me) when compared to nuclear. Good on ’em for attacking the issue full bore though…someone’s gotta lead from the front 🙂

    • I also don’t understand why attack nuclear first. Probably because of Fukushima, but it doesn’t really make sense.

      Why increase your exposure to something that you know severely impacts health and the environment all the time, and decrease your exposure to something that does not currently impact health and the environment and has a very, very, very low risk of one day impacting health and the environment? Even if that day came with one reactor, I still don’t think the impact would be nearly as bad as burning coal for another few decades.


      • Its emotional at its heart, as are most political issues. A rational cost benefit analysis has little to no impact on our fears.

      • Historical reasons, the environmental movement dates back to the (late sixites even?) early seventies in Germany and really got started by the obvious drawbacks of the nuclear industry like the risk of making a quarter of the land uninhabitable, the nuclear waste that was piling up, that noone had a good solution for and the environmental desaster that is Uran mining. Global warming wasn’t really on the table before the nineties, so problems get solved in the order the public was aware of them.
        And don’t let Fukushima fool you, although a wide area of land is unhabitable due to the nuclear desaster they were extremely lucky that the wind blew almost all of the toxic nuclear clouds to the open Pacific. A failure in the heart of France or Germany would have much more dire consequences.

        • And don’t overlook the fact that Chernobyl happened next door to Germany. Germany is still feeling the impact.

        • “the environmental desaster that is Uran mining.”

          Oh please.

          You do realize that you need 10,000x more coal to produce the same electricity as uranium in typical reactors, right? Even with low grade uranium, you’re talking about 100x less mining.

          Shutting down nuclear means more coal. It doesn’t matter how much renewable generation you build, because you could have eliminated more coal by keeping nuclear plants around.

          Less nuclear means more mining, more deadly particulates, more CO2.

          FYI, the heart of France or Germany isn’t going to see a tsunami either. You can’t just look at one side of the equation by saying Japan was “lucky”.

          • France and Germany are immune from a nuclear reactor meltdown?

            How did they manage that? How does one achieve 100% safety?

          • Who said that they’re immune? Oh, that’s right, you made up that strawman.

            It doesn’t matter if they aren’t 100% safe. They’re orders of magnitude less deadly than coal.

            How many deaths have been caused by contained reactors outside tsunami-susceptible zones? I’ll bet you anything it’s less than the number of deaths per TWh for people dying while installing rooftop solar.

          • LOL, after all that explanation you still don’t get it?

            Let me baby step you through it. If uranium had 0 change, and renewables had the same output, what would happen to fossil fuels? They’d go down, e.g. brown coal goes to -3.9 TWh.

          • You don’t get it.

            We all understand that continuing to use nuclear would mean that fossil fuels use could be reduced more rapidly.

            What you seem to not be able to grasp is that Germans do not wish to live with nuclear reactors. Can you wrap your head around that? Or should we all LOL at your denseness?

          • You all understand? Obviously not, or GCO wouldn’t have said I was wrong.

            What Germans think about nuclear is immaterial to the statement I made to GCO: Shutting down nuclear means more coal than there would otherwise be.

          • Here’s your claim – you wrote it large – “Shutting down nuclear means more coal.”

            We all realize that had Germany kept its nuclear on line and added the amount of renewables it added that coal would have fallen further. But the fact is, even with nuclear shut downs German coal use is declining.

            Germans are capable of chewing gum and walking at the same time.

            (Yes, I understand what you were trying to say and I realize that GCO understood it differently. But I’m getting so tired of your attitude.)

          • Please read my comment above. This conclusion, as obvious as it may seem at first glance, does not hold up in reality. The nuclear fleet would only help to make the gas plants throughout Europe economically unfeasible and these gas plants are needed for a faster transition to renewable energy due to their flexibility, therefore keeping the nuclear plants would only slow down the renewables.
            Shutting down the lignite plants in Germany on the other hand could be done quickly with enough political will even with the Atomausstieg.

          • It may surprise you, but there is a very high probability that keeping the nuclear fleet wouldn’t even lower the CO2 emissions and I can tell you why: huge electricty exports from Germany. It already quadrupled since 2003, despite the decomissioning of 8 nuclear plants and the new study from the Bundesnetzagentur even suggests a possible tenfold increase from 2003 to 2024 to amazing 81TWh. So even if we kept the nuclear plant the lignite plants would fire as much as they do because they are sadly extremely cheap without accounting the externalites.

            So in short shutting down nuclear does not mean more coal consumption and in order to cut down coal consumption in Germany a law is required, market mechanisms are not going to do that.

            So Germany could cut CO2 emissions way more AND shut down the nuclear fleet and the reasons it does not do that are completely unattached to the dumping of nuclear, it is rather the huge influence of the coal lobby. German industry was built on coal.

            ONLY IFGermany already enacted all that is feasible than you had a point that the dumping of the nuclear fleet would mean more emissions, but keeping the fleet alone wouldn’t do anything. Again for historical and ecomical reasons your case is only hypothetical and a distraction from the actual fight with the coal lobby, because it is simply not true that Germany couldn’t cut way more emissions because of the Atomausstieg.


          • Currently that quadrupling only amounts to 5% of total production, but you bring up a good point.

            But I don’t think it’s accurate to say, “keeping the fleet alone wouldn’t do anything”. There’s a reason that Germany didn’t build more coal in the 90’s and 2000’s to export more: its always priced at a discount (aside from peaks). Take a look at this:
            Detailed import/export data begins on page 74 (PDF page 71).
            Detailed production data begins on page 85 (PDF page 82).

            Here’s what I see: Brown coal production is very flat (as is nuclear, hydro, and biogas), likely because it’s cheap. It’s mainly hard coal that ramps up for exports at times, but not always.

            There’s a limited market for export at good prices, or else hard coal wouldn’t ramp down when Germany has no need (whether due to low demand or high renewable output). I think the truth is somewhere in the middle: retaining nuclear would reduce coal use, but not in a 1:1 ratio unless there is legislation to shut down coal.

          • Oh, and about the mining issue: You do realize that Uranium mining can turn land into radioactive wastelands for tens of thousand of years? There are huge areas like this in the former Soviet Union and you should really multiply your “100x less” with that. Further more mining Uranium requires a lot of energy and an Austrian study found that for low quality uranium of 0,01% (where economic feasibility beginns) you actually end up at 288 g/kWh CO2 emissions for nuclear electricity. (I guess this low quality uranium is only a small portion, but they made the point that this could become a problem if more Uranium would be consumed.) And you should google the Wismut Ag with thousands of Uran mining related deaths in GERMANY.
            But of course I agree that Coal mining is shit, too. It is horrible, but please read my other comment where I explain why keeping the nuclear plants wouldn’t mean less coal mining. The world could get rid of both Coal and Nuclear very soon and it would save a lot of money and human lives but sadly people are crazy.

      • I second one.second. Look, Germans have taken the decision to phase out nuclear first. There is a consensus, and it’s a waste of time criticizing it. That does not mean they are not committed to following though on coal and later gas and oil.

        • Yep. It’s a done deal. Germany is going to get rid of nuclear and coal at the same time. It’s time to applaud their ambition and dedication and move on.

      • That’s what I’m saying. Doesn’t make sense to me…so I’ll just look at it as the Germans being over-ambitious and not prioritizing Nuclear over Coal.

        • Germany has lots of coal. Mostly brown coal, but fairly high in BTU content. It’s coal fired plants are pretty efficient. I’m going to guess, they are not that much more of a CO2 emitter than natural gas fired plants. Even the gas turbine/steam. I’m not trying to jump into the debate about nuke v. fossil fuel.

          • You telling me my guess is wrong is wrong 😉

            Some of the most efficient coal plants are getting close to natural gas in terms of CO2 emissions. Another problem is ethane content is being added to natural gas due to there being no market for natural gas light hydrocarbons and liquids (ethane to butane and pentane). Ethane, when burned, emits four times the CO2 than methane. So the benefit from gas as far as climate change gets reduced. As I said, “close to.”

            More importantly, it would be stupid for Germany to switch to natural gas from coal. One, they pretty much banned the use of fracking to its shale reserves. Russia holds all the conventional gas in the area. And since they’re trying to phase out fossil fuel, it makes no sense to build out a completely new fossil fuel system, which includes pipelines and processing.

            New German plants are well above the average. Here’s an example:


          • Where’s your proof? No, coal is not getting close to NG. No, ethane does not have 4x the CO2 emissions of methane. Where on earth did you get that nonsense? It’s only 15% more per unit of energy (2x CO2 per SCF, but 1.74x the energy per SCF). You said “close to”, and you were wrong.

            You may be right about NG resources being an issue, but that’s rather meaningless.

          • The issue is carbon intensity or pounds of CO2 per MWh of electricity generated. (or gCO2e per kwh for europe). Here’s the pending EPA regs based on CO2 intensity:


            Natural gas is not just methane, especially feed for NG gen plants. EIA is now tracking the heat content going to elec gen given that oil and gas is slipping in more ethane into the mix. Like around 2 percent to 20 percent, depending how much they can get away with.

            So stoichiometrically, its usually assumed coal has twice the carbon intensity as natural gas. However, this is the industry average of 60 percent thermal efficiency for gas turbine/steam combined and 30 percent for coal. Many NG plants are just retrofits. New efficient coal plants are at 45 percent thermal efficiency. So coal is getting close. Existing plants can achieve an intensity of 740 gCO2/kwh. Natural gas ranges between 400 and 800 gCO2/kwh depending how its burned. So its pretty close. (Traditional coal plants can be around 1000 to 1500 gCO2 per Kwh.)


            Now more importantly is life-cycle emissions. Natural gas has a much higher pre-combustion intensity than coal. Especially with mines close to generation. And since Germany is wants to shut coal down, why switch to gas?

          • I don’t know why you keep harping on ethane. You’re completely wrong in your 4x CO2 claim. 20% ethane is only going to increase CO2 emissions by 3% over pure methane.

            If you’re going to compare state of the art coal to 20 year old NG, of course you’ll come up with a flawed conclusion like that. Modern CCGT is 315gCO2/kWh. Even if you look at the average NG plant, in the US heat rate is 8039 BTU/kWh, or 427gCO2/kWh.

            That isn’t close to 740g/kWh.

          • What are you trying to sell Germany a gas plant. I could care less what Germany does. I’m sure they’ve done a feasibility study and determined to stick with coal, since gas would be more problems than solutions for them.

            The US is switching to gas since it’s fracked the snot out of its shale and gas is very cheap right now. Gas will always be precarious for Germany. Plus, its coal plants are better than ours.

            How do you get only 3 percent CO2 increase at 20 percent ethane? It would be 20 percent. Stoichiometric and combustion simplified:

            CH4 + 2O2 —> CO2 + 2H2O

            C2H6 + (7/2)O2 —-> 2CO2 + 3H2O

            Basis 100 moles feed:

            100 moles CH4 produces 100 moles CO2

            80 moles CH4 produces 80 moles CO2
            20 moles C2H6 produces 40 moles CO2
            Total = 120 moles CO2 assuming complete combustion.

            Therefore CO2 intensity goes up 20 percent with ethane in the feed. I think. I kind of flew through this. Add propane and it goes up more, obviously.

            Ethane would increase the thermal capacity, which is great – but increase the carbon intensity factor, which is bad. There would also be an increase in NOx, which is bad.

          • I’m not selling you on NG. When I said “that’s rather meaningless”, it was referring to how your original comment was to Kyle Field, who never mentioned NG (admittedly I should’ve been more clear). This discussion has been about coal vs nuclear.

            Methane heat of combustion: 882 kJ/mol
            Ethane heat of combustion: 1541 kJ/mol

            100 moles CH4 produces 88.2MJ of heat, so 1.13 moles CO2 per MJ
            80/20 moles of CH4/C2H6 produces 101.4MJ of heat, so 1.18 moles CO2 per MJ.

            That’s 4% higher emissions (okay, I was a tad off).

          • Not really. You’re conflating energy and mass balances. btw, Germany produces some of the best chemical engineers (mechanical + chemical thermodynamics + chemistry + math + econ). I’m sure Germans looked at the entire life cycle of fossil fuels in their decision: emissions intensity + feedstock availability + economics + politics. My initial comment was, why switch from coal to gas? At this point it’s not that great of an intensity reduction as far as combustion goes. Based on the pending phase out of coal, i.e. short life. Yes, gas has an intensity of half compared to some coal plants. Nuclear has a carbon intensity of almost zero so that would be a much more feasible switch emissions wise, not considering all other issues. Natural gas precombustion wise (life cycle) makes a fossil fuel to fossil fuel conversion even less feasible, especially for a short operating life, i.e. Germany’s plan.

            I’m still going to assume you’re a gas dude. Why be anonymous? This is a clean technology blog not a kink site. It’s safe here. I hope. Anyway, the US is trying to sell its shale gas as LNG to Germany and Europe. We have too much gas. This is going on big time with LNG plants being built from New York to Port Arthur, Texas. Germany is going with renewables, plus it’s already built and operating coal plants to be eventually phased out (the most feasible solution). US is trying to solve global warming by switching out coal with gas. That makes some sense. However, Germany’s doing a much better job than the US at solving global warming right now and that’s bad for the clean natural gas to fight global warming sales pitch.

          • 1) I’m not conflating anything. Mass balance is irrelevant for CCGT output. What do you think would happen if you replaced 50 moles of CH4 with 50 moles of N2/O2 (i.e.air)? Output will go down. Output is dependent on energy put in, and CO2 per unit energy is only slightly higher for 80/20 methane/ethane. You still haven’t admitted that your 4x claim is laughably wrong.

            2) I never suggested switching from coal to gas. I just addressed your claims. Coal is not close to NG in CO2 emissions per kWh.

            3) I’m not a gas dude. My only bias is personal, and towards nuclear (specifically, leveraging sunk costs of existing reactors and developing molten salt reactors for the future).

            4) You’re wrong about the US having too much natural gas. It’s a net importer, mostly from Canada:

            NG companies want to export it overseas because:
            A) Canada isn’t exporting overseas itself
            B) Such exports are potentially very profitable (3x the price in Asia)
            C) Doing so will decrease domestic supply and raise its price

            5) Germany’s carbon intensity of electricity in 2012 was 0.52kgCO2/kWh, 0.51kgCO2/kWh in 2013, and should see a bigger cut this year. These figures are only marginally lower than that of the US, and mainly because they’re so good at biogas production.

          • U mad bro. How the heck would you build a gas processing plant, refinery, fossil fuel power plant or any process related plant, without both the mass and energy balance? We’re talking emissions on a mass basis here. Mass of carbon dioxide per MWh.

            The key metric is concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere (mass). That drives all climate change related decision for power generation. So if a country (Germany) achieves appreciable reduction with mostly renewables and a little bit of coal, that’s better than say a country (US) who hasn’t reduced its emissions as much in the same time with a bunch of coal, a bunch of gas, a little bit less nuclear, less wind, and a lot less solar. Germany’s carbon emissions per capita is about half that of the US.


            Anyway, here’s where this thread devolved to:

            1) I made a general rather sweeping state about Germany’s decision to stick with coal for now, as not a bad decision. A good coal plant can do better than a 2 to 1 CO2 emissions, commonly assumed for coal to gas. In some cases pretty close between coal and gas.

            2) You said that was dumb.

            3) I defended my argument. I didn’t say coal is as low intensity wise, but given the lifecycle and short lifespan remaining, it’s not a bad idea for Germany to stick with coal.

            4) you said that was still dumb.

            5) I restated the initial premise.

            I’m sure you’ll have a 6).

          • “We’re talking emissions on a mass basis here. Mass of carbon dioxide per MWh.”

            YES, CO2 per MWh, not per 100 moles. Do you agree or disagree that 20% ethane only increases CCGT emissions by 4% over pure methane?

            1) You didn’t say 2:1, you said “It’s coal fired plants are pretty efficient. I’m going to guess, they are not that much more of a CO2 emitter than natural gas fired plants.”

            Over half of Germany’s coal is brown, and is nowhere near as efficient as you claim:

            Yet Germany’s environmental targets will eventually require it to rein in brown coal – which has a CO2 intensity of 1,153 grams per kWh versus 428 grams for natural gas, according to figures from the OekoInstitut, Germany’s institute of applied ecology.

            2) It was wrong, even by your own optimistic figures.

            3) Fine.

            4) No, I said it was irrelevant, because Kyle Field said nothing about gas. This discussion was about coal vs nuclear.

            5) Your initial premise is still wrong. Coal isn’t “close to” natural gas in CO2 emissions.

            6) Yes, there is a 6: You claimed “Ethane, when burned, emits four times the CO2 than methane.” It’s completely wrong.

          • I dont know much of the science behind it…but burning something solid (coal) vs ng just seems like it would emit more pollution. I’m no expert…but that would surprise me. I’m willing to be educated though.

          • You are correct, coal does emit more GHG and good old fashion priority pollutants. It’s a mess. Germany is phasing out fossil fuel so the issue is to not start up a new fossil fuel generating source. Let the current one die out.

            Emissions both GHG and priority pollutants should be tallied over a country’s total output from all generating sources. Germany is going fast with solar, wind etc – which emit around zero of both. So a country with 20 percent coal and modern pollution control will emit just as much GHG and PP as 40 percent gas. Keeping coal will force it to go renewables faster and not lose speed by building that silly gas bridge that we are.

          • Primary pollutants is an order of magnitude difference between NG and coal, even with modern pollution control. But what you say about carbon caps forcing more renewables when the rest is mostly coal instead of gas is an interesting take.

            The US isn’t really building a gas bridge. Coal use actually went up and NG went down since 2012. All it’s doing, going forward, is stopping new coal plants and building more efficient CCGT to replace aging plants. They’ll be needed alongside intermittent renewables anyway in order to cut out baseload coal.

          • A bit of generation moved from natural gas to coal due to the rising price of gas. Overall generation from coal and NG peaked in 2010 and has fallen since then.

            Coal and gas peaked with a 68.7% share of US electricity production and are down to 65%.

            Coal will be dropping going forward as about 25% of US coal plants are going to be closed rather than refitted to meet EPA regulations. A lot of NG capacity has been built over the coming years. As coal drops away we’re likely to see wind and solar taking up a lot of that slack with NG filling in. (Until storage prices drop further.)

          • Yeah, that’s what I see, at least over the long term. NG %age will remain roughly steady, even if its role changes. Much of NG is baseload now, but some of that load will be taken away by wind+solar, and more load will be filled by NG at other times.

            I certainly don’t see “building a silly gas bridge”.

          • Perhaps you don’t understand the bridging role gas will play?

            Gas is the bridge that gets from a “baseload” grid to one supplied by variable renewables. It fills, in the short term, the role that storage will later take over. We have affordable/cheap wind and solar now but we need something to fill in for them when they aren’t producing.

            NG plays the role of bridge to get us from inadequate to adequate storage. With NG capacity standing by we can go ahead and install lots of wind and solar without waiting for storage technology to mature.

          • Of course I understand that. Look at what I wrote in the first paragraph: When wind+solar is high, NG throttles down, and when it’s low, NG fills in.

            What Mike is referring to, AFAICS, is building NG as a straight substitute for coal. That’s what he calls a “silly gas bridge”.

      • I think the debate is too technocratic: human nature responds to needs. Keep the conventional power plants, whether coal, nuclear or gas, alive and there is no need to come up with a solution.
        Germany is artificially creating a shortage and human ingenuity, or call it ‘market forces’ will come up with solutions.
        Take away this market pressure and little or nothing will change.

        • There’s probably something to that. In general. But at this point renewables in Germany have grown to the point at which they are forcing coal off the grid rather than a lack of capacity forcing more renewable installation.

          Germany utilities have submitted requests to close 49 coal plants because they don’t need their contribution. And, IIRC, some of the new coal plant plans have been canceled.

          (Some of the coal plant closing is due to the construction of more efficient coal plants and some due to renewables.)

          I suspect closing of US coal plants by the EPA is going to spur a lot of renewable installation (and increases in efficiency).

  • “The speed at which the German government is moving on its energy transition is very impressive.”

    Adding two percentage points of renewable electricity on average per year is slower than almost all EU countries. Impressed by the speed? Im definitely not.
    Germany could and should move a lot faster than that.

  • The idea that Germany might buy more gas from Russia seems to be an inference by analysts, not a proposal by the government. Frankly, it’s politically incredible, as it would undermine the European response to Putin’s aggression. It’s far more likely that gas imports will be capped, even if this constrains the pace of the coal rundown.

    Germany uses very little gas for electricity, and several gas plants have been mothballed on cost grounds. They could be revived as gap-filling backup for renewables, with a quite small impact on overall consumption. Gas is used heavily for residential and commercial heating. This can be reduced by a switch to heat pumps, and insulation upgrades to older buildings. Looking ahead, Germany is investing in pilot power-to-gas plants, generating hydrogen and methane from surplus wind and solar power. Five or ten years ahead, they may be long periods in summer when renewable output exceeds total demand and the excess will be effectively free.

  • I think this article should have been titled “Coal is dumping Germany:

    “At present, some 28 power plants with a collective capacity of 7,000 megawatts – roughly equivalent to the capacity shutdown in Chancellor Merkel’s sudden nuclear phaseout in March 2011 – have been submitted for decommissioning.”

    Germany’s coal plants have been exporting power for years. it was the only way they could make money with all the renewable energy coming on line. There is a limit on how much power can be exported and that limit was hit about the same time of the Fukushima accident. The sudden phase out of nuclear eased the financial strain on the coal industry. But only for a short time. After 3 years enough renewables were added to completely make of for the lost nuclear.

    Now that coal is again loosing money they have no choice . They have to shut down or get money from the government to exist as a backup plant that will not generate power most of the time.

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