EU Coal Regions Could Supply 730 GW Of Solar Power While Providing Employment For Miners

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Most CleanTechnica readers are renewable energy advocates. Wind, solar, recovering energy from the water we boil to make our breakfast tea — anything and everything that makes zero emissions electricity without burning fossil fuels is welcome. But there is a dark side to the transition to renewables. Lots of people make their living working in the fossil fuel industry. If the renewable energy revolution is to be successful, those people must be able to transition to clean energy jobs.

solar power in European coal regions
Credit: European Commission Joint Research Center

The Joint Research Center of the European Commission published a report recently that claims converting the areas of the EU that support coal production and coal fired generating stations to solar panels could provide more electricity while providing employment for those who currently work in the coal sector.

Entitled Solar Photovoltaic Electricity Generation: A Lifeline for the European Coal Regions in Transition, the report claims Europe’s coal regions are capable of producing 730.3 GW electricity from solar, which could result in 874.3 TWh of production if managed properly, which means including the battery storage needed to make all that electricity dispatchable. By contrast, the 248 coal fired generating stations in the 21 EU member states had a total generating capacity of 692 TWh of electricity in 2016 — about a quarter of the EU’s total power production.

The researchers modeled the potential for solar power in 42 regions across 12 EU member states where coal is still mined. Within those areas, there are 405 open pit coal nines in operation today. Using digital terrain analysis, the team considered slope inclinations and azimuth faces to determine whether a mining surface was potentially suitable for PV system installation.

Those 405 mining areas have a total area of 910.6 km², enough to provide 62.2 GW of solar power with an estimated annual production output of 72.2 TWh. In addition, 3% of the surrounding land is suitable for ground mount solar — enough for another 580.1 GW of electricity or 704.8 TWh annually. Utilizing all the rooftops in the area for solar installations would add yet another 88 GW of electricity or 97 TWh annually.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs

At present, 240,000 people work in coal related jobs in the regions studied either mining coal or operating coal fired generating facilities. The researchers estimate transitioning to solar power in coal regions would create 135,000 construction jobs plus 124,000 positions for operation an maintenance of the PV systems. In other words, as many jobs would be created in the transition as would be lost in the coal sector.

“Solar has enormous potential in coal regions in the EU, that can bring new industry, jobs, and clean, affordable energy to those affected by the decline of coal, ensuring no one is left behind,” says Walburga Hemetsberger, CEO of SolarPower Europe. “Now, we look forward to continuing our work with the EU’s Platform on Coal Regions in Transition, where solar can play a major role in advancing a just energy transition for all.”

Renewable energy is a must if nations are to reach their carbon reduction goals. Jobs for those displaced by the retirement of fossil fuel assets are a must if renewables are to be viable politically. The Joint Research Center study is encouraging because it finds that renewables and jobs can go hand in hand.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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