Germany coal

The coal Germany uses is approximately equal amounts of anthracite (hard coal) and lignite (brown coal), which is the dirtiest of the fossil fuels. Coal emits a large proportion of the most damaging gases, SOx and NOx, as well as much higher levels of CO2 compared to oil and gas.

Hard coal mining has ceased in Germany, and imports are being reduced, while brown coal mining and power generation continues with a net increase.

In 2017, Germany generated 242.2 TWh of electricity from coal, or 37% of its total electricity generation. There are moves to eliminate coal by the 2030s, which would help Germany meet its stringent climate obligations, as well as reduce its considerable air pollution problems. The debate is not so much whether, but how quickly, coal can be replaced by alternatives. There is debate about how much of the replacement should be renewables, and to what degree an interim solution can be implemented with natural gas and other fossil fuel options and efficiency measures, such as CHP, combined heat and power.

Germany’s coal commission (Commission on Growth, Structural Change and Employment) has been formed to formulate a plan to exit coal by 2030, in order to bring the country back on track to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement obligations, supported by scientific findings in the recent IPCC Report on climate change. In order to keep global warming within the range of 1.5-2.0°C above pre-industrial levels, which still entails considerable risks, it will be necessary for fossil fuels to be all but eliminated from the energy mix in all sectors by mid-century. 2030 is an intermediate target year for ensuring countries committed to the plan are able to make the changes necessary to fuel type, efficiency, and emission caps. The plans proposed all foresee no significant problems regarding energy security and supply during a structured coal phaseout. A coal phaseout will also generate net jobs.

Energy consumption in Europe has fallen in 2018 around 5% compared to 2017. This was due to a combined effect of warmer temperatures on average, greater energy efficiency, and rising energy prices. There were also structural changes which reduced consumption. The carbon emissions trading price for a tonne of CO2 has risen to over 20 Euro, which is having the desired effect of restricting the use of dirty fuels.

Other countries are also making bold steps to meet the Paris obligations. For example, France has decided to ban all petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040, and to stop coal-powered stations after 2022, while making €4 billion available to improve energy efficiency. Norway has boosted electric vehicle use by tax-saving incentives, and intends to ban the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2025.

Even without new coal plants, in order to meet CO2 emission and other air pollutant standards, Germany will need to foreclose existing plants. The avoided impacts from a 1.5°C compatible 2030 phase out pathways for coal include more than 20 000 premature deaths, 9 400 hospital admissions, and 420 000 asthma attacks in children as well as around 6.7 million lost working days.

Aurora Energy Research (thinktank) reports that Germany can achieve its climate targets by closing 9GW of its oldest lignite plants, which would produce a 40% decrease in carbon emissions from the power sector. This would be 267 Mt CO2.

Germany mines 172 Mt of lignite in 2016, and imported only 45,000 tonnes. lignite accounted for 11.2% of Germany’s primary energy use in 2017, which was used for 22.6% of gross electricity supply, as well as for district heating.

Hard-coal mining ended in 2018, mainly because it is uncompetitive on the international market, because of unfavourable geopolitiical conditions. Anthracite is still imported and is used 65% in energy sector, and 32% in steel production. Of the 55.2 MT imported in 2016, Russia supplied 32.2%, Columbia 19.4%, US 16.5%. Hard coal was 11% of Germany’s primary energy consumption in 2017, producing 14.4% of electricity. A government-appointed commission consisting of policymakers, industry representatives, environmental organisations, labour unions and federal states and regions dependent on the coal sector (“special commission on growth, structural economic change and employment”) will likely set an end date for coal-fired power generation in Germany by early 2019, which would remove the need for the majority of hard coal imports.