Germany looks to fast-track exit from coal, as well as nuclear

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Germany is looking to achieve exactly what Australia says is not possible – and wean one of the world’s largest manufacturing economies off coal – as well as shutting down nuclear.

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.

The discussion paper has been prompted by the need to deal with massive over-capacity in its energy system, and as Germany commits to phasing out the remainder of its nuclear generators by 2022 and sourcing nearly half of its electricity supply from renewables – hydro, biomass, wind and solar – within a decade.

The government discussion paper said too many fossil-fired power plants are in the system and overcapacities “have to be cut” to help meet climate targets.

The response is in stark contrast to the situation in Australia, where the conservative government of Tony Abbott is using the argument of “overcapacity” to shut down the pipeline of new renewable energy projetcs, rather than forcing coal to exit the market.

Abbott has insisted that coal is not just “good for humanity”, but will remain the dominant energy source in major economies for decades. It is counting on “clean coal” technologies to reduce emissions.

In Germany, they are taking a different view. The major utilities such as RWE and E.ON have committed to no new coal plants and are focusing on distributed renewable generation and storage. Sweden’s Vattenfall, one of the biggest players in the German market, and the second biggest in Europe, this week said it was looking to dump its brown coal generators and focus on renewable energy instead.

Germany is considered to be at the forefront of the so-called energy transitions that are likely to take place around the world – although it should be noted that South Australia already supplies 40 per cent of its energy needs through wind and solar. Merkel was also a key player in pushing Europe to adopt an emissions reduction target of at least 40 per cent by 2030.

Denmark is also committed to phasing out coal, and its climate change minister this week suggested it fast-track its exit from coal from 2030 to 2025.

Germany currently gets about 45 per cent of its electricity from coal and 11 per cent from natural gas. Another 15 per cent comes from nuclear reactors that Merkel has pledged to close by 2022, and about 24 per cent comes from renewables such as solar and wind, accoding to Bloomberg. (Although separate analysis, which we report here, suggests the share of renewables may be higher, reaching 31 per cent by 2015).

Bloomberg reports that German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks told parliament last month that the the government will stop financing new coal plants and “critically review” utility plans to build them.

She said an immediate exit would be “irresponsible,” but said that coal should be restrained “step by step.”

Merkel’s conservative party is in a Coalition with the major left-of-centre party, the SPD, whose traditional base lies in the coal-rich states in the north of the country.

But even this party is prepared to move on. “The German energy market in its current form is not providing enough incentives to reduce carbon emissions so that we can reach our climate targets,” Nina Scheer, a lawmaker for the Social Democrats, told Bloomberg in an interview. “We need a new energy mix with less lignite and hard coal.”

According to Bloomberg, the government has not yet decided how it will limit coal. It could place strict curbs on carbon emissions, as the US is doing, or ban the dirtiest of them from bidding for support under a payment system to support generating capacity.

Or they could mandate a “coal exit” like the one in place for nuclear. Again, this is in contrast to Australia, which has been reluctant to force coal generation out of the system, despite studies showing that more than one third of coal fired generation is surplus to requirements because of falling demand and the impact of more energy efficient appliances and the huge growth in rooftop solar. Fossil fuel generators in Australia now argue that they should be “paid” to close down coal plants, to help with the cost of “remediation”.

The German government is aware that it is not possible to suddenly scrap both coal and nuclear at the same time. “It’s clear, however, that also conventional power plants will have to adopt to the requirements of the Energiewende,” an economics ministry official told Bloomberg.

But there are alternatives that are emerging. Apart from the sheer volume of renewable capacity that will be added to the grid in coming decades, and making it more difficult for conventional generators to operate in the market (they don’t like being switched off), new technologies suggest they may not be needed in the future for their other critical function, providing voltage and frequency control for the network.

Younicos, a Berlin-based battery storage maker, has just deployed the first 10MW storage system that it says can remove one of the last big barriers to 100 per cent renewable energy, or at least remove the need for vast amounts of “baseload” fossil fuels.

It says its 10MW-sized battery parks can stabilise the grid faster, cheaper and with greater precision than conventional generation. And, for a total cost of just €3 billion, could make conventional generation in Germany’s 80GW grid largely redundant– at least for frequency and stability purposes  

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  • Marg1

    What a crying shame it is that we have such a Confederacy of dunces in government at the moment. It makes me cringe when I see Abbott and Greg Hunt sprouting their propaganda for their masters – the fossil fuel industry and Rupert Murdoch. We will be left behind by the rest of the world, they are ruining our country. Such sad times for Australia at the moment. Is their anyway we can get rid of these slimy grubs before 2016?

    • Geremida

      agree totally Marg1. As long as Shorten starts hammering this like the Greens. he should be screaming now!

      • Chris Marshalk

        Shorten is too gutless & self reserved. He should be ripping another a-hole into Abbott but he is no where to be seen. Weak.

        Sick of the 2 Party – Labor & Lieberal Governments. VOTE GREENS !!!!

        • Ronald Brakels

          Note that you’ll have to put Labor second in preferences to vote the Coalition out. You can put whoever you like first, but if you want to get rid of the Coalition you have to put Labor second, no matter what you may personally think of them. It’s just the way the preference system works.

          • wideEyedPupil

            for now. alp fast losing relevancy as it passes so much national security legislation and is soft as anything on renewables and hard, fast climate action.

          • gimmeanE

            Maybe so….but the Senate is where you get most bang for your buck….without trusting dubious ‘parties’ also. I think Oz is crying out for high profile Independents with long established cred and the ability to thoroughly INFORM the electorate as to the future of energy and accompanying parasitic losses – physical, financial and human !

  • Hugh Sharman

    Ha ha ha! Hilariously wrong!

    Germany is still bringing new coal capacity on line and burning more coal (brown and black) than ever, with CO2 emissions rising! I am NOT saying that is a “good thing”. It just happens to be a fact! As more nuclear comes off line, more coal (rather than gas) will be burned!

    • Jan Veselý
      Minus 17.5 TWh of coal electricity in first 9 months of this year.

    • Ken Dyer

      No Hugh, the article is right. Germany is bringing new coal fired plants on line, I emphasis new, to replace nuclear which is being phased out. Unlike Australia, The difference is that Germany’s government, which like Abbott’s government has has a power base in coal mines, has made a committment to move to renewables evidenced by their aggressive targets.
      What we see in Australia is a mealy mouthed attack on renewables by the government, a taxpayer funded handout to polluters, continual winding back of incentives for renewables, and the continual government support of obsolescent brown coal power plants that have long passed their working life.
      There is no doubt that coal as an energy source will be with us for many years to come, but this generation owes it to future generations to limit its use by planning for the rapid take up of renewable energy.

    • wideEyedPupil

      New coal plants in Germany are replacing old coal plants in Germany. The new plants can ramp up and down faster (more responsive to demand) and are less polluting (CC and population mortality from airborne pollution) and are more efficient (less coal mined, transported and burnt for the same quantity of energy).

      want references?

      • Guest

        you want some references?

      • Tom

        twenty five of them to be exact.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Several years ago Germany decided to replace inefficient coal plants with more efficient “supercritical” plants as a way to decrease coal use and reduce emissions. The initial plan was that by 2020, 11.3 gigawatts would be built allowing 18.5 gigawatts of coal power capacity to be decommissioned.

      Due to the success of renewables it appears that the 11.3 gigawatt number will be lowered by at least 3 GW.

      Furthermore the newer 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 which further cuts total emissions.

      As of November 2013 some 49 power plants with a collective capacity of 7.9 GW have been submitted for decommissioning. Another 246 MW of capacity has already been closed. Utilities in Germany need clearance from the government before closing and that process can take several months.

  • Hugh Sharman

    On batteries, the facts on the ground in CAISO (California) seem to belie the exaggerated claims of the battery industry, I am sorry to say. See today’s analysis at

    Facts are not pretty some times!

  • Rob G

    And to think, here in Australia we have renewable resources that are the envy of much of Europe. Imagine what German renewable ambition would look like if they governed Australia, we’d be 100% renewable already. And from a manufacturing point of view, we’d be world leaders with large renewable markets in much of Asia.

  • Paul Andrew

    it continues to bother me that even with these policies and large shift to renewables in Germany, they still chose to phase out nuclear before coal. and are also replacing their old coal with newer more efficient coal plants. although this is a step in the right direction I keep feeling frustrated that they aren’t keeping nuclear for now and phasing out the coal first to really reduce emissions and then maybe phase out nuclear later once the renewables and storage etc can take the load

    • Ronald Brakels

      Keeping the nuclear power plants running would be beneficial for reducing carbon emissions, but due to the potentially massive costs of a major nuclear disaster in Germany and their current low carbon price, shutting down the nuclear reactors is sensible from an accounting point of view. From a moral point of view it’s a different issue as carbon emissions tend to kill people in poor countries far from Europe while major nuclear disasters tend affect the countries they occur in and tend to be massively expensive but not very deadly.

      • Paul Andrew

        Hrrmmm it’s a hard choice I guess and pros and cons for each. Do you know if they’ve had potential problems with their nuclear plants or they decided against them because of other meltdowns like Fukushima?
        I agree that there’s issues with the waste storage and hopefully science will be able to come up with some innovative ways to deal with it. These new fusion reactors (if they become available) sound very interesting too

        • Ronald Brakels

          Has Germany had problems? Oh heck yeah. They’ve had radiation releases and a near meltdown. The cost of these accidents apparently totalled over $700 billion US. Basically every country with nuclear has had expensive accidents, they just vary in severity. And the cost of these accidents are generally, sorry, always left out when nuclear fanboys (and they always do seem to be male) start lying about costs.

          • Paul Andrew

            Thanks Ronald, I didn’t know about their nuclear problems. Makes more sense then to move away from them

          • wideEyedPupil

            can anyone tell me why I’ve never met a nuclear fangirl?

          • lin

            perhaps the tragedy of giving birth and caring for a seriously deformed baby is a little closer to home for females?

          • wideEyedPupil

            Gorbachev said the Chernobyl disaster was the final blow that ended the Cold War. Already stretched from the prolonged war in Afghanistan (sound familiar?) the costs of clean up etc was well into the ?hundreds billions of dollars and pushed them over he edge there was no hope of playing and arms race in space even though most of the counter measures of Reagan’s Star Wars fictional weaponry was a minute fraction of the cost of weapon deployment.

    • Jan Veselý

      It is simple, Germans hate nuclear energy. For them it is too dangerous, it produes unsolved (really dangerous) waste problem and it is used as a cover for nuclear weapon programs.
      This hatred is now strenghtened by those long number checks for plant decomissioning.

  • CaptD

    We are seeing the death throws of two dying Energy industries (Coal & Nuclear) as they try and buy political clout to stop the shift to clean Solar by their ratepayers.

  • Blind Freddy of Cairns

    This is only a paper not a policy. It is a proposal for the future, as at the moment renewables cannot completely replace base load power from coal or nuclear or hydro. You should also read more about what Abbott and Hunt are actually saying rather than the hysterical rhetoric of the greens, as they have not said that coal is the only solution and stays forever. Germany and Denmark are rich EU countries that have a high density population in a small area. Germany has 80million people and is 5% the size of Australia. They can therefore look at distributed power economically, whereas in Australia we have the tyranny of distance. Are you willing to pay 4 or 5 times the cost of power to go completely renewables and also have unreliable power at night? If you can afford it, you might as well wait for mass produced battery storage and go off grid. Could be realistic in 5 to 10 years.

    • HI Blind Freddy. Indeed. If you look at the market more closely, you will understand that the cost of distribution is significantly higher in australia than in germany, therefore distributed power makes even more sense here than in Europe. This comes from the network operators themselves, type in Ergon and SA Power Networks and you will understand their argument.

      • Blind Freddy of Cairns

        Yes that is correct the DLF is much higher, however Australia has such a vast expanse, just how many distributed generation sites would we need? Thousands, whereas in Germany it is a small compact country. We already have the transmission and distribution networks and it is currently vastly more economic to have cheap base load power on a wholesale basis.

        • Bob_Wallace

          ” just how many distributed generation sites would we need? ”

          One per house would do quite nicely.

          • Blind Freddy of Cairns

            Sorry inefficient and current technology means you still need base load power. That is a pipe dream at present. Maybe 10 years away, but only if you can afford the price tag. Maybe a maximum 1/3rd of households can afford this, the rest of the population will be stuck with the grid. There will be power snobs and the rest of the unfortunates will be paying an ever increasing amount in tariffs to get grid delivered power!

          • Bob_Wallace

            Sorry Freddy. You’ve fallen behind. Technology has moved on while you weren’t watching.

            BTW baseload the grid.

          • Blind Freddy of Cairns

            Prove it!

          • Bob_Wallace

            By next June the island of El Hierro will have a 100% renewable energy grid. A combination of wind and pump-up hydro storage will provide the island’s electricity.


            While that is a small area it demonstrates feasibility. Larger places just need more of the same.

            We have the technology to get all our electricity from renewable sources. We have workable storage such as PuHS but don’t need large scale storage in most places at this time. As we build out to where storage will be needed we are developing other better and cheaper storage technologies.

          • Blind Freddy of Cairns

            Yep that is right, technology is still developing. Where the hell is El Hierro?! Technology is not there yet for normal places, not saying that it wont eventually be. As for Ronald, happy to let AEMO know that South Australia can disconnect! Oh, sorry was that just one day of demand being met so far! Must have been a particular windy day! Last financial year, SA imported 2,000 GWh and exported around 300GWh. It generated the majority of actual power in 13/14 by gas or coal!

          • Ronald Brakels

            Blind Freddy, have you forgotten that you are supposed to be arguing that baseload generating capacity is necessary to meet demand? Why don’t you conceed that it isn’t before moving on to complaining that renewables aren’t providing enough electricity for your liking.

          • Blind Freddy of Cairns

            That doesn’t even make sense. Face the facts, SA needs base load from its own coal and gas or imported from Vic. Germany will be in the same position for decades to come, which echo’s Tony Abbotts comments.

          • Ronald Brakels

            Blind Freddy, South Australia has met demand for more than a season at a time without any operating base load capacity and without electricity imports providing power in a manner similar to a baseload generator. Can we agree that is the case before we moving on to discuss the future?

          • Blind Freddy of Cairns

            According to the AEMO 2014 South Australian Electricity Report that is simply not true. Page 30 of the report indicates that of the typical demand of up to 1,200,000 MWh, there was always a sizeable component of gas, brown coal or Vic import . Check it out for yourself: Why also is SA building more gas generation capacity!? Case closed. QED.

          • Ronald Brakels

            Okay, I can see that I am going to have to make this very simple for you, Blind Freddy. What I am stating is South Australia has gone for considerable periods of time, and met demand during those times, without any generating capacity operating in a baseload manner. That is supplying electricity more or less continuously. Do you disagree with that?

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’ll agree that technology is not there yet for “normal” places. Actually, it’s prices that aren’t quite there yet.

            Places like El Hierro (google it), the Tokelau islands (powered by 100% solar), and Hawaii will be the first to go 100% renewable because they have been paying very dearly to power their grids with petroleum.

            As renewable prices continue to fall and cheap storage comes on line other countries will speed up their movement away from fossil fuels.

          • Ronald Brakels

            Prove that baseload generating capacity is not required to meet electricity demand? South Australia has already done that. Note that imports of electricity into SA from Victoria are not constant. South Australia also exports electricity to Victoria. And so imports do not act as a baseload generator would.

        • No, it’s not. that is the point that the networks are making. It costs them an average of $900/customer in subsidies to ensure that regional users pay same price as city folk. It is the networks themselves who argue that i would be cheaper to have households or communities look after their own needs rather than upgrade, maintain or build new network.

    • Ronald Brakels

      Bllind Freddy, the entire state of South Australia has managed to go without any baseload generating capacity in operation for entire seasons at a time clearly showing that baseload power from coal or nuclear or hydro is not required. This happened right here in Australia, but you seem completely unaware of it. It’s almost as if you have some sort of impediment to perceiving things.

      • Blind Freddy of Cairns

        That is because SA is connected to the National Grid. Take that away and the coal fired generation in the other states and you sit in darkness all night!

        • Ronald Brakels

          That is not correct, Blind Freddie. If you look at the periods in which South Australia did without any operating baseload generating capacity you’ll see we had enough non-coal (and non-nuclear and non-hydro) generating capacity generating to meet demand if required without imports from Victoria. After all we currently have enough capacity to (more or less) meet summer peak demand without imports if necessary. As for South Australia sitting in darkness all night without electricity imports, that is simply silly. Most of South Australia’s electricty exports occur at night. It looks like South Australia may export electricity to Victoria tonight, though I will mention we do have a coal plant operating at the moment.

  • Roland

    Renewables are a waste of time and money. We don’t need to follow Germany into a very dough-full future.

    The point really is, is CO2 causing global warming?

    If you ask the waste majority of scientist that have sceptically
    examined reliable scientific data and research conducted as independent
    scientists with no government connections, it’s clear the science is settled,
    but the scientific conclusion is that man-made (anthropogenic) global warming
    does not exist to any measurable degree! It shows that carbon dioxide portion
    of total Earth atmosphere is both trivial and benign, and that what little
    there is of it is absolutely essential for human existence.
    Germany is not just wasting the prosperous future of Germany it is also spreading poverty to countries that are already not so well off.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Right, Roland, you know better than the many thousands of climate scientists who have spent their careers studying climate change. Thank you for sharing your immense knowledge.

      Enlighten us further, please Roland. How far is it to the edge of the Earth where one tumbles off into the mouth of the Great Turtle?

      • Ronald Brakels

        Bob, are you coming to my cocaine and gold dust party next week to snort cocaine mixed with gold dust? I’m paying for it with the ebola money I got from the government to research that totally fictitious ebola disease we made up.

        • Bob_Wallace

          The FBI has already delivered the coke? Those guys have really sped up their order completion system something fierce.

          Just make sure it’s far enough away from the brain destroying windmills.

          I’ll be there wearing a brand new tinfoil hat. Party On!

    • Fredco

      Really Roland. What would those foolish scientists know? They should have just asked you in the first place. I mean why waste all that time and energy on actual scientific research when they could have found it all out on YouTube like you did. Silly scientists.

  • gimmeanE

    Oz …. not only with fabulous sun-energy resource, but thick in naturally occurring resources….no need to send it anywhere…do it here…just require patriotic leadership rather than flag wavers and carpetbaggers.

  • john

    Actually except for the x government companies sold the few remaining are to be privatised shortly and the value of them is falling every day so there is good reason for the Fed Government to resist RE.
    Once they are disposed of then I would not be in the least surprised, if it is sink or swim for the fossil part of the energy mix.