By James Ayre
August 5, 2017 - Despite more than €20 billion being spent on the country’s green energy sector every year, coal still accounts for around 40% of Germany’s energy mix — that represents an only ~10% drop since 2000, despite all of the money and PR since then.
With this reality in mind, the question has to be asked: Will Germany ever transition away from coal completely? Is there any political will there for such an event to take place?
Going by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s current reelection campaign, where she’s seeking to nab a fourth term as chancellor, I would venture a guess of no. The subject of a possible eventual phaseout of coal has seemingly been taboo during her campaign — in other words, despite Merkel having been in office for as long as she has, she still won’t talk about the subject when it threatens her political support.
(Note: Despite how many critics frame it, the reason coal hasn’t dropped a lot while renewables have grown in Germany is largely because the country decided to prioritize retiring nuclear power plants, and also because gas has a harder time competing in Europe — different from the situation in the US. That said, after a massive growth in renewables and a lot of nuclear phaseouts, Germany slammed the brakes on renewable energy growth … which has been keeping coal alive longer than could have been the case.)
So, where does all of this leave things? It leaves the world in a situation where Germany’s emissions reductions goals and its actual actions don’t align.
Reuters provides more: “To avoid disruption in the power and manufacturing sectors, coal imports and mines must keep running, say industry lobbies, despite the switch to fossil-free energy. … He also stressed it was crucial for steel manufacturing in Germany, the seventh biggest producer in the world, that use a quarter of the country’s coal imports. …
“Apart from the environmentalist Greens, who want coal generation to end by 2030, none of the main political parties have set phase-out target dates. Huge vested interests are stifling debate, whether it is potential job losses that alarm powerful unions or the effect on industrial companies relying on a stable power supply.
“Industry figures show renewables accounted for 29% of power output in both 2015 and 2016, up from 7% in 2000. But plants burning imported hard coal still make up 17% and brown coal from domestic mines 23% of power output. … Cieslik said he expected hard coal alone to retain a share of 15% by 2030.”
Interestingly, some of Merkel’s critics in the country have pointed out the hypocrisy in her statements concerning US President Donald Trump. She has criticized Trump for promising to revive the coal industry and back away from the Paris Climate Change agreement. Meanwhile, her unstated but clearly present support of the coal industry is delaying climate action in Germany.
The former Greens lawmaker Hans-Josef Fell commented: “Merkel … has no right to criticize the disastrous climate production policy of US President Trump … figures in this country speak for themselves.” He was referring to Overseas Development Institute (ODI) figures that show the vast amount of public money in Germany that goes to the coal industry.