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Germany delays coal phase-out

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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met on Friday September 2 with the presidents of the eastern regions, major users of coal. This meeting takes place in the context of a major energy crisis, attributable to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Germany, heavily dependent on Russian gas, has seen its deliveries drop drastically since the start of the war in February. Worried about the risk of shortages, the country has set itself the goal of filling its gas stocks to 95% by November 1.

27 power plants authorized to resume their activity

With this in mind, the government has put in place a series of restrictions intended to respect a certain “energy sobriety”. But it is also betting on increased use of coal-fired power plants. The coalition of Social Democratic Chancellor Olaf Scholz has thus authorized 27 German coal-fired power stations to resume production until March 2024.

Between 5,000 and 6,000 unrenovated homes are still heated with coal in Berlin and a large number of residents risk taking out their stoves, even if it means paying 30% more than before, according to La Tribune. Despite this increase, coal remains much less expensive than wood. The explosion in the price of gas contributes to this turnaround in energy consumption.

However, several obstacles stand in the way of exploiting the fossil fuel that emits the most greenhouse gases. One of the most modern thermal power stations in the country, Moorburg (in the north of the country) was closed almost a year ago, in exchange for public subsidies intended to reduce the use of coal.

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If all eyes turned to it the day after the announcements on the return of coal in June, its Swedish owner, the company Vattenfall, for its part announced that it is not “it is not possible for the plant to reopen”. Like it, other power plants have already been partially dismantled, in particular to convert to hydrogen production.

Lack of manpower and supplies

So far, only one power plant reopened at full capacity in early August, namely that of Mehrum, in the north of the country, in early August. One of the main problems is the lack of manpower. At the beginning of July, the Jänschwalde plant (in the east) said it was seeking to recruit one hundred employees.

Another obstacle concerns the transport of coal. The low water level in the country’s rivers, subject to severe drought, considerably slows down the river transport of goods, and in particular of raw materials. The road and rail transport networks are overloaded.

As a result, the largest of the 27 authorized coal-fired power stations, Heyden 4 (in the West), will not be able to restart at full speed. If smoke has been escaping from it again since August 29, its operation will be “limited due to insufficient capacity to transport coal by rail to the site”said the energy company Uniper, owner of this unit.

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Same difficulty for the energy supplier Steag. He wants to reopen two plants in November but warns that it will be difficult to comply with the rule imposing to have coal reserves for 30 days of operation at full load “given the tense logistical situation of rail transport”. In response to these logistical concerns, Germany adopted an unprecedented decree, giving priority to rail convoys delivering coal over passenger trains.

40% rebound in production since January

Green Economy Minister Robert Habeck assured that the government felt ” bitter “ following these various decisions. Olaf Scholz’s government had indeed promised to phase out coal by 2030, but the Ukraine crisis has prioritized the need to break free as quickly as possible from the grip of Russian energy imports »also said the minister.

This reaction marks an important step back on the road to energy transition. Electricity production made from coal has jumped 40% since January, the German Chancellor said. An 18% increase had already been observed in 2021, to compensate for the exit from nuclear power. The share of coal in German electricity was then estimated at 27.4%, compared to an average of 13% in the rest of the European Union.

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