Montel Magazine 1 - 2020 - Page 15

German coal’s long sunset Germany has revealed its plan to phase out coal by 2038 but disappointment with the result suggests the struggle over when to close power plants may have only just begun. By Nathan Witkop » [email protected] The deal – when it finally came late on the third Wednesday of January – met with swift derision. Federal and state leaders announced their agreement the ensuing morning, almost a full year after a commission presented its hard-fought recommendations on how to wind down a fuel that has powered German industry for well over a century. The broad outline of the phaseout has been known for some time. Germany will end coal use by 2038 at the latest. It will shut down hard coal-fired power plants through auctions that find the cheapest units to close first. The owners of lignite plants, linked to sprawling open cast mines, will be paid out directly. What observers had been waiting to discover were the details: the schedule for lignite closures, the level of compensation and how Berlin would match its policy with Europe’s emissions trading scheme. Ignoring the impact on the EU’s main climate instrument could have substantially eroded the environmental benefits of Berlin’s policy. Germany has roughly 20 GW of hard coal and 18 GW of lignite-fired power plants, which together can meet almost half the country’s peak potential power demand. Lignite is the more carbon intensive of the fuels and so the timetable for closing these units is of great significance to climate goals. The so-called coal commission, which had brought together experts and affected parties in 2018 to hammer out a compromise proposal, had recommended a linear path of closures with at most 9 GW of lignite still online in 2030. The government was supposed to turn these recommendations into law, but always reserved the privilege to adapt them. Berlin will instead concentrate the bulk of closures toward the back end of three periods, though if all goes well, it could pull the exit date forward to 2035. According to the plan it will close almost 3 GW of lignite by 2022, another 6 GW by 2029 and the final 9 GW over the subsequent decade – leaving as much as 6 GW still online in the last year of shutdowns. “This obviously violates the spirit of the recommendations agreed upon by the commission,” says Christoph Maurer, head of Consentec, a Berlin-based consultancy that frequently advises government on ➤ Montel Magazine 1–2020 15