Germany produced more energy by coal last year than it has in nearly a quarter century. King Coal’s return comes courtesy of the energiewende—the policy put in place following the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The plan was to phase out the country’s numerous nuclear reactors and jumpstart its fledgling renewable energy industry, but coal has been forced to fill the gap. The FT reports:
Germany, which is the world’s largest brown coal miner, last year used the fuel–also known as lignite–to generate 162bn kilowatt-hours of electricity, according to EnergieBilanz, an electricity industry association. That is up from 161bn kWh in 2012 and the highest total since the 171bn kWh recorded in 1990, when east Germany’s ex-Communist plants were still in full flow.
As far as sources of energy go, coal is about as brown as it gets—especially the variety of coal being mined and burned in Germany. It’s no surprise, then, that Berlin’s increasing reliance on it is having an effect on its overall emissions:
Germany’s carbon dioxide emissions, which rose from 917m tonnes in 2011 to 931m tonnes in 2012, are estimated to show an increase of 20m tonnes when figures are tallied for last year.
Let’s reflect on what Germany’s energiewende has wrought: Electricity prices are significantly higher, thanks to the costs of the feed-in tariffs Berlin enacted to help spur solar and wind energy production. Those costs are so high that Germany’s Minister of Economics is now publicly warning that the country’s energy-intensive industry might jump ship for cheaper prices (say, in shale gas-rich America) if prices climb much higher. Yet for all that expense and all of that effort, German emissions continue to climb.
By either metric—green or economic—this energiewende has been a flop. That’s not surprising, given the costs of propping up renewables that can’t compete on price with fossil fuels, as well as the difficulty of replacing nuclear, which was effectively a zero-carbon energy source. Germany’s experience is a warning to other policymakers of the dangers of placing green dreams ahead of common sense.