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“Green” Germany Needs Brown Coal for Another Two Decades

For all of its talk of enacting a clean energy revolution (what it calls its energiewende) and its positioning of itself as a global green leader, Germany is still awfully reliant on coal—and not just any coal, but lignite, a particularly dirty brown variety of the already sooty energy source. Germany mines vast quantities of lignite, but it isn’t still in the coal game purely for the jobs the industry provides many of its citizens. Rather, Berlin needs coal to keep the lights on when renewables can’t cut it, and according to Germany’s economy minister Sigmar Gabriel, the vaunted eco-leader is going to continue to rely on that filthy fossil fuel until 2040, at the earliest. Reuters reports:

“[German coal power] will on no account be switched off in the next decade – in my opinion not even in the one after that,” Gabriel told an energy conference in Berlin. […]

Germany in June distanced itself from initial proposals to set out a timetable to exit coal-fired power production “well before 2050” as part of a national climate action plan. Now it plans to set up a committee for climate protection and structural change that will deal with how to exit brown coal production while ensuring jobs for the affected regions.

There’s an unmistakable irony to the fact that the country heralded by greens the world over as a shining example of what can happen when policymakers embrace renewables is, in fact, more reliant on coal than it was before the start of this energiewende. This has come about, of course, thanks to Berlin’s decision to phase out its fleet of nuclear reactors. This nuclear abandonment was expedited following the 2011 Fukushima Daichi disaster, despite the fact that Germany faces none of the natural risks that Japan is exposed to (volcanism, major earthquakes, tsunamis, etc.). But green fear mongering won out, and as a result Germany snubbed its one reliable source of zero-carbon baseload power.

And, owing to their intermittent natures, solar and wind energy haven’t been able to make up the difference. Instead, Berlin has had to deepen its dependence on lignite. Going forward, coal is going to continue to play an integral role in Germany’s power mix, a fact so apparent that Czech investors have been beefing up their holdings in the German lignite industry. So much for an eco-friendly energy revolution…

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