BBC – Climate change and EU energy challenges – fails to mention “elephant in room” increase in German coal use

The BBC’s Gavin Hewitt says – “Thirdly, Angela Merkel’s U-turn. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011 the German chancellor took an usually swift decision: Germany moved away from nuclear power and bet its future on renewables.” Interesting that Bloomberg reports “Ten new hard-coal power stations, or 7,985 megawatts, are scheduled to start producing electricity in the next two years, according to information from German grid regulator Bundesnetzagentur and operators.”
This graphic from the IEA shows the mix of electricity generation in Germany as of 2011.

You can see nuclear has been in decline for a few years. The European Nuclear Society says that eight German nuclear plants were shut down in 2011 and in 2012 the nine remaining plants generated near 100TWh or about one sixth of German electricity.
For an up to date view on coal fired electricity generation in Germany – Speigel said two weeks ago – “That means that coal plants are making up for the bulk of the energy production lost due to the 2011 shutdown of eight nuclear plants,…”
Bloomberg say the numbers mean – “The 10 new units will boost German hard coal generation capacity by 33 percent to 32,432 megawatts from 24,447 megawatts as of Oct. 16, regulator data show.” So in the next few years the percentage of German electricity generated from coal could challenge all time highs of 1983.
Funny that Gavin Hewitt and the BBC found it easy not to mention the expansion of coal use – but went on for paragraphs about the small renewables sector.

15 thoughts on “BBC – Climate change and EU energy challenges – fails to mention “elephant in room” increase in German coal use”

  1. I think that the decision to rely on coal has already been made in Germany. Apart from the 3 new coal plants, 10 are underway and at least 12 being planned.

    This is a triumph of Green planning and they don’t seem to have realised this. Even in the Speigel article they complain that old coal fired plants aren’t being shut down. The reason is that they are needed to cover for the vagaries of wind, and are subsidised by the Government to stay open. The varying supply from wind and especially from solar has made gas fired OCGTs and pumped storage unprofitable, so these have been shut down.
    The new coal fired plants run at full (or close) capacity all the time, and don’t vary. This, and cheap coal from the USA (displaced by coal seam gas), makes them much cheaper than gas fired CCGTs, so they are shutting down, even moving the plants to other countries. This means the system lacks flexibility. The old plants run to cover for times when wind and solar aren’t available, and when they are available, the surplus electricity is exported to any country in Europe that will take it. To help that the price of electricity is dropped, even to a negative price. It doesn’t matter to wind and solar producers as they get a subsidy, but the loss puts up the cost of coal fired to the home market, and many consumers and industries are howling.

    Because Germany has more generating capacity (conventional and renewable) than any other European country, the swings of excess production from renewables cause problems to their grids. Poland (black coal) and the Czech Republic (nuclear) have found the strain on their grid so bad that there are installing phase change transformers at their frontiers to reject these power surges. This is causing further problems as the big new Baltic wind farms now cannot send their electricity (through Poland etc.) to southern parts where there is more demand.

    This will put even more pressure on the Danish, Dutch, and French grids and overload the pumped storage capacities in Sweden and Norway (and Austria). In a triumph of timing the Greens have persuaded Sweden to shut down their nuclear plants and replace them with wind turbines, so Swedish pumped storage will soon be unavailable to the rest of Europe.

    The price of the green folly has been electricity prices almost as high as Denmark’s (or South Australia) and large industries are making it plain that they want price cuts, not rises, or they will move elsewhere. BASF have foreshadowed the shutting down of Ludwigshafen!!! Which will mean more to those who been there or even passed it by train. It isn’t quite as big as Canberra but it generates more employment.

  2. Lank – while you are thinking of Scotland did you see this –
    How does it happen that the pinko BBC give Putin a free licence to fish in troubled waters ?
    Russian naval base at Scapa Flow next?
    Scottish independence: Vladimir Putin says referendum ‘a domestic issue’
    He also says when asked – “if he might invite Scotland to join Russia’s new customs union.” Mr Putin smiled and replied: “I wouldn’t rule that out”.
    Glad to see less than one third of Scots favour a split from UK. You might expect the margins to narrow before Sept.

  3. “So in the next few years the percentage of German electricity generated from coal could challenge all time highs of 1983.”

    They must be good way there already. According to this coal-fired generation went up 19 TWh in 2012 and according to this it increased nearly another 8 TWh in 2013.

    And that’s before the 33% increase in hard coal generating capacity scheduled for 2016. Several new plants will burn brown coal, a particularly high-emission

  4. I suspect any suggestions Putin has with Scotland moving closer to Russia will make the split less likely. If I was a ‘stay as is’ campaigner I’d be shouting Putin from the rooftops.
    I’d be interested to know what geothermal energy is produced in Germany – clearly not that much.
    There is a big push for geothermal generation in small island nations with the increasing costs of diesel imports on which many rely. (eg the Carribean… Seems to me to be a good option as many island nations have high heatflow.
    It’d be great if the UN etc put their weight/funds behind a strategy of geothermal power for the small and poor rather than spending trillions on alarmism.

  5. The other delicious irony is that the nuclear industry was to pay €1.6 billion a year into a fund to subsidise renewable energy production thru a fuel rod tax. With the shutting down of nuclear power generation this money will have to be found elsewhere, electricity consumers anyone!
    The havoc caused by Green policies was highlighted by this comment from one business executive: “Our traditional business model is collapsing under us”.

    Looks like the German economy may have feet of (green) clay.

  6. The outcome of the European Green policies is that the Germans prefer to go for Coal rather than go for Cold. Thanks to US low energy costs, the whole of Europe is out in the economic cold.

  7. While electricity is important, look at the Energy Production instead of the Electricity Generation by Fuel. It also lists by fuel and shows the real loss in Coal use in Germany. It drops from about 150 MTOE to about 50 MTOE. That is TWICE the total amount of electricity generated in Germany!! 600 Twh ~= 50 Mtoe.

    Select Country/Region and Graph on the lower right.

    Other interesting bits are they have increased imports by about 30 MTOE since 1985 from 167-199 MTOE while they have lost about 70 MTOE.

  8. kuhnkat:
    your link only goes to 2011. The discussion is about the 2 years including the switch away from nuclear.
    That coal was dropping off wasn’t news; there was a strong move to natural gas to cut emissions. Polish black coal is being brought in as it gives less emissions than lignite, although latest pretreatment of lignite and brown coal has reduced that gap.

    Also it has been claimed that 600,000 german users were disconnected for inability to pay their electricity bill in 2012. By a coincidence sales of solid fuel stoves were up 500,000 that year. Wood theft has become a real problem, with foresters advised to keep wood piles under lock and key. What other cheap fuel would burn in a solid fuel stove?

  9. Graeme, what the discussion didn’t show was that the amounts of coal increase SOUNDS large but didn’t really explain why it would take years to reach the previous highs as Warwick noted . It also did not show really how minor renewables are against total energy production. I was scratching my head as to the statements being made based on it. Finally, the electric chart above comes from the same data and also stops in 2011.

    The electricity chart simply does NOT begin to explain why prices were up so much that those 600,000 were disconnected in a Socialist state, the stoves sold, and the theft rate was so high. The subsidy cost is not great to the lower who are being disconnected while the increase in rates is killing them.

    So, does anyone really think they can build coal fast enough to catch up with this nasty weather we are having and the run to the exits by business?!?! As noted above the countries they are buying from have a number of their own problems that will increase their cost there also. Building coal is rational, but, did they wait to late and is shutting down the Nukes rational based on this huge hole in energy production?? Of course, this will be boom time for coal and with China importing ever more there will be stiff upward pressure on coal prices also. Will this finally push them to commit to large scale fracking like the US??

  10. kuhnkat: sorry, I mistook the end date, and confused this with more recent news.
    reports that coal use for electricity rose again in 2013, and has risen since 2009. Renewables rose slightly to 23.7% or just over half the share for coal.

    Renewables are treated as special, they can produce whenever they like and the system has to accept that amount (there is provision to cut them off, but they still get paid) hence the necessity to export electricity cheaply, even paying for it to be taken, as coal fired plants can’t respond rapidly to changes in demand. The price doesn’t worry the renewable generators as they get a subsidised rate regardless. The cost of those rates is passed on as a weekly surcharge, and the cost of the disruptive effect (losses etc) goes into the standard rate. Big industry (defined by usage so this includes big supermarkets) can apply for exemption from the renewables surcharge, but are still hit by the rising standard rate at a time that USA rates are stationary. So they are uncompetitive with the americans.

    Smaller companies and the general public cop the lot, hence the disconnections.

    Did they leave it too late? The decision to close the nuclear stations was made hurriedly and apparently without much thought beyond political ones. I have no doubt that the large german companies, esp. the chemical firms, have told Angela Merkel quite bluntly to get electricity costs down or they will move. After years of nothing but cheering about the energy policy, the newspapers in particular have suddenly started being critical, very critical. Obviously such change resulted from behind the scenes pressure.

    So far Merkel has done a very good imitation of a deer caught in the hunter’s spotlight, but is moving slowly. Unfortunately she “won” the election and has had to enter a coalition with those who still haven’t realised their folly – a bit like Cameron in the UK except he is also stupid.

  11. Interesting discussion. A couple more points:

    – IEA data include East Germany for the whole period. So the drop in coal-fired and total power around 1991-3 will be from there.
    – It is indeed remarkable how much prices go up with only 10% of so of wind and solar in the mix. You wouldn’t credit it, if you just looked at IEA and other data on “levelised costs” of a Mwh of wind or solar electricity. But this electricity is worth little because of its unreliability and the low price it fetches on the spot market when available. The “levelised costs” pay no heed to the massive extra costs of back-up power that can be switched on fast. Alan Moran makes related points Germany and a few other countries have been running a very expensive experiment finding out just how much wind and solar really cost – and they actually seem to be learning a lesson from it.

  12. David:
    Re IEA data; Quite right, but don’t forget that there have been big increases in efficiency with coal fired stations leading to lower emission, or if you like, less coal burnt for each unit of electricity output.

    if you take coal fired as $40 and wind at $140 per MWh then a 10% substitution leads to a 25% increase in cost, and a 20% sub. to a 50% increase in cost. ($140 per MWh was the last estimate by the UK Gov. for on-shore wind; the figure would be higher now as the $A has dropped as would coal, but the ratio would be the same).

    But that is only the start; basically for every MWh wind capacity you need another MWh of fast acting back-up. The classical installed method is hydro but increasing percentages of wind mean Open Cycle Gas Turbines are needed. These are costly to run (and to maintain) and produce quite high levels of CO2 etc.
    The cost and CO2 should be included as part of the effects of wind but never is. Equally some enthusiasts look at a period of low prices for unwanted wind electricity and claim this proves wind is cheap, when it is no such thing. If we were to take their word and remove subsidies wind (and solar) would die.

    The timing of renewables coming on line in Germany is distorting the market. Wind generates more at night when it isn’t needed, dropping the price and loading losses onto the conventional side. Solar PV comes into play in the middle of the day (some days) pricing the conventional short term back-up methods out of the market. Hence the move to inflexible but cheaper coal and attempts to dump the excess production elsewhere in Europe. again the losses with that are paid for by higher base prices to consumers.

    Germany has a major problem with its electricity supply, but at least they aren’t as badly off as the UK. I have predicted (twice) that if they don’t do something extremely quickly, then Cameron won’t be leading the Conservatives at the election in 2015. Feel free to remind me of this at that time.

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