Germany’s Coal Exit May Cause Blackouts

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Energy Fairness has written at length over the years about the woes of Germany’s Energiewende, the program that aims to transition the country off nuclear and fossil fuel electricity. The Energiewende has faced problems for years and now experts are concerned that Germany will face power outages if the trend away from coal fired power isn’t addressed soon. 

Germany’s Energiewende goals are in line with its 2016 Paris Climate Accord goals. The country signed up to cut its emissions by 55% by 2030 from 1990’s levels. At its current rate Germany is expected to reach a 32% emission reduction by next year.

Coal currently provides around 43GW of Germany’s power. Back in January, the nation’s coal commission recommended cutting coal fired power capacity down to 30 GW by 2022 and phasing it out entirely by 2038. This coincides with Germany’s phaseout of nuclear power as well, and trying to phase out both power sources at the same time will leave the country scrambling to fill the gaps as more than a third of its power supply is taken offline in just three short years. 

“I am really insecure about the security of supply,” says German energy expert Tobias Federico “Especially for 2022, it is an issue. I am concerned about the winter of that year. It takes five years to build a power plant and we don’t have that time anymore.”

Some of the capacity gap can be met with renewables and natural gas, but this strategy will leave Germany heavily reliant on power imports from its neighbors. Also, many of those countries are cutting coal capacity as well and might eventually face shortages themselves. Building new natural gas capacity might help bridge the shortfall, but current economics are making this solution unfeasible. 

“There is no rational reason for a company to build a gas plant right now, because it won’t get returns,” said Federico.

Investments in renewable energy have dropped by 31% last year, but even if more renewable energy were built, Germany’s entire power grid would have to upgraded to move the electricity to more heavily populated regions. 

“We see security of supply in 2023 endangered in Germany with the recommendations of the coal commission,” said Konstantin Lenz, a business developer at Wattsight, a Norwegian energy consultant. “And politicians are not really aware of that challenge. There is no time to install batteries or new gas power plants.”

There are no easy answers for how to fix the climate crisis, but rapidly transitioning away from a viable source of much needed power isn’t a good idea for the people that depend it everyday. Hopefully, Germany’s leaders will see reason before the country gets left in the dark.