By Nickie Louise
Coal is back from the dead in Germany as the country grapples with the fallout of economic sanctions it imposed on Russia. According to reports from major media outlets, Germany is now “planning to fire up coal plants as Russia throttles gas supplies,” CNBC reported.
This is not the first time Germany has resorted to coal. As we reported in the winter of 2021, the country turned back to ‘dirty’ coal and natural gas as millions of its solar panels are blanketed in snow and ice. For many years, Germany has been held up as the world’s wind and solar capital. But 2021 deadly winter put a strain on Germany’s Energiewende program and the country has to be rescued by, you guessed it, “dirty” fossil fuels.
Energiewende is a German word for ‘”energy transition.” Energiewende is a policy launched by the German government in 2000 to decarbonize its primary energy supply. Depending on whom you ask, the program has been praised by many environmentalists and others called it a failure.
In 2000 when the program was first launched, 6.6 percent of Germany’s electricity came from renewable sources such as solar and wind. In 2019, almost two decades later, the share reached 41.1 percent. That’s where the good news end. In 2000, Germany had an installed capacity of 121 gigawatts with 577 terawatt-hours generated, which is 54 percent as much as it theoretically could have done (that is, 54 percent was its capacity factor). But in 2019, the country only produced a meager 5 percent more (607 TWh).
According to CleanEnergyWire, the then Germany’s economy and energy minister, Peter Altmaier, caused a stir in 2013 when “he said during his time as environment minister that “the costs of the Energiewende and of the transformation of our energy supply could add up to around one trillion euros by the end of the 2030s” without policies in place to lower the costs. He explained that legal commitments to support renewable energy alone would add up to about 680 billion euros by 2022.”
Fast forward two decades later, Germany has now found itself in a dire situation as the country told its citizens to start working from home and avoid using cars to reduce energy consumption. In a statement, Germany’s Federal Vice-Chancellor and Economy Minister Robert Habeck suggested that Germans could work from home at least “one or two days a week on a voluntary basis for the time being.”
For decades, Germany, like the rest of the European Union (EU), has aggressively pursued a clean energy future as it plans to end its reliance on fossil fuels, but the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine has highlighted the shortalls of renewables. For example, the EU currently gets about 40% of all its energy from Russia, including 41.1% of its gas supply even with billions of dollars of investment spent on renewable energy.
The ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine has led to the deteriorating gas market situation for Europe’s largest economy. Germany said the situation means it must limit the use of natural gas for electricity production and burn more coal for a “transitional period.”
Over the weekend, German Economy Minister Robert Habeck also warned that the situation is going to be “really tight in winter” without precautionary measures to prevent a supply shortage.
“That’s bitter, but it’s almost necessary in this situation to reduce gas consumption. We must and we will do everything we can to store as much gas as possible in summer and autumn,” the Green Party’s Habeck said in a statement, according to a translation.
“The gas storage tanks must be full in winter. That has top priority,” he added.
According to Business Insider, “Germany’s decision to turn back to coal power, which is highly carbon-intensive, underscores how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent surge in energy prices is threatening governments’ climate policies.” In 2020, the German parliament passed a law to phase out the use of coal entirely by 2038, giving the country only 16 years more years to get rid of the dirty fossil fuel.