Brussels: Germany is planning to shut down all its coal-fired power plants by 2038 to replace them mainly by renewable sources of energy, however experts and politicians question the feasibility of new ways of powering the biggest European economy and call for a more diversified energy mix.
The statement that Germany will close all its 84 coal-fired power plants in the next 19 years as part of efforts to combat climate change was announced on Saturday.
“This is a historical accomplishment. It was anything but a sure thing. But we did it … There won’t be any more coal-burning plants in Germany by 2038,” Ronald Pofalla, the chairman of the 28-member government coal commission, said at a press conference.
The breakthrough followed months of discussions and work of the commission tasked with developing a master plan to phase out the use of coal.
Along with ambitious goal, the plan also includes 40 billion euros ($46 billion) in spending to mitigate the consequences for the country’s coal-producing regions.
Germany’s ambitious plans come as fossil fuels — coal, gas and oil — still account for 70 percent of global energy demand growth, with the share of coal growing since 2010, according to the 2017 International Energy Agency (IEA) report.
However, the UN Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) warns: if the electricity mix is dominated by fossil fuels, the world risks being well above the 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) target agreed in Paris in 2015.
The IPCC estimates that cumulative CO2 emissions should not exceed 2,900 billion tonnes between the beginning of the preindustrial era and 2050 to contain average warming at 2 degrees Celsius.
As many as 2,000 billion tonnes have already been released into the atmosphere with a sharp acceleration in recent years, with 1,000 billion tonnes over the last 40 years. The IPCC, however, goes further and now calls for drastic action to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030 and “net zero” CO2 emissions goals around 2050.
If fossil fuels have to be abandoned, the substitutes are nuclear energy and renewable sources such as hydro-electricity, wind and sun renewables or gas from biomass fermentation.
For world experts, including the IPCC, there is no credible path to climate stabilization that would exclude a significant role for nuclear energy. It is for sure impossible to rely solely on renewables, while stocking electricity is also still not an option.
According to the IEA, since 1971 nuclear energy has saved the equivalent of two years of CO2 emissions worldwide.
To date, it is the most important contribution of low carbon energies. By 2040, nuclear power could save the equivalent of four years of CO2 emissions.
In Europe, nuclear energy makes it possible to avoid CO2 emissions equivalent to those generated by the annual car traffic of Germany, Spain, France, the United Kingdom and Italy.
The European Greens nevertheless refuse to view nuclear energy as an option and continue to make an emphasis solely on renewables.
DIFFICULT ENERGY EQUATION
It was under pressure of The Greens when the coalition led by then-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder started investing massively in intermittent renewable energy sources, such as photovoltaic panels and wind turbines.
Nevertheless, it quickly appeared that the seasonal absence of wind or sun forces the country to keep and develop the same capacity in power plants that could be quickly put into use, depending on the production level of the renewables. Gas power plants would have been the “least bad” option, because they emit less CO2 than coal plants, but Germany favored the latter option to keep its traditional coal industry alive.
The former French candidate for the Green party in the 1988 presidential elections, Antoine Waechter, considers wind energy to be a big “scam,” since its intermittency needs to be compensated by fossil fuel power plants.
“Wind energy is a scam. It should not be considered to be renewable, since it implies the compensation by fossil fuel power plants, the only ones that have the flexibility to follow the erratic production of wind turbines,” Waechter told Sputnik.
According to Waechter, “typically a wind turbine only produces the equivalent of six days of production at full capacity (3MWh for a 3 MW turbine for example) every month,” and has to be replaced by other sources of energy, which makes it a bad answer to climate challenges.
Claudia Kemfert, the head the department of energy, transportation and environment at the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW Berlin), in turn, welcomed the German authorities’ decision, noting that that the country will now have to place more focus on gas power plants to “compensate fluctuating power generation from wind and solar power plants.”
The professor, however, expressed belief that, despite being more ecologically friendly than the coal-fired analogues, gas power plants still represented just “a relatively short bridge” to a CO2 neutral future.
“Although the CO2 emissions of natural gas are lower than those of coal, for the long-term goal of GHG [greenhouse gas] neutrality natural gas must also be replaced by CO2-free energy sources. Natural gas is therefore only a relatively short bridge to a GHG-neutral future. CO2-neutral gas, produced synthetically with renewable electricity, could at best replace, after the year 2040, applications that are now taken over by natural gas due to high conversion losses and correspondingly high costs,” she suggested.