In a recent paper about Germany’s energy transition, Craig Morris found one particular claim that he wanted to investigate: have the Germans built any coal plants to make up for lost nuclear power since 2011?
In my previous blog post, I mentioned several things that distracted me in the article, but the sentence that really struck me was this one:
“Germany has at least ten new coal-fired power plants under construction, many of which were commissioned after the turn from nuclear to compensate for energy lost from reactors.”
It is surprising to see how widespread the notion is that a coal plant could be built in a couple of years. I took a look at some statistics for the US and found that this new coal plant, which went online in 2012, received its first permit in 2007. Five years is probably a good average in democracies worldwide. (I also discovered that the Department of Energy discontinued its public database of new coal plants in 2007, so Americans have to collect the data themselves – but we’ll save that issue for a later post…)
Take a look at this chart (PDF in German) published by German environmental NGO Deutsche Umwelthilfe in November. It shows that two new coal plants recently went into operation, with eight others currently under construction – so the figure of 10 new coal plants is correct. But even if you don’t speak German, you can see under the “Status” column when these plants began. For instance, Datteln starts in 01/2007 (January 2007) and the latest date for the beginning of a plant’s status is 07/2009 for Neckerau Block 9.
The two plants that went online last fall received permits way back in 2005 (Grevenbroich) and 2006 (Boxberg). The eight others soon to be completed were all underway by 2009 at the latest. Go down further into the list of “abandoned” projects (the green area), and you’ll see that six of those 20 projects have been abandoned since the nuclear phaseout. The only positive changes for coal since March 2011 concern two plants currently “planned” (orange area), and here nothing is currently being built.
As a reaction to the nuclear phaseout, Germany has thus started building zero coal plants but stepped away from six. At current power prices, all conventional projects are on hold, and coal power may soon be unprofitable in Germany.
Coal plants take around five years to build, so don’t expect any new ones as a reaction to an event in March 2011 until 2016. And if the German government ever sees fit to support ambitious carbon trading, which it only recently rejected, we might get a switch from nuclear and coal to natural gas and renewables by 2016 instead – the intended outcome.