The energy paradox in Germany
Germany is reducing its use of coal energy, but is declining from a high starting point.
A decade ago, almost half of the country’s electricity came from coal. Now that number is around 24%.
Germany says it will cease using coal entirely by 2038, but that’s 17 years left.
It is a blessed country, if that is the right word, with huge coal reserves, especially in the far east and west of the country.
Underneath there are huge amounts of lignite, which is dirty and difficult to transport.
Power plants are often located near the mines, as in the case of Garzweiler.
Germany consumes more electricity than any other country in Europe – which is not surprising given its population density and heavy industry.
There has long been pressure from these manufacturers to ensure that the power supply is completely reliable.
The country’s industrial base, heavily reliant on electricity, argues that a swift transition to renewables increases the risk of electricity bottlenecks, or at least concerns about whether the power grid is up to all conditions.
And while Germany is talking about taking the coal out of its life, it is slowly happening.
In contrast, the UK uses almost no coal. It’s a little piece of the puzzle.
But here, too, Great Britain uses a lot of nuclear power, which Germany rashly abolished after the Fukushima disaster in 2011.
So it’s a matter of getting rid of coal or nuclear power relatively quickly – but probably not both if you want to make sure the lights stay on and the car factories are running.
Which brings us back to excavator 288, rips open the ground and slowly rolls towards the next damn village.
Stroll the streets of these damned or threatened cities and it’s hard to find someone to say a good word about RWE, the company that owns the ever-growing mine.
Protesters describe them as predators, local residents say they were intimidated and the company does not respond. So we contact RWE to request a chat.
To be honest, I would expect them to ignore us, but instead we offered Zoom to interview a spokesperson for Guido Steffen the next morning.
It turns out that Guido is friendly and likes to chat.
Does he feel bad about people whose lives are disrupted in search of increasingly obsolete fossil fuels?
“I know there are some people who are against coal mining and, of course, against exposure. But you can talk to many others and they will tell you that they understand that coal mining in Germany is in a state of great upheaval. “
“Two of the three open-cast lignite mines will be shut down at the end of 2029. There is only one pit that lasts a little longer and that is the pit that I saw – and that is the Garzweiler pit. “
He argued that abruptly stopping coal power generation would not be possible for either the company or the state and would also destroy the regional economy as thousands of jobs revolve around the industry.
“You can’t dig lignite underground because of the loose material, which means that everything in front of the derricks has to be removed.
“And sometimes it’s the villages that have to be removed. We have come to terms with 85 percent of the homeowners involved. We have built hundreds of new houses. “
Great Britain, in which RWE has invested heavily, has the advantage of being stormy; Austria, Sweden and Norway have easy access to enough lakes and mountains to maintain hydropower plants; France has a lot of nuclear energy.
“We see that every European country has to develop its own plan. The federal government has developed a plan and we are pursuing it. “
Before we parted, I told him about the meeting with the protesters in the emirate and their hopes for a delay or a change of heart. Is this plan to demolish these villages really set in stone?
Guido gently shakes his head.
“Yes, I have to say that.”