• Competing needs look set to prolong the life of Germany’s coal sector

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      Patrick Lavery

      Combustion Industry News Editor

A Financial Times report has looked at the challenge Germany faces in balancing power generation means with environmental and social concerns. As previously covered in the Combustion Industry News, Germany has a goal of a reduction of 40% in CO2 equivalent emissions from 1990 to 2020, but it is currently on course to reduce emissions by 32% over that time, something of an embarrassment for a country often seen to be leading the push for climate change action and the deployment of renewable energies. As coal burning produces around 30% of the country’s emissions, to meet the target the obvious solution would be to close some of the 148 German coal-fired power plants, which together produce around 40% of its electricity. There are a number of complicating matters, however. Germany is due to close its remaining nuclear power stations by 2022, meaning that the options for reliable generation are limited to coal and (the currently more expensive) gas, and reliable supply is a requirement for Germany’s considerable manufacturing industries, the core of the German economy. Lignite is also the country’s only substantial domestic fuel, meaning coal firing is a strategic interest (until storage technology for renewables improves), and coal mining also accounts for around 20,000 jobs, located mostly in economically weaker areas of the country. On the flipside, some lignite mines are expanding such that they are consuming surrounding villages, as in the case of Pödelwitz, south of Leipzig, where only 28 people now live, many having taken packages offered by the mine to relocate. In all, it is a complex picture but one unlikely to change until a cheap, reliable alternative power supply means – probably via the developmet of storage technology – is sufficiently developed. How long that will take is an open question.