Despite a push across many EU countries to eliminate coal and embrace green energy alternatives, an energy crisis, and plummeting temperatures have driven Germany to consume coal at its highest rate in 6 years.
Coal which has long been a reliable and affordable source of energy had all but been driven out of Germany, with many coal plants being shut down in favor of more environmentally friendly energy sources. However, with energy costs soaring as relations with Moscow crumble, the European country was left with a dire need for cost-effective energy. In an effort to meet the demand, a few coal plants in Europe were temporarily reactivated. Despite global coal consumption reaching a record high of more than 8 billion tonnes in 2022, German carbon emissions figures for November were the lowest they have been in 30 years.
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While Germany was set to phase out coal by 2038, that initiative has been bumped up to 2030. However, the war in Ukraine, which caused most of Europe’s natural gas supply to be cut off, has led to an increased use of the fossil fuel.
According to Destatis, the German statistics office, German electricity produced by coal plants increased from 31.9 percent to 36.3 percent from the third quarter of 2021 to September of this year. Over the last year, Germany saw the largest increase in coal consumption, rising 19 percent. Natural gas usage also increased slightly in Germany, but the highly touted wind and hydro output remained low.
Coal is not the only reliable energy source being phased out in Germany. Nuclear power is also on the chopping block, with 3 of the country’s 6 reactors closing over the past year after the Fukushima disaster caused Berlin to reconsider the use of nuclear power. Despite the government trying to bring an end to nuclear energy, Chancellor Olaf Scholz overruled his coalition in October, deciding to keep the 3 operational nuclear power plants online until mid-April 2023 at the latest.
Meanwhile, due to maintenance issues at French nuclear plants, Germany became a net exporter of electricity to France this year. However, as French nuclear reactor capacity increases from 50 percent in November to 68 percent this month, Germany is expected to return to a net energy importer within a few years.
Due to the energy crisis and rising energy costs, Berlin has issued a waiver to keep 2.6 GW of coal and 1.2 GW of lignite power plants online through March 2024. Initially, those plants were to be shut down by the end of this year.
Despite the record increase in coal usage this year, a spokeswoman for the German Economy Ministry said in a statement to Bloomberg, “The coal phase-out ideally by 2030 is not in question. Against the backdrop of the crisis situation, the most important thing is that we have apparently succeeded in consuming significantly less energy in 2022, especially natural gas.”
While coal is still set to be phased out and replaced with more expensive, less efficient energy alternatives, the energy crisis has proved that coal is still an affordable and reliable source of energy. Perhaps the EU and Germany should reconsider their climate change initiatives amid a serious energy crisis and soaring inflation.