German coal exit clears path for renewables

The German Wind Energy Association (BWE) believes the country can quit coal before the 2038 phase-out date recommended by Germany's coal exit commission.

The commission recommends Germany retiring 12.5GW of coal-fired capacity by 2022 (pic: Max Pixel)
The commission recommends Germany retiring 12.5GW of coal-fired capacity by 2022 (pic: Max Pixel)

Herman Albers, president of the BWE, argued that renewable energy sources — especially wind power — were ready to make a significantly higher contribution to Germany’s energy supply as coal capacity is decommissioned.

The government-appointed coal exit commission recommended a final phase-out by the end of 2038, including 12.5GW of coal-fired capacity to be taken offline by 2022.

It published its final report ahead of its 1 February official deadline and after more than six months of talks between representatives from the power industry, environmental groups, and politicians.

Albers welcomed the possibility of considerable capacity reductions by 2022, but added that he believed a final phase-out could be achieved earlier than 2038.

"The final report of the commission emphasises that politics and industry want to implement the transformation of the energy industry (in an) orderly and goal-oriented (way)," he said.

However, he added: "We believe that the final farewell to brown and hard coal is possible earlier than the commission envisaged."

The commission’s recommendations have not been signed into federal law, and so are not yet legally binding.

The German government had first tasked the Commission for Growth, Structural Change and Employment — commonly known as the coal exit commission — to develop targets for climate targets in the energy sector, and proposing an end date for coal-fired power generation.

If recommendations are adopted from the commission’s final report, a review of the phase-out would be due in 2032, at which point the end date could be brought forward three years to 2035.

Following publication of the report, the BWE called for technology-specific pathways to be drawn up for renewable energy sources so that Germany can meet its target of sourcing 65% of its electricity from clean energy by 2030.

Albers also called for a removal of regulatory hurdles to deploying storage and ‘power-to-x’ solutions at an industrial scale, a "serious debate" about carbon pricing, and direct access to commercial and industrial customers for renewable energy developers.

The federal association of the energy and water industry (BDEW)’s president Marie-Luise Wolff said: "With this result, there is now an opportunity to make progress on urgently needed climate protection.

"At the same time, we will ensure at all times a secure energy supply and protect the legitimate interests of the regions and the companies concerned."

Renewables accounted for 40.4% of total electricity generation in Germany last year - more than coal-fired capacity's contribution of 38%.

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