Climate Protection

Phasing out coal in a socially acceptable way is crucial to make the Energiewende a success and to meet the 2020 and 2030 goals on climate protection

In 2014, more than a quarter of German electricity production was based on Renewable Energies (RES). At the same time the German electricity system emits still more CO2 than in recent years. In fact, carbon dioxide emissions increased in 2012 and 2013 – driven by low ETS carbon prices and low cost of electricity generation from lignite.

The effect follows simple economic principles: Electricity production based on hard coal and particularly on lignite is characterized by significantly lower marginal costs than gas-based electricity. The situation exacerbated in recent years because of sinking costs for hard coal on the world market and a permanently low CO2-certificate-price. Additionally, steadily sinking wholesale power prices led to increasing electricity exports from Germany and consequently in higher CO2-emissions on the German climate account.

However, if Germany is to meet its reduction target of -40% greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 versus 1990 levels, a strategy towards a stepwise decrease of generation using lignite and hard coal is indispensable. More and more stakeholders in the climate debate do no longer believe that emission targets can be achieved under the EU-Emission Trading System (ETS) alone. They are pledging for additional instruments, in particular to reduce CO2 emissions from lignite and hard coal fired power plants.

The long-term perspective is even more challenging: Under the EU 2030 target of at least -40% reduction, this requires Germany to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by roughly 55% by 2030 – implying a massive fuel switch from coal to gas and RES.

Agora’s role to address the so called “Energiewendeparadox” can be to help negotiate a public consensus on how to phase out coal in a socially acceptable way.


Core results

  1. 1

    From 2019, a “Lusatia Structural Change Fund” should be established within Germany’s federal budget.

    The aim of the fund would be to strengthen the region’s economic attractiveness and its desirability as a place to live. It should help to: preserve the region’s industrial character, strengthen innovation among its businesses, support its academic institutions, equip it with an up-to-date transport network and digital infrastructure, and foster a lively civil society that retains local residents while also attracting new ones.

  2. 2

    The Lusatia Fund should be endowed with 100 million euros per year for 15 years, to be divided equally between four key pillars: business development, academia, infrastructure, and civil society.

    In each of these areas, it should be possible to use the available funds in a flexible manner (i.e. to shift funding between areas), and funds that are not withdrawn should not expire (i.e. funding should be transferable to subsequent years).

  3. 3

    Regional stakeholders from the spheres of business, academia, politics, and civil society should play a key role in awarding of funds.

    The federal government should only play a monitoring and coordinating role, as part of a steering committee; decisions on funding priorities should be made by stakeholders from the region.

  4. 4

    The funds assigned to the civil society pillar should be administered by a new “Lusatia Future Foundation.”

    Raising the attractiveness of a region means more than just promoting its economy, academic institutions and infrastructure. Ultimately, the vibrancy of a place depends on art, culture, lived traditions and the quality of civil society. These factors require ongoing support, which can be guaranteed in the short term through the Structural Change Fund and in the long term through developing a foundation with a strong endowment.

From study : A Future for Lusatia
  1. 1

    New renewables generation sharply increased in 2017, with wind, solar and biomass overtaking coal for the first time.

    Since Europe‘s hydro potential is largely tapped, the increase in renewables comes from wind, solar and biomass generation. They rose by 12% in 2017 to 679 Terawatt hours, putting wind, solar and biomass above coal generation for the first time. This is incredible progress, considering just five years ago, coal generation was more than twice that of wind, solar and biomass.

  2. 2

    But renewables growth has become even more uneven.

    Germany and the UK alone contributed to 56% of the growth in renewables in the past three years. There is also a bias in favor of wind: a massive 19% increase in wind generation took place in 2017, due to good wind conditions and huge investment into wind plants. This is good news since the biomass boom is now over, but bad news in that solar was responsible for just 14% of the renewables growth in 2014 to 2017.

  3. 3

    Electricity consumption rose by 0.7% in 2017, marking a third consecutive year of increases.

    With Europe‘s economy being on a growth path again, power demand is rising as well. This suggests Europe‘s efficiency efforts are not sufficient and hence the EU‘s efficiency policy needs further strengthening.

  4. 4

    CO2 emissions in the power sector were unchanged in 2017, and rose economy-wide.

    Low hydro and nuclear generation coupled with increasing demand led to increasing fossil generation. So despite the large rise in wind generation, we estimate power sector CO2 emissions remained unchanged at 1019 million tonnes. However, overall stationary emissions in the EU emissions trading sectors rose slightly from 1750 to 1755 million tonnes because of stronger industrial production especially in rising steel production. Together with additional increases in non-ETS gas and oil demand, we estimate overall EU greenhouse gas emissions rose by around 1% in 2017.

  5. 5

    Western Europe is phasing out coal, but Eastern Europe is sticking to it.

    Three more Member States announced coal phase-outs in 2017 - Netherlands, Italy and Portugal. They join France and the UK in committing to phase-out coal, while Eastern European countries are sticking to coal. The debate in Germany, Europe’s largest coal and lignite consumer, is ongoing and will only be decided in 2019.

  1. 1

    Europe needs a “Renewable Energy Cost Reduction Facility (RES-CRF)” to fill the high-cost-of-capital-gap which currently exists in many member states in Central and South-Eastern Europe.

    Wind and solar are today cheap technologies that are on equal footing with coal and gas. However, high cost of capital oftentimes hinders renewables projects from going forward, even when there is excellent potential. Bridging that gap, a RES-CRF will bring significant cost savings to consumers and taxpayers in those countries

  2. 2

    The RES-CRF would provide a fifty-fold leverage of private-sector finance and will phase-out automatically as market confidence in high cost of capital Member States increases.

    The risk of the financial guarantee underpinning the RES-CRF ever being called is very small. We propose a set of concrete safeguards to ensure only high quality renewable energy investments will benefit and to avoid over-commitments.

  3. 3

    The next EU Multiannual Financial Framework should be used to finance the RES-CRF as a cheap support for the 2030-targets.

    Committed public funds to implement Article 3.4 of the new EU Renewable Energy Directive would create scope for establishing the RES-CRF. This would help Europe to meet its 2030-renewable energy target and enable all Member States to benefit from low-cost renewable energy.

  4. 4

    A pilot project should be launched before 2020 for proof of concept.

    A key design feature of the RES-CRF is its flexibility. Being largely based on contractual arrangements, it can be tested in specific sectors or Member States before a wider roll-out. Launching a pilot project before 2020 would help strengthen confidence in the instrument. A pilot can be financed from the running EU budget.

  1. 1

    Existing thermal power plants can provide much more flexibility than often assumed, as experience in Germany and Denmark shows.

    Coal-fired power plants are in most cases less flexible compared to gas-fired generation units. But as Germany and Denmark demonstrate, aging hard coal fired power plants (and even some lignite-fired power plants) are already today providing large operational flexibility. They are adjusting their output on a 15-minute basis (intraday market) and even on a 5-minute basis (balancing market) to variation in renewable generation and demand.

  2. 2

    Numerous technical possibilities exist to increase the flexibility of existing coal power plants. Improving the technical flexibility usually does not impair the efficiency of a plant, but it puts more strain on components, reducing their lifetime.

    Targeted retrofit measures have been implemented in practice on existing power plants, leading to higher ramp rates, lower minimum loads and shorter start-up times. Operating a plant flexibly increases operation and maintenance costs — however, these increases are small compared to the fuel savings associated with higher shares of renewable generation in the system.

  3. 3

    Flexible coal is not clean, but making existing coal plants more flexible enables the integration of more wind and solar power in the system. However, when gas is competing with coal, carbon pricing remains necessary to achieve a net reduction in CO2.

    In some power systems, especially when gas is competing against coal, the flexible operation of coal power plants can lead to increased CO2 emissions. In those systems, an effective climate policy (e.g. carbon pricing) remains a key precondition for achieving a net reduction in CO2 emissions.

  4. 4

    In order to fully tap the flexibility potential of coal and gas power plants, it is crucial to adapt power markets.

    Proper price signals give incentives for the flexible operation of thermal power plants. Thus, the introduction of short-term electricity markets and the adjustment of balancing power arrangements are important measures for remunerating flexibility.

  1. 1

    The heating sector needs to phase out oil: A cost-efficient, climate friendly energy mix for building heating would most likely consist of 40 per cent natural gas, 25 per cent heat pumps, and 20 per cent district heating – with little to no oil.

    In this scenario, the importance of natural gas remains roughly the same as today, while oil heating is almost entirely replaced by heat pumps. District heating is another key factor. By 2030, district heating will primarily draw on heat from CHP plants, but it will increasingly rely on solar thermal energy, deep geothermal energy, industrial waste heat, and large-scale heat pumps as well.

  2. 2

    Efficiency is decisive: To meet 2030 targets, energy use for building heating must decline by 25 per cent relative to 2015 levels.

    Energy efficiency is a pillar of decarbonisation because it makes climate protection affordable. Improving energy use efficiency in buildings requires a green retrofit rate of 2 per cent and a high retrofit depth. But current trends in building modernisation fall far short of these targets.

  3. 3

    The heat pump gap: Based on current trends, some 2 million heat pumps will be installed by 2030 – but 5 to 6 million are needed.

    To close this gap, heat pumps must be installed early on not only in new buildings but also in existing buildings, for example as bivalent systems with fossil fuel-fired boilers for peak demand. If heat pumps can be flexibly managed and existing storage heaters replaced with efficient heating units by 2030, the 5 to 6 million heat pumps will affect only a slight rise on peak demand that thermal power plants must cover.

  4. 4

    Renewable electricity for heat pumps: By 2030, renewable energy must comprise at least 60 per cent of gross power consumption.

    To reach the 2030 climate protection target, additional electricity consumption in the heating and traffic sector must be covered by CO2-free energy sources. But the new renewable energy capacities stipulated in EEG 2017 will not suffice to do so.

From study : Heat Transition 2030
  1. 1

    Gas replaced coal, and hence European power sector emissions fell drastically by 4.5 %.

    European coal generation fell by 94 TWh and gas generation increased by 101 TWh, resulting in 48 Mt less CO2 emitted. Half of this happened in the UK, but also Italy, Netherlands, Germany and Greece saw switching from coal to gas. However, gas generation was far from reaching a record – it is still 168 TWh below the 2010 level, showing that more coal-gas switching is possible without new infrastructure.

  2. 2

    Renewables increased only slightly from 29.2 % to 29.6 % of the electricity mix, mainly due to bad solar and wind conditions. Radical price falls give hope for future growth.

    Solar and wind conditions were generally below average in 2016, compared to well above average in 2015. However, with new capacity installed, overall generation still saw small increases. As to prices, 2016 saw record low renewables auction results with only 49,9 Euros/MWh for wind offshore and 53,8 Euros/MWh for solar, both in Denmark.

  3. 3

    Electricity consumption rises slightly by 0.5 %, with European GDP rising by 1.7 %.

    Only two countries saw falls in electricity consumption in 2016, most had modest increases. Investment going into energy efficiency is apparently sufficient to prevent electricity consumption from rising but not enough for electricity consumption to begin structurally falling.

  4. 4

    The structural oversupply of the EU-ETS has passed the landmark of 3 billion tonnes of CO2, as 2016 added another 255 million tonnes CO2.

    The reason is that ETS emissions are structurally below the cap – mocking the concept of a “cap-and-trade” system. To play a meaningful role in EU climate policy, the EU ETS needs to be fundamentally repaired.

  5. 5

    The outlook for 2017 is for further big falls in fossil generation – but whether this is coal or gas is uncertain.

    2016 gave a glimpse of the rapid falls in emissions that are possible with decreased coal production. But a coherent European policy approach to continually increasing renewables and to a just transition in the context of a coal phase-out is needed to ensure that the CO2 reductions of 2016 are continued into the future.

  1. 1

    Renewable energy investments are more capital intensive than investments in fossil-fired power generation.

    They are also much more sensitive to political and regulatory risks. This is highly relevant when addressing Europe’s 2030 renewables framework consisting of a binding EU target without binding Member States targets.

  2. 2

    The costs of capital for renewables vary widely between Member States.

    Perceived ex-ante risks translate into country specific premiums on the costs for renewable energy investments that have nothing to do with technology risks or weather conditions.

  3. 3

    Equalising costs of capital throughout the EU would save taxpayers at least 34 billion Euros to meet the 2030 renewables target.

    It would also allow for broader sharing of the social, economic and health benefits of renewable energy investments, and would particularly benefit EU Member States with lower than average per capita GDP.

  1. 1

    As of 2015, renewable energies are Europe’s dominant power source, with a 29 percent share of the power mix.

    Nuclear power comes in second with 27 percent, coal (hard coal and lignite) amount to 26 percent. Among RES, wind power increased significantly by more than 50 terawatt hours to 307 terawatt hours in total. Hydropower produced much less due to less precipitation.

  2. 2

    Three key trends in European power production have emerged in 2010-2015: gas and nuclear power are losing ground, renewables are on the rise while coal is in 2015 back on 2010 levels.

    From 2010 to 2015, gas demand fell by more than a third, while renewables increased by 35.9 percent. Nuclear power production decreased slightly (-6.3 percent) and, following a slight decrease in 2014, coal (hard coal and lignite) returned to the 2010 level in 2015.

  3. 3

    CO2 emissions in the European power sector increased in 2015 by 2 percent. They could be lower by some 100 million tonnes if the decline in fossil power production since 2010 had been coal instead of gas.

    The average price of a tonne of CO2 in 2015 was 7.60 euros, which leads to coal-fired power plants having lower marginal costs than gas-fired power plants. Coal therefore outcompetes gas throughout Europe, which has resulted, for example, in the high coal power exports in 2015 from Germany to its neighbours.

  4. 4

    Outlook: Four major developments will probably characterise 2016: more RES, less coal, less consumption and lower CO2 prices.

    Additional capacity in mainly the onshore and offshore wind energy sector will increase RES production by another 50 terawatt hours. The carbon floor price in the UK, yielding a CO2 price signal of some 30 euros per tonne, will push out coal in the UK in favour of gas. Further efficiency developments and the relatively mild winter will lower power consumption. The demand for CO2 allowances will therefore decrease, leading to lower CO2 ETS prices in 2016 than in 2015.

  1. 1

    The Foundation

    Principle 1: Convening a ‘Round Table for a National Consensus on Coal’

    Principle 2: Incremental, legally binding phase-out of coal power by 2040

  2. 2

    The Coal Phase-Out in Germany’s Power Plant Fleet

    Principle 3: No new construction of coal-fired power plants

    Principle 4: Determine a cost-efficient decommissioning plan for existing coal power plants based on remaining plant lifespans, including flexibility options in lignite mining regions

    Principle 5: No additional national climate policy regulations for coal-fired power plants beyond the phase-out plan

  3. 3

    The Coal Phase-Out in Lignite Mining Regions

    Principle 6: No additional lignite mines and no further relocation processes of affected communities

    Principle 7: The follow-up costs of lignite mining should be financed with a special levy on lignite

    Principle 8: Creation of ‘Structural Change Fund’ to ensure a sound financial basis for structural change in affected regions

  4. 4

    Economic and Social Aspects of the Coal Phase-Out

    Principle 9: Ensuring security of supply over the entire transformation period

    Principle 10: Strengthening EU Emissions Trading and the prompt retirement of CO? certificates set free by the coal phase-out

    Principle 11: Ensuring the economic competitiveness of energy-intensive companies and the Germany economy as a whole during the transformation process

  1. 1

    Germany is currently facing an Energiewende paradox: Despite an increasing share of renewable energy sources, its greenhouse gas emissions are rising.

    The reason for this paradox is not to be found in thedecision to phase out nuclear power – the decrease of nuclear generation is fully offset by an increasedgeneration from renewables. Rather, the paradox is caused by a fuel switch from gas to coal.

  2. 2

    Due to current market conditions, German coal-fired power plants are pushing gas plants out of the market – both within Germany and in neighbouring countries.

    Since 2010, coal and CO2 prices have decreased, whilegas prices have increased. Accordingly, Germany’s coal-fired power plants (both new and old) are able to produceat lower costs than gas-fired power plants in Germany and in the neighbouring electricity markets thatare coupled with the German market. This has yielded record export levels and rising emissions in Germany.

  3. 3

    If Germany is to reach its Energiewende targets, the share of coal in the German power sector has to decrease drastically – from 45 percent today to 19 percent in 2030.

    Sharp decreases in generation fromlignite and hard coal of 62 and 80 percent, respectively, are expected in the next 15 years while theshare of gas in electricity generation will have to increase from 11 to 22 percent. This goes in line with thegovernments’ renewables and climate targets for 2030.

  4. 4

    Germany needs a coherent strategy to transform its coal sector.

    Such a strategy – call it a coal consensus –would bring power producers, labour unions, the government and environmental groups together in findingways to manage the transformation.


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