In December 2014 the Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) for 2015 was published by the environmental organisation Germanwatch, as a means of assessing the performance of 58 countries in tackling climate change. Between 2005 and 2013 Germany was one of the top 10 countries, whose climate policies were seen to be making the most effort to reduce climate change. However, in the last two CCPI reports Germany has been downgraded to 22nd place. (1.)
One of the factors for the downgrade may be that the energy company RWE commissioned a new 2100 Megawatt lignite burning power station, which was opened at Grevenbroich-Neurath in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany in August 2012. The two new units of this power station have costed 2.6 billion euros to be built. Building work began on the site in 2006, but was delayed as a result of a tragic accident that killed three workers in October 2007. (2.)
The power station – described as a Braunkohlekraftwork mit optionierter Anlagentechnik (BoA) which means ‘lignite power station with optimised plant technology’ – has been criticised by the environmental group Bund für Umwelt und Naturschutz Deutschland (BUND) estimating the plant emits 33.3 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per annum. This figure includes CO2 emissions from the older power plant units located at the Neurath site. (3.)
According to RWE’s website, the new BoA 2&3 units are 30% more efficient than the older ones, which are being shut down. The website says: “much more electricity is produced from each ton of coal. CO2 emissions are down 30%. That is all of six million tons per annum – with power generated unchanged. A real contribution to climate protection.” (4.)
This comes as Germany is pursuing a policy known as Energiewende or ‘Energy Transition’ which is to move away from nuclear power. It appears that Germany is burning the traditional fuel of lignite to generate electricity, because the decommissioning of nuclear power has created a shortfall of power output. However, a reliance on fossil fuels was never the objective of Energiewende policy. According to Henrik .W Maatsch’s article published in The Guardian on 21st August 2014, the policy’s ambitious objectives are: “Full phase-out of nuclear energy by 2022; 80-95% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050; Minimum of 80% renewables in the power sector; 50% increase in energy efficiency by 2050.” (5.)
Even without the energy transition policy, or recognition of climate change caused by CO2 emissions: lignite fired power stations could never be an answer to Germany’s long term energy requirements. In 2013 there were reports in the German media, that the opencast lignite mine at Garzweiler could be closed by 2018. According to an article in the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger the energy firm RWE rejected reports it would be closing Garzweiler earlier than originally planned.(6.)
It is possible that as more power from wind and solar energy comes onto the grid in Germany, a drop in the price of lignite on the energy market will make the opencast extraction process less profitable. Germany’s place in the climate protection index should rise again, once the technology of the power-to-gas storage systems becomes more widely available, so renewable energy sources from wind and solar can be stored for the times when electricity generation is not possible.
©Jolyon Gumbrell 2015