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Coal instead of gas: what the energy crisis means for the climate

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Status: 07/27/2022 8:10 p.m.

Completing the phase-out of nuclear energy and promoting the phase-out of coal – in fact fundamental goals for the traffic light coalition. But the war in Ukraine has shaken energy policy plans.

By Martin Polansky, ARD Capital Studio

The traffic light coalition had an energy policy plan: complete the nuclear phase-out this year, phase out coal by 2030 if possible, rapidly expand renewables – and close supply gaps with gas-fired power stations . It was the coalition agreement between the SPD, the Greens and the FDP. Natural gas should be the fossil bridge to the climate-neutral energy world of the 2030s or 40s. Even the extensive construction of additional gas-fired power plants was planned.

But because of Russia’s war in Ukraine, it’s now coal instead of gas. Green Climate Minister Robert Habeck admits this is a step backwards in climate and energy policy. “You don’t have to convince yourself that it’s something good. But you have to reduce fuel consumption.”

“Temporarily back on the market”

The problem: lignite in particular emits much more CO2 than natural gas when producing electricity. However, natural gas is becoming scarce today and it is therefore to be reserved for industry and the production of heat – but as far as possible not for the production of electricity. Instead, the federal government laid the groundwork for coal-fired power plants slated for shutdown to be taken off reserve and restarted.

In the coal sector, there is already a concrete list of power plants that “could return to the market for a limited period”. These are ten coal-fired power plants with a capacity of 4.3 gigawatts. The plants were already in stock. In addition, there are eleven coal and lignite power plants whose scheduled shutdown has been postponed: capacity 2.6 gigawatts. And other lignite power plants from the so-called supply reserve should be activated if necessary if the power supply becomes really difficult in the fall.

Increase in CO2 emissions expected

The number of reactors that will actually be put back into service cannot be predicted at this time and also depends on the willingness of the operators to reactivate the plants. Above all, it is unclear how many lignite-fired power plants in the supply reserve actually need to be restarted.

Mirko Schlossarczyk of management consultancy Enervis Energy Advisors in Berlin expects a total of around ten gigawatts of power plant capacity that would theoretically already be available. For comparison: local coal-fired power plants currently have an output of nearly 40 gigawatts.

According to Schlossarczyk, the reactivation would also have consequences for CO2 emissions: “According to our calculations, in 2023 the electricity sector would emit 30 to 40 million tonnes of CO2 more. This is about 20% more than last year.”

An affair of the heart for the Greens

This could be at least partially avoided, argue proponents of longer use of Germany’s three remaining nuclear power plants. Because they would produce electricity in a practically neutral way for the climate, underline the Union and the AfD. And within the coalition, the FDP is now unequivocally demanding that the nuclear option be at least seriously considered. “In any case, I am not satisfied,” said FDP party leader and Finance Minister Christian Lindner, “that we are prolonging climate-damaging coal, but without even considering the possibilities of nuclear energy. And that’s exactly what I would like to change. You have to at least think about it – not ideologically.”

The three remaining nuclear reactors Emsland, Neckarwestheim 2 and Isar 2 have an installed line of 4.3 gigawatts and account for around 6% of electricity production in Germany. With the planned decommissioning at the end of the year, this capacity would be lost and would have to be replaced elsewhere – in an already very uncertain situation for the energy supply.

On the other hand, nuclear energy has stirred and divided society for decades like no other subject. The final exit, which until recently seemed inevitable, is a matter of the heart for the Greens and large swaths of the SPD.

The stress test should shed some light

The Federal Government now wants to clarify the nuclear issue with another stress test for the electricity market on behalf of the environmentalist-led Ministry of Economics. The four major companies operating the power grids use worst-case scenarios to examine whether there could be a risk of power supply bottlenecks in winter – also at regional level. Bavaria in particular is seen as a possible problem. And the Isar 2 nuclear power plant is still in operation there, which a TÜV Süd report says could use its existing fuel rods to generate electricity with relative ease beyond the end of the year. This would then be a so-called stretching operation.

It should be noted that even the Bavarian Greens can now imagine such a stretching operation “in extreme cases”. It is crucial to ensure the security of supply, according to the leadership of the party and the parliamentary group in Munich.

And Bundestag Vice President Katrin Göring-Eckardt no longer wanted to categorically rule out a stretching operation on Sunday at “Anne Will”: “This means that if we have a real emergency, that the hospitals can no longer operate if such an emergency happens,” then we need to talk about fuel rods.”

We can now look forward to the results of the power grid stress test, which will probably only be available in a few weeks. However, if the stress test clearly shows that no failure is imminent, the question of continued use of nuclear power plants should be ruled out for the federal government.

Source www.tagesschau.de

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