What’s the most sensible way for Germany to implement its phaseout of coal?
Coal could’ve provided a useful bridge to a renewable future. But many people oppose this. So Germany needs to exit coal. But it needs to do so in a way that prevents social disruption and supply problems. Wind and solar can’t provide baseload electricity. This is potentially dangerous. The power supply can’t collapse as soon as the sun doesn’t shine or the wind blow.
Dennis Radtke, member of the European Parliament
Does that mean Germany should postpone the coal phaseout?
No, Germany should stand by its plan to phase out coal by 2038. Although the law was only recently passed, some people already want to modify it and move the phaseout up to 2030. That’s a mistake. Everyone should stand by the decisions that were made.
Which energy source will step in for coal if renewables can’t provide 100 percent of Germany’s electricity by 2038—natural gas or nuclear power?
I don’t believe Germany should reconsider nuclear power. Natural gas is a very viable bridge technology. But Germany should also expand its use of hydrogen. A lot can happen between now and 2038. The Ruhr region is predestined to play a role in Germany’s hydrogen future.
Germany’s renewables buildout has come to a standstill. How can it be sped up again?
There are two big obstacles: grid expansion and regulatory approval. Germany needs 8,000 kilometers of new power lines but has only built 1,000. It only adds about 10 kilometers a month, which means that the energy transition will take another 50 years. Moreover, regulatory approvals are still too complicated. This reflects a double standard: practically everyone is in favor of the energy transition, but no one wants a wind farm near their home.
Similarly, practically everyone is in favor of the energy transition, but no one wants to admit that renewables can’t provide baseload power.
Yes, the success of Germany’s energy transitions depends on baseload capacity and grids. Grid can be expanded, but the ability to store electricity is subject to physical limits.
Would higher prices help raise awareness of the need to conserve electricity?
German companies and households already pay the highest electricity prices in the EU. Still, it’s obvious that energy could be used more efficiently. But what can tenants do if the price of electricity rises? They can’t invest in insulation, because the building doesn’t belong to them. So instead they turn up the heat as long as they afford it. Germany already has around 400,000 households—about 1 million people—that can no longer afford their electricity bill.
Is Germany exiting coal by 2038 without a reliable alternative?
I hope not. The ideal is 100 percent renewables, including green hydrogen. I have a lot of faith in green hydrogen.