Tom Heap Looks Mystified



The (Associate) Parliamentary Renewable and Sustainable Energy Energy Group (PRASEG) held a wonderfully low-key seminar on Germany’s “Energiewende“, or energy transition, this afternoon in the Boothroyd Room at Portcullis House in Westminster. The main speakers included Rainer Baake, a former Secretary of State for the German Federal Environment Ministry.

Tom Heap, the main presenter of Radio 4’s “flagship environment programme” “Costing the Earth” was on hand to chair the session, and ask provocative questions. During the question time after the main speakers had outlined the progress and future of Germany’s energy transition, Tom Heap posed the nagging question about carbon emissions. The story goes, according to the likes of George Monbiot and Mark Lynas, that since Germany has decided to do away with their nuclear power generation capacity, that the country will be using more coal in future to generate electricity.

[Tom Heap] “…Is more coal [lignite] being burned because of the nuclear power phase out [in Germany] ?”

[Andreas Kramer] “There has been a small uptick. First, coal is dirt cheap, and the European Emissions Trading Scheme [carbon] rights are dirt cheap. The second reason is that [we have made a decision to abandon nuclear power] in the middle of the changeover from coal [to renewable energy, as we have to close the plants under the European] Large Combustion Plant Directive [LCPD] – so there will be a window of slightly higher capacity of coal plant [to cope with the phase out of nuclear power] until the coal plant is retired. Coal use is projected to go down.

[Rainer Baake] “We have a Cap and Trade system for carbon dioxide emissions in the European Union. Whatever we do emissions of carbon dioxide will always be capped. The price [of emissions rights] only determines what is happening where. There will always be a balance between gas and coal, depending on the price. The answer to the problem is – decrease the cap, then you will see less emissions. Nothing we do with the Energiewende… No one is investing in new coal and lignite plants…”

At this point Tom Heap began to look rather bemused, confused, perhaps a touch mystified. He started to look towards the ceiling in a rather vacant, media way.

[Rainer Baake] “…[The current surge in the use of coal is owing to] decisions made in 2005, 2006. Nobody is investing [now] in lignite or coal. This is a very serious problem because of backup capacity [to back up new renewable electricity generation]…”

Huh ? Well, it takes time to finance and commission a new coal-fired power station.

So there you have it – another myth busted. Nuclear power phase out in Germany is not going to lead to permanently higher coal-burning for power generation.

3 thoughts on “Tom Heap Looks Mystified”

  1. Jo, thanks for busting this myth. As an extra, the UK’s coal emissions have gone up much more sharply than Germany’s. This is for the same reasons you have given, that coal is cheap and EUETS permits cheaper. But also that the Government has given the coal power stations that will have to shut down a limited period in which to burn off their coal stocks. D’oh!

  2. I began to follow what was happening in Germany in 2002 when I heard a lecture by the from a German Aerospace R&D Institute about importing power from the Sahara,along with massive use of renewables.

    This was a 2050 scenario, and it was appparent that fossil plants would be needed for back up, even then. I used this argument in my 2003 paper to the 2003 Parsons Turbine Conference to show the effct it would have on fossil plant cycling. I used similar arguments about IGGC- Hydrogen-CCS when I went to the EUs Inst of Energy in 2004.

    Germany is on track for what it projected in the early 2000s. Nuclear and coal are being phased out gradually, a completley different approach, in whichbit has been one half baked solution after another

  3. Thanks Fred, I perceive that a few words of your comment may have gone missing. I think you meant to imply that energy policy in the Uk has been “one half baked solution after another”. Do I read that correctly ?

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