As Germany officially prepares to end coal mining in 2038 near Datteln (north of Dortmund), the German utility Uniper has just connected to the Datteln-4 grid, a new coal-fired power plant with 1.1 GW of installed capacity. For years, Germany has been both the leading European champion of the energy transition to cleaner sources and one of the continent’s biggest emitters of carbon dioxide. Datteln-4 is an exceptional example.
And it is that, even if it is not a surprise (in January the controversy over the start-up of the factory became very intense), the opening of a new factory which does not know very well how it will be. amortized in the next few twenty years led the strong German environmental movement to the fore and a missile on the credibility of the flotation of decarbonization programs that the government is implementing. Today, a third of German electricity production continues to be produced from coal-fired power plants.
What is a plant like you doing in a country like this?
It is true that when Datteln-4 began to be built in 2007, no decarbonization plan was as ambitious as the current ones. However, the changes of recent years have not slowed the project down. On the contrary. In the face of lawsuits and protests against the plant, Uniper argued that because of its novelty, the facility is much more efficient and environmentally friendly. He also explained that his plans the closure of the country’s five coal-fired power stations with a capacity three times that of the new power station who will replace them.
Seen this way, there shouldn’t be too much controversy. What happens is that Germany’s position on the energy transition has not been misleading for a single moment over the past decades. Since 2002, the red-green government of Gerhard Schröder has launched the first coins of the energy transition (German “energy transition”), German energy policy was built with unforeseen decisions (such as the great nuclear blackout after Fukushima or the abandonment of energy highway projects) which left the country at an impasse. .
In this context, the suspicions of activists, but also of many analysts, are well understood. Today, with the end of the Merkel era, no one knows what may happen in the years to come and what path a highly improved CDU will take after dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Datteln-4 could eventually become another element that continues to facilitate the European indulgence of coal in Central and Eastern Europe.
But we must not lose sight of the general framework: in 2019, 74% of all new installed capacity in the world was renewable. Despite the news from Germany or China, in Europe countries like Austria or Sweden have announced that the closing of the last thermals will be years earlier than expected and this seems to be the usual trend around the world. however, the road to the death of coal is much more complex than we thought.