Why does a rich country like Germany need such a dirty source of energy? | Climate News

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Germany’s energy paradox

Germany is reducing its use of coal-fired electricity, but it’s starting from a high starting point.

Ten years ago, almost half of the country’s electricity came from coal; now that figure is around 24%.

Germany says it will phase out coal completely by 2038, but that leaves another 17 years of use.

Almost half of Germany’s electricity consumption came from clean energy sources in 2020

Almost half of Germany’s electricity consumption came from clean energy sources in 2020

It is a blessed country, if that is the right word, with vast deposits of coal, especially in the far east and west of the country.

Among these deposits are huge amounts of lignite, both dirty and difficult to transport.

The power stations are therefore very often near mines, as in Garzweiler.

Germany consumes more electricity than any other country in Europe, which is hardly surprising given its large population and concentration of heavy industry.

And for a long time, these manufacturing companies have been pushing to ensure that the energy supply is completely reliable.

The country’s industrial base, dependent on large amounts of electricity, argued that a rapid switch to renewable sources increases the risk of energy shortages, or at least nervousness over whether the electricity grid could cope with all the circumstances.

And so, as Germany talks about taking coal out of its life, it is slowly being done.

Wind turbines are visible in the distance all around the mine

Wind turbines are visible in the distance all around the mine

The UK, on ​​the other hand, uses virtually no coal. It’s a tiny piece of the puzzle.

But, then again, the UK uses a lot of nuclear power, which Germany decided to phase out – hastily – after the Fukushima disaster in 2011.

So the bottom line is this: You can phase out coal, or nuclear, relatively quickly, but you probably can’t do both if you want to ensure the lights stay on and auto factories are running.

Which brings us back to Bagger 288, tearing up the terrain, rolling slowly towards the next doomed village.

Wander the streets of these doomed or threatened towns, and it’s hard to find someone to say a good word about RWE, the company that owns the growing mine.

Protesters call them predators, residents say they have been intimidated and the company is not responding. So we call RWE to request a chat.

Frankly, I expect them to push us away, but instead Zoom offers us an interview the next morning with a spokesperson called Guido Steffen.

Guido Steffen is spokesperson for the energy company RWE

Guido Steffen is spokesperson for the energy company RWE

It turns out that Guido is friendly and happy to chat.

So, does it feel bad for people whose lives are disrupted in search of increasingly obsolete fossil fuel?

“I know there are people who oppose lignite mining and also oppose being in danger, of course. But you can talk to a lot of others and they will tell you that they realize that coal mining in Germany is in a big transition.

“Two of our three lignite mines are shut down at the end of 2029. There is only one mine that is going to last a little longer and that will be the mine you saw – that is the Garzweiler mine.”

A sign in Lutzerath reads ‘RWE ENTEIGN!’ – expropriate RWE!

A sign in Lutzerath reads ‘RWE ENTEIGN!’ – expropriate RWE!

His claim is that a sudden shutdown of coal power would not be possible for the company or the country, and would also devastate the regional economy, where thousands of jobs revolve around the industry.

“You can’t dig brown coal underground because of the loose material and that means anything in front of the excavators has to be removed.

“And sometimes, these are also villages that must be eliminated. We have reached an agreement with 85% of the owners concerned. We have built hundreds of new homes.

He says Britain, in which RWE has invested heavily, has the advantage of being windy; Austria, Sweden and Norway have easy access to enough lakes and mountains to maintain hydropower plants; France has a lot of nuclear energy.

A slogan of the protest movement: “Lutzerath Lebt” – Lutzerath lives

A slogan of the protest movement: “Lutzerath Lebt” – Lutzerath lives

“We can see that each European country has to come up with its own specific plan. The German government has come up with a plan, and we are following it.”

Before we go our separate ways, I tell him about my meeting with protesters in Immerath, their hopes of a delay or a change of mind. So is this plan to demolish these villages really set in stone?

Guido gently nods.

“Yes, I should say it is.”

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