Sun­set In­dus­try

Ger­many is at the fore­front of re­new­able en­ergy gen­er­a­tion, but coal-fired power is prov­ing dif­fi­cult to phase out



en­ergy cre­den­tials. It’s easy enough to see why: The coun­try has more pho­to­voltaic ca­pac­ity than any coun­try on Earth, at over 38,000 megawatts (MW), and is a global leader in clean en­ergy in­no­va­tion, as part of its am­bi­tious En­ergiewende pro­gram. But there is an­other side to Ger­many’s im­age as a re­new­able en­ergy pow­er­house.

The coun­try still de­pends heav­ily on coal­fired power gen­er­a­tion, like the 4,200-MW baseload lig­nite-fired fa­cil­ity (pic­tured) lo­cated near Neu­rath, in western Ger­many. In 2014, Ger­many gen­er­ated 44 per­cent of its elec­tric­ity from coal, more than any other Euro­pean Union mem­ber. By com­par­i­son, 26 per­cent of Ger­many’s power was gen­er­ated from re­new­able sources. An­other 16 per­cent came from nu­clear power plants, which the coun­try be­gan phas­ing out in 2011 after Ja­pan’s Fukushima dis­as­ter, and hopes to close by 2022. The space be­ing left in the en­ergy mix by nu­clear power is sup­port­ing coal-fired power. The coun­try also has a strong coal lobby.

In Canada, the phase out of coal – of­ten called a “sun­set in­dus­try” – is un­der­way, but not as quickly as some would like. On­tario suc­cess­fully elim­i­nated the last of its coal-fired power in 2014, which made up about 25 per­cent of its ca­pac­ity in 2003. Elec­tric­ity rates went up by about 30 per­cent be­tween 2010 and 2015 as a re­sult. Un­der the NDP, Al­berta also plans to phase out coal, this time by 2030, though at 55 per­cent, the fos­sil fuel ac­counts for most of the prov­ince’s to­tal elec­tric­ity pro­duc­tion. So the sun may be set­ting on coal, but not for some time yet.

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