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Could the Coal Phase-Out in 2030 Fail?: Habeck Faces a Climate Disaster Due to Delay in his Power Plant Strategy

At the beginning of the climate summit in Dubai, which aims to discuss the global phase-out of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, the Minister of Economy and Climate, Robert Habeck (Green Party), is reportedly questioning the German coal phase-out by 2030. This was reported by the “Bild” newspaper. “If we are not in a secure supply situation, then fossil power plants must run longer,” said Habeck. So far, an exit after 2030 was considered non-negotiable for the Green Party.

The reason for Habeck’s reported statement is the lack of a power plant strategy, which the Federal Ministry of Economy and Climate Protection (BMWK) has been delaying for months. Originally, the submission was planned for summer 2023, but it is currently unlikely that the strategy will be presented this year. One reason for this is the ongoing budget debate, which is delaying the process.

What is the power plant strategy?

Experts believe that our electricity demand will increase by almost 50 percent by 2030. In order to meet the demand and at the same time avoid fossil fuels, Germany is relying on wind and solar energy. To prevent power outages even in calm winds and overcast skies, gas-fired power plants are planned to be built, which can step in during the so-called “dark doldrums.” They are intended to be initially operated with natural gas, later with green hydrogen.

Germany will need around 50 such power plants with a capacity of about 25 gigawatts. According to the BMWK, the first plants should go online in 2030 and replace the remaining coal-fired power plants. However, this plan is now considered unrealistic. Because the power plant strategy should also include possible funding opportunities, which, according to the BMWK, are supposed to amount to billions. Without a power plant strategy, the necessary funding instruments are missing, and the construction of the gas-fired power plants cannot begin.

Budget crisis causes delay

The current budget crisis is also delaying the power plant strategy. In response to the “Handelsblatt’s” inquiry, the BMWK stated that “advancing the strategy is temporarily postponed” in order to first “clarify relevant questions regarding the Climate and Transformation Fund (KTF),” which has been lacking 60 billion euros since the Karlsruhe budget ruling. The planned gas-fired power plants are also supposed to be financed from the KTF. However, the issue will be “pursued further as a matter of course,” according to a ministry spokesman.

Ralph Lenkert, energy expert for the Left Party in the Bundestag, considers the delay to be “very bad news,” as he told the “Tagesspiegel.” Planning, building, and commissioning a gas-fired power plant takes about five to six years. The federal government’s goal of having the first power plants go online in 2030 was initially too tight, and now the security of electricity supply in Germany is also in jeopardy.

“I wonder, and I ask the federal government: How can the coal phase-out by 2030 – especially in the Rhenish lignite mining area – be ensured in view of this delay?” Lenkert further questioned.

Kerstin Andreae, chairwoman of the BDEW Energy Association, also sees the urgent need to formulate the power plant strategy as soon as possible. She stated, “It is a fundamental building block to incentivize the investments in climate-neutral, secure generation capacity that are urgently required,” to the “Tagesspiegel.”

Old gas-fired power plants cannot meet energy demand

Time is pressing: According to the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG), by 2030, at least 80 percent of electricity in Germany should come from wind power or solar power.
Solar
gained. However, clouds or calm winds can disrupt power generation. Especially in winter, when higher energy demand meets lower supply. Then, gas power plants are supposed to fill potential supply gaps to prevent power outages.

“They need to be quickly turned on and off, we need to be able to quickly switch from low load to high load and back. And our current power plants are not necessarily designed for that,” says Thomas Hamacher, energy system researcher from the Technical University of Munich, to “BR”. Because the existing German power plant parks are not only partly outdated and prone to malfunctions, but also cause high emissions. New builds are therefore urgently needed.

What happens without a power plant strategy?

So, will the lights go out in Germany without a strategy at some point? It probably won’t come to that. But if the gas power plants are not completed on time, coal power plants will have to be operated beyond the planned phase-out. However, owner RWE is sticking to the coal phase-out until 2030.

RWE CEO Markus Krebber made it clear to the “Tagesspiegel” that the federal government would have to “operate the power plants on its own account” if there is still a need. RWE could continue the operation, but not on its own. In addition, RWE is also “desperately waiting for the power plant strategy” in order to start investments.

Robert Habeck also knows the consequences of the delayed strategy. The expansion of renewable energy and grids must now proceed at three times the speed, otherwise he also sees the coal phase-out for 2030 in jeopardy. “If we are not in a secure supply situation, then fossil fuel power plants will have to run longer. We will never jeopardize security of supply,” Habeck said, as reported by “Bild”, at the last committee meeting on climate protection and energy.

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