Matthew Hulbert Wrong: Coal Use Unchanged in Germany

Matthew Hulbert kindly replied in a comment to my post last week about his article on the new Japanese energy strategy decision to phase out nuclear.

I never normally bother replying to anyone slightly over-animated on nukes or renewables, as you can never have a realistic debate, but I’m sorry to say this is a pretty twisted interpretation of what the original article notes – the 40 year issue is makde very very clear. The finer points can be mulled over at length (p.s. you’re way out on coal,next phase of ETS makes a french ppa very likely), but the overall take I’d stand by, this is a policy hedge, not outright closure. Most global analysis has now caught up with this take (this was drafted over a week ago).

I am pleased, since it gives me a great opportunity to exercise my skills in myth-busting, as recommended by Joe Romm’s recent book “Language Intelligence”.

German use of coal for electricity generating is largely unchanged.

German use of coal for electricity generating is largely unchanged.

Everyone repeat after me one more time: German use of coal for electricity generating is largely unchanged.

Electricity from coal in Germany was at 142.0 TWh in 2007. 124.6 in 2008, 107.9 in 2009, 117.0 in 2010, and 111.8 in 2011.

These are “facts”. They are sourced from the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Energiebilanzen. That is an association of German research institutes and energy related lobby groups. I trust their numbers.

So if Matthew Hulbert or anyone else (Mark Lynas comes to mind) asserts that recent developments in German energy policy have lead to a measurable change in coal use, they are just wrong.

Hulbert in his short response above doesn’t give any source for his assessment that I (and by extension Arbeitsgemeinschaft Energiebilanzen, which is my source) am “far off” regarding coal. So I have right now only his word to trust.

Another (anonymous) comment to my above post pointed to this article at Reuters, with the headline “European slump leads utilities to burn more coal”. That seems to contradict the facts noted above.

However, if you look at that article, you find this:

If the high coal margins persist, Reuters research shows that Germany could produce almost 130 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity from hard coal in 2012, up from 114.5 TWh last year.

Even if that happens, that would be still less than the record of 2007. Meanwhile, renewable generation is up by another 5 percent in the first six months of this year, reaching 25% of all generation, up from 20% last year. These are the significant changes in Germany.

Coal use for electricity generation is unchanged in Germany.

In the long run, all scenarios of the German “Grid Development Plan” assume fossil fuel capacity basically unchanged over the next few decades at about 90 GW. And with a rapidly increasing share of renewable, those plants will sit idle most of the time in the future.

I leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out how I tried to follow the advice of Joe Romm’s “Language Intelligence” in debunking this particular myth.

Update: Mark Lynas kindly replies over Twitter:

@Kf_Lenz I don’t disagree w yr figs on overall coal use – I just don’t like new coal being ycommissioned.

I am glad to find Lynas agreeing with my figures on coal. In the past I had the impression he would not do so.

As to the new commission, I agree with him as well. If possible, these should be avoided and replaced by gas, for two reasons. One is the fact that gas plants emit less CO2 per kWh, which is the reason the United States CO2 emissions are going down right now. The other is that Germany will make a lot of gas from wind (and possibly from other renewable sources) in time slots with insufficient demand. You can’t fire that in coal plants.

Fortunately, that is also what is expected to happen. To expand with a bit of detail from the latest Grid Development Plan Scenario (page 9), in the lead scenario B there will be eight more coal plants commissioned (those are in construction now) and then zero until 2033. That makes sense, since no utility would want to develop new plans for a coal plant. It would sit idle most of the time, ruining the economics.

Update: See also the debunking of this particular myth by Paul Gipe.


Published by kflenz

Professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo. Author of Lenz Blog (since 2003,

3 thoughts on “Matthew Hulbert Wrong: Coal Use Unchanged in Germany

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