Build More Coal Power Plants!

That’s probably not a headline readers expect here.

Let me explain.

Cleantechnica just published an interesting interview with Peter Terium, CEO of RWE, one of the big German power utilities. From that interview:

EP: Still, I get the impression that you are filling the gaps in renewables, but you are still big in coal, lignite and gas. Has RWE really changed?

Terium: Look at where we came from. Some ten years ago, we were an extremely CO2-intensive company. We had a lignite power plant fleet that was not state of the art at all anymore. In five years’ time, we changed our CO2-profile from outlier to average. We did this by investing in renewables and gas-fired power, and by implementing new technologies in coal power plants. Coming from 100% conventionally generated power, now our portfolio includes 6% renewable capacities. We had to do all this in a very short time. Note that last year we had to buy €1.2 billion in CO2-certificates. If these had cost €30 per ton, RWE would have been in big trouble.

There actually is a case for building new coal power plants. That is when, like RWE did over the last decade, you build new coal plants with the newest technology that get more kWh per ton of coal and therefore emit less CO2 per kWh. If one has to fire coal (and Germany will need that for another couple of decades), one should use the most efficient way to do so.

So, build more coal power plants with better efficiency, and retire old and inefficient plants with the same capacity. It is basically the same thing like retiring an old car that burns lots of gasoline per kilometer and buy a newer model. The best solution would of course to have an electric vehicle, but if one has gasoline cars in the first place, they should all be built to achieve maximum efficiency. That reduces CO2 emissions while the transition to 100% renewable still is not complete.


Published by kflenz

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

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