German coal and solar: a self defeating scenario

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Coal

8.4 GW. This is the total capacity of coal plants under construction in Germany today. Add this to what was opened last year and we have a total of 10.6 GW of new coal online in the years 2012-2015.

These numbers probably don’t mean too much to the uninitiated, so let us compare them with those from Germany’s much lauded solar industry, which has already reached a world leading 32.7 GW. By capacity this is three times higher than the new coal plants. Unfortunately capacity does not tell the whole story: the sun does not always shine in Germany. To work out the average power solar will produce all we need is the capacity factor, which is just under 10% in Germany. I’ll just round this up and say that Germany’s solar panels are producing on average 3.3 GW of juice.

How about the coal plants? Let’s work backwards and ask what the average capacity factor would need to be for these new coal plants to match the output from all of Germany’s solar panels. A simple bit of arithmetic and it comes out at about 31%. A capacity factor of 31% however is remarkably low, and one would expect these plants to struggle financially if they were running that infrequently, as is now happening with gas plants. Perhaps the historic coal capacity factors are a better guide. These are just over 51%. In other words if these new coal plants produce at this level they will produce 65% more electricity than all of Germany’s solar panels.(The exact capacity factors are difficult to predict here. The nuclear shutdown, and the ongoing woes of the Germany gas plant industry, will likely push the capacity factors upwards. On the other hand increasing renewables may do the opposite, but the future growth of renewables is now in doubt.)

An alternative way of looking at this is that the electricity from Germany’s solar panels and new coal plants could have been attained by building gas plants, at much lower cost and carbon emissions. This is not to argue that Germany should have done this, but simply to highlight the absurdity of what is currently happening in the model “Green” country.

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5 thoughts on “German coal and solar: a self defeating scenario

    tuomasvanhanen said:
    April 9, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    The best result would be achieved by radically limiting the carbon permits. Like said in the articles you linked, gas would then quite rapidly become more economic.

    In this situation it doesn’t seem likely that Germany would be enthusiastically limiting them. It would make their Energiewende even more expensive although it would be exactly what they were doing in the first place. Schade.

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    […] 8.4 GW. This is the total capacity of coal plants under construction in Germany today. Add this to what was opened last year and we have a total of 10.6 GW of new coal online in the years 2012-2015…  […]

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    Bill Heintz said:
    April 13, 2013 at 4:42 am

    What are the yearly costs of maintaining a “Solar Plant” as compared to a Coal or Gas Plant? Perhaps a figure in € per GW over the projected lifespan of the facility would be informative.

    Is the procurement of the coal or gas from its source and then transported to the plant reflected on the overall efficiency of the energy produced? There are no additional or hidden monetary or environmental costs for the energy delivered to the solar panels.

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    […] was opened last year and we have a total of 10.6 GW of new coal online in the years 2012-2015. (Source: Robert Wilson’s blog ‘German coal and solar: a self defeating […]

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    […] heard it. And this lignite power plant is not alone. Between 2011 and 2015 Germany will open about 11 GW of new coal plants, almost twenty times more than the total the World Bank is considering funding. Again, this puts […]

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