A new coal-fired power plant has opened in Germany a day after an expert commission told the energy minister the country must triple its annual rate of decarbonization to meet its ambitious 2020 climate policy goals.
On Thursday in the Hamburg suburb of Moorburg, Hamburg’s mayor Olaf Scholz, a leading figure in Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD), stood alongside Magnus Hall, president of Swedish energy utility Vattenfall, and pushed a big button.
The button-pushing symbolized Vattenfall’s ceremonial opening of a 1,600 Megawatt (MW) coal-fired power plant that had been under construction for eight years – despite heated opposition from Germany’s greens, who want the country to exit from coal altogether.
One day earlier, in London, the UK government had announced a ten-year plan to close down all remaining coal-fired power stations in Britain. At the very same time as UK politicians were basking in the resulting applause, Scholz’s fellow Social Democrat, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, the leader of the SPD and the country’s minister of economy and energy, sat in a Berlin conference room absorbing some bad news.
An independent commission of senior energy experts advising his ministry explained to him on Wednesday that Germany was on track to miss – rather badly – the carbon emissions goals the government had set for the country to meet by 2020.
Commitments outstripping actions
Germany is on track to meet some sub-goals, the experts reported, including continued brisk expansion of renewable energy generation capacity, which exceeded 30 percent of the country’s total generation in the first half of 2015.
But the central target of reducing CO2 emissions by 40 percent compared to 1990 levels by 2020 was “seriously in danger,” according to Andreas Löschel, director of the four-person expert commission, as it presented its fourth annual monitoring report on Germany’s Energiewende (energy transition).
“The tempo of total carbon emissions reductions achieved each year needs to be roughly tripled” in order to meet the government’s 2020 target, Löschel told DW, saying the annual emissions reduction rate in recent years has been 9 million tons of CO2 per annum, but needed to be 27 million tons.
“The German government introduced a couple of new emissions reductions programs recently, including a national action plan for energy efficiency,# but the programs haven’t been implemented yet and it’s too early to say whether they’ll be enough to close that gap,” Löschel said. The commision’s report detailed some reasons to suspect not.
Excessive emissions from cars, houses, coal-fired power plants
One of the biggest problems the commission found was that energy use in the German transport sector had continued to increase – it was 1.7 percent higher in 2014 than in 2005. Another was slower-than-planned progress in improving energy efficiency, especially in the housing sector, where too little was being done to improve insulation.
A third was continued operation of too many coal-fired power plants, including lignite (brown coal) burning plants, which are especially emissions-intensive.