News that Germany will need to find large new supplies of electricity after announcing the gradual closure of its coal-fired power plants should concern British policymakers and those interested in our energy security.
Coal-fired plants supply 40 per cent of German electricity and will now be run down, the aim being to replace this lost capacity with more power imports and renewables. The decline in baseload electricity supply will be further exacerbated by the decision eight years ago to close all of Germany’s remaining nuclear plants by 2022.
British ministers should examine this decision closely, given their policy to support, approve and install more and more undersea cables, known as interconnectors, to provide future access to spare electricity supplies from Europe. Part of this strategy is based on the theory that this can provide Britain with cheap, abundant electricity when needed. But falling capacity margins, such as in Germany and also now in Belgium and France, will mean much tighter supplies and higher prices in the future.
Plans show that the expansion in interconnectors could result in up to a fifth of domestic electricity supply being dependent on them by the end of the next decade, as power plants across Britain close without replacement.
This winter’s cold spell has led to high electricity demand across Britain. Last Wednesday night, gas-fired plants were supplying 50 per cent of our electricity, coal 16 per cent, nuclear 15 per cent and the country’s 9,400 wind turbines just 4 per cent, with other fuels and imports making up the rest. Yet Britain is likely to have closed all of its coal-fired power stations within five years and half of its nuclear capacity will be retired by 2025.