Germany will fire up coal plants to preserve gas ahead of next winter, as Russia cuts supply to Europe’s largest economy.
Germany will burn more coal, the most polluting fossil fuel, amid concerns about possible power shortages caused by a cut in supplies from Russia, its economy minister has said.
Robert Habeck said Germany must limit the use of gas to generate electricity, after Russian oil major Gazprom announced it would slash supplies through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, apparently for technical reasons.
The situation forces the government to burn more coal, which emits twice as much climate heating carbon dioxide as gas, for a “transitional period,” said Habeck.
“That’s bitter, but it’s simply necessary in this situation to lower gas usage,” said Habeck, from the environmentalist Green party.
The government is also offering businesses incentives to limit gas use, planning to divert the spare fuel to fill up storage facilities ahead of next winter – the “top priority”.
“It’s obvious that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s strategy is to unsettle us by driving up the price and dividing us,” Habeck said. “We won’t let that happen.”
Germany, like many European Union countries and the United Kingdom, had increasingly relied on imported gas in the last few decades as a cleaner – though still polluting – alternative to coal.
Many of these countries have now signalled they will burn more coal in an attempt to stem cashflow to Moscow and enhance energy security, in response to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The United Kingdom has extended the life of a coal plant to shore up energy security, despite last year lobbying other countries to “consign coal to history”.
“Countries are making hard, urgent decisions in an emergency situation,” said Dave Jones from climate think tank Ember.
Mr Jones called Germany’s decision to increase coal power once again an “emergency response, but hopefully short-term”.
“Going forward, governments have to focus on how to reduce gas demand,” he said.
So far their response has focussed on doubling down on building wind and solar to generate electricity, but they will need “fast action for all sectors that use gas,” like heavy industry and heating, he added.
Mohamed Adow, who runs climate think tank Power Shift Africa, said increasing coal was a “devastating blow” to those people on the frontline of the climate crisis.
Because rich, historic polluters like Germany have not yet built enough wind and solar, it is the “climate vulnerable that will suffer the consequences as Germany turns to coal,” Mr Adow added.
Germany, a long-time heavy user of Russian gas, began cutting down on imports after the latest invasion Ukraine. Its climate target to phase out coal by 2030 remains in place, as does its policy to shut down its three remaining nuclear power plants by 2023.
Berlin also plans to expand its renewable energy generation – already one of the most ambitious countries – and improve gas storage and energy efficiency measures.
“Security of supply is currently guaranteed, but the situation is serious,” Habeck said.
But Germany says Russian gas will be essential for a while yet until alternative sources of energy, such as LNG brought in by ship, are available.