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More climate protection – less security in terms of supply

In 2018, lignite production in the Rhineland, Lusatia and central Germany decreased by a total of 3 % to around 166 Mt. According to preliminary calculations by the German Lignite Association (DEBRIV), Berlin/Germany, this decrease in production and use has reduced CO2 by around 5 Mt. Lignite therefore made a quantitatively significant contribution to reducing national CO2 emissions in 2018.

This drop in CO2 emissions from lignite was in large part due to the transfer of further power station units to the emergency pool of reserve power. The Buschhaus and Frimmersdorf power stations, with a total of 900 MW, transferred to the emergency pool of reserve power as early as 2016 and 2017, while two units of the Niederaußem power station in the Rhineland – just under 600 MW – and one unit of the Jänschwalde power station in Lusatia (465 MW) were taken off grid on 1st October 2018. Two further plants will follow in 2019. With the transfer of a total of 2,730 MW net output to the emergency pool of reserve power, the use of lignite to generate electricity in Germany will decrease by around 13 % by 2020. CO2 emissions from lignite-based electricity generation will therefore be reduced by around 19 Mt by 2020.

“The reduction in CO2 emissions called for by climate policy does, however, come with risks and disadvantages, which were particularly brought to light last year,” explained Managing Director of DEBRIV Thorsten Diercks. During last summer’s long heat wave and drought, lignite power stations made a solid and reliable contribution to safeguarding the power supply. The electricity that could be generated from wind energy was severely limited during summer due to the weather and the extreme heat meant that the output of PV systems was also lower. Power stations that take their cooling water from surface water had to significantly downscale their capacities and low water levels in the rivers impeded the fuel supply to various plants. Since lignite power stations are supplied with fuel locally and are cooled with drainage water from mining operations, their operation was at no point jeopardised or restricted. In 2018, it was not only in Germany that the operation of these lignite power stations strengthened the reliability of supply. In several neighbouring countries too, planned or unplanned downtimes in electricity generation could be covered by imports of German electricity generated from lignite.

According to DEBRIV, the particular developments of last year clearly show that the generation of electricity from lignite is of huge relevance when it comes to securing German and European electricity supply. The premature or overly hasty national withdrawal from the generation of electricity from lignite would jeopardise the reliability of supply in Germany and Europe, while the necessary expansion of the grid has yet to take place and it is still not possible to store sufficient power reserves.

DEBRIV anticipates further reductions in the generation of electricity from domestic lignite in the coming years. This development follows the stipulations of the European Emissions Trading Scheme, whereby the number of chargeable emissions allowances is declining year on year. According to company plans, the generation of electricity from lignite in Germany will end in the 2040s. A premature withdrawal would inevitably result in severe structural interruptions with massive losses in terms of employment and value creation in the mining regions, warns DEBRIV. (DEBRIV/Si.)