Lessons from Germany’s Transition from Coal to Renewables

❝ Seventy-seven-year-old Heinz Spahn—whose blue eyes are both twinkling and stern — vividly recalls his younger days. The Zollverein coal mine, where he worked in the area of Essen, Germany, was so clogged with coal dust, he remembers, that people would stir up a black cloud whenever they moved. “It was no pony farm,” he says — using the sardonic German phrase to describe the harsh conditions: The roar of machines was at a constant 110 decibels, and the men were nicknamed waschbar, or “raccoons,” for the black smudges that permanently adorned their faces.

Today, the scene at Zollverein is very different. Inside the coal washery where Spahn once worked—the largest building in the Zollverein mining complex — the air is clean, and its up to 8,000 miners have been replaced by one-and-a-half million tourists annually. The whole complex is now a UNESCO world heritage site: Spahn, who worked here as a fusion welder until the mine shut down on December 23, 1986, is employed as a guide to teach tourists about its history. “I know this building in and out. I know every screw,” he says fondly.

Zollverein is a symbol of Germany’s transition away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy — a program called the Energiewende that aims to have 80 percent of the country’s energy generated from renewables by 2050. That program has transformed Germany into a global poster child for green energy. But what does the transition mean for residents of Essen and the rest of the Ruhr region — the former industrial coal belt—whose lives and livelihoods have been dramatically altered by the reduced demand for coal? The answer to that could hold some useful lessons for those undergoing similar transitions elsewhere…

The trade unions are stronger in Germany than in the United States. Progressive politicians are often voted into office – locally and nationally – in Germany. There has been legitimate, strong pressure exerted upon government and corporations alike in Germany. RTFA and see what a difference that has made in the transition away from the most polluting energy sources.

2 thoughts on “Lessons from Germany’s Transition from Coal to Renewables

  1. Pinkepinke says:

    Phasing out enough U.S. coal to align with goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change could strand $104 billion in value by 2035, according to a new Carbon Tracker Initiative report. https://www.snl.com/InteractiveX/article.aspx?cdid=A-41973690-9778&Printable=1 the London-based nonprofit think tank that researches how climate change affects financial markets and say that “Any sector analyst won’t be surprised by the idea that coal is in a very bad way in the U.S., it’s very clear in a lot of jurisdictions at this point — while it might have made sense at some point, now coal units are being kept open at the expense of consumers.”
    The report’s authors also state that at some point in the mid-2020s, 78% of existing coal power stations become less profitable than building a new combined-cycle gas power plant.
    “President Trump has pledged to revive the industry but the reality is that phasing out coal power in line with the Paris Agreement will save consumers billions and make the U.S. economy more competitive,” senior analyst and co-author Matthew Gray said in a Sept. 14 news release.
    Merchant coal owners in competitive wholesale values have lost nearly half of their value in the last two years, the report states. Meanwhile, about two-thirds of U.S. coal plants are regulated and recoup their costs through government-approved rates. Carbon Tracker said that means by 2021, consumers will be paying $10 billion a year to prop up coal power.

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