Faced with the risk of an energy crisis, coal is making a comeback in German households



In Germany, coal suppliers are hard at work to meet ever-increasing demand. While the country is worried about running out of energy next winter, more and more of its inhabitants are turning to coal, admittedly very polluting, but available in large quantities. Production has also jumped 40% since January, according to Thoralf Schirmer, spokesman for the company LEAG, interviewed by AFP.

Originally, 5 to 6,000 Berlin homes are still heated with coal, a very small fraction of some 1.9 million homes, the city says. They are often elderly people, sometimes entirely dependent on this fuel and living in old dwellings that have never been renovated, or lovers of the heavy heat emanating from old stoves. But, this year, new customers have arrived en masse »points out Frithjof Engelke, a Berlin coal supplier. Those who heat themselves with gas, but who still have a stove at home now all want to have coal”, a phenomenon which, according to him, is becoming widespread in Germany. Especially since even if it is 30% more expensive than before, coal remains cheaper than wood, whose prices have more than doubled. As for those of gas, they should increase further this winter. Even if the government promised Monday to cushion the shock for the most modest, from October 1, importers will be able to collect 2.4 centimes more per kilowatt hour (KWh) of gas from companies and individuals.

Energy, industry, trade… why the German model no longer works

Production struggling to keep up with demand

Enough to encourage the coal rush. But Frithjof Engelke dreads the winter a little”. Currently, people are relatively relaxed when they learn that they will have to wait at least two months before being delivered”, he said. And to add: Things will be drastically different when it starts to get cold outside.”. With the appearance of all these new private customers, production is indeed struggling to keep up, and many small coal merchants in the capital have nothing left to sell. We produce at full capacity during the summer, with three shifts, seven days a week”testifies Thoralf Schirmer, spokesman for the company LEAG.

Not to mention that the other factory supplying the market in Germany, based in the Rhine basin, will cease production at the end of the year, reducing supply. Another difficulty with which Germany is confronted, like the rest of Europe: the drought which lowers the level of the Rhine below its level necessary for river transport. The level of the Rhine is low enough that the coal-fired power stations, which depend on barges to bring the source material to them, struggle to bring the fuel to them”commented UniCredit analysts.

An alternative still needed

This return to coal is not new in Germany. Even before the outbreak of war in Ukraine and the surge in gas prices, the country already had increased recourse to coal in order to compensate for the exit from nuclear power and while waiting for renewable energies to develop sufficiently. In 2021, the production of electricity from coal had increased by nearly 18%. Similarly, 28.9% of the electricity injected into the country’s grid still came from coal-fired power plants in the first quarter of 2021, “compared to 13% on average in the European Union”according to a note from the Jacques Delors Institute on the subject.

In Germany, the realism of the Greens in the face of the energy crisis strengthens their political weight

And if Chancellor Olaf Scholz assures not to give up his objective of abandoning this polluting energy in 2030, and excludes a revival of fossil fuels, especially coal”, it appears more than ever as a necessary alternative to heat the population. Thus, in March, a plan aimed at reducing the country’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels provided that, “in this context, the dismantling of coal-fired power plants could be suspended until further notice after an analysis” led by the sector regulator. Then, in June, the government said it would use so-called coal-fired power stations “reserve”currently only used as a last resort, to guarantee the country’s energy security.

(With AFP)