Limited increase in coal power in Europe: Experts

Plans in Europe to place a small number of coal plants on temporary standby would add 1.3 per cent to EU emissions annually, even in the worst-case scenario where they run at the highest levels, energy think tank Ember said on Wednesday.

Germany, Austria, France and the Netherlands have recently announced plans to enable increased coal power generation in the event that Russian gas supplies suddenly stop.

The analysis finds that 14 GW of coal-fired plants have been placed on standby, adding 1.5 per cent to the EU’s total installed power generation capacity (920 GW). The majority are in Germany, which approved 8 GW of reserve capacity as part of its Replacement Power Plant Provision Act adopted on July 8.

Even in the worst-case scenario where these reserve coal plants run throughout 2023 on a load factor of 65 per cent, they would generate 60 TWh of coal-fired electricity, which is enough to power Europe for about one week.

From a climate perspective, the net additional CO2 emissions in 2023 would be approximately 30 million tonnes, representing 1.3 per cent of total 2021 EU CO2 emissions and 4 per cent of annual power sector emissions.

The long-term outlook is clear — coal has no future in Europe. No European country has reversed its commitment to phase out coal by 2030 at the latest. The current crisis has acted as a catalyst for an accelerated European clean energy transition.

In May, the European Commission published its updated REPowerEU communication. In those plans, it had already incorporated an increase in coal power (plus 105 TWh) and falling gas power (minus 240 TWh) without derailing EU climate objectives.

Analysis by Ember reveals that based on the RePowerEU targets, renewables would account for 69 per cent of electricity production by 2030.

Ember senior analyst Sarah Brown said: “Europe finds itself in this urgent situation due to past energy policy mistakes. Despite numerous warning signs, EU member states ignored the risks of over-reliance on imported gas and neglected the need to rapidly replace this with domestic renewables.

“Consequently, it now faces the difficult, emergency decision of temporarily relying on coal while substantially ramping up its clean energy deployment. Mistakes Asia cannot afford to repeat.”

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