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German commission recommends 7 GW of coal closures by 2023

Highlights

4 GW coal, 3 GW lignite to go in first wave

RWE rejects focus on Rhenish region

Timetable to be reviewed every three years

London — Germany's coal commission has recommended the closure of 4 GW of hard coal-fired generation and 3 GW of lignite by 2023 in a first wave of compensated shutdowns, with the first lignite closures focused on RWE's Rhenish heartland.

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The 7 GW of first-phase closures are in addition to 5.5 GW of coal and lignite shutdowns already planned from a 42.5 GW installed base, it said.

Longer term, Germany is set to phase out coal-fired power generation by 2038 after the government-appointed commission reached a compromise on Saturday.

The commission recommended capping coal capacity at 30 GW by 2023, equally balanced between hard coal and lignite plants.

Last year coal and lignite-fired power stations met 35% of German electricity demand, generating over 200 TWh of a total 650 TWh.

In detail, the commission recommended preserving the Hambach forest, where RWE's lignite expansion plans were halted by a court decision last October.

"In RWE's view, the closures of lignite capacities mentioned in the report cannot be carried out exclusively in the Rhenish region," it said, adding it took a "critical view of the Commission's wish to preserve the Hambach forest".

The report set a summer 2020 deadline for operators to agree a phase-out timetable, including compensation for plant operators, employees, affected regions and bill payers.

GERMAN COAL COMMISSION RECOMMENDS COAL CAPACITY CAPS

(in GW) Coal Lignite Hard-Coal
end-2017 installed 42.5 19.9 22.7
end-2020 (business as usual) 38.6 18.1 20.5
end-2022 (business as usual) 37.3 18 19.3
end-2022 recommended cap 30 15 15
end-2030 recommended cap 17 9 8

Source: Coal Commission report

TIMETABLE REVIEWS

The timetable is to be reviewed in 2023, 2026, 2029 and 2032, with a view to exiting coal by 2035, the report said.

Assessing the timetable as "nothing too draconian", investment bank Royal Bank of Canada said it was hard to quantify the impact on generators given the current lack of detail "on precise plants to be closed or the scale of the compensation".

Power market reaction was muted Monday against a background of a bearish fuel and falling EUA carbon prices.

Tighter EU carbon market set to prompt more power fuel switching in Europe

2019 is set to be the year that coal-to-gas switching in power generation takes off in continental Europe. Carbon prices supported by the new market stability reserve cutting supplies, coupled with potentially lower gas prices, could prompt unprecedented C2G switching volumes.

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German Calendar 2022 baseload, however, rose compared to a drop for Calendar 2020, EEX data showed.

FURTHER 13 GW TO GO

From 2023 to 2030, a further 13 GW of lignite and coal plants would need to close to achieve the commission's 17 GW cap.

That was designed to be in line with Germany's 2030 climate-change target of cutting power plant emissions by 61% from 1990 levels, or 183 million mt of CO2 equivalent/year.

GERMAN LIGNITE UNITS (NOT INCLUDING RESERVE PLANT)

Unit Operator MW Commissioned
First phase closure risk
Weisweiler E RWE 350 1965
Weisweiler F RWE 350 1967
Niederaussem C RWE 320 1965
Niederaussem D RWE 320 1968
Neurath B RWE 320 1972
Neurath A RWE 320 1972
Niederaussem H RWE 600 1974
Niederaussem G RWE 600 1974
subtotal 3180
2030 closure risk
Weisweiler G RWE 705 1974
Weisweiler H RWE 705 1975
Neurath D RWE 635 1975
Neurath E RWE 640 1976
Boxberg N LEAG 515 1978
Boxberg P LEAG 515 1979
Jaenschwalde A LEAG 515 1981
Jaenschwalde B LEAG 515 1982
Jaenschwalde C LEAG 515 1983
Jaenschwalde D LEAG 515 1985
subtotal 5775
Operating into 2030s…?
Schkopau A Uniper 450 1995
Schkopau B EnBW 450 1996
Schwarze Pumpe 1 LEAG 800 1997
Schwarze Pumpe 2 LEAG 800 1998
Boxberg Q LEAG 907 2000
Lippendorf R LEAG 933 2000
Lippendorf S EnBW 933 2000
Niederaussem K RWE 1012 2003
Neurath F RWE 1120 2012
Neurath G RWE 1120 2012
Boxberg R LEAG 675 2012
subtotal 9200

Source: S&P Global Platts

The report recommends further support for switching coal plants to gas, specifically by extending subsidies for combined heat and power plants (CHP) to 2030 to allow for a gradual swing from coal to gas in addition to the massive expansion of renewables.

The government has set a target of 65% renewables output by 2030, up from around 38% in 2018.

Coal and nuclear closures were expected to reduce Germany's power export surplus from around 50 TWh in 2018 to almost zero by 2023, according to a recent study by Aurora Energy Research based on similar coal closure assumptions as in the final report.

With 8 GW of nuclear capacity due to shut by end-2021/22, Germany's indigenous power mix from the late 2030s will be made up almost solely of renewables and gas, currently accounting for just half of power generation.

GERMAN POWER MIX CHANGES FROM COAL, NUCLEAR EXITS

Gottfried Steiner, CEO of the Austrian-based CEGH gas exchange, said the agreement was positive for investment in gas-fired power, but would only impact gas demand "mid to long-term, not short-term," he told S&P Global Platts.

NEXT STEPS

Of the 28 commission members representing industry, unions and environmental activists, 27 voted for the compromise after 20 hours of talks Friday with the one objector being a member representing a community facing displacement by an open-pit mine.

The government is to review the recommendations and move quickly towards implementation, ministers said Sunday.

Leaders of mining states also indicated support for the plan, which recommends up to Eur40 billion ($46 billion) of federal funds to support mining regions over the next 20 years.

--Andreas Franke, andreas.franke@spglobal.com

--Stuart Elliott, stuart.elliott@spglobal.com

--Edited by Dan Lalor, newsdesk@spglobal.com