The fireplace stops. "At least once for the next 30 years," says Frank Oneseit, whose liberated laugh can be noted that he will no longer be in office at the end of this period. Oneseit, 52, is the technical director of the Erlangen municipal works, and for the residents of the city his words mean: They will continue to have to live with the fact that the most visible building in their home country is a 140-meter-high chimney, right next to the main train station.

This article comes from the "WirtschaftsWoche".

Everything will change in the thermal power station below the chimney in the coming years: the siding, through which the coal is delivered, loses its function. Coal bunkers, flue gas cleaning, conveyor belts, all of these will be dismantled in the next two years. Because the power plant is being converted: coal becomes gas. "This is our contribution to the energy transition," says Oneseit, saving 30,000 tons of CO2 a year. The energy transition begins with the switch from coal to gas, this way of thinking is also very popular in Berlin, you could say: rationale. However, some climate experts would rather speak of a state error.

After months of struggle, the Bundestag and Bundesrat are finally passing the coal exit law. And they also give their blessing to a hefty bonus: Instead of 180 euros per kilowatt, there are now 390 euros for power plant operators who are converting their plants from coal to gas. This results in double-digit million grants per system. The law thus provides the billion-dollar formula for phasing out fossil energy generation in two steps. First out of the coal and into the gas. And then at some point into the renewable world, where gas is only burned to compensate for fluctuations. With the same amount of energy, only about half as much CO2 is generated as with coal electricity.

The expectations for the first step are correspondingly high: "A complete change from hard coal and lignite to natural gas would result in a reduction in CO2 emissions of at least 40 percent in the German energy industry," predicts the oil and gas company Shell. What municipal utility managers and politicians disregard: The carbon footprint of natural gas is more controversial than such figures suggest. Combustion is environmentally friendly, but the production of greenhouse gases creates little talk about it.

If you look at Michael Buchwitz's work samples, you might suspect an artist at work. Or assume that he deals with the evaluation of weather data. There are oversized maps on which there are occasionally colored spots. "The spots," explains Buchwitz, scientist at the Institute for Environmental Physics at the University of Bremen, "show methane accumulations in the earth's atmosphere." And he believes that this methane has a source in many places: natural gas production. The methane usually escapes unintentionally when gas is extracted there.

If this effect, which scientists call "methane slip", is included in the calculation, the calculation changes dramatically. Methane contained in natural gas is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. When viewed over 20 years, it affects the climate about 84 times more. However, methane breaks down somewhat faster than CO2, making it a total of 25 times more harmful over a period of 100 years. That would mean that at the latest with a slip percentage of four percent, the emission advantage of gas would have been completely eliminated.

Waiting for the south bonus

Natural gas has literally seen its upgrading to a climate policy factotum in the slipstream of the green energy transition. "Until renewable energies can be stored better, we will need more gas as a transition energy source," says an energy policy paper from the CDU / CSU parliamentary group in the autumn. "Gas is an indispensable part of the transition to a completely renewable energy supply," says Patrick Graichen, head of the influential think tank Agora Energiewende. At some point, the biggest fans believe that the many new gas power plants would also help the hydrogen economy to break through.

Not only Russia benefited from this political goodwill in Berlin, which is just allowed to pull another pipeline through the Baltic Sea. The northern federal states were also pleased to receive support when it came to making German liquefied gas terminals more attractive. And political support is also extremely convenient for many municipal utilities. Your plants for combined heat and power are already given special support thanks to their high energy yield. They are now being subsidized even more heavily for the change from coal to gas: in addition to a "coal replacement bonus" of the aforementioned 390 euros per kilowatt hour, there is also a "south bonus": this means conversions south of the Main are six million euros per 100 Collect megawatts of power. A power plant in Bavaria with a capacity of 100 megawatts would thus receive state funding of 35 million euros.

The fact that the renovation is worthwhile can already be seen in showcase projects such as those in Erlangen. Oneseit estimates the subsidies he will receive for the conversion of the 86-megawatt boiler at around 15 million euros - without the additional funding. The costs should be roughly the same. "As long as everything goes smoothly here," says Oneseit, thinking primarily of the enemy of every industrial refurbishment today: asbestos. The inside of the old boiler is partially covered with the carcinogenic fibers. "We can only say how complex it will be to disassemble the thing when we open the kettle." Nevertheless, the advantages outweigh him. If you convert coal-fired power plants to gas, you don't have to worry about new permits or possible civil protests. And the image gain is included for free.