The tendering process for the coal phase-out is still going according to plan.

While politicians are calling for longer runtimes for nuclear power and coal and the first suppliers are delaying shutdowns, the Federal Network Agency is working through the program agreed in 2020.

It is now the fifth auction with which the authority is implementing the resolutions to phase out hard coal.

According to the traffic light coalition, lignite-based power generation should “ideally” come to an end in 2030, eight years earlier than originally planned.

With every day of war in Ukraine, it becomes more and more questionable whether this timetable can still be adhered to, because Germany has to worry about its energy supplies from Russia.

Natural gas also plays a key role in power supply.

Between 15 and 20 percent of German electricity consumption recently came from gas-fired power plants, which in turn obtain more than half of their fuel from Russia.

Since natural gas production in Europe hardly allows any higher rates of increase, liquefied natural gas (LNG) would have to be procured if the connections with Russia were to be severed.

This dependence on gas will not change any time soon, on the contrary.

If the nuclear and coal phase-out plans go through, natural gas and LNG would be the only energy sources that can step in in a few years if the sun and wind don't cooperate.

Several dozen new gas-fired power plants would have to be built by 2030 and reliably supplied with fuel.

The hard coal companies have long been preparing for the fact that their plants will be used longer.

Steag, for example, is postponing the planned conversion of its Herne 4 hard coal-fired power plant to natural gas until spring 2023. Vattenfall, in turn, has announced that it will stop dismantling the Moorburg power plant in Hamburg.

It is a turning point, because the end of hard coal seemed to be sealed long ago due to rising costs for CO2 certificates and competition from green electricity.

Coal supply becomes more expensive

The Federal Network Agency even had to block some of the planned shutdowns because power plants that were no longer economically viable were needed for network security even before the war.

Even systems that have been awarded a contract in the tenders can be classified as "systemically important".

These plants no longer produce for the market.

However, they must be kept operational so that they can step in if necessary.

Hard coal-fired power plants with a total capacity of a good 3,600 megawatts are currently available for this purpose.

That almost corresponds to the output of the three nuclear power plants that are still in operation.

To ensure that the precautionary measures do not come to nothing, however, other sources of supply for steam coal must be found, half of which has also come from Russia so far.

There are enough alternatives

Around a tenth of the electricity came from hard coal last year, and lignite contributed twice as much.

Although particularly harmful to the climate, it is coming back into focus as the only domestic fuel for security of supply - and with it the (still) lignite group RWE, which has to shoulder the greatest initial burden when phasing out coal.

The next closure is due at the end of the month, and three more power plants will follow later this year.

So it is hardly surprising that RWE – unlike Eon and EnBW – is opposed to extending the nuclear lifetime and, despite its ambitious plans for the expansion of renewable energies, favors coal as an emergency solution.

Technically, it would not be a problem to keep the plants in operation, and supplies from the opencast mine are secured for the time being.

Contingency reserves activated in ten days

But the need is not that great.

Instead, more lignite-fired power plants could be shifted to the “backup standby” introduced in 2016 to prepare for potential bottlenecks.

This reserve, paid for by electricity customers but never used, currently includes three RWE blocks and two large power plants in Lusatia.

The piles are not connected to the grid, but they must be able to supply electricity within ten days.

As things stand, increasing this emergency reserve would be a pragmatic way to prepare for impending bottlenecks.

For climate protection, however, it would be the worst of all solutions if the brown coal piles had to be restarted.

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