Germany and coal

From Global Energy Monitor

Germany is a large coal producer and consumer. In 2019, it produced 131 million tonnes.[1]

Coal Resources

As late as 2004, Germany's "proved recoverable" reserves of hard coal were stated as being 23 billion tons. That year, the World Energy Council's "Survey of Energy Resources" reclassified 99% of those reserves as speculative and reduced the estimate to 183 million tons. The German government's own estimate of proved reserves in 2005 was 161 million tons.[2]

Reserves of lignite, the lowest grade of coal, were also downgraded by the World Energy Council from a previous estimate of 43 billion tons in 2002 to 6.6 billion tons in 2004.[3]

German coal reserves in 2010 were six times larger than 2009. German coal reserves were 40.7 billion tons, compared with 6.7 billion tons, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy.[4]

As of 2012 it was estimated by EuroCoal that Germany had 25 billion tons reserves of 40.5 billion ton hard coal and lignite.[5]

According to the German Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR), proved recoverable reserves were 40 548 million tonnes, almost all of which is lignite. BGR’s category ‘resources’ (using its own definition, which differs from World Energy Council) amounts to around 82.9 billion tonnes of hard coal and 36.5 billion tonnes of lignite. These levels convey an indication of the enormous size of the additional amounts of coal ‘in place’, over and above the in situ tonnages hosting the recoverable reserves. Germany has considerable reserves of hard coal (48 million tonnes) and lignite (40,500 mil- lion tonnes), making these the country’s most important indigenous source of energy.”[6]

Despite the newly lowered estimates of reserves, Germany is responsible for one-third of the lignite mined worldwide and is the leading producer.[7]

Resources Details

Category Reserve Classification Quantity Units Data Year
BGR Estimate Reserves 35,900[1] million tonnes 2019
BGR Estimate Resources 119,465[1] million tonnes 2019
Geological Survey Reserves 35,900[1] million tonnes 2019
Geological Survey Resources 119,465[1] million tonnes 2019
Commercial Reserves Reserves million tonnes
Commercial Resources Resources million tonnes

Coal Production

Germany has substantial domestic coal mining operations, especially of lignite, for electricity generation and coke. Hard coal mining in Germany is centered in Ibbenbüren, the Ruhr and the Saar coalfields. In 200 the U.S. Geological Survey reports that approximately 25.6 million tonnes of anthracticte and bituminous coal was mined and a further 177 million tonnes of lignite.[8]

Hard coal production is gradually declining as a result of the removal of subsidies makes resource extraction from deep underground mines unprofitable. However, the recent price spike for imported coal has raised the possibility that some mines slated for closure may be profitable without subsidies. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the subsidy for anthracite and bituminous coal was approximately $130 per metric ton in 2005.[9]

Coal Mining

The coal mining industry in Germany is dominated by two major producers, RAG Aktiengesellschaft which mines hard coal and RWE Power which mines lignite. The U.S. Geological Survey reports that based on 2006 data, RAG Aktiengesellschaft's mining subsidiary Deutsche Steinkohle AG employed approximately 35,000 staff and 5,572 of RWE Power's 18,700 employees worked in mine production activities.[10]

  • Deutsche Steinkohle AG, a wholly owned subsidiary of RAG Aktiengesellschaft as operating the G West, Lohberg/Osterfeld, Walsum, Lippe, Augusta Victoria/Blumenthal, Ost and Prosper-haniel mines in the Ruhr region, North Rhine-Westphalia, with a combined annual capacity of 18 million tonnes of hard coals. The company also operates the Saar Mine, Saar Basin, Saarland with an annual capacity of 6 million tonnes of hard coal and the Ibbenbüren Mine in the Steinfurt District, North Rhine Westphalia with an annual capacity of 2.1 million tonnes of hard coal.
  • RWE Power's Aktiengesellschaft operates the Bergheim, Garzweiler, Inden, and Hambach open-cut mines in the Rhenish mining area with an annual capaicty of 105 million tonnes of lignite;
  • Vattenfall Europe Mining AG also operates the Jänschwalde, Schwarze Pumpe, and Boxberg open cut mines mines in Lausatian mining area with an annual capacity of 60 million tonnes of lignite.[11]

Germany will shut down its last eight "black coal" underground mines by 2018, according to a plan approved in 2007 by Angela Merkel's government. The phaseout, which does not affect Germany's "brown coal" surface mines, will be reviewed by parliament in 2012. Seven of the mines are located in Rhine-Westphalia, and one is located in the Saarland. The plan has been approved by German mining conglomerate RFG, which intends to refocus itself on real estate, power generation, and chemicals. It has also been approved by the Social Democratic party and by Germany's mining union. The agreement was favored by Germany's conservative parties, which looked forward to ending the 2.5 million-Euro subsidy received by the underground mining sector. Under the arrangement, the subsidy will continue until the mines are finally closed. The phaseout will eliminate 35,000 mining jobs; jobs in the underground mining sector had already declined from 166,000 in 1985. At its peak in 1957, the sector employed 607,000 miners.[12]

Coal Consumption

Coal fired-power stations

Proposed New Coal Power Stations

Due to the number of proposed new coal-fired power stations in Germany, the full listing has been moved to a side page. See Coal power plant proposals in Germany.

Proposed coal plants in Germany

Go to Proposed coal plants in Germany.

Coal imports

Germany is a significant importer of coal, predominantly for metallurgical uses. Germany imported 53 million tonnes in 2013. Its leading coal suppliers are Russia (29 percent), Columbia (21 percent), and the United States (20 per cent).[13]

Carbon capture and storage

States oppose mandatory CCS law

On Sep. 27, 2010, the German government moved to approve new rules that would require states to allow the construction of test facilities for underground carbon capture and storage (CCS). But leaders in two German states - Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony - expressed their opposition to the legislation, and said they would oppose the draft legislation from Chancellor Angela Merkel's government in the Bundesrat, Germany's upper legislative chamber representing the 16 regional states.[14]

Initially, German Environment Minister Norbert Röttgen had told state leaders that they would have the fundamental right to reject the construction of the gas storage facilities. But in a recent answer to an inquiry by Oliver Krischer, a member of the federal parliament with the Green Party, the Federal Environment Ministry said the states' powers regarding carbon storage facilities would be limited to the plan-approval procedures. Krischer accused Röttgen of failing to follow through with his pledge: "As we saw with the nuclear deal (to delay the country's planned nuclear phaseout and extend the life spans of atomic power plants), there is a danger the environment minister will come out a loser in this major energy policy project, as well."[14]

Starting in 2013, under the European Union emission trading scheme, any company emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere will be required to purchase certificates in order to do so. The rules are part of the EU's goal of sharply reducing greenhouse gas emissions across the continent. Like nuclear energy, the current German government views CO2 capture and storage as a technology to meet EU requirements ostensibly until the country can transition to a mix based entirely on renewable energy. Close to half of Germany's power generation currently comes from coal. The most attractive sites geologically for CO2 gas storage facilities are in the northern part of the country. But resistance is growing in states like Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony, and government leaders there fear there that local residents will stage mass protests.[14]

Lifecycle analysis of carbon capture and storage in Germany

Government Policy

In order to reduce reliance on imported oil and begin the phase-out of aging nuclear power stations, the German government has adopted a target of obtaining 20% of the country's energy share from renewables by 2020. It is expected that the bulk of this will be from wind projects and biomass. However, major power producers have also proposed a raft of new coal-fired power stations.

In June 2011 German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that for Germany to phase out nuclear power that it would need more coal plants. In 2011 there were over a dozen proposed coal plants in the country. However, Merkel stated that the country would still reach its carbon emissions limits.[15] In February 2013 the Muenster-based IWR renewable energy institute said new coal plants with about 5,300 megawatts of capacity will start generating power that year, while about 1,000 megawatts of coal-fired capacity was expected to come offline.[16]

In 2011, 2012 and 2013 coal use rose in Germany, despite the country's ambitious push for wind and solar power.[17] However the IEA now forecasts a decline in coal use.[18]

In 2018, Germany began considering its timetable for coal phaseout.[19]

New coal plants after Fukushima

In July 2011, the German government said it wants to encourage the construction of new coal and gas power plants with millions of euros from the country's fund for promoting clean energy and combating climate change, saying it was necessary as the government switches from nuclear to other renewable energy sources. Funding for the initiative would be five percent of the energy and climate change fund’s annual expenditure between 2013 and 2016; annual funding for the new coal and gas plants could total more than €160 million per year between 2013 and 2014 alone.

The fund was first established to encourage nuclear plant operators to develop new, renewable forms of energy production. Now that nuclear power is to be phased out by 2022, the fund will pay for research into reducing carbon dioxide emissions from buildings, developing renewable energy sources and carbon capture and storage technologies. The Economics Ministry said that Germany’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2020 would not be damaged by the new initiative, but opposition politicians and environmental groups said the country would do better to encourage more investment in energy efficiency and additional coal-fired plants were entirely unnecessary.[20]

In October 2010 the Federal Government adopted its ‘Energiekonzept’ or "energy concept". The policy combined an extension of German nuclear power plants, an average of 12 years, with green energy policy objectives. Focus to date has been on ambitious climate protection policies: CO2 emission reduction of at least 80% by 2050 with step-by-step objectives for each decade, including a 40% reduction by 2020; a massive increase in energy efficiency to yield total energy savings of 20% by 2020 and 50 % by 2050; and the steady development of renewable energies to a 60% share of final energy consumption and 80 % of power generation by 2050.[5]

Germany wants to prolong subsidies for loss-making coal mines until 2018

Germany has stated that subsidized hard coal production will be phased out by 2018. EuroCoal reports that lignite coal use remains stable until 2020, but will likely disappear as an energy source by 2050.[5]

In November 2010, the European Union Parliament supported Germany in saying that subsidies to loss-making coal mines should not be phased out until the end of 2018. The European Commission, the EU bloc's executive, had said in July 2010 that uncompetitive mines should be closed off by October 15, 2014, arguing that subsidies were bad for the environment and fair competition. But Germany, which would be heavily affected by the plan, said that following the timeline would "compromise the competitiveness of its coal industry and cost too many jobs." EU lawmakers - in a report drafted by a German Social Democrat - backed that line of argument during a plenary meeting in Strasbourg, France, saying they "regard the deadline proposed by the commission for the closure of coal mines ... as arbitrary."[21]

Deputies said that while their view on the matter were only 'consultative,' they had sent "a strong political signal to the council (of EU states) that extending the deadline for state aid is indispensable to the future of about 100,000 coal miners and other staff." Most subsidized mines in the EU are located in Germany's Ruhr region, the Jiu river valley in Romania, and in north-western Spain. Both Germany and Romania rely on coal-fired power stations for about 40 per cent of their electricity. EU states are expected to decide on the matter on December 10, 2010.[21]

2010: Coal subsidies to end by 2018

In December 2010 the EU agreed to cut government subsidies to domestic coal companies by 2018.[22]

2014: EU agrees to 40% GHG emission cut

In October 2014 EU leaders agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030, compared with 1990 levels.[23]

Estimated cost of coal emissions


The 2013 study "Assessment of Health Impacts of Coal Fired Power Stations in Germany" by the Institute for Energy Economics at Stuttgart University calculated that particulate matter emitted by coal-fired power plants in Germany leads to about 3,100 premature deaths every year.


A 2011 analysis by the European environment agency (EEA), 'Revealing the costs of air pollution from industrial facilities in Europe,' estimates that air pollution from industry costs Britain £3.4bn-£9.5bn a year in health and environmental damage. When CO2 costs are included, the figure rises to £9.5bn-£15.5bn. The industrial facilities covered by the analysis include large power plants, refineries, manufacturing combustion and industrial processes, waste and certain agricultural activities. Emissions from power plants contributed the largest share of the damage costs (estimated at €66–112 billion). Other significant contributions to the overall damage costs came from production processes (€23–28 billion) and manufacturing combustion (€8–21 billion). Sectors excluded from the EEA analysis include transport, households and most agicultural activities – if these were included the cost of pollution would be even higher.

A small number of individual facilities cause the majority of damage costs. Three quarters of the total damage costs were caused by the emissions from just 622 industrial facilities – 6 % of the total number. The facilities with emissions associated with a high damage cost are in most cases some of the largest facilities in Europe which release the greatest amount of pollutants. Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions contribute the most to the overall damage costs, approximately €63 billion in 2009. Other air pollutants, which contribute to acid rain and can cause respiratory problems - sulphur dioxide (SO2), ammonia (NH3), particulate matter (PM10) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) - were found to cause €38-105 billion of damage a year.

Germany, with its large industrial facilities and large power plants, is the biggest polluter Europewide – resulting in a cost of €21.5bn – €33.8bn of the overall €100-€169bn bill. Five of the top 10 emitters are German.[24]

Citizen Activism and Protest

Oct. 1, 2007: Greenpeace occupation at Boxburg plant construction site

Beginning October 1, 2007, 34 activists occupied the construction site of a new coal-fired power plant in Boxburg, in eastern Germany. The activists, 10 of whom remained camped atop cranes on the site for 60 hours, demanded that Vattenfall, the utility sponsoring the plant, stop building coal plants and instead invest in renewable energy. A giant banner hung from a crane read: "Vattenfall: Stop building! Climate protection instead of brown coal!" Six smaller banners reading "Stop CO2" hung from other cranes. 20 volunteers painted "Stop CO2" onto a smokestack under construction.[25]


Articles and Resources


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 BGR Energy Study 2019 - Data and Developments in German and Global Energy Supplies (23), 200 p, Hannover, Germany
  2. Energy Watch Group, Coal: Resources and Future Production Energy Watch Group website, March 2007, p. 42.
  3. Energy Watch Group, Coal: Resources and Future Production Energy Watch Group website, March 2007, p. 44.
  4. "German Coal Reserves Six Times Higher Than Last Year" Bloomberg, June 7, 2011.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "Germany" EuroCoal, accessed October 29, 2012.
  6. Energy Resources: Coal, World Energy Council, Country Notes, 2013.
  7. Energy Watch Group, Coal: Resources and Future Production Energy Watch Group website, 3/07, p. 43
  8. Steven T. Anderson, "The Mineral Industry of Germany", 2005 Minerals Yearbook: Germany, U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, December 2007, page 11.
  9. Steven T. Anderson, "The Mineral Industry of Germany", 2005 Minerals Yearbook: Germany, U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, December 2007, page 8.
  10. Steven T. Anderson, "The Mineral Industry of Germany", 2005 Minerals Yearbook: Germany, U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, December 2007.
  11. Steven T. Anderson, "The Mineral Industry of Germany", 2005 Minerals Yearbook: Germany, U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, December 2007, page 15.
  12. "Germany to close its coal mines," Der Spiegel, January 30, 2007.
  13. "Germany’s dependence on imported fossil fuels," Energy Wire, July 8, 2015
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 "German States To Oppose CO2 Storage Law" Spiegel Online, Sep. 27, 2010.
  15. "German nuclear phaseout means more coal", June 10, 2011.
  16. Stefan Nicola, "Germany to Add Most Coal-Fired Plants in Two Decades, IWR Says," Bloomberg, Feb 27, 2013.
  17. "The real story of US coal: inside the world's biggest coalmine" Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, November 10, 2014.
  18. [ "Coal 2017: Analysis and Forecasts to 2O22 Market Report Series"] IEA, December 2017.
  19. "Germany sets up body to plan exit from coal", Reuters, 6 June 2018
  20. "Germany to fund new coal plants with climate change cash" The Local, July 13, 2011.
  21. 21.0 21.1 "EU parliament backs German demand to prolong coal subsidies to 2018" M&C, Nov. 23, 2010.
  22. "EU coal nations win fight for subsidies to 2018," Reuters, Dec 10, 2010
  23. "EU leaders agree CO2 emissions cut," BBC, Oct 24, 2014
  24. "Industrial air pollution cost Europe up to €169 billion in 2009, EEA reveals" European environment agency, Nov 24, 2011.
  25. German Coal Plant Construction Site Occupied, Greepeace International, October 3 and 4, 2007.

External resources