German Coal Plant Closes After Just Six Years to Produce Wind-Based Energy

And it substantially reduced the country's greenhouse gas emissions.
Brad Bergan
The German Moorburg coal power plant.Cvoelker / Wikimedia

Going green pays, if you can believe it.

A hard coal power station in Hamburg that generates 1,600 MW was shut down for good on July 7, according to a local news service, a mere six years after its initial opening. And, the Moorburg plant's owner, Vattenfall, aims to pursue a new, hydrogen project at the same site, designed to transform offshore wind energy into green hydrogen.

And this will substantially reduce the country's greenhouse gas emissions.

German coal company opts to shutter early for a price

The company participated in the German government's decommissioning payment to submit to an early shutdown, ceasing market operation at 2020's end, and remaining operational only as a back-up to other power sources. This shutter is part of a larger move by the German government in line with a coal exit law that requires every coal plant to cease operations by the year 2038. Brown coal (or lignite) stations face a strict timeline for shutdowns, but hard coal stations and smaller lignite plants may take part in the nation's tender option, potentially closing early for a price if it's financially preferable to continuing to generate electricity via fossil fuels.

The NGO Robin Wood said Moorburg's shuttering will see a drop in annual greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 9 million tons (roughly 8 million metric tons), but dissenting critics have suggested that Germany would do best to close older, more ecologically harmful plants first. By contrast, the Moorburg plant's owner, Vattenfall, saw a dip in profits from the plant, especially amid a rising price for generating CO2 emissions under the European Emission Trading System, which applies to all coal plant operators. Consequently, Vattenfall elected to take the tender and opt for an early decommission.

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In the wake of German and E.U. greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2030, the discourse has intensified surrounding the possibility of revisiting the coal exit agreement, to enforce a more rapid exit date for phasing out coal power plants. While this may be apt, it's also a reminder of how rapidly European countries are pivoting away from carbon-intensive energy infrastructure. This is a power plant that lasted barely longer than a U.S. presidential term — practically unheard of for power plants generally, which are naturally built to last for much longer.

Germany is taking giant leaps toward its green energy goals

As for the Moorburg plant's conversion into a green hydrogen plant from offshore wind energy, the project is slated to begin in 2025, and it will be one of the largest hydrogen plants in all of Europe, according to Vattenfall, in a report from Clean Energy Wire. The company also said the now-defunct coal power plant has "the infrastructure needed for the large-scale production of hydrogen from renewable energies such as offshore wind," said Vattenfall's Head German Officer Christian Barthélémy in the report.

Additionally, the project could "demonstrate to Europe and the world that the hydrogen economy is real and can contribute significantly to the decarbonization of the energy system and heavy industry," added Head of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Kentaro Hosomi in the CEW report. This makes Moorburg among the initial coal power plants to opt into Germany's early-shuttering tender deal, and it brings the nation closer than ever to putting out its coal-fueled power production capacities by 2038 at the latest.

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