Firing up Germany’s Post-Coal Economies

Germany will be phasing out coal-produced power by 2038, and the government’s Structural Development Act is underwriting a massive effort to shift the focus of the regions most affected over to clean energy. We look at four innovative projects.

May 2021

Lusatia in eastern Germany was once one of the biggest lignite mining regions in Europe and a notorious polluter. But all that is changing. Now the area wants to be known as an innovation hub for clean energy.

Just ask Frank Mehlow, director for business opportunity promotion at energy giant LEAG, that has built a battery storage facility at Schwarze Pumpe near Spremberg, a lignitefired power plant which is due to be decommissioned. With 50MW capacity, the new facility is the biggest of its kind in Europe.

“The battery is a perfect match for the existing power plant infrastructure, as its feed-in stabilizes the grid and forms the basis for a build-up of future energy technology in the area,” Mehlow says. “Schwarze Pumpe has an industrial park attached to it, and the battery will make the park more attractive for investments in electricity-intensive manufacturing.” LEAG is owned jointly by Prague-based Energeticky and Jersey-based PPF Investments.

Battery storage technology will play a vital role in Germany’s energy future, which is enshrined in the Coal Phase-out Act, while the accompanying Structural Development Act (SDA) will see the government invest EUR 40 billion to transform economic structures in the country’s coal-producing areas between now and 2038.

Electrolyzers for Leuna

Further to the west, the city of Leuna is part of what’s known as the Central German Coal Region and home to the Fraunhofer Institute for Microstructure of Materials and Systems (IMWS) and its GreenHydroChem project in cooperation with Siemens and Linde AG.

In July 2020, the project became one of twenty winners of the Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy’s “Living Labs for Energy Transition” competition. At its core is an electrolyzer for transforming green electricity into hydrogen (H2), which will serve as a primary energy source for the massive chemical plant cluster around Leuna. The French oil and gas giant Total is among the future consumers and is already launching R&D projects in the region.

“The first-phase completion of GreenHydroChem by 2024 will mark the crucial step of scaling up hydrogen technology from the pilot to the large demonstrator stage, which can efficiently flip to commercialization,” IMWS’s deputy director Sylvia Schattauer says. “Our efforts here are complemented by both Germany’s National Hydrogen Strategy and the Structural Development Act, as well as numerous affiliated sub-programs on the national and regional state levels.”

The Bottom Line

The rapid change in former coal mining areas in Germany makes the regions attractive locations for foreign companies in the energy sector.

Biosolids in Helmstedt

Meanwhile, in Helmstedt, a former coal-producing region on the then border between West and East Germany, Bernard M. Kemper, CEO of EEW Energy from Waste, an operator of thermal waste power plants across Europe, is awaiting the go-ahead for a project linking a new biosolids incineration plant and an electrolyzer for hydrogen production.

“We are burning 150,000t of biosolids per year, and our electrolyzer will have an output of 20MW, so our projects drive both the transition to clean energy and transformation of the coal regions,” Kemper says. “A radiating effect across borders has already become apparent, with a foreign manufacturer of hydrogen buses considering the establishment of production lines nearby,” he adds.

Watch our short film on the coal regions as “Germany’s next generation energy hubs”

Heat storage for the Rhineland

Finally, further to the west, changes are also afoot in the Rhine Coal Region. One of its many beacon projects is StoreToPower, which involves converting parts of an existing lignite power plant into a heat storage power facility.

“The transformation of Germany’s four coal regions has become very dynamic, with decision-makers busy analyzing how to position their respective region and what to focus on,” says Heiko Staubitz, Senior Manager for investor consulting within GTAI’s Smart Grids & Energy division. “There are attractive government funds and grants to facilitate this part of Germany’s transition to clean energy, and many companies are seeking synergetic cooperation with innovative players from abroad.”

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