Sentences about coal

by on February 8, 2013 at 7:37 am in Current Affairs, Economics, Law | Permalink

Europe’s use of the fossil fuel spiked last year after a long decline, powered by a surge of cheap U.S. coal on global markets and by the unintended consequences of ambitious climate policies that capped emissions and reduced reliance on nuclear energy.

…In Germany, which by some measures is pursuing the most wide-ranging green goals of any major industrialized country, a 2011 decision to shutter nuclear power plants means that domestically produced lignite, also known as brown coal, is filling the gap . Power plants that burn the sticky, sulfurous, high-emissions fuel are running at full throttle, with many tallying 2012 as their highest-demand year since the early 1990s. Several new coal power plants have been unveiled in recent months — even though solar panel installations more than doubled last year.

Here is more.

1 Andrew' February 8, 2013 at 7:47 am

Furnaces incinerating coal seems like a bad idea until you consider some alternatives. A fail-to-safe nuclear reactor is beyond the reach of humanity?

2 AndrewL February 8, 2013 at 8:45 am

Pebble bed Reactors are the closest we’ve come I believe:

Trade “fail-safe” with more difficult disposable problems.

3 David H. February 8, 2013 at 12:06 pm

Actually no, at least not the ones we’ve tried. First of all, I am very angry with my German friends for supporting the Atomausstieg. I told them when it happened that the missing power will have to get replaced by coal, and they all told me that it wouldn’t, that renewables would take up the slack. That was foolish.

But on the topic of pebble bed reactors, it was actually Germany that did the most to try to make them work, and it was their failures that amplified the call for the Atomausstieg. I would much rather see traveling wave reactors – and liquid salt thorium reactors are also something we should take seriously.

4 Curt F. February 8, 2013 at 9:12 am

I don’t know. I don’t like having to worry about mercury when I buy and eat seafood. How many Fukushimas would need to happen until nuclear waste contaminated our seafood to the same risk level that coal waste does now?

5 Alexei Sadeski February 8, 2013 at 7:50 pm

I also don’t get the nuclear energy hysteria. Even post Fukushima.

6 Tracy W February 8, 2013 at 9:22 am

And in good news, the numbers of deaths in China due to coal mining fell from 3,215 in 2008 to 2,631 in 2009.

7 jdm February 8, 2013 at 7:49 am

“by the unintended consequences of ambitious climate policies that capped emissions and reduced reliance on nuclear energy.”

“Ambitious climate policy” is to “reduced reliance on nuclear energy” as “economic liberalization” is to “price controls”.

8 Andrew' February 8, 2013 at 8:03 am

Well, we could use a more efficient and safe and standard design- something that could be a legitimate public good. How is it that Bill Gates can say that Energy and Education are underfunded research areas and we don’t at least get some politicians to lie about it in response? When lying isn’t fun anymore for politicians, something has to be broken.

9 dan1111 February 8, 2013 at 9:02 am

Huh? Who is going to oppose more energy and education research? For a politician, that’s like not being in favor of helping the children.

If there is a specific proposal that involves spending more public money on research in those areas, you’ll find plenty of opponents. But I wouldn’t call either side of that debate “lying”.

10 Andrew' February 8, 2013 at 9:21 am

The lie would be about other things in the budget not crowding out progress in these areas. And I think there is a lot of energy and education spending for interest groups, but probably not enough basic research into what actually works better.

11 dan1111 February 8, 2013 at 9:33 am

Maybe so, but it is hard to call any statement about what the budget should be a lie. Statements like “spending on X should be Y” or “other things in the budget are not crowding out Z” are opinions, not facts.

12 grk February 8, 2013 at 9:19 am

Remember that nuclear energy leaves behind waste products which will stay deadly for thousands of years. That’s the main rationale in Germany for making the switch and has been since the ’80s. They just don’t know where to put it in the highly populated country and ethical concerns makes them squeamish about exporting the waste to Russia (though that’s what’s essentially been done so far)

13 jdm February 8, 2013 at 9:29 am

Nuclear has it’s downsides like everything else, but if Germany (or any other country) were serious about having an “ambitious climate policy”, nuclear has to be a larger, rather than a smaller, part of the mix. There is no other way to do it in the intermediate term, as the increased coal burning in Germany amply testifies. As an aside, modern nuclear designs are much safer than the already safe designs of most existing plants. There are also ways to minimize the waste and reuse it for fuel.

14 Andrew' February 8, 2013 at 10:00 am

I suspect the current nuclear designs are the result of government pushing not-ready-for-prime-time technologies. They are doing the same thing with solar, and by default coal. Luckily for these, the problems are not as vivid as with nuclear.

15 Dick King February 8, 2013 at 10:13 am

And mercury released into the biosphere by burning coal remains deadly for how long?


16 Andrew' February 8, 2013 at 10:54 am

“And mercury released into the biosphere by burning coal remains deadly for how long?”

Until it is sequestered safely in baby brains.

17 Dick King February 9, 2013 at 12:19 am

“Until it is sequestered safely in baby brains.”

Actually, no.

Mercury does permanent damage to brains of any age, but its half-life in the human body is finite, measured in years. The baby contaminates hir diapers, which end up somewhere, and the cycle repeats with new fish and new nursing mothers and new babies.


18 Anon. February 8, 2013 at 10:18 am

We’re building breeder reactors now. They generate more fissile material than they take in, and leave very little spent fuel which is far easier to handle than that produced by older designs.

Even so, the issue of waste seems absolutely trivial compared to the hunderds of thousands of deaths annually due to coal burning.

19 Alexei Sadeski February 8, 2013 at 7:51 pm

Pretty sure that stuff buried deep in the Mojave desert won’t be deadly to anyone.

20 prior_approval February 8, 2013 at 8:03 am

So, a 25% mix of renewable electricity and the shutting down of 8 nuclear plants means that Germany used more domestic coal?

And that the applications for these new coal pants, particularly in EnBW’s case, was made at exactly the same time they were defending the necessity to keep such reactors as Philipsburg open to keep coal from being used means that the power companies are willing to lie, though in the end, when being forced to close their reactors, it is true that coal will make up the difference?

Or that the current political resistance to expanding EEG provisions means that the big 4 four energy companies remain pissed that their lies are so publicly exposed?

I’m curious – anyone actually living in Germany and familiar with its energsy market willing to comment about the facts?

21 Andrew' February 8, 2013 at 8:21 am

What are you disputing?

22 Andrew' February 8, 2013 at 8:28 am

Renewable is 25% of what Germany produces, but they import 2/3s of their energy. Do those numbers square?

23 prior_approval February 8, 2013 at 8:36 am

Nope- Germany exported more electricity than it imported, according to a recently stringently audited report.

However, reading German is required to understand the following link –

But much like people who don’t understand what a feed-in tariff is, such factual information is unlikely to change the opinions of those who aren’t actually concerned about empricial numbers.

24 Andrew' February 8, 2013 at 8:45 am

Anything other than a single, only-in-German link? What’s this about a feed-in tariff?

25 AndrewL February 8, 2013 at 8:47 am

electricity is the finished product. Germany may need to import more fuel than they can produce domestically to produce the electricity.

26 prior_approval February 8, 2013 at 8:55 am

‘Anything other than a single, only-in-German link? What’s this about a feed-in tariff?’

Truly, do you have any concern that you are ignorant of what you are commenting on?

And the Der Spiegel is one of Germany’s major sources of journalistic information – and they even bother to translate much of their reporting into English. Prof. Cowen even links to them on occasion – though that should not be considered an endorsement, of course – the linking here, as has been recently noted, is often distorted, to be charitable.

(And one hopes our conversation won’t be deleted, as has occurred in the past.)

27 Andrew' February 8, 2013 at 9:23 am

I have no idea what you are talking about or insinuating.

28 Andrew' February 8, 2013 at 10:10 am

PA, do you realize what people would say here if everything you could find said one thing and then the New York Times said the opposite?

They’d say exactly what I am asking for.

29 prior_approval February 8, 2013 at 11:04 am

The SWR 1 link I could find is German only too – which tends to be the reality when dealing with German news sources.

Much like how U.S. new sources don’t bother to translate their reporting into other languages.

30 Andrew' February 8, 2013 at 11:13 am

“The country has gone from being an energy exporter to an energy importer practically overnight, ”

So, maybe your article dissects the numbers to find a small net positive rather than a net negative. But that would be beside the point.

31 prior_approval February 8, 2013 at 12:12 pm

You just might have noticed that your English language reference from Der Spiegel is from September 15, 2011 – whereas mine is from Freitag, 09.11.2012 – or in American terms, Friday, November 9, 2012.

32 prior_approval February 8, 2013 at 12:25 pm

And let me further note the title of the more current Spiegel article, in my own translation – ‘Despite the nuclear swtich off, Germany has never exported so much electricity as in the present.’ ( ‘Trotz Atomausstieg: Deutschland exportiert so viel Strom wie nie.’) – yeah, the translation is a bit clunky – if anyone wants to pay me, I’m sure I can do better than 15 seconds worth of attention for a generally uninformed audience (after all, I know exactly what is meant, not to mention living in a Bundesland where the Greens swept away the CDU in the aftermath of the Fukushima debacle – and anyone else notice just how that little catastrophe has disappeared from public discourse, even though the problems haven’t actually been solved?).

As noted, Germans pay attention to the bottom line – and Germany is making money from its investment in renewable energy. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be so well supported across the politial spectrum – to the never ending disappointment of the big 4 energy companies, who continue to desperately do their best to change the discussion to their favor.

33 ad*m February 8, 2013 at 5:34 pm

As any European is aware, (semi-)government agencies are experts at not fully disclosing data to their citizens. So no surprise that actual hard data are impossible to find, for example at the official sites. One source that has a glimpse is:
A German source is here

open the tab “Anteile an der Netto Stromerzeugung in Deutschland 20XX”. However, 2012 is not there.

Surprisingly, the German wikipedia, did have data for 2012 – however they don’t show the source:
indicating that the use of coal (Steinkohl and Braunkohle) went up in 2012.

Import and export have not changed much recently:–/zoom/153085/2

Now spent enough time on prior_approval’s illusions

34 ThomasH February 8, 2013 at 8:13 am

Put on a carbon tax, remove the restrictions on nuclear and may the best fuel/energy source win.

Don’t most European coutries have policy environments less conducive to development of frack gas than the US?

35 Bill February 8, 2013 at 9:05 am

Don’t understand the comment in the lead about nuclear. Is a new nuclear fuel plant even competitively viable without subsidy v. natural gas?

36 prior_approval February 8, 2013 at 9:13 am

With or without subsidies (which in Germany, include unlimited tax payer guaranteed insurance against nuclear accidents plus an unlimited taxpayer liability to pay for nuclear waste storage according to the billing of the commercial nuclear industry), the nuclear industry will not being building nuclear plants.

As repeatedly stated by a majority of German voters in a number of elections, the nuclear power industry has no place in Germany.

To the extent that Siemens sold its nuclear division off to the French, who have a different opinion. Europe is not a monolith, after all.

37 Andrew' February 8, 2013 at 9:45 am

How much of the subsidy is required to compensate for regulatory cost burden?

And that voters prefer coal to nuclear is the point of the lead.

38 prior_approval February 8, 2013 at 10:30 am

‘And that voters prefer coal to nuclear is the point of the lead.’

No – German voters do not prefer coal to nuclear. The big 4 energy companies prefer coal and nuclear – German voters prefer other solutions (which, admittedly, includes natural gas from Russia).

39 Andrew' February 8, 2013 at 10:48 am

Revealed preferences.

40 prior_approval February 8, 2013 at 11:15 am

‘Revealed preferences.’

In which sense? German voters have already proven that the German economy can successfully increase renewable energy generation to 25%, while shutting down 8 nuclear plants, if SWR I news reports can be trusted, while exporting more electricity.

Germans tend to pay attention to the bottom line – which is one reason why Walmart failed so miserably in Germay – estimated losses of over a billion (dollars or euros – it isn’t as if Walmart is providing the numbers for public discussion).

41 JWatts February 8, 2013 at 2:02 pm

“‘Revealed preferences.’”

“In which sense?”

In the ‘revealed preferences’ sense, obviously.

42 JWatts February 8, 2013 at 2:01 pm

” Is a new nuclear fuel plant even competitively viable without subsidy v. natural gas?”

At current US natural gas prices, almost certainly not. On the other hand, nuclear power is viable at lower subsidy levels than solar power.

43 Ronald Brak February 8, 2013 at 4:20 pm

In Australia point of use solar outcompetes coal and utility scale solar apparently would outcompete new coal, although we don’t really have utility scale solar at the moment and possibly never will.

44 JWatts February 8, 2013 at 5:59 pm

I’ve heard claims like that before, but every time I’ve looked into them they were cases of cherry picked data and almost always ignored some significant solar power subsidies. If the price of coal is much higher in Australia than the US (10x) then I suppose solar would be a better deal.

45 maguro February 8, 2013 at 7:13 pm

At least in the daytime.

46 Ronald Brak February 9, 2013 at 2:09 am

Installed solar averages about $3 a watt without subsidy but with tax, the retail price of electricity averages about 27.5 cents, the interest rate on a home equity loan is about 6.25% or less, rooftop solar operates at about 16% or higher capacity for most Australians, and the industry standard warranty is 25 years on solar panels and 10 years for inverters. Are you okay to do the maths yourself or would you like me to do it?

47 JWatts February 9, 2013 at 1:47 pm

The cost of coal electricity is far cheaper than the retail price of electricity you state. Indeed, in the US power providers pay coal plants around 3-4 cents per kWh. So as I said, if the cost of coal is (10x) greater then solar is viable.

For that matter, my retail price of electricity is only around 10 cents per kWh.

48 JWatts February 9, 2013 at 5:32 pm

“Installed solar averages about $3 a watt without subsidy but with tax” And this is not likely to be true. The wholesale cost of solar panels is around $2.5 per watt, not including mounting, wiring, inverters and a grid disconnect. Not to mention installation. The price you quoted is very much a subsidized cost.


49 Ronald Brak February 9, 2013 at 8:00 pm

JWatts, there are two basic ways to do solar electricity. One way is utility scale where a solar farm provides electricity directly to the grid. This method receives the wholesale price for electricity and is not competitive. As a result we have next to no utility scale solar in Australia. Another way to do solar electricity is point of use where the electricity is used where it is generated and competes with the retail price of electricity. This is also called rooftop solar. We have a lot of this in Australia and it’s expanding rapidly as it is cheaper than relying on grid electricity alone.

Your figures for the cost of solar are very much behind the times. Solar panels can now be bought in bulk for under 65 cents a watt. Inverters can be bought for 20 cents a watt. This is easy to check online. A typical installation cost is about $1,000. And it’s good that you went and looked at renewable energy subsidies in Australia, but for some reason you obviously stopped before you actually found out what the subsidy was. Interestingly enough, for new solar it’s now about the same as the factory price of solar panels, or about 65 cents a watt.

The average price paid by Australian households for an installed three kilowatt rooftop solar system in December, including subsidy, was $2.06 Australian a watt, or about $2.12 US.

50 Dan Weber February 8, 2013 at 3:02 pm

No source of energy is without subsidy. For better or worse, they all get some sort of government support, ranging from insurance guarantees to price floors.

51 libert February 8, 2013 at 10:08 am

How is “Europe’s use of the fossil fuel spiked” caused “by the unintended consequences of ambitious climate policies that capped emissions”?

In other words, WaPo is claiming policies that put a cap on limit fossil fuel use are directly causing increases in fossil fuel use.

No, emissions are rising in Europe because their cap-and-trade scheme printed too many emission allowances, resulting in the permit prices being so cheap that they’re essentially free.

52 Dick King February 8, 2013 at 10:20 am

caused “by the unintended consequences of ambitious climate policies that capped emissions AND REDUCED RELIANCE ON NUCLEAR ENERGY” [emphasis mine]

Fixed it for you.

-dk, who will think that the liberal apocalyptic-climate-change crowd is just using the climate change meme as a tactic to fulfill liberal wet dreams and is not viewed by them as a serious problem, as long as their solutions include those dreams [such as a huge tax that is rendered revenue neutral only by a large McGovern demogrant] but they continue to oppose nuclear energy.

53 dead serious February 8, 2013 at 1:52 pm

I’m a liberal who is totally on board with nuclear as long as we can store the spent fuel in your backyard.

54 Dick King February 9, 2013 at 12:06 am

Yeah, that’s a nice cheap applause line for the antinuke crowd, and obviously there are places substantially more suitable than my backyard for nuclear waste, but if you look at the calculations in you would see that the electricity I consume, directly and indirectly in the products I buy and the servers I engage, will result in about 4Kg of waste over my lifetime if I am lucky enough to live to be 100. Assuming that vitrification multiplies the mass by a factor of five, you get 20Kg — the size of a single weight plate at the gym.

Yeah, I’ll take my share when you agree to take the waste products of the fossil fuel that has been burnt or will be burnt over your lifetime to make your electricity. In your case it’ll be about a thousand tons, or a dozen or so tons including mercury and radon and sulphates and ashes and asbestos if we forgive you the CO2, that you have to take care of.

55 DK February 9, 2013 at 2:10 pm

Please pay me enough and not only I will happily store it in my backyard but I will also take good care of shielding the radiation to safe levels.

56 hjgfghfghc February 8, 2013 at 10:53 am

From the article.

“It’s been very welcome that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions have been going down because of the switch to gas,” said David Baldock, executive director of the Institute for European Environmental Policy in London. “But if we’re simply diverting the coal somewhere else, particularly to Europe, a lot of those benefits are draining away.”

It’s the US policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that is causing the world wide price of coal to drop. Think of it as squeezing a balloon on one end, all the air just moves to the other end.

57 ThomasH February 8, 2013 at 11:18 am

The fluctuation in he value of caps shows the superiority of a carbon tax over cap and trade. The tax maintains the incentive for innovation in line with estimates of the harm done by the emissions and is not affected by technological and macroeconomic shocks.

58 JWatts February 8, 2013 at 2:07 pm

“The fluctuation in he value of caps shows the superiority of a carbon tax over cap and trade.”

Cap and Trade was a poor choice for regulating carbon dioxide. A carbon tax would be far more efficient. And as long as the money used was rebated proportional to the usage, I’ve got no problem with it.

59 DKR February 8, 2013 at 10:48 am

Fox Butterfield, is that you?

“Several new coal power plants have been unveiled in recent months — even though solar panel installations more than doubled last year.”

60 derek February 8, 2013 at 11:15 am

I find this very funny. Tyler seems to be running a humor site now.

61 londenio February 8, 2013 at 12:11 pm

Germany imported coal last year. [Citation Needed], i know. I don’t have a source. Someone close to the matter told me about it.

62 collin February 8, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Are we not surprised as they phase out nuclear something had to pick up the slack and US coal have dropped a lot here. Solar has potential in the next five to ten years but it is still limited.

Of course, Germany has a lot more solar installations than the US because they get a lot more sun. (According to Fox & Friends)

63 genauer February 8, 2013 at 2:08 pm

to add one more German voice here:

Spiegel International, the english version, is most the time pretty hard core lefty.
They are not directly lying, but they often succeed to get a completely obscure picture across, and I say it is on purpose. The most famous example is, how they construed some mangled statement of a communist in parliament (yes, we have those : -) to that allegedly our poor would now die 2 years earlier, which is of course nonsense. Sooo, please be very beware with this source. Often the german version of it does not exist, or disappears very, very quickly from their german online frontpage.


a few facts about energy in Germany:

– electricity is expensive, 28 euro cent / kWh equals 38 US cents. As far as I know most US folks pay 8.
– gasoline is also more expensive by a factor of 2, thanks to taxes, which are now 56%, down from 76 % a decade ago.

“black” classic coal is practically exhausted in Germany. Our rich uranium mines were exploited by the russians, and are now closed. Nice swimming lakes. What we still have a lot of is “brown” coal, lignite. In former times, before reunification, that was responsible for a lot of sulfur and soot output in Eastern Germany. Today there is actually technology against both, at reasonable prices.

Photovoltaics is just such a nice green story, it just has the problem, that there are times were you dont get much of it for a too long time. And that means you need either nuclear or carbon based power plants for backup.

The problem is, building NEW nuclear power plants is pretty expensive too. And as we learned with Fukushima, nuclear means severe cluster risk, too.

64 JWatts February 8, 2013 at 7:17 pm

“- electricity is expensive, 28 euro cent / kWh equals 38 US cents. As far as I know most US folks pay 8.”

The US average price of electricity is around 11 US cents per kWh or as you said 8 Euro cents per kWh.

Gas prices tend to swing per season, but the current price is roughly $3.5/gallon which would be 0.73 Euros/liter.

65 prior_approval February 9, 2013 at 12:58 am

‘Often the german version of it does not exist, or disappears very, very quickly from their german online frontpage.’

Just a couple of observations. Der Spiegel wants readers to buy its German weekly magazine edition, so German articles do tend to rotate quickly and disappear. Second, I have yet to find a single English article without it having been translated (yes, translators do get credited – ‘Translated from the German by…), leaving aside text/interviews which were done originally in another language (thus causing them to be translated into German).

Though calling the Spiegel ‘left’ is not exactly inaccurate, compared to the TAZ, it is as mainstream, consumer oriented, moral panic inducing as the NYT in the U.S. – where the NYT tends to be more conservative than the FAZ, Germany’s major ‘conservative’ paper (yes, there are a couple of less serious contenders).

66 Geoff Olynyk February 8, 2013 at 2:33 pm
67 genauer February 8, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Germany was for a very long time pushing very hard to reduce carbon emissions worldwide.
Kyoto protocol, cap and trade, long term policies to encourage renewable energies, to the tune of 10% GDP.

The carbon emission trade has practically broken down now. The relevant pages on the energy exchange , which I used to track, do not even exist anymore.

Given what the US and China do, it was completely hilarious anyways. To try to save 1 ton of CO2 in Germany, while others do not bother to spend the same on 100 tons, is just masochism.

Our chancellor, Dr Angela Merkel is a physicist, with a nearly perfect score, just in “Marxism / Leninism” she got “barely sufficient” = “rite” : – )
I was first not happy with the “get out of nuclear” decision, 1.5 years ago. Today I say, it is long term strategic the right thing.

68 JWatts February 8, 2013 at 7:23 pm

“I was first not happy with the “get out of nuclear” decision, 1.5 years ago. Today I say, it is long term strategic the right thing.”

I think it’s the exact opposite. Solar and wind can’t provide base load power without very expensive power storage mechanisms. Solar power combined with pumped hydro storage is far more expensive than even new nuclear power plants.

69 Honza February 9, 2013 at 6:30 am

I don’t think we can even say that tthe “storage mechanisms” are very expensive. We don’t know because the technology doesn’t even exist.

70 JWatts February 9, 2013 at 1:50 pm

No, that’s not true. We have various storage mechanisms.

1) Battery
2) Pumped hydro
3) Compressed air storage

All three of these are viable and are used in various cases. They are just too expensive to be used routinely, which is what solar and wind would require.

71 genauer February 8, 2013 at 3:52 pm

when Nordhaus wrote 1973 his seminal bpea energy paper, with Solow, he was not aware of cluster risk. After all, if the US would lose 1/5 of upstate NY, around Indian Point, just to make that a little specific with an example, life would very quickly go on as usual. If ISAR II blows up, it would be different.

To look at this, as the WaPo article, through the lens of US coal exports, is somewhat gross.

72 Prakash February 9, 2013 at 9:55 am

Brian Wang’s analysis of deaths per terawatt hour is indispensable for this topic. It is probably one of the most “this is obvious, why hasn’t anyone done this analysis” reads you could find on the internet.

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