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Berlin's goal: phasing-out coal by 2030

Power stations Reuter West
Power stations Reuter West
Image: Sabine Wenzel

Berlin was the first German federal state to announce that it will be phasing out coal. Accordingly, in 2017, the Berlin Energy Turnaround Act was amended to include the objective to end energy production from coal by 2030 at the latest.

In order to enforce this objective, Berlin’s last remaining lignite-fired power plants were already decommissioned in 2017. As for hard coal, the Senate is working intensely to close down all energy production involving this fuel. In 2015, the use of hard coal for energy production was responsible for about 21% of Berlin’s carbon dioxide emissions in respect of primary energy consumption.

A feasibility study – conducted jointly in 2018/19 by the State of Berlin and the largest energy supplier Vattenfall Wärme Berlin – has been investigating in detail the options for phasing out the remaining coal-fired power plants by 2030 and creating a largely carbon dioxide-free district heating supply. The subject of the study are the two combined plants, Reuter-West as well as Moabit. The study shows that phasing-out coal in Berlin by 2030 is technically feasible and can be realized at reasonable cost. By replacing hard coal, more than 2 million tons of CO2 can be saved annually. This corresponded to around 13% of the total CO2 emissions in the state of Berlin (year 2016). In addition, phasing out coal will lead to a significant reduction in fine dust, sulphur dioxide or heavy metals and contribute to better air and river water quality in Berlin as a whole.

The feasibility study details a new generation concept for a successful, climate-friendly and consumer-friendly heat transition while maintaining a high level of energy security. District heating which offers the possibility to receive and distribute heat from different sources, will play a key role in the transition process. Concretely, 40% of the former coal use in Berlin will be replaced by the use and integration of climate-friendly energies such as geothermal energy and biomass, as well as the use of waste heat that would otherwise remain unused and be released into the environment. Another 60% of former coal based electricity production will be replaced through new highly efficient, modular gas combined heat and power (CHP) concepts. The integration of storage solutions and power-to-heat systems to integrate renewable electricity into the heat supply will further support the implementation of a climate-friendly heat supply for the Berlin metropolis. An important step in this direction was the Opening of Europe’s largest power-to-heat system to replace the former Reuter C hard coal fired power plant in 2019.

The study was conducted by a consortium led by the German energy consultancy BET Büro für Energiewirtschaft und technische Planung GmbH. To accompany the process, the Senate and Vattenfall established an advisory board including representatives from civil society, politics and academia. The transparency of the process was also ensured by public events and regular online information.

Berlin’s largest energy supplier Vattenfall and the State of Berlin are working closely together to implement the recommendations of the study in order to phase out coal even before 2030. Discussions continue with various relevant stakeholder groups for the implementation process. With the successful implementation of the roadmap, a crucial step will be taken to facilitate Berlin’s heat transition from a system still largely based on fossil fuels.