Germany is one of the major energy consumers in Europe. The main source of electricity in this country is still coal. In 2014, the share of coal in the energy mix was 43.2% (25.4% lignite, 17.8% hard coal). The rest of the energy was produced from renewable energy (26.2%), nuclear energy (15.8%), gas (9.5%) and other sources (5.3%).
In Germany, the policy is focused on “Energiewende” – energy transformation. By 2020, Germany intends to abandon the use of nuclear energy. Most of the 17 nuclear power plants will be switched off by 2021 and three will still be operating until 2022 – for energy security. It is believed that renewable energy is sufficient enough to replace the existing capacity of nuclear power. In 2010, nuclear power produced 23% of electricity, while in 2014 already less than 16%.
Germany is the world leader in renewable energy implementation. In 2010, the energy strategy for Germany was approved, which assumes that the share of renewable energy in total electricity consumption should reach at least 35% in 2020, 50% in 2030, 65% in 2040 and 80% in 2050.
Germany has the largest amount of installed solar panels. The production of renewable energy has increased in the last several years. In 2000, renewable energy generated 40 Twh and in 2014 – 157.4 TWh. The biggest share in electricity production in 2014 was wind energy (34%), biomass (27%), photovoltaic (23%), hydropower (12%) and household waste (4%).
Also, energy efficiency has increased in Germany by 18% from 1991-2006. It is expected that in 2050 the demand for electricity will decrease by 25%. As a result of the fast development of renewable energy, in 2014, coal consumption in Germany decreased for the first time since the recession in 2009.
Opencast lignite mines and power plants
In Germany, lignite is produced in the western and eastern parts of the country, mainly in North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony and Brandenburg. Most lignite is combusted in lignite-fired plants located near opencast mines because the transport over long distances is economically unprofitable.
One of the largest producers of electricity in Europe is the German company RWE Power AG. The Hambach opencast mine is the largest lignite mine belonging to the company and is located in the Rhine Basin. The mine has been working for 40 years and it produces approx. 40 million tons of lignite annually, which is a quarter of lignite production in Germany. In the Rhine Basin, there are two other mines: Garzweiler and Inden. All three mines supply lignite to 5 power plants (also owned by RWE AG) with a total capacity of more than 12,000 MW – which is approx. 18% of produced electricity in Germany. The Rhine Basin is one of Europe’s largest mining regions ,which produces approx. 100 million tons of lignite.
A large lignite area is also located in the eastern part of Germany, in the Saxony and Brandenburg states. Vattenfall, a Swedish energy company, owns five opencast lignite mines located in this region. It also owns several power plants, including Jaenschwalde (3000 MW) and Schwarze Pumpe (1600 MW) in Brandenburg and Boxberg (2500 MW) in Saxony. At the end of 2014, the Swedish company announced that it wanted to sell its lignite mines and power plants in Germany and focus on the production of energy from renewable sources.