It is an ambitious plan, but there are still some uncertainties. Ideally, Germany wants to completely eliminate coal-based electricity supplies by 2030; Thereafter, renewables (mainly solar and wind) should take on most of the load. The share of coal in the German energy mix has been steadily declining for years, but the Federal Republic still generates around 26 percent of its electricity needs from coal.

An electricity system that relies on renewable energy instead of coal is cheaper and cleaner, but the conversion needed to achieve this is complex. The Ministry of Economy and Climate under Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) recently presented a key cornerstone for this: a network of modern gas power plants should step in and supply the necessary electricity in the few hours of the year when there is no wind or sun. The “stalemate” is over again. According to the idea of ​​​​the Traffic Light Coalition, these power plants should be able to be adapted to run on hydrogen in the medium term, so that they also operate in a climate-neutral way.

“A true facilitator of the energy transition”

An expensive undertaking, because a large part of these modern gas power plants must first be rebuilt, under still unclear financial conditions. In contrast, Karlsruhe-based energy supplier Enbw is already getting started: rapidly converting old coal-fired power plants into gas-fired power plants. The inauguration of the former coal-fired power station in Heilbronn took place on Friday and two other power plants in Stuttgart and Altbach/Dezisau are already being renovated. The new power plant is planned to come into operation from 2026.

A so-called gas and steam turbine facility will be installed to replace the old coal block 7 of the power plant; The old cooling tower will continue to be used. Since the coal-fired power station also supplies heat to surrounding homes and businesses, the new gas-fired power plant will also have a heat accumulator and a large hot water boiler. According to Enbw, the costs of the reform total 500 million euros, but a part of them is borne by the State.

By replacing coal with gas, Heilbronn's new power plant can save between 49 and 61 percent of CO2, according to a city report. “This also supports our efforts to achieve climate neutrality by 2035,” said Mayor Harry Mergel (SPD) on Friday. And this should be just the beginning, because the Heilbronn power plant should be converted as quickly as possible to run on hydrogen. The new gas plant should be able to burn up to 20 percent hydrogen from the start. The system is “a real enabler of the energy transition,” Enbw board member Dirk Güsewell said on Friday.

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Blue or green?

However, some details are still unclear. For example, regarding the “power plant strategy”: many details regarding the future remuneration of power plants remain to be determined. Because standby operation, which is only planned for a few hours a year, must be specifically funded to make it worthwhile. No wonder Enbw has repeatedly pushed for the rapid adoption of the power plant strategy. “Without adequate financing, these cannot operate economically,” Enbw board member Georg Stamatelopoulos said of the new gas power plants in December.

Another obstacle could be the supply of hydrogen. The gas plant can only become truly climate neutral if it uses “green” hydrogen obtained from renewable energy. Although the power plant will connect to a new regional hydrogen pipeline, it is still unclear where the hydrogen will come from. The necessary infrastructure is still being developed in Germany.

Güsewell, a member of the Enbw board of directors, stated on Friday that for him it does not necessarily have to be “green” hydrogen, but that “blue” also works. “Blue” hydrogen is obtained from coal, oil or natural gas, so it is not climate neutral. However, the resulting CO2 would have to be stored underground. However, there is currently no infrastructure to store carbon dioxide.

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