18 Feb 2021, 14:21
Charlotte Nijhuis

German coal industry looks to hydrogen as alternative


The German coal industry is looking to hydrogen production as an alternative in light of the country’s coal exit, Kathrin Witsch writes in business daily Handelsblatt. The coal state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) recently presented a “hydrogen roadmap” featuring a plan to test and validate innovative electrolysis technologies in the Ruhr region. The eastern coal states of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Brandenburg also want to become centres for hydrogen in Germany and believe their experience in the energy industry gives them a competitive advantage, Witsch writes. 

Many coal industry regions are struggling with the consequences of the phase-out, fighting job losses and the outflow of young people to bigger cities. NRW economics minister Andreas Pinkwart expects the new industry to provide an economic boost for the region: "Up to 130,000 additional jobs could be created in North Rhine-Westphalia,” he told Handelsblatt. In the Eastern German state of Lusatia, which is hit hard by the coal phase-out, Siemens is setting up a hydrogen research centre that will enter operation in 2022. The regions also hope that former opencast lignite mines will provide huge areas for wind and solar farms. "The potential for electricity generation with renewable energies in the lignite areas is enormous," Michael Class, board member of the wind and solar park operator Juwi, told Handelsblatt. 

Earlier this month, the German federal government and energy companies officially signed a public law agreement to end lignite-based power generation in the country by 2038. At the end of last year, RWE shut down its first lignite unit in North Rhine-Westphalia, a state in the west of Germany. The German parliament (Bundestag) adopted the country's coal exit law in July 2020, 18 months after the multi-stakeholder coal exit commission recommended an end to coal-fired power generation in the country by 2038 at the very latest. For hard coal, the coal exit law has established auctions for plant operators to take capacity off the grid according to the government's timetable.

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