16 Mar 2021, 13:29
Charlotte Nijhuis

Utility RWE has long way to go to climate-neutrality – Greenpeace report

Clean Energy Wire / Tagesspiegel Background

German energy utility RWE is struggling to make the transition to climate-neutrality, according to a report published by EnergyComment and commissioned by Greenpeace. Renewable energy, including wind, solar, hydropower and biomass, only accounts for 21 percent of the company’s electricity supply, while fossil fuels continue to form the “backbone of the business model,” the report states. In Germany, only 2.2 percent of green electricity is generated by RWE, according to the report. The energy company, which is Germany’s biggest coal power producer, aims to be climate-neutral by 2040, but it remains “unclear” how it will achieve this, Greenpeace writes. The study acknowledges that RWE was able to halve its emissions to 88.1 million tonnes of CO2 in 2019 compared to 2012, and that the goal of reducing emissions by a further 50 percent by 2030 seems "achievable" due to the closure of lignite-fired power plants and the expansion of renewables. However, "from today's point of view, it is unlikely" that RWE will achieve its 2040 goal unless it exits gas-fired power generation or switches to extensive use of CCS (carbon capture and storage), but “there are no comprehensible plans for this,” the study says.

French insurance company recently dropped RWE as a client due to the company's still too high reliance on coal power. The insurer announced it would could all its ties with the company by the end of next year, including RWE’s renewable projects.

RWE's 2020 annual report showed unexpected profits of 3.2 billion euros, Tagesspiegel Background writes. The company says it is working to transition to climate-neutrality. RWE will invest around five billion euros in the expansion of renewable energies between 2020 and 2022, Tagesspiegel Background quotes an RWE spokesman as saying. Eighty-four percent of the investments qualified as ecologically sustainable under the draft EU taxonomy. "Hardly any company is changing as radically and as quickly as RWE,” the spokesperson said. 

At the end of last year, RWE shut down its first lignite unit in North Rhine-Westphalia as part of the country’s coal phase-out. Germany will end coal-fired power generation by 2038 at the latest. In the coming years, RWE will gradually phase out lignite-fired units. The company will receive 2.6 billion euros in compensation for the phase-out.

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