How is coal used to generate energy


Alongside renewable energies, coal is currently still the most important energy source in electricity production. In 2018, around 35 percent of gross electricity was generated from coal (lignite - 22.5 percent, hard coal - 12.9 percent), as much as from renewable energy sources. With the further implementation of the energy transition, the generation of electricity from lignite and hard coal is to be phased out and the expansion of renewable energies is to be further advanced at the same time. Learn more

Hard coal

Coal consumption and supply

The main consumers of hard coal in Germany are power plants and the steel industry. In 2018, the power plants accounted for around 58 percent of the total consumption of hard coal, the steel industry for around 39 percent, the other manufacturing industry and for domestic fuel and small consumers around 3 percent. The German hard coal mining industry has been in the process of restructuring for decades. Domestic hard coal production was stopped at the end of 2018 with the closure of the last two mines, Prosper-Haniel and Ibbenb├╝ren. In view of this development, more than 97 percent of imports are now securing the supply of hard coal to the German market (43.2 million tons in 2018).

Subsidization of local hard coal mining

Hard coal production in Germany ceased at the end of 2018. Most recently, 2.6 million tons were mined. Hard coal mining was not internationally competitive. It was subsidized to compensate for the difference between production costs and the proceeds from the sale of production. The aid per ton was not allowed to exceed the difference between production costs and average third country coal prices. In addition, there are still subsidies to cover the costs of decommissioning. State aid for hard coal mining must be approved by the EU Commission on the basis of the EU hard coal subsidy scheme (PDF, 733 KB) adopted by the Competitiveness Council on December 10, 2010.

End of subsidized hard coal mining in Germany

On February 7, 2007, the federal government, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and the Saarland as well as RAG AG and IG BCE agreed to end the subsidized mining of hard coal in Germany by the end of 2018 in a socially acceptable manner. The phase-out process is regulated by the framework agreement "Socially acceptable termination of subsidized hard coal mining in Germany" concluded between the federal government, the mining regions and RAG AG on August 14, 2007 and by the Hard Coal Financing Act that came into force in December 2007. As a result of the amendment to the law that came into force in July 2011 (PDF: 20 KB), the originally planned review of the exit decision by the German Bundestag (revision clause) was deleted.

The subsidies to be made available by the federal government and the state of North Rhine-Westphalia on the basis of these regulations and the grant notices issued in the meantime amount to the following maximum amounts (million euros) for the period 2014 to 2019:

State of North Rhine-Westphalia363,8171,4170,9161,2151,5220,6

RAG AG will make a contribution of 192 million euros for this period.

Perpetual burdens in the coal industry

A separate regulation has been made for the perpetual burdens of the hard coal mining of RAG AG (mine water management, permanent mine damage, groundwater purification), which reflects the special responsibility of the district states. The perpetual obligations are financed by the RAG Foundation, established on July 10, 2007, through the utilization of the assets of Evonik Industries AG (former RAG AG shareholding division). In the event that the foundation's assets are insufficient, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and Saarland guarantee the financing of the perpetual obligations (inheritance contract between these two states and the RAG-Stiftung). It has been agreed with the two federal states that the federal government will contribute a third if claims are made against them under the guarantee. This ensures that the perpetual obligations are financed.

Brown coal

Lignite is currently still the most important domestic fossil energy resource. Lignite can be extracted without subsidies. The available resources have a long range.

Lignite is still mined in three mining areas, the Rhenish, Lusatian and Central German mining areas, exclusively in opencast mines, i.e. close to the surface. Production in the Helmstedt mining area ended in August 2016. Annual production in 2018 was around 166.3 million tons and has been almost constant in recent years.

The Federal Republic of Germany is currently still the largest lignite-producing country in the world, followed by China, Russia and the USA.

Use of lignite

Around 90 percent of lignite is used to generate electricity and district heating in public and industrial power plants and thus contributed 22.5 percent to electricity generation in Germany in 2017.

Because of its specific properties, lignite is used economically close to the deposit in the combination of opencast mining and power plant with a high degree of security of supply and efficiency. There is therefore no international market for lignite. Almost ten percent of lignite extraction is refined into solid or powdered fuels (lignite briquettes, lignite dust and fluidized bed lignite, lignite coke) - for commercial use as well as for private households.

Environmental impact

Lignite mining changes the landscape permanently; it is always associated with serious interventions in the living space of humans and animals and in nature in general. In the context of state planning and mining law approval procedures, an attempt is made to strike a balance between energy, social, technical and environmental interests. The public - for example the citizens, specialist authorities, environmental associations - are given the opportunity to exert influence and have a say.

Since mining began, lignite mining has taken up a total of around 177,300 hectares, of which around 70 percent have already been recultivated. Around 20 percent of the recultivated areas are used as agricultural land, approx. 30 percent as forestry areas and approx. 13 percent as water areas.