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Germany’s Green Dreams Meet Harsh Reality

Tip o’ the hat to  “Not a Lot of People Know That” for the article.

David Shukman — BBC Science Editor — April 11, 2014

A vision for a greener future for the world seems very distant if you descend into the heart of one of Germany’s largest coal mines.

While researchers and officials are in Berlin preparing the next report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the country’s fossil fuel industry is as busy as ever.

The report is expected to set out options to switch from sources of energy that give off the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide to cleaner types like wind and solar.

This mirrors Germany’s own ambitions with a plan known as the Energiewende, best translated as “energy transition”, which calls for at least 80% of power to come from renewable sources by 2050.

But south of Berlin in the region of Lausitz, down at the coal face in a mine called Welszow-South, machines the size of office blocks gouge out chunks of lignite and low-carbon dreams hardly seem plausible.

The lignite, also known as brown coal, is one of the dirtiest, most polluting kinds of fuel, but it helps generate no less than 26% of Germany’s electricity.

Add in the country’s harder black coal as well and you find that nearly half of the country’s electricity comes from the one source which climate scientists argue most needs to be phased out.

The challenge is that, for the moment, coal offers a relatively cheap and easy solution, there is plenty of it and thousands of jobs are involved so the mining enjoys robust support from unions and local politicians.

For a country that prides itself on showing green leadership, and hosting the IPCC meeting, the reliance on coal illustrates the sheer difficulty of turning visions into reality.

Germany is in the bizarre position of being the world’s largest producer of solar power – and of lignite.

The dark cliffs of brown coal stretch for miles, exposed to the air for the first time since they formed from a swampy forest that lay along the shores of the North Sea 17 million years ago. Continue reading here…..

 wind turbines coast of Germany 2003

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