The Institute for Energy Research is a not-for-profit organization that conducts intensive research and analysis on the functions, operations, and government regulation of global energy markets.

About IER
Latest Analysis
October 24, 2016

France and Germany Turn to Coal

October 24, 2016
Print Friendly

Many of France’s nuclear units are down for inspection. As a result, coal and natural gas generation has more than doubled. Last month, generation from fossil fuels was the highest in 32 years in France and nuclear generation was the lowest since 1998. As a result, French month-ahead power prices escalated to near the highest levels since 2009.

Germany is replacing its nuclear units with renewable energy (wind and solar) as part of its energy transition, the so-called Energiewende. It is using mainly coal to back-up its intermittent renewable energy and as a result, it has increased its coal-fired generation. Due to the higher cost of wind and solar units, residential electricity prices have escalated and are 3 times that of the United States.


France is heavily dependent on nuclear power for its electricity generation. It generated almost 80 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy in 2015, followed by hydroelectric power that generated about 10 percent. In 2015, fossil fuels represented only a 7.5 percent share and renewable energy (excluding hydro) had a 6.1 percent share. (See graph below.)


Note: Other renewables are geothermal, biomass, and other.

Source: BP Statistical Review,

But this, year, France’s nuclear regulator ordered safety checks on a number of its reactors, and those safety checks are taking longer than expected. France’s nuclear generation began dropping early this year and took a major decline in April that has continued into September. Its nuclear reactors produced 26.6 terawatt-hours of electricity in September, the lowest amount since August 1998. Since April, generation from coal and natural gas increased to compensate for the reactors off-line, and in September, they produced 4,132 gigawatt-hours, or 11 percent of the total.[i]

France has seven fewer reactors available than at the same time last year. France’s nuclear regulator ordered safety checks on 18 of its 58 units to rule out potential anomalies on steam generators. Six reactors, however, are expected to be back on-line this month.

France is also faced with the lowest hydropower output in 10 years, which is exacerbating the tight supply situation. Hydropower levels are down 25 percent so far this October compared to last year.

The change in generation has caused prices to spike. The French next-month contract is trading at a premium of 24.90 euros ($27.42) per megawatt-hour to Germany. The price rose to a seven-year high of 68.15 euros ($74.82) per megawatt-hour on October 7. Day-ahead electricity jumped as much as 18 percent to 77 euros ($84.54) per megawatt-hour–the highest since April 2013.




Unlike France, Germany is much more reliant on renewable energy and fossil fuels for its electricity generation than on nuclear power. That is because Germany decided to retire its nuclear units and promote renewable energy instead after the tsunami hit Japan’s nuclear reactors in Fukushima. While Germany gets 27.3 percent of its generation from non-hydroelectric renewable energy, it is also heavily dependent on coal and natural gas for base-load power and to back up its intermittent wind and solar power, generating over 50 percent of its power from fossil fuels. (See chart below.)


Note: Other renewables are geothermal, biomass, and other.

Source: BP Statistical Review,

Germany’s plan is to shutter all of its nuclear units by 2022 and to have renewable energy provide 40 to 45 percent of its generation by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050[ii]—up from 30 percent in 2025. Replacing nuclear power with renewable energy has proven difficult, however, mainly due to the intermittency of wind and solar power. When wind and solar are not available to generate electricity, German power buyers turn to coal. In fact, Germany opened over 10 gigawatts of new coal fired power plants over the past 5 years.[iii]

Germany has over 20 gigawatts of lignite-fired electric generating capacity operating as of the beginning of 2015,[iv] generating about 25 percent of its electricity last year.[v] Lignite, also called brown coal, has the highest carbon dioxide emissions per ton when burned–a third more than hard coal and three times as much as natural gas.[vi] It is Europe’s most abundant and least-expensive domestic fuel, especially when located close to power plants. Germany also uses hard coal, which generated about 18 percent of its electricity.[vii]

Germany’s coal-fired generation last year declined by just a half percent and because its electricity demand remained essentially flat, the relatively inexpensive coal-fired power not needed domestically was exported–mostly to Austria, the Netherlands, France and Switzerland.[viii] Germany’s plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions includes renewables replacing coal as well as its nuclear power, but its coal-fired generating industry refuses to go away.

Despite the large increase in solar and wind power, Germany is likely to miss its 2020 target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels.[ix] In fact, its carbon dioxide emissions increased last year by 0.8 percent.[x]


Coal is not going away in France and Germany as both countries need it to keep the lights on when nuclear units in France are down for inspection and as Germany’s energy transition brings in intermittent renewable energy to replace its retiring nuclear units. Coal, particularly lignite coal, is indigenous to Germany and supplies the majority of its power despite the dramatic growth in Germany’s wind and solar power industry.

[i] Bloomberg, France Burns Coal Like It’s 1984 as Prices Jump on Atomic Woes, October 18, 2016,

[ii] Clean Air, Germany Replaces Nuclear with Coal, GHGs Skyrocket,

[iii] Carbon Counter, Why Germany’s nuclear phase out is leading to more coal burning, June 6, 2015,

[iv] In July 2015, Germany announced that it would mothball 2.7 gigawatts of the oldest lignite-fired capacity to meet its 2020 climate goals.

[v] Energy Information Administration, Germany, August 2016,

[vi] Scientific American, Can Germany Ditch Coal?, January 20, 2016,

[vii] Bloomberg, Germany Gives Dirtiest Coal Plants Six Years for Phase Out, July 2, 2015,

[viii] Energy Post, The German conundrum: renewables break records, coal refuses to go away, March 24, 2016,

[ix] EU Observer, Can Germany phase out coal power?,

[x] BP, Statistical Review of World Energy 2016,

Print Friendly

View Comments
  • rlhailssrpe

    Germany is positive proof that if a nation drops carbon combustion based and atomic fission based generation, their costs will skyrocket. German coal is lousy compared to US coal. Hence they are now imported about 10% of their steam coal from the US, transporting it across an ocean. And still their prices have almost quadrupled due to the expense of juice from green energy. The prices will climb higher because their wind generators are far from their loads; their grid does not work. And the uncontrolled surges of green energy flood their neighbors’ grids presenting the real danger of melting major equipment.

    Oddly, violent Muslim immigrants may sweep their green leaders out of office so no one knows the future make up of their grid.

    • Evangelical2

      No they haven’t. Germany’s prices are something like 1.8x what they were before the Energiewende program, right in line with standard inflation across the board.

      It now costs less to build new Solar and Wind than to build NEW Coal power.

      You [email protected]

  • Evangelical2

    This stupid article’s opening premise is: “Nuclear power plants are going through routine maintenance so Coal power is providing the difference”.

    How dumb does the “institute for energy research” think people are?

    How do you equate filling in gaps with increased reliance on Coal? Meanwhile Coal is down overall…and Germany continues with its successful Energiewende program.

    Dumb article, for dummies.

  • Evangelical2

    This stupid article doesn’t say anything about Energy Storage.

    This website must be some paid-for propaganda masturbation page for Republicans.

    • Ros Sculac

      I like your way with words.

    • Hughspeaks

      That’s because the only form of energy storage we have capable of handling the quantities of power flowing though electricity grids for even a short time, is pumped hydro, which can only be installed in a very small number of places where the geography allows it. Effectively there is no viable form of energy storage once you get to grid-scale quantities of electricity, which is why the article doesn’t mention it.

  • northernexposure

    At its peak the green scam still can’t produce and it only gets worse from here out. Life expectancy of the wind power is less than 20 years. The german taxpayers can’t afford more increases in the already most expensive electricity in the world. It is no wonder their coal generation is up and they continue to build coal plants. One day the whole wind stupidity will just blow away.

  • J.P. Katigbak

    It seems to people like me around the world that the ideologically and philosophically scandalous belief in environmentalism remains a real issue surrounding the socialist and left-liberal facades.

    It is time for people like me to take a stand before the situation behind this is too late!

  • Richard Mann

    News from Ontario, Canada. Here is the latest from Ontario’s Professional Engineers. “Ontario
    Wasted More Than $1 Billion Worth of Clean Energy in 2016”. June 29,

Back to top