Why is Canada’s federal environment and climate change minister in Bonn, of all places, lecturing the world on how not to make electricity? Bonn, I will remind you, is in Germany (when I was growing up, it was the capital of what we called “Free” Germany). Germany, I will remind you, is a heavy and enthusiastic if quiet user of coal for making electricity, and its use of coal has trended up—yes, up—in recent years. Canada’s ECC minister, Catherine McKenna, wants the world not to use coal for power generation. So she could be taking a shot at her host.
Why has Germany’s use of coal trended upward in recent years, so much so that I call the country a heavy and enthusiastic user of coal? Because Germany has, in order to please a loud, proud, and almost Monty-Pythonesque constituency of handwringing hippies represented by the Green Party, decided to rid itself of nuclear power.
Will the world media, who whether they know it or not survive solely on the back of the 24/7 electricity that coal and nuclear plants provide and that wind turbines and solar panels cannot, grasp the irony of an anti-coal remonstrance on a cloudy 8°C November day in the heart of Germany, the very country that most quickly wrote the wind and solar fantasy into its national policy?
It really is that simple. And that decision has narrowed down Germany’s options for ways of making baseload electricity to exactly one. As I have mentioned in many earlier articles, there are three ways to make baseload electricity:
- Large hydro.
- Fossil thermal (coal, oil, or gas).
Most places that make electricity tapped their large hydro out early in the electrification era, leaving them fossil or nuclear as their only two choices for further expansion of capacity. Those that ruled out nuclear did so for exactly the same vacuous reasons Germany did, which left them with exactly one choice, fossil thermal.
Whereupon they separated fossil thermal into further choices:
- Natural gas (methane).
This sub-categorization of fossil thermal created a new competitive landscape in the power generation markets in anti-nuclear jurisdictions. Coal, oil and gas began competing against each other in those markets. With public concern about climate change growing, the sub-categorization led to a hierarchy among polluting fuels, in order from worst to best, with coal as the worst and natural gas as the best.
In reality, from the point of view of climate change and clean air, these fossil thermal sub-categories are all bad and should all be avoided. All emit huge amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2), and to quibble over whether one emits 100 grams more per kilowatt-hour than another when the first one emits between 400 and 500 grams at the minimum is to simply miss the point of climate policy.
Nevertheless, such quibbling has become baked into policy and media discussions over climate change. Hence, the trend over the past couple of decades has been to focus on coal as the devil incarnate while putting gas as the white knight.
And hence our (Canada’s) ECC minister McKenna hectoring the world to stop using coal. With her latest hectoring occurring in Bonn, Germany of all places.
There is another piece to this story: renewable energy, and the idea that its favourite darlings wind and solar can, and will by 2050, take over all the heavy lifting in power generation from fossil thermal. Though this idea is ridiculous bunkum, it has gotten hugely favourable press. This has translated into huge public support.
Which has in turn produced the “Germany situation”: phasing out nuclear because it’s not needed in the war against coal because wind and solar can and will replace coal, but actually phasing in more coal because wind and solar, it turns out, cannot replace either nuclear or coal.
Canada’s ECC minister is due, today, in Bonn, Germany, to issue her latest anti-coal remonstrance. Will the world media, who whether they know it or not survive solely on the back of the 24/7 electricity that coal and nuclear plants provide and that wind turbines and solar panels cannot, grasp the irony of an anti-coal remonstrance on a cloudy 8°C November day in the heart of the country that most quickly wrote the wind and solar fantasy into its national policy?
And if they do grasp it, will they report it?