Energy policy: from one disaster to the next

Habeck’s energy policy is heading from one disaster to the next. The shutdown of nuclear and coal-fired power plants was supposed to be compensated by the construction of modern gas-fired power plants. Now gas is in short supply, not least because of the sanctions, and the gas-fired power plants have to be taken off the grid again. Therefore, more coal-fired power plants from the reserve are now to step in again. However, the coal freighters that are supposed to supply them with hard coal are now in short supply. The next bottleneck is looming.


Not enough inland shipping capacity to supply reserve power plants with coal

Last year, the German inland navigation companies transported around 29 million tonnes of hard coal from the three landing ports of Amsterdam, Antwerp and Rotterdam via the Rhine to their customers. Their customers are mainly steelworks and power plants along the river. These inland vessels chug along comfortably, but their transport capacity is often underestimated.

Energy policy: from one disaster to the next. Not enough inland shipping capacity to supply reserve power plants with coal
Energy policy: from one disaster to the next. Not enough inland shipping capacity to supply reserve power plants with coal

Inland navigation on the Rhine is at full capacity. If coal-fired power plants are now ramped up along the river to replace gas-fired power plants, the supply of hard coal will be tight. For this is over 7000 tonnes for four so-called lighters. This corresponds to a transport capacity of 175 railway wagons or 280 lorry loads.


No emergency reserve of shipping space available

In the next few weeks, however, coal-fired power plants with a total capacity of four gigawatts are to be reconnected to the grid. And they consume huge amounts of coal. According to Jens Schwanen, managing director of the Association of German Inland Navigation Companies, there is no emergency reserve of shipping space to supply them. On the Rhine, he says, there is currently full employment. “Everything that can swim is in use,” says Schwanen (Welt: 08.07.22).

The transport operators confirm Schawnen’s statement. The CEO of HGK Shipping said: “Since the first quarter of this year, many industrial sites and power plants have already been ramping up coal again, so that the situation on the Rhine can definitely be described as tense. It is likely that the available shipping space will not be able to fully cope with the requested transport volumes “. HGK Shipping is one of the largest inland shipping operators on the Rhine.

Many barges transferred to the Danube for grain transport from Ukraine

Then there is the Ukraine war. Many inland vessels have been transferred to the Danube to transport grain from Ukraine. Industry experts expect that the shortage of shipping space on the Rhine will lead to noticeable bottlenecks from August onwards. “We will not be able to serve our customers as they are used to,” Schwanen said in this regard.


Low water due to dry period further aggravates the situation

Now there is also the threat of a dry period with low water. If we have a longer dry period with falling water levels, the already scarce shipping space will become even scarcer,” warns Schwanen. Depending on the water level, the ships will then have to sail up to three times to transport the same quantities as at normal water levels in a single trip. It is already foreseeable that the reserve power plants that are now to be reactivated will not be able to generate electricity due to a lack of coal. Perhaps Habeck will then think about extending the lifetimes of the last nuclear power plants after all and initiate the next turn in his energy policy.

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