The Ruhr Valley in Germany carried the European nation’s economy for much of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Its steel works and large coal deposits made it one of the continent’s biggest industrial areas – next year, it will slip the key under the door and shut production for good. Bottrop, a city of 5.5 million that has long served as a home base for the 500,000 miners who once worked the Valley’s 200 mines will see its’ heritage join the history books. However, no one is expecting the region to suffer from these closures – if anything, it is expected to grow.
As part of its COP21 agreements, Germany is currently striving to hit its renewable energy target as it hopes to reduce its CO2 emissions. Due to coal increasingly becoming less valuable and mines going bust over the past several decades, the Ruhr Valley was earmarked for a transition to a new era of power – renewables. Indeed, wind turbines have begun to replace mines as Germany continues its shift to clean energy.
Since 2000, the government has spent over $200 Billion on renewable energy subsidies (almost half of what the United States spent on fossil fuel subsidies within that same time period), resulting on a continuous transition that saw renewables provide 30% of the country’s power last year. Current trends show that renewables are the only energy source that is growing within the country as coal and nuclear fall out of favour. The transition away from coal was also assured thanks to government subsidies aimed at encouraging mines to shut down and begin dealing with their environmental impacts across the countryside.
However, this transition has also come at a cost. A perfect shift isn’t always assured and surging electrical prices and uncertainty over the long-term viability of wind power having dented public confidence within the plan. However, with the closing of the Ruhr Valley, the German government has devised a strategy that will see the mines used as giant batteries used to store renewable energy.
By building a miniature version of a hydroelectric dam that will see dirty water contaminated by the mines pushed upwards and downwards based off of Aeolian energy, they will be able to create a large battery centre capable of storing a vast amount of power. It is hoped that this will not only help continue to employ miners in different roles, but also help reduce electricity prices and stimulate another rush for renewable energy in Germany. The use of coal mines as renewable energy batteries has certainly not gone unnoticed worldwide, with many seeing it as an indication that the war on coal in Germany has truly been won by the green energy sector.