FFF- Future of Fossil Fuels in the wake of greenhouse gas neutrality

Start of Project 10/2018
End of Project 09/2021

The decarbonisation of the global electricity sector is crucial in order to achieve the climate change objectives of the Paris Agreement. The objective of this project is to investigate previously under-researched aspects of decarbonizing the German electricity sector in the European context and to derive an assessment of concrete policy instruments for both the German and the European level. In doing so, we extend existing analyses that focus solely on a coal phase-out in Germany by considering a wider geographical scope including other major carbon emitters in Europe. We also examine the consequences of climate policies for all fossil fuels, particularly natural gas. Trans- and interdisciplinary elements of this research project allow to better understand the different economic, technical, social, and political hurdles of the upcoming transformation away from fossil fuels in Europe. 

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Project results

Lessons for current phase-out processes can be drawn from the historical experience of the decline in coal production in Western European countries. For example, it can be concluded from the German case that it is important not only to take measures to combat un­em­ploy­ment and attract new (energy) companies, but also to apply measures to improve, for example, the infrastructure and the education and research landscape.
An important factor for decarbonizing the energy system is a rising CO2 price. Modeling results show that a CO2 price of about 130 euros per ton in 2030 could lead to an almost com­plete coal phase-out at the EU level.
For an energy system based on a high share of renewables, sector coupling offers important opportunities to improve the flexibility of energy supply and demand. With flexible charging and vehicle-to-grid, for example, the power sector flexibility offered by battery-powered ve­hi­cles can outweigh the additional impact on electricity demand.

Illustration of project results

The graphical abstract from the paper "Tightening EU ETS targets in line with the European Green Deal: Impacts on the decarbonization of the EU power sector" sum­ma­rizes the implications of a more ambitious ETS target (-63%, in line with the EU Green Deal) compared to those of the expected current target (-43%) by 2030.

Main Findings

  • To be politically en­forceable, in­struments to reduce coal production must be com­bined with social & structural policy meas­ures.
  • Unilateral phase-out plans could con­trib­ute to national target achieve­ment, but there is a risk that CO2 will merely be shift­ed under the EU-wide emissions trading scheme.
  • Long-term electricity storage and flexible sector coupling are key com­ponents of future energy systems.


Brauers, H., Oei, P.-Y., Walk, P. (2020):
Comparing Coal Phase-out Pathways: The United Kingdom’s and Germany’s Diverging Transitions. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions 37: 238-53.

Löffler, K., Burandt, T., Hainsch, K., Oei, P.-Y. (2019):
Modeling the Low-Carbon Transition of the European Energy System - A Quantitative Assessment of the Stranded Assets Problem. Energy Strategy Reviews 26.

Pietzcker, R.C., Osorio, S., Rodrigues, R. (2021):
Tightening EU ETS targets in line with the European Green Deal: Impacts on the decarbonization of the EU power sector. Appl. Energy 293: 116914.

Schill, W.-P. (2020):
Electricity storage and the renewable energy transition. Joule 4, 1-6.