It’s a sunny October day on the outskirts of the west German metropolis of Bottrop. A quiet, two-lane street leads me thru farm pasture to a cluster of anonymous, low-lying homes set many of the trees. The motorway hums inside the distance. Looming above everything else is a green A-body shape with four super pulley wheels to carry men and gadget right into a mine shaft. It’s the simplest seen sign that, nearly three quarters of a mile under, Germany’s ultimate difficult coal lies beneath this spot.
Bottrop sits inside the Ruhr Valley, a dense stretch of towns and suburbs domestic to 5.Five million people. Some 500,000 miners once worked in the location’s almost two hundred mines, producing as a good deal as 124 million heaps of coal every 12 months.
Next 12 months, that generation will come to a cease whilst this mine closes. The Ruhr Valley is in the midst of an exceptional transformation. Coal and metal flora have fallen quiet, one at a time, over the direction of the closing half-century. Wind turbines have sprung up among vintage shaft towers and coking vegetation as Germany strives to hit its renewable power goals.

But the direction from dirty coal to easy energy isn’t a smooth one. Bottrop’s Prosper-Haniel coal mine is a symbol of the challenges and opportunities facing Germany — and coal-generating states anywhere.
Across the sector, as governments shift far from the coal that fueled two a while of commercial revolution, increasingly more mines are falling silent. If there’s an afterlife for retired coal mines, one that would position them to work for the subsequent revolution in energy, it’s going to have to come quickly.

 

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But the direction from grimy coal to clean power isn’t a clean one. Bottrop’s Prosper-Haniel coal mine is an image of the demanding situations and opportunities dealing with Germany — and coal-generating states anywhere.
Around the world, as governments shift faraway from the coal that fueled a long time of the commercial revolution, increasingly mines are falling silent. If there’s an afterlife for retired coal mines, one that would be placed them to work for the following revolution in energy, it’ll need to come quickly.

Because this seam is handiest about five feet excessive, we have to slump as we flow through the tunnel of presses, stepping thru deep swimming pools of water that swallow our boots. The coal-slicing system is stalled nowadays, in any other case it might be chewing its manner along the 310-yard-lengthy seam, mouthparts clamped to the coal like a snail to the aquarium glass. The coal might be sluiced away on a conveyor belt to the floor, and the hydraulic presses could inch forward, keeping space for the miners to work.
Instead, the mine is eerily quiet. Two miners, their faces black, squeeze beyond us. As we sit down, sweating and cramped below the hydraulic presses, the bare ceiling above the coal seam gives up an occasional gasp of rock, showering down dust and debris.
Later, in a brightly lit room returned to the floor, Beicke from the mining consortium asks me what I thought of the mine. I tell him that it seems like a severe environment for people. “Yes,” he nods, “it’s far like an old global.”

A few days earlier, Beicke and I had trekked to the top of a hill outdoor the lengthy-shuttered Ewald Mine in Herten, a 1/2-hour power from Bottrop. We climbed a set of stairs to a platform with a view over the complete location, the fenced-off or leased-out buildings of the vintage mine sitting under us.


The Ruhr Valley encompasses 53 towns of Germany’s as soon as-ambitious industrial heartland, such as Essen, Bochum, and Oberhausen. The complete region was once low-lying Riverland, however, these days big hills rear above the landscape. These are the thousands of rock removed from the mines, lots of slags excavated with the coal and piled up. It’s a stark visible reminder of what’s been emptied out from under.
As the mines have closed down, maximum of these lots have been covered with grass, and lots of were topped with a statue or other landmark. On one hill outdoor Essen, there’s a 50-foot metallic slab by way of the sculptor Richard Serra; on every other, atop different heaps, wind mills stand like massive mechanical daisies.
Germany has been hailed as a leader in the worldwide shift to smooth power, placing aside its commercial beyond for a renewable future faster than most of the industrialized global. The united states of America have spent more than $2 hundred billion on renewable strength subsidies given that 2000 (examine that to the United States, which spends an envisioned $20 billion to subsidize fossil gas manufacturing every 12 months).
In 2011, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government announced the beginning of a coverage of “energiewende” to wean Germany off fossil fuels and nuclear electricity. Last year, wind, solar, and different renewables supplied nearly 30 percent of u. S .’s electricity. The purpose now could be to hit 40 percentage within the subsequent 10 years, even as slashing carbon emissions forty percent under 1990 degrees by 2020.
That transition has occurred along tries to restore the Ruhr Valley’s panorama. For each hill raised above floor stage, there may be an accompanying melancholy in which the land subsided as coal seams had been emptied out. The land here sank as the coal seams closest to the surface had been emptied out. Overall, the location has sunk about eighty toes.


Streams that enter the Ruhr Valley are now not able to drift out the alternative facet, Beicke explains, and now water pools in locations it in no way used to. The mining agency is answerable for pumping that water away, as well as pumping groundwater across the area, to hold the water desk underneath the extent of the existing mines. Any infected water in the old mines has to be removed and treated to maintain it from polluting the groundwater.

These are only a few of the mining organization’s “ewigkeitsaufgaben” — literally, eternity tasks.
“As lengthy as 5 or 6 million human beings want to live in this vicinity, we can need to do this,” Beicke tells me, of the luxurious water management. “Maybe 2,000 years in the future so that it will alternate, however until that happens, properly.” He shrugs.
The authorities offer the mining consortium 220 million euros a yr in subsidies to address all the consequences of coal mining. Unlike inside the United States, wherein getting older coal agencies frequently promote off their property or claim financial disaster to dodge clean up bills, right here the mining company may be pumping and treating water lengthy after it has stopped being a mining organization in any respect.
Despite a country wide dedication to a large strength transition, many now think that Germany will fall short of its renewable energy targets, thanks to some of confounding monetary and social factors, inclusive of the continued use of a coal opportunity referred to as lignite, also referred to as “brown coal.” Germans have the highest power expenses in Europe, and the upward push of the us of a’s extreme right-wing celebration in the final election has been pinned, in part, on those excessive payments.