Low Rhine Water Levels Impact Coal Delivery in Germany

Low Rhine Water Levels Impact Coal Delivery in Germany
Blog November 27, 2018

Water levels on a key section of the Rhine fell to record lows last week on Friday 23, November, exacerbating disruption to inland coal barge movements to German coal-fired plants. While the declines affect the level of imports, they only have a minor impact on generation so far.

The Rhine is a key transport route for the European energy market, as many of the industry’s coal plants are located on the river. Low water levels reduce the number of coal barges that can navigate throughout the waterways.

Levels at the important indication point of Kaub, on the Rhine in Germany, fell to 32 centimeters (cm) last Friday, well below the average of 226 cm, according to Germany’s Electronic Waterways Information Service (Elwis) estimates.

Due to these low water levels, coal-fired power plants receive less hard coal than usual for this time of year. At Vattenfall, the output of 2 production units in Berlin – Reuter West E and D - curbed by 110 megawatts (MW) (from a total capacity of 864 MW) until 27 to 28 November, respectively. Figure 1 from Genscape’s PowerRT platform shows the availability data collected from three different sources.

Figure 1: Genscape's PowerRT showcases availability data at Reuter West
Figure 1: Genscape's PowerRT showcases availability data at Reuter West. Click to enlarge

To compensate for the lack of waterborne movements, rail is being used as an alternative source. The German rail operator DB cargo will increase the number of trains used for transporting coal to Germany in December to 10 additional trains per week. Since one train equals just one push barge of coal, it is evident that rail capacity will not be sufficient long-term solution.

At German utility Uniper, alarms are ringing for two coal units, Scholven B and C, which both have a capacity of 345 MW. These units are supplied by rail and are facing a tight coal delivery situation from the Rhine water levels. Figure 2 from the PowerRT platform shows the real-time availability and production of each generating unit.

Figure 2: Scholven coal-fired power plant availability and generation showcased through Genscape's PowerRT.
Figure 2: Scholven coal-fired power plant availability and generation showcased through Genscape's PowerRT. Click to enlarge

Ultimately, the main receiving terminals of coal in Europe - the ARA port (Amsterdam-Rotterdam-Antwerp) - will have to move stocks inland since their inventories are at a multi-year high of around 7mn tonnes. Some rainfall over the coming week should ease supply bottlenecks on river transport in the short-term.

By using the PowerRT platform, European traders can monitor real-time power generation of each unit of coal-fired power plant that is located on the river Rhine and get insight into the supply stack in Germany. To learn more, please click here.