The Transformation of the German Coal Sector from 1950 to 2017: An Historical Overview

  • Hanna BrauersEmail author
  • Philipp Herpich
  • Pao-Yu Oei


The German economic and industrial development in the nineteenth and twentieth century was based (among other things) on coal. After World War II, the reconstruction of both German states, too, was largely organized around the coal and steel industry. Therefore, it is a particular challenge, that the objectives of the energiewende require a complete phase-out of coal in only about two decades. This chapter focusses on the past transformation of the coal sector in Germany. It provides lessons to be learned for other countries undergoing similar transformation processes. Our main working hypothesis is that the coal industry was reduced gradually in all large industrial basins, both in East and West Germany, in a rather structured and orderly manner. What is left over today, in the middle of the energiewende, is but a marginal share of previous activity and employment. Conditions are different, though, between the rather comfortable situation in the Rhine and Ruhr areas of prosperous West Germany, compared to the East German coal basin Lusatia, which was hit particularly hard. Sections 3.2 and 3.3 report the history of hard coal and lignite, respectively, between 1950 and 2017, including the time of the separation between East and West. Section 3.2 describes the role hard coal played in the energy system and economy of the mining areas in Western Germany from the 1950s until 2017. Section 3.3 describes the role of lignite in Germany, focusing on the drastic decline of lignite in East Germany after reunification. It is shown that both in terms of production and employment, the largest part of the transformation process has already taken place, with a particularly rapid speed in East German lignite between 1990 and 2000. The following Sect. 3.4 analyzes the implemented political measures which accompanied the decline in hard coal and lignite production. Section 3.5 then derives some lessons learned from the transformation process for other regions, and Sect. 3.6 concludes.


Coal Hard coal Lignite Mining Decarbonization Structural change 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hanna Brauers
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Philipp Herpich
    • 2
    • 3
  • Pao-Yu Oei
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Junior Research Group “CoalExit”BerlinGermany
  2. 2.TU BerlinBerlinGermany
  3. 3.DIW BerlinBerlinGermany

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