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Post-carbon energy governance and the political economy of the German coal phase-out


In July 2020, Germany adopted the Coal Exit Law, which requires all existing coal power capacity to be phased out by 2038, at the latest. This coal exit plan was sudden and unexpected, as the idea of phasing out coal was far from the political agenda in recent years. By putting into conversation theories of capital devaluation, critical energy studies, regulation theory, and debates on the socioecological fix, this dissertation analyzes the political-economic conditions that explain why and when the Coal Exit Law emerged. This research introduces the notion of moral devaluation, which can inform empirical research on the institutional arrangements through which the phase-out of fixed fossil fuel capital is resisted and organized in different contexts. This project was based on 21 months of fieldwork and a multi-method approach that included 90 interviews with actors related to the German coal phase-out process, as well as an historical examination of periods of coal devaluation. The resulting analysis reveals the continuities between Germany’s Coal Exit Law and its long tradition of delaying the devaluation of coal. Beyond dualistic market- vs. policy-based interpretations of coal exit drivers, the multistakeholder and consensual approach used in Germany is described from the perspective of its mediating role in addressing an ongoing devaluation affecting the energy industry and managing a dual legitimation crisis affecting the federal government.

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