Structural change in the Rhenish Lignite region: Challenges and Opportunities

On Friday, December 14th, representatives from regional industries, policy makers as well as the Research sector in the Rhenish lignite region met at Walzwerk Pulheim to discuss the structural change and future of the region. After two keynote speeches by Prof. Dr. Andreas Pinkwart (Minister of Economic Affairs, Innovation, Digitalization and Energy of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia) and Peter Altmaier (Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy), the event left plenty of room for networking. Organised by the Zukunftsagentur Rheinisches Revier, Re-Industrialise was invited to join the discussions and present the programme – and its regional activities such as the HyDistrict project – to its stakeholders.

About the Rhenish lignite region

The history of brown coal mining in the Rhenish mining district, located in Germany’s most densely populated state of North Rhine-Westphalia between Aachen and Cologne, dates back to the 19th century when brown coal became a competitive energy source.

Currently a total of almost 9,000 people are still working in the Rhenish district’s lignite mines and power plants, and over 14,000 jobs are directly or indirectly induced by the brown coal sector, the Institute for Economic Research (RWI) says.

However, with the nearby cities of Aachen and Mönchengladbach and its proximity to Cologne, the Rhenish lignite district has comparatively favourable conditions for non-mining industry and businesses that could soften the economic and social effects of the mines’ closure.

Structural changes within the region

How to manage these structural changes was under discussion at the event. „We could become a role model for many other coal regions if we succeed in identifying economically and socially attractive alternative pathways in the Rhenish lignite region“, said Pinkwart. He then defined the following priority areas for the structural changes: 1) energy and industry – amongst others emission free energy provision, 2) regional infrastructure, 3) innovation and education, 4) resource- and agrobusiness. Federal minister Altmaier then emphasised that structural change needs to come from within, but that his ministry will screen all project proposals and offer funding support for regional initiatives to support the shift. The shift itself is not a matter of if but of when this will happen. The exact date of when Germany – which has also guaranteed a nuclear energy exit by 2022 – will close its last mine is still under discussion. The german coal commission will consult until February 2019 on when and how this phase-out will take place.

The ongoing economic changes within North Rhine Westphalia is also where Re-Industrialise joins on: Regional stakeholders are being encouraged to develop ideas on how tackle the issues arising through the turnaround in energy policy. EIT Climate KIC’s bi-annual calls for proposal offer the ideal platform to gain access to funding and a professional network.

Are you interested to contribute? See more on how to get involved.