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Rhine coal transport set to grind to a halt – forecasters

Coal

10 Aug 2022 14:39

Photo: Shutterstock.com

Photo: Shutterstock.com

Bonn

10 Aug 2022 14:39

(Montel) Coal deliveries along Germany’s Rhine to power plants are likely to grind to a halt as river levels near a record low, with the problem to persist to 2023, forecasters said on Wednesday.

The Rhine’s key indication point of Kaub last measured 46 centimetres, said Germany’s Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration (WSV). 

It was forecast to reach 37cm by Sunday, just 2cm above a record low struck in 2003. 

Such levels effectively prohibited the transport of coal along the Rhine, said Robin Girmes, a meteorologist at Energy Weather. 

“There is no relaxation whatsoever in sight,” he said, noting forecasts in the short term pointed to at least another week of hot, dry weather and only limited rainfall thereafter. 

“More widespread rain is not to be expected until the end of the summer,” said Michele Salmi, meteorologist at Ubimet. 

“This is not something we will get out of in one year.” 

Normally river levels would begin to rise with added rainfall from late September but this year’s recovery would be stymied following persistent dry weather, he added.

“For Germany, we are talking about a two-three year dry period,” said Salmi. “We will have to get much more above average rain in the future to escape this situation.”

Winter relief?
A mild, wet winter could provide some short-term relief, elevating water levels this winter. 

Yet it would come at the cost of limiting the amount of snow cover that would be needed to prevent a repeat of low river levels in spring and summer next year, Salmi added. 

“The winter months are actually the ones with the lowest levels… [so] it is possible we see low levels persist into spring.”

Barge operators begin reducing loads once levels fall below 200cm to avoid grounding vessels in the shallower waters. 

Freight traffic usually tapers off below 80cm, forcing coal shipments to switch to more expensive rail networks.

“I expect transport problems to last into Q4,” said Girmes. 

Power plant operators had previously warned Montel of issues receiving vital deliveries of coal, compounding fears of a winter power supply squeeze amid Russia’s curtailing of gas exports to Europe due to rising tensions amid the Ukraine war.

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