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German grid operator sees 70% wind + solar before storage needed

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The company responsible for more than one-third of Germany’s electricity grid says there is no issue absorbing high levels of variable renewable energy such as wind and solar, and grids could absorb up to 70 per cent penetration without the need for storage.

Boris Schucht, the CEO of 50 Hertz, which operates the main transmission lines in the north and east of Germany – and which is 40 per cent owned by Australia’s Industry Funds Management – says the industry’s views of renewable energy integration has evolved rapidly in the past decade.

“It’s about the mind-set,” Schucht said at the Re-energising the Future conference in Paris, and later to RenewEconomy.

“10 to 15 years ago when I was young engineer, nobody believed that integrating more than 5 per cent variable renewable energy in an industrial state such as Germany was possible.”

50 hertz

Yet, Schucht says, in the region he is operating in, 42 per cent of the power supply (in output, not capacity), came from wind and solar – about the same as South Australia. This year it will be 46 per cent, and next year it will be more than 50 per cent.

“No other region in the world has a similar amount of volatile renewable energy ….. yet we have not had a customer outage. Not for 35 or 40 years.”

Schucht conceded that Germany, which through its Energiewende (energy transitions) has pioneered the push into variable renewable energy, made some mistakes in the early years, particularly in relation to the management of rooftop solar PV. But at that time, the penetration rate was low and renewables was only a niche market.

He points to the changes made since then as proof that the integration is posing no issues. In the solar eclipse earlier this year, a ramp down of more than 10GW of solar PV and ramp up of 14GW of solar PV (both within minutes) were handled by the market with no need for intervention.


“We believed in the market and education of market,” Schucht said. “We did not need to interfere. It was done by itself.”

Because of this, Schucht believes that integration of 60 to 70 per cent variable renewable energy – just wind and solar – could be accommodated within the German market without the need for additional storage. Beyond that, storage will be needed.

Schucht later told RenewEconomy that even higher levels of renewable energy could be absorbed. But before the grid went to 100 per cent renewable energy, he thought that attention should be turned to ensuring there was more renewable energy in the transport and heating sectors.

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  • MorinMoss

    I assume that’s because of the interlinks between Germany and the neighboring countries and not solely the local German grid that can accomodate 70% renewables?

    • JeffJL

      I would assume it is because of both the interlinks and the local grid.

    • We cannot make comparisons with Germany when we are discussing renewables accomodation. Australia is isolated from the world when it comes to electricity. We don’t have a country on our boarders that uses 75% nuclear power – i.e. France.

      • Jouni Valkonen

        country to country electricity trade is not that significant as the capacity is very limited. French need their electicity too.

        However intercontinental links are more and more important because it allows continent wide balancing of renewable energy. Although wind conditions on single regions are variable, continent level wind energy production is quite stable and very predictable.

      • Why would that be Martin. Germany exports more electricity to France than vice versa, and at more useful times.

        • Math Geurts

          Exporting grid problems. Germany and it’s neighbours.

          From: https://www.entsoe.eu/publications/system-development-reports/outlook-reports/Pages/default.aspx

          “Using the interconnection flexibility and the installed demand side management and strategic reserve measures, the adequacy for the coming winter should be met for most of
          the European countries. However, adequacy in Poland was identified as potentially at risk.
          During severe conditions, there is a risk that Polish import needs may exceed its available import capacity, which, especially on the synchronous profile (with DE+CZ+SK), is
          significantly limited due to high unscheduled flows through Poland, from its Western border towards the South. No import capacity is predicted on this profile for the coming winter, because import to Poland increases physical flows on the PL-DE border, which is often congested by unscheduled flows”

          • Jan Veselý

            Those unsheduled flows happens ~60 hours/year (0.68% of the time) during sunny and windy weekends (low demand). At this time, the electricity flows to countries with flexible sources (Austria, Switzerland) and countries with constant lack of electricity (Hungary, Croatia, Italy).
            Moreover those unsheduled flows can be eliminated by phase-shifters currently built on DE-Pl and DE-CZ borders. This will just cause some minor curtailing of production. No big deal.

          • Math Geurts

            Curtailing would be just a problem for Germany but “during severe conditions, there is a risk that Polish import needs may exceed its available import capacity, which, especially on the synchronous profile (with DE+CZ+SK), is significantly limited” and therefore “adequacy in Poland was identified as potentially at risk”.

          • Jan Veselý

            In that case, they have a big problem. They had this kind of problem in the summer. It was so hot and dry that Polish had to curtail their monstrous coal power plants (f.e. 5.7 GW Belchatow plant) just because lack of cooling water. And by coincidence (Murphy’s law) Czechs had half of our nuclear capacity (2 of 4 GW) off because of maintenance and we lost another 1 GW reactor broke down.
            That was eye opening. But it not resulted in outage like it happened in southern France.

      • onesecond

        There are already islands that have 100% renewable electricity with no interconnections whatsoever. There is absolutely no reason that impedes the transition to 100% renewable power in Australia.

        • Rob S

          Other than no one really wants to pay for it……

          • michael

            shhh, sunk capital doesn’t exist in onesecond’s world

          • onesecond

            Only not so bright people don’t want to pay for it because it costs less than business-as-fossil-fuel-usual. It is just like the people who buy a light bulb because it is cheaper than LED on the price tag in the store but end up spending much more money because they didn’t understand the costs attached to it.

    • Jouni Valkonen

      Morin, this is not of course the case, but it assumes that also German neighboring countries are getting into renewables. French will probably also phase out nuclear power by 2030 when its old nuclear power plants are heading to the end of their life span. No new nukes are to be build as Flamanville 3 was complete disaster.

  • S Herb

    Very nice interview. The only real problem is that Germany has insufficient North to South grid capacity and wind generation from the North has been routed through Poland to the South. New transmission lines are under construction but have been delayed by nimbyism (Nicht In Mein’ BaYern).

    • solarguy

      There may not be a need to have storage at 70% RE penetration, but I think it would be desirable well before that level in order to give more value to the output, by utilizing investment, the grid and CO2 levels

  • Miles Harding

    Great interview, Giles!

    As we would expect, the issues with high renewable penetration are not technical, but social and political.

    There is no hope of achieving a renewable energy system while our market operators attempt to optimise their networks using the same tools that have brought us a fragile, globalised, ‘just in time’ manufacturing and distribution environment.

    An essential feature of any sustainable renewable energy dominated network will be ‘inefficiency’, or a degree of duplication (such as occasionally used generators or line capacity) that is essential in a system with variable capability and demands.

    Our problem in Australia is that the present ‘gold plated’ network was built using inappropriate assumptions and has resulted in a design that is unsuited to the actual world.

    • michael

      not technical… whoops, better stop any funding of efforts to explore grid connection with renewables being presented as innovation within ARENA funding

      • Miles Harding

        Political will is allowing SA to achieve 50% renewables within a few years with no new technology needed. We are only likely to hit any technical limits when renewable penetration exceeds 80 or 90%.

        It is my opinion that this too, is essentially social and political. We will have to significantly change our expectations and the way we do things to be able to achieve 100% renewable without tremendous expense.

  • Asteroid Miner

    Tell us the engineering details. How many intermittent wind turbines do you have spread over how much area to be able to get steady wind power out of many intermittent generators? How much did you pay to get one steady stream of energy?

  • Frank

    A grid operator thinks customers should stay on the grid and not worry about home batteries? Shocking!