Germany hits 50% solar, Ireland 50% wind

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… but reports about new record shares of renewable power are understandably celebratory, but they also confuse the public – and even experts.

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Renewables International

Reports about new record shares of renewable power are understandably celebratory, but they also confuse the public – and even experts. What’s worse, these peaks are an indication of solar’s limits without storage. I’m not sure that something to celebrate. At least we can go much further with wind power.

renewablesIf you haven’t already heard the news, “Germany produces half of energy with solar” – at least, that’s what the website The Local would have us believe (incidentally, don’t click on the link unless you want several ads to blast you with audio, but here it is).

Of course, by “energy”, the journalist means electricity only. And the figures reported by Fraunhofer ISE are preliminary: a record 24.24 GW for one hour on Friday, June 6, followed by 23.1 GW briefly on Monday, June 9.

The latter occurred on a public holiday (Pentecost Monday), so that amount of solar was reportedly enough to meet 50 percent of peak power demand briefly. However, other data do not confirm that outcome. The data used by Agora Energiewende have solar peaking at below 23 GW on June 9 with domestic power consumption at nearly 54 GW. So solar made up at most 43 percent that day depending on what figures you use. (Fraunhofer will not publish its full estimate for this month until next month.)

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Some prominent people (who not only should know better, but probably do) are nonetheless firing off tweets that overstate the case; perhaps it is a natural outcome of being limited to 140 characters.

Nonetheless, some comparisons are unfair, such as when this prominent Dutchman puts Germany share of solar energy at 50 percent, compared to “only 0.2 percent” in the US.

 

Here, Meneer Verbeek unfairly compares a peak solar power production record in Germany to the annual average in the US – not cool.

But even people like Al Gore get the story completely wrong when they have the space to get things right. In along article published this week at Rolling Stone, Gore claims that “Germany… now generates 37 percent of its daily electricity from wind and solar.” In reality, Germany gets only a third of that amount – closer to 13 percent. Gore Is simply confusing peaks and averages.

With all of these knowledgeable people getting the soundbite wrong, it’s no wonder we end up with claims like the one below in reaction to an article at Think Progress based, alas, on Bernard Chabot’s analysis we published here.

TP


I tried to explain the issue carefully over at EnergyTransition.de, but unfortunately the article from here focusing on the raw data – without so much embedded information – went viral.

Interestingly, Ireland recently saw its share of wind power peak at 50 percent of power demand, an issue that went largely unreported (why is everyone so focused on Germany?). “On average,” as this report explains, “wind energy supplied 23 percent of the electricity market in the December 2013 to May 2014 period.”

If we return to solar in Germany, we see that PV made up just over five percent of domestic demand last year. Assuming it increases to six percent in 2014, we now have solar peaking at half of demand but only making up a small sliver of the total share. The limits of solar in Germany without storage are coming fast.

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On the day when solar allegedly peaked at above 50 percent of German power demand, the residual load for conventional plants remain high enough for prices on the exchange to stay in the positive.

If we double the amount of solar in Germany, we end up with peaks at 100 percent of demand, which will completely wipe out not only baseload plants (which must run), but also whatever wind power and biomass we happen to have at the time. In other words, Germany will need to start storing or simply losing solar power when PV makes up a mere 10 percent of demand. Compare that to wind in Ireland, and you see how much further you can go.

In Germany, the situation with wind is similar. Last December, we had around one third wind power for roughly a 24-hour timeframe. Wind power makes up nearly 9 percent of German power supply. Triple that, and you can get a quarter of your power from wind without storage or curtailment.

In other words, we can go at least twice as far with wind as we can with solar in countries like Germany and Ireland, which have higher power demand in the winter than in the summer (in many parts of the US, the opposite is true, so the potential of solar is much greater).

And incidentally, in the Agora chart above, did you notice that at 9 PM on June 7 we had around 9.4 GW of renewable power, though demand was still slightly above 58 GW. German conventional power plants were running at 44.5 GW at the time, and the country was a net importer for a few hours that evening. Those who celebrate these record peaks would be well advised to look for the nearby lows, which are often just a couple of days away.

Source: Renewables International. Reproduced with permission.

 

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13 Comments
  1. Matthew Wright 5 years ago

    There is an easy way to double solar in Germany without having the issue you are alluding to. Oversize all arrays by 300% (Solar array to inverter ratio). This yields 200% of the energy to grid and is cheaper than shifting energy around with batteries. This is the first step that should be used before batteries.

    • Diego Matter 5 years ago

      My roof has no space left for more panels and I think that is the case for many roofs. That limits the potential for your approach.

      • Matthew Wright 5 years ago

        most arrays are very inefficiently installed due to limitations with existing inverters that rely on high voltages and large strings. This is going away with DC optimisers and ELV inverters.

        When oversizing all the nooks and crannies can be taken advantage of (as above) and east and west facing roofs.

        Germany is different because the systems are on larger houses in the country large barn roofs, industrial and commercial roofs predominately. So oversizing at 300% is fine. I just got back from Germany – one of the states with a higher amount of PV and there were plenty of roofs (most of them) without PV.

      • Lenore LaFiore 5 years ago

        But you can get shingles now, and they replace your normal shingles, cover more space, protect the roof

        Also why does no one talk about storing the left over enegry in water? Just heat up water and heat homes, water for baths and showers, use the extra energy to bring down consumption.

  2. InsightWind 5 years ago

    Excellent article, Craig. It was about time somebody said it — and I’m glad it was you. But as Matthew points out, there are many options far cheaper than conventional notions of storage yet to be explored. Watch Denmark on this one.

    • MorinMoss 5 years ago

      “Cheaper than conventional?” To what are you referring?

      • InsightWind 5 years ago

        Batteries, compressed air, flywheels, etc.

        • Vm 5 years ago

          well is there any actual proof that denmark is using those non conventional storage technologies on a very large scale? the only thing I know of is denmark using the dams of neighboring countries. Good for them but useless for areas which have no big dammable rivers either in their country or with their neighbors. And denmark has pretty high electricity costs

          • InsightWind 5 years ago

            Apologies for a confusing answer. I thought I was being asked what “conventional” storage options were, hence I listed, batteries, compressed air, flywheels etc. By “unconventional” I was referring more flexible approaches to running a power systems, including but not limited to automated demand side management and active demand side response markets. Different approaches are being tried in different “islanded” power systems with high wind penetration, such as Texas, Spain, and Denmark. What they all have in common is to indicate that there is much that can be done, both with technology and with market restructuring, before it may be necessary to venture into highly expensive storage solutions.

        • James Fenimore Cooper 5 years ago

          The world could be ending soon for humans. Don’t you think it is time to move from fantasy to something that can save us now? Like nuclear energy. Ask France if Nuclear works. Next ask the US Navy.

  3. Lenore LaFiore 5 years ago

    we’ll figure out a way to store all that enegry, in the mean time lets slow down the picture so we can have more time to advance before our culture crashes 😛

    • Vm 5 years ago

      lets use a mix of thorium and renewables. That will reduce carbon dioxide emissions and give us time since less CO2 means less severe climate change. Once we do figure out a way to store the energy then we can talk about phasing out thorium

  4. James Fenimore Cooper 5 years ago

    Germany is alo experiencing power shortables and importanting electircity from nuclear France and elsewhere. Germany’s CO2 emissions are planned to go but their need to turn to coal for electricity has caused them to go up recently.

    I live near a nuclear plant in California and it churns out power 24/7 at peak output, night and day, wind or no wind, sun or no sun. It serves 3 million homes. In 30 years no accidents or deaths predicted by protesters. Why do some devote themselves to fighting nuclear power, despite evidence and despite global warming killing our planet? I call them “Tea Party Environmentalists.”

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