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Germany stays on course

 By Dave Elliott

Germany is sticking to its ambitious plan to get at least 80% of its electricity from renewables by 2050. As part of that, it aims to support the construction and operation of 20 offshore wind farms, 7 GW in all, and that plan recently received a boost, with the European Commission agreeing that it did not conflict with EU state aid rules. The 17 wind farms in the North Sea and three in the Baltic will further EU energy and environmental objectives without unduly distorting competition in the Single Market, the EC said.

The new offshore wind farms, which should start up by the end of 2019 at the latest, will generate 28TWh per year, almost 13% of Germany’s 2020 renewable energy target: http://renews.biz/87229/eu-all-clear-for-7gw-german-offshore/

In parallel, on-shore wind and PV solar continue to expand, with over 40GW of wind capacity in place and 38GW of PV, much of the latter in small-scale domestic roof-top schemes. In all, renewables supplied 27.8% of the electricity used in Germany in 2014.Germany is also upgrading its energy saving programme, with a range of new energy efficiency projects launched in January, as part of the effort to cut energy use by 50% by 2050. Meanwhile, it is pressing ahead with more efficient and cleaner fossil fuel-based energy generation systems: it plans to get 25% of its power from Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants by 2020. They can help with grid balancing, since heat output can be stored, and the heat/power ratio changed (e.g. if power demand is low and/or there’s a surplus). Gas will still be used for grid balancing, but the German gas industry aims to replace 10% of commercial gas volume with renewable gas by 2030, via ‘power-to-gas’ conversion, with hydrogen generated by electrolysis, using surplus electricity from wind, being a key option. It can be added direct to the gas main, or converted to methane using captured CO2. All in all there is a lot happening: http://www.gtai.de/GTAI/Navigation/EN/Invest/Industries/Smarter-business/Smart-energy/germanys-energy-concept,did=383282.html

Looking to the future, the German Federal Environmental Agency (UBA) concluded that a completely greenhouse gas-neutral Germany was technically possible by 2050, going well beyond the current 80% target for electricity to include full carbon reduction in all sectors (power, heat and transport), without resorting to Carbon Capture and Storage and with the use of energy crop biomass (as opposed to biomass wastes) constrained: www.umweltbundesamt.de/publikationen/germany-2050-a-greenhouse-gas-neutral-country

It sees renewable power-to-gas (and power-to-liquids) as being key options for the ‘entire energy market, i.e. not just for power generation, but also for the fuel market in particular,’ although that would need imports of green power: with biofuels excluded, there would not be enough surplus from indigenous renewables for conversion to meet all the transport fuel needs.In the electricity sector, power-to-gas could help with grid balancing and take the load off the power grid, which will otherwise be severely taxed trying to deal with the power transport around Germany, despite plans for major grid upgrades, including north-south supergrid links (some of which have been opposed locally).

Pumped hydro is another balancing option and that is being expanded, along with advanced battery technology, and possibly wider supergrid links, to allow more balancing using large hydro pumped storage elsewhere in the EU.

For the moment though, in terms of grid exports/imports, despite the closures of nuclear plants, Germany is still exporting power net, and that may expand given that new ‘open boarder’ power market links have been established for Germany, France and central-west Europe, with prices dictating where power flows and which sources are used. However that is a mixed blessing: within the Germany context, it’s likely to be coal-derived power. Although the overall use of gas has risen, some of this extra presumably being for grid balancing, total power demand in Germany is falling (by 5.5TWh from 2010-2013 and more since then), and national coal use, with less flexible plants, is less viable and, after a brief rise, has actually fallen by 6% over the last year. However the plants continue to run, and with coal-derived electricity still relatively cheap, it is being exported: exports nearly doubled, from 17.7 to 33.8 TWh, between 2010-2013: http://arnejungjohann.de/wp-content/uploads/German-Coal-Conundrum-2.pdf

If the EU Emission Trading System was working properly, the cost of coal fired power would rise and this market would contract. But in the absence of effective carbon limits, there is still demand around the EU. That may even sustain some new German coal plants- some (that were actually planned long ago) are being built. Although they will be more efficient than the old plants they replaced, most greens want them stopped. And in fact, not many may actually go ahead, with several already having been abandoned: http://reneweconomy.com.au/2015/nuclear-isnt-the-only-energy-phase-out-happening-in-germany-24135

It should be clear from the above that, contrary to assertions by those hostile to the energy transition programme, nuclear closures have not led to increased use of coal derived power in Germany, or the need for new coal plants. In fact, in Germany, renewables are evidently now producing more annually (46.9 TWh) than has been lost from the nuclear closures (43.3 TWh):  http://reneweconomy.com.au/2015/the-myth-of-the-dark-side-of-germanys-energiewende-94542

However, some critics argue that the programme is raising prices. While the Feed In-Tariff scheme (now actually being cut back) has certainly added to power costs, it has helped zero marginal cost PV to push gas out of the peak demand market, so reducing wholesale costs, and longer term, with even less fossil fuel being used, the investment in alternatives should pay off handsomely: http://www.renewablesinternational.net/lower-costs-only-with-100-percent-renewables/150/537/76726/ Although some say that, when the last nuclear plants are closed, extra backup capacity or storage will be needed, which will push prices back up for a while, and the reduced role of gas plants in the peak demand market could certainly be a problem – flexible gas plants are needed for balancing. Otherwise it all seems to be going quite well: http://reneweconomy.com.au/2015/renewables-have-made-power-cheaper-for-german-industry-62396

The nuclear phase out is widely supported, but, in something of a last ditch resistance, it has been claimed that the cost of shutting down and decommissioning Germany’s nuclear plants could be €75 bn- including for a waste dump. But these cost will have to faced at some point. 8 plants have already been closed. Delaying the closures of the remaining 9 plants would allow them to earn more income,but eventually they too would have to close and be decommissioned, and the waste they generated dealt with. Closing the last ones in 2022, as planned, will save money, since less radioactive waste will be generated. So there’s not much of an economic case for delaying closure, even ignoring the external costs. When those are included, nuclear looks clearly the most expensive option: www.dw.de/nuclear-power-is-risky-and-unprofitable/a-18299318

Long term it looks clear that, as nuclear disappears and fossil fuel use declines, there will be net benefits to all, except the old fossil-fuel and nuclear based energy supply and power engineering companies, but they are jumping ship. RWE, Siemens and now E.ON have moved away from nuclear and are focusing on supplying or servicing the new renewables market, in part since the market for conventional grid electricity in Germany has dwindled, with self-generating prosumers and energy co-ops taking over at least some of it. By 2013, around 47% of installed renewable energy capacity was locally owned, by individuals or co-ops, and that grass-roots movement seems likely to continue to grow.

*I am actually off to Germany next week, so my next post will be slightly delayed. Assuming I come back! Compared with the mostly grim energy policy situation in the UK, the progress being made there is seductive. But then again, although Germany has much more wind capacity installed than the UK (40GW v 12GW), and a higher proportion of wind capacity compared to conventional capacity (20% v 12% in the UK), wind only generates 8.6% of the country’s electricity compared to 9.3% in the UK in 2014. That’s because average wind speeds in the UK are much higher than in Germany, and we also have a big offshore wind capacity, where wind speeds and therefore load factors are even higher: http://t.co/MdzekX919h

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