Germany leads way in renewables push

THE share of renewable energy input into Germany's gross national energy requirement is expected to hit the 33% mark for 2015 as Europe's powerhouse economy moves away from fossil fuels.
Germany leads way in renewables push Germany leads way in renewables push Germany leads way in renewables push Germany leads way in renewables push Germany leads way in renewables push

Haydn Black


Some 193 billion kilowatt hours is expected to be generated from solar, wind and other renewable sources over 2014, around a 20% increase on the previous year, according to the estimates from the Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Wurttemberg (ZSW) and the German Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW).

That's a surge on the year before when 161 billion kWh accounted for around 27% of Germany's gross electricity consumption in 2014.

The most significant increases have been in photovoltaic solar and wind energy.

Wind turbines generated 63 billion kWh of energy for the year to October 31, a 47% increase over the same period in 2014.

The nation's installed solar capacity produced almost half as much, 35 billion kWh, as much as solar PB did for the whole of 2014, despite the fact there were only modest increases in installations.

"Even if we don't hit 33%, the overall increase in Germany's renewable energy share is terrific news," Germany Trade and Invest director of energy, environment and resources Thomas Grigoleit said.

"Not only does it show how important this aspect is in terms of Germany's climate change targets, it confirms Germany's pioneering position in the industry. Germany is able not only to install this capacity but integrate it effectively into the grid.

"Once again it is clearly evident that renewable energies continue to gain ground in the German electricity mix, regardless of what the exact percentage share at the year's end will be."

BDEW chairwoman Hildegard Muller said there is a pressing need to integrate renewable energies into the overall power generation system.

"Efforts to put in place the necessary infrastructure must be stepped up with some urgency. The BDEW has already submitted constructive recommendations for the 2016 amendment of the EEG (German Renewable Energy Sources Act). What's more, there is no time to be wasted in expanding transmission and distribution networks," she said.

The nation also needs to invest in power infrastructure to transfer wind power from the north to industrial regions in the south, something that has been unpopular with parts of Germany because of a perceived blight of power cables and pylons straddling the country.

Indeed, Germany's utilities can't keep up the infrastructure needed by surging renewable generation.

ZSW managing director Frithjof Staib said if renewables could reach a third of German energy demand it would bode well for making Germany less dependent on fossil fuels and achieving its climate protection objectives.

"Nevertheless, this will require further efforts that go beyond pure power generation: electricity, heating and mobility have to be interconnected more closely and optimised as an integrated system," Staib said.

Germany has been trying to wean itself off fossil fuels for more than 15 years, and following the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan nuclear generation has also been dramatically reduced.

The Energiewende (energy transition) plan of chancellor Angela Merkel aims to fill that gap, but there is still some way to go as Germany gets 44% of its energy from coal and, on previous statistics from 2014, just 26% from renewables.

It wants to hit its renewable goal of at least 40% by 2025 and it looks to be capable of exceeding that if the ZSW/BDEW figures are on the mark, proving that it is possible for a modern economy to enact radical change in a short period of time.

There is devil in the detail, not least due to the rising cost of subsidies paid by ordinary bill payers to support Energiewende, however across the channel the UK taxpayer is spending almost $10 billion to subsidise the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant, so the controversy might be over-stated.

The other problem facing Germany is the unreliability of renewables, which don't work as well when the sun isn't shining or the wind blowing

Trimet Aluminium, which consumes around 1% of Germany's electricity, was forced to stop production 70 times last year alone because of energy shortages.

That could change with battery storage, and is forcing companies like Trimet to look at how it can adapt.

Trimet is experimenting with using its molten metal furnaces as a virtual battery, and if the trial is successful it believes it can store 3360MWh for two days.

Germany is also seeking to reduce its CO2 emissions to 4% below 1990 levels by 2020, and by 80-90% by 2050, although its reliance on coal and lignite means it has struggled with its CO2 emissions.

Coal and lignite meet 44% of Germany's energy needs, but there are plans to shutter 2.7GW of the dirtiest lignite plants by 2022.

The nation has halved its nuclear fleet, which once supplied 25% of the nation's electricity, but has struggled to increase cleaner gas-fired power, because coal and lignite are so cheap.

Utility E.on is seeking to close two gas-fired plants in Bavaria, because there is no prospect of operating them at a profit.


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