Germany nearly reached 100 percent renewable power on Sunday

After surpassing 80 percent renewable electricity for a few hours last year, Germany may have briefly reached around 95 percent on May 8. But the news is not only cause for celebration – a boundary has also been crossed. We are now entering the hard territory. Craig Morris explains.

A grassland and windmills

For a few hours, renewable electricty in Germany reched a new peak on Sunday. (Photo by Dirk Ingo Franke, modified, CC BY-SA 1.0)


On Monday, both Agora Energiewende (a Berlin-based think tank) and Clean Energy Wire (an associated communications team) announced that renewable electricity “probably” covered more than 90 percent of power demand at 58 GW for a couple of hours on Sunday. Yet Agora’s press spokesperson was notably circumspect: “It is far from certain the share was above 90 percent.” He was cautious for good reason. By the end of the day, Agora’s website showed a much different estimate of power demand peaking at 68 GW.

The Agora chart originally shared by CLEW showing green power covering 95% of demand briefly on May 8. Source: Agora Energiewende

The Agora chart originally shared by CLEW showing green power covering 95% of demand briefly on May 8. Source: Agora Energiewende

In contrast, Fraunhofer ISE’s Energy-Charts.de estimated peak power production of around 63 GW, but 8 GW was for export, putting domestic power demand at 58 GW – less than Agora’s initial estimate. Essentially, it’s too early to tell – by the time this post is published, you may want to check both Agora’s website and Fraunhofer’s to see how things have developed. These data are live and take a few days to settle – and they don’t become official after more than a year.

Most reports focus on high percentages of renewable electricity, but the extremely low level of conventional power in the second half of last week deserves closer attention. Source: Energy-Charts.de

Most reports focus on high percentages of renewable electricity, but the extremely low level of conventional power in the second half of last week deserves closer attention. Source: Energy-Charts.de

Whatever the share of renewable electricity was on Sunday, let’s clear up some confusion: First, we are only talking about electricity, not energy. The power sector makes up only around 20 percent of the German energy demand. And renewables made up only 15 percent of total energy consumption last year in our best estimate (no official estimates will be published for a while).

Second, Germany did not get 95 (or whatever) percent renewable electricity for the entire day, but only for a few hours. And third, Germany did not, a Quartz.com put it, have “so much renewable energy on Sunday that it had to pay people to use electricity.” It had so much baseload running below the must-run level that it had to pay people to consume electricity. Wind and solar will never cause negative prices on their own. (If you’re not sure what “must-run” means, read this first.)

Germany’s power plant fleet cannot easily produce less than 20 GW at any time. On Sunday, these conventional plants were pushed down below 16 GW from around 11:30 AM to 4 PM. As the must-run level is approached, power prices dip into the negative.

The next data I can share with you are, fortunately, already certain: the intraday trading prices for this electricity on Sunday. The lowest price was -32 cents per kWh, though the average at the time (between 2 and 3 PM) was -15 cents. To understand how low that is, consider that the average price is currently around three cents, down from around six cents eight years ago.

Conventional power plants in Germany were thus willing to pay lots of money for wholesale buyers to take electricity off their hands. And yet, only 8 GW could be exported; at least twice as much is physically possible. Demand in neighboring countries was simply too low (France also had slightly negative intraday prices briefly on Sunday; see the previous link above).

The real news is therefore not that Germany may have reached a record-high level of renewable electricity, but that its base load power plants are in real trouble. Proponents of decarbonization in the Anglo world like to claim that nuclear is a good complement to wind and solar for low-carbon power supply. Germany on Sunday is a good example of why that is not true. (Actually, every country is all the time, but we can’t even make such a comparison above in the US for a lack of published visualizations.)

A lot of attention is paid to power storage, and the need for it is admittedly on the horizon. But there is another issue that must be attended to first: getting rid of baseload. The nuclear phase-out serves this purpose extremely well. By removing its remaining eight nuclear reactors, Germany will reduce the must-run level considerably.

You may wish – for the sake of the climate – that Germany would close its coal plants first, but they at least are more flexible than nuclear, as I recently illustrated here. As a result, Germany may not reduce its carbon emissions as much as we would all like in the midterm, but inflexibility has to go first unfortunately when the long-term focus is on solar and wind. The early retirement of baseload power plants precedes the need for power storage. At “only” a 20 percent share of solar and wind power in 2015, Germany clearly already needs to retire baseload.

Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of German Energy Transition. He directs Petite Planète and writes every workday for Renewables International.

 

by

Craig Morris

Craig Morris (@PPchef) is the lead author of Global Energy Transition. He is co-author of Energy Democracy, the first history of Germany’s Energiewende, and is currently Senior Fellow at the IASS.

16 Comments

  1. heinbloed says

    It actually were 98% RE-power which covered the power demand of Germany on Sunday 8th of May 2016 at 11.00

    The Fraunhofer chart

    https://www.energy-charts.de/power.htm

    had been updated on Monday the 9th, the import balance is now shown as minus 13,35 GW at 11.00
    The total of non-REs produced at 11.00 is shown to be 14,41 GW
    14.41 GW minus 13.35 GW = 1.06 GW
    Of the ca. 52 GW consumed in Germany at 11.00 only 1.06 GW were derived from non-REs. Which are 2% of the total national demand.

    Why did Agora in their Agorameter change the numbers downwards to about 80% RE coverage?
    They did not even have the export data for Poland (and still don’t have it) nor the total national demand – which they increased to an absurdly record high of 66 GW.

    Never in the German history 66 GW were consumed on a Sunday morning at 11.00 !!

    On Sunday and still until Monday morning the national demand given by Agora was 10 GW lower than they show now.

    Only with bringing in obviously false numbers Agora can say the RE coverage was only about 80% at 11.00.
    They had the numbers right on Monday morning (95%) but changed them during the day.
    What is behind this behavior?

    I asked them and was told that it is the calculation method.
    What doesn’t explain why they are making up numbers of consumption and leaving out numbers of export ….

    Entsoe’s numbers are correlating with Fraunhofer’s data, Agora are the only ones claiming (falsly!) that Germany consumed 68 GW on Sunday morning at 11.00 ….

  2. heinbloed says

    PS

    The Agorachart (“Agorameter”) stands now at 63 GW power consumption in Germany on Sunday 11.00 …….

    Fraunhofer ISE sticks to their numbers.

  3. Luca P. says

    A lot of attention is paid to power storage, and the need for it is admittedly on the horizon. But there is another issue that must be attended to first: getting rid of baseload.

    I think you are underestimate importance of operating reserves in the electric system.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operating_reserve

    As far as I know only dispatchable sources (and so no wind or photovoltaic) can provide this kind of reserve. It’s exactly why we can’t spare baseload. Only power storage can take the place of baseload power plants, but we need a quite large amount.

  4. heinbloed says

    About negative prices at the exchange:

    For tomorrow (Sunday, 15th of May 2016) Swiss power prices are lower than German power prices. A strange phenomena since Switzerland has very little PV and wind power compared to Germany:

    http://www.epexspot.com/en/

    Both – base and peak – are in the negative zone in Switzerland whilst Germany’s prices are cheap but still in the positive.

  5. Craig Morris
    Craig Morris says

    Luca, I am not underestimating grid support at all. You simply do not know that 1) wind and solar have been required to provide reactive power for years in Germany:

    http://www.renewablesinternational.net/warnings-about-possible-power-outages-in-germany-overstated/150/537/58027/

    and 2) that electronics (including batteries) provide this service far
    better than clunky old spinning reserves ever could:

    http://energytransition.de/2015/06/batteries-stabilize-the-grid/

    Best regards

  6. Luca P. says

    I agree that electronics and batteries can provide the reserve service better than power plants, but as I said, we need an huge amount of these.

    In Italy only to cover the primary reserve (a regulation band of +-1,5%) displaced by photovoltaic we need about 240 MW of batteries. Italy’s transmission system operator (Terna) has installed about 50 MW of large scale storage until now at this purpose. How many batteries have you installed in Germany?
    And I’m talking only about primary reserve. If we consider also secondary and tertiary we are dealing with some thousands of MW.
    Anyway, I think german energy system is not much flexible (nuclear, coal) so is a good thing to close some base load plant, but you will still need some kind of non-renewable power plant.

    I think the target of a true 100% renewable production it’s not easy to achieve and it’s not around the corner.

  7. MGR says

    When it comes to photovoltaik I would like to propose a major name “transition”: Energiewende to be renamed “Energiesenke” (energy sink):
    A recent paper in Energy Policy (by F.Ferroni, and R.J.Hopkirk) on the EROI (energy returned on energy invested) of photovoltaic solar systems in countries of moderate irradiation (e.g. Germany or Switzerland) came up with a NEGATIVE EROI of “0.85:1”.
    At least for middle europ roof top installation the lifetime accumulated energy output is around equal the energy invested. After adding a potential energy  storage losses to this equation the total lifetime return will very likely go NEGATIVE.
    The more empiric field data comes into play (see also P. Prieto and C. Hall; “Spain’s Photovoltaic Revolution”) the lower drops the calculated Eroei.
    Slowly but steadily physics and reality glimps through and mere ideology is pushed aside.
    Taking into account the EROEI mentioned above, this article could have also been  written on rooftop installed batteries (charged mostly in china by 100% fossil fuel). And in contrast to photovoltaik, rooftop batteries could at least follow electricity demand.
    Is it on purpose that the “survey space” is reduces to “energy returned” only leaving aside the energy invested?
    Our society needs energy SOURCES to exist!!! But what I can read in this article is one way perspective based on wishful thinking I guess. This is frustrating

  8. Nic says

    Well, 100 % (or at least 95 %) electricity from RES wouldn’t be that difficult to achieve. The few (temporary) barriers we are going to face are mostly due to some lack of foresight from network operators (who excel in avoiding being held accountable for their mistakes) . Still, people should take interest in the “inertia issue” coz one day this may blow up in our face : frenchenergyblog.com/renewables-the-key-issue-of-system-inertia/

  9. Godo Stoyke says

    MGR wrote: “A recent paper in Energy Policy (by F.Ferroni, and R.J.Hopkirk) on the EROI (energy returned on energy invested) of photovoltaic solar systems in countries of moderate irradiation (e.g. Germany or Switzerland) came up with a NEGATIVE EROI of “0.85:1”.”
    Sadly, Energy Policy lacks rigorous scientific peer-review and has long since become the playground of climate deniers and other scientific fringe elements. Unfortunately, Ferroni and Hopkirk’s “study” is no exception. Neither appears to be affiliated with an academic institution, and Ferroni is listed as signator to a climate denier statement here: http://cfact.org/pdf/2010_Senate_Minority_Report.pdf, i.e. his views are not supported by the natural sciences.

  10. Falstaff says

    Get rid of the remaining eight reactors? What’s this, another front for the fossil fuel industry, or simple insanity?

    The point of the exercise, for those that are bumping into to things while staring at the sky, was to reduce emissions and keeping power affordable. The point is *not* to build as much solar and wind as the German treasury will buy. Solar and wind were a doubtful path to lower emissions, not the thing itself. Germany now burns as much fossil fuel as it did 15 years ago, while residential rates have tripled, along with the tonnage of wood chips burned. The results, therefore, are in. Solar and wind are no longer doubtful; they are a known failure.

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