Monday, April 15, 2013

Germany's Energy Transformation in Nature

Last week Quirin Schirmeier had an article in Nature "Renewable power: Germany’s energy gamble" with the subtitle: "An ambitious plan to slash greenhouse-gas emissions must clear some high technical and economic hurdles." As the article may soon disappear behind a paywall, I summarize briefly below.

Some interesting cost figures: 

  • Germany is currently investing more than €1.5 billion per year in energy research. One of its chief aims is to improve and build more storage systems (about €200 million is going towards developing and improving storage technologies);
  • total costs of the Energiewende are estimated to top €1 trillion;
  • Renewable-power producers cashed in an estimated €20 billion last year for electricity that was actually worth a mere €3 billion on the wholesale electricity market. The difference came out of the pockets of consumers.
  • In January, the government put out a €150-million call for research proposals for improving the electricity network. The government also announced last year that it would install almost 4,000 kilometres of high- and low-voltage power lines, with a total transmission capacity of 10 GW. The €20-billion project would help to carry energy to the south of Germany from wind farms in the north.
Strategically, it seems unclear if the expansion and upgrade of the electricity grid is the way to go. The article cites Mathias Willenbacher, co-founder and managing director of juwi in Wörrstadt, a company that has successfully built small-scale renewable-energy projects: “That the Energiewende depends on a huge expansion of the grid is a myth — and a very expensive myth, too.” Willenbacher argues that it would be better to plough money into energy-storage options. “If you solve the storage issue, there is no need any more to transmit massive amounts of wind power from the North Sea to the Alps,” he says.
However Germany sources its electricity, the Energiewende will not succeed unless the country can convince ordinary people to use energy more efficiently, says Eberhard Umbach, president of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. He is optimistic in that “We don't need technological leaps to accomplish the Energiewende.” On the other hand he recognizes the challenges. He 'is not sure that the transformation will come off as soon as planned. But he is convinced that Germany is the right country to try the great experiment. “If it fails it will be bad for Germany,” he says. “But if it succeeds the whole world will profit.”


Heber Rizzo said...

“If you solve the storage issue..."

Yeah. And if the moon were made of cheese, there would not be famines... at least for mice

ghost said...

200000 Stromausfälle, eine weitere Zahl in dem Text, in Deutschland 2012... gewaltig.

2011 waren es auch so viele und 2010 auch und davor waren es sogar mehr.

Der SAIDI ist 2011 minimal gestiegen, aber immer noch weit besser als 2006. Für das Niederspannungsnetz sogar gefallen.

Ich bin gespannt, wie das weiter geht.

Im Vergleich zu Frankreich... kein Vergleich. Frankreich ist massiv schlechter.

Allerdings ist SAIDI nur eine Kennzahl und behandelt Unterbrechungen >3 min. Es gibt ja auch andere Probleme, wie Spannungsschwankungen in kurzen Zeiträumen. Vielleicht kann jemand da noch Zahlen und Fakten bringen?

Anonymous said...

Für "1 Billion Kosten" kenne ich nur eine einzige Quelle: Altmaier in einem Interview. Sein Ministerium konnte diese Zahl nicht erklären, seine eigene Erläuterung halte ich für nicht nachvollziehbar. Alarmismus in Wahlkampfzeiten, aber was soll's, Alarmismus ist ja in der Politik ein probates Mittel.

Beispielsweise hat Altmaier für die EEG-Kosten völlig außer acht gelassen, wie sich die fossilen Energiepreise in Zukunft entwickeln. Zudem hat er die sagenhaft günstigen Emissionspreise einfach mal in die Zukunft fortgeschrieben. Er hat weiter nicht bedacht, welche Investitionen in Netze etc. auch ohne Energiewende erforderlich wären.

Vermutlich kann man die Zahl nur psychologisch erklären: An 3-stellige Milliardenzahlen hat sich das Wahlvolk dank Banken- und Finanzkrisen gewöhnt, die Billion ist der nächste Schritt.

Davon abgesehen: Ich bin kein Freund dieser Energiewende, weil ich nicht nachvollziehen kann, warum man Milliardensummen zum Ausstieg aus der CO2-neutralen Kernkraft ausgibt. Klimaschutz ist eine Frage der Kohle, und da sehe ich auf absehbare Zeit eine Bestandsgarantie. Aber was soll's, man muss der Welt ja auch ein Beispiel geben, was diese besser machen kann ;-)


MikeR said...

Subsidizing inefficient power seems like a really bad idea; in the long run, no one is going to keep paying for that. The minute things get tight, that will be the first thing cut.

What they should be subsidizing is how to do it better. Subsidizing research is good. Even better is X-prizes: Reward actual progress. Offer a billion dollars, tax-free, to the first company that can store ___ Joules within a volume of ___ cubic meters, discharge it and recharge it ___ times in a week. Experts can figure out the conditions, I am not an expert. It costs you nothing - nothing - unless someone succeeds.
5 X-Prizes like that would do far more to foster innovation than anything else I can imagine. And once they succeed, you won't need to subsidize it at all.

Werner Krauss said...

Great article by Quirin Schiermeier; thanks for posting it, Reiner!

ghost said...


it is a good article, but certainly NOT a great article.

What did you think when you read 200.000 power outages in the paper? The author did not give a context. Did you think: a lot? Worse than before? Worse or better in comparison to France? Very good? Second best in recent German history? Much better than in 2006?

My first thought: sounds a lot, but what is the context?

That is one flaw... there are several others. Andreas already wrote about the "1 trillion"

However, these are minor flaws, otherwise it is a good article.

PS: the headline is surely not good. I do not see a gamble.

Anonymous said...

I sometimes can't believe what I read on this blog:

"The government intends to have one million battery-powered cars on German roads by 2020, but experts view that goal as unrealistic."

Unrealistic because the germans like to drive SUV's.

And what about coal plant's?

You don't see where is the gamble?

Holy Moly


@ReinerGrundmann said...


Don't you think the headline derives directly from the quote from Mr Umbach: 'He 'is not sure that the transformation will come off as soon as planned. But he is convinced that Germany is the right country to try the great experiment. “If it fails it will be bad for Germany,” he says. “But if it succeeds the whole world will profit.”

Umbach - who exudes optimism in contrast to other interviewees - thinks it is possible that the energy transition will fail.

ghost said...


that is a good explanation. I see my mistake: gamble does not mean to play an irresponsible game, but can mean: uncertain end, risks.

Yes, seeing this in this way, the headline works because the wide spread usage of renewable energy in a huge industrial nation is an ambitious plan. While all information in article are well known, the article is a nice summary. Personally, I liked the concise definition of the EEG (the difference) and I disliked the part about network failures.

Anonymous said...

(Green) games over ... ...

"Meanwhile, European consumers are facing up to the reality that their political leaders have already squandered more than €200-billion ($277-billion) on completely inane and ineffective climate policies. A new report by Swiss bank UBS reveals that the EU’s emissions-trading scheme has cost European consumers €210-billion for “almost zero impact” on cutting CO2 emissions"

Well then, let's have another look at BAU scenarios, at the scientific basis of 2° targets and the urgency of a "Great Transformation".

V. Lenzer

wflamme said...

The black slope shows a rather general residual load duration curve for a renewable scenario - t.i. how many hours of a year (x) we would have surplus power (y positive) or insufficient power (y negative):

Peak surplus can be as high as three times the average load (which is around 60GW for Germany). Peak deficiency can be as low as 1.2 times the average load.

In this situation what must be achieved is storing the green area (area: power x time = energy) and releasing it so to fill the blue area. Then (at least most of the year's time) the residual load will equal zero ... meaning production and demand are in balance.

Limitations of both grid enforcement and storage are rather obvious to see. First we would need storage power around 180GW or else the energy marked orange would go waste. However such high capacity would only be used to the full some few hours in a year.

Investment and maintenance costs for storage and transmission power as huge as this thus would be prohibitive per kWh.

Werner Krauss said...

I like this article, because there are so many different paths and ideas mentioned, and it is obvious that there are many more not yet mentioned. We can see that the Energiewende is framed in a pretty narrow discourse; it's almost all about costs and planning problems. No reason to negate those aspects, of course, but the Energiewende is as much a cultural and a political project. For about 40 years, people in Germany pushed for such an Energiewende, very often against the government. Many so-called economically disadvantaged regions make a good deal with it, which is true for Southern Europe, too. It's also a growing industry.

Energy supply is always political and full of risks. Just look at the political history of nuclear or fossil fuels - high monetary, environmental, political and cultural costs involved. Wars, revolts, dependencies from unstable partners - all fueled by those energies. Thus, the Energiewende reminds us that energy supply is a deeply risky, political and often time messy project. In times of change, the political aspects come to light. The Energiewende is also one about democracy and geo-political shifts in the 21st century, and there is no King's way how to answer this question. We are in the middle of it.

What made me wonder was Roger Pielke's statement, who connects the Energiewende with the Euro crisis and states that people won't be willing to carry the costs in times of crisis. First part is maybe due to the view from the US, which automatically implies that Europe is a political and economic unit comparable to the US; second part is a statement which could be just right or wrong. Thus, it's as much a statement about the belief of the author as it is about the Energiewende - and this is how it perfectly reflects the debate. We cannot easily sort out what this process is all about; we only know that we are in the middle of it. Sounds familiar for those interested in climate change, right.

ghost said...


that was a wonderful comment. Thanks.