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The Energiewende is Running Up Against Its Limits

Prunerov coal power plant North Bohemia Czech Republic (photo Vaclav Vasku)

Prunerov coal power plant, North Bohemia Czech Republic. (Photo: Vaclav Vasku)

German transmission system operator Tennet recently announced an 80% increase in its transmission fees because of the high construction costs of new power lines to accommodate renewable energy. A study of the Düsseldorf Institute for Competition Economics found that by 2025 costs of the Energiewende could exceed €25,000 for an average four-person household. Jeffrey Michel concludes that the Energiewende is running up against its limits – but may be saved by imported by coal power from Central Europe.

Germany’s decision in 2011 to abandon nuclear power meant replacing 22% of the country’s electricity supplies by the end of 2022. With nine reactors since retired, that figure has dropped to 14%. Five of the remaining eight plants with a combined net capacity of 6.7 GW are located in southern Germany. New centralized gas power stations could replace some of that generation. The remainder must be superseded by local combined heat-and-power (CHP) plants, reduced demand, imported electricity, and renewable energy technologies.

The conditions for non-fossil power generation in Germany’s southern states are far from ideal, however. Solar power potential is limited with only 955 full-load hours of irradiation per year in Bavaria. The scarcity of historic windmills testifies to air currents too weak even to grind grain. Germany’s premier industrial region must therefore be re-energized by other means.

Storage could be a solution, but battery banks for storing solar energy are only gradually being deployed, while hydroelectric pumped storage plants of up to 1,060 MW have become unprofitable due to depressed power trading prices. Cross-country transmission from large-scale photovoltaic and wind farms throughout Germany is therefore essential for filling the nuclear gap. However, the wide-ranging renewable power installations in north and eastern rural regions often generate excessive amounts of electricity simultaneously, necessitating expensive grid intervention measures.

Overhead power lines

JM-LarkinTubes&Pylons-s

Protest against overhead power lines in Germany.

Despite the impending need to supersede nuclear generation, transmission corridors from the North Sea to near Munich and Stuttgart are beset by planning delays. Overhead power lines are opposed by many for aesthetic and touristic reasons. Some people fear health detriments from electromagnetic radiation.

As a result, the German cabinet adopted a resolution in October 2015 to lay 1,000 km of long-distance cables underground. This was estimated at the time to cost €3 to €8 billion more than the overland option. TSO Tennet now expects total realization expenses of €4–5 billion for transmission from Saxony-Anhalt to Bavaria and €10 billion for the northern corridor to the southwest. These figures might be exceeded by the middle of the coming decade, however, if electricity usage in the transportation and building heating sectors rises beyond current estimates.

Underground power lines have other disadvantages. Although they carry direct current (DC) with radiation as harmless as the Earth’s magnetic field, and have no weight restrictions, repeated heating from power surges can lead to early failure. The rated service lifespan of 40 years is already only half that of overhead power lines.

Growing costs

The retirement of each southern German nuclear reactor will reduce net generating capacities by an average of 1.3 GW, necessitating precautionary measures against power blackouts. One option would be simply to raise electricity rates for lowering consumer demand. That alternative is favored by the European Commission to stimulate energy-efficient technologies and influence usage.

But costs to the consumer are already increasing of their own accord. Minimum investment returns of 9.05% for new transmission construction and 7.14% for refurbishment are currently guaranteed by the German federal network agency under the Grid Expansion Acceleration Act. Tennet, which operates the north-southeast transmission system, has announced an 80% increase of long-distance power transmission fees beginning next year, raising the annual price of electricity by about €30 for a three-person household. According to CEO Urban Keussen, the added cost is due to ongoing political controversies, tedious licensing, and public protests. In result, he has said, the “construction of power lines has not proceeded as rapidly as renewables deployment. That should alarm us.”

In a recent study of the Düsseldorf Institute for Competition Economics (DICE), overall expenses of €55.3 billion have been calculated for transmission and distribution by 2025. By that time, the average cumulative cost of the Energiewende could exceed €25,000 for an average four-person household, reports DICE.

The green power surcharge for households and small businesses has been raised by Germany’s network agency from 6.35 cents this year to 6.88 cents/kWh in 2017, mainly to compensate for falling wholesale power prices.

Wind power producers are also hurting from the lack of transmission capability. Last year, 4.1 TWh of wind energy could not be delivered because of grid congestion. In consequence, the federal government now intends to restrict annual wind turbine construction from the 2.5 GW earlier anticipated to only 902 MW in the northern German states – Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Bremen and Hamburg, and adjacent regions of Lower Saxony. The regulation will be terminated automatically at the end of 2020.

Filling the power vacuum

As domestic electricity availability is reduced due to nuclear plant retirements and wind power cutbacks, grid operators in neighbouring countries could increase power deliveries to Germany as a means of alleviating their own overcapacities.

In the past, surplus electricity has been exported from Germany to Eastern Europe in response to prevailing supply deficits. However, new generating capacities that include lignite power plants in North Bohemia, Poland, and the south-eastern EU are increasing local energy autonomy.

JM-EuropeanElectricalPowerRoutes-CEPS

In southern Germany, by contrast, Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg must eliminate nuclear generation on a rigid timetable. Whenever the necessary substitute capacity is unavailable regionally, it must be found elsewhere. Tennet has emphasized the uncertainties of future electricity transactions, but persistent supply deficiencies were already predicted in 2014 by a study of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) for the government of Baden-Württemberg.

Czech lignite potential

Certainly the Czech Republic has recently enhanced its power export potential. After an advanced 660 MW coal power plant at Ledvice was proposed without enough lignite available for long-term operation, the mining limits for the Bílina surface mine established in 1991 were lifted by parliamentary resolution. An additional 100 million metric tons of lignite can now be excavated, allowing power generation at Ledvice to at least mid-century.

Extended operation until 2030 is also foreseen at the 820 MW Chvaletice lignite power plant owned by Severní energetická. In addition, the semi-state power producer ČEZ has already dedicated €3.65 billion to reconditioning 11 hard coal and lignite power plants.

An existing transmission line between Vyskov in North Bohemia and Prague was recently enhanced by a parallel corridor purportedly to accommodate wind-generated electricity flowing across the border from Saxony.

By coincidence, the Czech consortium EPH/PPF has also taken over four lignite power stations with adjacent surface mines from Vattenfall in Saxony and Brandenburg to form the Lausitz Energie AG (LEAG). The combined generation capacity after the scheduled retirement of two 500 MW blocks at Jänschwalde by 2019 will be 7.1 GW. Some of the electricity generated may be destined for North Bohemia, where four phase-shifting transformers are currently being installed at Vyskov as a barrier against excess German wind power. Lusatian electricity from lignite might instead be dispatched along the same route during low-wind periods.

Expanded power transfers from the Czech Republic to Bavaria and Austria could prove particularly cost-effective under these circumstances. The new transmission line between Vyskov and Prague has cost only €102 million, less than €1.1 million per kilometer despite the 270 pylons required along the route. Further grid expansions would likely be achievable at lower risk than the construction of gas power plants with uncertain long-term investment returns.

Outdated blueprints

Austria is another potential exporter of electricity to Germany. Statistically around one-quarter of the electricity exported by Austria to Germany results from hydroelectric storage, with domestic and imported power used for pumping. Austria has recently dedicated Europe’s most modern pumped storage hydroelectric plant in Reißeck. The 430 MW cavern plant will help absorb excess power received from Germany for later redistribution.

When nuclear phase-out in Germany is culminated at the end of 2022, annual power generation will have been reduced by an additional 90 TWh. It is hoped that Germany will ultimately have a wide variety of domestic and international options at its disposal. Its grid architecture would likely be aligned toward achieving predictable revenues, and will include a profusion of underground cables. But Germany may also have to be saved by the flexibility and resourcefulness of the Central European electrical power industry, based mainly on coal power. Whatever the final outcome, the obsolescence of many original blueprints for the Energiewende is already apparent.

Jeffrey Michel (jeffrey.michel@gmx.net) is an independent energy expert based in Hamburg. See his author’s archive on Energy Post.

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Discussions

Josh Nilsen's picture
Josh Nilsen on Oct 24, 2016 4:26 pm GMT

Costs tend to explode when your country decides to close down all nuclear reactors and strands 100’s of billions of dollars in capital assets.

But hey, anything to make renewable energy look bad right?

I thank Germany for paying incredibly high solar costs. They were the ones who made solar PV cheap for the rest of us. Sucks to be German though right now, they are paying 4-5x for electricity than what the US pays.

Jarmo Mikkonen's picture
Jarmo Mikkonen on Oct 24, 2016 5:25 pm GMT

the wide-ranging renewable power installations in north and eastern rural regions often generate excessive amounts of electricity simultaneously, necessitating expensive grid intervention measures.

It is not just about German wind capacity. Germany’s neighbours have around 35 GW of wind capacity. Weather fronts do not care about national borders.

In 5 years there will be loads of additional wind capacity on the shores and coasts of the North Sea and the Baltic, either turning or standing idle, depending on the weather. Expect more interventions.

When nuclear phase-out in Germany is culminated at the end of 2022, annual power generation will have been reduced by an additional 90 TWh.

To produce that 90 TWh in Germany with solar alone, one would need around 100 GW of solar panels. With onshore wind, 35 GW of turbine capacity and with offshore wind, around 20GW. Mathwise, it looks like nuclear shutdown will mean continued German dependence on coal.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Oct 24, 2016 6:35 pm GMT

Costs tend to explode when your country decides to close down all nuclear reactors and strands 100’s of billions of dollars in capital assets.

And claim that your scheme will produce clean, cheap energy when it requires more tens of billions of capital costs plus operating subsidies.

anything to make renewable energy look bad right?

Nothing is needed to make it look bad, it is bad; it quite literally cannot do what its advocates claim.  Anyone with eyes to see knew that ahead of time, and many said it out loud… and were silenced.  Actual environmental progress, reduction in GHG emission, is a distand 3rd on the Energiewende list of priorities.  If it was first, Berlin would have had to admit that France and Sweden were the models to follow,  That would have been too much for German pride.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Oct 24, 2016 8:30 pm GMT

Well, Mr Nilson, I pay 60$ per month all in.. So you come along with 10$ for all in in the U.S:?

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Oct 24, 2016 8:38 pm GMT

Does not look like that. Looks like 78TWh remaining nuclear this year, and 52 TWh export surpus. Leaves 26 TWh to replace nuclear, ane if theres more this will either keep up the export surplus or replace coal. Looks like coal power will be reduced by 5-10TWh this year.
The extra spendings of Tennet will be gone again when new power lines are online, just 5% of the extra money are needed for grid expansions. It’s neither a technical nor a financial problem, just one of red tape.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on Oct 25, 2016 1:06 am GMT

Av. US household pays bigger share of its income for electricity than av. German household!

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on Oct 25, 2016 1:30 am GMT

In the past 5 years renewable production increased 91TWh/a.
That implies that even with an highly unlikely 20% decrease of the speed of the Energiewende, renewable will produce >100TWh more in 2022.*)

While only ~85TWh is needed to compensate for closing all nuclear!
That implies that Germany will reduce fossil further or export even more in 2022 while all nuclear is closed.

____
*) The figures show that the Energiewende is accelerating despite attempts of the authorities to reduce the speed to it’s scenario speed,
2000 – 2005 renewable production increased 25 TWh
2005 – 2010 renewable production increased 42 TWh
2010 – 2015 renewable production increased 91 TWh
German consumption is ~600TWh/a.

**) Note that the EEG2017 law has provisions such that wind turbines will be installed more evenly throughout the country. So less north-south transmission will be needed.

Jarmo Mikkonen's picture
Jarmo Mikkonen on Oct 25, 2016 2:29 am GMT

German cabinet puts brakes on clean energy transition

The German government has agreed on a new reform of electricity markets. It’s likely to slow down the transition to a clean energy future, removing wind from the sails of the German Energiewende. Critics are appalled.

…..the reform will limit the construction of new wind farms in northern Germany by setting a government-mandated upper limit on the amount of new capacity permitted each year…..The government wants to keep renewables to less than 45 percent of Germany’s total electricity production until 2025. This is meant to stabilize the retail price of electricity by allowing utilities to continue to burn large quantities of cheap coal.

http://www.dw.com/en/german-cabinet-puts-brakes-on-clean-energy-transiti...

In 2015 194 TWh of Germany’s electricity was produced by renewables. 1/3 of this was biomass and hydro. All in all, renewables generated 31% of gross electricity generation.

The government cap for renewables in 2025 is 45%. That means 87 TWh increase to 2015 figures in 2025, 3 years after nuclear exit.
Roughly the same number as generated by nuclear in 2015.

Add the intermittency of wind and solar and I am quite confident that Germany will keep on burning coal.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on Oct 25, 2016 9:05 am GMT

Sorry your link contains too much faulty facts.
Your most striking one:

The 45% is not a cap but a min. target.
It will be surpassed. Just as the previous 35% of German consumption target for 2020 (they were at 32.7% in 2015), etc.

The 2025 target was 40%-45% in previous law (EEG2014).
So it increased slightly in the EEG2017.

This Agora document explains the recent changes.
You can read that the yearly expansion targets for:
– wind increase ~10%;
– solar stay the same.

So it’s highly unlikely that the speed of the transition towards renewable will slow below the av. of past 5years (18TWh/a) or the past 10 years (=13TWh/a)..

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Oct 25, 2016 11:22 am GMT

You’re wrong and Jarmo is correct. The 45% is the upper limit, 40% is the lower limit. Your agora document clearly says that:

Im EEG 2017 werden die bereits im EEG 2014 festgelegten Ziele zum Anteil der Erneuerbaren Energien am Bruttostromverbrauch erneut bekräftigt. 2025 soll der Anteil 40 bis 45 Prozent betragen, 2035 soll er 55 bis 60 Prozent erreichen

Solar has a 2.5 GW expansion target, which will yield 0.4% market share per year. Given a 30 year life time of installations, the targeted asymptotic solar penetration in Germany seems to be in the neighborhood of 12%.

Onshore+offshore wind in the Agora document is 97+44 TWh in 2025, up from 71+8 TWh in 2015, so that’s 6% y-o-y growth, not 10%.

Just looking at the prognosis graph on page 8, it seems RE will grow from ~175 TWh in 2015 to ~260 TWh in 2025, i.e. 8-9 TWh/a. So why do you say it’s “unlikely” that the speed will be less than 18 TWh/a?

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Oct 25, 2016 11:31 am GMT

Because of air conditioning and twice as big area per person.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Oct 25, 2016 12:59 pm GMT

And having bigger houses makes it a good idea to burn more coal and gas?

Jarmo Mikkonen's picture
Jarmo Mikkonen on Oct 25, 2016 2:16 pm GMT

Apples and oranges….Germans use natural gas for heating , cooking and hot water. Electricity for heating is virtually unknown. A/C very rare. Therefore electricity use per household is low.

In the US, 35% of households use electricity for space heating. All A/C runs on electricity. Add that houses are bigger and households in the US have more people than Germany. And those houses have more electric and electronic appliances than in Germany.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on Oct 26, 2016 11:11 am GMT

How come you think their Energiewende speed will decrease ~50%*), while they increased their yearly wind targets**) and kept their solar targets the same?

If so, there would be an outcry under (the unions of) renewable employed people (100,000 or so). As half will be fired.

Try to read better:
– Ziele = targets.
– Keep the context in mind. The sentence is in a chapter discussing whether those targets can be reached.
____
*) You assume they will generate 8.5TWh/a more in the period until 2025. While they generated 16.5TWh/a more in the past 5years

Nb. The 18TWh was based on preliminary figures of AGEB. The final figures deliver 16.5Twh/a. Sorry.

**) Onshore wind expansion is 2.5GW/a and changes to 2.8GW/a in 2017 until 2020. Thereafter the target will become 2.9GW/a.

a.o. Sunpower guarantees its solar panels 25years (incl. electricity production). So the av. live expectancy of solar will be >50years, probably 100 years as nothing moves.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Oct 26, 2016 11:23 am GMT

How come you think their Energiewende speed will decrease ~50%*),

Because it’s literally the law, and that’s what your Agora link predicts, for instance in the graph I referenced.

If so, there would be an outcry under (the unions of) renewable employed people

The German solar buildout has already plummeted from a peak of ~7.4 GW in both 2010 and 2011 to ~1.4 GW in 2015. The jobs have already been shed!

Try to read better:

I proved you wrong. The EEG 2016 has the same goals, 40-45%. It’s a fact. Give it up, admit you were wrong.

a.o. Sunpower guarantees its solar panels 25years (incl. electricity production). So the av. live expectancy of solar will be >50years, probably 100 years

Doesn’t follow.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on Oct 26, 2016 11:39 am GMT

@Jesper,
So you agree! Thanks..
Hence you must also agree that the Germans are migrating towards 80% renewable while having insignificant costs!

Especially since the Energiewende levy is <20% of the electricity bill (being the total of fixed connection costs + KWh costs).

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on Oct 26, 2016 11:48 am GMT

The reduction from 7GW/a for solar, while target was ~2.5GW/a, delivered already a major outcry in Germany…

Time will show who is right!

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Oct 26, 2016 12:41 pm GMT

Didn’t a government estimate put the cost at a trillion euro, or close to €50,000 for a family of four? I wouldn’t call that insignificant. Even though rich Germany can take that cost, it won’t be easy for non-OECD countries.

Of course, 80% of 600 TWh from nuclear would require 60 GW at €5/W, so €300 billion, as an alternative cost (with a longer life span as well).

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Oct 26, 2016 12:43 pm GMT

The reduction from 7GW/a for solar, while target was ~2.5GW/a, delivered already a major outcry in Germany…

Exactly, so that’s over with.

Time will show who is right!

Yes, either it’s you or Agora Energiewende.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Oct 26, 2016 4:02 pm GMT

The rough estimate was 1 billion (german, american trillion) in 30 years, while fuel spendings in the same time without changes would be in the range 2-2.5 billion/Trillion during the same time if prices don’t rise. Target is to reduce these 2-2,5 trillion by 80% or more by spending one trillion. Quite expensive……….

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Oct 26, 2016 4:09 pm GMT

31% of new buildings in germany get a heat pump, nearly 20% are connected to district heating. Most of the heatpumps can also do A/C, but there is not very much requirement for this with the climate here, but heating requiremens exist at least half of the year, depending on the insulation of the house.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Oct 26, 2016 9:00 pm GMT

30 years to go from 30% to 80% RE, that’s 50% of 600 TWh, so 300 TWh per year should be replaced in the end. Linear progression gives 300 TWh * 30/2 = 4500 TWh. So you’re saying fossil fuel costs for 4500 TWh is 2-2.5 trillion euro, i.e 0.44-0.56 euro/kWh? Or what does the calculation look like?

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Oct 27, 2016 8:40 am GMT

Look at your calculations and find the pile of errors in your trash.
I do not wirte about average consumption replaced during the build out, and Energiewende is not restricted on the pwoer sector. Discussion is about fossil fuel imports and production inside the country, which is to be replaced with this investment. The investment does not stop producing power when it is installed.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Oct 27, 2016 9:07 am GMT

It doesn’t stop accruing interest and O&M costs either. I think regardless of your objections, my calculation indicates that the 2-2.5 trillion euro saved fuel costs is bollocks.

Any reasonable estimate shows the energiewende to be extremely expensive. Again, I showed that nuclear can be done at a third of the cost.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Oct 27, 2016 9:19 am GMT

No as usual your calculations in the style 2+2=7.352 show nothing at all, just your lack of interest in the topic. Look at the german fuel imports and the related costs.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Oct 27, 2016 10:36 am GMT

If you find any error in my calculations, then feel free to point it out. Until then, we’ll just keep watching the German disaster progress, won’t we?

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Oct 27, 2016 11:34 am GMT

No we won’t And I showed you some of the errors already. But you love to do false calculations.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Oct 27, 2016 12:32 pm GMT

It seems you imply some simple math error, and if so, I’d like to know about it. I know and expect you to choose your input data … ahem … differently, though.

Please feel free to give us your calculation.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Oct 27, 2016 1:51 pm GMT

Who is able to read has advantages…..

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Oct 27, 2016 2:08 pm GMT

Says the guy barely literate in English…

Thorkil Soee's picture
Thorkil Soee on Oct 28, 2016 10:56 am GMT

No matter all the political decisions. Germany is digging itself down into a deep and expensive green hole. See http://wp.me/p1RKWc-11F

Rick Engebretson's picture
Rick Engebretson on Oct 28, 2016 12:25 pm GMT

Delighted to see a growing interest in German local CHP plants. There is a similar and collaborative shift in focus in Minnesota. There remains a lot of engineering, innovation, experimentation, and judgement calls. And not to entirely dismiss all other options. But CHP and new fuels has climbed back to interest only because the hype has failed to deliver. The test drive didn’t sell.

Hard to beat CHP for flexibility, resiliency, grid stabilization, energy security. Of course some will dredge up burning wood chips, but the stakes are too high to fail, and too many smart minds to be silenced.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Oct 28, 2016 3:00 pm GMT

Bas, time has already shown you’re wrong.

Time will show whether renewables advocates are willing to accept that fact, or will persist in worshipping their false God as they destroy the planet for everyone else.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Nov 2, 2016 6:46 pm GMT

Avg monthly utility bill is $45 in Haiti, for electricity, heating, water, and garbage combined, though the power rate is 35c per kWh. Rates are the relevant metric for the afordability of power, not the total bill.

Jean-Marc D's picture
Jean-Marc D on Feb 17, 2017 10:28 pm GMT

The targets means little. Wind has been quite stably in a 4,5 GW per year corridor since july 2015 (growing a bit from 4GW to 4,5+GW), and solar has since july 2015 dropped to around 1,5GW then stabilizing.
What more EEG 2017 will be very bad for solar, since installation above 750 kW will no more be able to receive subsidies, except if they go through a big process. But bid will be limited to 600 MW a year, though the install above 750 kW were about 80% of the volume until the end of last year.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on Feb 20, 2017 1:08 pm GMT

Jean-Marc,
It implies more increases of the German Feed-in-Tariff’s (FiT’s) for small solar. We had one in Jan., next will come in April.

At each new quarter the installation volume in past 12 months is reviewed.
If it’s a lot too small the FiT’s are increased.

If it’s a little too small the FiT’s stay the same assuming the ongoing price decrease will take care such that the installation rate will increase again.
But that didn’t occur as prices didn’t decrease.
Partly due to the introduced high import tariffs for Chinese panels by the EU (the FiT adaptation scheme assumes a regular price decrease of ~8%/a).

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Feb 20, 2017 2:11 pm GMT

The jobs have mainly not ben shed. You are not informed how the german market works as it seems. Most of the craftsmen installing PV concentrate more to their original business today (electricians, roofmaker) while keeping the knowledge how to install solar equipment efficiently. If low installation rates remain for >20 years this might become a problem, although many countries show that the simple task of installing solar can be ramped up by 50% per year without significant cost problems. So even then this remains a small problem.

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