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Germany Sets Another Record: 5.1 Terawatt-Hours of Solar Energy in July

Stephen Lacey's picture
, Greentech Media

Stephen Lacey is a Senior Editor at Greentech Media, where he focuses primarily on energy efficiency. He has extensive experience reporting on the business and politics of cleantech. He was...

  • Member since 2018
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  • Sep 1, 2013

Germany set a new record in July by providing 5.1 terawatt-hours of electricity from solar.  That beat its record production of 5.0 terawatt-hours of electricity from wind in January of this year.

These records are impressive even for a country that owns nearly a third of the world’s installed solar capacity. They are even more impressive considering that Germany’s solar resource is not as good as New England’s, and that it is still pioneering offshore wind in the North Sea.

But there are several other important numbers to notice in Germany’s 2013 electricity production.

First, Germany’s installed solar capacity as of July 22, 2013, according to the Fraunhofer Institute’s Bruno Burger, was 34,558 megawatts. By contrast, the GTM Research Q1 2013 U.S. Solar Market Insight report put the U.S. installed PV capacity at 7,962 megawatts (with another 6 megawatts of concentrating solar power installed capacity).

Germany also had an installed capacity of 30,532 megawatts of onshore and offshore wind in July. The U.S. had over 65,000 megawatts of wind at the end of 2012, though it has yet to build offshore.

Germany’s relatively balanced combination of wind and solar makes a complementary generation pattern, according to Dr. Burger. July’s 5.1 terawatt-hour maximum PV output matched Germany’s wind minimum of 1.7 terawatt-hours the same month. The January maximum wind output of 5.0 terawatt-hours matched the country’s minimum solar output of 0.35 terawatt-hours the same month.

From January through July of this year, Germany got 52.1 terawatt-hours of electricity from nuclear power, 150.6 terawatt-hours from brown and hard coal, 23.8 terawatt-hours from natural gas, 24.2 terawatt-hours from wind, 19.4 terawatt-hours from solar and 10.5 terawatt-hours from hydro.

That means that 8.6 percent of Germany’s electricity was from wind and 6.9 percent from solar. It offers real promise that the country is well on its way to achieving Chancellor Merkel’s goal of 80 percent renewables by 2050. That’s the good news.

The not-so-good news is that Germany’s use of nuclear power increased 0.25 percent and its use of coal increased 11.2 percent in the same seven-month period. That suggests Chancellor Merkel’s goal of shuttering the nation’s nuclear industry by 2022 presents some challenges.

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Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on Sep 1, 2013

It is quite interesting to see Germany’s wind output continuing to drop despite further increases in capacity. From 2011 to 2012, the wind output dropped by 6% despite a 4% capacity increase (source). Now this article reports a large 12% drop despite a further 2% increase in capacity. According to the data in this article, the capacity factor for German wind is below 16% for the first 7 months of the year. This really is extremely poor performance.

What is the reason for this trend? Grid connection problems? Curtailment? Or is wind simply so highly variable even on a yearly timescale?

Clayton Handleman's picture
Clayton Handleman on Sep 3, 2013

The issue of reduced capacity factor is delays their grid expansion plans. .  It is interesting to note that even with the limited geographic extent the Germans will realize substantial aggregation benefits from HVDC lines over a much smaller geographic distance than the US.

But hats off to the Germans.  They are not hung up on getting it exactly right but rather moving forward.  With about 1/4 the US population and US GDP they have led the world in development of renewables.  All this despite having lesser solar resources and being under the enormous economic pressure of propping up the European Union and integrating East Germany.  They have had the courage and morality to move forward, understanding that there are huge unmonetized issues that may monetize only after they are irreversible.

The Germans understand the motto, ‘perfection is the enemy of the good’, in the US we seem to have forgotten it.

Pieter Siegers's picture
Pieter Siegers on Sep 3, 2013

Looking at the data the renewables declined simply because of less wind, not because Germany is going in the wrong direction. This deficit had to be complemented using fossil fuels.

In the future, when we’ll have better options for energy storage systems, that dependancy on fossil fuels to backup will slowly go down.

Germany is doing very well actually setting record after record, and many other countries have yet to to able to even make such a statement.

Wind will catch up over the year. Remember wind and solar are somehow complementary so when there’s more sun over a period you’ll see less wind, and viceversa.

Of course, there’s still the fact that fossil fuels are needed to backup shortage in renewables production, and that needs to be eliminated somehow.

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on Sep 5, 2013

I’m not so sure. If it was just grid expansion delays, output would remain relatively constant while capacity increases further, but output seems to be dropping quite rapidly.

I also have lots of respect for the Germans. They are doing what very few Western nations are willing/able to do – producing much more than they consume. Take a look at this post to see how far German wage growth lags behind other European nations. As the post points out, when the wage growth figures are adjusted for inflation, German workers are actually earning salaries which are greatly inferior to their productivity, thereby allowing Germany to easily outcompete its neighbours despite its rapidly rising energy costs. This very rare willingness to consistently take much lower salaries than they are worth is, in my opinion, the primary reason why Germany could keep the Energiewende going for so long. 

But there are other factors as well. The Eurocrisis has given Germany a safe-haven status allowing the country to borrow money at negative real interest rates. In other words, primarily due to the rare German trait of accepting lower salaries than they are worth, investors are willing to pay Germany to take and spend their money. This saves Germany billions of Euros while more fiscally irresponsible European states buckle under very high borrowing costs. 

In addition, the fact that Germany shares a single currency with all the struggling peripheral states means that the Euro is much weaker than it would be if only Germany was using it. Since Germany is a very stong export nation (again mainly due to its willingness to produce more for less), this weakened Euro is very good for the German economy (because it makes German export products cheaper to overseas buyers). 

Yes, Germany has to contribute to a bailout every once in a while, but the benefits it receives in exchange far exceeds this outlay. But yes, hats off to the Germans. They have built a very special nationwide working culture and have definitely earned all of these economic benefits. 

Alain Verbeke's picture
Alain Verbeke on Sep 5, 2013

Sep 05, 2013. The adoption of residential PV energy storage in Germany will accelerate in 2014 as a result of the new German Government subsidy and falling prices of the storage system. Similar storage subsidies are available in both Japan for Li-Ion based storage solutions in the residential sector, and in California where advanced energy storage systems can be subsidized up to 3 MW in size.
The energy storage market in Germany will be dominated by the residential sector, with 30 MW of installations already supported by the subsidy in 2013. Periodic decreases in FiT and continually increasing electricity prices, coupled with decreasing PV system prices, have now made it financially favourable for a home-owner to self-consume PV energy on-site rather than export it to the electricity grid and receive the FiT.
An energy storage solution enables the system owner to increase the level of self-consumption from around 30% without a solution to around 60% if adding batteries. Despite lowering the overall IRR of the system, adding storage provides the system owner with additional benefits such as back-up power, independency from utilities and energy security.
The subsidy equates to euro 600/kW, or a maximum of 30% of the eligible costs, for a battery-based energy storage system installed in a new PV system. The total annual budget available for the program in 2013 is just euro 25 million, of which euro 18.7 million has already been allocated.

Alain Verbeke's picture
Alain Verbeke on Sep 6, 2013

” I’m not so sure. If it was just grid expansion delays, output would remain relatively constant while capacity increases further, but output seems to be dropping quite rapidly. “

I read in a Der Spiegel magazine article, that the “free market” in Germany is now frantically building windturbines in very bad wind areas (Bavaria e.g.) because the best wind sites are already saturated with wind turbine parks, and more and more Germans are fed up with wind turbines put up less than 1 kilometer from their home in those good wind sites.

They are doing this because Frau Merkel intends to change the rules of the energy game if she is reelected end of September, to reduce the subsidies going to the renewable sector, and massively increase the ones going to the very powerfull coal and natural gas lobby. 

The German wind turbine park promotors are lying to their investors (mom and pop Bavarians, e.g.), to get them mom and pop Bavarians to buy some shares in the newly created cooperative. Cooperative that is investing in the wind turbines to be erected in those bad wind areas, e.g. the Scharzwald area (Black Forrest area). The promotors are lying because the promotors are also receiving bribes from German wind turbine manufacturers (not bribes, they call it incentives…) for each sold and erected wind turbine.

The Der Spiegel article also mentionned that those promotors used manipulated wind strength figures and read outs to convince those hard working under paid very thrifty Bavarians to fork over their savings, for their kids future, because the investment would prove to be very profitable, given the great wind strength measurement read-outs …

I suspect that this will all end in tears, as usual, and the promotors each will buy themselves a new mercedes manufactured by those hard working under paid Bavarians, while those hard working under paid Bavarians will see their savings disappear with the real lack of wind to power those new wind turbines ….

EPURON, a member of the Conergy Group, is currently developing a 1.79 megawatt biogas installation in Jüterbog, Germany (near Berlin in the state of Brandenburg). Energy generated would be sufficient to supply the entire Jüterbog community with electrical power. The installation, which will go on stream in April, is designed to handle the fermentation of approximately 24,500 tons of pig liquid manure and 31,500 tons of corn silage per annum. Input feedstocks will be supplied by a neighboring pig farm and the Jüterbog agricultural co-operative society. A long-term supply has been contractually secured. The fermentation substrates by-product from the power generation process will, in turn, be purchased by the agricultural co-operative society and used in local fields as organic manure. This mass has less odor compared to conventional manure and does not pollute the environment. Six and a half million cubic meters of biogas will be produced annually in three fermenting vats with a total capacity of 7,500 cubic meters. The biogas will thereupon be converted to approximately 13.7 million kilowatt hours of electrical power in three block power heating stations. The electrical power will be fed into the E.ON.edis grid over a period of at least 20 years. The annual electrical power output is sufficient to supply some 4,000 households; i.e., more than the population of Jüterbog. In addition, e.distherm, a partner company of E.ON.edis, has agreed to purchase a large portion of the heat produced by the power generation and feed this into its long-distance heating network.


Given the finite nature of fossil energy resources, major projects for the supply of electrical and thermal energy to public networks will become increasingly important due to rising energy costs and a growing dependence on imported raw materials. With its agricultural infrastructure, Eastern Germany has a bountiful source of biomass for generating bioenergy. In Brandenburg alone, some 40 biogas installations with an output of 25 megawatts are currently in operation. “Large-scale biogas installations, like the one here in Jüterbog, harmonise well with the agricultural infrastructure in Eastern Germany. Large farmland areas and high cattle breeding will ensure a long-term supply of input feedstocks to our installations – and good returns for our investors“, says Nikolaus Krane.




Marcus Pun's picture
Marcus Pun on Sep 8, 2013

Climate can be highly variable. Moderate changes in the position of the jet stream from one year to the next can get you a whole different weather pattern, as in going from normal rainfall to drought or from normal rain to heavy increases in rainfall. 

Since the Arctic is warming up faster than the equator by  about 5 degrees C,  that is reducing the temperature gradient between the Arctic and temperate latitudes. This allows the jet stream to meander and they are finding that it is moving northward AND slowing down.

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on Sep 8, 2013

This is a good point. Permanent shifts in local wind speeds will add a large amount of risk to the construction of wind farms simply because a farm built in an ideal location today might experience greatly reduced wind speeds one decade from now. An increased incidence of extreme wind speeds caused by climate change can also damage turbines or reduce capacity factors through forced shutdowns. 

I have been trying to find evidence of this in global data, but, according to BP Statistical Review data, global wind capacity factors have stayed constant in the 22-23% range over the past decade. I suppose one would expect a gradual increase incapacity factor as technology improves and high capacity factor offshore farms become more common, but this does not seem to be happening. It is still early days though and this is certainly an important factor to watch for the future. 

Stephen Lacey's picture
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