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Germany's Energiewende Troubles Prove That Renewable Energy Has Failed. And Other Strange Ideas

Energiewende and German Energy Troubles

What has been obvious to me for a long time now appears to have become obvious to many others: Germany’s energy policy is a confused mess. Germany’s energy revolution is, in the words of New Scientist, “on the verge of collapse.” And it was all rather predictable. Ramping up renewables quickly, building more coal power plants, closing nuclear power plants, and doing very little to reduce carbon emissions. Vaclav Smil, perhaps the most trenchant observer of energy transitions, rightly called this “totally zany.”

However point out these realities and you will quickly be labelled “anti-renewables,” such is the vacuous nature of too much debate on energy policy. Germany however has been set up as a symbol of the 100% renewables nirvana state to come, so I guess this is understandable. Yet, despite what many believe, Germany has a target of sixty, not one hundred percent, renewable energy by 2050, and is now building more coal power plants than any European country. Again, pointing out that Germany is building coal power plants puts me at risk of getting called “anti-renewables.” Mumbo jumbo rules the world.

This then is the perversely ideological backdrop to such debate. If things have gone wrong in Germany, they are bad for renewable energy, thus we should not talk about it. However as the great physicist Richard Feynman said “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.

Here then is what has gone wrong in Germany. It built far too much solar capacity, when wind was a much better option. It closed nuclear power plants, while building coal plants. And it built these coal plants instead of much cleaner, if more expensive, natural gas plants.

Yes, again I risk being called “anti-renewables”, but a careful reader will note that I argued for building wind instead of solar. That would, by any reading, be “pro-renewables”, or at least “pro-wind”. Sadly these caveats, while frustrating the flow of one’s prose, are by experience necessary. Here I will focus on the first statement, where conventional opinion is rather misguided. Germany’s solar build up, instead of being a huge success, was a massive mis-application of much needed effort.

In 2012 Germany had one third of the world’s solar panels, and at one point these panels generated over half of Germany’s electricity demand. This is how things are normally put. But it as rather like talking about a third rate golfer and only referring to the time he almost won the US Masters. Yes, Germany got 50% of its electricity from solar one afternoon. Throughout the year it only produced 5%. The 5% is what really matters. The 50% gets all the headlines.

And solar is an awful source of energy in a country as cloudy and as far north as Germany. Electricity has to be available when we want it. Germans, like many Europeans, most want the stuff around 6 pm on a cold Winter evening. This is an incredibly reliable peak in demand. Yet, the electricity supplied by Germany’s solar panels at 6 pm on a cold December is also incredibly reliable: zero.

Physical realities mean that Germany’s solar panels generate a pitiful amount of electricity for a large part of the year. This is demonstrated by comparing the output of Germany’s solar panels in July 2013, 5.1 TWh, with that in January 2013, 0.35 TWh. This is a difference of more than an order of magnitude. Solar is unlikely to be anything other than a marginal source of energy in Germany, simply because of its distance from the equator. And wishful thinking cannot shove Germany ten degrees to the south.

The astonishingly poor value for money of Germany’s solar build out can be demonstrated by comparing the subsidies for solar with those for onshore wind. Solar gets more than two times more in subsidies, but produces almost two times less electricity. Just think what could have been done by putting that solar money into wind turbines. Some will counter that Germany’s build up helped costs decline. Yes, this has happened, in part thanks to China dumping under-priced panels in the EU.

But what is Germany doing now that the costs have declined? They are building far less solar. At peak Germany was installing 7.5 GW of new solar each year. Now the government wants this to be limited to no more than 2.5 GW per year. To put this number in perspective consider the 10.7 GW of new coal plants Germany is building. It would take between 20 and 30 years to build enough solar panels, at 2.5 GW each year, to match the electricity generated by these coal plants.

Solar then appears to have left Germany with a very hefty bill, and with very little to show for it. Or I should say wishful thinking politicians have. Solar remains a very promising long term bet compared with wind, because of its higher power density. Just not in cloudy northern countries.

The lesson here is not “solar and renewables are a failure”, but “build solar where the sun shines.”

Robert Wilson's picture

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Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 9, 2014 9:29 pm GMT

Schalk,

Together with those of others, my solar produces in peak time, the middle of the day, so it takes the high peak whole sale prices away that occur at that time. In Germany those are already gone.

So that is a good thing for the utilities that sell electricity ( (and their customers), as they no longer need to pay peak whole sale prices for electricity that they have to deliver in the middle of the day.
Furthermore it takes some load off the grid at peak time, so the grid company can delay with upgrades.

And the electricity that is generated and used did not emit any CO2/GHG.

If much solar/wind electricity is generated by solar/win then wholesale prices will become near zero (which happens in Germany already) and Norway’s Statkraft will buy it for their pumped storage reservoirs and sell the electricity the moment whole sale prices are high.
So this also takes high price peaks away.

Note also that the distributed generation of many rooftop solar installations, imply that a big outage within seconds, such as those that occur when the turbine of 1GW plant brakes, is impossible.

So production of solar/wind is not intermittent (as that of birg power plants) but variable, which variability can be highly accurately predicted by grid management many hours/days in advance.\

The result of that can be seen at the German grid. I’ts customer delivery reliability became twice as good when solar/wind started to become a significant part of their electricity generation mix.

Now average customer connection total outage time 15min./year. That was 30min./year.
We in NL are still at the 15min/year level as we do not have significant share of wind and solar.

Note that UK and France still are at ~60min/year level, 4 times worse than Germany. But those have more concentrated big power plants…

 

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Feb 10, 2014 2:00 am GMT

There are economic benefits to changing from an imported energy source, to an equal or less costly domestic energy source (e.g. Russian gas to domestic coal); even if job destruction equals job creation, the new jobs are domestic which helps trade balance.  There is no net benefit to switching from Russian gas to Chinese solar.   And it is economically harmful to switch from existing (already paid-for) domestic nuclear to new domestic wind (imported uranium is only a tiny part of the cost of nuclear, much smaller than the domestic labor content, similar to imported magnets in wind power), especially comparing the long life of nuclear plants, and the short life of wind turbines.

The prudent costs for nuclear power, including major accidents like Fukushima, are actually quite low, and clearly are much cheaper than solar or wind power with energy storage.  Most of the costs attributed to the Fukushima accident essentially serve the whim of the anti-nuclear establishment (i.e. evacuating areas which need not and should not be evacuated);  so these costs are more appropriately attributed to anti-nuclearism, and perhaps even renewables themselves, which are the life-blood of the anti-nuclear establishment.

No, I am not supported by the nuclear industry.  But I have taken the time to learn the truth about nuclear power, which is that it is safer, cleaner, and better for the environment than fossil fuel, and better even than any plausible mix of renewables with fossil fuel backup.  And I know enough about energy storage to be skeptical of the belief that breakthroughs that can change the renewable situation (the absolute dependence on fossil fuel) will occur any time soon.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Feb 9, 2014 10:17 pm GMT

The problem with 100% renewables is not that it is impossible, but rather that it is too expensive compared to alternatives, and that the claimed benefits (especially compared to nuclear) are wildly exagerated.  

In free market countries like the US, we have powerful corrective forces that will effectively prevent us from switching from the current energy system to one which is much more expensive (regardless of how many tiny example countries you can find where this is not true).  Our current renewable technology is somewhat more expensive than alternatives at low penetration, but quickly rises to be much more expensive at high penetration.  The current technology therefore, is a dead-end street that leads to a 30/70 mix of renewables and fossil fuel, with miraculous breakthroughs required to reach the 100% renewables target.

Nuclear on the other hand, holds the same modest cost from zero to 50% penetration of the electricity market, is clearly affordable at 80% penetration (see France), and it combines with hydro well even at high penetration.

Geoff Thomas's picture
Geoff Thomas on Feb 9, 2014 10:47 pm GMT

Hi Heber, Modern generators of electricity can ramp up and down very quickly, this has been pointed out several times on Energy Collective, you are flying in the face of reality to say otherwise.

Therefore it doesn’t matter if the renewables are not always available, although it helps when they do happen to co-incide as I pointed out to you already, however it is not essential.

Your statement that the world is not warming beggars belief, the record breaking heatwaves, increased flooding, etc. all over the world must be obvious to you, although the increase of temperature in the ocean, the amount of heat being equivalent to 12 Hiroshima bombs a second, may seem irrelevant to those suffering from the common malady of willful blindness.

A warming ocean is something that has a real likelihood of biting us all.

As far as the statement that (3) users have to get electricity when they need (or is it want?) it, that is causing huge rises in the price of electricity as new generation equipment is only required to serve peak usage.

It is interesting that in the case of electricity providers charging more for Peak, large numbers of people choose to use the electricity when it is cheaper, – and this is starting to drive more storage, both on the side of the generators and also the side of the consumers.

The next decade will be very interesting to see how things develop.

Geoff Thomas's picture
Geoff Thomas on Feb 9, 2014 10:48 pm GMT

Hi Heber, Modern generators of electricity can ramp up and down very quickly, this has been pointed out several times on Energy Collective, you are flying in the face of reality to say otherwise.

Therefore it doesn’t matter if the renewables are not always available, although it helps when they do happen to co-incide as I pointed out to you already, however it is not essential.

Your statement that the world is not warming beggars belief, the record breaking heatwaves, increased flooding, etc. all over the world must be obvious to you, although the increase of temperature in the ocean, the amount of heat being equivalent to 12 Hiroshima bombs a second, may seem irrelevant to those suffering from the common malady of willful blindness.

A warming ocean is something that has a real likelihood of biting us all.

As far as the statement that (3) users have to get electricity when they need (or is it want?) it, that is causing huge rises in the price of electricity as new generation equipment is only required to serve peak usage.

It is interesting that in the case of electricity providers charging more for Peak, large numbers of people choose to use the electricity when it is cheaper, – and this is starting to drive more storage, both on the side of the generators and also the side of the consumers.

The next decade will be very interesting to see how things develop.

Geoff Thomas's picture
Geoff Thomas on Feb 10, 2014 1:09 am GMT

Yes Marijan, that’s what I did, ask, but you have still used the alphabet soup in your reply, kindly use the words the letters stand for so all can understand your email.

Thanks,

Geoff.

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on Feb 10, 2014 6:47 am GMT

Qualitative observations about peak generation are not useful at all. Please have a look at this chart calculated by the German EEG folks themselves. It shows that German PV is now worth about the same as general dispatchable power because it has already reached about 5% penetration (at negligible penetration it is worth about 30% more than wholesale prices because it produces in the day as you mention). In addition, PV in northern Europe peaks in summer when wholesale prices are lowest, thereby dragging the generation-weighted price down.

Overall, the 2013 value of solar PV in Germany was €39.36/MWh – close to an order of magnitude less than the retail prices that must be paid by consumers. We can therefore argue over whether solar is worth 0%, 10% or 20% more than wholesale, but valuing it at residential retail rates which are 600% higher than wholesale is nothing short of delusional. 

Sure, if we include a fair CO2 price of €20/ton, the wholesale price will probably rise by about €10/MWh (assuming a grid-wide CO2 intensity of 0.5 ton/MWh). This will increase the value of solar PV by about €10/MWh, which is still tiny against the €260/MWh gap between retail and wholesale prices. 

Any country with as enormous an overcapacity as Germany will have low power outages. If other countries want to increase their reliability from 99.994% to 99.997% (from 30 min to 15 min or yearly outage), they can also just build a lot more capacity to achieve this negligible benefit. However, this would be totally economically unviable as Germany seems to have finally realized through minister Gabriel.

Geoff Thomas's picture
Geoff Thomas on Feb 10, 2014 7:56 am GMT

There are opinions about Nukes, some think them fine, some ask for how many years for how many accidents, Fukushima was a long way from the first, and to be in the long term mistaken about Nuke safety could be even worse than climate change.

Risks need to be evaluated, many folk will agree that it is more important to retain the earth as a place for humans to live, – as we currently have no other, – than to thrive but at the risk of losing all.

My opinion is that we should save Nuclear fuel for exploring outer space including our galaxy, but then I am a Renewable Energy system designer so don’t believe in the Nuclear solution as i have enough experience in Renewables to know how much more one can do, – without that incredible risk, small as it may seem until after the latest catastrophe.

There are many who love Nuclear on this list, and many seem fine caring people, but to pretend it is the only solution and has no risk is to make two mistakes, the first is that it is no where near properly costed and the second, risk, could be more than we would have been willing to pay had we known, it should be the last resort, even if it weren’t the most expensive.

But then I think we should accept the boat people, perhaps I am an old softy..

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 10, 2014 8:22 am GMT

Your 7% is only possible with very risky investment and before tax.
The bancs pay ~2-3%. The extra 4-5% is risk premium.
I assumeme 2.8%. After tax that leaves 1%.

So my €7000 investment should deliver €70/yr interest.

The panels are guaranteed 25years, starting with a positive yield tolerance of 5% and degradation after 25years is max. 15% (of 21.5%-22.5%). So with these 21.5% panels I can assume ~20% after 25years.

And on average during the 50years lifetime (twice the guarantee period, no moving parts) 20%.

So with 5000KWh/year my installation delivers €1000/year (with an investment of €7000,=) during 50years. Assuming the electricity price does not rise with inflation.

Depreciation €140,=/year, interest €70,=/year, inverter replacement and other maintenance reservations €90,=/year. So the total ‘costs’ are €300/year.

Which brings an extra netto return of €700,=/year on an investment or €7000,= which is 10% more netto than putting the money on the banc.

I really do not see a better investment.
And this one is also good for the climate!

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 10, 2014 9:06 am GMT

…building more coal power plants … doing very little to reduce carbon emissions..“.

This suggests that Germany did not decrease the use of fossil fuel for electricity generation.
Which is wrong!

Let us look at <a href=”https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Bdydb4UCMAAiT1A.jpg:large”>the last six years</a>:
Production of electricity by all fossil fuels (coal too) went down significantly!

Lets look at a longer period 2000(start Energiewende) – 2013.
You can find all figures at<a href=”http://www.ag-energiebilanzen.de/”>AG Energiebilanzen, in the PDF Stromerzeugung 1990-2013</a>.
Same result! Production using coal went down significantly

So the suggestion is wrong.
Why? Because Germany closed more coal plants than it opened. The new plants helped for CO2 als because they have ~55% yield while the old plants have only ~35%. So less emissions per KWh.

Agree the total coal capacity went up (replacing gas plants that were closed), but total production down and that is what counts. 

One can argue that CO2 went up last few years.
That are fluctuations due to cold weather, etc. By installing each year 5GW wind+solar, the long term trend will continue. Especially after the closure of all NPP’s.

The new tax will help to keep the installation rate of wind+solar at the planned 5GW/year.
And that is necessary as that rate got out of hand the last 3 years:
In 2011 and 2012 twice the amount the scenario scheduled, in 2012 20% more than scheduled.
And that delivers problems with the grid as grid adaptation did not go faster.
And financially as it increases the Energiewende levy unnecessary.

So Gabriel takes action to keep the speed of the Energiewende within the limits of the scenario.

 

 

Marijan Pollak's picture
Marijan Pollak on Feb 10, 2014 12:01 pm GMT

Mr. Thomas,

I am sorry, but You must be complaining about few Acronyms like PSs which stand for Power Stations, or WPSs which stands for Wind Power Stations, CSP that stand for Concentrated Solar Power, MWh that stand for Mega Watt hours, and they are invented exactly for reason that people not need to repeat words they stand for ad nauseam.

So far You are only one complaining, I would say.

Since English is not my Native Language, I had hard time to decipher what You are calling “Alphabet Soup”…..

If You used word Acronyms, then I would take care to avoid using them in my answer, sorry for misunderstanding.

I would say, if You are unfamiliar with domain of discussion, then words would not help You either…….

Marijan Pollak's picture
Marijan Pollak on Feb 10, 2014 12:19 pm GMT

For some reason my reply come in duplicate and there is no option to delete it completely….

Marijan Pollak's picture
Marijan Pollak on Feb 10, 2014 12:16 pm GMT

Mr. Rizzo, You are wrong, with more renewables, there is less need for so far dominant Coal burning Power Stations, and with my WindSolars that need no backup nor use electricity for their own work, they are not needed at all. 

Math Geurts's picture
Math Geurts on Feb 10, 2014 12:30 pm GMT

The result: NRW-Mieter bezahlen Bayerns Solardächer

http://www.zeit.de/wirtschaft/2014-02/eeg-bundeslaender-energiewende


Math Geurts's picture
Math Geurts on Feb 10, 2014 4:51 pm GMT

.

Math Geurts's picture
Math Geurts on Feb 10, 2014 6:33 pm GMT

The data proof that production from coal plants would have been considerably lower if nuclear plants would not have been closed.  

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on Feb 10, 2014 4:15 pm GMT

That’s great Willem, let’s just bring the Nazis into the discussion.

Marijan Pollak's picture
Marijan Pollak on Feb 10, 2014 5:04 pm GMT

Actually, Mr. Post, they started ALL of them, but only TWO was there, unless I missed some…

Schalk Cloete's picture
Schalk Cloete on Feb 11, 2014 6:22 am GMT

If your financial advisor told you to stick your money in a fixed bank account for 25 years to earn 1%, you should fire him/her immediately. Sure, if you just want to preserve your wealth for a few years, a bank account is good, but we are talking about a 25 year investment horizon here. 7% inflation-adjusted returns are quite normal if you have this kind of time-horizon in mind, stick your cash in a reputable professionally managed fund and proceed to simply forget about it.

Sure, for you who are currently profiting from the fact that the electricity from your solar panels is overvalued by a factor of 5, this is an OK investment, but for society as a whole it is quite the opposite. Just like housing was a great investment in the runup to the 2008 financial crisis because of gross value distortions, rooftop solar is an OK investment now because of even greater value distortions.

This will end as all bubbles end – badly. As with all gross value distortions, we must eventually return to fair value. This will happen through policy changes such as the self-consumption tax proposed by Germany and the rooftop solar levy in Arizona. When this happens (and it could well happen retroactively) you will suddenly find that your solar panels are now saving much less money and actually reducing the value of your home. All bubbles pop eventually…

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 10, 2014 8:38 pm GMT

Willem,

Based on the progression of the EEG surcharge from 2006 to 2014, it will be at least 18 eurocent/kWh at 50% RE.”
That 18cent will not occur.
Of course a number of German energy institutes spended studies regarding this important subject.
Important as a high electricity price / surcharge may deliver substantial lower support of the public (now  ~90%).

So I read some of those studies.
They project / predict that the max will be reached in 2020-2025 ant that the price will go down after that.  Note that Germany will have 35% renewable in 2020, 45% in 2025, and 50%-55% in 2030.

Stated Reasons:
  – decreasing costs of especially PV-solar, but also of wind (more sophisticated control in the wind turbine which implies bigger harvest with same machine, bigger turbines (8MW-20MW).
Note that solar installations >10MW no longer get any guaranteed FiT. Many assume that same will happen with installations between 1MW-10MW this year or next year, etc.
The estimation is that they will keep up the rate of 5GW/year new wind+solar installations.

  – the very expensive Feed-in-Tariffs (€50cnt/KWh for solar) of 2000 – 2005 are no longer valid (after 20years). So those will then produce against market prices.

 – storage and power-to-gas/fuel will play a bigger role.
E.g. many assume bigger capacity connection with pumped storage in Norway, which has enough to serve half of Europe.
Many also assume further grid extensions. E.g. with N-Spain. If the wind doesn’t blow at the north / baltic sea, than it blows in Spain. etc.

 

Geoff Thomas's picture
Geoff Thomas on Feb 10, 2014 10:15 pm GMT

Hi Marijan, yes you are correct, using the first letter of a word instead of the word itself is what i was complaining about, – only one person need complain.

The normal thing is to use the acronym, followed by the word it stands for, (often in brackets) once in the article, then you can use your acronym as often as you like through the rest of the article as you have provided your “Rosetta Stone”.

That is the courteous way to treat your readers, – after all, you want people to read and understand your article/comment or why would you bother writing it?

Marijan Pollak's picture
Marijan Pollak on Feb 11, 2014 11:37 am GMT

Mr. Thomas,

I have done that countless times n last  5 years so perhaps I tought that by now everyone know what is what.

 Care to tell me, do You understand now what I wrote about my inventions?

Marijan Pollak's picture
Marijan Pollak on Feb 11, 2014 3:34 pm GMT

Cold war was just armament race, mainly between US and SSSR, with CHINA as Communist country standing on side of SSSR. The rest of the World organized itself in “Unaligned” movement. Wars, like one in Vietnam, was supported by sides in cold war, but they were actually local, and just polygons for spending outdated arms and amunition, and earning some money in process. Both sides just needed excuse for spending lot of money on  their armies and armament.

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on Feb 11, 2014 7:53 pm GMT

And your point is?

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on Feb 11, 2014 8:18 pm GMT

Thank you Mr. D for this extensive critique.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Feb 12, 2014 5:22 am GMT

I could see why this version of the story would be appealing, the problem is that it does not match reality very well.  In particular, objective assessments of nuclear safety show that it is much safer than fossil fuels (there are still zero fatalities and zero detectable health impacts from Fukushima radiation), and real-world economic data shows nuclear is much cheaper than solar and wind with energy storage.

There is no evidence that renewables with energy storage are achieving significant market share at all.  Given their very high price and the fact that the vast majority of renewables are being deployed in places which are very poorly suited to high penetration use via storage using technology which is poorly suited to storage (i.e. desert solar thermal with storage is unpopular, and PV in cloudy places with poor seasonal demand correlation is popular), the only reasonable conclusion is that the current renewables fad can at best lead to a 30/70 mix of renwables and fossil fuels (the 30% renewables produce variability that force the 70% to be “flexible generation”, which is by far cheapest with fossil fuels).

In other words, the anti-nuclear ideology will lead only to continued fossil fuel dominance, with the resulting environmental degradation.  On the other hand, the nuclear-first option is fully compatible with continued advancement in energy storage, geothermal power, desert solar power, and nuclear fusion; so it preserves the option to switch to other sources (including renewables) in the future after the fossil fuel phase-out.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 12, 2014 7:08 am GMT

Mike,

While interesting, it states little as in many countries government taxes take the most (here in NL ~50%).

General idea is that government needs income anyway, and energy taxes are good as it stimulates saving energy.

So also high car fuel taxes, and taxes on gas (here all houses are heated with gas, we have a gas grid which comes everywhere), etc.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 12, 2014 7:49 am GMT

Nathan,

… objective assessments of nuclear safety show that it is much safer than fossil fuels…

Only if you use the very biased methods of Hansen cs.
In order to come to their result they:

  • Estimate the death number of Chernobyl to be 43. While objective estimates are in the range of 80,000 to 2 million.
  • Compare with antiquated coal power plants, which generate ~30 times more pollution than a modern, low temperature burning plant equipped with cyclone filters etc.

If you:

  • take away that bias;
  • only consider innocent citizens (workers accepted the risk and get paid for it);
  • consider also the damage of low level radiation towards fetuses, as shown Chernobyl fall-out:
    http://www.helmholtz-muenchen.de/ibb/homepage/hagen.scherb/CongenMalfSti...
  • consider the damaging effect of low level radiation on heredity as show by the change in sex ratio in Europe after Chernobyl (changing sex-ratio indicate the genes are affected; such affection deliver in general negative influence on the quality of off-spring.

then the picture shows that nuclear is more dangerous.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 12, 2014 7:55 am GMT

Mike,

Countries that are more environmental conscious have higher taxes on energy use.
They use those taxes in order to stimulate the public to be economic with energy, and as a source of income.
That same countries also stimulate renewable.

So further analysis needed.

Math Geurts's picture
Math Geurts on Feb 12, 2014 8:26 pm GMT
Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on Feb 12, 2014 7:59 pm GMT

So good you had to write it twice.

Gary Tulie's picture
Gary Tulie on Feb 12, 2014 9:21 pm GMT

Every energy system has its hidden costs – be it the potential risk of nuclear contamination, insurance subsidies, and decommissioning costs, climate change from combustion of fossil fuels, or the need for balancing intermittent renewables. All three are probably very much higher than most people realise.

This points to the importance of energy efficiency and good energy management – both of which generally have far lower costs financially and environmentally than any means of generating power, and can have a huge impact on reducing carbon emissions. 

 

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Feb 12, 2014 9:54 pm GMT

Just so I understand you better, Are you:

1) Just Simply in love with Solar Power, and it’s solar or nothing as far as you’re concerned?

2) Just Simply Hate Nuclear Power regardless of the flavour, regardless of if there is Zero Meltdown possibility?

3) Something other than the above.

I ask because:

a) We don’t have the storage yet and it may never happen (in a globally meaningful way), in spite of hoping/wishing for it.

b) There are places with very poor Solar options, and Solar is not neccessarily the best way to do  home and Industrial Heating and Transportation.

c) The shear quantity of solar panels needed, considering their lifespan, with end of life decommisioning/replacement, considering safety from Hazardous/toxic materials, is not gonna be so easy to solve.

d) There are Flavours of Nuclear power that cannot melt down under any circumstances.

Marijan Pollak's picture
Marijan Pollak on Feb 12, 2014 11:48 pm GMT

How come Your percentages do not add to 100% (except for UK)?

Is the rest Tax from Government? 

Geoff Thomas's picture
Geoff Thomas on Feb 13, 2014 3:29 am GMT

Dear Paul O, I understand that you believe there are totally safe Nuclear options, although if they would be more expensive than the current market offering that should be mentioned, as it could be very important.

What should be taken into account by all Nuclear proponents is that after Chernobyl, Nuclear supporting engineers claimed ‘No Way Modern Nuclear’, after 3 mile Island similiar, and now after Fukushima, same old story, and many Nuclear accidents and safety gear not up to scratch etc. etc. in the meantime, with consistent reluctance to report or acknowledge in many cases, as with Fukushima.

It is therefore not unreasonable to be anti-nuclear, the track record is a real worry, and Japan, which had 2 cities destroyed by Nuclear bombs is not a place to be surprised if people are concerned, – they have good reason, and the Japanese authorities, in many cases, confirmed their suspicions by denying, covering up, etc.

That behaviour is normal in hierarchical situations where the stupidity of the underlings, who have obviously not been adequately supervised nor checked, is blamed, – often rightly so, on the top person.

I believe, and argue strongly, that it is therefore incumbent on any person advocating Nuclear, to be absolutely sure in all respects that their arguments against Solar/Wind/Geothermal Hot Rocks/Wave/Tidal/Gasification/ and any other new renewable source which has objective proof of it’s definite contribution, are without flaw. They must not be based on Industry bias, Idealistic beliefs that Nuclear would change the world (when they were young or now), or such emotional reasons.

Several very concerned and highly respected environmentalists have given up because of this non-objective nit-picking by special interest groups and just say, OK Nuclear because there is nothing else.

Nuclear advocates leap on such, but they are missing the plot, Human beings have invented the Scientific Method, there would be no Nuclear or Solar or arguably a lot of modern problems but for that advance in human evolution.

Sure every step up has pitfalls, particularly if you don’t then apply rigorously that which has been gained , – the step up.

Extreme Solar advocates are no better, any advocate of one sided arguments is not helping, (Paul O hint hint) what is the challenge is to not argue for your idea, but to try and look objectively at the whole problem, – not re-define the problem so it favours your emotional views, but gather from far and wide all possible information, – then, only when you have all the information, weigh it.

Weighing the information is certainly involving feelings, but then it is appropriate, what is not appropriate is allowing the feelings in at the time of the gathering the information, it is just not helpful to say, ‘Look at Nuclear, it is the Solution,’  nor “Look at Wind, it is the Solution.’

I don’t claim to be free of this sort of error in my past posts, but I believe this is a good forum (Energy Collective) to start working to go this way,  – we have big challenges, possibly the human race is at serious risk, so let’s use what we have developed (The Scientific Method)  as otherwise it’s consequences, (Modern Technology) may destroy us. 

Bob Bingham's picture
Bob Bingham on Feb 13, 2014 7:12 am GMT

Natural energy should be a mixture on many sources and for different reasons. It needs to be mixture of baseload dependable and cheap and unreliable and in the middle a balancer,

Geothermal is a good solid baseload, Hydro can do that as well but can also provide instant energy at the turn of a tap, Solar is reliable when the sun is up but a bit expensive at the moment and Wind is cheap but unrelable.  An inteligent mix of all of them can provide energy for a nation without fossil fuels.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 13, 2014 11:02 am GMT

more likely the energy taxes are being used to support the FITs and extra transmission and integration costs of wind and solar.

In NL we pay ~€20cent/KWh (consumers), in Germany ~€27cent/KWh. 
In NL almost none of the ~10cent tax goes to renewable*)
NL and Germany are at roughly same level regarding costs (salaries, etc) and general taxes.

So I think that your idea that >50% of the German 27cent/KWh goes to the Energiewende is totally wrong as it doesnot fit with these simple facts.

*) In NL we realized that we would never reach our committed 20% GHG reduction target of the EU in 2020. So we simply postponed it towards 2024.
That may have contributed to the new EU policy that for 2030 there is only a general target.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 13, 2014 11:22 am GMT

Math,

This describes the usual NIMBY and Länder versus ‘Berlin’ quarrels.
Those are solved by negotiations as usual.

Probably outcome:
 – Bayern get allowance to build a gas plant, which may not come soon as there is overcapacity. So no utility now wants to invest in it.  But their prime minister ‘Seehofer’ has something to show he negotiated well and preserved Bayern’s independence from ‘Berlin’, so good for his popularity.
 – The new high power line will follow natural landscape features somewhat more close (so, also good for Seehofer’s popularity)
 – The new power line will be implemented with only small delay… (actually, the new law gives ‘Berlin’ a rather powerful position, but it is not wise to use it fully).

So, this has nothing to do with the ~90% support for the Energiewende.
It concernse only how to implement best.

 

Math Geurts's picture
Math Geurts on Feb 14, 2014 1:36 pm GMT
Math Geurts's picture
Math Geurts on Feb 14, 2014 1:51 pm GMT

Bas, 

~90% support for the Energiewende, but so many people against higher prices, grid extension, pumped storage, windmills etc.? 

 

 

 

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Feb 15, 2014 2:13 am GMT

Nuclear waste is basically the only form of energy waste that is completely contained, and likely to stay that way (because the quantity is so small).  As you mentioned coal waste is an on-going problem.  Waste from fossil gas an oil are at least being regulated in areas with air pollution concerns.  Chemical waste from solar PV production is a growing problem, especially in China.

Of course conservation and efficiency are important, but no amount of efficiency will make coal clean or sustainable.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Feb 15, 2014 3:38 pm GMT

Well you can’t have it both ways, if you measure fossil fuel safety for modern plants, then it is inappropriate to use old-fashioned Chernobyl.  We’ve done the experiment; we know Chernobyl released an order of magnitude more radioactivity than Fukushima, and the plants at Fukushima put out a lot more power.

Also, the Fukushima power plants are known to be orders of magnitude less safe than any plant that would be built today (even China has stopped building “Gen II” type plants and is now investing in modern Gen III designs).

I am skeptical of all of the small studies regarding the health impacts of Chernobyl radiation (and therefore radiation in general), whether they show low or high impacts – I don’t believe in conspiracy theories, but I do believe in confirmation bias which is all too common in small studies.  As I recall, the big studies like UNSCEAR predicted in the range of a few thousands cancer deaths.  In other words far too low to measure, in a population with tens of millions of cancers.  UNSCEAR also reported that non-cancer health impacts (mutations, etc) were too low to measure.  Similarly, health impacts from Fukushima have thus far been too low to measure, and I’ve seen reports predicting it will stay that way.

I believe that the death and illness rate from fossil fuel air pollution is high enough to measure, and is around 10,000 per year in America.  I haven’t seen any data comparing new coal plants to the US fleet average, but our fleet is much better than what they have in China.  

—-

I consider the “safety of innocent civilians is more important than worker safety” argument to be morally unconvincing.  If you use fossil fuels, then you are partially responsible for the worker injuries which occur in this industry.  Similarly, if you build your house in a highly flammable forest, and as a result, firefighters die protecting it.  Saying that the workers “volunteered” does not let you off the hook in my mind.

—-

What are your thoughts on the fossil fuel lock-in that variable renewables are causing?  Most corporate renewable lobbyists will avoid the issue by saying that economically, it makes sense to defer investment in the (obviously needed and obviously expensive) energy storage as long as possible. 

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Feb 15, 2014 5:24 am GMT

Note that characterizing wind as “unreliable” is quite misleading, since that is a matter of degree rather than a dichotomous variable. Wind power is variable, to be sure, but how variable varies widely based on region and geographical footprint within the region. For instance, according to Fertig et al (2012 ~ Env. Research Letters) wind in the Pacific Northwest’s Bonneville Power Authority (BPA) area could properly be described as intermittent, with resources across the BPA showing 2% of gross capacity available 79% of the time and 0.2% available 92% of the time, and Katzenstein (2008) shows 0% availability for some production hours in the year for all wind resources in the BPA. However, when we turn to the Upper Midwest, when we look at wind resources across the MISO, there is 13% of gross capacity available 79% of the time and 6% available 92% of the time, with some power available at all times from wind resources across the MISO region, and when looking at MISO, BPA, the California ISO and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas together, there is 17% of gross capacity available 79% of the time and 12% available 92% of the time.

That is scaled to gross capacity, but of course the benefits of portfolio effects comes from reducing variance from average energy supply in either directions ~ reducing peaks as well as filling in valleys, so that the relevant scale is average energy supply. If energy supply in MISO was on average about 30% of gross capacity, that would mean that anywhere from 20% to 40% of wind energy supply from a well connected portfolio of wind resources across the MISO region would have to be considered variable rather than intermittent energy supply, with that to 40%-60% for all four regions in the aggregate.

 

Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Feb 15, 2014 5:57 am GMT

Fact 1a. Intermittency of a single source does not imply intermittency of a portfolio, if there is sufficient negative covariance in energy harvest among the distinct elements of the portfolio. So the semantic “a single wind plant is intermittent, a single solar panel is intermittent, etc. therefore all of them as a class are intermittent” does not follow, as it would if frequency of supply was white noise. In reality, a substantial portolio of onshore wind, offshore wind, combined with PV and CSP in areas with an adequate solar resource at high demand times of day and times of year, drawn from a sufficiently large region, is a variable rather than intermittent resource.

Fact 1b. Not all renewables are intermittent as individual elements of the portfolio. Some are variable but not intermittent, such as run of river hydro. Some are dispatchable, and can be provided with substantially more on-demand capacity than total annual supply, such as dammed hydro and biocoal thermal power. CSP with 12 hour storage is an intermediate case in which supply is dispatchable within a narrow window, but typically within the window when supply is of the most use in areas like the US Southeast or Southwest, western Great Plains, or Australia where there is opportunity for substantial solar photovoltaic roll-out.

Fact 2. The fact that some individual elements of the portfolio cannot be depended on to provide each and every variance in power demand is entirely beside the point if the portfolio as a whole provides a dependable supply of power for those power needs that actually do need to have power on demand.

Fact 3. Given institutions that encourage responsive rather than preemptive demand, a substantial share of consumption can be organized to take place when power is available. The fact that institutions that have encourage preemptive demand have resulted in substantial dominance of preemptive demands does not exhaust the range of the possible, it simply demonstrates that institutions are past bound and so technological flexibility to accommodate new needs requires institutional reform.

Fact 4. Pumped hydro storage is presently useful for a number of complex industrial economies, including the United States, but the utility of pumped hydro storage obviously increases dramatically if we take seriously the absolute necessity to abandon carbon-emitting power generating supplies within the next quarter century.

Fact 5. The back up system can be provided by dispatchable renewable sources, regional cross-haul, and existing energy storage technologies.

Fact 6. Since half or more of gaps between variable renewable supplies and technological non-postponable energy demands can be predicted a day or more in advance, the hypothetical need to start up all back-up supply in seconds or minutes is a red herring. Obviously that portion that needs to be available to start up or accelerate generation in ten minute to fifteen minute dispatch intervals would be better met by regional cross-haul and pumped hydro storage, while that portion that can be met on a half day to day advance notice can be met with, eg, biocoal thermal power.

Fact 7. Given that the prior conclusions based on imagining that all renewables are intermittent at their individual point of harvest and that a portfolio of intermittent harvesting equipment is intrinsically intermittent itself, neither founded in reality, the prior conclusions do not in fact follow. Renewable can be backed up by renewable.

Fact 8. The consequence of not constraining our consumption to 20% or less of carbon fuel reserves in the ground is likely to be catastrophic runaway climate change, which a cost in excess of even a non-optimized 100% renewable electricity supply, which would cost more than an optimized 100% renewable electricity portfolio. And believing that the last 17+ years not warming based on incomplete measurements of atmospheric temperatures alone, when the large majority of warming is taken up by the oceans and a much smaller share by the atmosphere, and the only way to get no warming in the atmosphere is by ignoring Arctic regions is simply evidence of a desire to believe in denialist fairy tales rather than face up to the balance of the evidence.

 

Geoff Thomas's picture
Geoff Thomas on Feb 15, 2014 7:02 am GMT

Dear Math, I am not in any way a moderator on this group, so as a fellow discussion member I would like to ask you to not put links as if they were an answer, – who wants to follow someone else’s abstruse links? What did your last slave die of?

One of the contributors to this discussion is Willem Post, he was a great one for this sort of stuff, it was almost as if you met someone and said ‘Nice Day isn’t it” and they launched a copy of the Encyclopaedia Brittannica into your arms and said, NO, read this.

Hello, NO ONE WILL READ IT.

Willem now tries to put his opinions into his own words, I think he has grown as a result of having to so do, – of course it is still only his own opinions, but having to put them into his own words, – meaning he has had to think about what he is saying much more deeply, has made him, – in my opinion, a more valued contributor to this forum.

Cheers,  Geoff. 

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 16, 2014 12:59 pm GMT

“Nuclear waste is basically the only form of energy waste that is completely contained,…”

The nuclear waste stored in the ‘stable’ salt layers 600meter below surface at Asse, is now spreading so much that it has to be excavated in order to preven that the radio-activity will reach the (ground) water at the surface. It will costs German tax payers hundreds of billions euros.

Note that it was stored after many research results concluded that is was stable and safe for a million years… And that it was packed in advanced containers, stainless steel, etc.

Robert Wilson's picture
Robert Wilson on Feb 16, 2014 3:33 pm GMT

And I enjoy comments by readers who do not bother reading what I write.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 16, 2014 5:37 pm GMT

UNSCEAR as well as IAEA are highly biased and excluded:
– all research in areas outside the immediate environment of Chernobyl; and
– all research in that area that did not fit with high standards.

As Belarus, Russia, Ukraine governments said that the damage was small, little research showed up.
Not strange as e.g:
– the Belarus scientist Bandazhevsky, who studied the effects of Chernobyl’s Cs-137 radiation on children,
ended in prison when he showed real damage.

– Ukraine and Belarus governments spread directions to medical staff that cancers, etc could not be caused by Chernobyl unless very specific indications. So medical staff that wanted to keep the job took care.

“…fossil fuel lock-in that variable renewables are causing?…”
When you look at Germany and exclude temporary fluctuations (weather, etc), so take a longer period of e.g. 6 years, no such fossil fuel lock-in shows: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Bdydb4UCMAAiT1A.jpg:large
Also not for longer periods!
Fossil fuel use goes down. Closed nuclear capacity is overcompensated by the rise of renewable.

Scenario studies in Germany regarding the level of storage needed, etc. indicate that until ~40-50% share of renewable, hardly any storage is needed. And that 80% of all electricity can be generated via renewable (mainly wind+solar) while storage and grid expansion together will cost only 10% of the normal electricity cost price.

These study results also explain why the 30 small pumped storage facilites in Germany make losses. So much that all projects for new pumped storage capacity stopped.

I assume pumped storage may become useful in ~2030 when renewable in Germany generate 55% of all electricity. But at that time, pumped storage will get fierce competition from:

– batteries. Germany started to subsidize the installation of batteries by households with rooftop solar (partially remote controlled by the grid operator). They expect that massive installation will bring the costs so much down that it becomes competitive. Those costs went already down with ~20%/year.

– power to fuel / gas converters. E.g. BMW has a 2MW pilot plant that converts electricity in ‘normal’ car fuel. Similar pilot plants create synthetic natural gas that is injected in the gas distribution grid.

– Waste & biomass also deliver electricity on demand. So they can fill the gaps that wind+solar leave.

Those studies also show that grid extension is one of the cheapest methods to secure delivery when >80% of electricity is generated by wind+solar. If there is no wind in the north of Germany (high-pressure = lot of sun), often there will be wind in Spain / Portugal as they then have a low pressure area (= wind, little sun)

Furthermore with long distance connections towards e.g. Norway, Germany can ensure enough pumped storage if needed.

So there is no fossil lock-in situation in Germany, neither will there be in the future.
On the contrary, after all nuclear out in 2023, fossil will be moved out in the four decades thereafter.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 16, 2014 5:57 pm GMT

“...what is Germany doing now … At peak Germany was installing 7.5 GW of new solar each year. Now the government wants this to be limited to no more than 2.5 GW per year. To put this number in perspective consider the 10.7 GW of new coal plants Germany is building…

The German Energiewende scenario always set out an installation rate of ~2.5GW/year for solar and similar for wind.  That 7GW/year installation rate was a slip, due to the sudden deep fall of solar cost prices (only in 2011 and 2012). It created difficulties as grid adaptation speed was not in line with that sudden explosion of solar.
It also did not fit with the financial scenario of the Energiewende: The costs of the Energiewende should stay insignificant low for the German citizen in order not to loose support for the Energiewende.

The 10GW new coal replace an higher capacity of fossil (gas and coal) that was closed because they cannot compete in the new world where flexibility (fast up- and deep down towards <10%) are important, and whole sale prices of electricity are very low. The new plants can produce against substantial lower cost prices. And most can also burn waste and biomass, which gives them some future.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 16, 2014 9:48 pm GMT

“.. comparing the subsidies for solar with those for onshore wind. Solar gets more than two times more in subsidies, but produces almost two times less electricity…

In Germany the only subsidy is the guaranteed Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) for produced electricity.
Onshore wind gets now €88/MWh during 15years, after that commercial price.
A 2MW solar installation gets €95/MWh during 20years, after that commercial price.

I do not see that the difference is a factor 2. Only ~20-30%.

Solar producing less electricity compared with name plate power is not relevant at all, as the revenue from the FiT (subsidy) becomes then also less.

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