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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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Bruce McFarling's picture
Bruce McFarling on Feb 16, 2014 7:05 pm GMT

This is an example of deceptive & misleading argument by using semantic/categorical argument where scientific/quantitative analysis is called for.

In brief, the semantic/categorical argument, the warming trend has been since the late 1700’s, the majority of the CO2 emissions have been in the past 100 years and there was quite minimal emissions prior to 150 years ago, ergo the majority of the warming has happened when there has been no CO2 to explain it.

However, in a quantitative analysis, quite clearly the majority of the warming has occured in line with the majority of the CO2 emissions, with the rate of warming substantially higher in the past half century as emissions of CO2 have substantially accelerated, adding to the legacy emissions over the previous half century given that the average CO2 cycle is around a century.

And, further, the final conclusion does not follow from the argument, since if 2/3 of the increase in temperature is non-anthropogenic and only 1/3 is anthropogenic, then clearly the urgency of reducing our contribution to the warming trend is greater, not smaller, as we still have to steer clear of where the present trend is heading, and if we only remove 1/3 of the trend by going carbon neutral, that means that the effectiveness of each ton reduction in gross CO2 emissions is only 1/2 as great as if the trend is 1/3 non-anthropogenic and 2/3 anthropogenic, and so we have to proceed twice as fast to steer clear of likely catastrophe.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Feb 16, 2014 7:21 pm GMT

As this article from Der Spiegel indicates, that waste dump is not modern, but rather is 50 years old!  So like the Hanford site in the US, it really predates the environment movement which made the fossil fuel, nuclear, and other industries much cleaner.  As the Yucca Mountain program demonstrated, modern techniques involve multi-year tests of the geological stability before emplacing the waste.  Every new industry will involve mistakes; these early nuclear mistakes are sunken costs, we can either benefit from them by doing it better next time, or throw away the knowledge and start with a whole new set of mistakes.

But to my above point, there is very little efforts put into cleaning up old fossil fuel pollution (coal ash ponds, mercury in the water, etc).  And of course new fossil fuel plants are allowed to spew waste directly into the atmosphere.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 16, 2014 9:46 pm GMT


Suggest you use different, better source. The environmental+state+government+VAT+energy taxes total towards roughly 50% of 28cent. I assume the taxes are in total about 12-14cent.

Here in Netherlands we have no Energiewende. We recently shifted our EU committed goal for 2020 of 20% renewable towards 2024 and reduced it to 14% only (not sure whether we will reach that).
We install two extra interconnections with Germany, so we can buy more of their cheap electricity and sell part of it to UK, where wholesale prices are substantial higher than here.
Still our household electricity price is 22cent. About 50% of that price is tax. And our energy taxes are lower than that of the Germans..

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 16, 2014 10:09 pm GMT


Typical Der Spiegel.

Before they started to use the mine to dump nuclear waste, there was good research declaring the mine stable and free of water. As there were also already significant protests. As the protests grew and grew, new better research was done, with same conclusions. And it was promised that the waste could be easily retrieved…

So now they have an excavating project running (that will go firmly over time and budget) only 50 years later.
|One can question what the situation will be around WHIPP and/or Yucca mountain (if that will be used) about 500years from now…

Marijan Pollak's picture
Marijan Pollak on Feb 17, 2014 12:00 am GMT

Honored Mr. Wilson,

I have left long post explaining that all intermitency problem are already solved in my WindSolars and that they would be able to replace any Baseload Power Station as they would work 24/365 on or off Grid without need for backup.

Unfortunately that long post someone removed, perhaps so everyone can continue to lament how Alternative Energy resources are unreliable and that there would always be need for Fossile fuel burning PSs or Atomic PSs.

Thank You very much!

Regards from  Croatia, the homeland of Nikola Tesla and newest EU Member!

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Feb 17, 2014 5:45 pm GMT

Just to be clear, I’m an engineer, so you will never succeed in convincing me that there has been no scientific or technical progress in the last 50 years.  Any claims of “good research” must have a date attached.  Nor will you convince me that nuclear energy is too complicated for humans to handle safely.

I have not seen enough evidence one way or another as to whether the Asse repository is safe (I have not tried to look).  And I don’t believe that Germany is able at the moment to use objective technical data to make a political decision.  The protests are clearly 100% political.

I feel more comfortable with the safety of Yucca Mountain than I do about my local municipal land fill, particularly if we start to bury waste from making or decommissioning a large amount of solar PV and batteries.    

The reasons are several:

– Yucca Mountain does not drain into anyone’s drinking water.  The notion that a whole city full of “fence post people” will someday live there seems remote compared to the likelihood that lots of people will live near today’s landfills.

– The per-capita nuclear waste generation is tiny compared to the per capita trash generation; if we have to dig up some of it and re-bury it, it won’t be that expensive (per capita).

– Nuclear waste is/will_be put into underground locations that have been geologically sealed for millions of years (or “mostly sealed’ in the case of Yucca).  Municipal waste is going into new shallow holes in the ground.

– The most hazardous components of nuclear waste are the most short-lived.  After 500 years, it’s just not very dangerous.  In contrast, hazardous chemical waste will stay hazardous forever.

– The ideology that says that we should have zero tolerance for release of man-made radioactivity is inconsistent with the fact that natural radioactivity exists all around us and our bodies are able to tolerate it, no problem. 

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Feb 17, 2014 5:16 pm GMT

If each solar installation lasts 40 years before replacement, a 2.5 GW per year installation rate produces a final fleet size of 40*2.5 = 100 GW.  Given a 10% capacity factor, this will deliver an average of 10 GW.  Similarly, 2.5GW/year of wind that lasts 20 years and produces 18% capacity factor will produce 9 GW on average.  

Germany’s average electricity demand is 70 GW, so the eventual wind and solar contribution of 19 GW avg will represent a 27% share, assuming no change in demand (and zero curtailment).  With a modest decrease in demand, and today’s 5 GW avg from biomass and 3 GW avg from hydro, Germany could achieve 40% of electricity from renewables

This is quite a prudent target from an economic perspective, as it avoids the need for large amounts of energy storage.  It is also a prudent choice politically, as it avoids killing off the powerful coal industry.

It is a terrible choice environmentally, as it fails to eliminate the pollution from the coal and fossil gas industries; it also has a large environmental footprint, with wind farms and solar collectors everywhere and uses a lot of land for biomass (it’s very poorly suited to densely populated areas).  

With optimistic cost reductions, such a portfolio, if replicated in the US and developing countries, might produce electricity for about the same cost as the 70%-nuclear/5%-hydro/5%-solar option.  However, in addition to the environmental and energy security benefits, the nuclear option also has lower cost desalinization and fuel synthesis (due to higher capacity factor), which produce very large societal benefits.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Feb 17, 2014 5:32 pm GMT

That’s a good point.  It is important to distinguish between costs for new installations and Germany’s legacy costs which are locked in for 10-15 years.

For new installation costs, it’s easy to make the mistake  of over-estimating the cost of solar vs wind, by using solar cost which is 2 to 3 years old.  Also, the US data from the EIA will show a 2x spread between solar and wind cost because the EIA data are capacity weighted averages, and in the US, most wind farm capacity is installed in the central plains which have much lower cost than can be achieved in Europe or the coastal US.  (for example, utility scale solar and wind both cost about $2/W;  in California capacity factors for solar and wind are both about 20%, but in Texas the wind capacity factor is around 40%).

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Feb 17, 2014 6:22 pm GMT

Curious that when More reliable and Weather (sand storms) independent energy was required, NASA chose Nuclear Power RTG for Curiousity instead of solar power that was used on Spirit and Opportunity.

Solar Power is Okay where there is continuous and abundant sunshine, like for near earth orbit Satelites where it’s always sunny. However for the long range, long duration missions that do not sit in near Earth Orbit , we have certainly required a power source that doesn’t care about whether it’s sunny or not, dusty or clear, storage unavailable or not………….Frankly this is emblematic of what makes Nuclear Power superior, appealing, and worthy of serious minded development.

Gary Tulie's picture
Gary Tulie on Feb 17, 2014 7:29 pm GMT

I don’t think desalination is very relevant to Germany as the country has a fairly wet climate with few if any problems supplying the required amount of water. 

Wind power could easily be incorporated at higher levels than you suggest, especially given higher average wind speeds in the winter, and a fairly high prevelance of district heating which covers 14% of the residential market. In neighbouring Poland the figure is 40%, and in Denmark, >60% so cross border trade in energy can help to further accommodate high levels of intermittant electricity sources. Excess wind power can be used in heat pumps on the district heating networks effectively providing “spinning reserve” as in dispachable loads which can be increased or decreased at will to serve the needs of the grid. 

Where desalination is regularly needed as in the Middle East, reverse osmosis units and district / large building cooling systems can be sheduled as a “dump load” in much the same way as district heating in Northern Europe.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 17, 2014 10:05 pm GMT


Sorry, that you draw wrong conclusions.
I should have explained the Energiewende Scenario better.
There are two bottlenecks: financial and the grid.

Financial: The scenario assumes that the cost price of wind and solar will go down further with the creation of a volume market. When that occurs the max. installation rate per year for wind and solar can be increased as then it will increase the Energiewende levy only marginal.
So from financial point of view, the 2.5GW/year limit can be increased gradually with the decreasing prices of solar. Estimations are ~2018-2020.

The grid: With the new law grid adaptation got unprecedented priority, so no long delays.
Estimations are that grid adaptation will be far enough in 2017 to accomodate higher installation rates of wind and solar.

So you can expect that this installation range of 5-6GW/year of wind+solar, will be raised at 2018 and then gradually further towards 10GW/year and may be further (depending on the price decrease of wind, as the studies show that a mix of wind and solar is better).
Germany surpassed its Energiewende targets always. Next targets:
 – 35% renewable in 2020 (it now has ~23-24% renewable)
 – 45% renewable in 2025
 – 55-60% renewable in 2030 (socialist coalition partner wants 65%, Merkel 50%)
 – 65-70% renewable in 2040
 – >80% renewable in 2050
So they will achieve twice your max. of 40% in 2050.

Some other reasons, in addition to increased installation rates, your estimation of 40% max. fails:
Solar panels are now guaranteed 25years. So your 40years is unrealistic pessimistic, especially since the panels have no moving parts.
One can expect that new wind turbines without gearbox will last 60years or more, especially since producers learn from existing wind turbines. Compare planes, which are far more complicated and last also up to 60years. Or NPP’s.

Regarding solar, there are calculations that it is enough to cover 50% of all roofs in Germany in order to produce all electricity Germany needs. Of course that won’t work as they will produce 4 times to much during the day in summer and not in nights and not enough in winter days.
But is shows that there is no need to cover the land with panels (or wind turbines fow which similar shows). Even not in solar poor (high latitude) and dense populated Germany.

Even proposing to postpone the closure of Nuclear Power Plants by a few years is political suicide in Germany. Recently again shown in last autumn elections where FDP got an historic defeat; from 16% towards out of parliament now (FDP was in parliament since its foundation 60years ago). 

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 17, 2014 10:21 pm GMT


We don’t have the storage yet..
German studies show that:
 – there is no real need for storage until renewable reaches ~40% of electricity production; and
 – that the costs of storage are only ~10% of the electrictiy cost price if renewable deliver ~80% of electricity production.
It is illustrated by the fact that Germany’s 35 pumped storage facilities are all making losses with the present share of 24% renewable. Losses so great, that installing new pumped storage facilities stopped.

Against the time pumped storage is needed (at ~45% share of renewable which is 2025-2030), alternative methods may compete away major profits of pumped storage. E.g. battery prices are going down with ~20%/year and there is no reason for stop of that price decrease soon…


Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 18, 2014 11:00 am GMT

Germans are going to remember that the whole point of the Energiewende was supposed to be to head off catatrophic climate change...”
The Energiewende was debated in the eighties & nineties. At that time climate change was a minor. Sustainability was more important. Gas & oil supply would end soon (Club of Rome report).


But the danger and unsustainabilitiy of Nuclear (accidents, waste) was by far the prime reason behind the Energiewende (demonstrations of ~0.5million people).
So all nuclear out is the prime target of the Energiewende (done in 2023).

As the incumbent utilities continued with nuclear against the opinion of the public, they lost trust. RWE now contributes heavily to loosing more goodwill, because they want compensation from the government (=tax payer) because being forced to close nuclear in 2011.
So the second target of the Energiewende is democratizing energie.

One can see how they try to meet that second target via higher FiT for rooftop solar below 10KW (13.5cnt/KWh against 9.5cnt for bigger solar and no FiT for solar installation >10MW). So by far most solar in Germany is small rooftop.
As well as the numerous small (village, town) utilities that take matters in their own hands and smash the big incumbent utilities with 100% renewable electricity (e.g. Schönau, Munich).
And their last action: subsidy only for housholds that install batteries to supplement their rooftop solar (<10KW).



As sustainability was important, the third target of Energiewende is 100% renewable.
So you see that the German’s measure their success primarily by measuring the share of renewable in electricity generation.



After those we get:
less CO2. Less important as shown by the absence of speed limits on many German highway’s and Merkel’s refusal to raise the CO2 tax in the EU (raised hardly any opposition at home).


Affordable costs. So they took 50years in 2000 to reach 80% renewable. Importantant as public support will otherwise fade away. At the moment those costs are <1% for the German household (€20/month) a small amount that gives a feel good feeling and does not hurt.
Expectations are that it will go up slightly and go down after ~2023 (a lot of guaranteed high FIT’s are then at the end of the guarantee period).


Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 18, 2014 11:51 am GMT

Some other points:


… fantasy that … intermittent, low-density wind and solar power will be able to scale up..
With the scale up of wind+solar in Germany, grid reliability increased a factor two, mainly due to the highly distributed generation of wind+solar (accurately predictable). So now the German total customer outage time is 15min/year.
In Netherlands ~30% of electricity is generated by many CHP installations that glass-house owners have. So we have good reliability with 30min/year.
France, UK have with 60min/year out, a 4 times less reliable supply.
USA has 120min/year out even while exceptional weather is excempted (so 8times worse).


“… nuclear power, the only technology that actually has the potential to supply humanity with co2 neutral, dispatchable cheap energy energy.
So last years wind+solar installation rate was ~75GW/year growing with ~20%/year. Nuclear 1GW?
The costs (incl. operational) of new nuclear plants have to be subsidized for ~70% as shown at Hinkley, etc.
New nuclear takes 10years to build. At that time (2024) wind and solar cost prices are so low that they do not need any subsidy (except offshore) to compete against coal/gas.



... rapid incorporation of these intermittent power sources … the sudden, chaotic ebbs and surges of power from renewables threaten to crash the German power grid as well as the grids of its neighbors when German utility companies,...”
So Netherlands is installing two more high power incterconnections with the German grid, so we can import more their electricity against their low wholesale prices. And earn money exporting it to UK that has much higher wholesale prices.

These are typical Bloomberg fantasy stories, that try to rise FUD in the English spoken countries. Probably to please powerful incumbent utilities



…for all that, co2 emissions from Germany’s energy sector are once again on the rise…
Small fluctuations. Look at the real trend:
Less coal, gas, oil, nuclear. Less consumption (=less heat generation). More renewable.

“….realistic approach to energy as France did…
So France decided recently to bring the share of nuclear in electricity generation down from 75% towards ~50%. They start with the closure of the 2 reactor plant Fessenheim next year,
and are implementing a big stimulation program for more wind+solar.


Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Feb 19, 2014 6:50 am GMT

Don’t forget that because each year’s solar and wind installations get the subsidy for the next 10-15 years, the annual cost of the subsidy will continue to rise for the next 10 years, even if the cost of each kWh declines.  Also, as the share of wind climbs past 20% and solar past 10% (around 2025?) the amount of energy storage needed will grow too, which will increase the cost even more.  As the amount of solar goes past 40%, the amount of hydrogen and fuel synthesis must grow rapidly too, and these are clearly expensive technologies.

So the renewable path has a high risk of becoming unaffordable 20 years in the future.  And the public support Energiewende enjoys now is a poor predictor of what will happen when the cost is higher.  When job loss in the coal industry starts rising, the backlash against Energiewende will grow even more intense.

I think it is very noble of Germany to try this very risky renewable experiment.  However, by aggressively destroying the nuclear backup plan at home, and helping to spread anti-nuclear attitudes to other countries too, Germany is doing risk and harm to the environment that may completely offset its contributions.  (I realize that my belief that nuclear is safer than renewables with fossil backup is the opposite of that of most the German public’s, but I believe science is on my side). 

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 19, 2014 2:08 pm GMT

Until now Germany has shown that it reached the year 2000 Energiewende targets:
1. Nuclear out in 2023; scheme is followed, except ~5months aberration in 2010/11
2. Democratize energy; a.o. the market share loss of the 4 big incumbent do show it;
3. More renewable; next target, in 2020, 35% of consumed electricity renewable (now 24%)
4. Affordable costs; until now <1% of German household income.
5. Less GHG/CO2; at least meeting the Kyoto targets, which they surpassed (-27% now).
You can find an illustration at:

Of course German institutes (Agora, Fraunhofer) studied scenarios of all variations and the associated costs. Those predict only small rises and then ~2023 decreases. At that time:
 – the burden of the high guaranteed FiT’s of the period until 2005 (~50cent/KWh) ends, which implies lower levy’s. 
 – the FiT burden of new installed solar and onshore wind will then be near zero, as the cost price of those is then is ~5cent/KWh. So everybody will install solar on his roof to avoid paying the 28cent/KWh rate to the utility. And it will become economical to over-install greatly even if the FiT is then zero (=whole sale rate of ~3cent/KWh).

Those studies expect that almost all renewable grow will come from more wind+solar. 

So you can expect that the present share of wind+solar will grow from 13% now, towards ~25% in 2020,
~35% in 2025, and ~45% in 2030. So those scenario studies spent a lot of money to find the best scenario regarding the variabiltiy of wind+solar.

They predict that storage will be a none-issue until share of wind+solar is ~40%.
Then that the costs of storage will be small after that, ending with the estimation that the costs of (pumped) storage will take only 10% in the 80% renewable share situation in 2050.
The general conclusion is that grid extension (e.g. long distance line to the wind turbines in Spain) is more economical.

They did not include electricity to fuel/gas as that is considered experimental.

When job loss in the coal industry starts rising, the backlash against Energiewende will grow…
German coal industry is highly subsidized (as it cannot compete against cheap US coal), which is against EU competition rules. So a reduction scheme is agreed with the unions which will end all coal industry in Germany in next decade (the EU agreed to that).

The lignite industry is different as that can compete far better, but that industry has only small numbers of employees (operators on the huge digging machines, and machine maintenance technicians).

Germany to try this very risky renewable experiment…
In 2000 I would have agreed, as I found the predicitons around decreasing PV-panel costs, etc. rather risky as well as the costs predictions rather low.
But by now, I really do not see that the costs may become higher than 1.5% of household income.
My estimation is that it will stay below 1%.

The only risks are that:
 – the greens and socialist get majority and speed the Energiewende much faster. That raises the costs and may result in much lower public support. The greens want 100% renewable in 2050, also for primary energie, similar as the Danish targets. Socialists ~95% renewable electricity in 2050.

As studies show that going beyond 80% renewable will indeed increase the costs significantly.
So Merkel refused that at the coalition negotiations last autumn.

 – the performance/cost progress regarding PV-installations and wind turbines stop early.
For wind I do not see a stop until we have 20MW windturbines (without gearbox), that last 60 years with little maintenance (e.g. once every 5years).

For solar no stop, until we have fully automated factories that produce 3-junction cells/panels that have a yield of ~40-50% (present panels have 15% – 21%). Panels that are guaranteed for 50years.
So those will bring ~400W/m2 and produce for 2cent/KWh or less. Now installations >1MW in Germany produce for a FiT of 9.5cent/KWh during 20years, after that commercial price.

Math Geurts's picture
Math Geurts on Feb 19, 2014 3:32 pm GMT

As long as there are people like Bas Gresnigt, who really seem to believe that: “regarding solar, there are calculations that it is enough to cover 50% of all roofs in Germany in order to produce all electricity Germany needs” it will be difficult to stop solar madness. 

Math Geurts's picture
Math Geurts on Feb 19, 2014 3:56 pm GMT

Suppose all 1.3 million PV “plants” in Germany would be 10 kW rooftop solar, that would add up to (just) 13 GW, of actual 35 GW PV, or ca. 10 TWh of actual power demand, which is about 600 TWh.

In more sunny countries with less windfall FiT rooftop solar is max. 5 kW.  Many houses just don’t have enough roof for 10 kW.

Simple mathematics is fatal for solar religion in Germany.



Math Geurts's picture
Math Geurts on Feb 19, 2014 5:32 pm GMT
Propably it will not be that easy.  As explained in : “Grid Parity of PV-Installations: A Full Comparison Considering All Taxes and Levies on the Power Consumption of Private Households in Germany” there are a lot of taxes and levies in Germany (and other European countries) which can be avoided by rooftop solar.  

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 19, 2014 5:36 pm GMT

characterizing wind as “unreliable” is quite misleading…

Yes, it is variable but highly predictable, especially for grid operators that run extended grids covering an area of e.g. 900x900miles with thousands of wind turbines spread over the area. So they can see a flaw in wind production moving through their area many hours in advance.

Similar with solar.

It gives the grid operator the time to organize the right actions in order to keep the grid up and running.
So contributes to a more reliable grid compared to one with big power planst only.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 19, 2014 6:35 pm GMT

You can check the calculation.

Take the X21-345 sunpower panels ( Nameplate capacity 345 Watt.
With its dimensions of 1.56cm x 1.05cm that implies 210W/m2.
That implies a production of 200KW/m2 per year in not very sunny areas (as here in NL).

German consumption per person is ~7Mwh/year (
So per person a roof area of 7000/200 =35m2 is needed. 
This includes consumption by the German industry.
All buildings (incl. factories, farms, etc) have far more roof area than that.

One can also compare with his own roof.
My house covers ~120m2, we live with 3 persons in it.
So our rooftop production would cover substantially more than the share of the industry.
While the industry (and farms, etc) have their own roofs which can cover their consumption.

One can also compare with our actual consumption. That is ~5,000KWh/year.
To cover that, a rooftop surface of 25m2 is needed.
We have almost 5 times more… 

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 19, 2014 6:57 pm GMT

I do not understand this:
… planning to reduce all EEG feed-in tariffs …from a weighted average of 0.1730 euro/kWh in 2013, to a weighted average of 0.12 euro/kWh in 2015…
The FiT’s for solar are between 9.5cent/Kwh (bigger installations) to 13.7cent/KWh (rooftop <10KWh).
The FiT for onshore wind is ~8.8cent/KWh.
Offshore wind is insignificant (~0.7GW, while onshore wind is ~32GW). But even than, it has a FiT of 15cent/KWh.

So as far as I can see the weighted average Feed-in-Tariff is now already below 0.12 euro/kWh.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 19, 2014 7:53 pm GMT

Doesnt that suggest that the cost of new nuclear power … exceeds the cost of renewable sources of electricity and is getting more expensive whilst the cost of solar and wind is getting cheaper?

Estimations are that UK pays at least three times more for the electricity produced by the proposed new nuclear plant at Hinckley, than the Germans do for renewable (wind+solar+storage).

Especially taken into account the many subsidies that this proposed new nuclear plant will get.
Some of the most important:
 – Loan guarantees for £10billion; worth >£800million/year.
 – accident liability by governement; insurance premium of ~£200milion/year
 – Inflation corrected Feed-in-Tariff of £92.50/MWh based on 2012 prices, during 35years after the start of the plant. So with 2% inflation and ealiest start-up date of 2023 that is at least 3 times more than the German FiT’s for wind or solar against that time. Even more than twice that for offshore wind!
 – Decommission costs guaranteed by government to be below ..
 – Waste storage liability/costs taken by goverment.


Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 19, 2014 8:15 pm GMT


If EVERYTHING, products and services, and infrastructures, the power system, etc., were built by only RE, no nation, even Germany could afford it.
It is clear that Denmark does not agree with you at all.
Official Danish targets are 100% renewable electricity in 2040 and 1005 renewable for all energie in 2050… 
Next Danish target is 50% of all consumed electricty generated by wind turbines in 2020 (now ~35%).

For the moment, Germany agrees with you.
So the official (now debated) end targets of the Energiewende are 80% renewable electricity and 60% renewable for all energie in 2050.
I think that 100% renewable targets for the years after 2050 will be introduced ~2030. Following Denmark.

Many Germans feel they lack behind regarding renewable compared to more advanced countries.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 19, 2014 8:37 pm GMT


So they have now ~35GW PV-solar installed.
Most of it (~70%) on roofs, as you can see when you travel through Germany.

And they have covered only very small part of the ~50million houses/buildings. So there is enough roof space to grow towards an installed capacity of 300GW in the coming years.

Especially since the yield of solar panels will grow much further.
The best are now ~21.5% (=210W per m²), but e.g. Sunpower has announced new panels in 2015 that wil deliver ~24% (=235W per m²). Dutch solar racing car uses cells with a yield of near 40%.

Gary Tulie's picture
Gary Tulie on Feb 19, 2014 9:09 pm GMT

So far, we have only been talking about wind and solar, however the German feed in tariff also applies to geothermal power which is from a small base starting to grow significantly.

Unlike wind and solar, geothermal is a baseload generator of power with a very high capacity factor, and potentially the option to hold a store of hot water or other storage media to throttle the plant allowing output to rise at times of peak demand, and fall when wind or solar production are very high. Geothermal fits in very well with district heating, as the same geothermal well can deliver electricity and hot water. 

Geothermal power in Germany receives a feed in tariff of 0.25 euro per kWh (as of 2013) though this will certainly reduce over time with a number of factors.

1. Learning how to reduce the number of “dry wells” drilled i.e. better understanding / analysis of the geology. 

2. Improved drilling technology with increased drilling capacity.

3. Improved binary generation technologies for low temperature geothermal.

4. Increased utilisation of geothermal heat. 

5. Maturation of the industry.


Gary Tulie's picture
Gary Tulie on Feb 19, 2014 9:18 pm GMT

Not just households. Many arrays are likely to continue to be installed on commercial rooftops particularly in Southern Germany for self consumption even in the absence of a feed in tariff.

Installed costs for such solar in Germany are probably around the same as in the UK at around 1200 euro per kW – which on a well oriented commercial rooftop in Bavaria will get you around 1200 kWh per year. For a company able to fund such an installation either from reserves of by low cost borrowing, the cost of such power will be laround 0.08 to 0.10 euro per kWh or around half what they would otherwise pay for mains power (assuming they are not one of the larger companies exempt from the renewables levy. 

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 19, 2014 9:22 pm GMT


Your calculation is much to simple.
Part of renewable has no FiT or the guaranteed FiT period expired.

You can see yourself that it is wrong: 
In 2008 a surcharge of 1.1cent/KWh on 618TWh consumed electricity delivers €6.8billion.
That is 9.6cent/KWh for the 71TWh that is covered by the EEG in 2008.

In 2013 the surcharge of  5.2cent/KWh on 596TWh consumed electricity delivers €31.2billion.
That is 23.5cent/KWh for the 132TWh covered by the EEG in 2013.

But the FiT’s became much lower between 2008 and 2013!
E.g solar FiT came down from ~40cent in 2008 to ~12cents in 2013.

So there is something really wrong in your calculations.

I suggest you trust the German institutes that calculated that the EEG surcharge will rise only slightly and will go down after 2023.

Even Merkel trusted them, as she used those predictions at the elections last autumn.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 19, 2014 9:59 pm GMT

The numbers do not fit, even when you consider the higher FiT’s of the past.
May be the translator forgot a number of things.

Marijan Pollak's picture
Marijan Pollak on Feb 19, 2014 10:39 pm GMT

Hex on whoever censured my posts so You can lament some more!

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Feb 20, 2014 5:17 am GMT

Henry, of course the renewable enthusiasts keep telling us that renewables cost less than nuclear, but they use their own data to prove it.  Utilities and governments generally find that nuclear is cheaper.  Here is a report from the UK government which finds nuclear is cheaper.  Here is the annual report from the US government which once again finds that nuclear beats solar and off-shore wind.

Yes solar costs are dropping, but don’t forget to add in the cost of energy storage.  Plus we should use a future nuclear price that assumes growing deployments.  Otherwise it’s not an apples to apples comparison.  Using variable renewables without storage just locks-in the fossil backup (and the backup typically contributes twice as much average power as the renewable).

Bas, you were more convincing when you explained that Germans didn’t mind paying more for Energiewende, and they would not choose nuclear at any price (I hope I’m not incorrectly paraphrasing your comments).

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Feb 20, 2014 5:07 am GMT

Right.  The only solution is a fly-off; we watch Germany’s Energiewende to see if it can match France’s nuclear solution for low pollution, CO2 emissions, and cost.  The only problem is that Germany is chasing the low-hanging fruit first, and postponing the difficult stuff like energy storage for later (i.e. decarbonizing the whole grid gradually, rather than completely decarbonizing one city at a time).  

That means the fossil fuel era must continue another 40 years before we know whether renewables are a viable alternative to fossil fuel and nuclear.  Thanks for nothing Germany.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Feb 20, 2014 5:09 am GMT

Net metering again?  Surely you can see that it doesn’t work if everyone does it.  Who pays for grid maintenance and time-shifting of energy?

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 20, 2014 7:02 am GMT


Looking into the Danish behavior in the EU; they deviated from the majority / Brussels quite a number of times and those decision showed to be smart / beneficial for the Danish.
So you can be sure the Danish have scenario’s calculated before taking these far reaching decisions.

My German is excellent, but my Danish bad so I have no access to their studies.
May be you can find someone that can read Danish well.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 20, 2014 10:00 am GMT


predictable for the pruposes of producing a good at a rate that matches demand very closely on a moment-to-moment basis
Of course that is what the German Energiewende scenario is up to.
The grid delivers to the customer, not an individual power plant. So the grid operator (and not the utility) has to organise the resources; wind, solar, hydro, (pumped) storage, coal/gas/nuclear power plants, CHP, etc. and create a reliable supply.
And that mixture does create a reliable supply as statistics show!

Agree it makes the grid operator function more complex, but also more interesting and it allows the grid operator to score better thanks to so many different generators at so many different places.

Remark: ~30% of Dutch electricity is generated by ~a thousand of grid operator controlled local CHP’s, which contributes to the good reliability of Dutch grid (~30min/year out, two times better than France/UK).

“... NP is the only zero carbon method of electricity generation on the table that has the *potential* to supply humanity with cheap, clean dispatchable energy…
When I calculate the costs and (partly hidden) subsidies of Hinkley, then I can only conclude that the electricity from this new NPP will be at least 3 times more expensive than solutions with wind+solar+storage or even conversions of electricity-to-gas and then back again.

So I do not see how you can adhere to the idea that it will be cheaper.
Especially since nuclear had no real new developments in the last 50 years (only more bursted dreams such as breeders, France came the furthest with Superfénix).
Now you see the same ideas coming up again that floated around in the sixties, were tried in the lab and then stopped (e.g. pebble bed & molten salt, mass-produced reactors to be transported by a truck). It shows real developments of fission are over.
The next jump forwards has to come from e.g. fusion.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 20, 2014 11:10 am GMT

Strike price for Hinkley is £92.50 at 2012 prices (inflation corrected) during 35years.
So with 2% inflation that delivers a strike price of:
£115/MWh in 2023 at the start of the NPP;
£161/MWh in 2040 halfway the guarantee period;
£230/MWh in 2058 at the end of the guarantee period.

Note that I do not count the other subsdies, such as loan guarantees, liabilities, etc which also count up to ~£60/MWh (I didn’t see specifications of those in the report).

In your UK government report, nuclear is estimated at £90/MWh…
So this report has little to do with reality.

That is also shown at the end where they estimate that small rooftop solar cost an investment of £1900/KW in 2016.
Prices are now already lower and further price decreases are expected in 2014/2015.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 20, 2014 1:07 pm GMT


..nuclear waste is just unused fuel…
Near all nuclear countries tried conversion of nuclear waste into fuel, and lost many billions with it.
The stories are real tragedies taking into account the huge amounts of money wasted.

France came nearest with their Superfénix (after Fénix).
Superfénix was up during a decade, running ~7% of the time.
But even the succesful French nuclear scientists couldn’t get it running decently.
So they stopped it, and did not start a Superfénix-2
They are now searching for a permanent waste disposal site (spend already some billions searching and testing). 

Leo Klisch's picture
Leo Klisch on Feb 20, 2014 2:25 pm GMT

There needs to be a backup and/or storage power market that anyone can sell to. The local distributor buys storage/backup as needed probably for the lowest price at the time or can choose to use local storage first if the cooperative members agree. Each customer pays for the amount of time they used grid power over the month. Right now the local distribution costs for our local cooperative are about $1/day so given 30 x24 = 720 hours/month = $.04/hour of use. So if a customer is on grid 100% they pay $30/month plus wholesale power used. If another customer has a small storage system and chooses to install thermal storage and mainly use power when their PV is producing and uses 30 hours of grid backup they pay $1.20/month + cost of backup they used. Every month the grid backup price is recalculated by taking cost of distribution and dividing it by total customer hours used.

Math Geurts's picture
Math Geurts on Feb 20, 2014 2:38 pm GMT


You consider this to be a “calculation”? That explains a lot.


Math Geurts's picture
Math Geurts on Feb 20, 2014 2:50 pm GMT

For those who are really interested: a benign introspection, dd. January 2014

“Stable Policies – Turbulent Markets: Germany’s Green Industrial Policy:  The costs and benefits of promoting solar PV and wind energy”

“It is hard to escape the conclusion that the deployment of solar PV in particular has in recent years been out of line both with its long-term expansion potential and its reasonable relative weight within the renewable energy mix—in a country with less-than-ideal climatic conditions for heavy reliance on solar energy”

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 20, 2014 4:10 pm GMT

Wind and solar are accuate predictable variable generators.
German and Denmark’s grid operators show that those contribute to a more reliable grid.

“they cannot substitute even a minuscule part of classical generation”
They do contribute and replace classical generation. Just check the Danish and German situation.

Never read about (pumped) storage?

Or about over-commitment?
Wind+solar delivering substantial more than the grid needs so the surplus can be stored, or converted into car fuel (BMW, Scotland), or into synthetic natural gas to injected in the gas grid or back in the gas wells (which we have here in the Netherlands).

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 20, 2014 4:15 pm GMT

You are free to spend more energie and refine it.
It won’t change the result much.
(I did a year ago, but couldn’t find it anymore)

Leo Klisch's picture
Leo Klisch on Feb 20, 2014 5:47 pm GMT

If a German chooses PV over nuclear that’s a personal choice. If a democracy chooses to subsidize PV and/or nuclear it’s that country’s choice. All those who support new nuclear power plants need to form a power cooperative gain government subsidies and agree to buy power from that plant for the life of the plant selling the excess if any on the open market – that is what someone does who invests in PV. They invest and use that power for the life of the system selling any excess and buying backup under the rules establish by that democracy. I prefer the following system for distributed generation.

There needs to be a backup and/or storage power market that anyone can sell to. The local distributor buys storage/backup as needed probably for the lowest price at the time or can choose to use local storage first if the cooperative members agree. Each customer pays for the amount of time they used grid power over the month. Right now the local distribution costs for our local cooperative are about $1/day so given 30 x24 = 720 hours/month = $.04/hour of use. So if a customer is on grid 100% they pay $30/month plus wholesale power used. If another customer has a small storage system and chooses to install thermal storage and mainly use power when their PV is producing and uses 30 hours of grid backup they pay $1.20/month + cost of backup they used. Every month the grid backup price is recalculated by taking cost of distribution and dividing it by total customer hours used.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 20, 2014 7:40 pm GMT

Your report in the link also concludes:
“However, in comparison, the subsidies granted to renewable energy sources are lower than those provided to conventional energy sources.”

I agree that solar expansion rate was out of line in 2011 and 2012 when the installation rate became ~7GW/year in stead of the 2.5-3GW/year of the scenario. Now they have some grid and financial problems due to this slip (high Energie levy).

So their new appointed responsible minister rearranges, so he can be sure it will stay in line with the Energiewende scenario (and tries to repair the consequences of this slip) as he doesn’t want to loose his job (as his predecessor that let this go out of line). 

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Feb 20, 2014 8:55 pm GMT

See, I like personal choice too, and I am ALL for freedom.

Unfortunately some choices really are stupid choices, and  sometimes, these stupid choices can make matters worse.  Germany should be free to risk their own money as they wish, However we too have the freedom to tell them just how foolish, unwise their chices were.

For me, the most erksome thing is not just that Germany has flittered away an opportunity to help show the world how to reduce CO2 emmissions, it is also that I feel a strong sense of deception being practiced by Renewables Enthusisats and the politicians in  countries who have swallow their ideology.

Renewables enthusiasts who promise that we can decarbonise our power production through wind and solar power/ renewables alone, and who do everything to suppress the development of ANY advanced nuclear power, and who keep telling the world that Wind and Solar would save the planet before the Tipping point is reached, are just plain Liars, fools, Idealogues, or all the above.

Gary Tulie's picture
Gary Tulie on Feb 20, 2014 9:33 pm GMT

You speak as though renewables are synonymous with wind + solar. Let us not forget that there are a number of other options which can play their part. 

Hydro – In many parts of the world, we are at or near (sometimes above) the maximum sustainable level of hydro power, but there are regions where this is not the case. Hydro can be very good at balancing intermittant loads and intermittant generation due to the inherent storage of most hydro generation systems.

Biomass – like hydro biomass has limits but used cleverly particularly to provide heat rather than electricity can play a useful part in energy production.

Wave and tidal power (both lagoon variety and tidal current) are currently at the late research stage, however there is a substantial amount of energy available to be extracted once the technology matures. In the case of tidal, outputs are almost entirely predictable, whilst for wave, there is a reasonable degree of predictability and a slower change in production than wind.

Geothermal – this could be described as a form of safe nuclear power and could potentially deliver huge amounts of baseload power with improved deep drilling technologies such as spallation, better understanding of geothermal geology to reduce “dry wells”, improvements in techniques for creating deep heat exchangers, and the usual learning curve of a maturing technology.

Finally, a pseudo renewable – energy efficiency. It is technically possible to build a house in a cold Northern climate which requires zero or negligable heating, and which through the use of state of the art efficient electrical appliances is able to easily generate more solar power on its roof in the course of a year than it consumes. Likewise for a lot of industrial and transport etc technologies energy consumption can be reduced by a very large percentage without compromising performance, and most often saving money over a reasonable length of time.  

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 20, 2014 9:52 pm GMT


Germany is the only bigger country that already met (and even surpassed greatly) the Kyoto target!
So they do show what to do, if you take climate change serious.
Especially since none of the nuclear countries comes even near the Kyoto targets.
And near all German economist estimate that the Energiewende is an important factor in the economic success of Germany.

Germany will have reached 80% renewable in 2050.So real big GHG reduction.
The only other sizable country (without much natural resources such as hydro) that does a better job is Denmark. That will have reached:
 – 50% of electricity supply generated by wind turbines in 2020 (now ~35%)
 – 100% renewable electricity in 2040
 – 100% renewable regarding all energie in 2050.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 20, 2014 10:22 pm GMT


The table in your link show the success of the Energiewende.
Produced TWh by all fossil (lignite, coal, gas) went down very significantly since 2000 (the start) as well as nuclear (nuclear out is first target of the Energiewende), renewable went up greatly.

Leo Klisch's picture
Leo Klisch on Feb 21, 2014 12:13 am GMT

France has already shown the world how to reduce CO2 emissions – though I suppose Germany could have developed some of the new theoretical designs. Renewables or nuclear can only replace fossil as regulations and acceptance of higher cost allow.At this extremely early stage of renewables adoption, it is easier and more cost effective to replace old inefficient fossil with renewables. Germany being well ahead of most areas in renewable adoption,may well be close to the limit with present technology without accepting high cost power. I agree that pressure to reduce CO2 emissions needs to increase and if that means nuclear power is the only way then we should invest in it. Depending on the renewable resources in a geographical area and the preference of a population of that area to accept the extra foot print and cost of renewables, I don’t think it foolish to make that decision. We all have different values that weigh heavily on our decisions.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Feb 21, 2014 1:25 am GMT


The Germans are not throwing money at Hydro, Wave, or Geothermal power, neither has anyone I’ve heard of pretended that the planet can be saved with these (limited and meager) sources (Wave is potentially significatnt, but is not currently so). The hardcore renewables enthusiasts I am decrying are firmly stuck on Wind and Solar power.

Biomas may itself be as bad as coal for particulates, which may be harming Arctic Ice, and definitely do harm humans. Ordinarily I have nothing against the sources you have mentioned, except that any hope that they will assuage Global Warming is only a hope. Rather than taking carbon already removed from the air, by plants (biomas), and unwisely throwing it back into the air, we should probably just be sticking it under the ground.

And Frankly I would have happily accepted some Solar Power and Wind Power, if they were properly situated, but them being presented as our salvation and as a displacement for Nuclear Power is a most disagreeable falacy to me.


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