Germany: 17 percent renewable electricity


Germany has an aggressive target of meeting 39 percent of its electricity supply with renewable energy by 2020. Its system of advanced renewable tariffs has enabled it to exceed its 2010 target of 12.5 percent by a wide margin.

Renewables generated more electricity last year in Germany than gas-fired power plants – nearly as much as hard coal – and are fast approaching the contribution of nuclear power.

The country’s Ministry for the Environment and Reactor Safety reports that in 2010 renewable energy generated more than 100 TWh (billion kilowatt-hours) of electricity, providing nearly 17 percent of the 600 TWh of supply.

Wind turbines and biomass plants delivered more than 70 percent of renewable generation, while biogas plants powered with methane from manure alone generated nearly 13 TWh. PV, on the other hand, accounted for 12 TWh, or two percent of renewable generation. This is in comparison to 133 TWh or 22 percent generated by nuclear energy.

As was reported at the start of the week, Germany has also issued its final update on the installation of PV in 2010.

In December alone, the country installed more than 1,000 megawatts (MW) of PV – enough solar capacity to generate one TWh of electricity under German conditions. While they represent only half that installed in June 2010, the December installations were 50 percent greater than total PV installed in the U.S. in the same period and as much as that rumored to have been installed in Japan last year.

Nearly 700 MW from some 100,000 systems were installed in a size range typical of that installed by German homeowners. An astounding 3,700 MW from more than 135,000 systems were installed in a size range representative of that installed by farmers and other small businesses. Meanwhile, another 1,700 MW were installed in a size class characteristic of small businesses and large industrial rooftops.

Large, multi-megawatt systems comprised 1,400 MW of capacity or nearly one-fifth of total capacity installed last year.

Come of age

A further sign that renewable energy has come of age as a commercial generating technology, certainly in Germany, is that penetration of wind and solar reached more than 30 percent of supply on February 7, 2010, according to data posted publicly by Germany's electricity transmission exchange, EEX.

The exchange posts online the amount of capacity of conventional generation, wind generation, and PV generation delivered to the grid by time of day. On Monday, February 7, 2011, the combined real-time wind and solar generation varied from a high of 32 percent of supply at midnight to a low of 18 percent of supply at sunrise.

PV generation delivered more than 8,000 MW for the two-hour period from just before noon until 2.00 pm, reaching a peak of nearly 8,500 MW at noon. During the same time period, conventional sources contributed 50,000 MW and wind delivered another 10,000 MW to the network.

There is 16,500 MW of PV capacity now on line in Germany. Solar insolation is weakest in mid-winter, and highest in mid-summer. The solar industry's February 7 performance bodes well for this coming summer, when PV can be expected to break new records.

In other observations:

  • PV produced 13 percent of supply at noon on February 7, 2011;
  • Wind reached nearly one third of generation at midnight;
  • Wind and solar's combined 18,500 MW at noon met 29 percent of demand;
  • PV was producing half of its nameplate in mid winter; and
  • Wind was producing near its total installed capacity.

Ready for a change

In the immediate aftermath of the Japanese nuclear accident, Germany's Merkel closed two reactors permanently, and another five temporarily. She also called on her government to revisit its controversial decision to extend the life of its aging reactors.

With the catastrophe fresh in everyone's mind, and upcoming elections staring the government in the face, the success of Germany's rapid development of renewable energy may give Chancellor Merkel's conservative government the flexibility it needs to weather the nuclear crisis.

It would not be surprising to find the government proposing an even more aggressive pace of renewable energy development than that seen in 2010.

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