A couple days ago, I came across this curious message from a wind energy news site from the Netherlands (translated from Dutch):
German economy runs on green energy
Germany can generate sufficient electricity from solar cells and wind turbines to run the entire German economy. Last Sunday, 45.5 gigawatts was delivered (according to Agora Energiewende). There was even a surplus during 15 minutes. Despite that, our Eastern neighbors are expanding clean energy
A quarter of an hour the price dropped under €50 per megawatt-hour because of the oversupply. The Danes delivered 140% of the demand for cleaner energy last year with their windmills and solar parks. Already now they are looking for good storage in order to store surplus production of green energy.
That didn’t make much sense to me. If it is really true that wind and solar were sufficient to run the entire German economy, then how is it possible that there was only 15 minutes of oversupply? Wind and solar are intermittent, it would be one in a gazillion chance that the output of wind and solar coincides exactly with only 15 minutes of overproduction…
It was also rather sloppy reporting. The last sentence of the first paragraph was for example cut off and, although the article was about Germany, in the second paragraph Denmark was mentioned out of the blue. Was this the intention or did they wrote “Denmark” in stead of “Germany”? Or was the connection explained in the cut off sentence in the first paragraph? My guess was that this was a badly executed copy/paste from an article somewhere else.
My guess seemed to be correct. The original article was published in a Dutch news paper. There was the same cheering, but at least it had somewhat more information about what was going on.
The information was still confusing though. The story seemed to be that on Sunday May 15, wind and solar produced “45.5 GW” while the demand was “45.8 GW”. I read the same figures in other cheering media reports and that didn’t make any sense. 45.5 GW is a capacity, not a production and 45.5 is lower than 45.8 anyway. So how could they claim that production was sufficient to match consumption with even a small surplus? Time to go to their source to look what really happened that day.
After a string of 18 posts on energy, or more specifically on the neglected side of communication on the Energiewende, I had the intention to write about a different subject. Then I encounter this opinion piece (Dutch) in which two politicians from the Flemish Green Party ask themselves “why green energy is a source of prosperity in Germany and a source of misery in Flanders?”. That is an interesting question. Most of the arguments were recognizable, I think they came from the same source that I was looking in during those 18 previous posts.
The authors came to the conclusion that two factors are involved in the success of the German energy transition: economic and public support. They explained that the government is responsible for both factors, doing a good job in Germany and a lousy job in Flanders. But no worry, according to them, the German success story is also possible here… Where did I heard that again?
Starting with the economic support: the authors say that “Politicians must provide economic support by making a stable renewable energy policy” and this is where our politicians went wrong. I reckon that they mean subsidies or some other financial support. I certainly agree that there wasn’t much of an energy strategy in the past (still not) and that the message was not always consistent. Nevertheless, it didn’t seem to prevent giving “economic support” for alternative energy during that time. As far as I know, Belgium only invested in wind, solar and biomass in the last decade or so. There were and still are subsidies for alternative sources, billions are still being poured into it. Proof of this is our current hefty energy tax and everybody knows that it is necessary to finance alternative energy.
In the case of Samsø island, it were the people of the island who themselves invested in their power production (wind mills, solar and biomass). The story is that before they managed to made the transition, they had to import fossil fuels and electricity from the mainland, therefor being dependent on outside support for their energy needs. Now the islanders are “100% powered by wind”, are on the receiving end of an array of subsidies, can sell their surplus power and are boosting their local economy by favoring local laborers. One story even mentioned that all this was a fairy tale, but one that became real… Is this a good representation of reality?
Is it possible to be powered 100 percent by alternative energy sources? The authors of the Greenpeace brochure “9 myths about the German Energiewende debunked” have no doubts about it. They gave the example of the Danish islands Samsø and Ærø which according to them achieved just that. This is how they explained it (translated from Dutch):
The Danish islands Samsø and Ærø (in total 10,000 inhabitants) run entirely on renewable energy: all electricity is generated by wind turbines and 70% of its heating comes from solar plants, small-scale biomass plant settle the difference.
If these islands are indeed only powered by renewable sources, then that is interesting. If these islands are solely reliant on alternative energy without support from fossil fuels, then this would be a strong case for a transition. But if their electricity is only powered by wind, then how do they manage to deal with the intermittency? Okay, I can understand that wind blows stronger on those islands than inland, but even then it will be a challange to use that intermittent power in a continuous working system. So how do they balance that load? Or do they only use electricity when it is available?
Also the heat generation process was not clear to me from this explanation. Did they mean that 70% of the heat was generated by solar panels? Then how could they do that in the middle of winter when there is the highest need for heating and just 7 hours of daylight? Or did they mean that 70% of its heating is generated by solar plus biomass? Then how could they be running 100% on alternative sources? Finally, what about transportation? Isn’t there a need for that on those islands? Or is that all powered by animals, biofuels or electricity?
A lot of questions, so I began reading about those islands with the focus on how they overcome intermittency when their only source of electricity is believed to be the wind. Every source that I looked at said basically the same, those island are 100% powered by alternative sources and a lot of cheering is going on:
It has been quite a long string of posts about the German energiewende. There are 14 posts, of which 13 about the Greenpeace/WWF/BBL brochure “9 myths about the German Energiewende debunked”. It was a very thankful subject and I enjoyed looking deeper into the matter and writing about it.
The last myth from the brochure is “only Germany is engaged in the energiewende”. In fact, it is not exact a myth according to me, many (Western world) countries are thinking about or are in the process of some kind of energy transition, therefor it was initially not my intention to make a post around this subject and to stop the series at myth 8.
The author(s) of the brochure had the presence of mind to conclude that every country has its own history and its own local context, but tell us that we “could be inspired by the best practices in Germany and other European countries”. Those other countries being Denmark (no surprise here), but also Italy (high share of solar) and Spain (probably idem).
But can the transition process in these countries inspire us in “weaning off fossil fuels”? Belgium has some specific challenges in that regard, so could these countries be an example for us? I think that solar power in Southern Europe makes much more sense than here in Belgium and that makes that those countries are not very comparable. Germany and Denmark could be compared much better, but I looked into the cases of Denmark and Germany before and I really doubt that these are a good example for us. Germany’s example was intensively covered in previous post, but what about Denmark?
The subject of this post will be the 8th myth of the “9 myths about the German Energiewende debunked” brochure: “There is no support base for the energiewende”. The myth is being debunked by explaining that the average German supports the energiewende. This is the English version of the infographics they used in the brochure:
The author(s) add however that there is criticism on local infrastructure and the fact that the households are footing the bill.
Well, I have no real issue with that conclusion. I think it is true. Many people support the energiewende and have criticism on nearby installations (the NIMBY effect) and have questions about who is paying for it (the households).
But being an incurable curious mind, the first question that popped up in my mind was: WHY is the average German so supportive of the energiewende? Looking at how the “myths” were debunked in the previous seven chapters of the brochure, that is not very difficult to understand. The average German (as probably the average American or the average Belgian or …) are quite indifferent to this issue and have not much background. They depend on the media for information on the subject and how the media is reporting on the energiewende is identical to how the brochure is doing this: only reporting on the things that are favorable to the energiewende and forgetting all the rest…
Just a short post on the reliability of power supply and the energiewende, which is the subject of the 7th myth of the Greenpeace brochure: “The Energiewende burdens the energy network with serious problems” and debunked as follows (translated from Dutch):
The German electricity network is one of the most reliable in Europe. While the share of renewable energy increased incredibly in recent years, the number of outages decreased year after year. A stable network and renewable energy sources can thus go together.
Evolution of number of minutes power outages (2006-2013).
Reliability of the network and the growth of renewable energy go hand in hand.
Source: German Energy Transition
Which is true. The German electricity network is one of the most reliable in Europe and the down time decreased year after year, despite the larger share of renewable energy. Until now a stable network and renewable energy sources can go together.
But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t affect it. That a host can survive a parasite without being killed in the process, isn’t evidence that the parasite doesn’t do any harm. It can be entirely possible that the person carrying the parasite doesn’t even notice it of even feels excellent at the time. But what for example if the host’s health is affected by a disease and/or the parasites getting more numerous?
The 6th myth of the Greenpeace brochure (translated from Dutch):
Security of energy supply is not guaranteed
is an interesting one. Besides the usual one-sidedness, it gives us a glimpse of what they see as the energy production of the future. But first their summary (translated from Dutch):
Because of the strong growth of renewable energy, Germany has a surplus of energy and can it further reducing fossil and nuclear base load. However, to keep the energy supply guaranteed, a flexible and European approach is needed.
That first sentence is a misleading one. It gives the impression that alternative sources already have the ability to replace conventional sources, just start to dismantle the conventional sources and the export problem is solved. In reality that surplus is the consequence of how Germany deals with intermittent energy sources on its grid. Therefor I think that the flexible and European approach will not really work, but more about that later in the post.
But, as I said, the most interesting in this chapter was their energy dream of the future:
Estimation of the German energy demand during a week in 2012 and 2020. Renewable energy needs flexible plants, not (nuclear or fossil) base load. Source: Volker Quaschning, HTW, Berlin
Advancing in the Greenpeace brochure, the one-sided arguments just keep on coming. This post will be about the 5th myth: (translated from Dutch):
The Energiewende is detrimental to the German economy
and the summary how they try to debunk it (translated from Dutch):
Meanwhile the Energiewende has created more than 340,000 jobs, both in production and in installing and maintenance of the installations. Especially the latter are local jobs, which therefore can not be delocalized. Germany much better withstood the financial and economic crisis than other countries thanks to these jobs.
Reading the rest of the text, they base themselves on these arguments:
- More jobs are created by the renewable energy industry than the coal industry
- They repeated the claim that wind and solar makes the price go down
- The demand for alternative energy products (solar cells, wind mills, hydro power, batteries and storage, products for the smart grid, efficient technologies,…) will rise and Germany is a potential producer of these
- Local ownership strengthen the local economy and keeps the money in the country or even the community.
To start with the jobs. The argument is that the renewable energy industry created jobs, more than the coal industry:
Number of jobs in the renewable energy sector vs the coal sector.
The number of jobs boomed in the renewable energy sector and is much higher than in the coal sector. Source: BMU
The 4th myth in the Greenpeace brochure is:
The growth of renewable energy in Germany is only possible thanks to subsidies
This is the summary of how they try to debunk it:
Support for renewable energy in Germany is nothing compared to the aid that has gone to coal and nuclear power in the last forty years. It received 631 billion euro of aid, compared to 67 billion euro for renewable energy. Also the support for renewable energy reduces year after year.
That doesn’t make much sense. Those three sentences raise more questions than they answered. What do they consider renewables this time (solar and wind or also hydro and/or biomass)? What is their exact definition of a “subsidy” and is that the same for both renewables and coal/nuclear? Even if these are the same or similar, is it fair to compare both subsidies over a 40-year time frame considering coal and nuclear were there from the beginning and renewables only got traction in the last years of that period? They suggest that subsidies for coal/nuclear are high, contrary to those for renewables that are low and ever lowering. Is that really true?