Hurrah for renewables!

On Sunday, for a brief, shining moment, renewable power output in Germany reached 90 percent of the country’s total electricity demand.
That’s a big deal. On May 8th, at 11 a.m. local time, the total output of German solar, wind, hydropower, and biomass reached 55 gigawatts (GW), just short of the 58 GW consumed by every light bulb, washing machine, water heater and personal computer humming away on Sunday morning. See the graph below, courtesy Agora Energiewende, a German clean energy think tank. (It’s important to note that most likely, not all of that 55 GW could be used at the time it was generated due to system and grid limitations, but it’s still noteworthy that this quantity of power was produced.)

That parenthesis actually meaning that some of the electricity was thrown away after all that money had been spent generating it.

Perhaps less of a victory, eh?

46 thoughts on “Hurrah for renewables!”

  1. It’s rare for such special interests to be so up front about the caveats, to be fair to that one.

  2. Edwin Lutyens’ Catholic cathedral in Liverpool is a wonder of the modern age, a thing of majestic beauty. It is far better than the Hibbert – designed ‘Paddy’s Wigwam’. I would recommend everyone visit it and marvel at it… had it been built. At £1.5billion in today’s terms it never will be.

  3. Summat fishy going on. Go to the Agorameter directly and set the chart to show 7th May to 9th of May. The renewable energy generation looks right compared to the chart on the Thinkprogress site but the electricity consumption line and conventional generation line differ considerably to the chart in the article.

    Agorameter

    Total energy being generated was over 75GW. Total energy being consumed was just over 66GW. The rest was being wasted? Used to recharge pumped storage?

    From the chart, for 11am May 8th:

    Generation
    Solar 27.780 gw
    Wind 18.429 gw
    Water 2.351 gw
    Biomass 5.139 gw
    Conventional 21.875 gw

    Consumption 66.414 gw

  4. Yes the rest is wasted. Estimates I’ve come across indicate that we need to install 290%-560% of current generation if we switch to wind/solar. The range varies depending on storage and hydro projections but we will need to vastly overbuild capacity and waste most of the energy we collect.

    Please note this is only to replace current electricity consumption. EVs will add to the total capacity needed but I have seen a good estimate that indicates what the overall change is. Heating doesn’t seem to be getting much attention currently either.

  5. Oh, forget all that stuff about whether it could actually be distributed. he only part that matters is this

    “On Sunday, for a brief, shining moment”

    This is apparently the future. Every now and then the stars will align and you’ll get power. Not on demand, but on the ‘better rush home to put the washing on’ model.

  6. Ltw

    Unless you work in your garden shed, like our friendly accountant, you wouldn’t get home in time!

  7. Always liked the description in a dystopian novel about society limping along on a smorgasbord of renewables

  8. @ Liberal Yank
    In the UK 560% wouldn’t be enough in winter since on the coldest days, when solar at 50+ degrees north is pretty weak, wind only supplies 1% of grid consumption. If we wanted reliable power from just wind and solar we should need 5600%.
    In the USA, however, a little thought could help reduce the mismatch – for instance mandate that all air-conditioning systems be installed with solar PV panels to power them and disconnected from the grid, hydro storage batteries linked to major hydroelectric power schemes, recycling more aluminium and using Alcoa’s hydroelectric power to feed the grid, banning any “green” activist from using a private jet or fuel-guzzling car ….

  9. Technical question someone here might be able to answer: what do they actually do with the excess electricity?

  10. Germany dumps excess solar on its neighbors during the daytime peaks at very low prices, then imports electricity at night at much higher prices. Not exactly a scalable way of doing business.

  11. Ltw said:
    “This is apparently the future. Every now and then the stars will align and you’ll get power. Not on demand, but on the ‘better rush home to put the washing on’ model.”

    There was a brilliant post, on someone else’s blog but I think linked to from here, about that sort of future world; it had a man cycling home from work, wondering if the electricity would come on at all that evening, being passed by his well-connected boss who was allowed a car because her political chums had classified her as disabled.

    Only short but a work of dystopian genius. Can anyone remember where it was or who it was by?

  12. A mate works for the Czech grid. They’re actually trying to build cut offs so they can stop the Germans flooding the grid. Very, very, pissed off about it they are.

  13. I read that solar converts light into energy at about the same efficiency level as chlorophyll, which is an impressive achievement for the engineers.
    Unfortunately for human ingenuity, the flora that does photosynthesis store that energy for use when you want it, whether that be at harvest or millions of years later.

  14. Henry M
    Chlorophyll doesn’t exploit the green range of the spectrum, so solar has a potential advantage if it can capture the whole range. (Think about it. Why are leaves green?)
    But chlorophyll doesn’t have to mine dodgy rare earth minerals in China, so its mining and transportation energy costs are nugatory, unless you’re the Forestry Commission.

  15. > A mate works for the Czech grid.

    Tim, if you’ve got a mate that works for the Czech grid might we chat offline about the Czech power market outside of the comments. There is some small but positive chance that I might have a project (load project, not a generation project) in the CR. MY contact info in the comment submission form

  16. john77,

    The 290-560% includes battery storage as well as hydro for demand balancing. Solutions like this where 18TW of global energy usage are replaced with 52TW of generation are at least close to plausible. Granted this leaves no room for any growth but at least people in CA still get their AC.

  17. So Much For Subtlety

    JerryC – “Germany dumps excess solar on its neighbors during the daytime peaks at very low prices, then imports electricity at night at much higher prices. Not exactly a scalable way of doing business.”

    It has been reported that Germany was actually paying people to take their electricity this week.

    Germany definitely has entered into a suicide pact.

  18. Coupla points.

    It might be a Very Good Thing to slowly encourage homeowners to consider installing local battery energy storage, even if it makes Elon Musk richer. A distributed storage system of this nature is much less capital intensive than putting gigaojoules of storage beside the intermittent generators, and can be done fairly simply, and encouraged through appropriate price reductions for folk. This’d also (with some extra gubbins) let the utility provide low quality (off-voltage, off frequency) electricity when appropriate chunks of neighborhoods were so equipped.

    Secondly, though there seems to be some confusion about how they work, ‘optical rectennas’ seem to be an interesting, and perhaps promising, solar -> electrons conversion method, and seem rather cheap to make.

  19. So Much For Subtlety

    BlokeInTejas – “A distributed storage system of this nature is much less capital intensive than putting gigaojoules of storage beside the intermittent generators, and can be done fairly simply, and encouraged through appropriate price reductions for folk.”

    I am not sure that is true. So far pumped storage has worked out a whole lot cheaper than the alternatives. If you are comparing battery with battery, even then does it follow? You take expensive real estate with a house on it and you use it for energy storage, or you use a large part of the desert that no one else wants. Which is cheaper? Also batteries have a small problem of exploding or bursting into flames. I don’t think most people would want one next to their home.

    “This’d also (with some extra gubbins) let the utility provide low quality (off-voltage, off frequency) electricity when appropriate chunks of neighborhoods were so equipped.”

    Sure. It is how most electric hot water systems work. When the storage technology gets better I am sure we will see more of this. But so far? Not sure it is working well.

  20. @ Liberal Yank
    Two guys from California which is a lot warmer and sunnier than Scotland or Yukon posit world power grid based on solar PV and wind with a little reliable renewables. Professor McKay says that solar water heating is a no-brainer – it is the only green energy that is economic in the UK without subsidies – but the UK would need to import solar PV electricity from Africa because solar PV in the UK to supply the UK peak demand would take up most of the available surface area.
    I haven’t read the full report (it’ll take hours) but, pending that, I express a degree of provisional scepticism.

  21. john77,

    Do you have a link to that report?

    During the CFL debates I constantly heard how the heat from a light bulb might provide a little help with heating in the winter but that is more than offset by increased AC usage. The conversation normally stopped when I suggested they should live without AC like I do. As you can probably guess most of those twats were from CA.

  22. >It’st has been reported that
    >Germany was actually paying
    > people to take their electricity this week.

    negative electricity prices have been an occasional feature of the Texas power markets ever since wind power became a significant part of the Texas generation stack

  23. for instance mandate that all air-conditioning systems be installed with solar PV panels to power them and disconnected from the grid

    Only if you want hot and stuffy nights while you sleep, and prefer to have your house nice and cool only while you are away at work.

    It is hot and stuffy in a lot of the world even when it isn’t sunny, especially the humid tropics. Most of the world is not like England where it is only hot while the sun is shining.

  24. “During the CFL debates I constantly heard how the heat from a light bulb might provide a little help with heating in the winter”

    Marvellous. I can’t think why the Green lobby doesn’t push this idea more in public.

  25. http://reneweconomy.com.au/2016/german-electricity-exports-once-again-more-valuable-than-imports-in-2015

    The Greenies keep insisting that German renewables are not leading to power dumping because their exports are more valuable than their imports. Given how angry the Poles, Czechs and everyone else appears to be, is this an artifact of the regulations or do the Greens have a point? (note of course that the Germans themselves still pay absurd subsidies on their green power).

  26. Bloke in North Dorset

    “During the CFL debates I constantly heard how the heat from a light bulb might provide a little help with heating in the winter”

    It probably apocryphal but was told to to me by someone with no axe to grind and who comes from a technical background.

    A big arena in North America was convinced by a consultant that if they swapped all their incandescent lighting for LEDs they make a huge electricity saving.

    After they did the work they found that they had to jack up the heating. Nett result, marginal loss after costs of change.

  27. There is a lot of nonsense talked about energy. Adjectives like, green, clean,renewable. All a load of tosh. Even nuclear is nonsense, as it is actually a chemical reaction. Fact is, ALL of our useable energy comes from the Sun, in one way or another. Apparently, if we last that long we have another 4.5 billion years before it gives up and retires.

  28. So Much For Subtlety

    Bloke in North Dorset – “After they did the work they found that they had to jack up the heating. Nett result, marginal loss after costs of change.”

    All energy that is not turned into light is turned into heat. More or less. Light bulbs are notoriously inefficient at turning electricity into light. At least 95% of the energy ends up as heat.

    But that still amounts to pretty much f**k all. Just try to warn yourself with a 60 Watt bulb.

    Alastair Harris – “Even nuclear is nonsense, as it is actually a chemical reaction.”

    Really? What is the chemical reaction?

    “Fact is, ALL of our useable energy comes from the Sun, in one way or another.”

    I am pretty sure that nuclear power comes from someone else’s sun. That someone else being very unfortunate. But I could be wrong.

  29. You are correct, smfs. Nuclear is from remnants of previous stars. Harris has gone off the deep end. Though one could argue that nuclear is in the realm of alchemy, which is in the realm of chemistry. But it’s impossible to know what Harris means.

  30. So Much For Subtlety said:
    “So far pumped storage has worked out a whole lot cheaper than the alternatives.”

    But isn’t that only when there isn’t very much of it? Like a lot of green energy ideas, it causes problems as you scale it up to a significant proportion of total electricity usage – in this case finding enough suitable places that you can flood without too much of an outcry.

  31. Strangely, atoms are entirely promiscuous with their particles. The chemical reaction in nuclear is the one that causes the protons to split out of the nucleus, and hence the release of energy. My understanding is that it is the strong force (the nuclear bit)which restricts the reaction. In practice, atoms are very, very stable.

  32. SMFS:
    “I am not sure that is true. So far pumped storage has worked out a whole lot cheaper than the alternatives. If you are comparing battery with battery, even then does it follow? You take expensive real estate with a house on it and you use it for energy storage, or you use a large part of the desert that no one else wants. Which is cheaper? Also batteries have a small problem of exploding or bursting into flames. I don’t think most people would want one next to their home.”

    I don’t think distributed is cheaper overall; it’s probably more expensive because people are buying retail in low volume. But it is nice and incremental, while I’d guess that your average purely-green annoyingly-intermittent power source needs to have all its storage (pumped, battery, unicorns,..) in place for it to be reliable. Which is big-bang capital expensive.

    Most people already have an explosive tank and a battery beside their house (car, with petrol and a battery). Doesn’t seem to bother them much.

    Apparently yer average US dwelling uses about 900 KW-hours per month (https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=97&t=3). 30kW-hr per day. Suppose you need to store one days worth. Yer average car battery has a capacity of around 50Amp hours, or 500 watt hours, or half a kw hour. So you’d need 60 or so car batteries to run the average US dwelling for 24 hours with no other energy input. That’s only five shelves of 12 batteries, and that’s using (deep-discharge) lead-acid, cheap but not the best energy density. Rather expensive (at $100-$200 per battery in ones) but you can add them incrementally for increasing amounts of reserve power.

    But yes, not a slam-dunk.

  33. negative electricity prices have been an occasional feature of the Texas power markets…

    …and the Pacific Northwest. The culprit is the Production Tax Credit for wind power (22 USD/MWh, last I checked) – it’s worth it to the producers to generate at any price down to negative $22/MWh. Bonneville Power doesn’t like it much, but lost a court case over whether they could curtail wind in preference to hydro. Bonneville wanted to generate with hydro resources because they have to move the water somehow, and spilling water has adverse effects on the fish downstream – dissolved gas increases, leading to gas bubble trauma.
    For power planners (at least the ‘green energy zealot’ variety) distributed storage has the benefit of disguising the costs. Instead of the wind producer having to pay for millions of dollars of storage capacity, thousands of homeowners can be coerced into paying several thousand dollars each. This makes the (admitted) economics of intermittent generation look better, even though the real economics are still horrible. Probably worse, given lack of scale.

  34. ‘The chemical reaction in nuclear is the one that causes the protons to split out of the nucleus, and hence the release of energy.’

    Not chemical. At the individual atom level. An individual atom splits, forming new, smaller atoms. And releasing neutrons, which blast other atoms, some of which split, too.

  35. So Much For Subtlety

    Alastair Harris – “The chemical reaction in nuclear is the one that causes the protons to split out of the nucleus, and hence the release of energy.”

    That kind of looks like a nuclear reaction to me. It has been a while since I studied this kind of thing, but I dimly remember that chemistry ends with electron. Anything involving a proton or a neutron is nuclear. Or to put it another way, chemists are interested in orgies of shameless electron swapping, while physicists care about the damage caused by home-wrecking neutrons (and to a lesser extent protons).

  36. BlokeInTejas, your point about green types preferring distributed storage because it disguises the cost is well made, although I would add that they are also pretty disingenuous about the lifetime of the equipment. Typically batteries will last about ten years, at which point they will be down to approximately 70% of their original capacity (and spiraling down fast) and need replacement. So your $10k (a reasonable guess at a 60 cell setup) capital investment depreciates at $1000/year. Then there’s disposal costs for the old batteries. Costs (and lifetime) for lithium ion are roughly comparable.

    Also, as attractive as the idea sounds, you can’t (or shouldn’t, at least) add batteries incrementally over time, especially in a daily cycle system. Operating partly worn out batteries along with new ones will wear out the new ones faster.

    This link is has good example with real numbers

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-02-02/tesla-powerwall-what-it-means-for-australia's-energy/7130392

    Mileage will vary depending on the subsidies available in different jurisdictions. But this includes a fair amount of that, mostly in the rebate on the capital cost of the PV array. With some heroic assumptions, they just about manage to get the system to break even. Which means the hassle and effort involved saves no money at best. May as well stick with the grid for now.

  37. One of the things that always gets left out of every discussion on renewables, especially distributed systems, is the same thing that gets left out of recycling. The labour and (especially for distributed power) cognitive load is non-trivial. People worry enough about their power consumption without adding in the effort of timing activities to maximise the efficiency of how and when they use it. “You can’t use the dishwasher now, the Powerwall isn’t charged yet!”

  38. Ltw

    Typically batteries will last about ten years

    I’ve lived in Cyprus for 13 years and dream of buying batteries that last for ten.

    Car batteries, emergency lights, UPS, etc. last three years at most. I used to have a UPS on everything in the house because the mains was unreliable but in the end found failing UPS caused more problems than the mains…

    I’ve always assumed that the high ambient temperature was the cause.

    So it could well be that in sunny places where PV looks to be more attractive, replacing batteries every five minutes could make it much less so…

  39. Nope BiC, it’s not the climate. Unless you pay through the nose, batteries are shit. And even then, if you don’t look after them, they’re still shit.

    Ten years is for very expensive, designed for continual but slow discharge/conditioning battery sets. Think running a 12V fridge off your deep cycle camper battery. Starting a car sucks 100A briefly, followed by an hour charge. No battery likes that, chemically it sucks. So for cars we go with cheap batteries because more expensive ones would only die quickly anyway from rapid discharge, and provide no benefit.

  40. I think the reference to ‘nuclear’ and chemical was Feynman. His point being about loose language. The point about the source of energy is interesting – ultimately it is just atoms, but then until someone finds and understands dark matter, atoms is all that there is!

  41. People have been polite to you Alastair but you haven’t taken the hint. I admit, though, someone with their head shoved so firmly up their arse is probably an expert on dark matter.

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