Calamitous Planning: German Wind Parks Overload Power Grid … “At Its Limits” … Record 50,000 Grid Interventions In May!
1 July 2015
Online German NDR public radio here wrote last week how northern Germany’s power grid had suffered a major bottleneck that led to the overload of the Flensburg-Niebüll power transmission line in Schleswig Holstein last week.
North German transformer stations constantly overloaded by wind power. Photo image cropped here (not a German station, for illustration only).
The overload resulted from a power surge from North Sea wind parks when winds picked up a bit. What is unusual in this case, however, is that there was no storm present and the overload was caused by normal wind fluctuations. Thus the incident illustrates the increasing volatility of wind as a power supply, even under regular weather conditions.
At its limits
It turns out that intervening in power grids to avert a widespread power supply breakdown is nothing new in Germany. NDR writes that nowadays power engineer Stefan Hackbusch at the grid’s control center in Northern German increasingly has to intervene even when there are even moderate breezes. The north German public radio media outlet writes: “Because of the strong growth in wind park installations, the power grid up north is at its limits.”
Intervened 50,000 times in May
As winds pick up with little warning, engineers at control centers constantly have to keep a close eye out and be ready to act at a minute’s notice and intervene if the power surges (or drops) to dangerous limits. To prevent overloading of the grid, control centers often have to shut down wind parks until the power supply moves into a safe range. These unplanned wind park shutdowns are occurring more and more often, NDR writes. “Switching off has become much more frequent the workers at the control center confirm. Transformer stations in Schleswig-Holstein had to have their output reduced 50,000 times in May – a record.”
“Waste electricity” skyrocketing
Not only is grid stability a problem, but “waste power” is also growing astronomically, NDR writes, citing the Bundesnetzagentur (German Network Agency), that 555 gigawatt-hrs of renewable power went unused in 2013 because of overloading and the surplus had to be discarded. The trend of “waste electricity” is skyrocketing, NDR writes.
According to the provisions of Germany’s EEG renewable energy feed-in act, waste electricity still needs to be paid for, which means that consumers foot a bill for something that is never delivered. Consumers are also required to pay for the electricity that doesn’t get produced when a wind park gets shut down. Wind park operators get paid whether they feed in or not.
Grid bottleneck dampens new installations
One solution for the German grid overloading from the uncontrollable wind and sun sources would be to vastly expand the German national power grid so that wind power produced near the North and Baltic seas power could get transmitted to the industrial south, where demand is big.
But here too the costs of building the such transmission power lines are astronomical and permitting entails a bureaucratic mess.
Moreover political opposition against these lines is mounting rapidly. Experts say that the earliest, most optimistic completion date for a major power transmission expansion is 2022. This however is now looking totally unrealistic, as pie in the sky.
With the German grid often becoming hopelessly overloaded and with no real expansion in sight, the future looks bleak for wind and solar power systems suppliers.
With no place to send the power, there’s no need for new installations. Orders and contracts for new projects have been drying up and wind and solar companies are now being hit hard.
What appears above isn’t exclusive to Germany, it’s part and parcel of trying to integrate an entirely weather dependent generation “system” into electricity grids designed to operate in a steady, stable state; and that includes Australia.
In the video that follows, an electrical engineer, Andrew Dodson explains – in somewhat technical terms – the lunacy of trying to distribute wind power via a grid deliberately designed around on-demand generation sources. STT recommends it to anyone with even the vaguest interest in how our electrical grid works.
At the simplest level, think of our distribution grid as akin to a mains water distribution system. In order to function, the pipes in such a system need to be filled at all times with a volume of water equal to their capacity and, in order to flow in the direction of a user, the water within the pipes needs to be maintained at a constant pressure.
Where a household turns on a tap, water flows out of the tap (in electrical terms “the load”); at the other end an equal volume of water is fed into the system and pumps fire up to maintain the pressure within it (although gravity often does the work).
In a similar fashion, an electricity grid can only function with the required volume of electricity within it; maintained at a constant pressure (voltage) and frequency (hertz) – all of which fluctuate, depending on the load and the input.
What Andrew Dodson makes crystal clear is that these essential certainties (essential, that is, to maintaining a stable and functioning electricity grid) have been tipped on their head by the chaos that is wind power.
What Andrew has to say about wind power, in general, has special pertinence to Australians; given the fact that our Coalition government has just locked in a $45 billion electricity tax – which is to be directed at wind power outfits; and for no other purpose than to help them spear another 2,500 of these things all over the country.