Germany’s Renewable Energy Disaster – Part 1: Wind & Solar Deemed ‘Technological Failures’

Germany’s wind and solar experiment has failed: the so-called ‘Energiewende’ (energy transition) has turned into an insanely costly debacle.

German power prices have rocketed; blackouts and load shedding are the norm; and idyllic rural communities are now industrial wastelands (see above).

Hundreds of billions of euros have been squandered on subsidies to wind and solar, all in an effort to reduce carbon dioxide gas emissions. However, that objective has failed too: CO2 emissions continue to rise.

But you wouldn’t know it from what appears in the mainstream media. Its reticence to report on what’s actually going on in Germany probably stems from the adage about success having many fathers, and failure being an orphan. Having promoted Germany as the example of how we could all ‘transition’ to an all RE future, it’s pretty hard for them to suck it up and acknowledge that they were taken for fools.

Germany provided the perfect opportunity to prove that a modern, industrial economy could run on sunshine and breezes and, therefore, ditch fossil fuels, altogether. However, the wind and solar industries are shrinking, as subsidies are slashed; old coal-fired power plants are being refurbished; and dozens of new coal-fired plants are being built. On any sensible reckoning, the Energiewende has been a monumental failure.

Over the next four posts, STT covers the causes and consequences of Germany’s renewable energy disaster.

The work which we reproduce was done by Vernunftkraft, a group of German energy experts, engineers and technicians. Their full study is available to be downloaded in PDF here.

This post focuses on the technological reasons as to why wind and solar will never be meaningful power sources.

Compendium for a Sensible Energy Policy
Vernunftkraft
12 June 2018

In March 2017, the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy published a brochure announcing that the Energiewende, its renewable energy revolution, was ‘a success story’.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Energiewende has the goal of making Germany independent of fossil fuels in the long term. Coal, oil and gas were to be phased out, allowing drastic reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. However, these goals have not even begun to be achieved.

The Energiewende was only driven forward in the electricity sector, which, accounts for only one-fifth of energy consumption. There were hardly any successes in the heating/cooling and transport sectors.

And so carbon dioxide emissions in Germany have been rising since 2009, even though well over a hundred billion euros have been spent on the expansion of solar and wind energy over the same period. The financial obligations undertaken in the process will continue to burden taxpayers for another two decades and will end up costing German consumers a total sum of around 550 billion euros.

Despite this enormous effort, security of supply is increasingly under threat. At the same time, people and the biosphere are suffering; wildlife protection has become subordinated to climate mitigation, even though the possibility of achieving the goals of reducing carbon dioxide emissions is becoming increasingly distant and the measures for the energy transition seem to become more and more questionable from a constitutional point of view.

In this review we would like to inform a public debate and set out a reasonable course for energy policy in Germany.

’But where should the electricity come from’ is usually the immediate question to someone who takes a critical position on the expansion of wind and solar power plants. Our problem description in section 1. focuses on this simple question. It shows that wind and solar energy, which seem to promise a quick fix, are not simple alternatives to fossil fuels. Indeed, they are not even part of the answer; as their deployment becomes widespread, they become a problem in themselves and make it even more important to find sensible solutions.

It is often claimed that all that is needed is a sufficiently large and sufficiently widely distributed network of wind farms (’the wind is always blowing somewhere…’); ‘smart grids’ and grid-scale energy storage will then compensate for the intermittency of the power supplied. Section 2. on the technological aspects shows that these hopes are unrealistic.

A widespread view is that if a measure is designed to protect the climate or the environment, then we should see no sacrifice or technical challenge involved in putting it in place as too great. In fact, however, this attitude is based on false premises, as section 3. on the ecological aspects of the renewable energy question shows. Instead of delivering the promised protection of the climate, current energy policy is causing a biodiversity disaster. The protection of nature and wildlife is suffering, and populations of endangered wild animals have been decimated. These sacrifices are all the more tragic because they are completely pointless. There are easier, and much less painful ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The energy transition is a ‘blessing for rural regions’, claimed the former head of the German Chancellery, Peter Altmaier, a few years ago. Poorer regions would be given a new boost through their involvement in renewable energy production. There were also high expectations that Germany would take the lead in developing many of the new technologies and would benefit from a ‘green jobs’ boom. Section 4. on the economic aspects measures these expectations against reality. It reveals that renewables are being given perverse economic incentives, giving rise to undesirable developments that pose considerable risks to economic growth and prosperity in Germany.

The social effects and the losses in health and quality of life that the expansion of ‘green electricity’ facilities will have, are hardly noticeable in the large cities. Dramas are taking place in the countryside that remain hidden from the Energiewende enthusiasts, most of whom live in the cities. Our section 5. on social and health aspects examines these negative impacts.

A great deal needs to change in energy policy. We therefore conclude this paper with a list of demands, addressed to the future German Federal Government – whoever they may be. In the last section of this paper you will find contact details for some of the supporters of the Vernunftkraft initiative who are experts the topics considered. These people are happy to share their expertise with journalists, decision-makers and others.

In the interest of the more than 800 citizens’ initiatives represented in our regional associations and the federal initiative, we hope that this paper will be widely read and that it will help bring about a reconsideration of Germany’s energy policy. In place of the Energiewende, we need an energy policy that sets sensible goals, pursues them consistently and that is constantly verifiable. Only in this way can we be sure that it is providing a benefit to man and to nature as a whole.

1. Problem Description
A reliable supply of electricity around the clock is taken for granted by citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany. But only those who have taken a closer look will appreciate the importance of a reliable power supply for our highly complex, high-tech society. It is not just about comfort and convenience. It is not only a matter of maintaining an essential input for important manufacturing processes; it is about nothing less than the functioning of civilised community life.

Electricity accounts for about one-fifth of total energy consumption. As a result, the actual contributions that wind power and photovoltaics make as supposed ‘pillars of the energy transition’ are rather small: renewables delivered just 3.1 % of energy demand in 2016 (Figure 1). In the course of the so-called ‘sector-coupling’, this share is to be increased by pushing ahead with electrification of various sectors of the economy. The question of where our electricity will come from in future is therefore of fundamental importance.

A fundamental characteristic of electrical current must be taken into account when answering this question: it must be produced, to
the millisecond, at the moment of consumption, giving an exact balance between power supply and demand. Stable power grids are
based on this principle. This balance can be guaranteed with conventional ‘dispatchable’ power plants. At present however, coal-fired power plants are all to be shut down by 2030, a move which will seriously jeopardise grid stability. The shutdown of the nuclear power plants is to happen even sooner: by 2022. Politicians believe that wind power and photovoltaic systems will take over the main load of the power supply.

Physics, however, is unimpressed by this idea. At the end of September 2017, more than 27,000 wind turbines with a rated output of 53,374 MW were installed in Germany. Nominal power is defined as the highest power that can be provided permanently under optimum operating conditions (strong to stormy wind conditions). In Figure 2, the dark blue areas represent the delivered power from the German wind turbine fleet during September 2017. A total of 6,380 GWh (1 GWh = 1 million kWh) was sent to the grid, corresponding to just 16,6 % of what was theoretically possible. The red limit line indicates the installed nominal power capacity of all the wind turbines in Germany at that time.

Fig. 2: Wind data Sep. 2017 – Installed capacity and production

 

For approximately half of September 2017, the power delivered by the wind fleet was less than 10 % of the nominal capacity. Values
above 50 % were reached only 5.3 % of the time, in essence only on 8 and 13–15 September.

Figure 3 shows the power consumption curve (the ‘load’), and the delivery curves of the wind energy and PV systems. Peak electricity
consumption in September 2017 was 72 GW, and the average value was 54 GW. In the background of the diagram, the installed capacity of all wind turbines and PV systems in Germany can be seen as a light-blue area with a boundary line (red). Total capacity is 96 GW. Electricity consumption in September 2017 was 39,000 GWh. Wind turbines delivered for 6400 GWh of this and PV systems another 3100 GWh. The minimum power input by all of the PV and wind energy systems was below 0.6 GW, representing less than 1 % of the installed capacity of 96 GW.

Fig. 3: Electricity production and consumption in September 2017

 

Conventional power plants were therefore needed to ensure grid stability at all times – partly over longer periods – at times, their full
capacity of 60 GW was required. From 10 to 15 September hurricane ‘Sebastian’ pushed the output of the wind turbine fleet up towards its maximum level. However, this also put the security of electricity supply at considerable risk, and to keep the grid in balance, it was not enough to switch off conventional power plants; wind turbines had to be switched off too.

Consumers pay for the costs of maintaining two parallel generation systems with a sharp increase in the number of emergency interventions via EEG contributions and network charges (see section 4 on the economic aspects).

Fig. 4: Extreme situations in Germany in Sep. 2017

 

Figure 4 zooms in on the power supply situation for 10–15 September and 21–24 September, illustrating the problem: a safe power supply with an acceptable ‘socket’ of feed-in power is not available. If no wind blows, almost all turbines are affected. The same applies to photovoltaics at night or on dark, cloudy winter days.

Figure 5 documents the output of German wind turbines and PV systems between 2011 and mid-2017. There is a background
of a rapid increase in capacity (light blue background). The peak power supplied to the grid by renewables systems (yellow PV, dark blue wind) is also increasing. However, despite the increased capacity and the increasing peaks, the guaranteed output of all 27,000 wind turbines and the 400 million m² of PV systems remains close to zero because of their weather-dependency. This is a particular problem in the winter months, when electricity consumption is high.

In other words, there is no discernable smoothing effect from the size and geographical spread of the wind fleet: the argument that
the wind is always blowing somewhere is not true, at least for Germany: the fluctuations in output simply increase as generation capacity is added.

Fig. 5: Diagram of the power output of the WTG and
PV systems with curve of the installed nominal power

 

As can be seen, peak renewables output is now approaching the minima of electricity demand. However, this should not be seen as
progress, because it reduces the controllability of the overall system, which must always be guaranteed by conventional systems.

Figure 5 also plots electricity consumption for each month. The curve shows the annual increase in electricity consumption in the
winter months and the reduction in demand in the summer. Over the years, electricity consumption has remained relatively constant
at around 600,000 GWh.

The gap between demand and what is supplied by priority ‘green electricity’ plants has to be met by conventional power plants. After the last nuclear power plant shuts down in 2022, only coal-, gas- and oil-fired power plants will remain to do this. If there is no ‘wind and sun’ feed-in power, the entire conventional power plant capacity is required to secure electricity consumption. If necessary, these plants can be supplemented with standby power plants abroad. However, as the supply from renewables plant increases, this will no longer be possible and a real threat to grid stability will develop. After all, power plants cannot take back electricity in the event of power oversupply.

Even the ‘dumping’ of electricity abroad to reduce the surplus energy will become increasingly difficult, since neighbouring countries
are closing themselves off with electricity barriers in order to protect their own grids.

In addition, the reserve of flywheel mass of turbines and generators of large conventional power plants, which is absolutely necessary to stabilize the power grids, is dwindling. This poses an additional threat to the network.

With further increases in feed-ins of wind energy and PV systems, which will increasingly reach the minimum electricity consumption,
e.g. at night and at weekends, the control capability of conventional power generators will be severely limited. The constancy of frequency and voltage in the power grid will be endangered or no longer guaranteed.

Anyone who studies the feed-in characteristics of electricity generation from wind power and PV systems thoroughly must realize that
sun and wind usually supply either far too little or far too much – and that one cannot rely on anything but chance.

2. Technological Aspects

The problems outlined in the section above are rarely raised in the public debate, and if they are, it is usually claimed that they are only transitional.

A faster grid expansion, technologies for electricity storage, and expansion of the wind turbine fleet over vast areas are the standard remedies that are generally offered. However, none of this stands up to critical scrutiny.

The wind energy statistics reveal the absurdity of wanting to tackle the problem of intermittency through construction of additional power lines and extensive wind power expansion.

 

Fig. 7: Power input of all German wind-turbines,
March 2011 to October 2017.

 

Figure 7 shows the expansion of wind energy with currently approximately 54 GW installed capacity and the volatile power feed-in
with growing power peaks and regular drop to power values close to zero. In other words, only the peaks have risen. Even a Europe-wide wind power expansion in conjunction with a perfectly developed electricity grid would not solve the problem of the fluctuating wind energy generation. As Figure 8 shows, it is quite possible for there to be no wind anywhere in Europe. So even with a European electricity grid based on wind turbines, a 100 % replacement system would always have to be available to ensure the security of electricity supply.

Fig. 8: Wind map from 21.11.11, wind speeds <3m/sec are dark green

 

The effects of European large-scale weather conditions are documented by the power hydrographs of the approximately 100,000 wind turbines installed in Europe. In Figure 9, the power input of German wind fleet (light blue) is superimposed on the power generation of the combined wind fleets of 15 neighbouring EU countries. Even on a European scale, due to the meteorological conditions, it cannot be expected that the power supplied by the European wind fleet will be smoothed. Therefore, an expansion
of production capacity over a larger area does not smooth production.

Fig. 9: Power feed of European wind turbines (dark blue) with
German wind turbines (light blue) superimposed

 

Figure 9 also includes offshore wind farms, which generate higher yields but also come to a standstill if there is no wind. Figure 10 shows the pattern of generation of offshore wind farms, with clear alternating peaks and troughs; they are clearly not contributing to the smoothing of electricity production.

Fig. 10: power input offshore installations from 5 EU-states

 

With PV systems, the lack any smoothing of electricity over the diurnal and seasonal cycles is even more evident. It is obvious that the generation peaks in Germany occur at the same time as the peaks in the other European countries. This is due to the size of the low pressure areas, which results in a positive correlation of wind power  generation levels across the continent: if too much electricity is produced in Germany, most of our neighbours will be over-producing too. This calls into question the sense of network expansion a priori.

It was clear from the outset that the fluctuations in output would increase with further capacity additions: a coherent power grid would bring together the production of many individual, ultimately random power generators. The random fluctuations of renewable power plants are correlated, and therefore add up according to a mathematical law known as the equation of Bienaymé, which states that the volatility of a sum of positively correlated random variables can only ever increase. Any expansion of renewable generation capacities therefore must increases overall volatility.

The hypothesis of the smoothing of power generation by an extension of the area is one of the central errors and misjudgements of the Energiewende. All known problems such as the export of electricity, the dumping of surplus electricity for a disposal fee and the control of plants are further exacerbated by the extension and the resulting increase in peaks in output.

No, Mrs. Weiss – electricity storage facilities are not in sight or are unaffordable.
Advertisements for a large energy company claimed that a ‘battery for green electricity’ was available to provide a buffer against the fluctuations of wind power.

Fig. 11: Advertisement by EON (2013)

 

This message is highly misleading. No such ‘battery’ is available; nor has one of the required size even been designed. As an indication of what would be required to deliver grid-buffering on this scale consider the following. Conservatively, a minimum storage reserve
of 10 days of demand would be needed; this is what would have been required – in the absence of conventional power sources – in January 2017, when there was a prolonged period with no wind and no sun.

Net electricity consumption in Germany in recent years has been around 600 TWh (see Figure 3). This means that 16 TWh of storage would be needed to see the country through a lull of 10 days.

Pumped storage?
Pumped storage is the most effective largescale technical solution for storing electrical energy. In Germany more than 30 large and small pumped storage facilities are available. The latest and most efficient power plant is Goldisthal, a 600 million euros facility, with a rated output of 1 GW derived from a reservoir of 12 million m³ of water stored behind a dam 3,370m long. Germany’s pumped storage plants can deliver around 7 GW of power to the grid.

However, Goldisthal’s storage capacity is only 8 GWh. At 1650 GWh, the average daily electricity requirement in Germany is 200 times
this value. Around 2000 Goldisthal-class facilities would therefore be needed to cover a 10 dayslack period. Even facilities the size of the ‘Three Gorges Dam’ in China, the largest hydroelectric power plant in the world, could provide only a quarter of the required electrical power.

Fig. 12: Three Gorges Dam

 

At a conservative estimate of 600 million euros per plant, the construction of this quantity of pumped storage would need cost a minimum of 1 trillion euros. This clearly shows that the storage of surplus power generation from wind power and PV via pumped storage as a failure backup for regenerative plants can never be economic. What is more, even if the financial constraints were ignored, there are not enough suitable locations in Germany that could be flooded. The idea that pumped storage plants could compensate for the fluctuating output in Germany is a delusion.

Batteries
At its peak, a wind turbine with a rated output of 5 MW delivers 5 MWh in one hour. A battery store of dimensions 5 MW/5 MWh – like the one that started operation in Schwerin (Germany) in 2014, the largest in Europe, installed at a cost of 6.5 million euros – can thus store the energy generated by such a wind turbine in one hour.

Between 2014 and 2016, the largest battery storage facilities with feed-in capacities/energy storage capacities of less than 10 MW/10
MWh were built in Germany at costs of approx. €1000/kW or kWh. In May 2017 work started on the world’s largest battery store, rated at 50 MW/300 MWh, in Japan. In August 2017, a 16 MWh plant was inaugurated in Chemnitz (Germany). The cost was €10 million, which corresponds to €625/kWh. These examples show that very large power storage units can be made available by means of a modular design. Their specific costs over the last two years have been around €1000/kWh, but with a downwards trend. At €1000/kWh, the cost of storing one terawatt hour is €1 trillion. This would only be enough to cover the average electricity demand in Germany for 15 hours. To deal with a 10-day lull in the wind in winter, when light levels are low, batteries would be needed to store 16 TWh.

To do this, the worldwide annual production of such batteries (35 GWh in 2013) would have to increase by a factor of 450. Even the Tesla Gigafactory, which produces 500,000 lithium-ion batteries per year, could meet only a fraction of this demand when operating at full capacity, even assuming – somewhat implausibly – that the necessary raw materials were available.

Fig. 13: sketch of a ‘battery farm’

 

The cost of storing 16 TWh would be around 16 trillion euros. Even with efficiency gains of 500% in battery technology, trillions of euros would still be necessary. Moreover, the durability of lithium ion battery systems is quite poor – typically around 10 years – so this level of spending would have to be repeated on a regular basis.

The use of batteries to absorb the fluctuating output of renewables plants is thus far removed from any economic and physical
reality.

Power to gas?
No less illusory is the production of ‘wind gas’ as a storage method for these enormous amounts of energy. The technology involves using electricity to power the conversion of carbon dioxide and hydrogen to methane. This can be used to generate electricity again in gas-fired power plants when required. The process is wildly inefficient, and results in enormous conversion losses: even under the most favourable conditions, only about 30% of the original electrical energy is ultimately regenerated. To compensate for these losses, even more wind turbines and PV systems would be required: capacities would have to more than double. Even without taking into account the immense effort involved in building the extra wind turbines, solar farms and gas-fired power stations needed, the energy losses alone double the cost of the energy produced.

Fig. 14: sketch of the ‘power to gas’ concept

 

The German natural gas network has a storage capacity of 20 billion m³. Storing 1 TWh of hydrogen with a specific energy content (calorific value) of 3 kWh/m³ means a volume of 333 million m³. With a storage requirement of 50 TWh, the storage volume increases to 23 billion m³ (taking into account the 70% efficiency of electrolysis). This figure exceeds the storage capacity of the existing natural gas network. Further losses result from the conversion of hydrogen into methane. The electricity production costs would be approx. 2€/kWh.

Some municipal utilities are currently pursuing storage projects in the range of a few megawatt hours. That’s 100,000 times too little to solve the problem.

Other options?
There are regular reports of supposedly groundbreaking new ideas in the field of energy storage. New types of pumped storages,
spheres on the seabed, and similar fantasies appear again and again in the media. All of these ‘concepts’ are at the level of ‘student
research.’ Since they usually cannot withstand simple plausibility checks, there is no need for further analysis. However, they are suitable for reaching uncritical and uninformed sections of the public and nurturing the illusion that the energy storage question can be answered.

Given the costs and technical restrictions, storage is definitely not the solution to intermittency problem. The necessary capacities are not economically feasible. And they are even less feasible if transport is to be switched from internal combustion engines to electrical power and if the introduction of heat pumps is to be strongly promoted in the heating sector. German energy consumption is particularly high in the winter months, especially during inversion weather conditions, when PV systems barely supply any electricity due to clouds and wind turbines are usually at a standstill. The weather-dependency of electricity generation would thus have direct and fatal effects on the transport sector. It would not be possible to heat electrically either. In other words, ‘sector coupling’ does not solve the problem of weather dependence; it reinforces it.
Vernunftkraft

About stopthesethings

We are a group of citizens concerned about the rapid spread of industrial wind power generation installations across Australia.

Comments

  1. We (myself and my staff) at Applied Ecotechnical Innovations have been telling everyone this from the beginning, several years ago and people keep laughing it off and parroting what the media and the people profiting from it told them.

    I see some great input from people on this article and it makes me glad to see because I have been working on this problem as a scientist and engineer since 1982.

    I left a top 3 in the world research based university to pursue this research when they refused to fund it and insisted I stay with robotics research.

    A far better answer does exist, and ironically its based on biogas technology which Germany has always been a leader in but they chose to ignore it in favor of these other methods for foolish political reasons.

    It uses well established, well known technology and has also been financially verified to operate at significantly lower cost per KWH of energy than wind or solar while producing profit making by products from the processed biomass.

    These costs and profits have been confirmed by a number of independent organizations that we have no affiliation with and received no compensation from us whatsoever.

    The cost per ton of system capacity is so low that it can be rolled into the cost of building a home in place of the normal cost for infrastructure system without increasing the cost of the home. This currently costs about 33 thousand dollars US per ton capacity, depending on local costs, while producing 30% Annual return on investment after the first 6 months.

    The ORB biofuels system is to the best of our knowledge the most advanced and efficient biofuels system yet developed because nothing else embraces the 3 core biological subsystems working together which mutually enhance each others efficiency.

    All 3 subsystems are well known to most of you and have operated profitably all over the world for decades, some even longer. These are Anaerobic Digestion, Aquaponics Greenhouses, and Algae Biomass systems.

    An info page is available at http://www.facebook.com/ORBsystem and there are several public PDF files you can print and share.

    James W. Anderson III
    Applied Ecotechnical Innovations

  2. Reblogged this on How Green Is This.

  3. Terry Conn says:

    Clearly these idiots in Germany need to adopt Malcolm Turnbull’s NEG. Australia has room for millions of pumped hydro plants and Sydney, Melbourne , Brisbane and Perth would not even notice them – obviously the way to go, shame about the drought.Anyway, just 50 of Malcolm’s pumped hydro schemes at $5 billion a pop would give us up to 3 day’s of back up for our wind farms, yep looks good according to Kerri Schott and Audrey Zibelman – now where will we put them and when will it rain, hard to say really!

    • Russ Wood says:

      True! South Africa’s pumped storage system could have been used during the last lot of ‘load shedding’ (due to a combination of terrible maintenance and corruption). However, there was ALSO a drought at the time, and the lower dam feeder rivers were just about dry!
      Definitely no use to try to control climate with climate dependent sources!

  4. Highlighted here once more the delusional nonsense being spruiked about the availability of affordable grid level energy storage – in reality it is about as available as unicorn droppings.
    Battery storage has an unaffordably short life expectancy and at grid scale a prohibitively high capital cost, even useful grid scale hydro pumped storage has a trillion dollar plus price tag and that in countries blessed with topography that allows it. Not to mention of course that most hydro rich jurisdictions have already developed these resources and have no need of pumped storage.

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