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Published on December 2nd, 2013 | by Giles Parkinson

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Germany To Consider ‘Virtual Baseload’ In Expanding Renewable Targets



Originally published on RenewEconomy

Germany is expanding its renewable energy targets under a grand coalition agreement by the country’s two major political parties, but is also toying with the idea of introducing the concept of  “virtual base-load”.

In a 168-document released by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre right CPD party and the smaller centre left SPD, it is clear that the two parties remain committed to the “Energiewende”, the transition away from nuclear and into an electricity grid dominated by renewables.

The document confirms that nuclear will be phased out by 2022 at the latest, and introduces new “renewable energy corridors” that call for renewable penetration to be lifted to 40-45 per cent by 2025, and to 55-60 per cent in 2035.

This expands and upgrades the current targets, which are for 35 per cent by 2020, and 50 per cent by 2030. The long-term target remains 80 per cent by 2050.

One of the key issues is the cost of the Energiewende, and the structure of the energy market, which analysts say has been broken by the impact of renewables, because their short-term marginal cost is pulling down the wholesale price of electricity. They two parties have agreed that there will be no retrospective changes to the feed-in tariff payments.

The new government is looking at introducing a capacity mechanism, but not before 2018, but one interesting new aspect is the idea of creating “virtual base-load capacity”.

The government intends to investigate whether large renewable energy producers would need to guarantee a contribution to reliable baseload supply to enhance the security of supply.

They could possibly do this with contracts and individual agreements with storage operators, or get “insurance” from other electricity producers, such as gas-fired generation.

“This could mean that renewable generators may be forced to buy “insurance” from conventional stations to provide this baseload capability (given the strong intermittency of wind, solar); this could likely imply some sort of a capacity payments from renewable generators to utilities,” a note from Deutsche Bank analysts said.

This could be positive for the some of the large centralised generation companies such as RWE and EON and it could have an impact on earnings for soalr and wind operators. However, the analysts say that because this is likely to slow the growth of renewables, “and thus the whole Energiewende”, it probably won’t happen.

However, Deutsche Bank also says the new renewables corridors could result in a “banding” strategy of having specific technology targets for renewables. There has been a lot of discussion in Germany about the need to ensure that the right technology is built in the right place.

(Note: We’ll have more on the German market options in coming days as we report more on the recent trip to Germany).

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About the Author

is the founding editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, an Australian-based website that provides news and analysis on cleantech, carbon, and climate issues. Giles is based in Sydney and is watching the (slow, but quickening) transformation of Australia's energy grid with great interest.



  • Hans

    The whole idea of base load was invented to deal with inflexible coal and nuclear power plants: these inflexible, expensive power plants using cheap fuel run 24/7 at constant power, variations in demand are dealt with by cheap power plants using expensive fuel (gas or oil). It is strange to apply this concept to variable sources as wind and solar power.

    For example, it is a sunny and windy day so there is a lot of renewables on the grid, but on that they there is also a lot of demand. If you were to demand renewables to behave like base load plants they should on this day store a part of their production (with considerable energy losses) or curtail production, and the rest of the demand should be covered by conventional power plants. Very inefficient, bad for the environment and bad for consumers.

    In the end you need a system that matches supply and demand. Things like grid expansion, intelligent grids, flexible pricing, storage and time-shifted demand can all help to do this with a large percentage of renewables, on the other hand outdated concepts like baseload have no role to play.

  • JamesWimberley

    “..the [DB] analysts say that because this [capacity payments from renewables operators to gas etc] is likely to slow the growth of renewables, “and thus the whole Energiewende”, it probably won’t happen.”
    The cost of backup capacity is real and has to be met somehow. It can be covered either by a levy on most electricity consumers, as now; or a targeted charge on wind and solar; or (very unlikely) put on the state budget. On the other hand, essentially no subsidy is needed looking forward for new wind and solar, so the burden looks quite affordable.
    BTW, it’s increasingly important to distinguish between the cheap non-despatchable and variable renewables – wind and PV – and the more expensive despatchable ones, geothermal, hydro (including Norwegian imports) and biomass, which should be recipients of capacity payments..

  • Andy Bochman

    Great article Giles. Would like to learn more about “virtual base-load capacity”.

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