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April 1st in Germany — Happy Birthday, Renewable Energy Sources Act!

Not a Joke

On a cloudy saturday, on April 1, 2000, the German “Renewable Energy Sources Act” entered into force replacing the “Feed-in Law” of 1991. It’s unique features were 1) a renewable-energy-source-specific feed-in tariff (FiT) guaranteed for 20 years and 2) minimum goals for the share of renewable energy generation for the decades to come. At a time when renewables had a share of about 6% of electricity production, the law called for an increase to 12.5% by 2010 and 20% by 2020.

Since Germany has rather limited untouched resources for conventional hydro power, most of the new renewable capacity had to come from wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, small hydro, or other so-called “alternative energy sources.” Considering that the share of these sources amounted to only 1.7% of electricity production after almost a decade of renewable energy investments based on the “Feed-in Law” of 1991, critics called the “Renewable Energy Sources Act” a waste of money that would accomplish nothing. The goal of 12.5% for 2010 was laughed at for being unrealistic and an “environmentalist pipe-dream.” Many so-called “energy experts” actually went on record and claimed that such goals were impossible to reach because the physical potential of renewable energy sources would simply not be enough.

And criticism didn’t end when the success and the actual potential started to show. In 2005, the head of the conservative party and current Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel said, “Increasing the share of renewable energy sources to 20% by 2020 is unrealistic.”

A Taste of Tomorrow…

12 years later, the laws of physics haven’t changed, but the so-called “experts” have been unmasked as ill-guided charlatans. Just 11 years after its introduction, the “pipe-dream law” reached it’s minimum goal for 2020. In 2011, a share of 20.1% of renewable electricity generation was achieved, despite electricity demand being 6% higher compared to 2000. Many conservative politicians and CEOs of conventional energy corporations have come to the painful realization that they underestimated the potential of renewable energy sources and the law they campaigned against and laughed at on April Fools Day more than a decade ago.

As the law entered it’s 12th year of existence, nature gave it a fitting birthday present yesterday. Wind and solar worked together to show what they are capable of, while hydropower and biomass provided their share with their baseload-capable form of production. The exact numbers for all renewable sources are hard to come by at this point in time and the complete electricity-export numbers won’t be available for at least another week, but it’s quite certain that the “energy mix” of April the 1st looked something like this:

The strong performance of renewables had several effects:

  • At least two of the remaining nine nuclear reactors had to be taken offline to grant wind power it’s priority in the grid.
  • Lignite power plants operated at an average of just 11 GW all day. That’s less than 60% of their installed capacity.
  • The capacity factor of conventional load-following and peak-load power plants using imported hard coal, natural gas, or oil fell to approximatly 6-8% 
  • Due to the current market design and the resulting Merit-Order Effect, peak-load power actually sold cheaper than baseload power at the European Energy Exchange. While traders and industrial customers paid very cheap 2.4 ct/kWh for baseload power, they could buy “expensive” peak-load power for only 1.8ct/kWh on the spot market.

Of course, it was a Sunday, which means that overall demand was rather low, but nonetheless, it’s been a wonderful birthday gift for the “Renewable Energy Sources Act” and a small glimpse into the future.

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Written By

is a close observer of the scientific, political and economic energy debate in Germany and around the globe. Inspired by the life's work of the renewable energy advocate Hermann Scheer, Thomas focuses on spreading information that showcase the possibilities & opportunities of a 100% renewable energy system. Though technology is key for this energy shift, he also looks at the socio-economic benefits and the political, as well as structural barriers.


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