In-Depth: Germany’s 22 GW Solar Energy Record

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Last Friday, on the 25th of May 2012, Germany set a new world solar energy record in photovoltaic solar energy: 22.4 GW of photovoltaic energy on the grid covering over 30% of all electricity demand! That’s the equivalent of 20 huge conventional fossil or nuclear power plants. This is clearly amazing news that made headlines around the world and was accompanied by either praise or the typical anti-solar bickering that is rather dominant in big media outlets even today (or especially today).

The latter didn’t mind even using this incredible clean energy accomplishment to repeat the usual ignorant talking points, disinformation, or flat out lies. Unfortunately, those news pieces and early articles praising the event didn’t fully exploit the opportunity to explain the true significance of having so much solar energy in the energy mix, especially when looking at the technological developments and opportunities of the coming years.

Beyond the Gigawatts

So, it’s obvious that, in my opinion, the story of this solar energy record shouldn’t stop at the number of 22.15 GW of peak output. In fact, the really meaningful story starts with a different number: 189.24 GWh. That’s the amount of electrical energy generated from more than a million PV solar systems spread all over the country on that record day. Not only was this almost 14% of Friday’s total electricity consumption in Germany, it was also, actually, not that unusual.

For the last couple of weeks, the output of PV solar peaked within an inch of the 20 GW line several times, and it never peaked very low throughout the month. The lowest peak load was 8 GW, while the average peak load of PV solar was 16 GW. So, it seems that solar is not as unreliable as conventional wisdom and media outlets often lead people to believe. Because I can tell you that we didn’t have 4 weeks straight of sunshine here in Germany, that’s for sure.

Looking at the daily power production during the first 4 weeks of May makes this even more obvious. While it is not a constant increase day by day, the weekly output is increasing steadily as we are heading towards mid-summer. During the first week of May, solar energy produced about 780 GWh of electric power; and, at the end of the month, during the record-breaking week, it amounted to 1,096 GWh or 1.1 TWh. Those were enough GWhs to meet almost 12% of the total power needs in Germany that week!

Looking into the Future

So, what does this mean for the future? (Especially considering the fact that there is enough suitable roof space left to increase solar capacity by up to 5-10 times without many problems.)

In my opinion, there are two significant developments that are currently taking place which will revolutionize the energy system in a rapid and unprecedented way. This fundamental structural change could start within the coming decade and might put the world on a more sustainable path a lot faster than the 30- to 70-year time tables that are proclaimed as ambitious goals by many politicians and energy industry “experts” around the world.

The first major development is the fact that the renewable energy system beats the conventional energy system in terms of prices already. This is not that obvious to many people because the common benchmarks used in the media are biased against renewable energy sources. This bias is usually showcased by so-called “energy analysts / experts” on TV, in articles, and in books. Their typical approach is to single out one renewable energy technology, put it into the power plant position of the conventional centralized energy system, and come to the conclusion that it’s not economical (for the power plant operator) to use renewables.

So-called experts using this kind of faulty benchmark can have only two reasons:

  • The “experts” are actually what people call “Fachidioten” in German, specialized idiots. Highly knowledgable people who fail to understand reality because they view the world through a prism of outdated paradigms. (Best case.)
  • The “experts” have direct or indirect ties with the conventional energy industry, in which case they use their reputation to spread anti-renewable disinformation. (Worst case.)
Either way, these so-called “experts” disqualify themselves by failing to judge fundamentally different systems with the fitting benchmarks.

For everyone remotely familiar with renewable energy systems and without links to the conventional energy industry, it is quite obvious that such benchmarks are bullshit. Renewable energy systems operate in a decentralized fashion, close to consumers / communities. They gain efficiency by combining several technologies to reach 100% supply and by utilizing synergy effects like providing energy in forms of power and heat at the same time, locally.

The obvious truth is that local wind power, biomass, and even solar energy can deliver energy to the citizens and industries of region cheaper than what the power grid delivers by burning lignite or uranium in a multi-GW power station hundreds of miles away. Today, even electricity from rooftop PV solar systems can beat the conventional energy system when looking at a conservatively realistic 15-20 year cost calculation, here in cloudy Germany.

The second huge development is what is happening in energy storage right now. Around the world, companies and even huge corporations are investing billions of dollars in research and factories. There is a sort of gold rush atmosphere with the big electronics and chemical corporations, as well as the car industry trying to claim parts of what will soon be a multi-billion-dollar market. This development is, at the moment, primarily aimed at providing the electric car with the power it needs to revolutionize transportation throughout the coming decades. But without a doubt, this development will also provide homeowners and municipal utilities with falling prices for energy storage solutions. The first products are already entering the market right now, especially in Japan where “smart houses” are promoted on all TV channels.

Is the Stage Set for a Rapid Change?

With those developments in mind, you actually don’t need a lot of imagination to figure out that we are approaching a point of historic proportions. Within this decade, we could reach a time in which widely available products enable private households and commercial customers to produce and store their own energy for cheaper than what the conventional energy system is able to offer them. This will especially be the case as decreasing global reserves and increasing global demand for fossil fuels lead to higher prices for the conventional power system.

The application of millions of such renewable micro energy systems will lead to a situation in which an increasing number of GWh are no longer bought from the grid every week. Adding the increasing investments in energy efficiency, the natural consequence is a shrinking market for electricity generation from the current centralized fossil and nuclear power system.

Since the traditional power producers have no influence over these developments, this change will decrease the profitability of their huge investments in power plants that were build with a 30-50 year lifespan in mind. The changing market conditions will also call into question all new investments in centralized power plants, and eventually for the entire infrastructure focused on providing fossil and nuclear fuel.

The effects of this development are already clearly visible today. Among the more prominent examples are calls for a nuclear FiT in Europe, or programs to support new coal fire stations in Germany! These are just the tip of the iceberg of a structural change that has already started.

Millions of Batteries in Buildings — Utopian?

Considering the two technological developments I talked about earlier, it is very easy to show that it’s just a matter of time until the combination of energy storage for homes with rooftop solar energy and/or small-wind becomes viable and even profitable.

Today, there are still about 6.4 million oil tanks in homes and buildings all over Germany storing energy in the form heating oil. Installing such a tank costs several thousand Euros today. So, why shouldn’t independent power producers start putting up new forms of energy storage in the same numbers as soon as it makes economic sense?

How would 6 million home storage systems change the energy system? Well, 6 million 10 kW / 25 kWh would mean a distributed storage system with 60 GW maximum output/input and 150 GWh of capacity. That’s already enough storage for 10% of the current daily consumption, more than enough to power all German households through the night. It’s also coming a long way to fill the gap between renewable baseload power (hydro and biomass) and variable sources like wind and solar.

That 10-kW/25-kWh battery is not fiction by the way. It’s quite similar to the battery pack that powers the Nissan Leaf right now, Just one battery that will soon reach production volumes in the hundreds of thousands as factories in Japan, Europe, and the US crank up production by 2013.

It’s true that the $15,000 price tag for the battery is too high right now. But, since all kinds of competitors are investing in this market, economics of scale, innovation and optimization will certainly reduce the cost of such batteries in the coming years. In the case of multi-kWh batteries, this development is a lot more obvious than what happened with the price for solar cells just 7 years ago. The fall of prices surprised many analysts back then. Today, prices for solar cells are 70%-80% cheaper than what they were in 2007, putting the cost of solar systems well below $2 per Watt in Germany.

I know that there are many ifs, but I think and hope that this vision for a rapid change of the energy system will start to unfold in a overwhelming and visible fashion before this decade ends. What do you think?

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70 thoughts on “In-Depth: Germany’s 22 GW Solar Energy Record

  • Now that Germany has reached this milestone, it is vital to press the advantage. Going green shouldn’t simply be about improving the environment, there should be economic benefits too. They should start labeling products made by green energy so that these products can begin to push fossil products out of the economy.

    • Several companies that are keen to win more customers with a sustainable image start turning to independent 100% renewable energy suppliers. I think this is an important step.

      • 🙂

  • How much wind and other renewables were on the grid at the solar peak? What percentage did they get dirty coal down to?

    • There was abit more than 4 GW of Wind power, approximatly 3 GW of hydro and 3 GW of biomass.

      So all renewables together were perhaps somewhere around 32 GW. 🙂

      • If I’m calculating right, based on your figures that’s (30%/22.2GW)*32GW = 43% of power from clean sustainable renewables at the solar peak.

        • You are right. 🙂
          The actual (more complete) hourly consumption data won’t be available untill months from now, so I checked the typical power demand for May last year.
          It’s seems to be usually around 68-70 GW at 1 pm. So 32 GW are more in the territory of 45-47%.

          • At solar peak Germany is already hitting its 2030 target for average renewable electricity production.

  • It wasn’t “30% of all energy demand!” It was 30% of all electricity demand, which was roughly 6% of energy demand since power only makes up a fifth of German energy demand.

    • A fifth seems very low. Can you provide a link?

    • I doubt 80% of energy demand is non electricity – diesel use etc in cars. Do you have a link?

        • While your numbers are sound or at least about right, I don’t think you should mix electricity and primary energy consumption like that.

          While this is also not perfectly sound, I think it’s more apropriate to compare it to final energy consumption, which is about 2400 TWh per year in Germany and renewables (not just solar) have a share of 12.2%.

          At the end of the day, electrical power is more important for the future though, so mixing it with all energy sources isn’t useful at all in my opinion.
          Considering that modern homes consume 50-90% less heating energy than 20 year old buildings and since electric vehicles use energy 2-3times more efficent then their petrol counterparts, it’s quite easy to show that for the future, clean electricity is more significant.

        • Comparing fossil (thermal) energy to electricity on a 1:1 basis is not a good way to assess the situation.

          First of all you ignore that part of that 3960 TWh was used to generate …. electricity. With a 50-60% loss of the energy content (waste heat).

          Fossil fuels are used mainly in 3 sectors: electricity generation, road transport and space heating. Replacing 1 kWh of fossil energy in each of these, requires on average about 0.25 kWh of electricity. The idea of the shift to renewable energy is going fully electric. This means electric cars and heat pumps.

          An electric car will drive about 1 km on 1 kWh of petrol, but it can do 5 km on 1 kWh of electricity.

          As a back-of-the-envelope estimate: the 3960 TWh of primary energy will require about 1000 TWh of electricity to replace.

          So the truth is somewhere in the middle.

    • thanks for the note, Craig — i changed that small but important word (that most readers probably don’t even understand is diff from electricity, especially in the context of this article). thanks for the catch,

  • Great piece. And good explanation of the difference between the energy supplied in gigawatt hours that week, month etc, versus the capacity which was 20 something GW.

    Aside from the other mistakes the rest of the media made in covering that news was the usual confusion of GW and gigawatt hours that made its sound much less: like only 20 gigawatt hours of supply.

    • Thank you so much 🙂

  • Here in Australia something like 40% of our electricity bills goes towards paying to supply grid electricity to rural and remote Australia. I think we may soon be at a point where distributers will start to pay people in the most expensive to supply remote areas to go off grid. I also think that distributors will need to drop the ‘supply’ charge they hit customers with month just for being connected to the grid regardless of how much electricity they use. This will be necessary to stop them losing customers from people deciding to go off grid.

  • to minimize greenhouse gas emissions, you should replace fossil fuel plants first. Build renewables (if you can afford them) and as you have extra electricity, shut down fossil fuel plants one by one. Save nuclear plants for last.

    You slightly increase the risk of having a nuclear plant accident but that’s a small probability anyway compared to the huge impact of climate change that is happening right now

    • The problems of the current energy system are not limited to the climate crisis. Looking to much at this one single issue in a isolated way can not lead to a adequat response, because the other problems that are caused or aggravated by it will reduce our ability to act.
      The best solution to the complex energy crisis of our world is to dump both at the same time. That’s only possible with renewables and people who take matters into their own hands.
      Because there is absolutly no reason why only the suppliers of coal, gas, oil and uranium should become the suppliers of clean energy. There are actually a ton of reasons why they shouldn’t even try to do that, from a business perspective.
      Relying on nuclear or “clean coal” on the path to a sustainable energy system is the same logic that would put gangs in charge of police work, because they got so much experience controlling the streets. :-/

      Dumping both at the same time is possible for investors that are not burdened with investments in fossil & nuclear. That it’s possible can be seen in hundreds of communities in Germany or Denmark. So why even grand those harmful energy sources any place in the future?

      • “Relying on nuclear or “clean coal” on the path to a sustainable energy system is the same logic that would put gangs in charge of police work, because they got so much experience controlling the streets. :-/”

        I’m going to have to remember to use that one!! 😀

    • I think we need to respect the desires of the German people.

      They live in a not-large country with a number of older Soviet era reactors.

      They have direct experience with the problems of a nuclear meltdown. The radiation from Chernobyl entered their country.

      They don’t want to accept a risk, small as it might be, of having a major part of their county ruined like what has now happened twice in the world.

      Germany has done a lot to reduce their carbon footprint. They’ve installed huge amounts of solar for a country their size. Closing their nuclear plants may raise CO2 output for a short time, but at the same time Germany is working on other clean energy solutions.

  • Pingback: In depth: The real story behind Germany's 22GW solar record - : Renew Economy

  • An excellent article and great comments. South Africa is already at Grid Parity using Net Metering. On average I speak at one conference a month on Grid Parity and in May I spoke at four conferences. The message is getting out. See for a grid parity graph in kWh and for a graph showing the savings that can be made over 20 years by fixing your electricity costs today. If the Facebook Link doesn’t work, try and scroll down till you see “Fixed = R432,000” graph.

  • The ‘look it only works when the sun shines’ attitude of much of the UK gutter press was fairly horrific to watch.

    A pity we didn’t have a more informed rebuttal like this to counter it.

    • I pity you in the UK that you have to suffer those Murdoch rags.

  • If German solar cacity doubles, the call for storage becomes louder. Utilities will ask solar panel owners to consume their produced power directly at peek production instead of feeding it into the grid.

    • Utilities don’t really have a say in what panel owners can or should do with the electricity they produce.
      But since consumer-price parity has been reached and even grid-parity at times, it means not feeding the electricity to the grid becomes increasingly attractive.

      For example there was a small news today that a solar company will build 20MW of solar on the roofs of 100 grocery stores. The stores aims at using 80-90% of the electricity since peak production and peak demand match.


    • Power companies don’t regulate things at the consumer level, but look at the total balance of supply and demand.

      If someone’s PV system is feeding the grid in the middle of a working day when he is not at home (and thus uses no power), why should he be forced to store that energy when ample of demand exists elsewhere: offices, factories, shops? That would not make sense.

  • The exact percent is really not that important. I say raise a frosty mug of a nice dark ale to our Germany brother and sisters. Job well done, they are almost to their 2030 goals and pushing to raise them.

    If we all (developed and developing world) had done as well as they have in the last 20 years. Wind and solar would be a lot cheaper and everyone would be enjoying the benefits.

  • To avoid the attacks, I’ll say that I am in favor of increasing renewable energy production across the globe. (Maybe it will work….) However, I find it a little too simple to equate a single peak with long term, widespread success. Even the author admits there are real, measured swings of 60% in output (from 8 GW to 20 GW), independent of demand. There are only two ways to accommodate such events: Overbuild renewable capacity or maintain dispatchable capacity (various thermal generation sources). Only a few forms of energy storage which are massive in scale – pumped hydro and compressed air – are adequate for riding through many valleys in renewable generation. Most other storage systems are not adequate for all-day events. It is certainly noteworthy that Germany has reached this significant milestone. And although I am not familiar with the German grid and consumer habits, perhaps the culture accepts or has better adapted to matching demand with momentary supply. But in most cultures that are accustomed to an apparently endless supply (as far as they can tell from use), high penetration of renewable sources still poses a problem.

    A lot of the hope mentioned here relies on distributed generation. That is one way to increase renewable generation capacity while impacting grid load, but it isn’t the singular path to high penetration. For example, some people are clearly willing to make long term (20 year) home investments, but not everyone. I have read about Germany, among others, reducing a lot of the incentives and subsides and even FITs by a significant amount. Is parity still realistic in that circumstance? I ask because I truly wonder, and don’t have time to research all the history and current policy.

    There are a number of paths to get there, and a record breaking peak day inspires many. But it is not evidence that the technological and cultural/political hurdles have been overcome.

    • Do you really believe that some of us think that the job is done, all problems solved?

      I’m sure you don’t if you take a moment to think about that question.

      That said, let me suggest that celebrating success, even if incomplete, is extremely important. We’ve reached a milestone on a long path. We’re seeing that renewable energy has grown enough if a few places to start showing up in the large scale grid measurements. Solar in Germany, wind in Spain and Texas – renewables are causing prices to drop from time to time.

      These events are meaningful. We need to raise a shout of joy. We need to encourage ourselves to keep working, keep moving.

      And we need to recognize that these successes, even small are now getting large enough so that people who are involved in the energy business but not followers of renewable are going to have to start taking notice.

      Fossil fuel interests, coal plant owners for example, are starting to see renewables grab some of the profit that they have enjoyed. That puts them in the position of having to question if their’s is the route to future profits. Perhaps they need to start considering diversifying their portfolios to include some of the renewable generation which could replace them.

      Utility companies, public and private, are starting to see lower wholesale prices during windy nights and sunny days. That has to cause them pause prior to committing to a new baseload or peaker plant. It’s going to start them looking at renewable generation, load-shifting and storage as a way to lower prices.

      I hold that when something like Germany setting a new solar output record occurs it’s time to wave the flags.

      • Sorry, we must have been reading entirely different articles and comment threads. What I read included a lot of postulating that the era of renewable sourced power being economically and technically or par or better than fossil sources has arrived. I never said there wasn’t any progress. My point was rather simple – the glory of the peak day (rightful) does not overshadow the reality of challenges ahead. I work in the energy/power world, so perhaps it makes me different (?). I can appreciate the pleasure of the milestone but have to face the reality tomorrow.

        • I do agree, we seem to have been reading a different article and comments. I just reread the article and I see no “Hurrah! The battle is won!!” claims. I see a lot of discussion problems left to solve and how we might solve them.

          Now, if you want to talk about renewables being on par with fossil fuels, we are already partially there. If you compare the actual “all-in” price of coal generation then you find wind far, far cheaper. Wind and solar (in the sunbelt) are both already cheaper than new coal, even without charging coal for the health and environmental damage it causes.

          Solar has reached grid parity in some parts of the world and solar has clearly reached retail price parity for some others.

          This might not be the era of renewables being the cheapest 100% source of electricity, but I think it’s fair to state that we’ve left the era of renewables being a too-expensive source to add to the grid.

          That makes me smile….

          • No point in arguing the tone of the article and comments. But can you provide some sources that conclude the equivalency of solar and wind to coal in the sunbelt? And is that the U.S. sunbelt?

            And while I am no fan of coal power, my references to fossil sources includes all fueled-thermal systems. Just thought I’d mention that.

          • First, you are familiar with the external costs of coal are you not? If not –


            Picking a mid-range value, we under-price the cost of coal by $0.18/kwh.

            (If you want to argue that number downward by, for example, claiming that children who die of asthma have no economic value, I’ve got no interest in that discussion.)

            Take the wholesale cost of coal. Call it $0.02/kWh if you like. Add in the externalities. The total approaches or exceeds 20 cents.

            Large commercial rooftop solar in US sunbelt locations has now fallen to $0.1515/kWh.


            There are no subsidies included in that price.

            Here’s a good place to look at the cost of wind generation…


          • Bob_Wallace We’ve run out of reply levels. All of my experience suggests that it is nearly impossible to get externalities included included into balance sheets. It has academic merit, but very little real world merit.

            Again, thanks!

        • Hi John.
          The article was mainly about the fact that it’s possible to produce a huge amount of power ith solar energy. Thinking about it today makes it a no-brainer, but 12 years ago people (expoerts, industry professionals and a bunch of professors) went on parade to tell people that it will NEVER contribute more than 0.1% because the potential just isn’t there.
          Then they started to scream and shout that the grid would collapse when more than 3 GW peak are being installed.

          22 GW, 190 GWh of peak load power and 14% of week day power consumption is a big success considering where this technology came from, who invested in it (mainly private households) and so on.

          There is no doubt that there are huge problems. The media loves to talk about problems, but not often enough do people talk about the possibilites.

          That’s why I tried to peak into the future by thinking two current developements abit further. The fact that many renewable energy technologies have reached grid parity and continue to fall in prices AND the fact that we are about to witness falling multi-kWh storage prices.

          Both are developements that can’t be denied. In my opinion connecting both will create amazing opportunity…
          Since I wrote at the end of the post, that home storage technologies are of course still to expansive to capitalize on those opportunities, for now, I can’t really see how you got the impression that there aren’t any problems left.

          Perhaps it is a difference of realities. Where I life I see those systems everywhere… there are hundreds of municipalities that go for 100% renewable energy supply… they are frustrated that they can’t store the power and have to send their energy into the grid… those are people who do it not mainly for money, but because they can and they love to be in charge of their energy supply.

    • To avoid attacks, check the facts. Residential solar can now pay for itself in six years in Australia. Point of use solar is the cheapest source of electricity for most Australians. As it is cheaper than grid electricity and in most of Australia grid electricity comes from coal, for the consumer it is cheaper than coal. That’s quite an accomplishment.

      • Good grief. Please read my words before attacking me with a singular fact of your making. I cannot speak for the situation in Australia, such as the amount, if any, of subsidy or incentive to residential installations or the cost of grid supplied electricity. But surely you can see that conditions vary across the globe, yes? And surely you can appreciate that the distributed generation you describe is limited in its ability to supply the majority of power even to Australia. For example, high demand operations such as manufacturers and mission critical users such as hospitals need very consistent electricity that is difficult to deliver purely via renewable sources. As I mentioned earlier, you either build a large amount of additional capacity or you continue to rely to some degree on dispatchable sources.

        As I noted earlier, also, storage technology is not yet sufficient to fix some of the problems. And then there is the matter of power quality, where in particular solar and wind require a higher degree of reactive power control if connect to the grid. Producing a certain amount of wattage is not enough. Not wanting to get into the weeds, I’ll just repeat that there are still hurdles to be overcome before we can realize very high levels of renewable energy integration. That isn’t a statement on the value to individuals to install whatever they need off-grid.

        • Or you combine renewable energy sources in order to reach a maximum of local coverage… trading surpluses over the grid?
          You know that there are ALREADY renewable energy sources that are baseload capable but can also be used to produce on demand power.

          Please don’t tell me it doesn’t work, because it’s being done. Of course it takes more work to change the entire system… but there have been numerous studies that show that it’s feasable and that conventional capacity during the transition period does not have to be 100% of peak demand.

        • John – no one has attacked you. Please give that a rest.

          Just make your points and back them up with facts. Keep it civil and we can all have a good discussion. I, for one, acknowledge that I have lots to learn and if you bring usable facts and concepts to the discussion I’ll be grateful.


          “As I mentioned earlier, you either build a large amount of additional capacity or you continue to rely to some degree on dispatchable sources.”

          Half right. You either build a large amount of additional capacity, you continue to rely to some degree on dispatchable sources, you install lots of storage, or you find lots of dispatchable demand.

          And you get a heck of a lot more efficient.

          Actually, what we almost certainly do is some of everything. Each sub-grid will likely pick a different mix of supply inputs and demand management.

          Early on, I expect a lot more reliance on dispatchable generation largely because we already have so much available natural gas generation and we are adding more.

          Later on, I expect new storage to be cheaper than new gas turbines and gas will fade away. It may turn out to be cheaper to greatly overbuild wind or solar than to rely on gas.

          • Once again, we agree equally that technology is moving forward. However, I have a different outlook on the timeline. I have worked with a few organizations within the electricity supply pipeline, and storage is not an option now or in the near future. So, dispatchable supply and renewable supply are the two choices for at least 5 year capital planning.

            It is gets so difficult for either of us to explain ourselves in this comment format. We just differ primarily because you point more towards potential and future milestones and I am less optimistic than you. I don’t disagree that the future will bring more and more renewable generation, however. Somehow we each hear the other saying something more aggressive than we mean.

        • Here in South Australia about a third or our grid electricity comes from wind and solar and we’re doing away with baseload generation, so quite a few hurdles have already been cleared.

          • Ronald, that is remarkable. I was aware that Australia overall had a high degree of hydropower, but not so much wind and solar. I was also aware that Australia ranked high (as recent as 3 years ago? I forget) in solar hot water heating. Can you point me to the source that measures such a high portion?

          • There’s not much hydropower in Australia (outside of Tasmania) as it’s pretty dry and flat. The wind power is mostly in South Australia on account of it not having much coal. Here’s an article with a chart that breaks down electricity generation by state for the March quarter:


            South Australia’s two coal plants will be shut down in July. One permanently and the other will only operate for the hot six months of the year. Wind and to a smaller extent solar is replacing coal in South Australia. It has also reduced gas use and electricity imports.

          • Thanks for the link. I suspect it is a little misleading. The generation share is different than the demand/consumption share as, I assume, the 5 states are interconnected. Were South Australia completely independent, the portion generated by wind would create a different network scenario. As it is, without knowing the details of the interconnection, I suspect it provides the grid operators greater balancing flexibility. So, the energy locally generated via wind is in essence absorbed into a much larger network than just South Australia. But clearly that region has a decent or maybe a very good wind regime, producing nearly 1TWh. That is a good thing. And a trivial observation, hydropower does in fact make up over 60% of the total non-fossil supply for the country, which is also a good thing overall.

    • Solar has hit grid parity in Germany:

      and i’m pretty sure onshore wind has as well.

      the single peak success is just another indicator of a country leading the way on renewable energy.

      the storage issue has been covered plenty by others here, so i won’t reply to that one.

      i have not heard of Germans having to change their daily lives any to accommodate a large % of the grid being renewables…

      Bob covers the rest quite well, so i’ll just leave it at that…

      • Solar has come a long way, yes.  Wind has come a long way, too.  I don’t want to dispute your posts about renewable energy progress overall and parity entirely, but some factors are missing.  For one example, parity is further complicated by reserve capacity and the associated capital costs and efficiency.  A kWh from solar does not entirely replace a kWh from a dispatchable source over the long run.  On one side, in the last year alone a surprising burst in generation from wind in Germany (a good thing by itself) resulted in a costly situation for utilities and grid operators having to deal with the compensation in both generation and in sales.  On the other side, when the opposite of the burst happens, a lull, that same capacity must be sourced elsewhere.  It is truly complicated and one situation in Germany isn’t necessarily duplicated in, say, Spain.  Parity is also complicated by storage, which is one path to remedy.

        Then there is the fact that the dominant contributor to the renewable quotient in Germany are biomass facilities.  Should they continue to be scaled, other factors may contribute to the associated costs (e.g. fuel costs).Perhaps Germany benefits from conditions that are partially unique, including size and the acceptance of the people, as you mention.  In contrast, Brazil or the United States may not be able to duplicate the same level of success given existing power costs, cultural willingness to curb demand, higher regional diversity (larger demand area and greater variation in wind/solar sources), or even projected growth in demand as the nation further industrializes (Brazil).

        There are a lot of things to be excited about, and therefore positive.  But overselling actualized costs, for example, only gives anyone who resist more incentive to push back.

        • No need to rain on a parade. There are many cost factors no addressed on the other side as well — health costs, global warming costs, initial electricity infrastructure costs, and more. If there weren’t, the grid would look a lot different than it does today.

          Interesting that you bring up Brazil, which decided to put almost all its money on wind power last year, due to that being the cheapest option for the country, even beating natural gas:

          • It would be difficult to discuss costs without getting almost entirely into politics, real costs, and actualized costs.  The auction prices used to conclude “parity” are heavily influenced by companies needing the tax breaks offered for wind, also.  It’s like buying an item to get the rebate.

            I chose the U.S. and Brazil because their situations and environments are so different than Germany.  Not only are they much larger with very different transmission needs, but supply if very different.  For example, natural gas is plentiful and cheap in the U.S., and the market isn’t fully global (demand dispersal is very different from oil, e.g.).  Brazil still has a lot rural electrification to accomplish (only 70% electrified?  don’t remember), and has a hugely abundant hydropower capacity thanks to the Amazon.    Even with the new government’s ruling to stop all nuclear expansion, hydropower will still make up almost 2/3 of supply for two decades to come.  Wind and solar will be expanded at a fast pace, but are not forecast to be more than 15 -18% of the total.

            I’m not raining on a parade, just looking at real world situations. 

  • @ThomasGerke – I am familiar with the virtual power plant concepts – replying to your comments on “baseload capable”. To which do you refer, still wind and solar? Or hydropower and geothermal, perhaps? If wind and solar, could you point me to the sites that are working that you consider a reasonable scale? I am also familiar with a number of academic studies, from a number of institutions including in Germany. I just wasn’t aware of the successful practice.

    I apologize for misreading or overreacting (?), thinking that some comments implied the era of pure renewable energy is here.

    Also, I started a new comment thread as this format isn’t conducive to endless replies. And I find it difficult to include all thoughts when trying to stay brief. So, for example, my point of reference for “high” penetration of renewable sources is greater than 20 to 30%. I understand how many naysayers there have been over time. But to me the modern threshold to overcome is in that range. That value is also based on analysis of existing installations and is complicated, as all renewable energy discussions are, by the specific conditions of each location and region. Certainly Denmark, as an example, has an enviable and reliable wind regime making the increasing proportion of wind energy feasible.

    • @JohnInMA – Don’t worry, I am well aware that reading can be subjective experience. To some extent we read what want to read without noticing. 🙂 But I certainly enjoy the polite debate.

      With renewable baseload I was mainly refering to hydropower (small & large) and biomass (mainly biogass). The later already produces as much power as 3-4 nuclear power plants in Germany. In sunny countries solar thermal also provides 24h baseload capability (for example the Andasol power plant).

      As you noticed in the article, I am not as persimistic about the rate of introduction when it comes to home storage sollutions. There are many possible applications and a increasing number of independet small utilities in Germany, that are being founded by local citzens, businesses & municipalities with the goal of reaching 100% renewable supply.

      To my knowledge the energy storage industry (Sanyo, Panasonic, BASF, …. all those big and small players that are heavily investing right now) expect at least a annual decrease in cost of 6-7% as they experienced with small batteries. Considering the competative nature of the market, I think a sharper rate of decline is likly from mid-decade on.

      As products become available, more and more people will buy them. Japanese companies are already out at large pushing “SmartHomes” including rooftop solar systems, load management, energy storage and fuelcell cogeneration. And when you buy one, you get a discount for the new Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid… or when you buy a Prius, you get a discount for the solar system.

  • John, for all its good features, Disqus gives no control over the offset of each reply. That means that columns get thin too quickly. Most of us deal with it by restarting a sub-thread, just like I’ve now done….

    I don’t know if we disagree on how long it will take to transition away from fossil fuels. It might take many decades, but I am pretty sure it need not take a half-century or longer. I also think 20 years would be difficult, if not close to impossible. But we could spend closer to 20 than 50 years if one or both of two conditions emerge.

    First, solar has been falling very, very quickly. Projections are that prices are likely to keep falling for the near future. We have the prospect of affordable large scale storage. If Aquion can get to 20k cycles and/or liquid metal batteries prove out then the low cost of wind/solar/storage will likely force new fossil fuel generation off the grid. New fossil fuel plants are not likely to get built if they have to compete with six cent renewable energy and two cent storage.

    Second, once we get past our current economic worries people are likely to show heightened concern over climate change. Pressure will be put on governments to cut greenhouse gas emissions and that will lead to some combination of subsidies and carbon taxing that will accelerate the transition. While we won’t be able to get utility companies to include the externalities of fossil fuel use into their cost statements, those external costs will become more and more widely known and will increase the pressure on politicians.

    Don’t discount the power of public opinion. Public opinion is shutting down existing nuclear plants in Europe and Japan.

    • ” storage is not an option now or in the near future”

      That’s not true. Battery storage is being added to the grid right now. Existing dams are being converted to pump-up storage right now.

      We have about 22GWs (24GWs) of existing pump-up on our US grids already.

      My guess is that we aren’t seeing large amounts of new storage because we don’t yet need large amounts of additional storage. Grid studies have found that we could add 20% (Eastern grid) to 35% (Western and Hawaiian grids) wind and solar without adding storage. We’re still below 5% penetration.

      We will see new storage soon in California because CA utility companies are being mandated to include some in their mix.

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  • My prediction: in 10 years whomever utters the words “nuclear power” will be laughed at. Well, at least fission nuclear power.

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  • This is Great, Instead of storage, several such plants
    should be set up in different parts of the world, so there is always sunshine
    for such plants, and the grid would always have optimum energy.

    Ideal location would be for such plants, to be set up
    near equator line, this will produce very cheap electricity less than 1 cent, due
    to 365 days sunshine a year on equator line, and all surplus power should be
    sold to neighbor countries.   

    • There’s an interesting plan in the works called Desertec which pulls Europe together with North Africa and parts of the Middle East into one big grid.  Solar farms from Saudi Arabia to the west coast of Africa would extend the solar day by six hours.

      It’s already underway with solar farms being built in Morocco.  There’s a transmission line between Morocco and Spain which carries power south from Europe.  This would be the first place where Africa would send some back.

      Also the UK is in the process along with Iceland to lay some HVDC underwater cable between those two places to bring Icelandic hydro and geothermal to England and then on to mainland Europe via already existing transmission lines. 

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  • This is indeed great news for Germany and the world at large. I just hope that solar roofing would be available to poor countries so that electricity would be available everywhere.

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  • Badly written document.
    Demand is not given in Watt. It is given in VA.

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