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Clean Power renewables improve grid reliability

Published on September 12th, 2012 | by James Ayre


German Grid Reaches Record Reliability in 2011 Thanks to Renewables

September 12th, 2012 by  

Germany’s electric grid recently set a personal record with a downtime of only 15.31 minutes in 2011, that’s significantly lower than the already impressive 17.44 minutes of downtime that occurred during the time period from 2006 the 2010.


After Germany shut down eight of its 17 nuclear plants within a week after the Fukushima accident, there was talk from many pronuclear observers that the country’s grid would become unreliable and the country would experience unstoppable blackouts.

Clearly, that has not turned out to be true, like most other politically motivated comments about energy tend not to. The country not only avoided major blackouts during the winter, “but its availability actually increased over the average going back to 2006, when reporting began,” thanks in part to the recent increases in small-scale renewable energy.

The German Network Agency began to calculate the SAIDI value (system average interruption duration index) in 2006. The index does not factor in planned interruptions or interruptions caused natural disasters — it factors only unplanned interruptions that last more than three minutes.

“The German grid has proven to be the most reliable among reporting EU member states year after year since it began reporting in 2006.”

renewables improve grid reliability

“Germany’s performance can only be properly appreciated in the context of other countries. As the chart (above) shows, Germany has consistently been the leader among reporting EU member states since it began reporting in 2006. The differences are also not slight, such as 15 minutes versus 20 minutes. Instead, the number of minutes of grid interruptions in other countries (such as France, which had 62 minutes of SAIDI downtime in 2007) is often several times the German level.”

The Network Agency also reports very specific figures for the number of grid operators in Germany: “864 grid operators reported 206,673 grid interruptions on 928 separate grids.” The figures make it clear that the German grid is just as splintered as those in other countries and its efficiency isn’t the result of “a monolithic state-driven entity.”

Such a high level of grid reliability is possible for any country with a high penetration level of intermittent wind and solar power. As an example, Denmark, with an even greater share of wind power in Germany, has a very reliable grid also. And an even better example is the great increase in grid reliability that Spain has experienced as they have increased their wind and solar power, as the chart above shows.

“By way of comparison, the United States had a SAIDI of 240 in 2007, which would put the country at the back of the ranking in the chart. It has been estimated, for instance, that grid downtime in the United States costs the US economy around 150 billion dollars a year, equivalent to four cents per kilowatt-hour.”

Just another thing renewables help with.

Source: Renewables International
Image Credits: CEER; WERs via Wikimedia Commons

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About the Author

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.

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  • Bill_Woods

    “The index does not factor in planned interruptions or interruptions caused natural disasters — it factors only unplanned interruptions that last more than three minutes.”

    But interruptions over 3 minutes are only a small part of the problem.

    A strong increase in these short term interruptions has lately been criticised by the industry association for energy-intensive companies VIK, which claimed that 90% of all the interruptions affecting the industry were not recorded by BNetzA.


    Sudden fluctuations in Germany’s power grid are causing major damage to a number of industrial companies. While many of them have responded by getting their own power generators and regulators to help minimize the risks, they warn that companies might be forced to leave if the government doesn’t deal with the issues fast.

    A survey of members of the Association of German Industrial Energy Companies (VIK) revealed that the number of short interruptions to the German electricity grid has grown by 29 percent in the past three years. Over the same time period, the number of service failures has grown 31 percent, and almost half of those failures have led to production stoppages. Damages have ranged between €10,000 and hundreds of thousands of euros, according to company information.


    A 30% increase isn’t catastrophic, but you can’t claim increased reliability.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Nice change of context, Bill.

      But since you brought up the 3 minute problem….

      We know that the 21st Century grid will require more storage than the 20th Century grid did. Sounds like it’s time for Germany to start building storage. Hundreds of thousands of euros would be better spent on storage than on repairs.

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