Clean Power

Published on June 19th, 2013 | by Giles Parkinson


Fossil Fuel Really Beginning To Hate Renewable Energy: Graphs

June 19th, 2013 by  

This article first appeared on RenewEconomy

This article follows on from our story yesterday on Alinta, and the complaint by CEO Jeff Dimery that wind energy is “undermining the running regime of exiting thermal generation assets”. There is no doubt that it is. But while some could argue whether this is a good thing (early retirement of ageing polluting assets in a clean energy transition) or a bad thing (stranded assets, loss of value), it seems that it is inevitable as the world transitions to an energy system based around renewables.

This series of graphs – taken from an expansive presentation of energy data collected by Germany’s Franhofer Institute for Sustainable Energy – gives some insight into why the owners of fossil fuel plants hate this scenario. The growing impact of wind farms and solar panels in Europe, and in Germany in particular, are having a massive impact on energy markets – and the impact is very much more an economic one than a technical one. The same is true in Australia, as we discussed yesterday.

The first two sets of graphs represent the electricity output in Germany in weeks 3 and 4 of 2013, from January 14 to January 27. This is the way the fossil fuel generators would like the market to be. Demand is constant, the nuclear and brown coal generators operate with minimal variability, and even black coal generators enjoy relatively stable demand (and revenue) for most of the working week.

Gas is switched on and off as demand fluctuates (mostly between day and night), and the contribution of hydro, wind and solar is minimal. This mixture of baseload, peak load and some variable renewables is the way that most energy markets have worked for the past few decades.

(see more of this story below)



Now let’s fast forward to just a few weeks ago. These next two graphs (below) tell us what happened in weeks 22 and 23, from May 27 to June 9. Germany’s 33GW of solar PV is now powering up, and larger fluctuations of wind power are also having an impact on the market.

The output from the nuclear and brown coal generators is dramatically lowered – their total weekly outputs in January were at least 50 per cent higher than in May, and their peak requirement was 25 per cent higher. The output of black coal generators has been slashed by nearly half in the latest period and has become highly variable (most have to shut down completely over the weekend and sometime overnight), and the demand for gas has fallen by more than half – even though it is used to fill gaps between wind and solar, it is rarely required to switch on for the daytime peaks.



These highlight some of the big problems with the growing penetration of renewables in Germany. Remember, at this level, the market is around 20 per cent, but the government wants this to rise to 40 per cent by 2030. Gas plants, however, are struggling to stay open. Coal generators in Germany – like Alinta and others in Australia – are screaming blue murder because they are being levered out of the market. Most of the new coal plants currently being built in Germany – even the brown coal ones – are designed to be flexible so they can fit in around renewables – which is now the dominant influence on prices in the market.

This was an issue which is being deliberated in German policy circles at the moment and was highlighted by the International Energy Agency in two recent reports – the old style energy markets that focused uniquely on a price for kWh produced are being made redundant, and will need to be replaced by soemthing more sophisticated, along the lines of a “capabilities” market promoted by the likes of the Regulatory Project. Effectively, it is a way of finding a market design that reflects the new market dynamics, the plunging cost of solar PV and wind, and the need to provide an economic incentive (subsidy) to retain flexible fossil fuel capacity.

One of the irony about the production statistics is that when brown coal and nuclear were switched on near full capacity in January – most of their output was exported to other European countries. That’s because the fuel was surplus to requirements. In June, most of the solar was exported, while nuclear from France (the country with most excess capacity) was imported to fill in some of the gaps. That speaks to the importance of a big, interconnected market – something that will benefit South Australia when the interconnector is upgraded.

To finish off, here are another set of graphs.  The first gives a different look at the reduction in demand and output from the conventional power stations. The next shows the variability required of the individual conventional sources. Notice the changes in hard coal production -the low carbon price means neither it nor gas can compete with brown coal. Unfortunately, the last graph does not include May or June.



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About the Author

is the founding editor of, 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.

  • vetxcl

    ” Fossil Fuel … Hate….RE..” Thinking error = anthropomorphism. Also, another: oversimplification .

    Too bad NOT everyone lives in GERMANY.

  • tibi stibi

    so we need to add SCP to the mix for the 24 hour energy. spain and north africa should help germany out.

    about energy storage there creating more steel during summer day’s when energy is abundant is also a way of storing energy. we need these kind of creative solutions to solve the energy problems.

    • dynamo.joe

      Ya, I think this is going to be a big part of the energy storage solution. There will be businesses that are only profitable using the really low cost electricity available at peak solar or wind times.

  • Steeple

    This whole language of “hate” is so infantile; this isn’t ninth grade. I’m from the fossil fuels industry and I’m thrilled about the advances in solar technology. If we can conserve our resources by developing others using our knowledge capital in a market-based way, that’s what true conservation is about. Unfortunately, that is not the case with subsidized wind that generates power at the wrong times and in the wrong places in the US.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I don’t know if you noticed, but oil is pumped in the wrong places.

      Hauled hundreds and thousands of mile to a refinery. And then hauled again to where people want to access it.

      And we have to store it so that it can be used at the right time.

      And, please, don’t give us any junk about wind subsidies. We’ve pumped trillions of taxpayer money into the oil industry and oil wars. Wind has received nothing in comparison.

      • Steeple

        The cost of moving oil is quite small relative to its value, and it can be easily and cheaply stored. Wind is uneconomic and power can’t be stored economically in scale. I agree on the war front. One of the best things about shale oil is we can now care a lot less about what happens in the Middle East.

        • Bob_Wallace

          It would be interesting to see a cost per kWh of energy turned into “usefulness” for oil and wind.

          Getting oil from under the ground to a gas tank takes a lot of equipment, including rail, highway, and port infrastructure. Lots and lots of inputs. Energy to pump, to haul.

          There are significant energy losses during refining.

          And then only 20% or so of what makes it to the gas tank actually converts into something useful. We might lose over 90% of the energy in a bucketful of oil by the time it gets to movement.

          Wind can be stored for a fairly decent cost in a pump-up hydro system. And at about 85% efficiency.

          There is very little “transportation loss” moving from wind farm to point of use on a HVDC line. About 1.5% loss in the ‘up to DC/down to AC’ change and about a 2% per 1,000 km loss.

          A 10% loss in battery charging and another 10% loss from battery to ‘spinning the wheel’. Start with 100 kWh at the turbine and 75% or a bit more makes it to vehicle movement.

          The math would be most interesting….

          • Steeple

            The largest inefficiency by far is converting gasoline in kinetic energy; the losses between the fuel tank to the wheels are huge. Usually costs about 1-2% to move the crude to the refinery, and another 1-3% to move products to the stations, depending on location. And it costs about 3-4% to refine. All in all, pretty efficient.

            We need to quit wasting $ on wind and spend those sums to continue to make solar cheaper. Solar is a much better fit for what we need here in the US.

          • Bob_Wallace

            OK, let’s use your numbers. We start with 100 kWh of energy in our bucket of oil We lose 1.5% getting to the refinery, 8.5% lost in refining, 2% to transport to market, and 80% loss converting to kinetic energy.

            We end up with 17.7 kWh of the original 100 kWh serving a useful purpose.

            That, my friend, is pretty danged inefficient.

            (More accurately 3.14 kWh energy is used to refine a gallon of gas and there are 36.6 kWh energy in a gallon of gas.)

            Now, I just can’t see any logic behind stopping support for wind generation since it is becoming our cheapest way to bring new capacity on line. Solar is great and we need to support it as well. But the wind blows more hours of the year than the Sun shines which means that wind brings us very significant storage savings.

          • Steeple

            Solar is going to work without subsidies. It doesn’t appear that wind will. Given how solar follows the load pattern while wind is opposed to it, it makes no sense to continue to pour money down the wind rathole.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Please explain to me why you think wind will not play a major role on our grids.

          • Pieter Siegers

            Actually, in most cases, wind and solar work complementary. I do agree with you that in most of the southern US solar would be a better fit, but I’m sure that wind will be better in most northern areas.

            The big problem as I see it is that there’s still no good energy storage solution at hand, but as we go onwards with technology, and as demand grows, some very good solutions will surface.

            Renewables just can’t be stopped and they will hopefully break the iron hand that the fossil fuel industry is trying so desperately to maintain.

          • Bob_Wallace

            The Southeast US is starting to purchase wind-electricity from the ‘windy center’.

            TVA is running a HVDC line to Oklahoma to move electricity to their grid. Recently Alabama and another SE state (Georgia?) started purchasing from OK.

            I would imagine that Texas will get into the game as time goes along. And then there is some most excellent off-shore wind along the Atlantic coast.

            Take a look at this wind (and transmission) map. All that good pink stuff along the SE Atlantic coast and northern Gulf coast. That’s as good a resource as the areas where Texas and Oklahoma are generating lots of electricity.

            Once we get our offshore wind industry kicked into gear these are resources waiting to be tapped. And we’ve already got the ability to move a lot of power around.

            And having transmission in place is major. I suspect that the hard lifting of route and real estate are largely established. Capacity on existing lines can be raised by moving to higher voltages.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Click on the image and you can see the map large size.

            And check out where the very best wind sites are found. The Red and Blue. We haven’t tapped any of them yet.

          • UKGary

            The big problem for wind in the US is the dysfunctional grid. In Europe, there are much stronger interconnections between countries than the US has between states, so it is much easier to move power around. True, the European situation is not perfect – there are capacity limits on the connections but even with what we have, intermittent renewable energy can more easily be integrated into European grids.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Tell us how badly the US grid is dysfunctional, Gary.

            Give us some facts, some data, identify where the inefficiencies are.

            How much wind is being curtailed by year? At what cost?

            How much would it cost to rectify the situation?

            And what’s the source of your knowledge?

          • UKGary

            Possibly dysfunctional is too strong a word, however the US does has almost no transfer capability between East and West, and somewhat limited transfer capability between areas with separate power grids. This limitation has been frequently sited as presenting a bottleneck in integrating large scale renewable energy.



            Here are two links to diagrams of the respective European and US high voltage power grids.




            From the diagrams, Europe is better positioned to move power from regions of excess production to areas of deficit.

            I do not know the cost of rectifying the situation, or the amount of wind or solar currently being curtailed, however there is a situation where the US has huge wind power potential in areas far removed from high capacity grid lines and cannot effectively develop these resources until there is a grid connection. e.g in North Dakota.


          • Bob_Wallace

            ” US does has almost no transfer capability between East and West, and somewhat limited transfer capability between areas with separate power grids.”

            We have three major grids and each of them is very large. We are building connections between the grids, but to date I’m not aware that not having a “three grid” connection has caused any problems. The only shortcoming might be moving wind from the Texas ERCOT grid northward, but that transmission has been built.

            There is little need to move Midwest wind energy to the West Coast or Southern California solar to New England.

            We’re currently building transmission to bring Wyoming wind to the West Coast. All that is needed is a relatively short HVDC line to connect Wyoming wind to the Pacific and Intermountain Interties.

            North Dakota wind, we probably don’t need it (except in ND). Our population is mostly along the coasts, and as you can see on the wind/transmission map you posted, our best wind is east of the East Coast, not in ND. And the transmission distance is less.

            The center of the US is largely empty of large population centers. Europe is settled differently. One size does not fit all.

          • Ross

            Solar is very seasonal in high latitudes. Wind is going to be necessary to displace fossil fuels.

  • globi

    They kept on saying that renewables need new and more flexible gas power plants.

    Fact is though that coal power plants have apparently no issues following the variability of consumer demand and renewable output and are even displacing existing gas power plants.

    If the German government was concerned about CO2 emissions, it would introduce CO2-taxes to make existing gas power plants more competitive over coal power plants.

    • arne-nl

      There is a European wide emission trading system that these generators have to participate in. So no need for the German government to introduce extra taxes. Perhaps the German government is not even allowed to do so.

  • JamesWimberley

    It’s spelled Fraunhofer. A name to remember. It’s not one institute, but the label for the German government agency responsible for technological innovation, managing €1.9 billion a year. There’s no exact equivalent in the Anglo countries; the Aussie CSIRO comes closest perhaps. DARPA and ARPA work in the same area, but with much narrower remits.

  • Frederik

    I assume that difference between January and June is also simply due to the fact that there is more sunshine in June. That puts the difference between the graphs in perspective somewhat, even if it is also due to more wind turbines and solar panels.

    • arne-nl

      Installed solar and wind capacity in Germany did not increase significantly between January and May, perhaps a few percent.

      • Geo

        So solar power is weather dependent that will not work will. that why BC supply the main energy for Germany.

  • Matthew

    This is really good. I wouldn’t be against nuclear as it is a source of energy that doesn’t have co2.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Nuclear has a similar lifetime carbon footprint to wind and solar.

      Wind and solar give us cheaper electricity. They are very much faster to bring on line which means we can shut down coal plants quicker. And wind and solar do not create radioactive waste problems which will last for hundreds of years.

      It’s not so much as being against nuclear. It’s more simply recognizing that nuclear has too many shortfalls. We’ve got much better ways to solve our CO2 problems. Cheaper, faster, safer.

      • Pieter Siegers

        I completely agree with you Bob!

      • Mandy

        I can see on the solar power is not working to reduce the BC levels in Germany, BC is supplying the main power needs.

        wrong solar power create massive waste problems if you care to look at the facts you find solar panel production are the biggest environmental waste hazard around, china has stated that PV cause the biggest waste issue in the country.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I just found this data for lifetime (cradle to grave) CO2 footprints for various ways to generate electricity.

      Coal median 1,001 grams

      Nuclear median 12 grams (4 to 110 gram range)
      Wind energy 11 grams (3 to 45 gram range)
      Amorphous silicon solar 20 grams
      Cadmium-telluride solar 14 grams
      Copper indium gallium diselenide solar 26 grams
      CSP trough solar 26 grams
      CSP tower solar 38 grams

      11 grams is 1.1% of coal’s carbon footprint
      38 grams is 3.8% of coal’s carbon footprint
      110 grams is 11% of coal’s carbon footprint

      Anything that produces 5% or less CO2 than coal should be, IMO, treated as “good enough” The decision should be based on cost, time to bring on line, and “external problems/dangers”.

      • Lube Varki

        High German power prices.

        German households pay the highest prices in Europe for electricity because they pick up much of the cost of subsidising cleaner energy production of rooftop solar. German has seen an C02 levels rise.

        Carbon foot print of solar power is more then 50% given that it depends on coal energy. We have not see the levels of Co2 fall.

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