Published on March 26th, 2014 | by Giles Parkinson


Germany Fossil Fuel Production Drops, Electricity Exports Soar

March 26th, 2014 by  

Originally published on RenewEconomy.

As Germany chancellor Angela Merkel said last month, if Germany can succeed with its ambitious energy transition then other countries could too. “If we succeed, then she (the Energiewende) – and I’m convinced of it – will become another German export hit,” she said. “The world looks with a mixture of a lack of understanding and curiosity on whether and how the Energiewende (Germany’s move from nuclear to renewable energy) will succeed.”

Many, particularly in the fossil fuel industry, look on with horror, rather than curiosity. A successful transition in Germany will set off a domino effect which will be unstoppable. Which is why so many – from large international coal and oil companies, all the way down to conservative commentators and even Australia ministers such as environment minister Greg Hunt, do as much as they can to suggest the German experience is a disaster.

Their main target is not just the cost of the program, but it’s supposed lack of success. The critics say it is not reducing emissions, it is not resulting in less fossil fuels, and it’s a plan courting disaster.

Last week, Craig Morris demolished a few of those myths. Today, are a few graphs from Bruno Berger, at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Research, that demolish a few more.

This first graph shows the amount of production from the various sources in January and February (the main winter months), compared to a year ago. All fossil fuels are down, while wind and solar are the only gainers.

germany power change

This is the same information but given as a percentage increase or decrease. Note that solar more than doubles, helped not only by an extra 7GW of capacity, but also increased sunshine. The biggest impact among fossil fuels was gas, which represents the fact that it is the most expensive marginal cost fuel, and is first out of the system under the merit order impact.

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 9.50.00 am

It was widely expected that closing nearly half Germany’s nuclear capacity soon after Fukushima would mean the country would become a net importer of electricity. In fact, it has never exported more, as this graph below shows.

Germany exports

And finally, here is the rated capacity of each fuel source in Germany as at mid-February, 2014.

germany power total


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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.

  • Drevney

    What exactly is “rated capacity” ?

    I don’t understand how is it that there is more of it in solar and wind than fossil but still the share of produce electricity from fossil fuel is larger.

    Is it because the production from solar is very limited in the German winter?

    • Bob_Wallace

      Rated capacity is also called “nameplate capacity”. It’s how much power the turbine, panel, whatever is capable of producing at “full speed”.

      Thing is, nothing runs at full speed all the time. So what more accurately reflects the productivity of a generator is its CF or “capacity factor”. That is generally defined as the total amount of electricity produced in a year divided by the theoretical output if it ran 100% of the time.

      Nuclear plants generally run at full speed when they run but are expected to be offline about 10% of the time for refueling and maintenance. In 2011 and 2012 US nuclear plants had CFs in the low 80% because in addition to normal outages there were multiple plants down for unscheduled repairs.

      The wind doesn’t blow all the time and a lot of time doesn’t blow hard enough to turn the turbine at full speed. Wind farms in good resource areas with modern technology are producing CF numbers in the 40% to 50% range. A few of the older farms are down in the 20% range.

      Some of the early Danish offshore farms had CFs only in the 20% range. Later farms are producing in the 40% to 50% range.

      Solar rarely obtains a CF over 25%. That’s for very sunny places like Death Valley. Those sorts of numbers are not going to happen in Germany.

      When it comes down to it rated or nameplate capacity is not a good metric, it’s misleading. It would be better if we talked about expected production.

      • S.Nkm

        You picked my curiosity and calculated the CF for my 3350kW PV array. I’ve seen it producing 24kWh once which is about 30% CF and regularly produces 20kWh which is 25%. It is 18% in winter. I live in Colorado.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Those are more output samples than a true CF which would use a full year’s production.

          For a general estimate of your CF you can use the average annual solar hours for your area. CO is part zone 2, part zone 3 on this map.

          Zone 2 = 5.5 hours / 24 = 23%
          Zone 3 = 5 hours / 24 = 21%

          The site also gives annual averages, high and low for four specific places in CO (Boulder, Grandby, ….)

          • Bob_Wallace

            Here’s a better version of the map….

    • JonathanMaddox

      An excellent question, prompting an excellent answer 😀

  • Matt

    Looking at the first and last chart. I see
    Electric production down 5.2 Twh from 2012, export increase ~7.5Twh.
    So consumed inside Germany dropped 12.7 Twh! That is a lot.
    What caused the drop in consumed electric? Does roof top PV, not appear in chart 1? Did several towns step of the national grid and no longer get counted?

    • sadada

      “What caused the drop in consumed electric?”

      Mildest winter in decades. Which renders the whole comparison to 2013 pointless.

      • Ulenspieigel

        That argument is nonsense. PRIMARY ENERGY consumption is weather affected, electricity demand in Germany not, because percentage of electric heating is small.

        In contrast, electricity exports to France (high percentage of electric heating) are affected by weather.

        Overall, people and most companies save electricity, it is very expensive.

        Solar in chart 1 comprises rooftop installations.

    • tibi stibi

      could also be that more homes have solar which is used immediately

    • Jürgen Hubert

      I really would be careful with year-to-year comparisons of electricity consumption, as all sorts of factors – need for artificial light, economic cycles and so forth – can influence this. The “Statistisches Bundesamt” has some information on this:

      The overall trend is that electricity consumption has peaked in 2007 and has _generally_ declined since then – but the financial crisis in 2009 caused a short-term collapse in electricity demand to a level that hasn’t been reached yet.

      (Full disclaimer: I work at the Fraunhofer IWES, which like the Fraunhofer ISE does a lot of work in this field, but these opinions are purely my own.)

  • sault

    LOL, the clean energy haters I spar with on other sites are always making up baloney about Germany’s clean energy transition. The more they continue with the transition and the longer their economy keeps humming along in defiance of all their doom and gloom fearmongering, the more ridiculous and detached from reality they become trying to keep their core assumptions about renewable energy from being challenged by the facts. It’s entertaining and a bit tragic at the same time…

    • Bob_Wallace

      Here’s something you might find useful when mole whacking – check grid reliability for Germany and Denmark with their high levels of renewable generation.

      • Ronald Brakels

        Grid reliability is way up in Australia thanks to rooftop solar meeting over 10% of electricity use in half our states during peak demand in our last heatwave. While Australia is not Germany, I just thought I’d mention that.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I would expect so for a grid that is “heat stressed”. Take a lot of load off transformers during the sunny hours and they’re less likely to flame out from heavy use. More end-user solar means more local supply for AC.

      • Wowza, good find! That’s from an RI article? Got a link?

        • Bob_Wallace

          “The Council of European Energy Regulators (CEER) has published an update of its benchmarking report for grid reliability including data up to 2012. It basically focuses on Saidi, a way of scoring grid downtime with and without exceptional events, such as the storms. When such events are left out of the equation, the number of minutes of downtime on average for the year provides a way of comparing grid reliability.

          As the chart below shows, Germany continues to have exceptionally good grid reliability along with Denmark, but the Netherlands and Switzerland are not far behind. While the first two countries have quite a bit of intermittent renewables (wind and solar in Germany and mainly wind power in Denmark), the Netherlands and Switzerland do not (the Swiss have a lot of hydropower, which is not intermittent in the same way).”

          • Bob_Wallace

            Here’s a version with the link attached….

    • Michael Berndtson

      I concur. Some of the folks over at Energy Collective are losing their stuff over this. In one post for example, a resident expert ran a quick spreadsheet and “proved” Germany’s energy plan was a failure. Others jumped on in the comments for support of his groundbreaking incontestable Excel-ant proof. Of course, most at the blog work in PR and message control. I can only guess who their clients are.

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