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Published on August 11th, 2014 | by Roy L Hales


Germany’s Grid Is One Of World’s Most Reliable

August 11th, 2014 by  

Originally Published in the ECOreport

Biogas plant Güterglück (DE) - Courtesy RWE

Biogas plant Güterglück (DE) – Courtesy RWE

Close to 29% of Germany’s electricity during the first half of 2014 came from renewable sources. It was a new record. Ironically, the story was released the same day that Bloomberg published: German Utilities Bail Out Electric Grid at Wind’s MercyListening to some of the critics of Energiewende, one sometimes gets the impression the nation’s utilities are on the verge of collapse. In reality, Germany’s grid is one of the world’s most reliable.

In terms of grid reliability, the only nations that rival Germany are Japan (another “green” leader) and Singapore.

Minutes Lost per customer  – Courtesy Germany Trade & InvestAccording to figures from the Council of European Energy Regulators, Germany has one of the most secure grids in Europe. In 2012, Germany lost an average of 15.91 minutes per customer. As you can see in the chart to the left, it’s closest Western European competitors lost more than a half an hour. One has to look to the Iberian peninsula to find performance records as bad as the United States.

German statistics taken from SAIDI value 2006-2012 on the Bundesnetzagentur site

German statistics taken from SAIDI value 2006-2012 on the Bundesnetzagentur site – Roy L Hales


2012 was not a record year for Germany, but as you see in the chart above, the national average has been under 16 minutes since 2009.

Viola Baumann, a spokesperson for the nation’s largest utility (RWE), said, “In 2012, we were able to continue to provide a largely uninterrupted supply of electricity. Non-availability for the electricity distribution grid amounted to an average of 17.1 minutes for each customer in Germany (2011: 18.1 minutes) in comparison to 21.7 minutes in 2006 which means an improvement but not more disruptions.”

The most recent figures from the United States are for 2008.  The 244 minute per customer loss that year puts America near the bottom in the chart above.

Using 2006 data, Joseph H. Eto and Kristina Hamachi LaCommare found US SAIDI values varied from a “low of 118 minutes in the Mountain region to a high of 498 minutes in East North Central.”

Canadian statistics taken from 2013 Sustainable Electricity Annual Report, courtesy Canadian Electricity Association

Canadian statistics taken from 2013 Sustainable Electricity Annual Report, courtesy Canadian Electricity Association – Roy L Hales

Canadian statistics are no better. Five years were reported in the 2013 Sustainable Electricity Annual Report. They are measured in hours and, even subtracting significant events, are always significantly higher than 4 hours.

These North American figures look pathetic compared to Germany’s worst year: a national average of 26.89 minutes lost in 2008.

Savia Research attributes the superior reliability metrics in Western Europe to underground cables, yet this does not explain why the UK and France lost roughly six times as many minutes as Germany in 2012.

These statistics are somewhat reminiscent of the ACEEE’s recent efficiency scorecard. Germany led the World in overall energy efficiency,  France was #4, the UK #6, Canada #9 and the US #13 out of the 16 nations surveyed. To sum this up using points:

  • Germany scored 65
  • France scored 61
  • UK scored 57
  • Canada scored 50
  • US scored 42

That does not mean Germany does not have problems.

Work on an overhead power line | © Amprion GmbH - Courtesy Germany Trade & Invest

Work on an overhead power line | © Amprion GmbH – Courtesy Germany Trade & Invest

Bloomberg wrote, “German wholesale next-year electricity prices have plunged 60 percent since 2008 as green power, which has priority access to the grid, cut into the running hours of gas, coal and nuclear plants.”

When I queried RWE about this, Ms Baumann replied that the introduction of green energy did place a high technical burden on the stability of the supply system, but “in 2012, we were able to continue to provide a largely uninterrupted supply of electricity.”

“RWE reported its first annual loss since 1949 due to fundamental changes in the European energy markets,” Ms Baumann said. “The expansion of renewable energies is calling into question the feasibility of the previous well established energy-only market where power stations receive payment exclusively for the electricity supplied. This is also a challenge for the whole economy as security of supply decrease when a critical number of power plants are out of the money and therefore mothballed in the next years. Therefore we suggest establishing an additional decentralized capacity market open to all technologies of power production in order to incentivize provision of permanently available capacities.”

Dispatch center | © Amprion GmbH - Courtesy Germany Trade & Invest

Another of Bloomberg’s criticisms was that twenty utilities, including giants like EON and RWE, are paid extra fees that can amount to as much as 400 times the wholesale price to compensate for the intermittent nature of renewable technology.

In response, Ms Baumann said, “At first, one has to distinguish between payments for MWh and capacities. Whereas the prices on wholesale markets refer to energy produced (MWh) the market for primary control expresses the price for capacities (MW) provided to stabilize the grid – so this is not really comparable. Certainly there are price peaks on these markets and this can be due to extreme weather events or the volatility of renewable energy. But generally, average prices on this market have been decreased in the last years. Moreover this markets don’t have significant impacts on our cash influxes as the capacity volume of this market in Germany is about 300- 500 MW.”

‘Energy Mountain’ Georgswerder | © mediaserver.hamburg.de/photoacademy GmbH - Courtesy Germany Trade & Invest

‘Energy Mountain’ Georgswerder | © mediaserver.hamburg.de/photoacademy GmbH – Courtesy Germany Trade & Invest

Ms Baumann added that RWE’s goal is “to become the most trusted and high-performing partner for this sustainable transformation of the European energy system.”

Germany’s renewable sector is growing. The wind, photovoltaic, and biomass sectors generated over 71 terawatt-hours of electricity in the first six months of 2014. That is almost a 25% increase over last year and comes at a time when  the nation’s conventional energy sources are being asked to produce less.

It may be more than a co-incidental that the nations which operate the World’s most reliable grids are now also among the greenest. However this is more likely rooted in ethics than the source of their energy.

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About the Author

is the President of Cortes Community Radio , CKTZ 89.5 FM, where he has hosted a half hour program since 2014, and editor of the the ECOreport, a website dedicated to exploring how our lifestyle choices and technologies affect the West Coast of North America. He writes for both writes for both Clean Technica and PlanetSave on Important Media. He is a research junkie who has written over 1,600 since he was first published in 1982. Roy lives on Cortes Island, BC, Canada.

  • I love this and the other post on Germany’s energy program. Makes me happy.

    The thing about Bloomberg, both Michael and the media company, they are not all that much into renewables. Bloomberg, the billionaire environmentalist, has put his chips on natural gas via centralized generation to fight climate change. The author is right, renewables seem to be nipping at the heals at coal, gas and nuke enough to freak them out. If renewables were just a marketing gimmick they’d probably lend more support for promotion. Or for greenwashing. Wall Street Journal and New York times almost never talk about renewables, except for problems and in a context of renewables being an insignificant environmentalist dream. It’s pretty bad. These three media outlets still matter.

    One of the main problems with renewables is there isn’t much to trade. Bloomberg made his billions on information relay for Wall Street traders. That would be the Bloomberg Boxes. Wall Street, London, Zurich and other places densely packed with trading houses need stuff to trade. Nothing makes more money for traders than commodities that are burned almost immediately after being produced. Oil is one example. Coal another. Gas is another. Wind as a feedstock is free. Sunlight is free as well. It’s hard to hedge wind and solar with wind and solar derivatives. There’s about 10 times more value in oil derivatives than the real stuff. With LNG and CNG trading, the same thing would apply. Therefore, Bloombergs interest in natural gas. Not so much in renewables.

  • Vensonata

    Germany is at 31% renewables for the first half 2014. So about a third year round perhaps. This was done with early expensive, clumsy technology and learning curves. The next number to watch for is not going to be 50%, but 85% of total. At that point the last 15% is difficult. Well, not difficult, expensive. That is the formula used for off grid communities…it is the law of diminishing returns. It will be interesting to see what we come up with, but it is probably(I’m an optimist) 10years away.

  • JamesWimberley

    A blog at the AWEA (link) cites data from ERCOT, the independent grid opertor (socialised by G.W Bush!): on the grid integration costs of wind:
    “On a per MWh of energy produced basis, wind’s reserve cost is still about half as large as conventional power plants’ reserve costs.”
    The reason is largely that wind’s high short-term predictability (an hour or a day ahead) and mechanical reliability make it unnecessary to maintain a costly spinning reserve against sudden outages. Idled reserve capacity is still needed, but is much cheaper,

    • Dar2162

      Some of the statistical analysis that’s been done to predict the variability of wind and solar in the short-term is really impressive. I imagine these predictions being paired with large scale energy storage will be the future of grids. Peak production of wind/solar will need to be over-sized, but optimized so that they are capable of covering the entirety of demand.

    • eveee

      Thanks for the link.

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