'Home-made' electricity creating buzz in Germany

May 27, 2014 by Mathilde Richter
This file photo shows a roof-top solar power project in Berlin, Lichtenberg's 'Yellow Quarter' district, pictured on March 19, 2014

Klaus Meier lists three reasons for generating his own electricity in his family hotel in Germany's southern city of Freiburg—"cost savings, energy efficiency, climate protection".

Like a growing number of German small businesses, home-owners, schools, hospitals and industrial plants, Meier has opted for energy self-sufficiency.

Of the about 600 terawatt hours Germany consumes each year, 50 TWh are self-produced—about eight percent of the total—in a trend that has seen solar panels installed on home roofs and gas plants set up in factories.

In industry, the share is around 20 percent, according to business and energy consumers groups. Their main goal: cost savings.

Home-made power in Germany, which has among Europe's highest electricity bills, is not taxed unlike conventional electricity where one third of the customer's bill goes into the public coffers.

And neither are the do-it-yourselfers subject to the duties used to subsidise the country's wider "energy transition" away from fossil fuels and nuclear power and toward clean energy.

Ten years ago Meier fitted his four-star hotel, the 45-room Park Hotel Post, set in a 19th century building, with a gas-fuelled power-and-heat cogeneration unit.

It cost him nearly 50,000 euros ($68,000), but Meier said "the investment paid for itself even faster than I had expected".

Big business

It's a trend adopted long ago by German big business, who value both the self-sufficiency and the lower cost.

A solar thermal energy system is seen on the roof of a residential complex in Ilmenau, central Germany, on February 24, 2014

"If the power we produce ourselves in Ludwigshafen was taxed, it would cost half a million euros," said Kurt Bock, head of chemical giant BASF, which runs three on its site in southwestern Germany.

The automaker Daimler has invested over 40 million euros in a new gas turbine for its plant in Sindelfingen, its largest production site. The investment will allow it to increase its power output there by 44 percent.

"This reduces our dependence on external suppliers and allows us to increase security of supply and predictability of our costs," plant manager Willi Reiss said last year.

According to a survey of some 2,400 companies conducted last year by the German Chamber of Commerce, nearly half have either made, initiated or are planning measures to provide themselves with electricity.

Besides the financial argument, security of supply is an oft-cited reason.

Renewables such as wind and solar represent an ever increasing share of German electricity production, but the output is fickle, depending on weather conditions.

Although the lights haven't gone out yet in Germany despite the most dire warnings, the grid is becoming less stable.

Solar cells are seen along windmills at a farm on the Pellworm island in northern Germany, on August 9, 2013

'Decentralisation'

The "self-producers" are helping decentralise power production—a key aspect of Germany's ambitious energy transition, which was accelerated with a decision to shutter nuclear plants after Japan's 2011 Fukushima disaster.

On a much smaller scale, many families have placed on their roofs, especially in the country's more sun-blessed south.

The share of self-generated electricity in households more than doubled between 2011 and 2012, although it still makes up for only half a percent of total domestic consumption.

For the traditional power companies, they represent new competition but also offer them an opportunity "to become a service provider" by passing on advice and technical solutions, said Thomas Kusterer, chief financial officer of Germany's third biggest energy company, EnBW.

Henning Clausen, head of the local bio gas facility, stands near the container for shredded corn at his plant on the Pellworm island in northern Germany, on August 8, 2013

Not everyone likes the trend of -users going off the grid.

"I understand those who do it, as long as the laws are as they are," said Hildegard Mueller of BDEW, the German Association of Energy and Water Industries, which represents producers' interests and calls for fewer incentives for self-production.

But she said that self-producers "are detached from the community, leaving it to others to bear the costs of the ".

Explore further: Solar energy prospects are bright for Scotland, experts say

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User comments : 20

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FMA
5 / 5 (8) May 27, 2014
Imagine if every family or person is energy independent, who will suffer most ?
Tangent2
4.1 / 5 (13) May 27, 2014
Imagine if every family or person is energy independent, who will suffer most ?


My guess would be people with greed in their hearts like this:

"I understand those who do it, as long as the laws are as they are," said Hildegard Mueller of BDEW, the German Association of Energy and Water Industries, which represents producers' interests and calls for fewer incentives for self-production.

Calls for fewer incentives for self-production? Way to try and keep the population suckling at the teet of the government overlords. Time to wake up and take responsibility for your life, your actions, and your continued survival.
Vietvet
4.3 / 5 (12) May 27, 2014
Calls for fewer incentives are coming from the power industry, not the government.
Tangent2
2.6 / 5 (9) May 27, 2014
Calls for fewer incentives are coming from the power industry, not the government.


All owned by the same people. Do you really believe that there is a difference still today?
Deadbolt
4.1 / 5 (9) May 27, 2014
Calls for fewer incentives are coming from the power industry, not the government.


Industry only exists to begin with because of the government protecting its property rights over ridiculously large areas. Plus, when industries have such clout and are able to lobby so much, they effectively influence policy on a direct level through political connections, more than the masses of voters do by voting for a party conglomerate of interests to get a certain number of seats.

In a democracy, we are all supposed to be the government, just through representatives. Unfortunately, money makes a better way to influence power than the actual vote. Industry may not directly set policy themselves, but they get to do it by proxy by using their monetary power to influence politicians and create schools of philosophy which certain political parties follow.
ryggesogn2
1.9 / 5 (15) May 27, 2014
An example of what happens when 'sin' taxes are used to punish.
The state becomes dependent upon such taxes and when people stop smoking or use less fuel or ...the state won't cut spending and must raise taxes elsewhere.
eric_in_chicago
4.4 / 5 (16) May 27, 2014
ryggesogn2, you are an example of a bullshitting corporate sycophant.
Vietvet
4.4 / 5 (14) May 27, 2014
@eric in chicago

I'd give you ten stars if I could.
ryggesogn2
1.9 / 5 (14) May 27, 2014
"Home-made power in Germany, which has among Europe's highest electricity bills, is not taxed unlike conventional electricity where one third of the customer's bill goes into the public coffers."

What does the govt do with that tax and what will it do if home made power expands?

CA and many other states are now working up plans for drivers to pay by the mile.
User fees should be paid by those who use the roads and if those fees are directly applied to the roads.
But fuel taxes, tire taxes, etc collected by govts are not obligated to be used for roads.

In Europe, fuel and autos are taxed well above user fees to discourage their use. What happens to that revenue and what happens if that revenue falls when consumers follow the orders of the state and stop using fuel, cigarettes, alcohol, ....?
ryggesogn2
1.9 / 5 (14) May 27, 2014
"Americans are than they did just a few years back. While many people believe this is a good thing, it does present a problem: Most road construction is paid for with fuel taxes. Less gas tax revenue means less money for roads.

One reason gas purchases are down is that more people are driving more efficient cars, such as hybrid and electric vehicles. Now states are looking for solutions, including charging hybrids extra fees or imposing fees based on miles driven."
http://www.npr.or...nues-ebb

"one of the problems of ''sin'' taxes: Government gets hooked on them and finds itself in the position of encouraging unhealthy, even fatal, conduct among its people."
http://articles.o...garettes
mooster75
4.6 / 5 (11) May 27, 2014
Calls for fewer incentives are coming from the power industry, not the government.


Industry only exists to begin with because of the government protecting its property rights over ridiculously large areas. Plus, when industries have such clout and are able to lobby so much, they effectively influence policy on a direct level through political connections, more than the masses of voters do by voting for a party conglomerate of interests to get a certain number of seats.

In a democracy, we are all supposed to be the government, just through representatives. Unfortunately, money makes a better way to influence power than the actual vote. Industry may not directly set policy themselves, but they get to do it by proxy by using their ...

That's a very stirring speech, but it seems kind of misplaced under an article about a government going AGAINST the wishes of industry.
_ilbud
4.1 / 5 (7) May 28, 2014
Meanwhile in Germany dependence on fossil fuels is down whereas in the US a bunch of imbeciles whine about the gubmint and the country slides back into the 1800s as the roads and bridges collapse and civil society dies on it's feet.
ryggesogn2
2.1 / 5 (7) May 28, 2014
"The Energiewende has, in effect, upset the economics of building new conventional power plants, especially those fired by gas, which is cleaner but more expensive than coal. So existing coal plants are doing more duty. Last year electricity production from brown coal (lignite), the least efficient and dirtiest sort, reached its highest level since 1990. Gas-fired power production, by contrast, has been declining (see chart). In effect, the Energiewende has so far increased, not decreased, emissions of greenhouse gases."
http://www.econom...y-costly
DistortedSignature
3.3 / 5 (6) May 28, 2014
Why isn't anyone talking about the stability of the power grid as a whole? What happens when it's a cloudy day with little to no wind? Should you just expect to not have electricity? Or would you expect the government to literally handle the load?

A sudden flux in the power grid causes power outtages and if there isn't anyway to provide a base load to the system due to the power being supplied by "self-producers" who's to blame? It's like a teenager always bemoaning their parents that they want independence and they can fend for themselves but as soon as reality gives them the short end of the stick (good) parents help them get back on their feet.

Overall this trend is good of course. Renenewable energy is something to strive for and self-producers are part of the solution, but isn't a panacea for societies demand for power.
RichardBlumenthal
1 / 5 (2) May 29, 2014
Relying on wind power in the 17th century meant a trip across the Atlantic could take anywhere from 6 weeks to 4 months (hope they brought enough food and water). Not very reliable.
rockwolf1000
5 / 5 (4) May 29, 2014
Relying on wind power in the 17th century meant a trip across the Atlantic could take anywhere from 6 weeks to 4 months (hope they brought enough food and water). Not very reliable.


Sometimes the wind is blowing, but not in the right direction. A major problem for a sailing ship. No problem for a windmill.
michael_pearse_dolan
1 / 5 (2) May 30, 2014
Relying on wind power in the 17th century meant a trip across the Atlantic could take anywhere from 6 weeks to 4 months (hope they brought enough food and water). Not very reliable.


Sometimes the wind is blowing, but not in the right direction. A major problem for a sailing ship. No problem for a windmill.


Ever hear of tacking
rockwolf1000
5 / 5 (4) May 30, 2014
Relying on wind power in the 17th century meant a trip across the Atlantic could take anywhere from 6 weeks to 4 months (hope they brought enough food and water). Not very reliable.


Sometimes the wind is blowing, but not in the right direction. A major problem for a sailing ship. No problem for a windmill.


Ever hear of tacking


No I haven't. I've never read anything about anything before. Perhaps you could educate me about a very ancient and basic sailing procedure?

Yet the fact remains that sailing in the direction of the wind is far easier than "tacking" your way across the ocean in a zigzag pattern and is much quicker and efficient.

What's your point? Do you have one? Or are you simply trying to demonstrate how clever you think you are?
Caliban
5 / 5 (2) May 31, 2014
In Europe, fuel and[...] to discourage their use. What happens to that revenue and what happens if that revenue falls when consumers follow the orders of the stat{{[or their own best interest?}} and stop using fuel, cigarettes, alcohol, ....?


And here rygsuckn' reveals his most deeply rooted and closely cherished fear: Namely, that people will stop buying polluting, poisonous, and unecessary crap that they don't need to, when a safer, cleaner, more sustainable alternative is available.

And since rygsuckn' is quite obviously heavily vested in the "polluting, poisonous, unecessary" line of products, and also paid by their producers to troll against any alternatives to them, the spotty-bottomed troll rygsuckn' stands to suffer substantial --if not fatal-- financial losses if people stop buying his toxic garbage line of BigCarbon, BigAg, BigRetail, BigBusiness, BigPharma, BigPlutocrat, Offshored, AntiLabor, AntiEnviroment, AntiHumanity, MilitaryFinancialIndustrial Complex Hex.
swordsman
5 / 5 (3) Jun 02, 2014
If most of the roofs were outfitted for solar power, that would result in more money for the population to spend (at the expense of greedy power providers). But the power providers have all the money fight against it, and this includes their subsidiaries, the Congressmen who they control.

With the advent of newer and better batteries and storage capacitors, in conjunction with solar chargers, this opens up new fields of industry and lower loss energy and money.