Germany sets record for peak energy use – 50 percent comes from solar (Update)

Jun 20, 2014 by Bob Yirka report
Solarkraftwerk Waldpolenz, the first Solar 40-MW CdTe PV Array installed by JUWI Group in Brandis, Germany. Credit: JUWI Group

The Fraunhofer ISE research institute has announced that Germany set a record high for solar use on June 9—on that day the country's solar power output rose to 23.1 GW—50.6 percent of all electricity demand. The record occurred over a holiday, which meant less demand, but it still marks a major step forward for the world's solar power leader.

Despite not having a generally sunny climate, Germany has been pushing solar —but not from the huge solar farms seen in other countries. In Germany, the focus has been on rooftop solar collectors mounted on homes, businesses and buildings of any other kind. Currently, over 90 percent of mounted solar panels in the country are on rooftops. The country broke two other records around the same time, producing 24.24 GW of solar generated power between 1 and 2pm on June 6, and over that entire week, the country produced 1.26 TWh of electricity from solar power. In stark contrast, recent reports indicate that makes up just 0.2 percent of total energy production in the U.S.

The popularity of solar panels on rooftops has been bolstered by generous solar subsidies from the government along with a successful ad campaign. The movement is part of a plan by the German government to reduce greenhouse emissions due to electricity being produced in coal fired power plants and a simultaneous phasing out of (all such plants are scheduled for closure by 2022). That leaves solar, wind and biomass—the country has been eagerly pursuing all of them, though clearly solar has become the national leader.

The move to solar has not been without its problems, of course. The government plans to lower or remove subsidies as soon as possible and the demand for batteries to store all that home-grown electricity is outstripping supply, causing a rise in prices. Also, it's not clear what sort of role utilities will play going forward—currently, many homeowners are reporting surplus energy production on sunny days which they sell to electric companies, which now find themselves having to store it for use during cloudy stretches.

There's another problem too, though it's not as obvious—the German government noted recently that almost seven million households in the country are living in energy poverty—defined as having to spend more than 10 percent of income on energy bills. The national energy program, Energiewende, has resulted in some transfer of wealth, economists note—even with subsidies, it's generally the wealthy (and sometimes the middleclass) who can afford to put on top of their house—the poor continue to live off the grid and pay taxes that provide the funds for the subsidies. There's also some evidence that the country's energy program is pushing energy costs higher overall, resulting in more electricity being produced by cheaper fossil fuels.

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

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User comments : 28

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supamark23
4.3 / 5 (12) Jun 20, 2014
That... is pretty dang cool.
Shootist
2.2 / 5 (13) Jun 20, 2014
Half a day half the power. Part time power at its finest.
jeffjwatts
4.2 / 5 (9) Jun 20, 2014
"they sell to electric companies, which now find themselves having to store it for use during cloudy stretches."

They don't store up significant amounts of electricity! There's no widespread, cost effective method for storing electricity.

However, I'd like to commend the author of the article for mentioning the economics. Germans currently pay around 3 times the price for electricity that Americans do, which is leading to the energy poverty the article mentions.
matt_roadhouse
3 / 5 (6) Jun 20, 2014
"they sell to electric companies, which now find themselves having to store it for use during cloudy stretches."

snip


Storage has always been a problem, and what makes 'Earth Day' an utter sham (all they do is discharge the excess in a field somewhere, as they cannot risk having a brownout from judging the wrong amount to generate)

Although Vanadium storage tanks in JP have shown to be able to store enough to run a large manufacturing plant for half a day without help from the grid.

Economics ... is electricity production (and it's base required products) heavily subsidized ? How would it all compare if companies producing nextgen photocells were on an equal playing field ?
IamVal
4 / 5 (8) Jun 20, 2014
there are plenty of good storage techniques..
just no research into them for decades due to them not being necessary for combustion systems.
hydro mass displacement.
flywheels
superconducting infrastructure wires.
water splitting
hell, even ion batteries..

it's a heavy investment but it's imperative.

subsidize these and watch the problem disappear just as quickly.
TechnoCreed
3.3 / 5 (3) Jun 20, 2014
@matt_roadhouse
Storage has always been a problem, and what makes 'Earth Day' an utter sham (all they do is discharge the excess in a field somewhere, as they cannot risk having a brownout from judging the wrong amount to generate)
There is no need to store energy in accumulators, power dams or pumped storage reservoirs are fantastic energy storage facilities.http://www.amusin...ion.html
will_davis_83
3.8 / 5 (4) Jun 20, 2014
Fraunhofer announced a new PEAK of 50.6% of demand - this was just one moment and not a daily rate! TreeHugger has a more accurate article.
antialias_physorg
4.4 / 5 (7) Jun 20, 2014
Also, it's not clear what sort of role utilities will play going forward—currently, many homeowners are reporting surplus energy production on sunny days which they sell to electric companies, which now find themselves having to store it for use during cloudy stretches.

There's your role right there: They will need to shift from production to storage. That's becoming a more and more viable business model.
Eikka
4 / 5 (4) Jun 20, 2014
They don't store up significant amounts of electricity! There's no widespread, cost effective method for storing electricity.


Power to methane. Germany has a gas grid that already holds on the order of 200 Terawatt (!) hours worth of natural gas, and the Fraunhofer institute is running prototypes that convert CO2 and water into methane. The gas grid can also accept about a third of hydrogen in the mix without changes in infrastructure.

The yearly electricity consumption in Germany is on the order of 500 TWh and the demand for other power, mainly in the form of heating and transport fuels is about 4-5 times that, so they technically already have storage capacity for about 6-7% of total energy demand, which sounds little but is actually huge.

Meanwhile battery storage, any type of battery electric storage, and any form of gravity/mass storage system doesn't even show up in the parts per million because these systems carry so little energy in comparison to hydrocarbons.

Eikka
5 / 5 (4) Jun 20, 2014
In reality, trying to store energy in electrochemical batteries, needs about 30-50 times more material than storing the same energy in hydrocarbons, which is why we will simply run out of stuff to build adequate energy storage if we tried to do it with lithium batteries and vanadium flow batteries or similiar.

Molten salt batteries may be scalable to some extent because the materials are vastly more abundant than lithium or vanadium, but the effort to do so would still be at least a magnitude greater than making synthetic hydrocarbons.

This is one of the reasons why I believe things like electric cars and battery electric energy storage will never really take off, and will inevitably be consigned to the fate of the steam car as an intermediate side-step on the way to something more practical and functional - like solid oxide fuel cells.
Eikka
4.8 / 5 (4) Jun 20, 2014
The simple fact is that in order to build a larger "energy tank" for methane, one needs material in proportion to the surface area of the tank, which scales in the square of the diameter of the tank. To build a larger electric battery, one needs more material in the volume or cube of the diameter of the battery, which means scaling the system up twice makes the methane tank 50% cheaper.

Scaling the system three times makes the methane tank 66% cheaper, four times makes it 75% cheaper... and so forth. Very quickly, it simply makes no sense to build batteries even if you lost half the energy in conversion because the methane tank is so much cheaper to build and doesn't really wear out practically ever. You can seal up an old disused mine with plastic and pump it full of gas, and that's a year's supply of energy for a city for a pittance.

It doesn't even need to be pressurized. You can install gas bladders and pump in air around them to displace the volume and exhaust the methane.
IamVal
3.3 / 5 (3) Jun 20, 2014
to add the conspiracy note to that post, being able to store energy effeciently isn't conducive to the global energy complex.. renewables and storage together are the vorpal sword that particular jabberwoky has nightmares about.
howhot2
3.7 / 5 (9) Jun 20, 2014
AWESOME!!! When will the USA do it?
Uncle Ira
3.3 / 5 (12) Jun 20, 2014
AWESOME!!! When will the USA do it?


Well it sure sounds like a big deal to me. It's too bad the USA is seeming to get left in the dust on this one. But the big oil Skippys they don't play nice when it comes to politicking and telling peoples whats good for them. At least someone is trying to work the bugs out of the systems and get it going.
Hueight
1 / 5 (2) Jun 20, 2014
Power to methane? Convert solar energy into a greenhouse gas? Am I reading that right?
Eikka
5 / 5 (5) Jun 21, 2014
Power to methane? Convert solar energy into a greenhouse gas? Am I reading that right?


It's only a greenhouse gas if you let it escape. Some percentage loss is to be expected, but then again why stop at methane? Once you get hydrogen and carbon monoxide which are the precursors to methane, you can synthesize just about any hydrocarbon including gasoline, plastics and heating oil. One could continue the chain up to butane, propane perhaps, to make it easier to liquefy and much more convenient to handle and transport.

That said, hydroelectric energy storage also emits methane because the varying water level traps plant matter under water, which then rot.
russell_russell
5 / 5 (1) Jun 21, 2014
What about what AP mentioned earlier?
See:
http://eduard-hei...dex.html
For storage. Of energy.
Eikka
5 / 5 (2) Jun 21, 2014
What about what AP mentioned earlier?
See:
http://eduard-hei...dex.html
For storage. Of energy.


That system requires so much water that there's only three lakes large enough in Europe that could supply enough without harming the local environment with large water level fluctuations - on top of being fantastically implausible to build and with unknown seismic effects from raising a 500 meter tall mountain up and down on a daily basis.

And combined they could contain less than 10 TWh of energy.
russell_russell
3 / 5 (2) Jun 21, 2014
You certainly have a negative way of looking at this.
The specs are not written in concrete.
Decentralize the concept - instead of supplying countries, supply a house, a village, a town, a city, a suburb, a district, a region, a state, with smaller versions.

Surplus energy is fed to the grid and to the bigger versions on the grid.
Socratic
3 / 5 (2) Jun 21, 2014
Instead of discharging extra energy, why not use it on a pump system that pumps water to a high altitude? Then, when the energy is needed, drain the water through a fly wheel mill-like apparatus for use as needed?
antialias_physorg
4.2 / 5 (5) Jun 21, 2014
Hydro storage is a posibility, but we need to think in unconventional designs to make it work. The lakes which can do hydrostorage are already on th e grid, So there's no further natural lakes that can be put to that use.

- The hydro-mountain is one idea.
- Another woud be to close off a norwegian fjord and use that (though Norway has currently nixed the idea).
- Building ocean-bottom storage would be worth trying out (put inflateable concrete bunker structures on the bottom of the north sea or baltic sea which are evacuated with excess energy)
- There's a pilot project underway that uses an old mine for hydrostorage.
- Belgium is planning an artificial island off shore that will be used for hydrostorage. Many such islands could be built.

But in the end there will have to be a mix. Hydro storage and probably hydrogen storage. (Possibly augmented by salt ion battery storage as that is pretty cheap) with a national biogas reserve for backup generators.
Eikka
5 / 5 (2) Jun 22, 2014
The specs are not written in concrete.
Decentralize the concept - instead of supplying countries, supply a house, a village, a town, a city, a suburb, a district, a region, a state, with smaller versions.


The whole point of the hydrostatic mountain is economies of scale.

Lifting up a ton of mass by one meter stores only 10 kJ of energy, which is less energy than what is contained in your cellphone's battery. It's perfectly obvious that a system based on lifting up water or rock has to be ridiculously large to be of any importance, and in building one it would be ridiculously expensive to build millions and millions of smaller ones.

- Another woud be to close off a norwegian fjord and use that (though Norway has currently nixed the idea).


All the bigger fjords in Norway sum up to about 85 TWh of usable energy storage, which is again dwarfed by the natural gas grid that already exists in Germany. It would make little sense to ruin their environment for it.

Eikka
5 / 5 (2) Jun 22, 2014
For example, suppose you have a 10 meter deep well on your property, and can build a 10 meter tall tower on top. That's 20 meters of drop. Hoisting a 1 ton mass up and down would store the equivalent energy of your laptop's battery. (54.5 Wh)

Storing a kilowatt-hour, you'd need to increase the mass to 18 tons. Or 440 tons if you intend to power your home from it for a day. Problem is, you probably couldn't fit either inside your well unless you made the weight out of some heavy metal, but then it would be expensive and tie up useful resources.

The system is clearly not scalable down to anything but "huge".

peter_trypsteen
not rated yet Jun 22, 2014
Power to methane? Convert solar energy into a greenhouse gas? Am I reading that right?


It's only a greenhouse gas if you let it escape. Some percentage loss is to be expected, but then again why stop at methane? Once you get hydrogen and carbon monoxide which are the precursors to methane, you can synthesize just about any hydrocarbon including gasoline, plastics and heating oil. One could continue the chain up to butane, propane perhaps, to make it easier to liquefy and much more convenient to handle and transport.

That said, hydroelectric energy storage also emits methane because the varying water level traps plant matter under water, which then rot.

Like power to hydrocarbons idea. +1
Sounds scalable and cheap enough for grid storage.

Converting CO2 to methane is also known as power to gas.
Hueight
not rated yet Jun 22, 2014
A laptop battery can hoist a ton twenty meters?
Eikka
not rated yet Jun 23, 2014
A laptop battery can hoist a ton twenty meters?


Yes. Given enough mechanical advantage for the motor, and time.
herwig_delvaux
not rated yet Jun 25, 2014
A laptop battery can hoist a ton twenty meters?


Yes. Given enough mechanical advantage for the motor, and time.


Presume, something avarage, electric motor efficiency 0.8 , additional friction losses 0,02 , so system efficiency 0.78. That makes 15,6 meters hoist ... ;-)
howhot2
not rated yet Jun 26, 2014
After reading the article, I just couldn't help but think, "This is something Texas should be doing!" They would make a fortune! But then I'm reminded that they're an R state. Too bad. The weenies there won't even get medicaid when they need it.