By Mark Halper
Posting in Energy
Some people think that Germany's walk away from nuclear will lead it down the fossil fuel path. But for a cloudless day last week, the country was churning out solar energy like no nation ever has.
Some people believe that Germany's walk away from nuclear power will lead it down a path to more fossil fuel plants and all the CO2 emissions that come with them.
But for a day or two last week, the country was cranking solar electricity like it or no nation ever has, according to the International Economic Platform for Renewable Energies in Muenster. The group said in a press release last Saturday that photovoltaic operations in Germany were producing at 22 gigawatts for a cloudless stretch beginning at around noon on Friday, May 25.
As the institute pointed out, that was the equivalent of about 20 nuclear power plants.
"There are currently no other countries on earth producing solar plants with a capacity of 20,000 megawatts (20 gigawatts)," director Norbert Allnoch said in the release, translated roughly into English by Google.
Reuters followed that announcement with a story the next day saying the 22 gigawatts furnished nearly 50 percent of Germany's electricity at the time. A version of the Reuters story in the Chicago Tribune suggested that German solar was running at 22 gigawatts per hour from around noon on Friday through Saturday afternoon.
I've asked the Muenster group to clarify their gigawatts from their gigawatt hours and their gigawatts per hour -- a clarification that energy engineers will appreciate. I haven't heard back yet.
But I take it at face value that German solar panels were rocking at a record rate last week.
Germany has long been the world leader in producing solar electricity, in large measure because over a decade ago it implemented "feed in tariffs" (FiTs) that essentially pay people and businesses for generating solar.
Germany has been cutting those tariffs steadily, and at an accelerating pace as plunging prices of solar panels makes them less necessary. The FiTs have encouraged solar uptake and have led to lower prices through manufacturing economies of scale. On top of that, Chinese manufacturers have pushed prices down.
German's Parliament recently sped up FiT cuts in part because the subsidy has led to higher electricity prices, a Bloomberg Businessweek story noted two months ago.
Some rankings still put Germany in the top spot, although according to one report Italy overtook them last year.
The importance of solar is now greater than ever in Germany, following the country's decision to abandon nuclear power after Japan's Fukushima nuclear meltdown in March 2011. Germany has already closed down 8 of its 17 nuclear plants and plans to close the remainder by 2022.
Whether renewables like solar and wind can permanently rise to fill the nuclear gap remains to be seen. A geothermal power industry has also taken root in the country. The world is watching this one.
More German sun on SmartPlanet:
- Nuclear down, CO2 up in Japan, Germany
- Middle East company to rescue German solar maker
- Insurance against sunsets: Munich Re steps in if your solar panel provider goes bust
- Sand-resistant solar panels for the Middle East, from Siemens, Masdar
- O Sole Mio: Italy tops Germany as world solar leader
- Solar manufacturer deathwatch: Solon files for insolvency
- Germany’s solar feed-in frenzy
May 28, 2012
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I understand your request to the Muenster group -- to give energy info (GW-hrs) as well as power info (GW). This relates total electrical energy delivered vs maximum power production (when the sun is shining). However, what info does GW per hr give you -- how fast the sun comes up? Perhaps the Muenster group won't answer you because the Q doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.
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Like with many business activities - extraordinary minimums or maximums aren't significant to economic feasibility. Annual daily avg. output along with avg. costs of those KWHs - are the only numbers of significance and the ones that will make or break the economic feasibility of solar anywhere. Much of Germany spends large parts of the year under cloud laden skys and days where solar panels contribution to the electrical grid is - little or none. The electrical system that has to fill in these periods - is also part of the overall economics and cost of any part time solar generation system. It will be so until a feasible energy storage system is in place that eliminates the need for a back up to solar.
It is amazing if true but I have to admit to a bit of scepticism about the 22GW even in the short term. The 50% would be highly significant even if it was transient. Please make sure to report back to confirm or clarify because there is nothing the anti-renewables brigade like more than some mis-statement of the real power output of such installations.
I can't claim to know much about what it would take for solar power to advance more rapidly in the U.S., but in addition to the usual problem of the cost, there seems to be a certain amount of emotional opposition to solar power- a simple unwillingness to change.
Watching the Fukushima disaster all I could think was: what if instead of nuclear they had build wind turbines offshore./along the coast? All the tsunami would have done is knocked them down. No meltdown risk. A no-brainer.
Florida had a law that promised to rebate about 50% of the cost of a 20Kw PV system install. I jumped through all of the requirement hoops, which were significant, waited over a year to get my rebate. When I received my rebate it was arbitrarily reduced by 48%. The accompanying letter simply stated that the state did not have enough money to comply with the law so they arbitrarily reduced the rebates. I wonder if I can do that with my property taxes?
There's nothing wrong with solar, but as always you have to pay attention to the details. The story says "the 22 gigawatts furnished nearly 50 percent of Germanys electricity at the time". As the story says, it was 50% *at the time* -- a bright sunny day in late spring when the sun is near its highest in the sky. So what does Germany do at night or when it's cloudy? Why, it has to depend on the same old dirty fossil fuel plants it used before. In fact, it must maintain those plants indefinitely even though they are not being used much of the time because the country has no way of storing solar power. The cost of maintaining fossil fuel plants when they're not being used is expensive. And of course when you do use them you have to pay for the fuel. So until Germany or someone else in the world comes up with cheap reusable storage, this is NOT a solution.