Friday, 6 July 2012

Germany: Solar energy "threatening to become the costliest mistake in the history of German energy policy"

German Der Spiegel reports about one of the greatest failures of Angela Merkel´s government - the disastrous and costly solar energy policy:

A new study by Georg Erdmann, professor of energy systems at Berlin's Technical University, reveals just how far Germany's current center-right governing coalition -- made up of Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU and the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) -- has strayed from its own self-imposed goals. Erdmann has calculated the effects that the latest changes to the EEG (Renewable Energy Sources Act, NNoN) will have between now and 2030. He believes that subsidies for renewable energy, including an expansion of the power grid, will saddle energy consumers with costs well over €300 billion ($377 billion). 
Photovoltaics are threatening to become the costliest mistake in the history of German energy policy. Photovoltaic power plant operators and homeowners with solar panels on their rooftops are expected to pocket around €9 billion ($11.3 billion) this year, yet they contribute barely 4 percent of the country's power supply, and only erratically at that.
When night falls, all solar modules go offline in one fell swoop; in the winter, they barely generate power during the daytime. During the summer, meanwhile, they sometimes generate too much power around midday, without enough storage capacity to capture it all. The distribution network is also not laid out in a way that would allow the country's thousands of owners of photovoltaic arrays -- a term used to denote an installation of several panels working together -- to feed into the grid as well as draw power from it.
To keep the lights on, Germany ends up importing nuclear power from France and the Czech Republic. Grid operator Tennet even resorted to tapping an aging fossil fuel-fired power plant in Austria to compensate for shortages in solar power.

Lobbyists for the solar industry like to impress the public with big numbers concerning their products' theoretical capabilities. And it's true that all currently installed photovoltaic arrays, theoretically, add up to more than 25 gigawatts of capacity, easily double the power generated by all nuclear power plants still operating in Germany.
Unfortunately, solar arrays provide peak performance only with maximum light exposure when the sun is at the perfect vertical angle and the modules at the ideal temperature -- in other words, under laboratory conditions. In reality, all of Germany's photovoltaic arrays together generate less power than two nuclear reactors. And they can't even replace those reactors unless they have enough storage capacity available. The figures on peak performance of photovoltaic arrays lead to misunderstandings, the German Physical Society writes in an expert opinion, stating, "Photovoltaics are fundamentally incapable of replacing any other type of power plant." Essentially, every solar array must be backed up with a conventional power plant as a reserve, creating an expensive double infrastructure.

So far the powerful  wind and solar energy lobby has got almost everything it has demanded from Merkel´s weak government, but when the German economic engine begins to stall - and there are already signs of it happening - then whoever is in charge at the time will have to make huge changes in the country´s energy policy. 

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