A comparison of both the Capital Cost and Energy Production Effectiveness of the Renewable Energy in Germany.
Germany has expended far more on its Energiewende for Renewable Energy installations than any other European Nation.
Renewable Energy technologies
Onshore Wind power is the most effective form of Renewable Energy in capital cost terms. It is only costs ~9 times as much as conventional gas-fired power generation. On average across Europe Capacity / effectiveness is ~21%.
Offshore Wind power is about ~17 times more expensive to install but its increased capacity factors mean that it should be significantly more productive than Onshore installations. Nonetheless as well as the significant additional capital costs, Offshore Wind power appears to have major problems with costlier long term maintenance and questionable reliability.
Large scale photovoltaic Solar power is proven to be the least economic Renewable Energy source costing about 34 times more in terms of capital costs, but it usually has reasonable maintenance costs.
On average, in Europe Solar PV provides ~11% of its nameplate capacity, and even less in Germany. As well as the impact of cloudy weather Photovoltaic units are susceptible to performance degradation from Ice or snow or obscuration with accumulating dust in drier climates. Solar power might operate reasonably well at mid latitudes but it is inevitably a poor investment in Northern Europe where yields are low because of their latitude, the adverse weather, the seasons and the daily rotation of the earth.
The cost of the technical Photovoltaic elements of the systems are reducing, but these high-tech elements are becoming an ever smaller part of the final installation. The costs of the support infrastructure and linkages to the grid are irreducible. It is also clear that the service life of solar cells is limited, degrading over time. System degradation of the DC to AC inverters is particularly significant, they are an expensive element in any solar system with a limited operational life.
The effectiveness of renewable energy installations are compared to the cost and output capacity of conventional Gas Fired Electricity generation.
- capacity factor: installed nameplate capacity compared to the actual electrical energy output achieved as published by European Renewable Energy industry statistics
- capital cost: comparison with the cost of equivalent electrical output produced by Gas-Fired electrical generation as provided by US Government Energy Information Association 2013 report table 1.
The diagram below collates the cost and capacity factors of European Renewable Energy power sources, Onshore and Off-shore Wind Farms and Large scale Photovoltaic Solar generation.
At 37.9% of the total European commitment and at a capital cost of ~€200 billion Germany is the leader of Renewable Energy promotion and installation in Europe. But comparatively its investment in Renewables has been both the most expensive and also the least efficient overall. This is primarily because of its excessive commitment, more than 50% of its installed Renewables, to Solar Photovoltaic power.
Germany has made these investments in the expectation that that its “Energiewende, Energy Transition” policy would make the country a world leader in advances in Renewables. This optimistic approach is not being justified.
Onshore wind power in Germany accounts for ~35% of its massive Renewable investment but about half of its Renewable electricity output. German wind power operates at a relatively low level of capacity at ~18% or even less.
Unsurprisingly Germany has almost the highest installation of Renewables / head of the European population.
Large scale photovoltaics have cost some ~64% of Germany’s Renewable investment.
But because of Germany northern latitude and its often cloudy skies, photovoltaics operate with a capacity factor a capacity factor of only ~9%. As a result overall Germany’s renewables operate at an overall capacity factor of less than 14%.
It seems incredible that Germany, a Nation with such great engineering and pragmatic prowess, could have become so convinced about Renewable Energy, especially the use of Solar Energy, to make such a grossly unwise investments.
In addition Germany, by policy, is withdrawing from Nuclear electricity generation after the Fukushima tsunami. As a result Germany is now installing coal fired generating plant as rapidly as possible to maintain base load power. These new plants burn either lignite, (the most polluting type of coal and CO2 emissive fuel), or ordinary coal. These plants have no facility for Carbon Capture and Storage, probably because German engineers have realised that CCS in operation is a costly engineering fallacy.
In spite of the fact that Renewable Energy output has grown about fourfold, there has actually been an overall increase of CO2 emissions from Germany since the year 2010. This is a result or rapid deployment of additional coal fired power station mainly using the most carbon intensive and toxic polluting energy source, brown coal.
Germany has invested very little, less than 1%, in Offshore Wind Power development and so far its experience has been poor, emphasising the technical difficulties of ever making large scale Offshore power fully operational.
Even if large scale Offshore wind power in the North sea were eventually successful there is also a major question about the lack of suitable high capacity transmission lines across Germany from the North to its Southern industrial heartlands.
In all the capital costs expended by 2013 in Europe amounted to some €1/2 trillion for ~170 Gigawatts of “nominal” installed Renewable Energy generation. Germany has committed to about half of the expenditure. But because of the reduced capacity factor, those installations provide ~30 Gigawatts of real output electrical power across Europe. That output amounts to only about 2.9% of the total European generating capacity of 1024Gigawatts.
Intermittency and Non-dipatchability in Germany
In addition Renewable Energy, Wind and Solar power, electrical output is intermittent and non dispatchable. Their output cannot respond to electricity demand as and when needed. Energy is contributed to the grid in a haphazard manner dependent on the weather, the time of day and the seasons. A thorough and very detailed examination of the policy errors and vast expense to the UK in particular can be see at:
The major problem with Wind and Solar Energy sources is that their electrical output is intermittent and non-dispatchable. Renewable Energy electricity output is unable respond to electricity demand as and when needed. Power is contributed to the grid in a haphazard manner dependent on the time of day, the season and the weather.
The variability of Renewable Energy combined with the “Renewables Obligation”, which mandates that the electricity grid must take high cost energy from Renewable sources preferentially, if available.
Such legislation can easily result in the demand on conventional generation in for example Germany varying widely by about 25 Gigawatts over short periods. In addition it has the effect of making conventional uneconomic so that base load capacity is having to be shut down and lost from the grid.
This variable use of conventional power sources is inherently inefficient and results in wasteful use of conventional fuels and thus an unnecessary excess of CO2 emissions as back-up power must be available full time.
These extra inefficient emissions can easily exceed any of the CO2 savings made by the use Renewable Energy sources.
The following charts from “agora-energiewende” the show the magnitude of the problem of intermittency and non-dispatchability associated with Renewables in Germany and the UK.
Typical 10 day charts for summer and winter in Germany:
The electricity output from wind power can equally be very variable. Electricity generation from wind turbines is fickle, as in the week in July 2014, clearly shown above, where Wind-Power input across Germany was close to zero for several days. Similarly an established high pressure system, with little wind over the whole of Northern Europe is a common occurrence in winter months, when electricity demand is at its highest.
In Germany, its massive commitment to solar energy can briefly provide up to ~20% of country wide demand for a few hours either side of noon on some fine summer days as can be seen in the graph above. But at the time of maximum power demand on winter evenings Solar energy grid input is nil of necessity. But Solar energy has absorbed ~65% of total German Renewable investment.
In the Summer example in July 2014 Wind Power input varied from 15.5 GW to 0.18 GW and the Solar contribution varied from nil to some 15 GW.
Germany has similar insolation and cloudiness characteristics as Alaska and the UK being even further North has an even worse solar energy performance. Solar power inevitably varies according to the time of day, the state of the weather and also of course radically with the seasons. Solar power works most effectively in latitudes nearer the equator and it certainly cannot be seriously effective and useful full time in Northern Europe.
Conversely, on some occasions Renewable Energy output may be in excess of demand and this has to dumped expensively and unproductively. This is especially so, as there is still no viable and cost effective solution to electrical energy storage on an industrial scale.
The following graphic shows the comparatively poor performance of all Renewable Energy in Germany as opposed to other major committed nations in Europe.