Editorial

“You can't change the direction of the wind, but you can adjust the sails.”
(Aristotle)

I received an unprecedented number of promises to contribute to this issues’ theme of ”renewable energy”, which turned into an unprecedented number of undelivered material.  I’m sad to say that articles promised for months were cancelled at short notice. Well – I guess I’ve learnt something from this. Nevertheless, I would like to give a little status update, mainly in the area of wind energy.

On the subject of “Polyurethane in Renewable Energy” you’ll find a Covestro press release later in this issue, talking about production of the first polyurethane rotor blade, made in China. China has overtaken the rest of the world in wind farm installation.  When attending meetings and press conferences I regularly hear people saying, with a hint of panic in their voice, that the Chinese have overtaken us – to which I can only shake my head. With a population of 1.4 billion, compared to 750 million in Europe, it was pretty obvious that it wasn’t just demand for energy that would need to increase considerably.  I can only marvel with bewilderment at the status of technical advances too; when a German rotor blade manufacturer informs me, in all seriousness, that a German polyurethane manufacturer had told him that the material would be no good in the application – well then please don’t moan about the fact that everybody still prefers to use epoxies and other materials. And, I really don’t want to talk about the EU permission hurdles and their costs, topped only by the German testing centres and authorities. So I’d better change the subject and give a short update on the current situation.

In 2015 63,000 megawatts of wind power output was installed worldwide. This equates to an increase of around 20 %. The growth markets for VESTAS are China, India, Brazil and Sub Sahara-Africa, whilst Europe and the USA are saturated markets. 50% of Europe’s new wind power installations are in Germany.  Despite this, Germany only lies around position 16 -21 of the EU 28 countries.

Expansion of Germany’s onshore and offshore wind energy plants is firmly scheduled to ensure future electrical power supply. Almost 150.000 people in Germany alone work in the wind industry (some statistics claim the number is even higher – I prefer to remain conservative – in total there are more than 400.000 jobs in renewable energy), and the need for specialised staff will continue to increase.

 

  Wind energy
onshore
 
Wind energy
offshore
 
Photovoltaic

Scenario A
Target level (required 500 TWh/a)
ideal increase over life cycle
– 20 years

– 30 years  

80 GW


4,0 GW/a
2,7 GW/a
32,5 GW


1,6 GW/a
1,1 GW/a
60 GW


3,0 GW/a
2,0 GW/a

 

Scenario B
Target level (required 800 TWh/a)
ideal increase over life cycle
– 20 years

– 30 years  

 

138GW


6,9 GW/a
4,6 GW/a

 

54 GW


2,7 GW/a
1,8 GW/a

 

150 GW


7,5 GW/a
5,0 GW/a

 

Federal government expansion targets
(according to cabinet decision January 2014)
Increase
Achievable level over life cycle
– 20 years

– 30 years 

 



2,5 GW/a

50 GW
75 GW

 



1,5 GW/a

30 GW
45 GW

 



2,5 GW/a

50 GW
75 GW

 

Current increase
-2012
-2013
-Maximum increase until now

 


2,2 GW
ca. 3 GW
3,2 GW (2002)

 


0,2 GW
0,6 GW
1 GW (2014)*

 


7,6 GW
ca. 3,5 GW
7,6 GW (2012)

Anticipated development/upgrade and increase targets for wind energy and photovoltaics in various scenarios. (Source:  Bode/Groscurth, 2014) *expected

 

 

Wind power is currently the cheapest form of renewable energy. Several studies, including one from Greenpeace, show that a move away from nuclear and fossil-fuel energy could be achievable in a significantly shorter time. “The energy revolution is already over“, according to Sigmar Gabriel, German Federal Minister for Economics and Energy. The share of biomass, solar, wind and water power already exceeds 33 percent. However, the 2025 target should be realistically increased from the planned 40-45 percent up to 60 percent.  The plan is to “shape up” the energy market and its expansion tempo (quote: Sigmar Gabriel) by providing better government guidance and direction.  The point of this statement refers to matching up increased wind and photovoltaic installations to an upgraded national grid. Table 1 shows something quite different.

It’s clear to me that there are conflicts of interest, which will almost definitely delay a quick exit from nuclear energy – I really hope they won’t actually prevent it. We will be paying for it - that’s clear – and, at least for me personally, it’s worth paying a few cents more per KWh.  I’ve checked the eco tariff, which I voluntarily subscribed to a few years ago, and – surprise, surprise –I pay 2 cents less today than I was paying 2 years ago. The joke for me is that the renewable energy is 100 percent water power imported from Austria (my home country), whilst I receive my electricity from a local energy supply here in Schleswig-Holstein – which happens to be the windiest state in Germany.

In 2015 over 8 terrawatthours of energy where produced offshore.  This is supposed to correspond with the energy needed for more than 2 million households and is up 225 percent compared to the previous year. The extraordinarily high number of new wind farms in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea last year was an exception and the result of a demand backlog. However the offshore industry also requires a higher development goal than that in the current EEG (renewable energy law) plan. This would be at the expense of onshore installations. Another conflict of interest – as onshore wind energy is clearly a lot cheaper than offshore at this time. Another contemporary issue to be considered is repowering, a subject for which I’ve received such inconsistent information that I’d prefer not to go into it. I think the management of repowering will become clearer in the coming years.

There are some heated exchanges going on around the recent decision to change the EEG (renewable energy law) – new, renewable energy plants are limited to 2800 megawatt gross. None of the parties involved are happy with this.

In 2015 the share of costs was lowered from 6.24 Euro Cents/KWh to 6.17 Euro Cents/KWh, but if people hoped these reductions would continue in 2016 they were sadly mistaken; instead, they were raised once again, to 6.354 Euro Cents/KWh. Also the KWK (combined heat and power law) charge was increased by 0.445 Euro Cents/KWh. According to Herman Albers, President of the German Wind Association (BWE), there will be a further EEG increase in October 2016, but hopefully costs will start to decrease again after that.

The reason for these higher costs is low energy prices on the Leipzig stock exchange. Sounds weird? These are down to political legacies, which guarantee the producers of green electricity a fixed remuneration (some of which are fixed for 20 years) – and which are higher than current energy prices.  The lower the price of energy traded on the stock exchange, the more additional financing is required. Also, switching-off of wind and photovoltaic plants (“curtailment of electricity volume“) has supposedly tripled over the last three years. The excess energy can’t be transported due to the lack of grid expansion. Compensation payments have reached a three-digit million level. “It gives the impression, that wind has to be limited at all times. This is not correct – in fact no more than 3 percent reduction is required,” corrects Herman Albers.

There appears to be a certain legal problem too. “Exclusive support of German green energy may be politically understandable, but a violation of the free movement of goods and European grid created for this purpose. The costs settled on by the common carriers are more like a tax and companies have no say in the matter. As a tax, which is of concern to all energy customers, the EEG-apportionment is not allowed to support plants, which have already paid themselves off and whose products can’t be sold at normal market prices.
The current over-support of green energy is wrong in every way and only lines the pockets of individual producers and grid operators, who manage the billions within the system.” (legal opinion of Humbold University, Berlin)

I can’t see that German competitiveness is being particularly endangered by the EEG-apportionment–Germany is certainly in the top third with its industrial energy prices, but no statistics find it to be the most expensive country. (Source: Eurostat status: 1. half 2015 – more recent data could not be found)

The federal ministry for economics and energy might try hard to reduce the level of “exorbitant and disproportionate over-promotion“ of the renewable energy plants to a more acceptable level and to move away from state guaranteed compensation for electricity fed into the grid – at the same time it’s politics that is responsible for slowing down the grid expansion and it being considerably more expensive. The planned ‘energy-highways’ from north to south should be ready in 2022, the year in which the last German nuclear power plant will be switched off. A date fixed by the German Federal Government until which time, wind energy will deliver the necessary replacement. The controversial southLink-power-grid from North Germany to Bavaria and then on to Baden-Württemberg will not now be ready until 2025. Corridor A, a power grid from Emden into Osterath (North Rhine-Westphalia) will also be finished in 2025 and the planned grid from Osterath to Philippsburg (Baden-Württemberg) in 2021. Also the power grid SouthEastLink, which will run from Saxony-Anhalt to Lower Bavaria, will only be ready in 2025.  This information can be found in a new report from the Federal Network Agency, with the main reason being the plan to lay all the cable underground. Due to pressure from the CSU (Christian Social Union) political party, it was decided at the end of 2015 that the power lines transporting wind energy from north to south, should be primarily buried instead of overground.

The money saved through the process optimisation of wind farms is put back multiple times over into development of the power grid, which is being delayed due to disagreements and quarrels. I really ask myself what is going to happen in 2022 when nuclear power will no longer be available in the south but the wind energy required from north cannot be transported south because the grids aren’t finished – I will be happy to receive any offers of explanation.

I would like to give updates on a few of these points in the July Newsletter, (which I couldn’t fit in due to space and time restrictions), and I would like to dip into the theme of energy storage – I find this very interesting – what will the best solution be? Pump storage in Norway? Hydrogen storage? Or perhaps the 3000 US$ Elon Musk battery for each household?
 

Birgit Harreither

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