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Power Earth

Half of Germany's Power Supplied By Solar, Briefly 461

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the now-imagine-if-solar-and-nuclear-worked-together dept.
assertation (1255714) writes with this interesting tidbit from Reuters about the state of solar power in Germany: German solar power plants produced a world record 22 gigawatts of electricity per hour — equal to 20 nuclear power stations at full capacity — through the midday hours on Friday and Saturday, the head of a renewable energy think tank said. The German government decided to abandon nuclear power after the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year, closing eight plants immediately and shutting down the remaining nine by 2022.
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Half of Germany's Power Supplied By Solar, Briefly

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  • by rahvin112 (446269) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @11:45AM (#47315545)

    The most interesting part about Germany's Solar deployment is that they have almost no utility scale deployments. Almost every deployed panel is on the roof of a building of a privately owned residence or business.

    This is contrast to the US were better than 50% of the deployed panels are utility scale deployments. Fact is if everyone deployed panels on their homes and businesses south facing roof's we'd have more power than we could ever use. Germany is proof of that.

  • by silas_moeckel (234313) <{silas} {at} {dsminc-corp.com}> on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @12:02PM (#47315775) Homepage

    Might have something to do with the ridiculous pricing in the US. Every licensed installer in my state charges 6-10x the wholesale panel price and will only do a fixed bid install that is about 4x the T+M labor cost. To get any of the government subsidies you must use a licensed installer. In effect I can put up the 100 or so pannels to meet my current needs for 30k including skilled labor yet the cheapest installer it looking for 100+ with the government programs taking it back down to 80 meaning they are making 70+k on whats quoted as a 2 day job with a 5 man crew.

    We need to put a stop to the installer language on the government subsidies, simply having the various trade inspectors sign off seems ample proof, but that is a whole different discussion.

  • by Solandri (704621) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @12:13PM (#47315901)
    The units on gigawatts/hr works out to energy/time^2. I'm not even sure what that means. Rate of acceleration of energy use?

    Assuming the Reuters reporter never took physics and the actual figure is 22 gigawatts, while it's an impressive amount, it's peak production. Solar has just about the worst capacity factor (ratio of average production to max peak production) of any energy source. If you look at Germany's solar statistics [wikipedia.org], they produced 31400 GWh in 2013. The average of their 2012 and 2013 installed (peak) generating capacity was (32.643+35.948) / 2 = 34.296 GW (averaged to take into account new plants coming online through the year).

    34.3 GW * 8766 hours (1 year) = 1.08 * 10^18 joules
    = 300673.8 GWh of potential solar production - i.e. how much the plants could have produced if they were operating at max capacity the entire year.

    So their solar capacity factor is just 31400 / 300674 = 0.1044.

    Compare to U.S. average capacity factors of [eia.gov]
    0.9 for nuclear
    0.7 for geothermal
    0.64 for coal
    0.4 for hydro
    0.35 for offshore wind
    0.22 for onshre wind
    0.145 for PV solar in the U.S. (not on chart)

    So if Germany's peak solar production was equivalent to 20 nuclear plants, that means their entire installed base of solar plants has only eliminated the need for two nuclear plants. (There's some wriggle room here because they're comparing a peak load power source to a base load power source, but I'm just rolling with the comparison they made.) This is why you don't compare power production technologies based on peak production. It's like comparing the fuel efficiency of different cars only when they're going downhill - it unreasonably favors cars with low drag coefficients even if they may have inefficient engines. You should be comparing average production through the year (equivalent to peak production * capacity factor). Just like you should be comparing the average fuel efficiency of cars across all use cases.
  • by Rei (128717) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @01:17PM (#47316521) Homepage

    Of course, carbon taxes hurt your goods competitiveness internationally. Which is why I support CAT (the carbon equivalent of VAT), or more generally, PAT (Pollution-Added Tax). All goods get taxed on embodied pollution when they enter a PAT zone and refunded when they leave a PAT zone. Thus nobody gets a competitive leg up by gutting their environmental regulations. And it should be in compliance with existing WTO rules.

  • by mlts (1038732) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @01:28PM (#47316627)

    It verges on astounding. I've read for years that Germany has ceded sovereign control of its land to Russia for natural gas, and that German citizens would freeze by the tens of thousands if Putin turned off the taps. However, Germany is still going strong and doesn't have brownouts or rolling blackouts as naysayers have been saying would be a certainty.

    This doesn't mean nuclear power is bad. The ideal would be to work on the latest generation plants, maybe even thorium plants. However, due to NIMBY syndrome and fearmongering, any advances in nuclear power are swept under the rug, while anything that might happen bad with 50-60 year old plants that (by moratoriums in place) cannot be upgraded/replaced will be blasted on the front pages of any periodical or website.

    I do agree about storage. I'm hoping Germany is a frontline player when it comes to higher energy density per volume and weight when it comes to batteries. If a battery is made that even comes within an order of magnitude of gasoline or diesel's energy by volume, this would fundamentally change transportation as we know it.

  • by Rob Y. (110975) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @02:04PM (#47317049)

    If you can cut a ton of carbon emissions by adding insulation - great. Do it. Then cut another ton by switching to solar... So now you've cut two tons for $60, which you couldn't do with insulation alone.

  • by Firethorn (177587) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @02:19PM (#47317199) Homepage Journal

    Every licensed installer in my state charges 6-10x the wholesale panel price and will only do a fixed bid install that is about 4x the T+M labor cost.

    Citation? Which state? My Anecdote: I walked into the solar place in my town and the first thing they proposed when I laid out my situation was that I do the install myself. About the only labor I couldn't do myself would be the final hookup. They'd provide the plans and instructions.

    I'm not seeing any requirements to use a licensed installer here [dsireusa.org]. It might be a state/city requirement.

    In effect I can put up the 100 or so pannels to meet my current needs for 30k including skilled labor yet the cheapest installer it looking for 100+ with the government programs taking it back down to 80 meaning they are making 70+k on whats quoted as a 2 day job with a 5 man crew.

    100 panels? How much electricity do you use? 25 would cover the average household in the USA(10,837 kWh/year [eia.gov], each panel producing 437 kWh/year [nrel.gov], even in the middle of the country). Standard panels today are 250-300 watts each. Even the cheapest pallet [wholesalesolar.com] of 20 300 watt modules will run you $5,270, or $26,350 in panels alone, without racking or inverters(~$4.5k). Checking other online sites shows similar pricing.

    As such, wanting it done for $30k means the workers would be doing it for free. The $70k worth of 'labor' does seem inappropriate.

  • by Shoten (260439) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @02:54PM (#47317523)

    What does 22GW look like? If all of the collectors and ancillary equipment were in the same place, how many acres would the facility be?

    It looks like about 2 percent of total generation capacity in the United States (which has a bit more than 1,000 GW).

    And this is something that makes me crazy when talking about Germany's initiatives. I think what they're doing is fantastic, and definitely the way of the future, don't get me wrong. But there are posts in Slashdot that are the equivalent of, "Oh, let's just do the same thing here to...it looks easy!" And nothing could be farther from the truth.

    Issue 1: Geographic size.
    Renewables are great in that they *can* be cheap and are, almost always, quite clean. But in the US we have a couple of challenges. One, the best place for wind farms is not too close to large population centers. Sure you can put a few wind turbines here and there, but if you want meaningful amounts of power, you need to take advantage of lightly-populated regions with lots of reliable wind...and these aren't exactly close by to cities. Given the amount of area that a solar farm takes up, the same holds true there as well, though not always to the same degree of distance. Now, enter VARS. Without voltage support, the power won't travel these long distances. T. Boone Pickens made this mistake...he got ready to build out large wind farms, and then suddenly discovered that the distance over which the power had to travel to get to the people who needed it was a nightmare.

    Issue 2: Balancing.
    Power grids must keep generation and load in balance. Otherwise, you get multiple bad things, including underfrequency and overfrequency events. I won't go into the full details of that (it's a rabbit hole) but suffice to say that it is very very bad. And the balance doesn't just have to be within X power company, as they are interconnected with their neighbors. Entire groups of such companies themselves are organized into managed groups under the control of a Balancing Authority. In some markets there's energy trading, and in others it's more tightly regulated so that such speculation isn't permissible.

    But I digress. Under the old way (nuclear, hydroelectric and fossil fuel generation) load was variably predictable and uncontrollable by the power companies, but generation was something they had solid control over. If load went up, they either increased output at a plant or spun up reserve capacity...if load went down, they went the other way. But when you have renewables, you lose a degree of that positive direct control. The wind slows down and your wind turbines suddenly push less power. The sun comes out and you suddenly have more watts on the grid than you want to have. In Hawaii, HECO has issued a moratorium on new solar panels on homes, [greentechmedia.com] because it's so bad that it's threatening to destabilize their grid...the only grid on the planet where one single modern power company has control of the whole thing. (Hawaii isn't interconnected because, well...see above over 'nightmare of pushing power over long distances'.) And just the number of people who have their own photovoltaic panels on their homes is causing them grief. Because of how unpredictable sunlight is...in Hawaii. Yeah, it really is that freakin' bananas. It was expected based on their ideal combination of zero interconnectivity, steady weather and fairly stable power consumption levels (not having industrial facilities makes load prediction pretty easy) that they could support 20% penetration of distributed power generation using PV. They're at 10% now, and in trouble.

    So, yeah...in short: Germany's done a great job leading the way. But their power grid is 1/20th the size of ours in terms of power generation/usage, and their nation is also a fraction of ours in size. So what they did can't just be copied and pasted into the US to get us to the same proportion of renewable generation.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @02:59PM (#47317555)

    Solar power is low hanging fruit. The 10 panels on my roof provide 60% of my yearly consumtion.

  • by Uecker (1842596) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @03:20PM (#47317767)

    No, expensive is expensive when there are cheaper and better options available.

    With external costs to society and unclear investment risks, it is not always easy to say what cheaper and better is.

    If I can cut a ton of carbon emissions by switching to solar for a $40 subsidy or by adding insulation to an attic for $20 why chose the more expensive option?

    This is only a useful comparison if you heat with electricity, which almost nobody does in Germany.

    Why not opt for more wind power or more efficient appliances?

    As Germany does. Wind and solar complement each other fairly well. By sudsiding solar with a tax on energy price, Germay also encourages more efficient appliances. With nuclear, the subsidies came from general taxes, which reduces energy price and encourages more energy use.

    I have found that many Greens focus on feel good actions instead of focusing on the cold hard results.

    Germany's energy policy is producing convincing results.

    Actions (and money) is spent on nice sounding projects with mushy ill-defined goals and measurements.

    Really? Energy policy has been debated for decases in Germany and there is a well-defined goals and a lot of monitoring (and there have been many feasibility studies).

    In particular, why spend money subsidizing solar if adding more solar is not going to reduce carbon emissions or other issues with coal?

    I am not sure what you are talking about. Scaling up solar obviously reduces carbon emissions. It does not automatically solve the issues with coal - which in Germany is really cheap and secures a lot of jobs. The problem with coal in Germany is that it competes with gas. But this is a different problem.

    Now you are just burring money for no good reasons

    I don't think so and you did not bring forward any convincing argument.

    In Germany's case, it implies that money needs to be spent in other areas such as upgrading the power grid to efficiently use the solar and wind power that they already currently have.

    True. But you haven't really pointed out how spending the money on other areas would be better... Most things you mentioned Germany is also doing and the mix seems reasonable to me.

    This is one of the reasons why I advocate a carbon tax. Or, if you have a different concern, tax & reg

    There is a carbon tax in Europe. You have to buy carbon certificates. Unfortunately the price is low because of lobbying and the recession.

  • by hweimer (709734) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @03:36PM (#47317941) Homepage

    Nuclear is the safest we have available.

    Oh, then I'm sure you'll find an insurance company that will cover the risk of Fukushima-style accidents. Oh wait, no you don't, because such an insurance would make nuclear energy totally uneconomic [theguardian.com].

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