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Germany Had So Much Renewable Energy That It Had To Pay People To Use Electricity (qz.com) 298

Quartz reports Germany produced so much renewable energy on Sunday, May 8, that commercial customers were being paid to consume electricity: "Thanks to a sunny and windy day, at one point around 1pm the country's solar, wind, hydro and biomass plants were supplying about 55 GW of the 63 GW being consumed, or 87%. Power prices actually went negative for several hours, meaning commercial customers were being paid to consume electricity." Many critics have argued that renewable energy will always have only a niche role in supplying power to consumers, given its daily peaks and troughs. With that said, Germany plans to hit 100% renewable energy by 2050. Denmark, for example, has already generated more electricity than the country consumes from its wind turbines. It now exports the surplus energy to Germany, Norway and Sweden.
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Germany Had So Much Renewable Energy That It Had To Pay People To Use Electricity

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  • In the UK, since the power generation was split up, there have been occasions when generators have bid negative prices to supply electricity into the grid. These were companies operating fossil-fueled generators at times when demand was low (middle of the night).
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      But that was with dirty fossil fuel. I only use electrons from clean sources. I use a sieve to filter out the fossil fuel derived electrons.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        You don't use electrons, you use an electric field. And electrons move very (very) slowly through a wire. I don't remember numbers, bu think it's on the order of cm/min. Not only that, but all the electrons you get, you give back again (if using alternating current).

        Adding a generator to the grid keeps the field propped up (measured in volts).

  • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Tuesday May 10, 2016 @06:43PM (#52087527) Journal
    There are several ways to store excess electrical generation if it becomes a common enough occurrence.

    Outside of pumping water to heights or using conventtional battery storage, there are NEW IDEAS [popularmechanics.com] emerging all the time.

    • Nitpicking a little bit, that's if you consider Jan 21, 2014 new. Though, I suppose there are more recent examples, but finding an article covering them is going to be harder because they haven't had enough time to get higher page rankings, among other reasons.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by TClevenger ( 252206 )
      Use the excess to split water for hydrogen. Use the hydrogen in fuel cells on large trucks and other large vehicles where straight battery power is currently impossible.
    • by mysidia ( 191772 )

      There are several ways to store excess electrical generation

      How about using electrochemical cells [psu.edu] that require Electricity, CO2, and Water as input, and yield Hydrocarbon fuels such as Oil or Gasoline as output?

      Then when you require electricity later, just burn the fuel.....

  • by Daniel Matthews ( 4112743 ) on Tuesday May 10, 2016 @06:48PM (#52087551)
    Id be concerned if they didn't have spare capacity during what looks like the lowest demand scenario short of a zombie apocalypse. The real issue is, how to they cope on a very cold, overcast, windless day when industrial and domestic demand is at it's highest? Also, don't they have a means of distributing power throughout the entire EU, geographically large single countries do this.
    • They do what everyone else does: use clean, safe nuclear power. How boring.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Moof123 ( 1292134 )

        Show me one plant where the fuel has been cleanly disposed of completely. We have vast amounts of fuel piling up with no way to make the stuff benign. It will be hanging around indefinitely. You can quote all you want of ways to recycle and reuse the fuel until it is benign, but so far that is all just talk and has not moved beyond the vaporware stage. I throw it in the same camp as Clean Coal technology.

        • Dump it into the Mariana Trench (I see that is currently against international law).. shoot it into the sun.. actually *develop* the reuse of fuel systems.

        • France has the situation under control [bbc.com]. There are multiple ways of dealing with it, the obstacles are all NIMBY and anti-nuke propaganda.
        • We can't dispose of anything cleanly and completely. Where do you think your trash goes? Into the Aether?
        • The"vast amount" of spent fuel can easily fit in a large room for all the waste generated over several decades.

        • by Ash-Fox ( 726320 )

          Show me one plant where the fuel has been cleanly disposed of completely.

          Well, technically generation 4 reactors can, they can keep reusing nuclear waste over and over to generate power until it becomes fairly innate.

    • I think so. You can see the live statistics for Denmark here:

      http://energinet.dk/EN/El/Side... [energinet.dk]

    • very cold
      Heating is very rarely done with electricity. So what is the question?

      windless day
      Germany is formed like an "L" upside down. A bar going from east to west on top and a vertical bar at the west/center side down. Both bars are about 1000km long.
      How can one be so stupid to believe that such a country has no wind? It is (nearly) physically impossible to have an area larger than 100km x 100km without wind. Note the (nearly) ... depending on point on the planet it is possible. However: not on land mass

      • by Ash-Fox ( 726320 )

        Heating is very rarely done with electricity.

        I knew a fair few apartments that were using airconditioning in Berlin... I don't really think it was that rare.

      • by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Tuesday May 10, 2016 @09:39PM (#52088463) Homepage Journal

        Heating is very rarely done with electricity. So what is the question?

        Electric heating is the overwhelmingly most common form of heating in Northern Europe.

        When I moved to the US almost a generation ago, I was surprised that few homes had electric heating, and even fewer (like none) had floor heating cables. Not even in the bathrooms (but then again, American bathrooms seldom are wet rooms anyhow, so no need to heat the tiles that aren't there).
        And I'm likewise amazed that after all these years, this is still the case. Heck, most houses don't even have thermopane windows with vacuum or noble gases. Many don't even have double glass windows.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          Most heating in Northern Europe is natural gas. Some areas have geothermal or waste heat, but for the most part it's natural gas via central heating.

          Electric heaters are only used much here central heating doesn't make sense (southern Europe) and for portable heaters.

        • by Alomex ( 148003 )

          And I'm likewise amazed that after all these years, this is still the case. Heck, most houses don't even have thermopane windows with vacuum or noble gases. Many don't even have double glass windows.
          Flag as Inappropriate

          About ten years back I looked into this. I wanted to buy standard, minimum specifications european windows. Turns out they are available in America, but as special order, since they are way better than what you can pick up at Home Depot off the shelf.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      The EU has an extensive network of high voltage DC lines for distributing power over thousands of kilometres with minimal loss.

      Germany copes just fine on those extremely rare occasions (less than once a year) when there is low wind and solar over the entire country during peak demand periods. It's been replacing older fossil fuel power plants with newer, cleaner ones that crucially can scale their output over a much bigger range and much more quickly to handle this. Storage is coming online too.

    • by Ed Tice ( 3732157 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2016 @11:09AM (#52091481)
      The answer is that the cost of industrial electricity goes so high that industrial users shut down. Residential users are so used to fixed rates that we are mentally divorced from energy market realities. Industrial users actually have a *lower* average cost than residential due to their ability to moderate usage. The fixed-retail price that we pay comes with a huge cost in the from of higher average prices. https://www.eia.gov/electricit... [eia.gov]
  • Opportunity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Tuesday May 10, 2016 @06:53PM (#52087589)
    This is how it's supposed to work. Renewables are often less predictable. So have a realtime bidding service, and when it's "negative" use as much as you can to charge batteries, then when the number is positive again, get paid to push electricity back into the grid. This will subsidize people buying batteries, which will smooth out the distribution of less predictable power sources. It's working as designed, just without batteries in place, yet. Charge your car at cheap times, and feed the grid at expensive times (from car or home). Win for all, and great for the environment.
    • by satsuke ( 263225 )

      The "selling" at a negative rate doesn't happen very often, so relying on that mechanism to encourage battery charging or other storage means isn't going to be viable .. short of rigging the mechanism

      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        The "selling" at a negative rate doesn't happen very often, so relying on that mechanism to encourage battery charging or other storage means isn't going to be viable .. short of rigging the mechanism

        Yeah I don't see battery packs for the sake of storing it actually working out. But I do see the potential for opportunistic charging of EVs. We know that in order for them to be popular, the max range must be well beyond the daily commute. But that doesn't mean people need the fully charged all the time, if you know monday-friday you're just going to work and picking up a few groceries maybe you say anything over 40% is okay, charge it up to 80% if you can do it cheaply but otherwise don't bother. Throw in

      • It doesn't often go negative, but it regularly drops to low rates at peak solar times. So long as someone can buy low and sell high, there's a profit to be made. If that's enough to cover costs, including capital, there's a business opportunity.

    • by khallow ( 566160 )
      Such ridiculous price swings are symptoms of Germany's seriously broken market. And as another poster noted, the cheap side of the price swings are rather unpredictable. Someone might be able to make money at leveling out those price swings, assuming there aren't regulations against doing so, but I don't see that it's a huge opportunity.

      Win for all, and great for the environment.

      Not for the end user of that electricity who gets to pay an average of almost double the rate of several neighbors of Germany (such as France and Poland).

  • by slinches ( 1540051 ) on Tuesday May 10, 2016 @07:01PM (#52087627)

    This is a problem, not a good thing. Wind and solar production should have been throttled to prevent dumping more power on the grid than demanded rather than paying companies to burn off the energy.

    The only way renewables work is if the power is used locally to reduce/level demand or as preferred peaking generation (with sufficient idle nat-gas backups to cover the worst peak). The only time prices should go negative is in the rare occasion that the demand dips below the base (nuclear/hydro/coal) generation. And in that case, wind and solar shouldn't be putting any power into the grid.

    • by angel'o'sphere ( 80593 ) on Tuesday May 10, 2016 @08:08PM (#52087985) Journal

      Wind and solar production should have been throttled to prevent dumping more power on the grid than demanded rather than paying companies to burn off the energy.

      That would mean the potential extra energy is wasted. So what is the point? It is far better to have the "free energy" used for something purposeful like e.g. an aluminium recycling plant.

      The only time prices should go negative is in the rare occasion that the demand dips below the base
      The demand can not dip "below the base", that precisely is the reason why it is called "base load".

      Your ideas are nonsense. You simply fail to grasp that negative prices are a good thing and not a bad thing (*facepalm*)

      And in that case, wind and solar shouldn't be putting any power into the grid.
      Wow, how idiotic. So it is better to burn coal or uranium? Why? What is wrong with ramping down conventional pants when we have a surplus on solar and wind?

  • by riverat1 ( 1048260 ) on Tuesday May 10, 2016 @07:06PM (#52087655)

    This is just another illustration that the people who claim that renewable energy can never supply nearly all of our energy needs are wrong. It's mostly just a matter of building out the infrastructure which takes time. Our current power system wasn't built overnight either.

    • by FlyHelicopters ( 1540845 ) on Tuesday May 10, 2016 @07:29PM (#52087767)

      But at what price? Germany pays three times the price for power that the US does.

      I don't really want a $1,200 power bill, thank you very much.

      • by frnic ( 98517 )

        Which country are you living in? The US averages $0.10/KWH and Germany Averages $0.15/KWH. Where I am in Florida it is $0.12/KWH.

        But, thanks for playing, and exaggerating.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          Which country are you living in? The US averages $0.10/KWH and Germany Averages $0.15/KWH.

          No it doesn't...

          The US averages 12 cents per KWh.
          Germany averages 33 cents per KWh.

          A dozen different web sites support that, from Wikipedia on down.

        • by hvdh ( 1447205 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2016 @02:06AM (#52089295)

          You cannot get a $0.15/kWh power plan in Germany for private homes, only for large industrial plants.
          The cheapest price (by kWh) I can get for my German home is 0.23€ ($0.26) / kWh plus 60€ ($69) per year, so it's 0.25€ ($0.28) / kWh in total.

          Latest statistics say the average price for private customers is 0.28€ / kWh:
          http://de.statista.com/statist... [statista.com]

        • by rch7 ( 4086979 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2016 @07:32AM (#52090035)

          Germany residential rate averages 0.30 EUR/kWh, not 0.15. 0.15 EUR is industrial rate, it is something like 0.06 USD in the US.
          http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/s... [europa.eu]

      • But at what price? Germany pays three times the price for power that the US does.

        I don't really want a $1,200 power bill, thank you very much.

        Dumbshit, German users don't pay three times the price of energy. Also, please learn the difference between energy and power.

        http://ww2.kqed.org/quest/2014... [kqed.org]

      • No one in Germany has a $1200 power bill.

        I told you that now a few dozen times. My power bill for electricity is something like $50. Most families pay around $100. Why? Because we use much much much less power than you.

        I also explained: power prices are two or three parts!
        Base cost (including metering cost)
        Grid fees
        and fee per kWh

        As the base cost and grid costs are factored into the kWh price our prices look artificial expensive, while they are not particular higher than your costs.

        I pay like $300 a year fo

        • by Ash-Fox ( 726320 )

          No one in Germany has a $1200 power bill.

          I have a friend who pays 400EUR/month in Germany for his electric bill. If we go back a year in exchange rates, I think that was worth over 1000USD.

        • No one in Germany has a $1200 power bill.

          That is actually likely a false statement. Someone in Germany does. YOU might not, but someone does.

          I told you that now a few dozen times.

          You can tell me anything you like, I have stopped listening to you because I don't believe you know what you're talking about.

          You aren't going to convince me otherwise, too many of your prior posts have been completely and totally wrong.

          • That is actually likely a false statement. Someone in Germany does. YOU might not, but someone does.

            Not as a private household. You would need a small castle for that and on top of that an unwise use of energy, e.g. leaving lots of rooms with light on.

            You aren't going to convince me otherwise, too many of your prior posts have been completely and totally wrong. Very unlikely, especially if it was regarding energy.

      • by riverat1 ( 1048260 ) on Tuesday May 10, 2016 @11:12PM (#52088855)

        But at what price? Germany pays three times the price for power that the US does.

        I don't really want a $1,200 power bill, thank you very much.

        As others pointed out Germany doesn't pay 3 times what we pay in the USA but they do pay a bit more. But the real question here is how much is it going to cost you in 20 or 30 years when the effects of AGW really start kicking in and we're spending big money on trying to adapt. Are you really saving anything in the long run by hanging on to your cheap power now?

        • As others pointed out Germany doesn't pay 3 times what we pay in the USA but they do pay a bit more.

          Sigh... yes they do, multiple web sites on the Internet over and over say they do...

          A few people on a message board trying to defend it doesn't make it so...

          Average US price per KWh is 12 cents.
          Average German price per KWh is 33 cents.

          That is triple, the math doesn't lie...

          • Ok, maybe so from your sources but I searched for "electricity prices in Germany" and found more than one source that said German electricity was around 15.22 cents per kWh in 2015 and the prices are dropping a little. Try this link. [statista.com]

            My main point was this:

            But the real question here is how much is it going to cost you in 20 or 30 years when the effects of AGW really start kicking in and we're spending big money on trying to adapt. Are you really saving anything in the long run by hanging on to your cheap power now?

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          Plus the lost opportunity to develop all this tech, and thus get all the patents on it and build up skills and knowledge. When other countries are transitioning they will be paying Germany.

      • Apparently you only pay more if you are a citizen. As a company you get paid to use power.

  • I'm waiting until there's so much oil being produced that they pay me to accept a barrel or two.

    • You can probably be paid to take away tar sand residue right now, though you might need to gain some sort of certification first if the Government has started impinging on your freedom to dump it.
  • by Bender Unit 22 ( 216955 ) on Tuesday May 10, 2016 @07:18PM (#52087721) Journal

    it does come at a price to have that much renewable energy. We have among the highest prices in the world for electricity in Denmark. 75% of the price are taxes. Now they are talking about lowering the price by 10% by cutting some of those "green" taxes. But since the money has to come from somewhere, they are just putting that on income taxes instead.
    Local businesses are happy because they don't get to pay anymore, consumers are happy because that are too stupid to have listened to the part that their income tax are going up, they just say "oh great lower price for electricity".

  • I mean here it is https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org] It grew fast but now it's stuck at about 6%. I can't remember what they were saying would be the percentile but I don't think it was 6%.
    • Yield grew 6.5% last year; somewhat less than the year before, but don't you think a single year of lower growth is a little too soon to declare it "stuck"?

  • biomass plants (Score:4, Interesting)

    by angel'o'sphere ( 80593 ) on Tuesday May 10, 2016 @07:57PM (#52087927) Journal

    biomass plants Those plants are 'dispatch able' just like any other conventional plants.

    Power prices actually went negative for several hours, meaning commercial customers were being paid to consume electricity.
    That means basically only other power companies and not "random commercial customers". Considering that that happened on a sunday it is not as spectacularly as it seems.
    On a sunday you have e.g. only a little bit more than 50% load of e.g. a mid week day peak load.

    If prices go negative usually another power company is "buying" the power to fill up pumped storages. During weekdays however also steel or aluminium recycling plants are on standby to wait for such opportunities.

  • So, with a capacity factor of ~20% that means that the wind farms are a feel good effort to green wash the natural gas peaker plants and the 45% coal base production spewing carbon and radioactive waste into the atmosphere that actually provides the vast majority of the energy.

    Two decades of aggressive government programs to install solar and wind and the carbon reductions are hardly noticeable. I suspect if the idiots screaming renewables woke up and realized that their solution isn't solving anything and

  • But you know. They pay other provinces and countries to take our power. And jack the customers prices to the highest in north america all in the name of GREEN RENEWABLE power.

    We use less power and they cry they arent making enough so they jack our rates. We use more power and they jack our rates to make us use less. I and the rest of the province have some choice words for Green energy bullshit right now.

  • I don't understand it going negative. Why can't they just vent it? Why can't they shut it down or just disconnect the line? Hydro is easy to turn off but even solar and wind has ways to turn them off for maintenance. Barring that, just throwing a tarp over the solar would block out the sun. Heck, even running it to a nearby tank and boiling water would make more sense than paying someone to consume it. What exactly is gained by paying someone to take it versus venting it somehow?

  • If you are shown a demand curve sloping downward and you call it witchcraft, you may not be a capitalist.

  • I live in Germany... (Score:5, Informative)

    by bkmoore ( 1910118 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2016 @12:06AM (#52088999)
    ...and for residential customers, Germany has some of the most expensive electricity in the world. Residential customers and small businesses pay a "renewable energy tax" (EEG) of 6.354 cents / kWh as of 2016. I have a large family, so this works out to be about 440€ additional tax burden per year, not counting the 19% VAT added on top of the EEG tax. So I am paying for all this "free electricity". This tax is highly regressive and hits poorer residents much harder because they cannot afford to invest in energy-saving appliances.
  • by msevior ( 145103 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2016 @01:50AM (#52089249)

    The article sounds as if it is a good thing that Germany has to pay people to use electricity. Actually it is exactly this problem that sets the upper limit to how much renewable energy can be used in a modern economy with current technology. The market correctly valued that the power produced by renewable sources had negative value, yet the producers of renewable energy were paid exactly the same feed-in tariff as they get on a cold windless evening. Doubling renewable energy production will not result in doubling the amount of electricity usefully used by Germany over the course of a year. It will be dumped somewhere in the system. Germany must solve the engineering problems required to efficiently store and recover vast amounts of energy as well as building more renewable energy generating systems to reach its goals.

    I'm totally surprised that this is not a major topic of discourse in a country with such a large body of technical talent.

  • by seoras ( 147590 ) on Wednesday May 11, 2016 @02:54AM (#52089405)

    Now imagine you had an electric car parked up outside, with some big ass batteries in it, plugged in and storing that surplus energy.
    As if surplus power is a problem?
    It isn't, we just haven't moved forward quickly enough and away from fossil fuels.

  • I consider news like this trés cool. Albeit percentages being usually low the Green Party has a solid standing in Germany and especially with my generation, and for good reasons too. However, that it came about for a majority holding conservative politician and party such as Merkel and the great coalition of CDU & SPD to make the call on moving out of nuclear fission was the missing piece in the puzzle. Sentiment towards fission was getting less enthusiastic throughout the decades and Fukushima Dai

  • by ras ( 84108 ) <russell-slashdot@s t u a r t . id.au> on Wednesday May 11, 2016 @06:57AM (#52089939) Homepage

    Here is a graph of electricity prices where I live for the current day: http://www.aemo.com.au/Electricity/Data/Price-and-Demand/Price-and-Demand-Graphs/Current-Dispatch-Interval-Price-and-Demand-Graph-QLD [aemo.com.au]. Note the red line (whole sale price) drops off the bottom graph in the small hours of the morning. It's negative.

    At least were I live it has nothing to do with renewables (the sun ain't shining at that time after all). Oddly it is because coal plants suffer the same problem renewables - they can't control the power quickly. No one is using power at the coal plants are producing at 3 AM so there is an oversupply, and it's costs more to shut the plant down for the hour or so than it does to pay people to find ways to use it.

    This happens just about every fucking day! How is this news?

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