In a milestone for renewable energy, clean power supplied almost all of Germany’s power demand for the first time. The event marks a victory for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “Energiewende” policy aimed at boosting renewables while phasing out nuclear and fossil fuels. Yet, there are still many issues to be resolved when it comes to making renewable energy Germany’s primary source of electricity.
Renewables were only able to meet demand because of Germany’s strong export capability, said Monne Depraetere, an analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
“Events like this highlight that eventually we may need to start curtailing because of market-wide oversupply,” said the analyst. “In the long-run, that may provide a case to build technologies that can manage this oversupply — for example more interconnectors or energy storage.”
Germany already wastes a small portion of its wind energy even though, by law, renewable sources have priority access to the grid over traditional sources like coal.
Renewable electricity generation in Germany represented 31% of the country’s gross electricity generation in 2015, an increase of 19% from 2014. Germany has tripled its electricity generated from renewable sources in the past 10 years.
If Energiewende goals are met, the share of power generated from renewable sources is set to increase to about 40% by 2025 and to more than 80% by 2050. In addition to phasing out fossil fuel and nuclear power generation, Energiewende goals include reducing energy import dependence and lowering carbon emissions.
Costs associated with Germany’s shift to clean energy are being passed on, at least partly, to consumers. The German government policy of supporting renewable electricity growth by guaranteeing a fixed, above-market price for solar and wind energy is likely culpable in rising electricity rates. Along with Denmark, Germany has among the highest residential electricity prices in Europe.
As a net electricity exporter, Germany’s rapid growth in electricity production has created problems domestically and for its neighbors. The variability of clean energy flows puts pressure on local grids as they struggle to keep up increasing renewable energy supplies. Lacking the infrastructure needed to distribute or store all electricity produced domestically, German power flows to nations such as Poland, often creating power surges. Infrastructure proposals for new transmission lines that would help transfer the electricity from producers in the North to populous Southern cities have been met with resistance from municipalities and citizens.
Grid problems in Germany reflect a larger problem for renewable energy. As clean power takes a larger share of the nation’s energy mix, Germany has made several changes to its energy policies already to control costs such as the implementation of auctions and the decreasing of feed-in tariff incentives in years following years when clean power targets are exceeded. Germany should serve an example to other nations looking to grow their renewable energy industries.