Germany’s transition to renewable power

Energy producers who can supply permanent green electricity should receive a fixed premium. Experts hope that this will stimulate investment in innovative energy systems. [hrui | Shutterstock]

Can renewable energies be used to keep the power grids running smoothly when the sun is not shining and the wind not blowing? Former Green Bundestag member, Hans-Josef Fell says they can and presents a proposal to change the German electrical grid. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The second half of the energy system transformation is imminent. Twenty years after Germany began systematically promoting green energy, it will soon have to generate the entire power supply alone.

Thus far, this is proving difficult. Due to weather-related fluctuations, wind, solar or hydro- power cannot guarantee the necessary constant frequency and voltage in today’s power grid.

A proposal by the Energy Watch Group, a global association of energy experts, is intended to create a political instrument for this purpose. The model envisages support for investors who can ensure a continuous supply of green electricity, regardless of fluctuating weather conditions.

This is certainly possible, but it requires an intelligent network of wind, solar or hydroelectric power plants with appropriate storage facilities and digital management. This would be conceivable, for example, for hospitals, companies or entire neighbourhoods that want to produce their own electricity.

According to the proposal, smaller plants should receive a so-called “combined power plant compensation” in the form of a fixed premium. Expert calculations indicate eight cents per kilowatt hour should be enough to drive the necessary investments. Larger plants, which must participate in the electricity market according to current EU legislation, will receive support in the form of a sliding market premium.

“The task of the grid operators for a stable power supply can only be fulfilled if renewable energies are combined with storage and digital control. This will also provide the necessary impetus for sector coupling. But so far the necessary push on the market is lacking,” says one of its two authors, former Green MP and architect of Germany’s Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG), Hans-Josef Fell in an interview with EURACTIV Germany.

Start-ups in particular, which have not yet found a market for their innovative solutions for sector coupling such as energy storage or digital control systems, should benefit from the instrument.

Sector coupling has long been regarded as a miracle solution to energy system transformation. With the help of the electrification of sectors such as buildings, transport and industry, whereby electricity is stored in electric cars or other storage facilities or even as gas or heat, the electricity grid is to be converted to 100% renewable energies.

Costs covered by the EEG

Similar to the EEG plan from 20 years ago, Fell’s proposal is entirely in line with the idea of decentralised, civic energy supply. Private individuals, public utilities or manufacturing companies could invest in networked energy systems, he suggests.

This would be doubly worthwhile for the operators: Firstly, they would supply themselves with electricity, and they could receive the eight-cent premium on surplus electricity.

“It’s about stabilising the system from the bottom up, using small and medium-sized systems. Instead of investing in huge pipeline systems, we would encourage investment in local electricity production,” says Fell. Large power companies could in turn buy electricity from these smaller producers. This would also allow the approximately 15,000 green electricity plants that will soon be excluded from EEG support to continue to operate.

But where will the money come from? The authors of the proposal promise that there will be no further costs for the consumer. Instead, funds from the EEG levy are to co-finance the new system.

This would be the case, for example, if a solar plant renounces its EEG subsidy to be entitled to the new combined cycle remuneration along with other plants. “Whether or not this is worthwhile must be calculated individually by each person. But we are sure that the demand would be great,” says Fell.

Blackout protection

With the coronavirus pandemic in full swing, another aspect has also come back to the fore, Fell notes.

“We are now realising that crises can become real. This also applies to a widespread blackout. The best protection against this is local self-sufficient electricity generation, which can be stimulated by combined-cycle compensation.”

At a time when the economy urgently requires government stimulus to recover from the coronavirus crisis, it would be possible to kill two birds with one stone as well as catapult renewable energies out of their political impasse, Fell hopes.

Nevertheless, an amendment to the EEG that removes bureaucratic obstacles and ends the current debate on expansion caps and clearance regulations for wind turbines is still necessary.

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