Unjustified developments of renewable energy sources: the danger to be lured into a trap (I)

By Antanas Ĺ utas

Some of the EU Member States decided to pursue the so called nuclear phase-out policy aiming to end nuclear power generation. All this points towards an energy policy which puts renewable energy sources for electricity production into the foreground. Although Germany takes the lead role in this plan, it has already faced serious problems which have been anticipated by experts.


Solar and wind energy in Germany is beneficial for small business and local communities installing renewable energy generating equipment. If electricity transmission companies oblige to buy the above fixed-price energy, it could be quite a profitable business. Therefore, the structures involved in the RES business have become quite powerful over a 15-year period. The problem is that final energy price includes also renewable energy subsidies.  


Infringement proceedings on the above subsidies have been launched in Germany but this is not the main threat for the development of renewable energy sources. The main technical problems are related to the delivery of this energy to the transmission grids and management of the unstable energy flows generated via the RES equipment. Paradoxically, RES development in Germany increases the amount of air emissions.  


The Greens have always been promoting renewable energy sources; their protests could be arranged against any actions which could harm the environment. Transmission towers are also attributed to the environmentally unfriendly objects, but these towers are necessary for generation of solar and wind power. One of the ideas is to bring energy producers closer to consumers but this is hardly possible; consequently, it will be difficult to do without high-voltage transmission lines. That’s why in 2010 ENTSO-E (European network of transmission system operators for electricity) highlighted the development of transmission grids as one of the major challenges in addressing the changing geographical distribution of RES.  


Pursuant to the data of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, in 2010-2012 the capacity of German solar power plants has increased by 87 percent, whereas the capacity of newly built wind power plants - by 22 percent. It looks like Germany has been generating more and more of the „green“ energy; yet, according to the data of ENTSO-E, during the same period the share of electricity generation by renewable energy sources has decreased from 13 to 12 percent. It is assumed that every year wind turbines produce on average up to 20 percent of their theoretical (or rated) capacity. In 2010 and 2011 they have respectively produced 15,4 and 17,5 percent of their capacity, but in 2012 this indicator has dropped to 5,9 percent due to frequent power blackouts because of the surplus of green electricity.  Wind farms have also been shut down when the attempts to match consumption and production growth rates could result in shutting down the energy system. In January 2012 wind energy production has increased (due to favourable weather conditions) from 4TWh to 8 TWh. Thus, German RES generated significantly more energy than consumed (in addition to solar and hydro energy). Unexpected jump in the energy produced in conventional power plants and from RES overloaded electricity grids of neighbouring countries. In order to avoid this situation more and more wind farms are being closed down.  


Solar electricity generation is more expensive than wind power, but solar energy production causes less production management problems. Solar power is a daytime-only energy source when the demand is highest. Whereas wind „does not care” about the time of the day and causes problems to operators of energy transmission grids - once generated, electricity must be delivered and consumed immediately. Otherwise transmission system might shut down very quickly and its recovery could last for hours or even days. Thus, it seems that wind power generation in Germany has reached a peak power output and it is only a question of time when solar energy will reach the same level.