Feb 21, 2012

The end of baseload? It may come sooner than you think

One of the principal architects of Germany’s push into renewable energy technologies believes the country could achieve 100% renewables by 2030, writes Giles Parkinson of RenewEconomy.

One of the principal architects of Germany’s push into renewable energy technologies, Hans-Josef Fell, believes that the country could achieve 100% renewables in its electricity sector by 2030 — and may do it quicker. The rest of the world could follow soon after.

Fell, a Greens politician and architect of the the feed-in-tariffs that have helped the country already produce 20% of its energy from wind, solar, biomass and geothermal sources, and pushed it to the forefront of clean energy technologies, says the growth of renewables will continue at an exponential rate. This is partly because of the growing cost of conventional fossil fuels, and partly because of their inability (apart from gas) to balance the intermittent nature of renewable energy generation.

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71 thoughts on “The end of baseload? It may come sooner than you think

  1. Geoff Russell

    Have a look at:

    pick a day. I chose 17th February, a few days ago. Peak PV output was 3.3GW, and
    at 4.30pm it was just 1.4GW. This is just 6 percent of the 24 GW of installed PV in
    Germany. You can’t balance energy which isn’t there. Nor can you store it.

    Now look at IEA data up to 2009:


    Half of the renewable output is hydro and biofuels and waste … which have little potential
    to grow. Look at the graph. Does it look like exponential solar/wind growth? Back when I
    did mathematics exponential growth looked rather different. The mild winter accounts for
    most of the fall in 2009.

    So Giles, did you ask Fell a single hard question?

  2. Mark Duffett

    We have had a big cold winter, and France did not have enough from nuclear, so they bought electricity from Germany. We have so much that we can export it to France and help them in a cold winter so they don’t get a blackout.

    The imputation that renewable Germany bailed out nuclear France is highly misleading to say the least. Germany having enough electricity to export to France during the recent cold snap had nothing to do with solar and wind, but everything to do with Germany’s much greater reliance on gas (mainly Russian) for direct heating (reuters.com/article/2012/02/06/france-britain-imports-idUSL5E8D62B620120206), as opposed to near-universal use of electric appliances for space heating in France.

    Moreover, the French demand peak during the instance being referred to occurred at 7 pm (connexionfrance.com/France-freeze-ice-Sochaux-hydro-wind-power-13438-view-article.html), so the contribution of German solar to meeting that was zero. In all probability, over 90% of the German electricity exported to France during this exceptional event was generated by fossil, still-operating nuclear and hydro. I say ‘exceptional’ because, again contrary to what has been implied, the flow of electricity between Germany and France is overwhelmingly in the other direction since the former began their nuclear powerdown.

    How the whole situation can be construed as a win for renewables is beyond me.

    If Fell has been so misleading on this score, what are we to make of his other assertions?

    “PV is like semiconductors, the PV price will go down very fast in coming years.” – what is the basis for this? Stuff grounded in physical reality, not extrapolated curves.

    “…increasing rates – and these are exponential…” – evidence? On the contrary, it’s the grid management difficulties that start to increase exponentially once you try to get unreliable renewables penetration above 20-30% on a long-term basis. See how Danish non-hydro renewables’ contribution is flattening out around this level.

    “new technology, such as inverters for PV, can bring this (100% renewables, no baseload) about” – evidence?

    All up, it’s a hell of a lot of wishful thinking to be betting the climate on.

  3. Blaggers

    Bring it on!

    This is what i want my tax dollars to heavily subsidise.

  4. 2dogs

    And waiting to Crikey City Superheros with vastly superior “knowledge” to poo poo this idea in 5. 4. 3. 2.

  5. Whistleblower

    This is all hype and little substance. Any serious analysis of this type would be underpinned by quanitative analysis indicating the source of baseload power, the technical requirements to provide baseload power in periods of low solar and wind activity, and the cost per kilowatt hour of electricity in 2030 to meet all of the country’s needs.

    Personally I’m not opposed to renewable energy, I think it is probably the only way that humanity will survive in the long run. However proselytising without evidence is merely pandering to prejudice, rather than dealing with the facts.

    Current and foreseeable storage technology cannot meet baseload power requirements of a modern economy no matter what the green lunatics are claiming.

    By all means have pious pie in the sky targets, but please underpin them with solid quantitative analysis. There is no doubt that the cost of solar arrays is falling, but it should also be noted that they have a 20 year life cycle and require replacement, losing 1.5% of output each year. Wind power is transient, and each cycle of energy storage and re-release causes a significant power loss.

    If as forecast fossil fuel costs for oil, gas and coal will increase significantly, renewables will become more economic by comparison. However what is not sufficiently recognised is that with a significant increase in the cost per kilowatt hour of energy, living standards must fall to the extent to which efficiency cannot offset the cost increase. Furthermore our societies are critically dependent on 24/7 energy availability, and unless base load power can be guaranteed our whole economic system will fail.

    Ongoing reliance on transitory forms of energy will involve a significant degree of risk currently effectively managed in our power systems using renewable energy, and contingencies to address this issue will need to be more carefully analysed than has been addressed in this articles.

  6. Roger Clifton

    So the proposition is to balance the intermittent supply from renewables with storage to create 100% renewables electricity. Considering that in the German winter, there can be many cold, still, grey days in a row, this “storage” has to be able to provide something of the order of 200 GW for several days without being topped up.

    If that energy was stored in familiar lead-acid batteries, which can hold about 1 kWh, about 20 billion of them would be needed, so clearly this politician is promising German voters the coming of a completely new technology. It would be revolutionary. If Germany can produce such a technology at reasonable cost, renewables would become practical all over the world and we all could resume the march towards a zero-carbon future. But whenever will that come to pass ?

    Until then, it would be foolish to permanently disable their nukes. Astute politicians would promise the fearful an eventual shutdown, but would delay the event until the day that adequate zero-carbon technology becomes available at similar cost. Perhaps that is exactly what he is doing.

  7. Mark Duffett

    So, 2dogs, you’d prefer discussions on the most critical issue facing our civilisation to be based on something other than “knowledge” (vastly superior or otherwise)?

    Rather than poo-pooing the predictability of the put-downs, a more constructive question might be why they’re becoming predictable. I’d suggest it’s because the same crap keeps getting put up – and the concerns raised in response are never adequately addressed.

  8. Microseris

    Of course we will go 100% renewable its just a matter of when. May be longer than we think and this article suggests, but it will happen.

    In the movie 1987 Wall Street, Gordon Gecko had a new fangled $4,000 mobile phone the size of a brick that had to be recharged every 30 mins. I remember my first car phone in the early 90’s. Who could forsee the technology developments over the past 25 odd years.

    The dig it up and burn it crowd are dreaming if they think we are currently at the high point of scientific endeavour.

  9. Mark Duffett

    @Microseris yes, Moore’s Law yada yada yada. So you’d know the old saw that if cars had developed like computers, we’d all be driving things that cost $10, got from 0-100 km/h in three seconds and went 5000 km to the litre. A lot of proponents assume that renewables will develop like computers. But what if they’re more like cars? I’d argue they are.

    Sure, breakthroughs are possible. But again, do we want to be betting the climate and a good deal else on that?

  10. Brian Williams

    In the early 1980s I lived in Stuttgart while studying at the Vaihingen campus of the University, and I can confirm Roger Clinton’s assessment of the ‘still, grey days’. The locals were very friendly though, so we did manage to stay warm at night.

    The idea that any part of Germany could fully contribute to a ‘green’ replacement of current base load at that time of year is laughable, and could only be proposed by a climate change zealot who also believes that hell will soon freeze over (as indeed it would, if it were to rely on wind/solar power to keep the temperature up for all the resident sinners)

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