German renewable energy leaves coal behind

German renewable energy leaves coal behind | 06/12/14
Originally published at johnbrianshannon.com by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Germany, a thriving economic powerhouse under the Chancellorship of Angela Merkel, is also a renewable energy superstar and a country that is loaded with potential.

Lately, the Germans have taken a break from aggressively adding renewable energy to their grid by ending a lucrative feed-in-tariff (FiT) subsidy program that ramped-up the adoption of solar, wind and biomass installations across the country.

Not that these so-called ‘lucrative’ subsidies approached anywhere near what fossil fuel and nuclear power plant operators receive and have received since the postwar period began, as all energy in Germany (like most countries) is heavily subsidized by taxpayers but only the (much smaller) renewable energy subsidies get the headlines. Go figure.

Chancellor Angela Merkel made the courageous decision to accelerate the shutdown Germany’s nuclear power plants in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster in 2011 after stress tests of German nuclear power plants showed safety concerns existed within their nuclear fleet. She ushered in meaningful FiT subsidies to speed the German Energiewende program towards its goal of transition to renewable energy and greater energy efficiency — which had received only sporadic subsidies prior to Merkel.

Snapshot of the German Energiewende program

  • A popular Germany-only program to move towards a highly industrialized, sustainable green economy
  • Full phase-out of nuclear energy by 2022
  • 80-95% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050
  • Minimum of 80% renewables in the power sector
  • 50% increase in energy efficiency by 2050

Germany’s utility companies haven’t seen change like this since WWII. After a century of serving conventionally-generated electrical power to a captive electricity market — approximately 1/3 of all German electricity is now generated via renewable energy if you include nuclear, biomass and hydro-power. That’s historic change by any standard.

Germany-renewable-energy-power-capacity at October 29, 2014 Fraunhofer Institute image
Germany renewable energy power total installed capacity at October 29, 2014. This is not how much electricity Germany actually used — it represents how much total capacity exists in the German electricity grid when all power plants are running at their full rated capacity. Image courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute. © Fraunhofer ISE

Although solar panel outputs are lower during the winter months, over the late spring and summer of 2014 renewable energy generated more than 75% of total demand on many of those days. Not bad, for 5 years of relatively minor renewable energy subsidy euros provided by a (now ended) Feed-in-Tariff!

Germany renewable energy generation for the first 10 months of 2014 courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute
This chart shows how much electricity was actually produced by each type of energy in Germany for the first 10 months of 2014. Some of this energy was exported to nearby nations as a cash-on-delivery export. Image courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute. © Fraunhofer ISE

Another benefit of the switch to renewable energy was the added billions of euros of economic activity generated annually by European solar panel and wind manufacturing companies like Vestas, SolarWorld, Siemens, ABB, and the jobs created for hundreds of SME renewable energy installation companies in the country.

Exports of German solar panels and wind turbines went through the stratosphere — once Germany proved to the world that solar and wind could replace lost nuclear power generation capacity at a much lower cost than building new, multi-billion euro, nuclear or coal-fired power plants with their massive footprint on the land and their obscene water usage levels.

Germany renewable energy power generation change (in absolute terms) for the first 10 months of 2014 compared to the first 10 months of 2013. Image courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute
Germany renewable energy power generation change (in absolute terms) for the first 10 months of 2014 when compared to the first 10 months of 2013. Image courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute. © Fraunhofer ISE

For Germany, installing their own solar, wind and biomass power plants proved to the world that large-scale renewable energy could add huge capacity to a nation’s electrical grid and that different types of renewable energy could work together to balance the over-hyped ‘intermittency problem’ of renewable energy.

It turns out that in Germany, during the long, hot days of summer when solar panels are putting out their maximum power the wind actually tapers off, but at night the wind blows at a very reliable rate. Karmic bonus! That about covers the summer months.

During the winter months in Germany, the wind blows day and night, adding significant amounts of reliable power to the national grid.

Germany solar and wind energy are complementary, helping to stabilize the German electricity grid without adding pollution to the air. Image courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute
Germany solar and wind energy are complementary, helping to stabilize the German electricity grid without adding any pollution to the air. Chart shows actual output for the first 10 months of 2014. Image courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute. © Fraunhofer ISE

And now, all of that renewable energy capacity is operating without FiT subsidy — quite unlike the coal, nuclear, and oil and gas power generation in the country which require huge and ongoing subsidies every day of the year to continue operations. That’s every day since 1946, meine Freunde!

Also a factor with coal-fired power plants are the massive healthcare spending to combat the adverse health effects of fossil fuel burning/air pollution on humans and animals, on the agriculture sector. And the hugely expensive security infrastructure necessary to preclude theft of nuclear materials and nuclear related terror attacks.

While the rest of Europe (with the exception of notables like Norway, Sweden and Luxembourg) wallowed in recession or near-recession since 2008, the German economic powerhouse not only set global export records year-on-year, it bailed-out numerous other EU economies like Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy and others, and began an unprecedented domestic renewable energy program. And now, Germany is an electricity net exporter.

That’s heady stuff, even for this industrious nation of 82 million.

Germany imports and exports of electricity 2001-2014. Image courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute
Germany imports and exports of electricity 2001-2014. Germany exported a record 33.8 TeraWatt hours of electricity in 2013 for truckloads of cold, hard cash. Image courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute. © Fraunhofer ISE

Where to next?

Not only has Germany added many TeraWatt hours (TWh) of clean, renewable energy to its electrical grid to replace lost nuclear power generation, it is now an electricity net exporter — raking in millions of euros per year at present — and make that an electricity exporting superpower if they ever decide to revive their now defunct Feed-in-Tariff subsidy for renewable energy.

Replacing coal with renewable energy in Germany:

If Germany revived the previous FiT regime for 5 years, *all brown coal electrical power generation* could be eliminated within 10 years.

If Germany revived the previous FiT regime for 10 years, *all brown coal and black coal electrical power generation* could be eliminated within 10 years.

Replacing coal with renewable energy in Germany would save millions of Germans, Polish, Swiss, Austrians and others living downwind of German smokestacks from breathing toxic coal-fired air pollution. Think of the health care savings and the taxes involved to support this. Some people believe that the health care savings alone could far exceed the cost of any FiT subsidy.

Not only that, but as a result of leaving coal behind, historic buildings, concrete bridges and roadways would require less maintenance to repair the spalling caused by the acid rain from coal burning. Additionally, Germany would save the millions of litres of water consumed annually by the coal industry.

Replacing coal with renewable energy in Germany would create thousands more jobs for solar, wind, and biomass manufacturing and construction, the agriculture sector would begin to show ever-improving crop outputs and importantly, leave clean air to breathe for tourists, expats and German citizens!

A note about (renewable energy) Hybrid power plants

So-called Hybrid power plants offer the best of both worlds in the renewable energy space by providing plenty of electricity day and night. This Hybrid power plant uses solar panels and wind turbines, while others can incorporate biomass or hydro-electricity dams, along with wind or solar, or both.
Hybrid power plants offer the best of both worlds providing balanced electricity generation, day and night.

An energy policy stroke of genius for Germany could come in the form of a new subsidy (a FiT or other type of subsidy) that could be offered to promote the installation of Hybrid power plants — whereby 30% of electricity generated at a given power plant site would come from solar and the balance could come from any combination of wind, biomass, or hydro-electric generation. (30% solar + 70% various renewable = 100% of total per site output)

As long as all of the electrical power generation at such a site is of the renewable energy variety and it all works to balance the intermittency of solar power, then it should receive automatic approval for the (hereby proposed) Energiewende Hybrid Power Plant subsidy.

When all the different types of renewable energy work in complementary fashion on the same site, energy synergy (the holy grail of the renewable energy industry) will be attained.

More jobs, billions of euros worth of electricity exports to the European countries bordering Germany, lower health care spending, less environmental damage and better agricultural outputs — all at a lower subsidy level than coal and nuclear have enjoyed every year since 1946 — are precisely why Germans should renew their commitment to renewable energy.

Seriously, what’s not to like?

Bonus energy graphic shows the various kinds of energy extant in Germany at the end of 2014.

How goes the Energiewende, Germany? Es geht gut! Image courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute.
How goes the Energiewende, Germany? Es geht gut! Image courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute.

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Natcore Will Make Black Silicon Solar Cells Cheaper

by Tina Casey.

Natcore Technology solar cells
Prices for renewable energy in 2013 continue to fall. Natcore Technologies creates new wafers at lower cost which will help to lower renewable energy costs in the near future.

The solar company Natcore Technologies is set to take a huge bite out of the cost of producing solar cells while reducing the amount of manufacturing-related hazardous effluents. The key is a new low temperature laser process that Natcore plans to introduce, which will eliminate the need for a high temperature diffusion furnace.

Natcore has been working with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and other partners to perfect its black silicon technology. Just around this time last year it announced that it completed the design of a complete low-cost black silicon solar cell production system at its New York facility, resulting in the potential for a 23.5 percent cut production costs according to an independent study cited by Natcore.

The Road To Super Cheap Black Silicon Wafers

The laser system could result in even greater savings.

In conventional solar cell manufacturing, materials are added to the surface of the cell (a process called doping) by melting them on in a furnace, which involves a considerable amount of waste heat. Typically, the furnace reaches temperatures of up to 900 degrees centigrade.

In contrast, laser doping focuses all of its energy on localized points. It takes less than a millisecond, wasting far less energy and minimizing the risk of damaging the solar cell.

According to Natcore officials, the process will also eliminate hazardous materials used in the conventional production process, including silane and phosphorous oxychloride.

Natcore isn’t saying what laser it is using, but it has identified a company that it is working with to custom-make a system for their R&D facility.

Don’t Forget Black Metals!

Black silicon refers to silicon wafers etched with billions of nano-sized holes per square inch. That creates a new level of efficiency, as described by NREL:

The holes and silicon walls are smaller than the light wavelengths hitting them, so the light doesn’t recognize any sudden change in density at the surface and, thus, don’t reflect back into the atmosphere as wasted energy. The researchers controlled the nanoshapes and the chemical composition of the surface to reach record solar cell efficiencies for this ‘black silicon’ material.

The wafer is not actually colored black, but the nanoholes make it appear darker. It’s worth noting, by the way, that Natcore has some competition in this area, for example from Germany’s Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft institute.

Meanwhile, researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have been working on a “black metals” process that deploys the plasmonic effect to harvest energy from a greater span of the solar spectrum.

The basic concept is similar to black silicon, but instead of using nanoholes, the structures in black metal are pillar-like nanofilaments.

Projects like these demonstrate that solar tech has yet to find its bottom cost, as efficiencies continue to rise and production costs fall.

As for the “soft costs” of a solar installation including labor and third-party financing, those are also being addressed by new Department of Energy initiatives such as the Most Affordable Rooftop Solar Prize.

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This article, Natcore Aims To Make Black Silicon Solar Cells Even Cheaper, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Tina CaseyTina Casey Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

Toshiba To Build and Operate Solar Systems in Germany

by Nicholas Brown.

Toshiba Solar Power Systems
Toshiba has embarked on an ambitious scheme in Germany, where they will build, own, and operate (BOO) solar power systems, on commercial building rooftops.

Toshiba intends to utilize a new business model in Germany under which it will install and operate self-consumption solar power systems for residents of apartment buildings. It intends to sell the power to the residents of these buildings at a lower price than utility companies do. The system will consist of batteries and the μEMS micro energy management system.

Toshiba will launch this system in March and install 3 MW of solar panels for 750 apartments operated by GAGFAH, a German real estate company in Villingen-Schwenningen and Ostfildern. The apartment buildings are all located in Barten-Wuerttemburg. Toshiba also hopes to increase capacity from 3 MW at the start to 100 MW by 2016.

This is reminiscent of the business model solar leasing companies such as SolarCity, Sunrun, Sungevity, and others use. Residents can call these companies, have them install solar panels at no initial cost (or little initial cost), and then pay a fraction of what their electricity bill used to be for the solar-generated electricity. However, these companies serve single-family homes with their own roofs. Toshiba’s entry into the realm of apartment buildings, to be funded and owned by a group of pension funds, is potentially huge.

However, worth noting is that Germany’s electricity policies are important to the enabling of this option. Toshiba writes:

Although Germany introduced a feed-in tariff system for renewable energy in 2000, and while the adoption of photovoltaic (PV) power has increased, consumers have recently seen higher electricity bills every year, along with a lower feed in price for surplus solar power. Germany is seeking solutions to this by deregulating its energy market, separating power generation and transmission, and independent power providers can now participate and deliver electricity. Toshiba is responding with a new on-site consumption model that will operate independently of the feed-in tariff system, and that is expected to reduce burden on the regional gird and the environment.

But Toshiba and its partners don’t intend to stick solely with this solar power scheme. They also want to expand into the related energy management realm.

Going forward, it will also install stationary batteries and integrate a micro energy management system, μEMS, to realize an integrated solution. Toshiba’s goal is to develop a self-sufficient model for on-site consumption that delivers solar-power electricity day and night, and apply it to a service business that supports energy management on a real-time basis. In developing its smart-grid related business at the global level, Toshiba will promote the integration and use of dispersed power sources that match local needs and conditions.

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This article, Toshiba To Build & Operate Solar Systems For Apartment Buildings In Germany, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Nicholas Brown

Nicholas Brown has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, geography, and much more. My website is: Kompulsa.

When And Who Will Reach Solar PV At 2c/kWh?

by Giles Parkinson.

Solar panel close-up view
Solar Panel close-up view.

Originally published on RenewEconomy

(Editor’s note: This is part of a series of interviews and stories that will run over the next few weeks looking at Germany’s Energiewende, and the transition of Germany’s energy grid to one dominated by renewable energy. You can find them all in our Insight section).

Solar PV at 2c/kW by 2050? It’s simply a matter of when, not if, the solar industry says. But the head of one of the world’s leading research organisations is warning that the biggest problem may be creating enough capacity to meet demand.

That’s not the big issue right now for the solar PV industry. For the last two years, solar manufacturing capacity has far exceeded demand, leading to cut-throat pricing that undercut manufacturing costs, causing huge losses and many to be forced out of business.

That balance is now being redressed, as rationalisation takes hold and demand soars in Japan, US, China and some emerging economies. The good news for consumers is that manufacturing costs are still coming down.

Eicke Weber, the head of the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems in Freiburg, Germany, the biggest solar research facility in Europe, and the second biggest in the world, says the greatest concern is that cheap solar may be available to just 10 per cent of the population.

That is why Weber is now advocating what he describes at PV 2.0 – an ambitious plan to build a pan-European manufacturing capacity along the same lines as the Airbus consortium.

Part of this plan is motivated by the desire to ensure that Europe retains the manufacturing capacity of an industry it kick-started through the feed-in tariffs launched in Germany and then adopted around the rest of the continent – and more recently in Australia, Japan and China.

German equipment manufacturers have done well out of the Chinese manufacturing boom, even if German module manufacturers didn’t prosper quite so well in the long term. The equipment suppliers sold some €60 billion worth of equipment to the Chinese manufacturing industry, but the Chinese government is now mandating that 80 per cent of that equipment be supplied locally.

Hence the need for a European manufacturing capability that can match others on scale and cost, for the sake of businesses all along the value chain.

Weber says the challenge is more about financing manufacturing facilities at that scale, rather than the emergence of any particular technology. He says the industry is destined for higher efficiencies and lower production costs, and higher degrees of automation as a matter of course.

“Europe has a great opportunity to lose if we do not succeed in financing production plants for our innovative new PV technologies,” Weber told RenewEconomy in an interview in his office in Freiburg earlier this month.

The challenge, he says, is to install modern equipment at the scale needed to ensure that solar manufacturing companies are profitable at module prices below 50c/Watt.

“I like to call this savings at scale, the X gigawatt factory,” Weber said. “That X could be any number, from 1GW to 5GW, or more, but let’s start at 1GW.

“You need to have a certain vision right now, because the industry is not making a lot of money. The 40GW market will soon become a 100GW market, and then a 300GW market.

“If, in 2050, when solar electricity might cost us 2c-3c/kWh, when it is the least expensive way of electricity, it would need total installed capacity of 10,000GW of solar PV to meet just 10 per cent of the world’s demand. Today we have just 100GW.

“We need to get to annual production of 300GW very soon. Even with that we would take 30 years to get to that target.”

Weber says he has no doubt that the capacity will be built, the only question is by whom – which is why he is arguing for a pan-European response. He says the window of opportunity to grab this market is in the next three to four years.

He says Europe has all it needs in terms of research institutes, equipment and materials suppliers, banks and financing, trader, systems integrators and contractors, and construction companies.

The missing link is in the gigawatt-scale manufacturers for silicon, wafers and cells and modules. To match the Chinese, or other countries such as Saudi Arabia with its petrol dollars, a European venture would need credit guarantees and low-interest financing.

“This capacity will be built, because as soon as there is an economic opportunity, they will come. The question is only by whom.”

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This article, When And Who Will Reach Solar PV At 2c/kWh?, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Giles ParkinsonGiles Parkinson is the founding editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, an Australian-based website that provides news and analysis on cleantech, carbon, and climate issues. Giles is based in Sydney and is watching the (slow, but quickening) transformation of Australia’s energy grid with great interest.

SolarWorld Buys Bosch Solar

by Zachary Shahan

Germany-based SolarWorld is probably best known for starting the huge global solar trade war centered around Chinese solar subsidies. However, the company is also a very large player in the solar module and solar cell manufacturing realm (hence the trade war). In an effort to grow its influence and market share, SolarWorld has now taken majority ownership of Bosch Solar Energy.

Bosch Solar
Bosch Solar Energy has been purchased by SolarWorld.

With this acquisition, Solar World is getting about 800 Bosch Solar Energy employees and enough extra manufacturing capacity (700 MW) to boost its solar cell production capacity to over 1 gigawatt (GW). It also gets 200 MW of solar module production capacity.

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“The newly formed SolarWorld Industries-Thüringen GmbH, a 100% subsidiary of Bonn-based SolarWorld, will take over the majority of Bosch Solar Energy’s manufacturing plants and other assets,” pv magazine reports.

The deal will provide SolarWorld with production capacities of more than 1 GW along each of the wafer, cell and module stages of the solar value chain. SolarWorld said it plans to continue to supply Bosch Solar Energy’s existing cell and module customers.

The company added that the high-performance mono-crystalline cells production plant will complement its technological portfolio. SolarWorld said it would now pool research and development activities aimed at improving high efficiency solar cells “to create further competitive advantages for the group and enable further cost reductions.”

SolarWorld’s acquisition is limited to the Arnstadt facility and does not include Bosch’s other solar assets, such as Aleo Solar in Prenzlau.

It’s unclear what SolarWorld is providing in return for Bosch Solar Energy, but speculation is that it’s not cash. Rather, solar analysts presume that it is a commitment to keep the Arnstadt facility running and its personnel employed for a specified period of time. Bosch Solar Energy has been sustaining major losses for a while

Notably, SolarWorld also took over Shell Solar 7 years ago. Whether or not SolarWorld will be able to survive the competition coming from low-cost manufacturers in China and other parts of Asia is yet to be seen. Many took its initiation of solar trade cases as a death cry. However, with a little luck, maybe it will come out of the global solar shakeout alive.

While solar power growth has been on a quick rise, the cost of solar power technologies has fallen so low that solar companies unable to compete have been dying left and right. This is actually a rather natural part of the maturation of an industry. Check out this solar shakeout article for more information on all of that.

Keep an eye on the latest solar news by closely monitoring our solar energy channel or by subscribing to our (free!) solar energy newsletter.

This article, SolarWorld Buys Bosch’s Solar Arm, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Zachary ShahanZachary Shahan is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy for the past four years or so. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he’s the Network Manager for their parent organization – Important Media – and he’s the Owner/Founder of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.