Europe Exits Fossil Fuel, will hit 30% Renewables by 2017

by Zachary Shahan

Following up on a Credit Suisse report stating that ~85% of US energy demand growth would come from renewables by 2025, we thought it would be good to take a look at the energy trends in Europe as well.

Actually, one of our readers pitched this idea prior to the publishing of that article, and did most of the research for this piece. I then had the pleasure of putting it together to create the primarily positive (with one notable hiccup) non-fiction story below. Enjoy!

Let’s start with the broad overview. UBS analysts in 2013 reported that utilities in Europe need to shut down 30% of their gas, coal, and oil-fed power capacity by 2017 — not necessarily to fight global warming, cut pollution, or cut fuel imports, but because the renewable energy revolution is pushing fossil fuels off the grid.

In other words, increasingly cheap and fast-growing renewables are killing fossil fuels in Europe

“Producers must close 49 gigawatts of capacity to stabilize profits at 2012 levels, analysts led by Paris-based Per Lekander wrote in an e-mailed report,” according to Rachel Morison of Bloomberg.

“That includes 24 gigawatts of ‘mainly cashflow positive capacity’ on top of the 7 gigawatts that utilities already plan to shut and an additional 18 gigawatts of closures expected to be announced.”

“The most important driver has undoubtedly been the remarkable increase of renewable capacity, and in particular solar, mainly in Germany,” Per Lekander said.

Image Credit: Nuclear Energy Agency and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development, via @SamHamels
Image Credit: Nuclear Energy Agency and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development, via @SamHamels

Unfortunately, the most closures are projected to be of natural gas power plants. Coal power’s big exit is projected to get rolling in 2015.

However, that’s not to say no coal power plants are being closed or kept off the grid until 2015. Back in August 2013, it was announced that a coal power plant in Finland would shut down due to its failing competitiveness.

“Finland’s largest utility, Fortum, is closing a coal-fired power plant in Inkoo, west of Helsinki,” yle wrote.

“Built in the mid-1970s, the 750 MW plant has rarely been used in recent years, only supplying backup power to the Nordic grid during periods of peak demand. It has long been a loss-maker. This is partly due to falling electricity prices in Europe, driven by Germany’s shift toward renewable energy.”

The Finnish government, in the meantime, has committed itself to transitioning to a clean, renewable energy future — only logical, right?

And in the center of much of the clean energy revolution, Germany, dozens of coal power plants have been canceled or closed in recent years.

In Germany, dozens of coal power plants have been canceled or closed in recent years, with others 'walking the plank'.
In Germany, dozens of coal power plants have been canceled or closed in recent years, with others ‘walking the plank’.

It’s true that coal power production increased in Germany in 2012, but you have to put that into some context to understand why. What many people don’t know is that many coal power plants were previously planned for Germany.

The renewable energy revolution hasn’t increased the need for coal power plants, as many misinformers would have you believe, but has resulted in the majority being dropped. Closing of nuclear power plants, combined with high natural gas prices in Europe, however, did result in a slight rise in coal power production.

Natural gas is clearly the fossil fuel getting hit hardest in Europe at the moment. As Tino Andresen and Tara Patel of Bloomberg wrote in March 2013.

“Three years ago, Germany’s largest utility spent 400 million euros ($523 million) building a natural gas-fired power station. Later this month, the company may close the plant because it’s losing so much money.”

EON’s Irsching-5, the power plant in discussion, only operated 25% of the time in 2012!

The factors for the quick death of such an expensive plant were varied, though: “As Europe’s weak economy holds back electricity demand, cheaper coal, requirements to buy renewable energy and the collapsing cost of carbon permits are undercutting gas-fired plants.”

But it’s not only happening in Germany

“Gas-fired plants are stopped three days out of four,” Gerard Mestrallet, chief executive officer of GDF Suez, France’s former gas monopoly, said at a briefing on Feb. 28.

“The thermal industry is in crisis. There is overcapacity.”

The story is essentially the same in the Netherlands, Spain, the Czech Republic, and other European countries.

In the end, the story is actually rather simple: as more renewable energy comes on line, something has to go off line.

Aside from nuclear power plants that are being shuttered due to old age and citizen demand, the big loser at the moment is natural gas. However, coal is on its way out too, just a bit more slowly. Of course, if there was a higher price on carbon, or other fossil fuel market dynamics changed, we could see those two switch places on their way out the door.

Anything more you’d like to add? Chime in below.

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This article, Europe’s Fossil Fuel Exit — 30% Of Fossil Fuel Power Capacity To Close By 2017, UBS Analysts Project, 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.

Green Energy Is Grassroots Energy In Germany

by Giles Parkinson

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Even the cemetery chapel has solar PV.

Originally published on RenewEconomy.

(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).

One of the most misunderstood aspects of Germany’s energy transition is the assumption that this is top-down mandate to adopt green energy. Nothing could be further from the truth, and one key statistic underlines this point: the major electricity generators account for just 7 per cent of the renewable energy that now makes up nearly one quarter of the county’s  electricity production. The rest has come from farmers, households, communities and small business.

There is a bunch of reasons why this is so. For many, it is their dislike of nuclear. For others, it’s the opportunity of maintaining a lifestyle, finding independence, or retaining ownership of a family farm. For many it is an environmental issue, for others it is an economic one.

When the price of livestock plunged after the outbreak of “mad cow” disease, the Reinbold family in the village of Freiamt, just north of Freiburg, were worried about losing their farm which had been in the family for generations.

So they turned to biogas to generate electricity and waste heat: They now grow crops of inedible corn, grass and rye and have two small turbines that have a combined capacity of 360kW. Waste heat is fed to the school and nearby homes, the liquid waste from the biomass goes to neighbouring farms. Another turbine will provide heat for the village pool and the hostels, which are popular with hikers.

“It’s more work in summer outside in the field,” says Inge Reinbold, of the need to tend crops rather than cattle. But less work in winter. And despite the large investment, she feels she has risk-proofed the family farm. “Now we have a fixed price for 10 years,” she says. They get 10c/kWh for their biogas electricity – and three solar arrays owned by her three sons gives them a further income.

Higher up the valley, we visit the Schneider family, which has gone even further, installing a heater that uses wood chips instead of oil, and hosting two community-owned wind turbines on their property (pictured below), which features 80 dairy cows and a much admired Schnapps production facility in the basement. (You can see a video here).

freiamt

The Schneider family farm – dairy cows, schnapps making, 100kW of solar PV and two wind turbines.

They, too, have around 100kW of solar in four arrays on the house and barn rooftops. The first was installed at a cost of €4,000/kW and got a feed-in-tariff of €0.49/kWh the most recent as installed at a cost of €1,000/w, and got a FiT of €0.32. The FiT is now around 15c.

(And it should be noted that when German farmers put solar on the rooftop they don’t muck around. Many of them have 30kW on the house and another 30kW on one or more barns if they have them. The Schneider household, Victorian planning authorities could note, is 400m from its turbine. The proximity may have made their schnapps somewhat more potent).

Now Freiamt, a collection of five small hamlets in the foothills of the Black Forest with a total population of 4,200, provides more than 200 per cent of its electricity needs, the locals claim. Five turbines, including the two on the Schneider property,  account for ¾ of this, with the rest made up from two biogas plants,  251 solar rooftops, about 150 solar thermal collectors, wood-chip heaters and four run-of-river hydro’s, which are coming back into vogue after a century of neglect.

The sense of independence is ingrained into the mentality. Most of the farming families were attracted to the area 500 years ago when the Monastery at St Peter, just down the road, offered freehold land to farmers who settled into the area and independence from the Dutch overlords).

“Now you see farms starting to look at battery storage,” says Erhard Shulz, the founder of the locally based Innovation Academy, and my guide for the day. “Independence is very important. That is why the families came here 500 years ago, for independence from the Dutch. Now it is for independence from the nuclear and the fossil fuel companies. This is very important.”

Most other villages in the region are taking similar action to Freiamt.

In Forchheim, the Binder family has invested in a 1.7MW biogas plant using two old ship motors. The aim is to generate 25 per cent of the local gas requirements, which would make the local area independent of Russian gas, which is imported at great expense.

In Weisweil, a village of 2,100 people, solar is installed on nearly available rooftop. Thirty locals pitched in to put a 50kW solar system on the roof of the local school, which also introduced energy efficiency and replaced heating oil with wood chips. Even the chapel in the cemetery has a 22kW solar system on the roof, installed by the local bank which feeds 50 per cent of the earnings back into the community. The village boasts 700w of solar PV per habitant. (In Australia, it is around 125w per capita).

“You need communities like this,” Shulz says. “Someone has to be in front so that others can follow.” Other towns are looking at investing too.

The village of Kenzingen is considering 5 community owned turbines.  The larger town of Ettlingenden and the surrounding district, with its population of 22,000, aims to be 100 per cent renewable for its electricity by 2030, and 50 per cent for its heating needs.

The goal for Etlingenden contrasts with that of the major local city of Freiburg, which is looking to achieve the same goal in 2050. “The centre of initiative is in the small villages,” Shulz says. “People using their own money to invest in hydro, biogas, solar and wind turbines. They don’t wait for the government and the utilities.”

Shulz, who was a student at the time of the anti-nuclear protests in the 1970s that served as a launched for the green energy movement, and later the Greens Party, is a part owner of six wind turbines, seven solar installations and two run of river hydro plants. The number of co-investors ranges from 10 to more than 500, depending on the installation.

This is typical of the country and one of the reasons why no party that got elected to parliament in the recent elections opposes the so called Energiewende, or energy transition. It is one of the driving forces of the policy. The major generators have been blindsided, to the point where the biggest of them, such as RWE, are considering abandoning their traditional business models and moving to a “value add” business that could assist the rising “pro-prosumer” and a new market.

Finally, Shulz take me to the village of Wyhl, where the state government wanted to build the nuclear plant in the 1970s. Shulz takes me to a stone inlaid with a plaque at the site of Wyhl fight, about 50m from the banks of the Rhine river that separates Germany and France. The land had been cleared but was stopped by a protest of 50,000 people. (See some archive video here). It is now a nature reserve. The plaque reads, “We said no.”

Wyhl is now a “solar village”. Virtually every commercial rooftop has solar installed, as do many houses, and solar accounts for between 40 and 50 per cent of its electricity needs. All the solar is owned by the community.  “We have gone from nuclear to solar,” Shulz says. “Now we say no to fossil fuels.”

See also out story Should Australian communities buy back their grids, which traces the history of Schönau, which was the first village to do so in Germany, and our interview with the Australian-born mayor of Green City Freiburg, How the crazy green energy citizens became mainstream in Germany. 

(Thanks to Craig Morris, a Freiburg-based journalist who writes the Energy Transition blog (EnergyTransition.de), for allowing us to share some of his videos. More will be featured in our other stories. You can see all his episodes here).

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This article, Green Energy Is Grassroots Energy In Germany, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Giles 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.

‘Crazy’ Becomes The Norm In Germany After Tremendous Green Progress

by Giles Parkinson

Freiberg, Germany sets sails on Energiewende
Freiburg, Germany sets sails on Energiewende.

(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).

“They told us we were crazy.”

It is a phrase you often hear from Dr. Dieter Salomon – the Australian-born mayor of the German city of Freiburg – a city so much at the vanguard of the green transformation that is currently underway in Germany that it calls itself – Green City Freiburg. It probably feels that it needs the extra words to reinforce the point – because green, or at least green energy, is now mainstream in Germany.

Salomon, who was born in Melbourne but moved back to Germany with his family at the age of 3, has been mayor of this city of 220,000 people at the edge of the Black Forest since 2002. And in many ways, the story of Freiburg and its attitude to renewables, energy, and sustainability, is a microcosm of what is now occurring in the broader economy.

It goes back to the 1970s, when an unlikely coalition of farmers — many of them wine makers, academics and students — forced the state government to cancel plans for a new nuclear power plant at Wyhl, just 25kms north of the city. It was a ferocious battle (see a video here), culminating in a showdown that attracted a rally of 50,000 people. It remains, Salomon says, the only nuclear power plant that has been successfully prevented from going ahead, even thought the country has now committed to closing all by 2022.

Dieter Salomon, the Australian-born mayor of Freiburg
Dieter Salomon, the Australian-born mayor of Freiburg

“The prime minister of the state (of Baden-Württemberg), told us we were crazy and said that we don’t build this plant the lights will go off,” Salomon says in his offices in the heart of the Medieval old quarter of the city. “That was 40 years ago, people still remember that comment because the lights haven’t gone off.”

More than a decade later, the “crazy” accusation was levelled at the city again, this time by the local newspaper when the council decided, six weeks after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, to install a long-term program to wean the city off nuclear and fossil fuels, and into renewables, energy saving, and energy efficiency.

“They told us it was a crazy decision,” Salomon says. Despite preventing a new power station, the local utility still relied on nuclear for 90 per cent of its electricity needs. “They told us it was not possible.” Now, the local utility contracts almost all its outside needs from hydro-electric sources in Austria.

The Solar Ship in Freiburg

Freiburg argues that it earns its “Green City” sobriquet from that initial spirit of defiance against nuclear and its subsequent focus on innovation, and sustainability.

It boasts a carbon neutral quarter known as Quartier Vauban, where in some sections the citizens voted against the use of cars; the “Solar City” and “Sun Ship” (pictured right), a residential area that features “energy plus” housing, meaning the houses and adjoining commercial buildings produce more solar electricity than they consume during the year.

There is the famous “Heliotrop”, a unique circular home that rotates so that its massive solar PV array and solar thermal collectors can follow the sun. (See video here).

The town has more than 100 “passive houses”, has retrofitted a high-rise residential building to “passive house” status (see another video here); and new homes have a requirement that restricts the consumption of heating oil to 1.5 litres per square metre per year. That compares to the average consumption of 30 litres/sqm/year a decade ago. Space heating in Germany consumes twice as much energy as electricity.

New housing projects are not begun until a tram line is built. The city estimates that 30 per cent of journeys are done by public transport and 27 per cent by bicycle. Car movements account for just 30 per cent of movements within the city. It is building three new tram lines to ensure that every home is within 500m of public transport.

Freiburg has also become a hub of innovation and industry. I lunched at Solar Fabrik, the first carbon-neutral solar module manufacturing facility. The city is also the home of numerous research facilities, most notably the Fraunhofer Institute for Sustainable Energy, which has grown from 60 people to more than 1,300, and is the second largest solar research institute in the world.

“Freiburg was quite different from rest of Republic,” Salomon says. “They thought we were the crazy guys from the Upper Rhine Valley. But now it is mainstream.” But, he concedes, “a lot of people complain that we don’t do enough, that what we have done is nothing, that we have to do more.”

Indeed, despite its credentials, Freiburg now trails other cities in the deployment of renewables. It gave itself what seems to be a modest target of generating 10 per cent of its own electricity needs through renewables by 2010, but came up well short.

freiburg wind
Picturesque Freiburg, Germany.

It has six turbines on the hills overlooking the town, and solar PV on the stadium, and virtually every other public building that can support it, as well as many private homes. But it still only generates 6% of its own electricity needs through these means. Despite being in the sunniest region in Germany, there is just not that much wind and sun to go power the city within the narrow boundaries of the city, and few biomass or hydro opportunities. About 50 per cent of its energy needs (mostly heat) comes from combined heat and power plants.

Now it has set a target of 100 per cent renewables for the Freiburg region, which includes the surrounding areas that have 650,000 people. It aims to do this by 2050. It will use the open spaces and resources of the surrounding areas for more wind turbines and solar farms, biomass plants and run-of-river hydro. And, Salomon hopes, geothermal. (Some smaller towns scoff at such targets, saying that they have already reached 100 per cent renewables, or even more, in some villages. The region of Emmendingen, which forms part of Freiburg and has 25,000 people, aims to be 100 per cent renewable by 2030).

The Green Conundrum: Fundies vs Realos

Salomon was elected mayor in 2002 – the first Green mayor of a large city in Germany — and re-elected in 2010 (they have eight-year terms). He’s what is knows an a “Realo”, as opposed to a “Fundie”, or fundamental Green that refuse the corridors of power.

It’s been a battle that has raged with the Green Party since it was founded more than three decades ago. The Green Party shared power with the Social Democrats in Berlin a decade ago, and the same arrangement is in place in Badem-Wurrtemburg, where Freiburg is located. The state’s capital, Stuttgart, also has a green mayor.

But in the federal level, the Greens have snubbed the opportunity of forming a Coalition with Angela Merkel, despite being the first party approached. Some say it is because the Fundies rule again in Berlin, others say it is because the centre-right has stolen its thunder by rejecting nuclear and supporting renewables. Still, others are frustrated that the Greens are not sharing power, because the energy transition would likely be quicker than with a centre right/centre left coalition.

For Salomon though, being Green and in government is “quite normal”. “When I was re-elected 3 years ago, I represented the mainstream of Freiburg.”

He says he needs to be a “realo” in more ways than one, because his party has just 13 out of 48 councillors. There are 10 parties represented to the council. “I have to have majority support in the council or I cannot govern,” he says.

Salomon is confident that the Energiewende – the national energy transition that will see it phase out nuclear altogether by 2022 and become a nation predominantly powered by renewables — will succeed.  This is despite a lot of vested interests trying to make political capital out of rising electricity prices.

“A lot of countries are looking at Germany,” Salomon says. Some of them don’t want us to reach our targets, others are hoping that we do. When it works in Germany, a lot of other countries are going to copy it.

“I know some countries think we are crazy, including the British. But now they are building new nuclear power plants with the French and the Chinese. The money they guarantee for every kilowatt hour is more than we pay for solar. Now, that is really crazy.”

See also our story Should Australian communities buy back their grids, which traces the history of Schönau, which was the first village to do so in Germany.

(Thanks to Craig Morris, a Freiburg based journalist who writes the Energy Transition blog (EnergyTransition.de), for allowing us to share some of his videos. More will be featured in our other stories. They can be found here).

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This article, “Crazy” Becomes The Norm In Germany After Tremendous Green Progress, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Giles 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.

4 More Germany Solar Power and Wind Power Charts

by Zachary Shahan – Special to JBS News

Greentech Media recently piggy-backed on our article regarding Germany’s new monthly solar generation record (5.1 GWh in the month of July).

In that article, Herman K. Trabish pulled up some great charts from the Fraunhofer Institute’s Bruno Burger. I think I always find Dr. Burger’s charts interesting and useful. I’ve shared many of them on CleanTechnica in the past. Herman pulled some great ones from the month of July that I think are worth an even wider share. He also added some useful commentary regarding Germany’s clean energy leadership.

“First, Germany’s installed solar capacity as of July 22, 2013, according to the Fraunhofer Institute’s Dr. Bruno Burger, was 34,558 megawatts. By contrast, the GTM Research Q1 2013 U.S. Solar Market Insight report put the U.S. installed PV capacity at 7,962 megawatts (with another 6 megawatts of concentrating solar power installed capacity),” Herman writes.

Pretty astounding, eh? And if you look at it on a per capita or per GDP basis, it’s even much more divergent, as I point out every chance I get.

“Germany also had an installed capacity of 30,532 megawatts of onshore and offshore wind in July. The U.S. had over 65,000 megawatts of wind at the end of 2012, though it has yet to build offshore,” Herman adds, regarding Germany’s wind power leadership.

Here are some charts before I continue:

Germany Renewable Energy 2013

One more thing that Herman notes is something we’ve noted in the past but which gets even more striking the more wind and solar power grow: solar power and wind power complement each other wonderfully.

This is true on a day-to-day basis, but it’s also true on a month-to-month basis. Here are Dr. Burger’s/Fraunhofer’s monthly charts on that for 2013 through July:

Germany Solar Power Wind Power

Beautiful, isn’t it?

Thanks to Herman for following up and adding in these excellent Fraunhofer charts.

This article, 4 More Germany Solar Power & Wind Power Charts, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

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.

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