Monday, May 14, 2012

Germany & Tamilnadu commonality: Reckless renewable dependence creates looming power crisis

The "Renewable Energy Act" (EEG), prioritizing “green” electricity supply, remains the most significant element of the Germany’s energy’s security policy. Fossil and nuclear fuels amount to "global pyromania...Renewable energy is the fire extinguisher." said Hermann Scheer, the German politician who championed the policy.
The Act spurred a reckless and uncontrolled rush to adopt wind and solar power technology as the law obligated the nation's electric utilities to purchase green power at sky-high rates, as much as 60 cents per kilowatt-hour for solar, under fixed contracts lasting up to 20 years.
(German market prices for electricity, largely produced by coal and nuclear plants, were then about 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.)

The idea behind this "feed-in tariff" was that anyone would be able to build a renewable-power plant or install rooftop solar panels and be guaranteed predictable profits by feeding energy into the grid, where utilities would buy it at premium prices. The higher costs would be passed on as monthly surcharges to ratepayers, spread out among all homes and businesses in a country of about 80 million people. 

Germany's first target was to get at least 10 percent of its electric power from renewable sources by 2010. The German grid now gets more than 17 percent of its electricity from these sources, and the government has raised its target for 2020 from 20 percent to 30 percent. This is not surprising that if you throw enough money at a certain technology, people will use it.

But after 12 years of the implementation of this Act, the chickens have come home to roost. The once impeccably stable world-class power grid is now reduced to just one step away from being energy starved developing economy just like India. The admission is no less by the “German Bundesnetzagentur” (Federal Network Agency), the authority of the German Federal Government, overseeing electricity, gas, in their latest press release. P Gosselin reports in the No Tricks Zone Blog:
In Point No. 1 on page 10 in the summary of its Report on the Status of the Grid-Related Energy Supply in Winter 2011/12, they write: 1. The situation for the power grid in the winter of 2011/12 was very precarious.

Moreover, the report writes: “No. 5 Reserve capacity in Germany and Austria was strained on multiple occasions” and that overall (No. 6) “the power plant situation has adversely developed.” and that “regulatory measures are required in order to ban the shutdown of conventional power plants”.

The report adds that the grid disruptions occurring last winter can be avoided, but only with great efforts. Earlier the problem had been restricted to North Germany. But since the shutdown of nuclear power plants in the south (5000 MW), the problems of grid instability have spread nationwide. There’s an urgent need for reserve capacity .Another huge problem is that the system is now characterised by great unpredictability, especially when it comes to supply by sun and wind. The report also sates that the current gas network is inadequate to balance out fluctuations.

Steffen Hentrich writes:

This does not only show how the replacement of conventional energy capacity through renewable energy is an illusion, but also how expensive the forced energy transition to renewables will be for citizens. The transformation of the energy supply, as it is now being conducted, cannot be supported by the arguments of environmental protection, supply reliability and economics, even when the reports of state officials allow us to see that none of these targets sells by itself.”

The latest German report reveals a grid that is headed for disarray – and quickly. Welcome to the energy of the future.”

Another blog observed:
“In 2010, 16.9% of Germany’s electricity came from renewable energy sources; nuclear provided 23.3%. The relative share, spread across renewable-based electricity (not final energy), is shown in the figure on the right. The installed renewable capacity was 55.7 GWe, producing 101.7 TWh of electricity, for an all-tech-averaged capacity factor of 20.8%. The aim is for renewables to provide 35% of electricity by 2020.

Nuclear provided 141 TWh of electricity in 2010. If this had come from coal instead (assuming an EI of 1.12 t/MWh), it would have produced about 158 Mt of additional CO2-e. German nuclear phase-out was a panicked knee jerk reaction and could even amount to environmental vandalism.”
So how does Germany propose to bridge this widening supply-demand gap? German utilities and private investors have plans to construct or modernise some 84 power stations, of these, 29 units are to be gas-fired and another, 17 coal-fired generation plants, expanding installed power generation capacity by 42,000 megawatts (MW). Further, these projects are to be funded at least in part by a federal fund for promoting clean energy and combating climate change!!

Far from a blanket shutdown of the country’s nuclear power plants, the German government is now mulling keeping one nuclear reactor as a possible backup option. Federal Grid Agency Chief Matthias Kurth told an energy conference in Berlin, "The figures we have so far seem to suggest that we will need one of those nuclear power plants. The reason is that the much touted conventional cold reserve has not shown to be a viable option."

Germany's Greens, buoyant following Berlin’s decision to shutter down the country’s nuclear power plants in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe in Japan, are sharply critical of the government’s intention to underwrite the construction of new coal-fired power plants to help produce power when the nuclear power plants go offline.

But Germany’s Economics Ministry remain defiant Der Spiegel reported: "Highly efficient, flexible fossil fuel power plants that need to be built in the years 2013 to 2016 will be subsidized to the tune of 5 percent of the annual outlay from the Energy and Climate Fund,"

Ah, the Germans are known for their Mercedes Benz, BMWs, Loewe televisions, and no sense of humour. But take a look at the little sensor that detects rainwater on the windshield of your car which will automatically turn on the wiper? Its inventor is a German. And so are anti-locking braking systems. There are dozens of car devices which relate back to a German who just kept thinking about how things work and then they make changes to make them work better and with more precision. It's the same with each and every technical innovation - there is probably a German behind its invention. Perhaps I could be wrong about their sense of humour but it remains puzzling how these Germans could dig themselves into such an energy mess, botching up their stereotype image?

So Germany, after decades of building intermittent power sources from solar and wind now see no alternative but to build vast numbers of coal and gas power stations for base load hitherto provided by nuclear while they preach to countries like India to reduce our dependence on base load coal and instead opt for intermittent solar and wind energy capacity!

Whether you believe in catastrophic global warming or not, this is complete madness and an exercise of crass hypocrisy.

Tamilnadu: A Case-Study how renewable energy can wreck its energy security

As can be seen from table, due to very high subsidies and incentives, the investment risk in wind energy projects comes to less than 10% of the capital cost by using tax-planning instruments, coupled with preferential tariffs for sale, captive consumption, or third-party sales thereby incentivizing public and private organizations to invest in wind energy projects. 

The Electricity Act, 2003, under Section 86(i)e, mandates each Structural Engineering Research Centre (SERC) to ensure that a portion of power generated is from renewable sources and leaves it to the commissions to determine the percentage. 

The result is today, the installed capacity of windmill power generation is almost 32-34% of the state’s energy mix, and together with other sources such as solar energy, biomass, captive power etc, this takes the share of renewable energy to almost 34-36% of Tamilnadu‘s installed power generation capacity. 

This is double the share of installed capacity of renewable energy of Germany and by this yardstick; Tamilnadu should be considered twice “Greener” than Germany. But this status also brings with it twice as much the problem which Germany faces today. Remember Germany till recently was an energy surplus nation, only now slipping into deficiency while Tamilnadu was a energy deficient state to begin with and its increasing dependence on renewables is now slipping it into a state of more chronic deficiency which is why they are experiencing as much as 4-10 hours load shedding during summer!!!!!

a.     Installed capacity in Tamil Nadu increased from around 13,000 MW at the end of the 10th plan to around 14,700 MW in 2010-11, representing an increase of around 12%. As shown in the graph, Tamilnadu’s performance lies rock bottom. States such as Gujarat Rajasthan and West Bengal increased capacity by as much as 53%, 43% and 47% respectively.

b.     Another important point to note is with respect to capacity additions in the public sector. Tamil Nadu Electricity Board (TNEB)’s capacity addition is again the least among all the states and is in fact almost negligible. States such as West Bengal increased state sector capacity by as much as 70%.

c.     A further point to note is that almost all the capacity additions in Tamil Nadu were in private wind generation.

[The Central Textile Ministry in addition, in order to bolster the industry’s global competitive ability, the Ministry came up with a funding mechanism in the form of the Textile Up-gradation Fund Scheme in 1999, which had a 5% subsidy component (now withdrawn). The industrialists used the fund to install turbines – which gave them captive power – as a hedging mechanism against the increasing costs of power.

Simply put, for a more than a decade, energy capacity expansion took place at a rate highly inadequate to meet rising demand. Further, whatever little expansion that took place pushed the state to increasing dependence on wind power, that too almost exclusively at the private and not the public sector level.  The “freebie” political culture within the state including offerings of highly subsidized power made such a policy politically expedient due to budgetary constraints.

But despite a penetration of 33-34%, wind energy provides hardly 8% of all power generation in the state, their plant load factor in the range of hardly 20-25%. And why is this?

a.   There are 41 wind potential sites in eight districts in the state, identified according to the wind assessment studies on the criteria of annual mean wind speed of 18 km/hr and above and annual mean Wind Power Density (WPD) of 150 W/m2 and above, at 50 m height. The state is touted endowed with three lengthy mountain ranges on the Western side with a potential of 1650 MW in Palghat pass in Coimbatore District, 1300 MW in Shengottai pass in Tirunelveli District and 2100 MW in Aralvoimozhi pass in Kanniyakumari District and 450 MW in other areas totalling 5500 MW.

But even here (highest potential areas), wind densities unlike in European countries are not strong enough (200-300 W/m2 as compared to about 500 W/m2).

b.   The windy season is mainly between May-Sept, coinciding to the South-West Monsoon. This accounts for just 5 operational months of power generation in a year.  Heavy wind penetration requires investing in substantial increase in transmission capacity which could be utilised only during wind season.

c.    The system peak demand occurs during summer months and rabi (winter cropping) season, wherein wind generation doesn’t contribute to the grid during these seasons. In other words, wind energy is available in abundance when not needed and not available when needed most. This is similar as in the case of solar heating where its maximum efficiency is demonstrated during summer where its practical utility is minimal while in winter it plunges to minimal efficiency, where its practical utility should be maximal. 

d.     As could be observed in the above chart, wind demonstrates very high variability even intra-day and intra hour. Around 2500MW are being pumped into grid during wind season without any reactive power support. In Tamilnadu the sustained maximum reached is 3048 MW, and when this power suddenly drops there is no other source to pick-up/compensate. The maximum realization of wind generation is 3400 MW where as the conventional hydro source available for compensating the loss in wind generation is only 20%. This results in low voltage within the Tamilnadu grid. And if by chance it goes over 3400 MW, it ends up creating high voltage, destroying your expensive LCD TVs; stereo sets; computers etc

e.     This variable power generation pattern can also lead to overloading of transformers and main transmission. During high windy season because of the constraints in the transmission system and to contain the frequency with in 50.20 Hz as per IEGC norms, such power could not be utilized fully and results in backing down of the wind power.

The Unsustainability of Sustainability

Seasonal variability introduces a challenge in the integration of wind power into electricity grids, requiring balancing with other technologies such as hydropower and pumped-storage hydroelectricity. The net outcome of incorporating wind energy into the grid is that it not only generates inefficient energy demonstrating erratic fluctuations but also affects the electrical grid’s voltage control and transient stability i.e. it has a destabilising effect on the entire grid system performance.

Also, the area required is large; a 225MW plant may take up an area of size 35 km by 5 km and as such an inappropriate technological option for India where population densities are high and land scarce. There are peer reviewed researches that indicate that wind turbine cause droughts; kill bird life; a sound nuisance for those living in its vicinity; reduces crop yield and contribute to global warming!

As Alan Caruba, a renowned sceptic climatologist, observed:
“Wind and solar projects are hugely expensive; require massive taxpayer subsidies, while producing few real jobs. They are astonishingly stupid and unreliable way to generate electricity when one considers that wind power, for example, requires a constant backup supply of electricity from traditional generating facilities.

To add insult to injury, virtually all of the components of wind and solar energy production are manufactured in China where U.S. companies have exported the jobs involved, focusing on assembling the parts instead.”
India being the fifth largest market of wind energy in the world, foreign companies like Vestas, Suzlon and Enercon made windfall profits earlier but now fallen to bad times as reflected in Suzlon share price that fell to Rs 19 from all time high of Rs 1510.  The low investor confidence is a reflection of falling demand for the technology due to its poor track record in the country, particularly in Tamilnadu on one hand and on the other hand, plunging public belief in climate alarmist claims.

Yet, renewable energy is a key element of “Sustainable Development”, the theme for a global summit in Rio scheduled later next month. NGOs like WWF; Greenpeace; Oxfam; ChristianAid; ActionAid; CARE etc still swear by this but the only thing “sustainable” about renewable energy is poverty. Power deficiency shaves 2-3% off the state’s GDP, constraining its capacity to lift people out of poverty.

All it does is besides inflating energy costs and thereby reducing energy access by poor communities is that it makes economies also uncompetitive globally. This is the reason why Germany ditched renewable and switched back to more reliable coal. There is a lesson here for India as Lawrence Solomon, Executive Director of Energy Probe in Financial Post elaborates:
“Global-warming-related catastrophes are increasingly hitting vulnerable populations around the world, with one species in particular danger: the electricity ratepayer. In Canada, in the U.K., in Spain, in Denmark, in Germany and elsewhere the danger to ratepayers is especially great, but ratepayers in one country — the U.S. — seem to have weathered the worst of the disaster.

America’s secret? Unlike leaders in other countries, which to their countries’ ruin adopted policies as if global warming mattered, U.S. leaders more paid lip service to it. While citizens in other countries are now seeing soaring power rates, American householders can look forward to declining rates.

The North American exemplar of acting on the perceived threat of global warming is Ontario, which dismantled one of the continent’s finest fleets of coal plants in pursuit of becoming a green leader. Then, to induce developers to build uneconomic renewable energy facilities, the Ontario government paid them as much as 80 times the market rate for power. The result is power prices that rose rapidly (about 50% since 2005) and will continue to do so: Ontarians can expect power prices that are 46% higher over the next five years, according to a 2010 Ontario government estimate, and more than 100% higher according to independent estimates. The rest of Canada may not fare much better — the National Energy Board forecasts power prices 42% higher by 2035, while some estimates have Canadian power prices 50% higher by 2020.

The story throughout much of Europe is similar. Denmark, an early adopter of the global-warming mania, now requires its households to pay the developed world’s highest power prices — about 40¢ a kilowatt hour, or three to four times what North Americans pay today. Germany, whose powerhouse economy gave green developers a blank cheque, is a close second, followed by other politically correct nations such as Belgium, the headquarters of the EU, and distressed nations such as Spain.

The result is chaos to the economic well-being of the EU nations. Even in rock-solid Germany, up to 15% of the populace is now believed to be in “fuel poverty” — defined by governments as needing to spend more than 10% of the total household income on electricity and gas. Some 600,000 low-income Germans are now being cut off by their power companies annually, a number expected to increase as a never-ending stream of global-warming projects in the pipeline wallops customers. In the U.K., which has laboured under the most politically correct climate leadership in the world, some 12 million people are already in fuel poverty, 900,000 of them in wind-infested Scotland alone, and the U.K. has now entered a double-dip recession.

The U.S., in contrast, will see power rates decline starting next year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, dropping by more than 22% by the end of the decade and then staying flat to 2035. Why the fall? Mainly because the U.S. will rely overwhelmingly on fossil fuels in the years ahead, not just coal, which dominates the current power system, but increasingly natural gas, which is expected to account for 60% of all new generating capacity in the future. Thanks to fracking, the U.S. effectively has limitless amounts of inexpensive natural gas to add to its limitless coal.”


  1. You are judging the new technologies from old metrics of conventional power( generation stability and economic viability)

    Is there nothing more to it than that?
    Have a perspective...just taking a position and holding to old shibolleths is not progressive...

    but then probably, you belong to the old school that thinks that present knowledge is the highest level of attainment...

    sorry, but take a reality check, the world and the wind supporters are no blind devotess of sustainable development, they envision a future with a solid base... they know the vagaries of wind but also know its necessity...

    Think you should broaden your perspective

  2. Oh really? Why are the European's cutting back on subsidies on renewables? They called sustainabiility is a myth otherwise the plight of Tamilnadu would be different. Germany is the largest wind energy capacity in the world and when they need it most it is in winter where temperatures could down as -30 deg C. But wind doesn't produce anything during winter and they need to depend on good old coal and nuclear.

    Take the shares of renewable energy the world over - all trading just above or below par. The pattern shows that universally they have lost market confidence. Rather than me, I think you should do a reality check. Rhetoric is no substitute for hard data.

    Wind and solar should be given budgetary support for R&D. When they become efficient, that's the time to adopt them. Not now