It’s about Ownership. Why Germany Kicks Butt in Renewable Energy.

October 24, 2013

Cleantechnica:

Germany is racing past 20% renewable energy on its electricity grid, but news stories stridently warn that this new wind and solar power is costing “billions.” But often left out (or buried far from the lede) is the overwhelming popularity of the country’s relentless focus on energy change (energiewende).

How can a supposedly expensive effort to clean up the energy supply be so popular?

1. It’s about the cost, not the price

Most news stories focus on the cost of electricity in Germany, which has some of the highest rates per kilowatt-hour in the world.  But they don’t note that the average German electricity bill – about $100 a month – is the same as for most Americans.  Germans are much more efficient users of energy than most, so they can afford higher rates without having higher bills.  (Note to self: check out options for energy efficiency).

2. It’s about vision

Germany doesn’t just have an incremental approach to renewable energy, but a commitment supported by 84 percent of residents to get to 100% renewable energy “as quickly as possible.”  A few U.S. states have renewable energy visions (e.g. 33% by 2020, 25% by 2025) that approach Germany’s, but they’re mired in the notion that despite enormous savings to society in terms of health and environmental benefits, renewable energy shouldn’t cost any more today than conventional, dirty energy on the utility bill.  Germans have taken the long view (about energy security, price volatility, etc).

3. It’s about ownership 

I lied in #1.  Support for Germany’s renewable energy quest isn’t about cost of energy, but about the opportunity to own a slice of the energy system.  Millions of Germans are building their retirement nest egg by individually or collectively owning a share of wind and solar power plants supplying clean energy to their communities. Nearly half of the country’s 63,000 megawatts of wind and solar power is owned locally, and these energy owners care as much about the persistence of renewable energy they own as they do about the energy bill they pay. Not only do these German energy owners reduce their own net cost of energy, every dollar diverted from a distant multinational utility company multiplies throughout their local economy.

Below, related news from the US:

ThinkProgress:

Solar panels are not limited to wealthy homes — it’s the middle class that is the biggest adopter of solar power in the U.S.

A new Center for American Progress (CAP) study shows that solar technology is being overwhelmingly adopted in middle-class neighborhoods in the U.S., as more than 60 percent of solar installations are occurring in zip codes with median incomes ranging from $40,000 to $90,000 (see chart below).

The CAP report used residential solar installation data from the Arizona Public Service (APS), California Solar Initiative (CSI) and New Jersey’s Clean Energy Program (NJCEP) databases to examine solar adoption trends across income levels in the three largest U.S. solar markets – Arizona, California and New Jersey. In addition to showing that middle-class homeowners are driving rooftop solar adoption, the report also found that the areas with median incomes ranging from $40,000 to $90,000 have experienced the most growth. In fact, the neighborhoods with the most year-over-year growth from 2011 to 2012 had median incomes ranging from $40,000 to $50,000 in both Arizona and California and $30,000 to $40,000 in New Jersey.

These findings are in contrast with the current utility-industry narrative, which paints rooftop solar as a technology that is only being adopted by the wealthy. The contention then from many utility executives is that lower-income customers are subsidizing wealthy customers through solar policies, such as net metering. Earlier this year, Southern Company CEO Thomas Fanning told shareholders that if solar customers aren’t paying the utility for the use of the electric grid, then “…you in effect have a de facto subsidy of rich people putting solar panels on their roof and having lower-income families subsidize them.”

So America is winding up to kick butt in solar, as well. And the butts being lining up to be kicked, are those of any utility companies that insists on clinging to 120 year old business models in the face of new technology. Without new regulatory approaches, new science-and-technology based profit incentives  for  our electric industry – the revolution will still happen, but it will be a lot messier and more painful than it has to be.

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58 Responses to “It’s about Ownership. Why Germany Kicks Butt in Renewable Energy.”


  1. The sky is falling, the sky is falling. Wind will cause blackouts. Oops. It prevented one.

    http://climatecrocks.com/2011/02/04/texas-wind-energy-comes-through-in-ground-hog-storm/

    Nevermind. Crock.

  2. Bruce Miller Says:

    Now, for Americans, include the devaluation of their U.S. Dollars to Zimbabwe Bucks over the next economic cycle, the horrendous increase in the cost of Centralized Electricity, even witnessing today in the Ruins of Detroit City, the lack of street lights? In the 21st Century America, smaller more isolated self-sufficient dwellings? Cell phones, not wired? A very different world from the ‘Idealized” 20th century “American Dream” lifestyle, in the burbs, with McMansions, McHummers, McMalls, and all? Is Germany already half way around that bend?


  3. Reply to Morin Moss, re-parented.

    If that’s the intent, the utilities will build lots of stationary storage.

    Not unless that storage costs far less than an EV battery.  The EV battery is displacing expensive petroleum burned in an inefficient piston engine; the utility’s storage is (with some exceptions) displacing NG in a far more efficient gas turbine or combined-cycle plant.

    having lots of quick-responding power sources that can throttle their demand or feed power back LOCALLY is a benefit in a crisis

    A point I’ve often made myself.  Years ago AC Propulsion’s white papers showed the capability of V2G for grid regulation, and a sufficient number of V2G-capable vehicles could hold up a local grid despite trips of major power feeds or generating plants.  This wouldn’t need to go on for long, just long enough to reset breakers or shed load in an orderly fashion.

    This is possible because V2G can potentially make available very large amounts of power, without involving much in the way of energy (power * time).  20 kW for 60 seconds is a mere 0.33 kWh.  60 seconds is 7200 half-cycles, or a near-eternity to even a 100 MHz CPU.

    which means that you won’t be running full-bore so you 2.1 kWh figure is ludicrous.

    You’re showing your own scientific illiteracy.  kWh is a quantity of energy, like gallons of gasoline.  What I said was 2.1 kW (average), which isn’t energy but power (just under 3 horsepower).  If you cannot grasp the fundamental difference between energy and power, you cannot understand any of the consequences.  Any conclusions you try to draw from your erroneous understanding will only be correct by accident.

    if it saves you from having to fire up some peaker plants for an hour or two, even better.

    What are non-battery “quick-responding power sources” but peaker plants by another name?  Further, if you expect to rely on them, they have to have a reliable energy supply.  Batteries must get charged.  Engines must have fuel.  The catch-as-catch-can nature of wind and solar does not inspire confidence.  Especially not in me, on this very dark still morning at 45 degrees north.

    I suspect industry won’t like a proliferation of V2G-capable EVs because it would mean that cheap / free nighttime power they’ve enjoyed for decades will vanish.

    I suspect they’d love it, especially if they could use the employee parking lot as a site-wide electrical backup and reactive power generator.  Just being able to keep everyone’s computer on during power blinks would be great, and the early adopters will probably find that EV charging is a good employee retention tool.  Overnight charging boosts the feasible amount of base-load generation, which means a larger fraction of daytime generation would be cheaper also.  A few businesses might not be happy, but the bulk of industry couldn’t lose.

    • MorinMoss Says:


      You’re showing your own scientific illiteracy. kWh is a quantity of energy, like gallons of gasoline. What I said was 2.1 kW (average), which isn’t energy but power (just under 3 horsepower). If you cannot grasp the fundamental difference between energy and power, you cannot understand any of the consequences. Any conclusions you try to draw from your erroneous understanding will only be correct by accident.


      A reasonable person would probably have concluded it was a typo.
      Others might leap to an erroneous assumption and launch into an impressive tirade of belittlement.
      To each his own.


      • A reasonable person would probably have concluded it was a typo.

        Not in the context of this:

        which means that you won’t be running full-bore so you 2.1 kWh figure is ludicrous.

        You showed errors in other concepts to go with the erroneous units.  For that matter, I haven’t seen you try to do any sort of quantitative analysis of power or storage requirements.  If you really want to expand your understanding, doing those calculations yourself is one of the best educational tools money can’t buy.

        • MorinMoss Says:

          You do condescending well – does that flow naturally from being a self-styled engineer-poet?
          I grasp those concepts well enough despite my lack of poetic engineering.

          And the fact that I don’t agree with all your positions doesn’t mean I don’t understand.


          • I use the same tone here that I use when correcting errors in arithmetic and unit analysis when tutoring physics.

            You get all huffy about condescension, but haven’t done a thing to show that you actually understand what you claim to understand.  That’s the one thing that would definitively put me in my place.  I suspect that you haven’t done it because, claims aside, you can’t.

          • MorinMoss Says:

            I suspect that your tone doesn’t change much whether you’re right or wrong.

            I’ve long known the distinction between power & energy or kW & kWh and I’ve maintained UPSes for years.
            And even if I didn’t, you did explain it in the very post I replied to.

            So, it’s clear that you think I have no ability to read & understand.

            Are you able to defend that assumption based on my posts here at Climate Crocks?

            Since you describe yourself as an engineer, not a scientist, I suppose I have to adjust my expectations accordingly.


      • EP is on a tirade about energy vs power. Of course, we understand the difference. Thing is, he just got owned for claiming solar and wind ruined vars on the network. Maybe he’s a little p55d off. (the amount of reactive power) Now he wants us to believe that energy sources are rigidly classified by type. They are not. That’s the problem with his thinking. Bias is clouding his judgement. As others have noted, a cooperative discussion is more fruitful than a debate where points are all that matters. We can all disagree, but share our viewpoints. I prefer to get back to reality, because GW will still be here after the debate. Mother Nature will settle the debate for us. An enlightened discussion would be open to the possibility of error and correction. That makes the final result stronger. BTW, V2G would put a massive amount of storage on the grid. Calling it energy, not power is silly. How much energy over what amount of time? Well, from an engineering perspective, we want specifics. What do you think EV batteries are used for? What else. Power. Let’s take an example. What if a major city with 1 million vehicles, say Nissan Leafs, used V2G? Well we can calculate 24kwr storage per vehicle times 1million vehicles. Thats 24e3 x 1e6 or 24e9 whr or 24Gwhr. Take a look at the load curves for Germany today. Or look at the California ISO. The peak demand forecast for today is 27Gw. Do you get my drift? Only 1 million EV batteries have the potential for keeping the grid afloat for an hour in California.
        Your mileage may vary. Actually, the number of cars would be greater for a country and less battery capacity would be used for backup. That shows just how massive the impact of V2G could be. FYI, on the power side, LiFe batteries can discharge at a 3C rate. In the example, they are running at 1C. Power no problem.

        • MorinMoss Says:

          If you’re talking about shouldering the full load, I don’t think you could comfortably do it with 1 million EVs.

          You’d be draining them dry in that hour and even if only 20% needed to go somewhere in the next hour, that would be 200,000 vehicles fast-charging, about 4GW demand.

          It has to be economically feasible to the EV owners so it can’t cost them more for fast-charging that they got for V2G. And the utility wants to make money as well so what they pay out in V2G must be less than what they would have paid on the market.

          The EVs would be most beneficial for peak-shaving, where you have reasonably predictable demand and would be able to avoid firing up a peaker plant for just an hour or two.

          But you’d need a lot of EVs for that – for California’s demand, I’d say 5 million at least.


          • Right on the money, Morin. A million EVs is one city’s worth. I was just making the point that not that many EVs using V2G could make a huge difference. On the other hand, the greatest need for storage is not measured in days, but rather hours. Shifting the peak of solar generation by only 4 hours would cover the late afternoon/evening load. You are definitely right about draining the batteries. A more realisitic scenario would be several million cars in a state the size of California and much less of the storage would be borrowed, exactly as you say. The subject of V2G has been covered more elsewhere, but suffice to say, it gives EV economics a big boost. The nice thing about this approach is it takes advantage of existing resources.


          • AC Propulsion pitched V2G for regulation (balancing of supply and demand on a scale of seconds to minutes).  I strongly suggest browsing the archive of technical reports, at least for techie types.  AC Propulsion is/was an arm of EPRI, so they know their grid backwards and forwards.  (AC Propulsion begat what’s now the Tesla powertrain.)

            Peak-shaving and time-shifting involve a great deal more energy storage and throughput than regulation.  If you had 5 million Chevy Volts in California, with 10 kWh of usable storage apiece, you’d not be able to absorb the peak output of a PV-dominated RE grid.  You need a lot more than 50 GWh of storage for that particular task, and you really want the PHEV batteries reliably topped off every day (or twice a day) so they can do their main job.

            If every vehicle in California was some next-generation EV with 100 kWh of battery on board, it would look a lot more feasible.  If the technology makes it to market in the next 5 years you can start betting on it.

  4. Bruce Miller Says:

    Still, by the Ethics and Moral standards of a Social Democracy, (Canada, Scandinavia) we can pool the Energy in public storage, charge bare maintenance fees for the cost of the power, for all things electric – no terrible profit taking, gouging of the public purse? Even today the once useful night-time ballast street-lights are more and more becoming LED styled economical lighting, smaller more utilitarian electric cars emerging, electric trains ripe for improvement. Except for the near criminal Ontario Liberal government approach, the NDP – a Socialist Party in Canada and the “Official Opposition” there, can offer such public serving systems? Quebec, already under Socialist democratic rule, and Manitoba the same, both move forward very quickly now, likened to Germany and a ‘common interest’ over the Corporatist, “one very rich winner at the top” philosophy? Has life become too short for that ideology here in the 21st century?


  5. Today’s California solar output peak is 2.6 GW. It’s probably about 12 GWhr. Wind today is more. That’s not the point. The peak load shaving is more important. The peak is at 7pm and is only 2.5 GW higher than noon. Economically, the choice is storage or peaking turbines. The excess load lasts a few hours. The extreme notion that all the solar has to be stored is simply wrong. Nowhere near 50GWhr is needed. Such a notion assumes the entire evening peak is satisfied from storage, an unnecessary provision. Nobody in the business is calling for such an extreme position as all solar powering the grid, or requiring such large amounts of storage, at least not for a while. It will take time for the build up and development of many sectors of the power system. Future developments show great possibilities for V2G, with at least that much available. Real EVs can do 10kwhr easily, as a leaf has 24kwhr. Teslas far exceed that number. Why pick the lowest? In the meantime, experience in EU shows us a glut of renewables has enhanced the grid, lowered CO2, and lowered the cost of electricity. Currently, there is a capacity glut. Naturally, transmission lags, as we have also seen in Texas.


    • The extreme notion that all the solar has to be stored is simply wrong. Nowhere near 50GWhr is needed.

      It doesn’t take a very high total penetration of PV to make noon-time instantaneous PV generation exceed instantaneous demand.  You either store the excess, or lose it.  You really need enough storage to allow the backup generators to remain running during this period, too.

      This is going to be a problem with ANY intermittent source with a substantial share and a high peak/average ratio.

      Such a notion assumes the entire evening peak is satisfied from storage, an unnecessary provision. Nobody in the business is calling for such an extreme position as all solar powering the grid, or requiring such large amounts of storage, at least not for a while.

      Could “not for a while” mean “never”?  It looks like it, because that evening peak isn’t going to go away and it’s happening around or even after sunset.  If you don’t have some other RE coming on about then, you’re left with either storage or combustion.  Wasn’t the whole point of RE to get rid of combustion, and its carbon emissions?

      At this point, it becomes pretty obvious that one of two things has to be added to make this work:
      1.  A very cheap method of storing electricity, preferably with minimal losses over days or weeks.
      2.  A dispatchable source of large-scale electricity with zero carbon emissions at a reasonable price, most other characteristics unimportant.

      You’re betting on (1).  I’m telling you not to close the door on (2) in case (1) doesn’t arrive, or not fast enough.

      experience in EU shows us a glut of renewables has enhanced the grid, lowered CO2, and lowered the cost of electricity.

      In Germany, experience says that the grid needs at least €20 billion in upgrades to support offshore wind, CO2 emissions are rising, and surcharges added to consumer bills keep climbing.  Low wholesale rates don’t benefit people who can’t buy wholesale or have their savings sucked back through access charges.  Ontario does it better; the problem is getting everyone to see this, including Ontario.


      • You did not answer why you chose the Volt for V2G with the smallest storage capacity. Selective bias?
        As far as renewables and backup go …
        Doesn’t make much sense. You do realize that there is a large reserve capacity?

        http://www.windpowermonthly.com/article/1192957/power-system-reserve—no-need-build-wind-back-up

        Weeks? Prove renewables are unavailable for weeks.
        Why do concentrated thermoelectric PP use gas peaking for backup not batteries or hydro? Why does only solar and wind need hydro or battery storage instead of gas peaking? From the utility’s perspective, its an economic decision. They are already providing 50% (during the day) reserve for demand variation and unplanned generator outages. Seems like they require a large amount of backup for thermal PP. And yet, you state that wind and solar will only work with weeks of storage once they attain 100% penetration. You do realize that large thermal PP can have planned and unplanned downtime for weeks? Wow, we really are talking extremes here. Totally ignoring geothermal, biomass, and hydro, not to mention wave or tidal power which are undeveloped. Wind and solar do not have to be 100% at all. Why go to extremes?
        EU CO2 emissions have decreased, mostly from renewables.

        http://www.euractiv.com/climate-environment/factchecking-climate-growth-link-news-531401

        Grid operators are not gamblers, although they do estimate risk and probability. Based on their adoption rates, they seem to like renewables. I am not betting on anything. I am just making observations and destroying myths. Maybe grid operators know something and are not so foolish after all.
        And after all that documentation proving renewables reduce CO2, just ignore it? You go right ahead.

        2. A dispatchable source of large-scale electricity with zero carbon emissions at a reasonable price, most other characteristics unimportant. Wait, you mean nuclear?
        Yes, for you most other characteristics are unimportant, abundantly clear. Renewables have strict requirements. Check.
        Nuclear, most other characteristics are unimportant. Check.
        There are only two possibilities. Check.


        • You did not answer why you chose the Volt for V2G with the smallest storage capacity. Selective bias?

          Smallest?  The Volt has the LARGEST battery (16 kWh) of all the extant PHEVs.  Ford’s Energi models have 7.6 kWh, the Prius PHEV is 4.4 kWh.  If you are going to use vehicles as grid energy buffers, they either have to be PHEVs (to remain operable if un-charged) or have Tesla-class battery packs.

          As far as renewables and backup go …
          Doesn’t make much sense. You do realize that there is a large reserve capacity?

          Most of which will be shut down in the RE scenario, or require fixed payments to keep maintained and staffed against need despite not operating very much.

          Weeks? Prove renewables are unavailable for weeks.

          Ah, goal-post shifting.  Just because something isn’t UNavailable doesn’t mean it’s sufficient.  For instance, the Colorado river flow is hardly unavailable, but it is woefully insufficient for the demands placed on it.

          Why do concentrated thermoelectric PP use gas peaking for backup not batteries or hydro?

          Because they’re allowed to, while hydro is maxed out and batteries are far too expensive.

          Why does only solar and wind need hydro or battery storage instead of gas peaking?

          In the zero-carbon RE scenario the gas backup goes away.

          They are already providing 50% (during the day) reserve for demand variation and unplanned generator outages.

          No they’re not.  SCE aims for 12-18%.  However, if a large part of your generation can disappear in an hour due to formation of an overcast, you need a lot more.

          you state that wind and solar will only work with weeks of storage once they attain 100% penetration. You do realize that large thermal PP can have planned and unplanned downtime for weeks?

          Fuel for one thermal PP can be shifted to another.  For RE, what goes down isn’t the conversion system but the gathering system; if you lose something, you lose all the energy it would have captured.  Nuclear is similar but there is no correlation between equipment failures at nuclear plants as there is with availability of wind and sun.

          Totally ignoring geothermal, biomass, and hydro

          None of which have large prospects for expansion.  Biomass in particular is spoken for in the RE scenario, for transport fuels.

          Wind and solar do not have to be 100% at all. Why go to extremes?

          Because we really need a carbon-negative energy economy to un-do what we’ve done to the atmosphere.

          And after all that documentation proving renewables reduce CO2, just ignore it? You go right ahead.

          Show me one that’s gotten their CO2/kWh down as far as Ontario.  Denmark is down, it’s just not down far enough—and under its current model, it never can.  Ontario already has.

          This may shock you, but the world has frittered away 14 years after the Kyoto protocol with total CO2 emissions accelerating all the while, so we can’t waste any more time on the “green dream”.  Insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result.  There’s one model that’s proven to work.  I have no objection to letting some jurisdictions prove

          Yes, for you most other characteristics are unimportant, abundantly clear. Renewables have strict requirements. Check.

          You don’t hold RE to any requirements for dispatchability, land use, backup infrastructure size and cost (trans-continental power lines will be neither cheap nor pretty), or a host of other things, so fair’s fair.


          • What a hack. Leaf is an EV , not a PHEV. The previous V2G discussion was limited to EVs. So your second effort is even more did disingenuous and misleading. Leaf has 24kwhr and Tesla has 85kwhr.
            Wait. I hold renewables or any energy source to standards?..blah blah blah? The problem is, you are so busy thinking about yourself….. Lets put it this way.
            The people that decide if they are going to employ wind or solar or natural gas are making their decisions without consulting me or you. How’s that going? They are dropping nuclear and picking up natural gas, wind, and etc. their analysis shows wind cheaper than nuclear. You get like Donald Duck having a hissy fit when somebody cites a reference from the National Academy of Sciences and then claim imperiously, that you know better, not once, but repeatedly. You then claim I am changing the goal posts when I ask you to support your own statement that renewables are unavailable for weeks, but never once support that statement with any logical argument or a reference of any kind. You are too busy making up new falsehoods to bother correcting your legion of past errors and intentional distortions.


          • What a hack. Leaf is an EV , not a PHEV. The previous V2G discussion was limited to EVs.

            I was using the example most helpful to YOUR case.  The Leaf’s battery is only 24 kWh to the Volt’s 16, and buffer use has to maintain more charge because it doesn’t have a gas engine as a fallback; if you can use 25% of a Leaf’s battery for buffer, that’s just 6 kWh to the Volt’s 10 kWh usable.  As I said, you don’t start getting a serious grid-energy buffer until the average vehicle is an EV with a Tesla-class battery.  Power buffer for regulation and a few minutes of UPS, yes; mass energy storage, no.

            The problem is, you are so busy thinking about yourself.

            “A great many people think they are thinking when they are really rearranging their prejudices.”—William James

            I’m doing quantitative analysis here.  Are you willing to rise to the challenge?  Not dodge facts when they turn out to be unfavorable to your position?

            The people that decide if they are going to employ wind or solar or natural gas are making their decisions without consulting me or you. How’s that going? They are dropping nuclear and picking up natural gas, wind, and etc. their analysis shows wind cheaper than nuclear.

            Your narrative does not account for
            1.  Renewable portfolio mandates.
            2.  Wind production tax credits.
            3.  Tilted marketplaces, such as the New England grid operator paying more for gas and coal power than Vermont Yankee was selling its power for.
            4.  “Intervenor” and other legal harassment of nuclear operators.

            When government discriminates ruthlessly, those without the power to resist are forced to go along.  Take the brand-new powerplant CO2 standard of the Obama administration.  This is a cap, set at just about the point of a gas-fired turbine’s per-kWh emissions.  This prohibits new coal-fired plants… but gives no credit to nuclear’s ZERO carbon emissions.  Wind gets the PTC or the new 30% investment credit write-off.  The winners have been designated, the cronies will be rewarded, those who get a better result “doing it wrong” are punished.

            Read “Yes Vermont Yankee” for some accounts of the extortion that Entergy is STILL dealing with from Vermont pols, AFTER announcing that the plant will close next year.  Yes, you read that right:  extortion.

            You are too busy making up new falsehoods to bother correcting your legion of past errors and intentional distortions.

            I’m tempted to make you the same offer I made that other guy:  pick any 3 things I said that you think are factual errors or distortions (not mere rhetorical or sarcastic remarks, since you do it yourself) and put up $1000.  I’ll support them all in detail for the full amount, or half the pot for two out of three.


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