The Weekend Wonk: Baseload is Poison -The State of Germany’s Renewable Transition

June 16, 2018

Solar, in Northern Europe, at 4 cents/Kwh. Wind same.
Offshore wind with no subsidy.
Sounds like something we can learn from.

I’ve listened to the first third of this so far, and it’s worthwhile.


Baseload power is not the answer to the variability of renewable energy, a German energy official said Friday, and energy storage may not be the answer either.

Germany has achieved moments in its Energiewende, or Energy Transition, in which renewables met 100 percent of demand without the aid of baseload power or batteries, said Thorsten Herdan, a director general for energy policy at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. Germany was able to do that, he argued, because of its system’s flexibility.

1. Flexibility Trumps Baseload

“What we need for this fluctuating renewable energy in the electricity mix is not baseload. Baseload is poison for our electricity transition in Germany,” Herdan said in a briefing at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. “What you need is flexibility, because the sun is shining and then you have PV production, wind is blowing and you have wind production. So it’s not according to demand, it’s according to weather conditions, which means they are there in any case and then you need to have flexibility to fill the gap.”

Baseload power was traditionally supplied by coal and nuclear plants, with peaks in demand met by natural-gas plants.

But flexibility can displace the old notion of baseload and peak, Herdan said, and flexibility can take many forms, including gas peaker plants, batteries, demand management or regional exchanges. It’s most important to keep in mind, he argued, that flexiblity is the goal, not any one of the forms it takes.

2. Flexibility Trumps Storage

Herdan appeared in a briefing on Germany’s Energy Transition hosted by the Environmental and Energy Study Institute. Asked whether an energy transition like Germany’s will increase the demand for energy storage, Herdan said, “I don’t know whether the demand for storage will increase. What I know is the demand for flexibility will increase, will increase dramatically… and if storage proves to be the cheapest flexibility, and the market chooses storage, then of course storage will increase.

“It’s always coming down to flexibility. That’s what we need and storage is one sort of that.”

But other sorts may prove cheaper:

3. Flexibility Can Be Geographic

Energy storage is not necessarily the cheapest form of flexibility. Germany is building transmission lines into Norway so the two countries can exchange electricity between Germany’s northern wind farms and Norway’s 937 hydropower stations.

“That’s the cheapest flexibility you can think of. We don’t need to build, for that, storage facilities which are much more expensive,” he said. “If you integrate yourself the various states in the U.S. you can see that you can help each other.”

4. Markets Should Be Transparent

To manage flexibility, electricity providers need real-time information about electricity production and demand, Herdan said, and that information should also include the price for the various forms of flexibility.

“All you have to do is create a market, an electricity market, where prices tell the truth,” he said.

“I’m talking to everyone in the world about transparency, I tell them, try to get your data on electricity production real-time. We didn’t have that for a long time, and all the various lobby groups told us a lot of interesting stories. So we decided we needed to have in real time the electricity produced in every second from every source so that we know what’s going on.”

5. Flexibility Provides Reliability

Germany moved from almost no renewable energy in the 1990s to 37 percent today—its single largest block of power, almost all of it generated from wind and solar photovoltaic. Anxieties about a loss of grid reliability have not materialized, Herdan said:

“The grid is extremely stable. We have grid disruption in a year of about 12 minutes. So, 12 minutes a year is effectively nothing,” he said, citing Germany’s average duration of electric supply disruption. The comparable number in the U.S., where power producers boast of their reliability, is 114 minutes.

“So we could cope with the question of whether we can adopt a high share of renewables, the volatile ones in our grid, and we would like to talk with you about how we achieved that, what we did right, what we did wrong, and how can we perhaps achieve that in the States.”

6. Powerful Price Signals Help

Germany has more than 100 Gigawatts of renewable capacity, more than enough to meet a demand that fluctuates between 40 and 85GW. One day in May, renewables were meeting 100 percent of demand, Herdan said, and the price of electricity dropped below zero.

“At the time the renewables were at 100 percent, the price went down and it was negative, so we had a negative price, and what we say is, fine, there is nothing bad in negative prices because that very clearly tells the other generators how to behave,” he said. “That forced the generators, specifically the coal generators, to change their behavior, shut them down or reduce them or whatever is possible.”

Market transparency and real-time data allow prices to send such immediate signals to power producers.

“That is something that we established last year and that we heavily use in order to not be told by lobby groups that offshore wind power is the best one, or coal generators are the most flexible ones, we can see what happens, and we can tell them how they should behave or the market tells them how they should behave.”

Herdan cautioned that Germany’s example is not a model for every country. Germany has decided not to use nuclear power, for example, and few countries share that commitment. But he contends that Germany’s example reveals an underlying principle about the importance of flexiblity.

“Of course as I said in the beginning it’s different in the various countries around the world and also in the U.S., but this principle—that if you create renewable energy you need to have flexibility and no baseload—that is valid for each and every country in the world.”

Environmental and Energy Study Institute:


Thorsten Herdan, Director-General, Energy Policy, Heating and Efficiency, German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy

  • Herdan described Energiewende (“energy transition”), which is “Germany’s long-term energy and climate strategy.” Germany’s transition to a clean energy economy is a combination of switching to renewable energy and increasing energy efficiency – both are necessary for a de-carbonized economy.
  • Germany began its energy transition by addressing electricity first, deciding to “pay whatever was necessary” to make renewable energy projects viable. In Germany, the two most economically viable projects that emerged were wind energy (both on- and off-shore) and photovoltaics.
  • Herdan discussed the need to phase out coal-fired power plants, while also noting that we cannot afford to leave power plants idle and that we must think about those employed by the coal industry – they need support.
  • Herdan showed that in Germany, the peak of energy produced by photovoltaics fits almost perfectly with peak demand.
  • Herdan explained that Germany does not need more baseload power generation (which is “poison” for its energy transition). Instead, Germany needs more flexibility in dealing with the intermittence of renewable energy. That flexibility can come from several sources, including interconnections with neighboring countries, demand management, power storage, etc… The market will choose the most cost-effective solution. Herdan stated that we need to create electricity markets where prices “tell the truth” and reveal information about the flexibility of each power source.
  • Herdan emphasized that Germany has completely decoupled economic growth and energy demand.

Lisa Jacobson, President, Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE)

  • Jacobson began by describing BCSE’s Sustainable Energy in America Factbook, which contains 150 of the most important energy facts they believe the public and policy makers should know.
  • Jacobson stressed that the decoupling of energy consumption and economic growth is extremely important. Approximately 60 percent of this decoupling is attributable to the increase in policies promoting energy efficiency.
  • Jacobson stated that sweeping changes have been taking place in the energy industry, which had not seen much change in the previous 90 years. For example, there has been a 38 percent reduction in coal consumption in the past 20 years.
  • Jacobson noted that there are places in the United States where renewable energy technologies are now economically viable and competitive. Consumers are experiencing nearly record low prices for their electricity, thanks also to low natural gas prices.
  • While power-related emissions are decreasing, transportation emissions are increasing.
  • Jacobson expressed optimism when referring to corporate engagement in transitioning toward a clean energy economy, and identified specific corporations that are leaders in this field, including Apple, Google, and Kimberly-Clark.
  • When asked a question about how utilities are dealing with an increase in extreme weather events, Jacobson responded that pre-mitigation strategies pay off in the long run.

Todd Thurlow, Senior Business Development Director, Distributed Energy Systems, Siemens

  • While Herdan and Jacobson focused their presentations on de-carbonizing the energy system, Thurlow discussed its decentralization.
  • Thurlow stated that the energy grid is becoming more complex. Energy is increasingly being generated closer to the source of consumption (e.g., rooftop solar panels). From a consumer perspective, this results in more options. From a system perspective, this increasing complexity can also be beneficial. Thurlow outlined these benefits, which include: increased reliability, reduced energy costs, improved grid resilience, reduced carbon footprint, and enhanced control.
  • Thurlow outlined the three key benefits of a decentralized energy grid: economics, resiliency, sustainability.
  • Thurlow explained that gas prices are decreasing and there is a continued decline in costs, making a decentralized grid more economically feasible. There currently also is a 30 percent tax credit on solar, which provides another economic incentive for a decentralized grid.
  • Decentralized grids allow areas to be more resilient, and extreme weather events are causing consumers to examine their dependency on the grid.
  • Corporations are looking to decrease their use of carbon, and a decentralized grid is potentially more sustainable.
  • Thurlow also outlined four factors that contribute to a distributed energy system: regulations, capacity build-out, a shift in the fuel mix, and an increase in competitive new technologies.
  • Thurlow’s key take-away: a de-centralized grid is beneficial and can smooth the transition to a clean energy economy.
  • During the question portion of the briefing, Thurlow explained that different types of renewable energy make sense for different regions, and that the market should determine what types of renewable energy to invest in. For example, wind energy makes sense in the Midwest, while solar energy makes sense in the Southwest.


Germany has experienced a tremendous increase in its renewable energy generating capacity, from roughly six percent in 2000 to more than 35 percent today. The current German Government remains determined to pursue a path toward an even greater renewable energy share, with a goal of deriving 65 percent of the country’s electricity from renewables by 2030. The growth of the offshore wind industry is the transition’s most recent development, with the North Sea now home to the largest cluster of wind turbines in the world. The energy transition has been paired with innovations in efficiency and electricity usage practices, resulting in a nearly eight percent decrease in energy consumption between 2008 and 2018 while the economy grew by 14.8% at the same time.


13 Responses to “The Weekend Wonk: Baseload is Poison -The State of Germany’s Renewable Transition”

  1. lracine Says:

    “Germany has more than 100 Gigawatts of renewable capacity, more than enough to meet a demand that fluctuates between 40 and 85GW.”…. God I really hate it when “experts” make statements like this… it trashes their credibility, and IMO that does so much damage to the effort to get off the fossil fuel tit.

    RENEWABLE CAPACITY… the key work is CAPACITY (that is the most that can be generated if all the conditions are right!!).. How much of this CAPACITY is AVAILABLE to meet the grids demand at any instant in time.. think is the sun shining??? is the wind blowing??? At worst case think of a still cold night!!!! that 100GW of capacity has an AVAILABILITY of ZERO….. Germany is a very small country. So NO way in hell can it meet the demands of between 40 and 85 GW at all times!!! And if you pull the eia data up for Germany you will see that it DOES NOT…. I really wish these people would not say crap like this….. because now I have to fact check the rest of their statements!!! NOT worth the effort, they just failed the bullshit test!!

    That being said, I do agree that a base load grid is not feasible with a renewable power supplied gird..

    I did an exercise last year, with a 12 volt water pump that works directly off PV panels directly (no batteries, no inverter, sweet and simple, or so I thought!!!), my intent was to use this to irrigate new planting for a permaculture food forest, a carbon sink, local food experiment I have ongoing. At the end of the day I could not get it this initial(direct PV to pump) design to work for irrigation, the inefficiency of the system and state of “existing on the market technology” made it unfeasible… the work arounds for the numerous issues made the system very complex. I conceded (extremely reluctantly and with a lot of research and creative f ing around)…. and ended up putting an inverter in with batteries…. but I still manage my usage around availability, but the inefficiency of the batteries and inverter are required!!! If anyone has a direct system that works for a 12 gpm with a pressure of min 12 psi for 12 volt water pump with a 22′ lift (level of water in well, shallow well) than please share….. lol I want to see a system installed, working and de bugged… not your thoughts or pencil designs….

    Dreaming and being creative are a requirement in life, but to get shit done you have to put your thoughts to paper and pencil and go out an build it, see if it can be done and if it works… I am seeing a lot of bullshit and premature backslapping and NOT much real application work. Most of the FAUX GREENS have never built, maintained or worked with their hands…. they are only capable of “thought exercises”… aka mental masturbation!!! (still wet behind the ears…)

    There have been numerous times in my life that I have lived off grid, now being one of them… your life style and your living choices change… drastically… (and that includes using batteries and a inverter… ) Does anyone think for a moment that the current American is currently capable of those sustained life style changes?? How long would it take to educate and change the culture??? How do you deal with business and manufacturing and for example scheduling labor with intermittent electrical supply???

    I lived in areas of the world that had intermittent power, it is very difficult to plan and have any kind of efficient production.

    • ted knopper Says:

      What you are asking of your solar power supply is instant power far beyond what the solar cells can supply when the pump starts up or the load suddenly increased when say you move the hose outlet around to a higher place, picking it up would increase that load. I bet you have a shortage of power in the steady state as well as the rating on the solar panels are for sun hitting the panel at 90 degrees to the surface, think noon, anything less and the power is less, a lot less pretty fast. I do not know where you buy your inverters but Chinese produced ones are very cheap and work just fine. The efficiency loss in the inverter is actually a small amount of the loss when the sun moves out from directly overhead on your panels. The batteries act as both instant load supply and storage so are part of any large load system which describes your water pump unless of course you have a thousand watt panel hooked up to it.

      Most Americans do not live on land which could do what you are doing. They live in homes on very small lots or in apartments which have no dirt to grow anything in. Unless you can figure out how to increase the land to say the ratio of 1000 AD land per person or get rid of a lot of people, your solution will simply not work for most people. That is why renewable s will need to provide power to a central grid and will have to be able to adjust to instant demand. There is some hope on that front from other types of batteries and non battery storage.

    • Sir Charles Says:

      Calm down. Offshore wind has a capacity factor >60%. Biomass is always dispatchable and hydro works a storage.

      Where I’m having my problem with is that heavy dependency on lignite and coal.

      • ted knopper Says:

        Wind offshore does not fix the problem as the wind does not stay at some steady state, it varies and varies a lot including dead calm. Germany is building that renewable sources by vastly over charging the public and when the wind stops blowing, buying nuclear power from France. If those nuclear power plants stopped working Germany would come to a grinding halt at least once a day , every day.

        • Sir Charles Says:

          Rubbish, ted. Germany is a net exporter into a pan-European grid and has helped out France several times to prevent blackouts when their nuclear power plants are down or when the weather is just too hot for them to run.

          Your fairy tale scenario is far away from reality, ted. Germany and Denmark are most reliable in the pan-European grid. They know their business.

  2. Sir Charles Says:

    BTW, grid reliability…

  3. ted knopper Says:

    We are simply pointing at the same thing and talking past each other. Baseload is the flexible power production which keeps the system working when the sun stops or the wind stops or both stop or load suddenly balloons or suddenly shrinks. Rotating generators can absorb or generate power instantaneously to balance the system, The base load plant which can be batteries or some other form of storage makes sure the energy in the system is balanced so the system does not crash. Renewable in the form of wind and solar do not increase stability of the system they make it worse as you cannot turn up the power when you need it nor absorb the power when you need to do that. The battery or other backup do that.

  4. redskylite Says:

    Glad to read that The state of Illinois is putting their V.W diesel cheat compensation to good use with plans to utilize Electric School bus batteries, for helping to balance the electric grid. Time to think outside the box and move to 21st Century technology.

    How School Buses Could Help Run Air Conditioners During Peak Demand

    As Illinois officials debate how to prepare the grid to transform with electric vehicles, electric school buses present a unique opportunity to strengthen the state’s grid. School buses run on a fixed schedule — children are dropped off at school in the morning and picked up in the afternoon. The rest of the day, buses can be plugged into the grid and serve as batteries.

    Aloysius Makalinao, a climate and clean energy fellow for the Natural Resource Defense Council, said that while all electric vehicles offer benefits as grid resources, the case for the buses is unique.

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