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Power trading

German electricity exports still more valuable than imports

DeStatis has updated its power trading figures for 2014, and the result remains difficult to explain for those who claim that Germany is dumping its renewable electricity on neighboring countries at low cost.

[UPDATE: a reader pointed out that Switzerland had been left out of the chart below, which was updated on 12 November 2015. The main change is that the price difference between German power exports and imports is now 0.03 cents instead of 0.09 cents.]

In mid-March, German tabloid Bild repeated a common, but unfounded claim (see the screenshot below) that Germany is “giving away” green electricity it does not need.


Because it Germany has never had a time when renewables made up more than 100 percent of power supply (unlike Denmark), the claim is untenable. Indeed, a closer look at the average price of electricity exports and imports reveals that Germany continues to make money from power trading, though the level in 2014 was quite balanced.

In 2012 and 2013, a kilowatt-hour of electricity exported from Germany had an average price that was around six percent higher than the average kilowatt-hour that Germany imported. But according to the latest figures, a kilowatt-hour exported was only two percent more valuable than the average kilowatt-hour that Germany imported in 2014.

Discussions about power trading tend to focus too heavily on preventing blackouts. In reality, power is almost always traded as a reaction to prices. Clearly, Germany continues to export more at times of high prices than at times of low prices relative to its neighboring countries. That situation may be gradually changing, however, as the decrease in the margin last year indicates.

Country Power exports MWh Value in 1,000 € Power imports MWh Value in 1,000 € Average price kWh exported Average price kWh imported Price difference 2014

Belgium - - - - - -
Denmark 3,986,463 158,391 4,703,736 221,629 3.97 4.71 -0.74 France 826,778 39,043 14,776,611 625,628 4.72 4.23 0.49 Luxemburg (ab 1999) 4,152,479 185,538 - - 4.47 -
Netherlands 24,342,499 1,117,077 348,145 14,612 4.59 4.20 0.39 Austria 15,576,156 724,677 5,330,889 263,001 4.65 4.93 -0.28 Poland 9,204,277 415,652 50,890 2,294 4.52 4.51 0.01 Sweden 771,916 32,737 1,778,451 77,308 4.24 4.35 -0.11 Czech Republic 3,830,237 179,072 6,266,583 280,060 4.68 4.47 0.21 Switzerland11,430,714602,2664,552,982223,0975.274.900.27 Total 74,121,519 3,454,453 37,808,287 1,707,629 4.57 4.54 0.03 (C)opyright Statistisches Bundesamt, Wiesbaden 2015


Note again that we are concerned with physical flows here, not commercial purchases. Last year, for instance, France was a net purchaser of electricity from Germany, though the level of physical trading makes it look like Germany gets a lot of electricity from France.

Combine that assumption with the misconception that power is traded to prevent blackouts, and you understand why someone could conclude that Germany needs French nuclear power to prevent blackouts. (The text above from Bild also claims that “our neighbors prefer to build new nuclear power plants,” for instance.) In reality, France uses the grid in southwest Germany to export electricity to Switzerland. As one recent study but it, “In physical terms, France exports a larger share to Germany, which are in fact transit flows to Switzerland.” (PDF)

If the data reflected commercial trading instead, we would have a better view of what Germany specifically needs to trade. What we have, however – physical trading – includes commercial transactions between other countries, with the electricity simply physically running through Germany. In such cases, the electricity is a bit like a courier that takes a nearby German road because there is a traffic jam on the road across the border.

Belgium is also included once again in the chart above to underscore that there is no power trading between the two countries directly even though they share a border. To the extent that Belgium imports German power, it therefore also has to run through the Netherlands and/or France.

Over the past two years, I have been the only person to report on this issue, so yesterday when I sat down to write about it, I decided it could wait a day – no one else would report on it – so that I could get to the article on the recent solar power record. Much to my dismay, I then discovered at the end of the day that Schlandt had covered it over at Phasenprüfer (dammit!). He focuses on the revenue. At a record level of net power exports (albeit just slightly above the level in 2013), Germany earned 1.70 billion euros from power trading last year. So much for “throwing away electricity you don’t need…”

(Craig Morris / @PPchef)