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31.07.2014

Power

German utilities want to shut down 7.9 GW

Looking for a long German word? Try “Kraftwerksstilllegungsanzeigenliste,” the list of (conventional) power plants for which a decommissioning request has been submitted. This month, the number reached 49 plants with a total capacity of 7,900 megawatts.

(Update: The comic originally used here was apparently improperly attributed, as it is in numerous places on the web. A person claiming to be the creator has now exercised his right of copyright, so I refer you to this rendition. It's worth viewing the comic because it sums up so well the myth that Germany is now disspelling.)

If you can believe the critics of wind power, wind turbines are not only bird choppers, but they also do not fully replace conventional power stations, which remain in operation for backup.

But apparently, if you do what Germany does – install a lot of wind in combination with solar and biomass – you actually do eventually start completely replacing conventional power stations. According to the official listofconventionalpowerplantsforwhichadecommissioningrequesthasbeensubmitted (take that, elongated German language!), German utilities would like to shut down 49 plants with a total capacity of 7.9 GW. The Network Agency, which has to review the requests to ensure reliability before giving its approval, has only allowed 246 MW to be decommissioned to date, however. It may not sound like much, but Germany has already completely replaced 10 decommissioned nuclear plants with renewable electricity, with another nine to go by 2020.

Windpark Hof
 - Once upon a time, people thought birds were a nuisance. They put up scarecrows in their fields and poisoned pigeons in parks. Then, wind turbines were invented, and some of these people rekindled their love for our feathered friends. The end. Modern German scarecrows also generate electricity, as shown in this image.
Once upon a time, people thought birds were a nuisance. They put up scarecrows in their fields and poisoned pigeons in parks. Then, wind turbines were invented, and some of these people rekindled their love for our feathered friends. The end. Modern German scarecrows also generate electricity, as shown in this image.
Windreich AG

But the new Kraftwerksstilllegungsanzeigenliste (abbreviated as KWSAL to fit on small device screens) shows that the number of coal plants, gas turbines, pumped storage facilities, and oil-fired power plants that are now not running often enough to remain profitable now makes up roughly 7 percent of conventional capacity, estimated in the Kraftwerksliste (no abbreviation) at around 107 GW.

Of course, not all of these plants will be shut down. Some 4.5 GW of them are in southern Germany, where bottlenecks are expected over the next few years as additional nuclear plants are removed up to 2022. And of course, as I repeatedly point out, Germany will always need roughly the amount of its peak power demand as dispatchable capacity, plus a roughly 10 percent safety margin.

Last year, domestic power demand in Germany peaked at around 75 GW, down from the usual annual peak of 80 GW, and power demand this year is down once again. Perhaps 75 GW should be the new starting point for such calculations instead of 80 GW.

A 10 percent safety margin would mean that Germany needs roughly 82.5 GW of dispatchable capacity for the foreseeable future. But dispatchable does not mean non-renewable, and the country already has roughly 7.5 GW (the safety margin) of baseload hydro and biomass.

It thus seems that Germany could conceivably reduce its conventional fleet from 107 GW to around 75. The country would then not shut down 8 GW, but 32 GW. And apparently get rid of a lot of those pesky birds in the process. (Craig Morris)