German model shows less fossil, more renewable is possible 

Source: By Nicola/Landberg, Bloomberg • Posted: Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Günter Schreiber must keep 9,976 kilometers (6,200 miles) of German transmission lines steadily flowing with renewable energy power sources even when the weather doesn’t cooperate. The system he manages has proved its mettle so successfully that Germany experiences just 15 minutes a year in electrical outages, compared to 68 minutes in France and more than four hours in Poland.

Germany’s model, which heavily leans on renewables, is slowly being copied from California to China as wind and solar upstage traditional fuels like nuclear and coal.

“Our job has become much more complex,” Scheibner said in an interview from the control center outside Berlin owned by 50Hertz Transmission GmbH, one of Germany’s four main grid operators. “It’s not an easy mission, and it will cost money. But if you are doing it consciously, then it will be doable. We have already come so far.”

Keeping the grid steady amid the intermittent flow of wind and solar has long been a challenge. But researchers said that backup from reliable fuel sources like coal and natural gas isn’t needed as much as was previously forecast, predicting that grids running on 50 percent renewables are possible.

“There’s a myth among opponents of renewable energy that you need 100 percent backup spinning all the time, and it’s utter nonsense,” said Michael Liebreich, founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “Any grid needs flexibility. You can have a nuclear plant shut down by jellyfish or a coal plant closed because of a freeze and you can’t shovel in supplies fast enough.”

But revamping grids to increase capacity for renewables could be an expensive journey, officials have said. Germany must invest €6.1 billion a year ($6.45 billion) in its grid by this decade’s end to handle the additional wind and solar farms, according to estimates from the German Institute for Economic Research.

Manufacturers are constructing smart meters to help control demand from utilities and consumers in addition to battery storage to iron out the jumpy flow from renewable energy. But high costs for such technological advances are still a hurdle.