Thursday, October 17, 2013

Moving it around—green energy relies on upgraded grids

One of the key components to the realization of green / mostly-electric society is a better distribution system.  Not only must electricity get moved from windy and sunny sites to where it is needed but most storage strategies rely on movement as well.  The main problem is that moving electricity very far involves significant loss. And then there is the problem that big distribution schemes means big towers that many find offensively ugly.

I once heard a speaker claim the most famous person in the future will be whoever figures out a way to create low-loss electrical distribution—suggesting that the next Bill Gates will have expertise in material sciences.

Not surprisingly, the Germans are leading the way in confronting the problems of distributing green energy.  The rest of us can only wish them luck.

Expanding the Grid: A Vision for Fueling Europe on Renewables

By Christoph Pauly

The list of projects slated to receive funding includes new power highways intended to transport surplus electricity from the wind turbines in northern Germany to the consumer centers of the south.

European Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger is in Brussels on Monday to present his plan for the future of energy in the EU. He wants to export Germany's push toward renewables to the rest of the Continent -- and for the first time, he actually has the money to do it.

Until recently, European Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger had to rely entirely on the power of his words to push through his policies. "The internal market is being ruined," he said in reference to the Energiewende, Germany's push to abandon nuclear energy and promote renewable sources. Still, he was unable to intervene.

That may change on Monday, as Oettinger presents a list of 200 infrastructure projects that he sees as crucial for Europe's future energy supply. For the first time, he now has real power -- the power of money. He intends to spend a total of €5.8 billion ($7.9 billion) to promote the cross-border construction of new power lines, energy storage facilities and gas pipelines -- provided, of course, the EU Parliament and EU Council don't object.

The former governor of the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg hopes to use this money to liberate European energy policy from the squalor of national constraints and, as an added bonus, help secure the German Energiewende. "This is a huge step forward for Europe," he says.

It would also be a success for him personally. For the first time, a European energy commissioner can personally steer policies now that over €200 billion will have to be invested in Europe's energy networks by the year 2020, according to EU forecasts.

At Least Two Countries Should Benefit

The key eligibility criterion for Oettinger's program is that at least two countries should always benefit from the new power lines. This would hopefully free some countries, like Ireland and the Baltic republics, from their general energy policy isolation. Oettinger's list -- a copy of which has been obtained by SPIEGEL -- reveals that the EU has painstakingly ensured that each of the 28 EU countries receives its share of the bonanza from Brussels.

The proposed measures are highly tempting. For instance, it has been suggested that projects should benefit from low-cost loans and construction subsidies amounting to up to 75 percent of the investment sums. For those ventures where the risks and/or costs are too high for a private grid operator, the EU is prepared to help out with large subsidies.

Germany benefits from 22 large-scale projects. Oettinger wants to remove bottlenecks that have arisen in Germany as a result of the push to expand renewable energies. The list of projects slated to receive funding includes new power highways intended to transport surplus electricity from the wind turbines in northern Germany to the consumer centers of the south.

At the top of Oettinger's list are high-voltage power lines for direct current, for example, between Wilster in northern Germany and Grafenrheinfeld in central Germany. Starting in early 2014, grid operators like Tennet and Amprion can apply for low-interest loans from the European Investment Bank. In addition to power lines, the list includes some 100 gas projects across Europe.

Germany And Its Neighbors

Although the majority of these projects were already part of Germany's Federal Network Agency's development plan, the driving idea behind the EU's initiative is different: It seeks to improve Germany's network with its neighbors.

One of the long-term goals is to create a North Sea electricity ring main. This would provide an ideal way of tapping into the reserves of other countries when there doesn't happen to be enough wind to generate electricity. Oettinger sees it as an anachronism that every country maintains its own conventional gas and coal-fired plants for occasions when there is very little wind or sun. "Consumers ultimately have to pay a high price for this," Oettinger argues.

But it's not just unresolved financing issues that have been holding up plans to expand the power network. Many projects can't make any headway because numerous citizens' initiatives are blocking things like high-voltage transmission lines.

The EU has also taken a brash course on this front: The proposal would make it possible for the 200 top projects in Europe to receive a construction permit within three and a half years -- with only one court that would hear the objections of project opponents.

Only time will tell whether such an approach actually works on the ground. "It took over 30 years before a power line between France and Spain could be built," recalls an expert on the EU Commission. Former Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti finally had to intervene and mediate the conflict. He was successful because he used large amounts of money from Brussels to ensure that the transmission lines disappeared underground in some places.

In Germany there are also protests against virtually every major project of the Energiewende.

For instance, the EU list includes the Riedl pumped-storage power plant near the southern German city of Passau. For years, Donaukraftwerk Jochenstein AG has proposed the construction of a colossal reservoir above the Danube Valley for €350 million. But conservationists object to the plan because they say it would threaten the upper Danube Valley.

Similar conflicts rage in many places in the Alpine region, where the EU plans specify the construction of new reservoirs for the Energiewende. Now Brussels hopes to accelerate the approval process here, too -- using an approach that always works: money. more
Just remember, Schleswig-Holstein is almost Denmark.  Not surprisingly, the energy strategies are similar.

Northern Germany spearheads energy transition

Date 09.10.2013
Author Gero Rueter / ng

Schleswig-Holstein has pioneered the generation of wind power in Germany. Largely rural, the northern state has capitalized on the renewable energy boom and hopes to be exporting electricity soon.

On the North Sea coast in Friesland, Germany's ambitious energy transition targets are already tangible; hundreds of wind turbines are in use, and most farms have solar panels on their roofs. Some grow corn for use in biogas plants.

In the last 25 years, the people and farmers of Schleswig-Holstein have worked to decentralize energy production, investing several billion euros, the kind of money that only large corporations can normally muster.

"Nine out of 10 windmills are owned by local residents," according to Nicole Knudsen from the Association of Wind Energy, which is based in Scleswig-Holstein.

"In some villages, three-fourths of residents are already involved, a substantial number that truly represents the people."

Ernst Hinrichsen is one of those citizens; the former judge took out a loan from his bank to pay for a share in a local wind farm. The banks here know the business and that it works.

Selling the electricity pays for the loan. Hinrichsen, who is an advisor for the Galmsbüll wind farm, says a seven to eight-percent return on investment is the norm.

Steep learning curve

In the past, wind power was a bone of contention in many villages. Farmers were compensated as the windmills were erected on their land, but nobody else profited.

"People were green with envy and neighbors quarreled," Hinrichsen recalls.

Now, the wind farms are designed to benefit all - costs are kept low and profits are being shared out. "We pay rent for the land we use, and the amount is the same for everybody," says Jess Jessen, a farmer and executive director at the Galmsbüll wind farm. In addition, farmers receive compensation for the land used by the wind farms, because they cannot be used for farming.

Introducing rental fees has also had another advantage: "We've had two major technological innovations in the last five years," Jessen says, adding that the system allows wind farm operators to be flexible and erect bigger and more efficient plants.

Today, the mood in Galmsbüll is much better than in those early years. Out of 500 residents, 430 are involved in a new wind farm. "We needed 4 million euros, and in the end we collected 10 million from residents. It shows that the idea of citizen funding has taken root here," Hinrichsen says.

New jobs, more income

People are generally positive about wind power in Schleswig-Holstein these days, with 70 percent in favor of new facilities being built. By 2020, Germany's northernmost state plans to boost wind power from the current 3,700 megawatts to 9,000 megawatts.

For local councils, residents and farmers, renewable energy - especially wind power - has become a major source of income. Local authorities make 50 million euros annually from the trade tax paid by the industry. Farmers and residents can boost their income and benefit from an improved job market. Around 7,000 people work in the industry.

Trailblazer Schleswig-Holstein

Over half of the state's power supply comes from renewable energies, 70 percent of which come from wind power, 20 percent from biomass and a further 10 percent from photovoltaics.

The local governing coalition of Social Democrats and Greens wants to expand the state's role model status in Germany's nuclear phase-out and energy transition.

Schleswig-Holstein is the first German state to have a ministry for the energy transition, which also deals with agriculture, environmental issues and rural development.

By 2015, the state's energy demands are to be covered entirely by renewable energy sources, by 2020, twice or possibly even three times that amount is earmarked for export to neighboring regions, especially to nearby Hamburg.

"Conditions here are generally very windy, and this is why we can provide cheap electricity," Ingrid Nestle, deputy minister for energy and agriculture told DW.

The regional government has already doubled the amount of land available for wind farms to allow for more investment. It also engages with residents at an early stage to keep them informed about the necessary grid upgrades and possible building sites.

Power from renewables also needs to be stored, which is why an underwater pipeline is planned from northern Germany to Norway. "There we have huge water reservoirs that can serve as storage space, and so far it's not being used," Nestle says.

She believes the energy transition will be a big boon for rural regions like Schleswig-Holstein. It is up to the local and regional governments to create the necessary frameworks and get residents involved:

"That's how residents become active participants. And that makes them amenable to the cause, so that money can be mobilized and ideas become reality." more

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