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ENERGY

Why sunny weather in Germany can switch off solar panels

The more the sun shines in the southern German town of Aurach, the more likely it is that Jens Husemann's solar panels will be disconnected from the grid -- an exasperating paradox at a time when Germany is navigating an energy supply crisis.

This aerial view taken with a drone shows solar panels on the roof of a logistics company's freight processing hall in Aurach, southern Germany.
This aerial view taken with a drone shows solar panels on the roof of a logistics company's freight processing hall in Aurach, southern Germany. (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

“It’s being switched off every day,” Husemann told AFP during a recent sunny spell, saying there had been more than 120 days of forced shutdowns so far this year.

Husemann, who runs an energy conversion business near Munich, also owns a sprawling solar power system on the flat roof of a transport company in Aurach, Bavaria.

The energy generated flows into power lines run by grid operator N-Ergie, which then distributes it on the network.

But in sunny weather, the power lines are becoming overloaded — leading the grid operator to cut off supply from the solar panels.

“It’s a betrayal of the population,” said Husemann, pointing to soaring electricity prices and a continued push to install more solar panels across Germany.

Europe’s biggest economy is eyeing an ambitious switch to renewables making up 80 percent of its electricity from 2030 in a bid to go carbon neutral.

N-ergie thermal power station

The thermal power station of energy supplier N-Ergie in Nuremberg, southern Germany. (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put a spanner in the works.

Moscow has cut gas supplies to Germany by 80 percent, in what is believed to be a bid to weaken the European powerhouse’s resolve in backing Ukraine.

READ ALSO: OPINION: How many massacres will it take for Germany to turn off Russian gas?

As a result, Berlin has been scrambling for alternative sources across the world to replace the shortfall.

This makes it all the more frustrating for Husemann, whose solar panels normally generate enough electricity for 50 households. With the repeated shutdowns, he suspects they will only supply half of their capacity by the end
of the year.

Grid bottlenecks

Grid operator N-Ergie, which is responsible for harvesting electricity from Husemann’s panels, admits the situation is less than ideal.

There were 257 days last year when it had to cut off supply from solar panels on parts of the grid.

“We are currently witnessing — and this is a good thing — an unprecedented boom in photovoltaic parks,” Rainer Kleedoerfer, head of N-Ergie’s development department, told AFP.

An employee of energy supplier N-ERGIE working at the company's network control centre in Nuremberg, southern Germany. 

An employee of energy supplier N-Ergie working at the company’s network control centre in Nuremberg, southern Germany.  (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

But while it takes just a couple of years to commission a solar power plant, updating the necessary infrastructure takes between five and 10 years, he said.

“The number of interventions and the amount of curtailed energy have increased continuously in recent years” as a result, according to N-Ergie spokesman Michael Enderlein.

“The likelihood is that grid bottlenecks will actually increase in the coming years,” while resolving them will take several more years, Enderlein said.

According to Carsten Koenig, managing director of the German Solar Industry Association, the problem is not unique to solar power and also affects wind energy.

READ ALSO: Reader question – Should I modernise my heating system in Germany?

Solar bottlenecks tend to be regional and temporary, he said. “Occasionally, however, we hear that especially in rural areas in Bavaria, the shutdowns are more frequent.”

2.4 million households

Koenig agrees the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better.

“This will be especially true if political measures aimed at sufficiently expanding the power grid in Germany… drag on for too long,” he said.

Some 6.1 terawatt hours of electricity from renewables had to be curtailed in 2020, according to the most recent figures available.

With an average consumption of around 2,500 kilowatt hours per year in a two-person household, this would have been enough to power around 2.4 million households.

A spokesman for Germany’s Federal Network Agency said it did not share the belief that “it will not be possible to expand the network in line with demand in the coming years”.

Only some aspects of the expansion are seeing delays, the spokesman said — mainly due to slow approval procedures and a lack of specialist companies to do the work.

According to Husemann there have also been delays to the payments he is supposed to receive in return for the solar power he supplies — or cannot supply.

He said he is already owed around 35,000 euros ($35,600) for electricity produced so far this year that has never found its way into a socket.

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ENERGY

Germany to spend €200 billion to cap soaring energy costs

Germany is to ditch plans for a gas levy on consumers and introduce a gas price cap to curb soaring bills, Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced on Thursday.

Germany to spend €200 billion to cap soaring energy costs

The government will plough €200 billion into shielding households and businesses from skyrocketing energy costs in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“The German government will do everything so that prices sink,” Scholz said at a press conference via video link because he is currently isolating due to a Covid infection. He said the package includes a gas price cap and a plan to cream off windfall profits made by some energy companies.

The package is designed to ensure that Germany can contend with the fallout from rising prices “this year and next year and the one after that”, Scholz said.

As expected, the controversial gas levy plans are being shelved. The government had been planning to pass on some of the soaring costs of energy to consumers from October to prop up struggling suppliers.

READ ALSO: Will Germany set a gas price cap – and how would it work?

With electricity and gas prices spiralling upwards, the leaders of Germany’s 16 federal states on Wednesday called on the government to introduce an energy price cap.

Several other politicians – also within the government’s own traffic light coalition – had also urged for the levy to be scrapped and a price cap to be introduced.

Scholz said there should be no extra burden for consumers and companies. “With the €200 billion, we have the means to finance all of this,” he said, adding that the gas levy was no longer needed. 

Protection from rising prices was needed for “pensioners, workers, families… but also bakers and craftsmen or big industrial plants that are dependent on electricity and the gas supply”, Scholz said.

Scholz pointed out that gas storage facilities in Germany are currently more than 90 percent full. “We will do everything we can to use the storage facilities for the winter,” he said. 

‘Energy war’

Germany, which has been highly dependent on imports of fossil fuels from Russia to meet its energy needs, has been battling to find other sources as supplies dwindle.

Thursday’s announcement came as inflation in Germany soared to a 70-year high of 10 percent in September, according to official data, driven higher by spiking energy prices.

“We find ourselves in an energy war over prosperity and freedom,” Finance Minister Christian Lindner said at the press conference.

A person turns down the radiator in Germany. Gas bills are set to rise significantly.

A person turns down the radiator in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marcus Brandt

Protecting consumers against the rising bills was a “crystal clear answer” to Russian President Vladimir Putin that Germany was “strong economically”.

The gas price cap should cover “at least a part” of the gas used by households and businesses, while “maintaining an incentive to reduce gas use” over the winter as supplies are limited, the government said in a statement.

At the same time, the government would work to limit the price of electricity for consumers by skimming off profits made by energy firms that have profited by the higher asking prices for gas but which do not use the energy source to generate power.

The gas levy would have seen 2.4 cents per kilowatt hour added to gas bills, adding an extra burden of several hundred euros per household. The government announced it would also reduce VAT on gas consumption to seven percent, down from the usual 19 percent. 

There had been major controversy over the surcharge after it emerged that some companies registered to receive a share included firms that have not been struggling in the current situation. 

Economics and Climate Minister Robert Habeck admitted mistakes in the design of the levy and he had pledged to change it. 

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