Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Wind turbines in Germany: possible blackouts

When I was going through Germany a week ago (the train is mostly moving along the Moldau and Elbe rivers, both in Czechia and Germany), it was impossible not to notice the huge number of wind turbines over there (something that I noticed in France half a year earlier, too).

The number is said to be even higher in Northern Germany.

Germany has brought the percentage of the wind-generated electricity to 7 percent (still below Spain which is above 10%) and this fraction is so large that problems inevitably follow. As the Czech radio reported,
German "pinwheels" overload the Czech power grid (EN)
Every year, a huge excess of wind-generated electricity from Northern Germany causes problems to the grids in Czechia, Poland, Austria, Slovenia, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland.

A year ago, the wind was really strong and the first problems occurred. So they established a warning system. The problems are repeating in 2009, too. For example, it was planned for the last week that there would be a total of 130 MW of electricity flowing from Czechia to Germany. However, the actual budget was 1300 MW in the opposite direction. The balance was almost 1500 MW different than planned.

Mr Petr Zeman, the CEO of the Czech Power Grid (ČEPS), explained that they have survived so far. In his opinion, the problems are caused by the uncoordinated development of the wind turbines in Germany. They have stated that 20% of the electricity should come from renewable sources but these slovens no longer care what it does with the grids.

It is clear to Mr Zeman that if Germany were not connected to the rest of Europe, it wouldn't be able to survive these moments. The grids could be built to sustain such irregularities. However, it takes something like 10 years to build new power lines (which includes 7 years of the hugely complex EU paperwork).

The blackouts are being avoided by rather ad hoc methods of turning individual stations on and off in an internationally semi-coordinated and semi-predicted fashion. However, the chaotic description makes it likely that the system may collapse at some moment. The tasks for the regulation will be increasingly difficult as Germany wants to inflate the current 25 GW of pinwheels to 50 GW of pinwheels.

Mr Zeman says that this will be a big challenge of the type they can solve but he can't rule out that they will fail on one windy day in the future. ;-) When the problems will be too serious and the international re-dispatching will no longer be enough to balance the network, Mr Zeman is ready to say: "We can't be your saviors forever. Screw you, renewable German PC pinheads." And he will simply disconnect the sick German grid from ours. :-)

Enjoy your schwarz-aus. :-)

Are those 10% of the electricity worth this chaos and risk? I think that irregular sources of energy that cause such problems should be much cheaper (twice cheaper?) than the solid, regular, and predictable sources. In reality, they are four times more expensive. There's way too much subsidized nonsense and way too many idiots in the political and legislative portion of this industry.


  1. One additional factor. From my experience, when they have to offload the grid, they can't actually turn a power plant "off." What they do is put it on hot standby. This means that it is not generating power but still burning fuel. This is particularly the case with oil and coal plants, less so the case with gas turbines, which can be started and stopped comparatively quickly. The dirty little secret in Germany is that even when wind is producing, it is not replacing fossil fuel combustion because fossil plants have to remain on hot standby, ready at a moments notice for the wind to stop.

  2. well at least it's not an unsightly oil well derrick.

    Weird how bird Cuisinarts are so pretty now.