On Saturday, July 25, Germany set a new national record for renewable energy by meeting 78 percent of the day’s electricity demand with renewables sources, exceeding the previous record of 74 percent set in May of 2014.
According to an analysis by German energy expert Craig Morris at the Energiewende blog, a stormy day across northern Europe combined with sunny conditions in southern Germany led to the new record, the exact figures of which are still preliminary. Morris writes that most of Germany’s wind turbines are installed in the north and most of its solar panels are in the south. If the figures hold, it will turn out that wind and solar generated 40.65 gigawatts (GW) of power on July 25. When this is combined with other forms of renewables, including 4.85 GW from biomass and 2.4 GW from hydropower, the total reaches 47.9 GW of renewable power — occurring at a time when peak power demand was 61.1 GW on Saturday afternoon. To bolster his analysis, Morris points to early figures from Agora Energiewende, a Germany energy policy firm, that have renewables making up 79 percent of domestic power consumption that day.
Renewable sources accounted for 27.8 percent of Germany’s power consumption in 2014, up from 6.2 percent in 2000. The expansion of renewables and another weather phenomenon — a relatively mild winter — led to Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions falling for the first time in three years in 2014, a 4.3 percent year-over-year drop. Greenhouse gas emissions are now down to their lowest level since 1990, according to analysts at Agora Energiewende.
This made 2014 a big year for Germany’s renewable energy transition, known as Energiewende, which requires the phasing out of nuclear energy by 2022 and reducing greenhouse gases at least 80 percent by 2050. The government also wants the at least double the percentage of renewables in the energy mix by 2035.
In response to the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in Japan in 2011, Germany decided to shutter its nuclear power operations, causing the country to rely more on coal as it transitions to renewables. Currently coal still accounts for some 44 percent of the country’s power generation.
In 2014, Germany had nine nuclear power plants with a total output of 12,702 megawatts, making up nearly 18 percent of the country’s electricity demand. In order to eliminate nuclear power by 2022, many worry that Germany will have to turn to fossil fuels like coal and oil to help bridge the transition to renewables, causing a spike in greenhouse gas emissions.
Osha Gray Davidson, author of Clean Break, a book about Germany’s transition to clean energy, told TakePart that for such a large industrialized country to get 28 percent of its power from renewable sources is “pretty amazing,” and that Germany is a good model for the United States.
“Manufacturing accounts for much more of the German economy than the American economy, and they have 80 million people — much larger than a country like Denmark, which gets more of its power from renewables but has a much smaller industrial base, and has a population of five and a half million people,” he said.
Currently, the United States gets about 13 percent of its energy demand from renewable sources, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
As more and more wind turbines and solar panels come online there is a major technology push to create better forecasting software and to increase the efficiency and enhance the location of these forms of power. IBM and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) recently announced that they are working on a producing solar and wind forecasting that’s at least 30 percent more accurate than conventional methods.
“There is good reason to believe that with better forecasts, it might be possible to push solar’s energy contribution up to 50 percent [by 2050],” IBM Research Manager Hendrick Hamann recently said about the United States. “As we continue to refine our system in collaboration with the DOE, we hope to double the accuracy of the system in the next year. That could have a huge impact on the energy industry — and on local businesses, the economy and the natural environment.”