On Sunday, for a brief, shining moment, renewable power output in Germany reached 90 percent of the country’s total electricity demand. That’s a big deal. On May 8th, at 11 a.m. local time, the total output of German solar, wind, hydropower, and biomass reached 55 gigawatts (GW), just short of the 58 GW consumed by every light bulb, washing machine, water heater and personal computer humming away on Sunday morning. See the graph below, courtesy Agora Energiewende, a German clean energy think tank. (It’s important to note that most likely, not all of that 55 GW could be used at the time it was generated due to system and grid limitations, but it’s still noteworthy that this quantity of power was produced.)
Here are a few takeaways from this milestone:
Germany is the fourth-largest economy on the planet. Germany’s $3.7 trillion GDP beats the economic output of any other country in Europe or, for that matter, any U.S. state. Sunday’s spike in renewable output shows that wind and solar can keep pace with the demands of an economic powerhouse. What’s more, the growth of clean energy has tracked the growth of Germany’s economy.
Germany is an unlikely leader in solar. Germany ranks second in installed photovoltaic solar capacity, according to the International Energy Agency. Until recently it was the world leader. It’s notable that, on solar, Germany is outpacing the United States, a country four times as populous. What’s more remarkable is that Germany sees about as much sunshine as Alaska.
Individuals are driving Germany’s energy revolution. Sunday’s performance highlights the success of the Energiewende, or “energy transition,” Germany’s push to expand clean energy, increase energy efficiency, and democratize power generation. Smart policies have opened the renewable energy market to utilities, businesses and homeowners. As of 2012, individuals owned more than a third of Germany’s renewable energy capacity.
Germany still gets most of its power from fossil fuels. Sunday’s spike resulted from a combination of reduced demand — a Sunday morning lull in power consumption. It also came from robust supply — an abundance of wind and sunshine to drive up renewable energy output. On average, renewables supply 30 percent of the country’s power. That is nonetheless a huge proportion. By comparison, the U.S. gets just 13 percent of its power from renewables.
Jeremy Deaton writes about climate and energy for Nexus Media. Tweet him your questions at @deaton_jeremy.