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Energy transition

German power exports reach record level

On Friday, Germany's Manager Magazine reported preliminary figures for the German power sector, revealing that Germany exported more electricity in the first 3 quarters of 2012 than ever before. Nonetheless, some remain concerned.

According to preliminary figures not yet published by the BDEW, an association representing power and water providers, Germany exported 12.3 terawatt-hours of electricity in the first 9 months of 2012, compared to minus 0.2 terawatt-hours in the first 3 quarters of 2011 (effectively meaning that Germany was a net importer in the first 3 quarters of last year). The sudden nuclear phaseout last spring clearly reveals itself when we look at the statistics for the first 9 months of 2010, when Germany was a net exporter of 8.8 terawatt-hours. Nonetheless, experts remain concerned mainly about two things: the wide gap between peak power demand in the evening late in November; and the low value of German power exports relative to power imports.

In the evening in late November, power demand in Germany generally peaks for the year at around 80 GW. These hours are reliably always dark, so no power will come from photovoltaics. If there is also little wind power at that time, Germany will have to have that entire amount as dispatchable power generating capacity. The situation is not new, however, and it will not change; going forward, Germany will always have to have at least 80 GW of dispatchable power generating capacity, though not all of that need be fossil and nuclear – power storage will increasingly make up a small share of the pie, and gas turbines could increasingly run on biogas and gas made from excess renewable electricity (power to gas, itself a form of power storage).

 -  Critics say that Germany is exporting cheap power and importing expensive power, so why are Germany's neighbors not profiting?
Critics say that Germany is exporting cheap power and importing expensive power, so why are Germany's neighbors not profiting?
Rainer Sturm, Pixelio.de

The question of the value of our exports and imports also concerns experts. Because European power markets are increasingly integrated, neighboring countries are buying more and more cheap electricity from Germany when there is a large supply of renewable power. As a result, though Germany is increasingly a net exporter, it is selling power on the cheap – and then importing the power expensively. At least, that is what critics of the energy transition are saying.

It would logically follow, then, that German power firms would be posting lower profits, whereas firms in neighboring countries would be doing better. Nonetheless, neighboring countries, such as Switzerland, are complaining that their firms are seeing their profits cut because they cannot sell as much power to Germany. Today, Swiss power provider Alpiq announced that its consolidated profits fell by 20% in the first 3 quarters of the year, with net revenue dropping by 5.3%. Manager Magazine reports, however, that the main shift has been between the Netherlands and Germany, with the Dutch importing a lot more power from their neighbors. Clearly, the situation is more complicated than meets the eye. (Craig Morris)

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