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German virtual power plant provider goes nationwide

Germany's Next Kraftwerke now provides renewable backup power throughout the country from its Next Pool virtual power plant.

One of the main challenges in Germany's energy transition is backup power. Unlike other countries that already have a large share of renewables in their power supply, Germany is switching largely to wind and solar, not hydropower and geothermal. And while the latter are dispatchable, the former are not.

This is where biomass comes in. In a "virtual power plant," wind turbines and solar arrays can be combined with dispatchable power generators. The virtual power plant then provides a reliable amount of electricity, with the dispatchable generators ramping up as wind and solar power production die down.

 - A diagram illustrating the concept of virtual power plants.
A diagram illustrating the concept of virtual power plants.
Next Kraftwerke

In the case of Next Pool, biogas units and generators running on wood chips, etc., are used to provide backup power. The firm says it has been offering 119 megawatts of "minute reserves" (which can be switched on within a minute) and 53 megawatts of "second reserves" (which can be switched on immediately) since the beginning of 2012.

At present, the entire virtual power plant reportedly has an output of 570 megawatts, equivalent to a large coal plant. Next Pool consists of solar, wind, hydropower, and cogeneration units fired with biomass.

Now, the firm is qualified to do business everywhere in Germany after receiving approval for the country's four transit grid zones. In 2012, Germany's Renewable Energy Act was amended to allow/require (depending on your point of view) renewables to take part in the market for "balancing energy."

The project shows how things can be done, and of course the reliance does not have to be completely on biomass. By the end of this decade, Germany will gradually start having excess wind and solar power, which might perhaps be competitively stored as a synthetic gas sometime in the next decade. If the entire combination is affordable, Germany could indeed go 100 percent renewable, not just meet its current target of 80 percent renewable power by 2050. (Craig Morris)

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