Renewable power cuts into baseload in Germany
Over the weekend, German power producers were paying people to buy their electricity for a short time as baseload power was pushed back. It is a sign of things to come.
A few weeks ago, Renewables International reported on how installed wind and solar power capacity in particular had already impacted prices on the power exchange. Usually, power is more expensive during the day, when demand is higher, than during the night, but because so much solar power is now produced during the day, the increase in solar power production outstrips the increase in power demand, thereby bringing down prices on the power exchange. In its newsletter yesterday, Germany's Photon magazine pointed out that the price of a megawatt-hour had dipped into the negative briefly on Sunday, reaching a price of -0.08 cents.
A look at power production figures on the EEX’s transparency website shows what happened. Around 4 PM, conventional power production dipped below 28 gigawatts, which seems to be the point at which German power companies have to start shutting off baseload plants. Rather than briefly start ramping down our production, they were willing to pay for someone to take power off their hands. Usually, conventional power production is twice as great (closer to 50 gigawatts), as it was again during the week – take a look at yourself on the EEX Transparency website, which is in English and German. You will also find the EPEX spot auction website here.
On Sundays, power consumption is relatively low in Germany, with most factories and businesses closed (there is no shopping on Sundays). And as we can see from the statistics for wind power production on April 1, wind power was the main reason for the negative electricity prices. By 4 PM, more than 14 gigawatts of wind power was being generated. During the first 10 hours of the day, wind power production averaged around five gigawatts, but starting at 4 PM power production was closer to 15-16 gigawatts for the rest of the day. Germany roughly has 27 gigawatts of installed wind power capacity and has been installing at a rate of just under two gigawatts annually for the past decade.
Interestingly, just as wind power was ramping up, production of solar power was dipping. It peaked at around 16 gigawatts from roughly 12 noon to 2 PM and had fallen to 10 gigawatts by 4 PM, as the chart to the left shows. In total, we therefore had around 24 gigawatts of wind and solar power at 4 PM along with around 23 gigawatts of conventional power. Apparently, German power demand had fallen to 50 gigawatts, which is not especially uncommon for a Sunday afternoon.
Such occurrences are not unheard-of either in Germany or elsewhere. For instance, wind power production was one of the reasons for negative power prices in the ERCOT region (Texas) way back in 2008. But the problems in Texas are relatively local and related to a concentration of wind turbines in a sparsely populated area.
What is going on right now in Germany is the future of power production – and it is something that Renewables International has been warning about since its inception a year and a half ago (the term is "peak demand parity"). That negative dip was short-lived on Sunday, but we can look forward to renewable power cutting into baseload power regularly in Germany, and as we enter the summer the impact of solar power will become greater, making extremely low and possibly negative power prices on electricity exchange lengthier.
And of course, at some point such occurrences are not going to be limited to Sundays. (Craig Morris)