Germany – the rural power station

Most readers will be aware that I have been on vacation for two weeks. Many thanks to Roger Andrews for keeping the blog running and everything under control in my absence. I will have a big post on Earth’s wandering magnetic field in the next day or two, but before that I wanted to share some experiences from last week that I spent in Bavaria, southern Germany.

It has been about 25 years since I last travelled through rural Germany. With the Energiewende I was expecting to find a rural landscape desolated by wind mills and solar farms. Quite the opposite! We drove about 1000 kms through southern Bavaria and the Bavarian Alps and in that time we saw only 1 wind turbine, and that was just outside off Munich airport. I am aware that further north there are forests of wind turbines, but the Bavarians have by and large protected their beautiful rural landscape from the ravages of the Energiewende. There is a lesson for Alex Salmond to learn here.

The Bavarian Alps. No wind turbines here!

Of course the wind resource is focussed in northern Germany and the solar resource in the south and there were indeed thousands of very large roof top solar arrays. But I only saw a single, rather small, ground based solar farm. Bavarian architecture has very large roofs, many of which are covered in solar panel arrays that are much larger than those deployed in the UK. Bavaria has a high density rural population, with many small towns and villages and it was notable that very large solar arrays are deployed on commercial buildings – farms buildings, shops, public buildings, industrial buildings etc – in addition to houses. I cannot say that the solar arrays detracted significantly from the natural and architectural beauty of this area.

Large solar arrays covering the roofs of Bavarian farm houses and farm buildings.

In Roger’s post of yesterday there was an interesting discussion about Germany (and the rest of Europe) plugging into the Scandinavian hydro electric battery. Norway and Sweden do not have significant pumped hydro but do have very large conventional hydro systems (Norway 84 TWh and Sweden 33TWh storage, HT to Lars Evensen). Hugh Sharman indicated that Scandinavia has 1 GW connection to Holland, 2 GW to Denmark and will shortly have 1.6 GW connection to Germany. Lars Evensen suggested that Norway could provide up to 10 GW of balancing capacity and Sweden 7 GW. Of this 17 GW, 4.6 GW are already allocated to Holland, Denmark and Germany. That leaves a possible 11.4 GW of balancing capacity remaining which I suspect is biased to the high side. This figure needs to be compared with German peak demand of over 70 GW and UK peak demand over 55 GW. Scandinavian hydro can never be more than a minor partial solution to the problem of balancing European renewable energy.

This raises the question why Germany is looking to Scandinavia to provide balancing services while in the South they own a fair chunk of The Alps. On our travels last week we saw little to no evidence of conventional or pumped hydro schemes – just beautiful Alpine scenery. Southern Bavaria struck me as one of the most prosperous areas on Earth and I was told that many wealthy Germans chose to live there. It strikes me that the Bavarians are placing a higher price on preserving natural beauty than on achieving independence from fossil fuels, which is incidentally a value I respect and admire.

The Bavarians struck me as genuinely Green, that is they have an affinity with and care for nature. There were, however, a couple of stark contrasts to the Energiewende. Electric roof heaters in beer gardens are not exactly in the spirit of negawatts. And on our way back to Munich airport on Friday evening, traffic leaving Munich for the weekend was standing still in what amounted to a 30 km long traffic jam. And I don’t recall seeing a single Toyota Prius or any other electric car but many top of the range Mercedes Benz, BMWs, Audis and Porsches. In this part of Germany, the population still has a long way to go before they abandon fossil fuels.

Electric roof heaters in a beer garden provided comfort on a cool evening but are not exactly consistent with the energy saving mantra.

The queue of standing traffic leaving Munich on Friday evening stretched for about 30 kms.

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18 Responses to Germany – the rural power station

  1. Joe Public says:

    “Electric roof heaters in a beer garden provided comfort on a cool evening but are not exactly consistent with the energy saving mantra.”

    C’mon Euan, the sole objective of the bier-garden owner is to make money, not save energy. Would you sit in that poorly-insulated ‘tent’ in the middle of winter, and buy a round of beers? [Would you sit in that poorly-insulated ‘tent’ in the middle of winter, even if someone else bought a round of beers?]

    At least the German ‘bier garden’ was enclosed; the ‘unintended consequence’ of banning smoking indoors is that we now heat the outdoors!

  2. Lars Evensen says:

    I don`t know if it`s just pure idealism and nature conservation that prevents forests of wind mills to arise in Bavaria and other parts of southern Germany. Probably it`s more a matter of very poor load factor. Check this solar generation web page for Bavaria`s equally prosperous neighbour state of Baden-Württemberg, and the current generation of 25 megawatts gives a load factor of about 3-4% (installed capacity about 800 MW). I have watched this site for a while and although I have no figures the wind load factor doesn`t look very impressive. I suppose it will be the same for Bavaria.

    If I lived in southern Germany I would be very pleased about this fact as much as you lament the beautiful Scottish countryside being filled with wind mills.

  3. Roger Andrews says:

    Euan: I wondered which way the solar panels in your farmhouse pic were pointing. Having no idea where the farmhouse was I couldn’t of course find out, but in browsing through Google Earth I came up with the attached shot of rooftop PV installations in Diesenhofen, just south of Munich. They point either southeast or southwest depending on which way the roof faces (north is up). However, this is thought to be a good thing. Here’s CleanTechnica:

    While the “suboptimal” orientation of solar systems isn’t too helpful for reaching (even) higher solar power records, it’s good for grid integration. Since extreme solar power peaks — as cool as they might be — are not really the point, many solar energy experts advocate that future capacities should be installed facing southeast and southwest… instead of simply south. This would increase solar production in the morning and evening hours and provide solar energy more evenly throughout the day – matching production even more with demand peaks.

    Words fail me.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Roger, I meant to mention this in my post. While I didn’t see any north facing panels in Germany, E, W and S seem to be equally distributed. Its a common argument for solar enthusiasts to have a distribution of orientations to match load. Who cares about capacity factor and efficiency. The ones in my pic I think are facing S or SW.

      Since extreme solar power peaks — as cool as they might be


  4. Luís says:

    Hi Euan, this article may help clarifying some of your doubts:


  5. roberto says:

    Euan has written:

    “the Bavarians have by and large protected their beautiful rural landscape from the ravages of the Energiewende”

    I beg to differ,Euan!…they have simply outsourced the ravages to all of the other german Laenders who will have to let tens of HV lines being built to transfer to Bavaria the huge amount of electricity generated by on- and off-shore turbines… especially after the remaining 11 reactors will be stopped (they are all located, I think, in the southern part of Germany).


    • roberto says:

      … sorry, forgot to add that the reason why there are not many turbines in Bavaria is that it is the region of Germany with the lowest average wind speeds… but the highest insolation… even in the senseless and useless Energiewende there is some internal logical consistency… 🙂


    • Euan Mearns says:

      Is it lets disagree with Euan week? 😉

      I think the Bavarians have thus far done a splendid job of protecting their own whilst allowing the other Laenders to benefit from the employment opportunities offered by renewables. And I make the point in the post that the wind resource is up north while the solar resource is down south. They certainly have managed to make some greater sense out of deploying infrastructure where it is best suited than we have done in the UK.

      But the infrastructure required to transmit this stuff all over the place seems a bit boggling.

    • Ed says:

      Roberto, If more homes in Bavaria installed solar on their roofs it would reduce the need for those HV lines that you mentioned. Also if it is HV lines that you object to, why not put Nuclear power stations in the middle of cities. You would need fewer HV lines running through the countryside ! Why don’t they do that, Roberto, I wonder?

      • Roberto says:

        More pv in Germany does not reduce anything, since for 4 good months/year, at least, pv in Germany generate practically ZERO day and night.
        Talking about reactors in towns, that’s clearly an hyperbole you are using… nobody would do that.. but you can certainly put a nuclear power station at (of the order of) 100 km from (say) Volkswagen factories, while you can’t do that neither with pv not with wind… you invariably need thousands of km of power lines.

        • Ed says:

          You are right about getting ZERO pv electricity at night, Roberto.

          • Roberto says:

            No, I am right also about the day between November and February… just look at the monthly reports by the Fraunhofer Institut, already cited before.


          • Roger Andrews says:

            To clear up the confusion about seasonal solar irradiance variations in Germany:

            Countries at the latitude of Germany receive 4.36 times as much solar energy at the Summer Solstice as they do at the Winter Solstice. In most cases the difference will be larger because the winters are more cloudy.

  6. Ed says:

    I love that graph, Roger, seriously. Where did you get it from? I go touring round southern Europe during the Winter in a camper van without staying at any campsites with hook-up. I have a 80W solar panel on the roof hooked up to a 210Wh battery to supply my electrical needs; LED lighting, computers and phone. Also useful in calculating how many panels I will need if I was to put some on my roof at home some time in the future.

  7. Graeme No.3 says:

    I recently passed through Bavaria and I was surprised by the low number of houses with solar panels. Those who did went quite overboard with 36 up to 144. It is obvious that the installers are “mining the subsidies” rather than making a sensible decision. It does make it easier for the German government to reduce or eliminate solar subsidies.

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