Renewables exceed 20% of Germany’s energy production

In the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, tens of thousands of German citizens took to the streets calling for the phase out of atomic energy. In May, the German government bowed to public pressure and unveiled its plan to shut down the country’s 17 nuclear power plants by 2021 – with the possibility that three will continue operating until 2022 if the transition to renewable energy doesn’t go as quickly as hoped.

Providing some hope that Germany will achieve its ambitious goals, Spiegel Online International has quoted a newly released…report that says, for the first time, renewable sources accounted for more than 20 percent of the country’s electricity generation…

According to the report, renewable energy sources provided 18.3 percent of total demand in 2010, but the first six months of 2011 saw that figure rise to 20.8 percent, while Germany’s total usage remained steady from 2010 at 275.5 billion kilowatt hours…

Of the 57.3 billion kWh provided by renewable sources in the first six months of 2011, wind power was the dominant source supplying 20.7 billion kWh (7.5 percent of total production), followed by biomass with 15.4 billion kWh (5.6 percent), photovoltaic solar with 9.6 billion kWh (3.5 percent), hydroelectric with 9.1 billion kWh (3.3 percent, and waste and other sources providing 2.2 billion kWh (0.8 percent).

Solar power saw the biggest jump, increasing by 76 percent over 2010 with the BDEW citing the reduction in the price of photovoltaic installations as a result of increased competition and the decision of the federal government not to cut subsidies for private solar-power generation as initially planned as the main reasons for the increase.

“Because of the volume of new photovoltaic installations and the amount of sun during the spring, solar energy knocked hydroelectric from third place for the first time,” said the BDEW.

Two points worth making. First – the economies of scale really play well with photo-voltaics. It’s a technology where small but noticeable advances are being made in both cost of production and efficiencies of energy production. Second – German voters are already sophisticated enough to ignore the hypocrisy of fossil fuel facility builders who whine about continued subsidies. Fact is – all fossil fuel plants rely on taxpayer subsidy for construction. There’s little difference in passing along subsidies to consumers with home installations.

I spent most of the past half-century as an advocate for nuclear power generation. From early days working in the field, it was clear that properly-run there was no need for safety concerns. Over that time the only disasters which have occurred were the result of bureaucratic malingering. Which can happen in any industry. The difference being that falling-down stupid about safety with nuclear power can be fatal on a large scale.

More important, we’ve just about reached the point where the cost of production of electricity via photo-voltaics matches the cost of construction and production of nuclear facilities. That will continue to diminish while the opposite happens with nuclear projects. And there will never be shutdown dangers associated with natural disasters using photo-voltaics.