Aug
17
2015

Germany’s Energy Choices Wreaking Havoc on Neighbors

In past years, PACE has written extensively about Germany’s so-called energy revolution and its effects on consumer prices and power reliability. Last year, for example, we described how massive shifts in German energy production – mostly toward wind and solar – were raising energy costs for at least five million Germans and causing significant disruptions to that nation’s industrial sector. The U.S. should certainly think twice before following Germany’s lead by abandoning fossil fuels and nuclear power.

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Now there is new cause for concern. According to a recent report by Weixin Zha and Marek Strzeleck of Bloomberg News, the changes to Germany’s power production are spilling over into neighboring countries, threatening blackouts and requiring aggressive construction efforts. The problem is that solar and wind power – Germany’s power sources of choice – are highly volatile and relatively unpredictable, leaving those responsible for maintaining the stability of the grid searching for answers.

“Poland and the Czech Republic are spending $180 million on equipment to protect their systems from German power surges, while Austria is curbing some trading to prevent regional networks from collapsing,” the article states. “On a windy day, the overflow east can exceed the output from four atomic reactors.”

“A huge accumulation of overflow increases the threat of a blackout,” Zbynek Boldis, the head of trade and international relations at Czech grid CEPS AS, said in an interview in Budapest. “The root of the situation is allowing a huge amount of electricity to be generated regardless of the capacity of the grid.”

In other words, so-called distributed generation, i.e. power production that has been left in the hands of individual consumers or operators, is wreaking havoc on the centralized electric grid. This at a time when many in the U.S., particularly voices from the solar industry, are calling for more distributed generation.

“My boss keeps asking why we aren’t buying power from Germany, but this is practically impossible,” said Henryk Kalis, the energy buyer for ZGH Boleslaw, a zinc processor controlled by ArcelorMittal. The Bukowno, Poland-based company pays more than $26 million a year for electricity.

Systems collapsing? Uncontrolled power surges? There is a place for distributed generation, of course, when done responsibly and when measured against the needs of the electric grid. Germany’s experience is showing in real time that too much, too fast, can cause real problems that affect customers and place manufacturers at a competitive disadvantage. Hopefully U.S. policy makers are paying attention to these news developments.