Why Germany’s clean energy shift is vexing its neighbours

Transition towards a grid based on fickle renewables is messing with Poland’s electricity markets 

A solar farm in Bavaria, Germany (Flickr/ Windwärts Energie)

A solar farm in Bavaria, Germany (Flickr/ Windwärts Energie)

By Megan Darby in Berlin

Germany’s rush to renewables is destabilising the power grid in neighbouring Poland, a top Warsaw official complained on Thursday.

Europe’s most enthusiastic adopter of wind and solar power depends on the bloc’s most coal dependent nation to manage the network impacts of variable generation.

In a conference hosted by the Foreign Office in Berlin to promote its “Energiewende” or energy transition policy, Michal Kurtyka called for market reform.

“Poland is needed for Energiewende to succeed,” he told an audience that included several ministers from around the world.

On the sidelines, he told Climate Home the problem comes when electricity surges through Poland’s power lines between generators and consumers in Germany. The network operator has to manage these “loop flows” but gets no payment for doing so.

“What is a problem is that these unplanned flows are completely outside of the market, they are not integrated in tariffs,” he said. “It is very much disturbing the Polish grid.”

In 2015, renewables supplied a record high 32.5% of Germany’s power demand.

Report: German CO2 emissions rise 1% in 2015

Boris Schucht, CEO of 50Hertz, which operates the transmission network in northern and eastern Germany, said that was manageable. “Germany shows a highly industrialised country can master the transition to a high share of renewables.”

He claimed energy storage – often touted as critical to integrating variable wind and solar generation – would only be needed when renewables exceeded 70-80% of the mix.

That depends on interconnections and with other European countries, however, and not all share the German approach to energy.

In contrast to Germany’s phase-out of nuclear energy by 2022, the Czech Republic sees atomic power in its future.

Deputy industry minister Lenka Kovacovska criticised the way renewables were subsidised, saying: “Currently, markets don’t work properly, there are too many distortions.”

German economics and energy minister Sigmar Gabriel agreed, in his opening speech, that renewable generators should not continue to receive prices set by government.

“They are no longer small puppies,” he said. “They have grown up and they need to face market pressure.”

Report: Polish districts call for coal-free development

Next year, Germany will switch away from fixed price support for renewable power technologies to an auction-based system.

The country is also seeking to strengthen its own power grid – “the backbone of any modern industrial society,” said Gabriel.

Rainer Baake, top official in Gabriel’s ministry, said wind and solar installations had got cheap enough to compete with new coal plants.

“From now on, renewables are at an absolute cost advantage,” he said. “What we have to do now is create a system that works efficiently. I don’t pray to markets as a god, I see markets as a tool for efficiency.”

Clean Energy Wire is paying for Megan Darby’s travel to Berlin and accommodation

Read more on: EU | Renewables | |