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When it comes to integrating intermittent renewable energy into the grid, Germany should be an expert. Since May 2011, the country has been on a mission to increase its renewable energy sources to 50 percent by 2030 and it’s well on its way to achieving that goal and more. In 2015, renewable energy accounted for 38 percent of net electricity consumption, according to Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE). ISE reported that solar PV accounted for 6.4 percent of the 38 percent of net renewable energy consumption in 2015 and on sunny weekdays, PV power could cover 35 percent of the momentary electricity demand. In addition, ISE said on weekends and holidays, the PV coverage rate could reach 50 percent. At the end of 2015, more than 40 GW of solar PV was installed in over 1.5 million distributed power plants (mostly rooftops), making solar PV larger than any other type of power plant in Germany.
Perhaps one of the most surprising facts about this quick uptake in intermittent renewable energy is that the grid’s reliability hasn’t suffered. So far, German engineers and operators have found a way to keep the grid balanced and stable.
Underwriters Laboratory (UL), the company that evaluates and tests products and equipment, including most electrical equipment used in U.S. homes to ensure safety, is not first to my mind as an expert on Germany’s renewable energy grid integration progress. I learned through an interview with Erin Grossi, UL’s chief economist, however, that the company has done extensive research in Germany.
“UL has always tested and evaluated traditional grid products,” Grossi said. “Because more renewable energy sources are being added to the U.S. grid, we knew we needed to move beyond these traditional products to products that are used to integrate distributed renewable sources. We felt we needed to look at Germany because it is focusing so heavily on renewables.”
Grossi said that early on Germany’s utilities were some of the most vocal naysayers of its renewable goals, but they are now believers. They see the transition to renewable energy is happening and they want to be relevant, she said.
So far, most grid balancing has been done without energy storage, digital technology and data analytics. Germany has instead relied on virtual power plants. The U.S. leads Germany in digital technology and analytics and German engineers are closely following the use of these technologies in the U.S.
Grossi said the main takeaway from her research is that Germany’s utilities have begun to take an active role in this transition so others don’t swoop in and take their customers. This is a key lesson for U.S. utilities to heed. You can read more from my interview under “Blogs” on power-grid.com.