Thursday, September 19, 2013

Don't Sleep

Up to now my understanding of the Energiewende was that when changing from fossil or nuclear to renewable energy sources the main problem was energy storage. The wind may not blow and the sun not shine when the demand for electrical power is high. Renewable energy generated at times of high production and low consumption must be stored and retrievable on demand. In the case of Germany an aggravating factor is the spatial distribution of renewable energy. Wind parks generating lots of electricity are situated in the north while the power is needed in the south. New direct current lines must be built meaning an investment of several billion euros over the coming years.

You can imagine my frustration when I read the other day that a pump storage hydro power station (PSHPS) planned in the south of the Black Forest near Atdorf may not be built. The reason is that due to the present overproduction of electricity even the 30 existing PSHPSs with their total potential power of 7 gigawatts are no longer profitable in Germany. As an example a written-off PSHPS near Dresden from 1926 is mentioned. In 2009 the unit generated power during 2800 hours whereas in 2012 the number of operating hours was only 280. No wonder the electricity company has no interest in necessary and urgent renovations of the installation. Under these circumstances it is obvious too that private electricity companies do not want to invest 1.7 billion euros in a new PSHPS at Atdorf.
Europe's biggest existing PSHPS, the Schluchseewerk, with a power of 1800 megawatts
 is located in the Black Forest (©BZ).
The situation however will change. On June 30, 2011, following the Fukushima disaster, the German Bundestag voted by a great majority to immediately shut-down 8 of Germany's 17 nuclear power stations with the others to be phased out by the year 2022. When the last reactor is shut down and most coal-fired power stations are scrapped it is estimated that Germany will need an energy storage capacity buffering wind and solar energy production of at least 40 billion kilowatt hours by the year 2050.

This is why many consider the energy policy of the present government short-sighted at the least, some would even call it chaotic. PSHPSs may turn the pumped up water masses into electricity without delay. In addition most experts claim that these installations are more eco-friendly than power-to-gas solutions where abundant renewable electricity is used to produce hydrogen or methane that in turn is fed into the existing gas grid.

The argument that the PSHPS Atdorf will fill the pockets of electricity companies
  no longer holds  (©BZ)
From the beginning the local Greens of Atdorf were against the PSHPS project objecting to the decision of the Greens in the Baden-Württemberg State Government. The opposition smirked: The Greens are against green electricity. The local "Not in our backyard" objectors argued with the preservation of nature.

The unexpected decision of the electricity company to withdraw from the PSHPS project left both supporters and opponents greatly perturbed. The local Greens suspect a deceptive maneuver and cite Günter Eich: Schlaft nicht, wenn die Geschäftigen der Welt mit eurer Schläfrigkeit rechnen (Don't sleep when the busy people of this world count on your sleepiness).

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