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German solar power reaches capacity of a nuclear block!

by DoDo Sat Jul 30th, 2005 at 11:11:18 AM EST

I'm a bit late to catch the news, but one month ago, Germany became the second country with total photovoltaic power generating capacity in excess of 1 gigawatt (1000 MW) - the average power of a modern nuclear power plant block.

For some comparison: at the end of 2004, Japan had solar cells with 1137 MW installed, Germany had 794 MW, third-placed USA 358 MW - with respective 2004 additions of 277 MW, 363 MW and 83 MW.

(File under "European success stories ignored even by local economic elites".)

Even tough the capacity factor (average power per maximum power over a full year) of solar cells in Germany is about 11%, that is this 1 GW of solar cells produces a ninth to eighth of the electricity a nuclear power plant block would, this is now really something. Also note: while less than half (165 MW) of US solar cells are connected to the grid (and still just 60% of the newly installed), almost all of the German and Japanese photovoltaic power is grid-connected.

Thanks Dodo

As you know, I have been working mostly on the big, industrial-size renewable energy plants, i.e. big wind farms, so I don't follow PV that closely. I do know that Germany is a leader in that sector, and it's good to note this symbolic landmark.

PV is still a lot more expensive than wind (probably 5-10 times more exepnsive), but it won't get cheaper unless there is an incentive for producers to imrpove their stuff - and have places to sell it, so the countries that have special feed-in tariffs for PV that actually make it possible to make money from the investment (like Germany, Spain) are playing a big role in the early development of these technologies.

Good on Germany (and Japan) for pushing this doggedly.

(Note that despite these high costs, PV can make a lot of sense on individual houses and similar small scale installations where many other costs come into play, like the cost of connection to the grid)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Jul 30th, 2005 at 05:31:29 PM EST
PV is more expensive than wind... yet iirc, aren't small wind generators (say for cabins, boats, etc) still more expensive than comparable PV panels...?  maybe I am remembering wrong -- must check some real catalogue prices to confirm this, but my imperfect memory from a wee bit of shopping around was that flexible marine-grade solar panels were "getting affordable" but wind generators of decent quality were still "very expensive" and I was discouraged from buying into the technology (aside from that there was the challenge of balancing the blades, constructing a tower, etc.)  I will try to do some actual wH comparisons and see what the customer is really paying for.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sun Jul 31st, 2005 at 01:16:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The German government would be making a much more effective global statement if it invested the resources it is putting into photovoltaics much more heavily into its (and European Union) foreign aid programs.

How many struggling communities in areas of the third world with MUCH better solar statistics for photovoltaics would benefit from such German investment?  The power generation of cells put into remote areas of Niger, Sri Lanka, India, etc ... would be significantly higher than what happens in Germany.  

Use these 'markets' as the incentive to push forward the German market place and strength in solar programs.

This would have a better effect long-term on helping developing nations develop along responsible paths and toward attacking global warming than putting major solar plants in Germany -- where it will generate a fraction of electricity per cell compared to what would happen elsewhere.

by BesiegedByBush (BesiegedByBushATyahooDOTcom) on Sun Jul 31st, 2005 at 03:30:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Germany is financing such projects abroad. Just in the last week, I read of more such projects in China, Tunisia and Kenya (IIRC). The German foreign aid minister was were positive on this.

(However, all these advances are threatened: there will be early elections in Germany this September, and the likely winner conservatives are in cahoots with traditional electricity producers.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jul 31st, 2005 at 04:10:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes -- I am aware that Germany is doing this -- AND THAT IS GREAT.  I just think that some of the large investments that Germany is making in solar power plants in Germany (believe a big one in Bavaria?) would be -- Euro for Euro -- much better invested in places with much better solar conditions.
by BesiegedByBush (BesiegedByBushATyahooDOTcom) on Sun Jul 31st, 2005 at 07:29:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, on one hand, the money invested is to the largest part that of individuals installing PV on their own rooftop - and feed-in tariffs (see my reply to Jérôme) spread the costs to all German electricity consumers, without state mediation (no federal subsidy). (BTW, the largest photovoltaic solar power plant currently under construction, one in Bavaria, is just 10 MW.)

On the other hand, the difference in solar conditions is not as big as commonly assumed: the Sun's angle changes through the day and due to seasons on both places, the solar panel can be aligned for the best angle at the given latitude*; so only weather and higher atmospheric absorption at lower angles remains. Note: even under a clouded sky, absorbing diffuse light, modern solar cells achieve some 20-40% of peak power. From a very good place in India (2000 kWh/year with 1 kW) to a bad one in Northern Germany (800 kWh/year with 1 kW), there is only a 60% reduction.

Now, since import of electricity from distant areas like North Africa would entail significant losses, in the end the reduction of German CO2 emissions is possibly better done at home (Euro for Euro).

* To put it another way: one downsize doesn't come Euro for Euro, but in the form of used-up land area. At high latitudes, solar panels have to be erected at steep angles, demanding larger distances between rows of solar panels along the north-south axis. Of course, for rooftop installations, this doesn't hold.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Aug 1st, 2005 at 06:06:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Indeed PV is much more expensive now. The lowest I have seen is 25 Eurocents/kWh over 20 years, and that was a MW-scale project - private units are more like the double of that.

For scale, here are the German feed-in tariffs for 2004:

capacity < 30 kW30 kW << 100 kW100 kW <
field 45.7 c/kWh
rooftop57.4 c/kWh54.6 c/kWh54 c/kWh
other building-integrated62.4 c/kWh59.6 c/kWh59 c/kWh

Except for the 5 c/kWh bonus for building-integrated non-rooftop (e.g.: windows, walls) units, for new units these tariffs are reduced every year by 5%, thus for example this year:

capacity < 30 kW30 kW << 100 kW100 kW <
field 43.42 c/kWh
rooftop54.53 c/kWh51.87 c/kWh51.3 c/kWh
other building-integrated59.53 c/kWh56.87 c/kWh56.3 c/kWh

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Aug 1st, 2005 at 04:52:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Can you please expand on this? I don't understand how your PV rates work.

In my town, you can connect a residential PV system to the grid, but you don't get any credit for a negative meter reading (if you generate more electricity than you use). The only "incentive" is that they allow you to connect the PV system to the regular residential system so you don't need to have a duplicate or complicated in-house network.

Are you allowed to sell residential PV energy back to the grid?

by asdf on Mon Aug 1st, 2005 at 09:30:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Not only allowed: it is obligatory (vis-a-vis distributors). It is for all types of regenerative energy if network specifications are fulfilled, but with different feed-in tariffs for different types. (For example, for geothermal, it is between 15 and 7.16 c/kWh depending on size; for wind, it is currently at least 5.39 c/kWh, upped to 8.53 for a limited time for units exceeding predictions by 50%, and 9.1 c/kWh for off-shore units.)

BTW, while I was speaking about Germany, my own country (Hungary) has a rather crappy version of feed-in tariffs (tailor-made for the large electricity companies, consequently with almost no usage). However, the German system is now copied in many European countries in some form.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Aug 1st, 2005 at 10:23:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
do solar panels last with proper maintainance?
by Coriolanus on Sun Jul 31st, 2005 at 05:35:52 PM EST
To my knowledge, they don't need much maintaince - even less than wind (no moving parts), only the replacement of batteries if present. In Germany, they are usually expected to last 20 years - that is, price calculations run roughly like:
(construction & installation costs) / (20 x (expected yearly production) x (feed-in tariff))

(See some data on this in my upcoming reply to Jérôme.)

As far as I know, the only significant problem with time is chemical changes in the semiconductor, which bring down the efficiency over time.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Aug 1st, 2005 at 03:27:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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