Wind and solar power nearly fried Germany’s power grid Sunday, but the disaster was prevented when the German government paid consumers to use electricity.
The grid operators were forced to shut down conventional power plants after green energy produced too much electricity, nearly frying the grid, according to a Tuesday report. Media outlet Quartz attempted to spin the near disaster as a huge triumph, lauding the fact green energy briefly provided 87 percent of Germany’s power.
Power grids require that demand for electricity exactly match supply in order to function. This is an enormous problem for wind and solar power since their output cannot be accurately predicted in advance or easily adjusted. Wind and solar can burn out the grid if they produce too much, or not enough, electricity, leading to brownouts or blackouts. Such damage has already occurred in Germany and in other grids that rely too much on solar and wind power — like in California.
Since wind and solar also run the risk of not producing enough electricity, grid operators have to keep excess conventional power reserves running just in case. Power demand is relatively predictable over time and conventional power plans, like nuclear plants and natural gas, can easily adjust output.
Germany has been minimizing the damage by paying consumers to take excess power and asking wind and solar producers to switch off when they’re not needed. Germany paid wind farms $548 million last year to switch off in order to prevent damage to the country’s electric grid.
Due to the damaging effects green energy has had on Germany’s grid, the government plans to cap the total amount of wind energy at 40 to 45 percent of national capacity, according to a report published last month by the German newspaper Berliner Zeitung. By 2019, Germany will get rid of 6,000 megawatts of wind power capacity.
Despite the cut backs to wind power, the German government estimates that it will spend over $1.1 trillion financially supporting wind power, even though building wind turbines hasn’t achieved the government’s goal of actually reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions to slow global warming.
The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is currently investigating how green energy undermines the reliability of the electrical grid. FERC believe there is a “significant risk” of electricity in the United States becoming unreliable because “wind and solar don’t offer the services the shuttered coal plants provided.” Environmental regulations could make operating conventional coal or natural gas power plants unprofitable, which could compromise the reliability of the American power grid.
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