Calamitous Planning: German Wind Parks Overload Power Grid …”At Its Limits” …Record 50,000 Grid Interventions In May!

Online German NDR public radio here wrote last week how northern Germany’s power grid had suffered a major bottleneck that led to the overload of the Flensburg-Niebüll power transmission line in Schleswig Holstein last week.


North German transformer stations constantly overloaded by wind power. Photo image cropped here (not a German station, for illustration only).

The overload resulted from a power surge from North Sea wind parks when winds picked up a bit. What is unusual in this case, however, is that there was no storm present and the overload was caused by normal wind fluctuations. Thus the incident illustrates the increasing volatility of wind as a power supply, even under regular weather conditions.

At its limits

It turns out that intervening in power grids to avert a widespread power supply breakdown is nothing new in Germany. NDR writes that nowadays power engineer Stefan Hackbusch at the grid’s control center in Northern German increasingly has to intervene even when there are even moderate breezes. The north German public radio media outlet writes: “Because of the strong growth in wind park installations, the power grid up north is at its limits.”

Intervened 50,000 times in May

As winds pick up with little warning, engineers at control centers constantly have to keep a close eye out and be ready to act at a minute’s notice and intervene if the power surges (or drops) to dangerous limits. To prevent overloading of the grid, control centers often have to shut down wind parks until the power supply moves into a safe range. These unplanned wind park shutdowns are occurring more and more often, NDR writes. “Switching off has become much more frequent the workers at the control center confirm. Transformer stations in Schleswig-Holstein had to have their output reduced 50,000 times in May – a record.”

“Waste electricity” skyrocketing

Not only is grid stability a problem, but “waste power” is also growing astronomically, NDR writes, citing the Bundesnetzagentur (German Network Agency), that 555 gigawatt-hrs of renewable power went unused in 2013 because of overloading and the surplus had to be discarded. The trend of “waste electricity” is skyrocketing, NDR writes. According to the provisions of Germany’s EEG renewable energy feed-in act, waste electricity still needs to be paid for, which means that consumers foot a bill for something that is never delivered. Consumers are also required to pay for the electricity that doesn’t get produced when a wind park gets shut down. Wind park operators get paid whether they feed in or not.

Grid bottleneck dampens new installations

One solution for the German grid overloading from the uncontrollable wind and sun sources would be to vastly expand the German national power grid so that wind power produced near the North and Baltic seas power could get transmitted to the industrial south, where demand is big. But here too the costs of building the such transmission power lines are astronomical and permitting entails a bureaucratic mess. Moreover political opposition against these lines is mounting rapidly. Experts say that the earliest, most optimistic completion date for a major power transmission expansion is 2022. This however is now looking totally unrealistic, as pie in the sky.

With the German grid often becoming hopelessly overloaded and with no real expansion in sight, the future looks bleak for wind and solar power systems suppliers. With no place to send the power, there’s no need for new installations. Orders and contracts for new projects have been drying up and wind and solar companies are now being hit hard.

26 responses to “Calamitous Planning: German Wind Parks Overload Power Grid …”At Its Limits” …Record 50,000 Grid Interventions In May!”

  1. Jeff

    Meanwhile, EnBW buys Prokon…

    When will they EVER learn?

    Rates down here are already high enough without EnBW taking on Prokon’s losses.

    Oh, maybe I could win a free BBQ…hmmm….nah, not worth it.
    Amazing they’d put up such a CO² generator as a prize…

  2. crosspatch

    I have often spoken of a way to mitigate some of this but it might work better in the US than in Europe where we have more single family homes but it could be done on an apartment building scale, too.

    First you have to imagine a building that has some battery storage, maybe something like what Elon Musk is proposing. Then you add a smart charging controller. First thing you do is to convert the home from a demand load to a base load by drawing a constant amount of power from the grid 24×7 and using the battery storage to provide power for demand loads.

    Now imagine the grid provider was able to transmit the price of power at 1 minute intervals over the grid itself. When the wind picks up, the price of power drops and maybe your charging controller decides to purchase some of that cheap power to reduce your bill. When the wind stops and the price of power goes back up, the controller reduces its draw.

    So now you have a system where demand varies with supply and is modulated by the price. This uses plain ordinary market forces, allows people to purchase power when it is cheap. In places with “feed in” agreements, one would need to set a policy such that power could only be sold back to the grid at the lowest price in the previous 24 hours. This provides a disincentive to sell the grid provider’s own power back to them. One could still sell excess power to the grid from their own solar or wind generation, but only at the lowest grid price over the past 24 hours. This would make selling power obtained from the grid in the first place uneconomical.

    1. DirkH

      One problem: buffering electricity in Li-Ion batteries increases the cost of a stored kWh to about 1 EUR by way of conversion losses and battery wear. Might be doable with Lead Acid or similar simple battery tech, but in any case, there would be a serious cost difference between fresh and stored electricity, in constant terms, not as a fraction of the market value: say, 20 cent cost difference between battery input and output, depending on the technology.

      1. crosspatch

        Correct. But if I can draw my power at periods of time when the cost is much lower (say at 3am some evening when there is strong wind, little demand, and the utility drastically cuts the price of power), the savings might more than offset that cost of storage.

    2. Craig Austin

      I think you are overestimating the capacity and state of battery storage at a grid scale. This link gives a reasonable summary

    3. Moose


      Isn’t that a form of day dreaming?

    4. Mick J

      This article about storage options may interest.


  3. sod

    Sorry, this part got lost in the translation:

    “Schon im Jahr 2013 blieben nach Angaben der Bundesnetzagentur deutschlandweit 555 Gigawattstunden an erneuerbaren Energien ungenutzt, weil die Hochspannungsleitungen überlastet waren. Das entspricht 0,5 Prozent von deren Gesamtleistung. ”


    People can get that, without translation.

    The interventions also are mostly just taking some wind off the grid. Yes, that will happen in the future. It is not a problem.

  4. DirkH

    “The trend of “waste electricity” is skyrocketing, NDR writes.”

    Well that’s weird. NDR is a state broadcaster and ultra red green; I would have assumed that they NEVER EVER say the truth about anything since the SPD-CDU government embarked on its catastrophic journey (and before them the SPD-Greens government of course). I wonder what went wrong at the controls.

  5. DirkH

    “NDR writes, citing the Bundesnetzagentur (German Network Agency), that 555 gigawatts of renewable power went unused in 2013”

    That’s a first – the “JOURNALISTS” from NDR got it right with 555 GWh and Pierre got it wrong with 555 GW. Hell has frozen over, a “journalist” gets units right.

    1. Kurt in Switzerland

      Good eyes, Dirk.

      I noticed the same error in Pierre’s article myself – wanted to advise him to change his translation to read GW-h.

  6. KTWO

    Casual thought: AI may ultimately be the best grid manager for this mess. But that isn’t the problem for today.

    Build those transmission lines from North to South even if the cost is high. Costs are already high, Germany is riding a tiger and better tame it. Such lines have a very long life and can improve grid management under any scenario.

  7. DavidH

    The wind picks up and windfarms blindly dump extra power to the grid?

    Surely they could feather the blades a little more and signal the grid that extra power can be delivered if needed. The grid can then signal back whether to unfeather or remain at current power delivery levels. The windfarm operator can make an accounting entry to keep ripping off the consumer for power they could have supplied but grid stability needn’t be compromised. Should I patent this process?

    1. Jimfrey

      Windmill operaters do not care; they get paid anyway and not their problem to solve. In any case, any problem will only affect the little people and they will be forced to pay to fix the damage anyway.

  8. Buddy Tumbarello

    Good news on the energy front:

    Cheaper energy….cleaner energy….less pollution:) Oh wait….that’s NOT good news for you fossilized fuel folks is it:( Sorry….wrong site. Well….the slope is getting pretty steep aint it?

    1. DirkH

      Thinkprogress is a misnomer. Should be called HallucinatingLunacy.
      How should that even work? You need full backup capacity for all the renewables. You need TWO INFRASTRUCTURES.
      The enviros have never explained how that is an advantage. They are just not that bright.

      1. Josh

        Lol absolutely. They (self proclaimed greenies) never explain how so-called ‘renewables’ actually embed the need for fossil fuels.

    2. Jeff

      Think progress?

      Think again, O Soros troll.

      The German government is NOT going to shut down coal-fired electricity-generating stations because to do so would be too expensive, and a disaster for industry.

      Unlike the green dreamers, those in the biz world and industry have to work for a living. With reliable, STABLE energy, that doesn’t fail based on weather or time of day.
      Bird-choppers and half-a-day (if that) solar panels don’t cut it.
      They also have a lot of hazardous materials in them (betcha didn’t know that).

      As for your cheaper and more efficient energy pipedream, try running the REAL numbers some time. If you can.

  9. sod

    “Cheaper energy….cleaner energy….less pollution:) Oh wait….that’s NOT good news for you fossilized fuel folks is it:( ”

    It is good news, when coal plants are phased out.

    But this “compromise” is a disaster and basically a 100% win for the fossil fuel industry.

    Instead of paying a small fee for the massive damages caused by these plants, now WE pay for them to go into a “reserve” status.

    This is also how the “Energiewende” is turned into an expensive thing: it is taken hostage by industry interests as in this case or by the farm lobby in the case of biogas.

    There are two good news hidden in this:

    1. The coal industry is on the brink of collapse. That is why they fought this hard for this success, but they will pay a price in the future, because people realise that the coal industry is stealing their money.

    2. those small gas plants will provide backup for the growing number of wind and solar plants. they are also a free gift to the fossil fuel lobby, but if done in a clever way (and i hope that Gabriel at least scored a few hidden wins for the environment) it is the smallest sort of fossil problem.

    meanwhile, China and the world use less coal. That is really good news!

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  11. Don B

    On Judith Curry’s Climate Etc:

    It is now so expensive in Germany (26% renewable generation) that its largest utility, RWE, took a €3.3 billion impairment charge 1Q2014. The second largest, E.ON, took a €4.5 billion impairment charge 4Q2014, and announced it was spinning its conventional generating assets off into an unprofitable separate company. E.ON will also be shutting Irsching 4 and 5, large efficient CCGT units completed in 2010 and 2011! Irsching simply is not viable without being compensated for the forced Energiewende flexing it endures, while selling its electricity against the subsidized renewables with which it is also forced to compete.

  12. crosspatch

    I personally wouldn’t use lithium batteries inside a dwelling, maybe in an outbuilding. I would worry about toxicity in case of fire. But I would consider AGM batteries within a dwelling. The other portion of this system that I didn’t mention would be a natural gas generator. Should for some reason (as happens in California, USA) the grid become unable to meet demand, the cost of power transmitted over the grid rises to a point where it is cheaper for the homeowner to run a natural gas generator. At that point the end nodes with such systems would mode shift to local natural gas generation which is much like the grid operators do anyway with gas turbine “peaker” plants. Only this would be greatly decentralized and each individual node’s generator only running when needed.

  13. crosspatch

    And yes, I understand that stored power is more expensive (as it must offset the cost of the storage itself, the controlling system, and all associated losses) but I am approaching this from the starting point of building an “off grid” home with only locally generated power, but then modifying it to draw a steady amount from the grid 24×7 and then finally drawing a variable amount based on price in order to keep the cost as low as possible, and finally adding local gas generation. That is the process of how this notion evolved.

  14. Mervyn

    One day the German people will reflect, “How did we allow ourselves to be so easily conned into adopting the arrogant, ambitious, unscrupulous and dangerous ideology of environmentalism?”

    There is a golden rule in business … if it needs subsidising then it is not financially viable. Renewable energy (excluding hydro-electricity) is not financially viable, but worse, it actually represents a redistribution of wealth from the poor to the wealthy… and that is immoral and unforgivable.

  15. Henk Daalder

    InEurope, power from renewable sources has preference over power from fossil sources.
    What this story means, is that fossil generators do not obey the preference regulations enough.

    Fossil power plants have to do better in reducing their output, when more comes from wind turbines.
    But only when the windfarm operators have predicted their output the day before.
    When the wind farm output is more than than was predicted by the operator, it is normal to reduce the wind farm output.
    The fossl power plants also have predicted their output, and should be kept to that prediction.

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