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ENERGY

Why sunny weather in Germany can switch off solar panels

The more the sun shines in the southern German town of Aurach, the more likely it is that Jens Husemann's solar panels will be disconnected from the grid -- an exasperating paradox at a time when Germany is navigating an energy supply crisis.

This aerial view taken with a drone shows solar panels on the roof of a logistics company's freight processing hall in Aurach, southern Germany.
This aerial view taken with a drone shows solar panels on the roof of a logistics company's freight processing hall in Aurach, southern Germany. (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

“It’s being switched off every day,” Husemann told AFP during a recent sunny spell, saying there had been more than 120 days of forced shutdowns so far this year.

Husemann, who runs an energy conversion business near Munich, also owns a sprawling solar power system on the flat roof of a transport company in Aurach, Bavaria.

The energy generated flows into power lines run by grid operator N-Ergie, which then distributes it on the network.

But in sunny weather, the power lines are becoming overloaded — leading the grid operator to cut off supply from the solar panels.

“It’s a betrayal of the population,” said Husemann, pointing to soaring electricity prices and a continued push to install more solar panels across Germany.

Europe’s biggest economy is eyeing an ambitious switch to renewables making up 80 percent of its electricity from 2030 in a bid to go carbon neutral.

N-ergie thermal power station

The thermal power station of energy supplier N-Ergie in Nuremberg, southern Germany. (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put a spanner in the works.

Moscow has cut gas supplies to Germany by 80 percent, in what is believed to be a bid to weaken the European powerhouse’s resolve in backing Ukraine.

READ ALSO: OPINION: How many massacres will it take for Germany to turn off Russian gas?

As a result, Berlin has been scrambling for alternative sources across the world to replace the shortfall.

This makes it all the more frustrating for Husemann, whose solar panels normally generate enough electricity for 50 households. With the repeated shutdowns, he suspects they will only supply half of their capacity by the end
of the year.

Grid bottlenecks

Grid operator N-Ergie, which is responsible for harvesting electricity from Husemann’s panels, admits the situation is less than ideal.

There were 257 days last year when it had to cut off supply from solar panels on parts of the grid.

“We are currently witnessing — and this is a good thing — an unprecedented boom in photovoltaic parks,” Rainer Kleedoerfer, head of N-Ergie’s development department, told AFP.

An employee of energy supplier N-ERGIE working at the company's network control centre in Nuremberg, southern Germany. 

An employee of energy supplier N-Ergie working at the company’s network control centre in Nuremberg, southern Germany.  (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

But while it takes just a couple of years to commission a solar power plant, updating the necessary infrastructure takes between five and 10 years, he said.

“The number of interventions and the amount of curtailed energy have increased continuously in recent years” as a result, according to N-Ergie spokesman Michael Enderlein.

“The likelihood is that grid bottlenecks will actually increase in the coming years,” while resolving them will take several more years, Enderlein said.

According to Carsten Koenig, managing director of the German Solar Industry Association, the problem is not unique to solar power and also affects wind energy.

READ ALSO: Reader question – Should I modernise my heating system in Germany?

Solar bottlenecks tend to be regional and temporary, he said. “Occasionally, however, we hear that especially in rural areas in Bavaria, the shutdowns are more frequent.”

2.4 million households

Koenig agrees the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better.

“This will be especially true if political measures aimed at sufficiently expanding the power grid in Germany… drag on for too long,” he said.

Some 6.1 terawatt hours of electricity from renewables had to be curtailed in 2020, according to the most recent figures available.

With an average consumption of around 2,500 kilowatt hours per year in a two-person household, this would have been enough to power around 2.4 million households.

A spokesman for Germany’s Federal Network Agency said it did not share the belief that “it will not be possible to expand the network in line with demand in the coming years”.

Only some aspects of the expansion are seeing delays, the spokesman said — mainly due to slow approval procedures and a lack of specialist companies to do the work.

According to Husemann there have also been delays to the payments he is supposed to receive in return for the solar power he supplies — or cannot supply.

He said he is already owed around 35,000 euros ($35,600) for electricity produced so far this year that has never found its way into a socket.

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ENERGY

United Arab Emirates to supply Germany with gas, diesel

The United Arab Emirates agreed Sunday an "energy security" agreement with Germany to supply liquefied natural gas and diesel as Berlin searches for new power sources to replace Russian supplies.

United Arab Emirates to supply Germany with gas, diesel

Emirati industry minister Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber called it a “landmark new agreement” that “reinforces the rapidly growing energy partnership between the UAE and Germany” as he signed the deal, which was witnessed by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, the UAE’s state news agency WAM reported.

Scholz is on a visit to the UAE, where he met with Emirati President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.

Scholz said he “welcomed” the “energy security” agreement, WAM added.

As part of the deal, the UAE will provide “an LNG cargo for delivery in late 2022, to be used in the commissioning of Germany’s floating LNG import terminal at Brunsbuettel”, a North Sea port, the statement added.

UAE state oil company ADNOC completed its first ever direct diesel delivery to Germany earlier this month, and will “supply up to 250,000 tons of diesel per month in 2023”, it said.

The German leader is touring the Gulf in the hope of sealing new energy deals to replace Russian supplies and mitigate the energy crisis resulting from Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

On Saturday, Scholz met in Jeddah with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and later Sunday he was due to fly to gas-rich Qatar to hold talks with Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.

Energy transition

Scholz’s stop in the UAE included a tour of an environmental project at a mangrove park with Emirati climate change minister Mariam Almheiri.

Almheiri said discussions on Sunday would, in addition to energy security, cover “climate action and economic growth”.

“The UAE believes all three pillars must go hand and hand. We cannot look at one or two of these pillars separately,” she said.

She also reiterated Abu Dhabi’s insistence on “a just transition” away from fossil fuels.

Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia have been leading critics of what they describe as “unrealistic” transition models they say have contributed to the current energy crunch.

Scholz told reporters in Abu Dhabi that his country had “made progress on a whole series of projects here in terms of the production and purchase of diesel and gas”, while adding it was determined to avoid energy dependence on Russia in the future.

“The fact that we are dependent on one supplier and also dependent on its decisions will certainly not happen to us again,” he said.

“With the investments that we are now making in Germany, and that will become reality bit by bit next year, we will indeed have an infrastructure for gas imports for Germany, such that we are no longer directly dependent on the specific supplier at the other end of the pipeline, as we are with a pipeline connection.”

His visit to Qatar comes one day after France’s TotalEnergies signed a new $1.5 billion deal to help expand Doha’s natural gas production. Scholz said such projects were “important”.

“We have to ensure that the production of liquefied gas in the world is advanced to such an extent that the high demand that exists can be met — without having to fall back on the production capacities in Russia that have been used so far,” he said.

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