A few practical steps towards energy transition in Germany

The decision to phase out nuclear energy by 2022 and to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050 boosted the Energiewende (German for energy transition), which requires the implementation of an ambitious energy efficiency policy, alongside a plan to deploy technological innovations. Among the ways to be explored, renewable energy storage and smart grids are two cutting-edge fields where Germany intends to become a global leader.

Increasing energy efficiency of renewable sources by storing surplus

The storage of energy from renewable sources is of crucial importance, mainly in order to offset the intermittence of production, which today requires the use of high CO2-emissions-producing solutions. Two methods have emerged in Germany over the past few years to store surplus energy: “power-to-gas” and “power-to-heat” technologies.

“Power-to-gas” or “wind hydrogen” works like an electrolyser using a wind turbine’s electricity surplus to produce hydrogen, which is immediately stored and then combined with CO2 and turned into methane. This synthetic gas is then fed into the grid or converted to electricity if needed during peak hours. The first hybrid power plant in Germany was inaugurated in 2011 in Prenzlau, while other projects are being launched. A project in Emde aims at combining this technology with the use of fermentation gas from settling ponds of water treatment plants. As it contains CO2 and methane, more gas can be generated more easily on site.

“Power-to-heat” systems are still at an experimental stage. They are based on the same principle as heat pumps, using a thermodynamic device to transfer heat energy from a production site to a consumption site.

Smart grids at the heart of German energy transition

Contrary to France, in Germany power production, transmission and distribution are not centralized but entrusted to several key players in regional groupings. The deployment of renewable energy sources requires these players to better coordinate at the federal level, for instance to overcome production intermittence.  In 2006 the government decided to invest nearly 15 billion euros in a significant project called “E-energy: ICT-based Energy system of the future”, with three priority targets (source: Energy Regulation Board):

  • Creating a transaction market for various players in smart systems
  • Transfer of information and live transactions
  • Developing interfaces between different systems so as to enable independent verifications, the pooling of means of maintenance and the enactment of regulation covering the whole system

It was decided that some regions would pioneer smart grids; the first results were deemed positive at the second “E-energy” congress. These regions must prove that smart grids are relevant in the long run as part of a decentralized system by conducting pilot projects, such as:

  • The Cuxhaven region with the “eTelligence” project aimed at improving the ways produced energy is managed
  • The Harz region with the RegModHarz project which develops a sun and wind forecast system
  • The Rhine-Ruhr region with the “E-DeMa” project which deploys decentralized energy system demonstrators
  • The Baden-Württemberg region with the “MeRegio” project aimed at minimizing greenhouse-gas emissions

There are many other initiatives going on, like in the town of Norderstedt, where a power self-management system was created for households and businesses. They can choose what kind of electricity (renewable or not) they use and, depending on prices, decide to cut down their consumption at peak hours. To sum up, all these innovations aim at optimizing energy consumption thanks to new technologies.

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