Germany gets only 3.3% of its energy consumption from wind and solar. Ignore the headlines

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       “Give a man a reputation as an early riser and he can sleep til noon” – Mark Twain.

There is apparently no greater leader on climate change than Germany. Here is some evidence. This country will build almost 11 GW of new coal power plants this decade, and is in the process of licensing new lignite coal mines. It prematurely shut down 8 zero-carbon nuclear power plants in 2011, closed another one this year, and will prematurely close all remaining nuclear power plants by 2022. Germans have reassured themselves by turning from the disturbing vision of the split atom to the nostalgia of coal fires.

But where does Germany’s climate change reputation come from? It certainly does not come from achievements in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This decade Germany’s emissions have been essentially flat, and Germany is on course to come a long way short of meeting its 2020 national targets for emissions reductions.

This planet saving reputation instead comes from what Germany has supposedly achieved with renewables. The German renewables revolution is apparently in full gear. If you want to understand what is happening in the world it is better to ignore adjectives and instead count.

Counting is instructive about the realities of renewables in Germany. According to the most recent data, Germany got only 3.3% of its final energy consumption from wind and solar installation (Eurostat data for 2013 available here and here).

Does that sound like a revolution? Obviously not.

The 3.3% figure above tells us that renewables are in fact marginal to Germany’s energy system. So where does this idea that there is a renewables revolution in Germany come from?

The answer is easy to find by googling and searching social media. This will immediately lead you to the following type of headline:

Germany Just Got 78 Percent Of Its Electricity From Renewable Sources

Another popular variant are headlines about German solar output exceeding 50% of electricity demand. The obvious problem with these headlines is that many people come to the mistaken conclusion that these record highs are somehow representative of what goes on the rest of the time. They are not.

Let’s quantify this. The record high renewables output (which included biomass and hydro, a fact rarely pointed out) occurred on the 25th July. Total wind and solar output was around about 39 GW according to Fraunhofer ISE data.

How often does this happen? This is relatively easy to find out. All we need to do is add up all hourly wind and solar output and see how it is distributed throughout the year.

I have done this in the graph below. Hourly output was rounded to the nearest gigawatt. I have then added up the number of hours when total wind and solar output fell under each GW bracket. Each bracket covers the average output over an individual hour, in GW.

In total we have about 40 brackets, starting at 0 GW. Yes, German wind and solar falls to zero gigawatts, rounded to the nearest gigawatt. Resist that temptation to write “German wind and solar now meeting 0.1% of Germany energy needs” headlines.

Wind_solar

Mean hourly output of German wind and solar was 9.6 GW in 2014, while the median output was 8 GW. The maximum output was almost 39 GW; four times greater than the average, no matter how you define the average.

Furthermore, total wind and solar output was above 30 GW only 2.1% of the time. It was above 25 GW only 9.6% of the time.

The heavily skewed distribution shown above has clearly lead to heavily skewed perceptions about German renewables.

So each time you see headlines about record high renewables output remember this: average output of combined German wind and solar is roughly one quarter of these record highs, and German wind and solar is still just over 3% of final energy consumption in Germany.

Note on data

Anyone wanting to reproduce or check the figure above can use the R code below.


# Author: Robert Wilson
# File calculates distribution of hourly wind and solar output in Germany in 2014
require(gdata);require(dplyr);require(ggplot2)
options(stringsAsFactors = FALSE)
# Get the data
fn = "http://www.pfbach.dk/firma_pfb/time_series/data_files/2014_de_pv.xls"
download.file(fn,destfile="tmp.xls")
pv = read.xls("tmp.xls", header=TRUE, skip = 2)
names(pv) = c("Date", "Hour", "Solar")
fn = "http://www.pfbach.dk/firma_pfb/time_series/data_files/2014_de_wind.xls"
download.file(fn,destfile="tmp.xls")
wind = read.xls("tmp.xls", header=TRUE, skip = 2)
names(wind) = c("Date", "Hour", "Wind")
# Combine the data and calculate distribution of hours by GW output
data = join(wind, pv)

data$Total = round((data$Wind + data$Solar)/1000)

total.sum = dplyr::summarize(group_by(data, Total), Hours = n())
# Plot the data
ggplot(total.sum, aes(Total, 100*Hours/nrow(data)))+
	geom_bar(stat = "identity")+
	ggtitle("Germany's record high wind and solar output is 39 GW\nThis is not representative of the rest of the year")+
	scale_x_continuous(breaks = seq(0, 40,5))+
	xlab("Hourly output of wind and solar (rounded to the nearest GW)")+
	ylab("% of total hours in 2014")

29 thoughts on “Germany gets only 3.3% of its energy consumption from wind and solar. Ignore the headlines

    donoughshanahan said:
    July 31, 2015 at 11:51 am

    This planet reputation instead from renewables. The German renewables revolution is apparently in full gear. If you want to understand the world is about to ignore adjectives and count.

    And counting is instructive above the realities of renewables in Germany.

    Like

      donoughshanahan said:
      July 31, 2015 at 11:52 am

      Sorry meant to highlight above text as a quote from the article for typos.

      Like

        Robert Wilson said:
        July 31, 2015 at 11:57 am

        Corrected. I normally type up a blog post the night before and then check for typos the next morning before publishing, but I was too busy this morning.

        Liked by 1 person

      Peter said:
      August 4, 2015 at 9:56 am

      In full gear?? Maybe if you see it from the outside. Some facs from the “inside”..😉 We have the highest Energyprices in the World, the free(!!!) Energy from sun and wind isn’t payable if we build more of the power plants. Thats the Joke. We made it that free Energy is the most expensive in the World. There are NO ways to save the Energy. If the Wind goes strong and the sun is shining in a large Area we have to give away the Energy in our Neighbouring countries. Sometimes we have to pay(!!!) that they take our Energy, otherwise our power supply system would collapse. Next effect is, even more free energy we produce the Energy delivery rises higher and higher. Worst case for us (the consumer) is windy weather with sun. Not ironic.. thats the truth. We produce the Energy in the North and need them in the South. But there are no ways to bring the Energy in the South. So we switch off the Powerplant in the North. Than our landscape.. no more words. Simply take a look at this picture:

      Like

    Oliver said:
    July 31, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    Did you do the same with the demand? That would be interessting. Also to divide your graphic into the seasons.

    Liked by 1 person

    marmocet said:
    July 31, 2015 at 5:11 pm

    I think one of the reasons people in countries where there has been a lot of renewables deployment are ready to believe that renewables are making a large contribution to their nation’s energy mix is that there are just so many windmills and solar panels all over the place. “Lots” of windmills and solar panels surely must be making “lots” of energy. And to the extent they’re aware of how much has been spent on them, the price tag is also imagined to be a proxy indicator of the magnitude of their contribution.

    Liked by 2 people

      geometaphors said:
      August 2, 2015 at 4:56 pm

      Marmocet: I have encountered exactly that kind of attitude among local friends who are avid renewable supporters. One friend recently took a trip with his family to Germany, and came back waxing rhapsodic about riding a bus through vast expanses of land covered by solar panels, offering this as evidence of the complete success of Die Energiewende. My suspicion is that one experience my friend did not have during his German visit was paying an electric bill.

      Liked by 2 people

    Tobias Stricker said:
    August 3, 2015 at 10:24 am

    The problem with renewables is clearly to even out the volatility. For this you have to rebuild completly your elektric power grid. This still has to be done everywhere in the world as well as in Germany, because their is huge resistance by the big energy companies who will get bust if the Energiewende is really working. And this energy companies control the power grid. The problem is not technological, it is a problem of political power!

    Like

    Tom Bammann said:
    August 3, 2015 at 12:55 pm

    Can you please explain, SUM(C:C) in http://www.pfbach.dk/firma_pfb/time_series/data_files/2014_de_pv.xls = 32.8 TWh, which correlates exactly as per the pie chart at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_energy_in_Germany , which is 6.2% for solar alone. I’m having problems understanding what I’ve misunderstood. Could you please explain exactly how 3.3% is calculated as this is half the value on wikipedia for solar alone. Thanks in advance.

    Like

      Robert Wilson said:
      August 3, 2015 at 3:24 pm

      My post refers to total energy consumption, not just electricity.

      And please don’t quote Wikipedia at me when I have provided the data sources (with links to Eurostat) in my original post.

      Like

        Tom Bammann said:
        August 4, 2015 at 11:32 pm

        Okay thanks for clarifying. I quote Wikipedia because it correlates well with Wikipedia (which obviously uses the same data). However in percentage terms it was very different to the 3.3%. So whilst I appreciate that you’ve gone to a lot of effort to look up data and write a thorough post about it with complicated computer code, please don’t tell me to not quote Wikipedia because it is useful for me to explain my, and others, uncertainty. I am not from Europe and the term ‘final consumption’ is not familiar to me.

        Like

    Full speed ahead | Bad Futurist said:
    August 3, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    […] Germany gets only 3.3% of its energy consumption from wind and solar. Ignore the headlines. […]

    Like

    ronald said:
    August 3, 2015 at 10:01 pm

    don’t really see the big scandal here. Headlines usually stress the significant amount of renewables in the electricity market. If you add heating, transportation etc, of course wind and solar are dwarfed. The fact remains, visible in the links you posted, Germany is responsible for 17,5% of the whole EUs renewables output. That is more than any other country. Yes, that is in absolute numbers and yes, Germany is pretty rich, on the other hand, other countries are better positioned for renewables (geographic position for solar, wave power, less densely populated).
    Would no efforts be preferable?

    Like

      Robert Wilson said:
      August 3, 2015 at 10:29 pm

      Yes. No efforts would be preferable. That is actually the point of my post.

      Like

    ole said:
    August 4, 2015 at 9:39 am

    (217.3 million TOE final energy consumption) / (33,679.5 thousand TOE primary production of renewable energy) = 6.5% energy consumption from renewable energies in total

    You are linking a large dataset and present the result from a calculation, but do not mention how you got that result.
    Probably you calculated energy consumption from wind and solar only (what’s solar? thermal? photovoltaic? both?) but continue in your post discussing renewables in general.
    Why would anyone trust datasets from pfbach.dk, especially after putting so much emphasis on your primary sources (in reply to Tom Bammann)?

    You are surely making a valid point here, but your article is just as misleading and manipulative as any of the printed media articles whose headlines you are quoting. Sorry.

    Liked by 1 person

      Robert Wilson said:
      August 4, 2015 at 10:01 am

      Ole

      Thanks for the series of faux criticisms and ad hom.

      The headline of the posts says wind and solar. The sentence you mention says wind and solar. There is no “probably” involved here. If I say 3.3% of final energy consumption comes from wind solar I will assume my readers are intelligent enough to realize I mean that 3.3% of final energy consumption comes from wind and solar.

      The question here is whether PF Bach’s solar data is accurate or not. I use data from all kinds of sources with all kinds of agendas. I also use data from Fraunhofer ISE, a pro-renewables group.

      Do you have any evidence to suggest Bach’s data is not reliable? Personally, I have checked his data against primary sources and not found any errors.

      I use Bach’s data because it is more readily available than the alternatives, which involve collating data from multiple sources.

      Like

        Tom Bammann said:
        August 4, 2015 at 11:57 pm

        “If I say 3.3% of final energy consumption comes from wind solar I will assume my readers are intelligent enough to realize I mean that 3.3% of final energy consumption comes from wind and solar.”

        Wow, you really just did insult my intelligence in public. I simply misunderstood because I’ve never heard anyone ever express wind and solar in terms of total consumption (which for the record, you wrote final, not total, and I’ve never heard the term ‘final consumption’ before). I’ve work in the power generation industry in Australia for 8 years, I support wind, solar, and nuclear power alike, in fact anything that isn’t fossil fuels, is safe and practicable. But I don’t support bashing people’s intelligence when the objective is to bring everyone’s education of electricity generation to a higher level so that we can make informed decisions as to who and what to vote for, to achieve an environmentally sustainable future.

        I can appreciate that you might be bitter and jaded by all the misconceptions out there in social media, but if you wish to combat them, then you need to avoid bashing people, and impatient when further explanation is requested, as otherwise you’re no more use to your cause than a barrel of oil.

        Like

        Robert Wilson said:
        August 5, 2015 at 7:27 am

        Tom

        When did I insult your intelligence? The comment is clearly directed at ole, yet you think it is directed at you.

        Like

    Climatism said:
    August 4, 2015 at 10:29 am

    Reblogged this on Climatism.

    Like

    Tom guadagni said:
    August 4, 2015 at 4:37 pm

    What is the point of estimating clean, free solar energy on the low side? It’s obviuos that solar is more effective in the summer and in sunny climates. It is also obvious the detractors have an interest in the fossil fuel industry.

    Like

      Robert Wilson said:
      August 4, 2015 at 5:39 pm

      Tom

      I am not estimating anything on the low side. I am using official Eurostat data to show what percentage of final energy consumption comes from wind and solar in Germany. Either facts matter or they do not.

      Like

        Tom guadagni said:
        August 5, 2015 at 2:10 am

        Robert
        And your objective is to point out facts or steer people away from solar because it conflicts with your interests. Have you installed, evaluated, or monitored a modern photovoltaic system for your own use?

        Like

        Robert Wilson said:
        August 5, 2015 at 7:15 am

        Tom

        Please tell me what my interests are.

        Like

    Tom guadagni said:
    August 6, 2015 at 12:20 am

    Robert, What made you interested in writing the article? Were you paid? You declined to answer previous technical questions regarding solar, I’m don’t expect an answer to these either.

    Like

      Tom Bammann said:
      August 6, 2015 at 12:58 am

      Tom,
      The point of the article is pretty clear: “Germany Just Got 78 Percent Of Its Electricity From Renewable Sources” is an incredibly misleading statement, and leaves the average person with the impression that Germany is almost carbon neutral. Whilst it is great to have hope, the public need to be educated with the facts on hand in order to be able to evaluate truly how much fossil fuels we are really mitigating. Whilst the article is a little misleading (intentionally or otherwise, and the follow up attitude to queries?) due to the fact that it’s not very common to discuss percentages of solar or wind as total energy rather than electricity, it’s all very valid and incredibly important points that are made. Because at the end of the day it’s not just the electricity we consume that creates global warming. It’s all of our total oil usage. And if we all focus on one method that doesn’t get us below the CO2 ppm we require quickly enough, there is no second chance. 99.9% of environmentalists are against fossil fuels, 99.8% of environmentalists are supportive of wind and solar renewable energy technologies, but unfortunately, generally, there is a significant proportion of people that support fossil fuels over nuclear power generation. Part of the reason for this is fear, and another part of this is because people are completely misinformed, thinking that renewables have already got us there.
      Cheers,
      Tom

      Like

      donoughshanahan said:
      August 6, 2015 at 10:15 am

      Tom
      “What made you interested in writing the article? ”

      I cannot say why Robert wrote the article but at a guess, I would say it was to inform people. Of facts.

      “You declined to answer previous technical questions regarding solar”
      Maybe you and I have a different view of what comprises a ‘technical’ question but lets be honest, you did not ask a technical question. You made a statement or maybe asked a rhetorical question.

      Like

    jccarlton said:
    August 6, 2015 at 6:44 pm

    Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:

    Here’s the real problem with chasing romantic visions. You end up with a lot of hurt people and a screwed up economy.

    Like

    Windfarms in Germany | harveyjones said:
    August 8, 2015 at 12:59 am

    […] More here at Carbon Counter […]

    Like

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