Germany has one of the World’s most Efficient Grids

By Roy L Hales

Screen-shot-2014-03-18-at-3.43.47-PM1Close to 29% of Germany’s electricity, during the first half of 2014 came, from renewable sources. It was a new record. Ironically, the story was released the same day that Bloomberg  published: German Utilities Bail Out Electric Grid at Wind’s MercyListening to some of the critics of Energiewende, one sometimes gets the impression the nation’s utilities are on the verge of collapse. In reality,  Germany has one of the World’s most efficient grids.

In terms of grid reliability, the only nations that rival Germany are Japan (another “green” leader) and Singapore.

Minutes Lost per customer - Courtesy Germany Trade & Invest
Minutes Lost per customer (Click on image to enlarge) – Courtesy Germany Trade & Invest

According to figures from the Council of European Energy Regulators, Germany has one of the most secure grids in Europe. In 2012, Germany lost an average of 15.91 minutes per customer. As you can see in the chart to the left, it’s closest Western European competitors lost more than a half an hour. One has to look to the Iberian peninsula to find performance records as bad as the United States.

Figures taken from SAIDI value 2006-2012 on the Bundesnetzagentur website
German statistics taken from SAIDI value 2006-2012 on the Bundesnetzagentur site

2012 was not a record year for Germany  but, as you see in the chart to the right, the national average has been under 16 minutes since 2009.

Viola Baumann, a spokesperson for the nation’s largest utility (RWE), said, “In 2012, we were able to continue to provide a largely uninterrupted supply of electricity. Non-availability for the electricity distribution grid amounted to an average of 17.1 minutes for each customer in Germany (2011: 18.1 minutes) in comparison to 21.7 minutes in 2006 which means an improvement but not more disruptions.”

The most recent figures from the United States are for 2008.  The 244 minute per customer loss that year puts America near the bottom in the chart above.

Using 2006 data, Joseph H. Eto and Kristina Hamachi LaCommare found  US SAIDI values varied from a “low of 118 minutes in the Mountain region to a high of 498 minutes in East North Central.”

Figures from 2013 Sustainable ElectricityTM Annual Report, courtesy Canadian Electricity Association
Canadian statistics taken from 2013 Sustainable Electricity Annual Report, courtesy Canadian Electricity Association

Canadian statistics are no better. Five years were reported in the 2013 Sustainable Electricity Annual Report. They are measured in hours and, even subtracting significant events, are always significantly higher than 4 hours.

These North American figures look pathetic compared to Germany’s worst year: a national average of 26.89 minutes lost in 2008.

Savia Research attributes the superior reliability metrics in Western Europe  to underground cables, yet this does not explain why the UK and France lost roughly six times as many minutes as Germany in 2012.

These statistics are somewhat reminiscent of the ACEEE’s recent efficiency scorecard. Germany led the World in overall energy efficiency,  France was #4, the UK #6, Canada #9 and the US #13 out of the 16 nations surveyed. To sum this up using points:

  • Germany scored 65
  • France scored 61
  • UK scored 57
  • Canada scored 50
  • US scored 42

That does not mean Germany does not have problems.

Work on an overhead power line | © Amprion GmbH
Work on an overhead power line | © Amprion GmbH

Bloomberg wrote, “German wholesale next-year electricity prices have plunged 60 percent since 2008 as green power, which has priority access to the grid, cut into the running hours of gas, coal and nuclear plants.”

When I queried RWE about this, Ms Baumann replied that the introduction of green energy did place a high technical burden on the  stability of the supply system, but “in 2012, we were able to continue to provide a largely uninterrupted supply of electricity.”

“RWE reported its first annual loss since 1949 due to fundamental changes in the European energy markets,” Ms Baumann said. “The expansion of renewable energies is calling into question the feasibility of the previous well established energy-only market where power stations receive payment exclusively for the electricity supplied. This is also a challenge for the whole economy as security of supply decrease when a critical number of power plants are out of the money and therefore mothballed in the next years. Therefore we suggest establishing an additional decentralized capacity market open to all technologies of power production in order to incentivize provision of permanently available capacities.”

Dispatch center | © Amprion GmbH
Dispatch center | © Amprion GmbH


Another of Bloomberg’s criticisms was that twenty utilities, including giants like EON and RWE, are paid extra fees that can amount to as much as 400 times the wholesale price to compensate for the intermittence of renewable technology.

In response, Ms Baumann said, “At first, one has to distinguish between payments for MWh and capacities. Whereas the prices on wholesale markets refer to energy produced (MWh) the market for primary control expresses the price for capacities (MW) provided to stabilize the grid – so this is not really comparable. Certainly there are price peaks on these markets and this can be due to extreme weather events or the volatility of renewable energy. But generally, average prices on this market have been decreased in the last years. Moreover this markets don’t have significant impacts on our cash influxes as the capacity volume of this market in Germany is about 300- 500 MW.”

'Energy Mountain' Georgswerder | © GmbH
‘Energy Mountain’ Georgswerder | © GmbH

Ms Baumann added that RWE’s goal is “to become the most trusted and high-performing partner for this sustainable transformation of the European energy system.”

Germany’s renewable sector is growing. The wind, photovoltaic, and biomass sectors generated over 71 terawatt-hours of electricity in the first six months of 2014. That is almost a 25% increase over last year and comes at a time when  the nation’s conventional energy sources are being asked to produce less.

It may be more than a co-incidental that the nations which created the World’s most stable grids are now also among the greenest. However this is more likely rooted in ethics than the source of their energy.

(Image at top of the page: Biogas plant Güterglück (DE) – Courtesy RWE)

12 thoughts on “Germany has one of the World’s most Efficient Grids”

  1. The article is comparing apples to oranges. Reliability figures are almost always the result of whether or not the physical grid is intact. In the U.S. where most electric service is above ground covering vast expanses, weather frequently knocks down lines and disrupts service. I most of the developed world, reliability is almost never impacted by generation disruptions. The question of whether or not the amount of intermitent renewables in Germany will impact reliability may or may not be valid, but to compare current German relaibility (where electric distribution lines are buried) to other countries as a measure for the impact of renewables shows a lack of understanding for how these systems operate.

    1. While there is some truth is what you say, utility lines above ground are far more vulnerable, there is not a nation in Europe whose record comes anywhere near matching Germany’s. Take a look at the chart above. It is a world leader, in terms of reliability.

      This probably has more to do with their precision than usage of green energy. As you are undoubtedly aware, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy recognized Germany as the World’s leader in energy efficiency.

      Some of the criticisms one reads about Germany make it sound like their grid is on the verge of failure. I was seeking a key to bring all the positive and negative stories into focus. This seemed to do the trick. Germany’s grid is one of the most reliable in the World, when measured in terms of down time.

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