Sunday, June 24, 2012

Germany's emerging electric power infrastructure.

MIT Tech Review discusses Energiewende - an energy revolution designed to put Germany firmly into "green."
This switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy is the most ambitious ever attempted by a heavily industrialized country: it aims to cut greenhouse-gas emissions 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, and 80 percent by midcentury.

To help replace nuclear power, they are racing to install huge wind farms far off the German coast in the North Sea; new transmission infrastructure is being planned to get the power to Germany's industrial regions. At the same time, companies such as Siemens, GE, and RWE, Germany's biggest power producer, are looking for ways to keep factories humming during lulls in wind and solar power. They are searching for cheap, large-scale forms of power storage and hoping that computers can intelligently coordinate what could be millions of distributed power sources.

Until large-scale, cheap storage is available, gas power plants, which can start up quickly and efficiently, will be the most practical way to cope with these situations. But there's little incentive to build such plants. Owners of gas plants meant to meet peak power needs can no longer count on running for a certain number of hours, since the need will no longer fall on predictable workday afternoons but come and go with the sun and wind.

Now energy companies are planning to install 10,000 megawatts of wind power as far offshore as 160 kilometers, at depths of up to 70 meters. Several 10,000- to 20,000-ton offshore substations will convert gigawatts of AC output to DC, which can span such distances without large energy losses.

Various economic think tanks predict that the country will spend somewhere between $125 billion and $250 billion on infrastructure expansion and subsidies in the next eight years—between 3.5 and 7 percent of Germany's 2011 GDP.

This is a much better designed economic stimulus than we've seen in the US over the last three years. It invests into a future infrastructure built with new electric grid technologies. Even if the project fails it has a chance to create a industrial base for an export economy that targets fast growing Asian countries.

tags: distribution, control, synthesis, build-up, energy, infrastructure

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