Living without nuclear plants, Germany can turn to smart grid

London, August 21, 2012 — Germany is moving towards a nuclear-free future, but pessimism regarding the cost and reliability of renewable energy resources implies that smart grid technologies will be vital in order to keep the nation's power on, according to new research from GlobalData.

Germany's plans to replace the country's nuclear energy generation with renewable energy by 2022 will lead to a corresponding rise in smart grid technologies, as a stronger power system is needed to support alternative power generation.

Germany introduced a plan in 2011 to phase-out nuclear energy gradually, following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan. Around eight nuclear reactors were closed immediately, reducing nuclear generation in Germany from 133.01 terawatt-hours (TWh) in 2010 to 102.31 TWh.

In 2011, the country's installed capacities for wind and solar technologies were 29,264.8 MW and 24,870 MW respectively, accounting for an impressive cumulative share of 32 percent of the energy mix. However, the anticipated loss of more nuclear power has prompted Germany to focus on increasing their renewable energy technologies further.

Renewable generation can be sporadic, with voltage fluctuations being caused by cloud cover or shading effects on photovoltaic (PV) solar energy systems or low wind speeds on wind farms.

During peak-hours, congestion can occur in power transmission lines due to the exchange of excess electricity, and the intermittent nature of renewable energy resources implies that voltage and frequency fluctuations will become more common, threatening German electricity supply.

To prevent instability in the grid, smart grid technologies are required. Flexible Alternating Current Transmission Systems (FACTS) can provide quick active and reactive power compensation, while Dynamic Volt-Amp Reactive (D-VAR) systems are used at the grid interconnection points of wind farms to detect voltage disturbances and provide reactive power on a real-time basis.

Energy storage facilities are already present in Germany, but more will be required to effectively utilize the country's renewable energy. During windy days, surplus energy generated from wind power plants in Northern Germany is currently passed on to neighboring countries, which then experience an increased strain on their grids from the excess power. Various research and demonstration projects on energy storage technologies are already taking place.

Technologies such as fuel cells, Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES) and Pumped Hydro Storage (PHS) and hydrogen may provide a solution for excess power generated from renewable sources. Storage plays a key role in balancing electricity supply and demand, and it can also help to securing energy contracts, as power can be stored for a future date.

Large-scale nuclear energy generation led to low power prices and a strong reputation, and it will take time and extensive R&D for renewable energy sources to catch up. The use of smart grid technologies will help Germany to become independent of its nuclear power plants, but it will be some time before these initiatives bear fruit.

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