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How to weatherproof renewables

Blieskastel, 18th June 2018

Access to electricity despite the dark doldrums: How to weatherproof renewables

For energy suppliers, it is the stuff of nightmares: weather that combines weak winds, clouds, low temperatures and wintry darkness. This phenomenon is known as a ‘kalte Dunkelflaute’ in German, which loosely translates as ‘the cold dark doldrums’. On average, it occurs every two years in Germany. During these periods, wind and solar installations hardly produce any electricity. At the same time, demand for electricity is higher than usual due to the cold temperatures. And if there are similar weather conditions across Europe, importing electricity from abroad to compensate is not an option. This means that for the energy landscape of the future, in which electricity will mainly be obtained from renewable energy sources, these dark doldrums are the ultimate stress test.

However, specialists from the Berlin research institute  Energy Brainpool have looked at how reliable energy provision can be achieved despite this weather phenomenon. Their most significant answer: windgas. This involves converting surplus energy, which is produced regularly during periods of strong winds, into renewable synthetic hydrogen or methane. The artificially generated gas can be stored in the gas grid and accessed again when needed.

According to the study, supply and demand can be balanced in the short term by solutions such as battery storage systems like the ones Hager Group added to its portfolio when it acquired the energy storage manufacturer E3/DC. It is also likely that e-vehicle batteries and intelligent building technologies will help to balance out electricity production and demand.

“With the home energy management systems that we are currently developing, electricity is consumed primarily when there is a surplus and it is cheap,” explains Marc Helfter, Disruptive Innovation Director at Hager Group. “This benefits both consumers and the energy system as a whole.” And when e-vehicles enter the market in greater numbers in the coming years, they will provide additional storage capacity. Mr. Helfter: “If car manufacturers’ sales forecasts prove to be accurate, the available short-term storage capacity could multiply within just a few years.”

The background: in Germany last year, around 35 per cent of the power supply came from renewable energies, really a record figure. However, if overall primary energy consumption including industry and transport is taken into account, the share of renewable energy sources is lower, at just under 13 per cent. This shows that even for Germany, a pioneer in this area, the greater part of the energy transition has yet to happen. Hager Group is one of the companies that is leading the way, using smart building technologies to help create the energy infrastructure of the future.