Wind energy reached an all-time high of 20.6 terawatt-hours (TWh) in February in Germany. It contributed 77% of all renewable energy output for the month, and 45% of Germany’s entire energy mix Rystad Energy research shows. Comparing the outstanding performance of wind with previous years reveals that generation in February was a whopping 80% higher than March 2021. The first quarter of the year tends to hold the most productive month for wind generation. This record only narrowly beat previous all-time highs from 2020.
This will be welcome news in Germany and across all European power markets, especially in the current geopolitical situation with record gas and coal prices. Solar PV is now picking up pace fast, reaching 60 gigawatts (GW) of operational capacity at the end of 2021 – just 3 GW behind wind energy.
Germany is in a win-win situation as wind and solar generation patterns show complementary peaks, with wind contributing more during autumn and winter months, and PV leading during the rest of the year. Indeed, wind generation was so high at 59.7 TWh that it was ahead of gas at 41.4 TWh, and only narrowly surpassed by nuclear at 60.2 TWh as the overall source of electricity across Europe.
“The emerging evidence shows a complementarity between wind and solar generation. While the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow, most of the time the weather is doing one or the other at sufficient capacity to cover a significant portion of demand”, said Fabian Rønningen, Analyst, Power Markets Research.
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New capacity for solar and wind
Germany has gradually ramped up its annual solar PV addition above 5 GW yearly, and moving forward, looks to increase this further to meet ambitious renewables targets for 2030. More than 63 GW of wind energy is operational in Germany, with an additional 10 GW in planning stages at end of 2021. Solar PV spiked from a total installed capacity of 40 GW in 2016 to 60 GW in 2021. A total of 710 megawatts (MW) of solar PV capacity has been installed so far this year compared to 210 MW of additional wind capacity.
About 80% of generation and 90% of installed capacity is onshore wind in Germany. Wind experienced a sharp decline in annual installed capacity between 2017-2020, mainly related to changes to its renewable energy support regime (from predetermined feed-in-tariffs to auctions), bottlenecks in permitting, and a lack of offshore wind projects in the pipeline. The German wind industry started to bounce back last year and installed almost 2 GW of capacity. Solar PV spiked from a total installed capacity of 40 GW in 2016 to 60 GW in 2021. A total of 710 megawatts (MW) of solar PV capacity has been installed so far this year compared to 210 MW of additional wind capacity.
Implied capacity factor
Seasonal variation is always a factor for wind and solar, with solar generation peaking in the summer when there is generally more sun, and wind power much stronger in winter due to wind patterns. This is of course advantageous from a system perspective. Furthermore, the annual solar generation pattern is more predictable – with less year-to-year variation than for wind – as there is less variation in solar irradiation than in wind speeds at this scale.
A useful metric for looking at long term trends in renewables is implied capacity factor, comparing the monthly installed capacity with the actual generation, making yearly and monthly changes directly comparable. For the record month of February 2022, capacity factor was slightly below the previous record set in February 2020, with 45.4% and 47%, respectively. Yearly averages for capacity factors are far smaller than peaks as generation declines drastically in the summers due to lower wind speeds.
Additionally, 2021 was a horrible year for wind power in Germany (and large parts of Europe in general), with average capacity factors hovering around 20-25% for most of the year and falling as low as 10-15% during the worst months – even lower than for solar. Capacity factors for solar have far less variation for these same reasons, and seasonal variation is very predictable. During the worst months, December and January capacity factors are typically in the 1.5-2.5% range, and for the best months, June to August in the 15-18% range. From a system perspective, the large variation in wind is already a challenge and may become a bigger hurdle in the future when the share of intermittent renewables increases further. As Germany and other European countries push to meet ambitious emissions targets for 2030, and net-zero targets further out, finding successful solutions that integrate and make the most of solar and wind will be key.
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