ELCIA CEO’s Experience at Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue

Last month, I had the opportunity to visit Germany for Berlin Energy Transition Dialogue. The international conference focused on ideas and technologies that can help reduce our dependence on fossil energy to move to renewable energies like Windmill, Solar, Natural Gas and Biogas.

There were discussions on Futures Markets, Grid Integration, Energy Transition in buildings, advanced renewable incentive schemes, Energy Transition in Industry and business, Increasing power flexibility, access to finance, Energy Transition in Transport and Sector coupling (electricity, heating and transport). The multi-country ministerial panel discussion looked at

  • How to push Energy transition policies towards economically viable implementation
  • How can international cooperation stimulate energy efficiency measures and accelerate the growth of renewable energy
  • How can Energy Efficiency and renewable energy contribute to reach the COP21 target

I was exposed to the complexities of design and planning required for an area to be self- sufficient and possibly export energy to neighbouring states/nations. Energy from all sources like oil, Hydro, Nuclear, solar, wind, natural gas, biogas has to be coordinated like an orchestra as the award winning Dr Lovins said in his keynote session. Sometimes minimum load conditions can be an issue in grid integration. Excess power generation has to be managed using technologies like converting to Hydrogen or storage batteries.

Toyota presented a paper where in the advances made in vehicles using Hydrogen, hybrid fuel and electricity were discussed. There is steady push for vehicles with alternate energy. Current drop in oil prices may be a disincentive to this move, but the Paris agreement target is the major driver.

The programme included visits to different facilities and communities that are pioneers in alternative energy production.

Feldheim – 100% energy sufficient village

We visited Feldheim, Germany’s first community to become completely energy self-sufficient. A village with 40 homes and 140 residents, it generates electricity using windmill, solar, and biogas sources – till date, they have not had a single minute of power outage. The village has 42 wind turbines generating 500KW to 3 MW. A biogas plant generates 530 KW using pig and cattle manure. They pump excess power back to the grid and so far 160,000 MWh has been sent to the grid over the last 8 years!

Enercon – the world’s biggest windmill

The world’s biggest windmill – the Enercon E126 generates 7.5MW of power! It handles 28-34 m/s wind speed with a 5-12 rpm; The unit is about 200m high and has a virtual diameter of 127m. One has to use an elevator to go up for servicing!

It was a great experience to go through Enercon’s massive production facility. I felt I was in an aircraft manufacturing facility with huge wings, turbines, electrical wiring, electronics and software being integrated.


* Enercon E-126 Lausitzring
By Ra Boe / Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36829450


* Enercon E-126 Georgsfeld, 6MW Windenergieanlage, WEA, Windrad
By Jfz – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7685719

Enercon produces 17 wind mills of different capacities in a week. Quality, performance and efficiency are critical and the turbines have been running for around three decades without outage!

Total production area for Enercon’s wind energy is around 870,000 sq m including sites in Germany, Portugal, Sweden, France, Brazil, Canada, Turkey and Austria. The size makes transportation a major challenge. In India most of the windmills are either 1.5 MW or 3 MW as the roads leading to small towns and remote places cannot handle huge trucks.

Fraunhofer Institute

This is a world-famous research institute engaged in development of Energy Management Systems, studies for electrical power systems, hardware and software components for smart power systems, electrical grid simulation and modeling, conformance and quality testing platforms. This institute provides these facilities to operators and manufacturers for integrated power generation and management. Every step taken is scientifically simulated and details worked out.

Enertrag – System integrator for wind energy

Enertrag is a service provider who sources the windmills from companies like Enercon and actually implements the project and sells power to grid. They have installed about 630 turbines generating 1160 MW of power and has supplied 2.7 TWh of energy. They also have solar and biogas sources for generating power. They monitor all the 1400 (and growing!) installations. Performance of each of the windmill, wind characteristics, integration to grid are all monitored and any issue is communicated to the local service centre and attended to. This is high investment industry and returns are expected over a period of 7 years.

Germany’s efforts over several years have resulted in over 30% of energy from renewables and they are targeting 50% energy from renewable sources by 2030.


* Bird’s eye view of the Solar Settlement
By Andrewglaser at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47074783

The entire trip gave me confidence that right efforts are being made to save the earth from unwanted emissions and dependency of scarce resources is being contained. I am sure India will also join the movement and benefit from it as we are already catching up with wind and solar energy.

While countries like Germany are moving to renewables to move away from use of fossil sources to renewables to reduce use of oil and nuclear power for generation, countries with shortage of power can benefit from renewable energy with good planning and implementation.

Generating 1 MW of power costs around $1 Million; Raising funds from investors, getting approvals from government and support from communities and planning the right technologies are challenges. Currently if ELCITA has to work towards energy transition, capital investment can be an issue which can be solved by finding an energy service provider that provides renewable energy. In e-city, the major companies are already setting examples in usage of renewable energy. If we can focus on other companies, we can contribute to energy transition and save companies from power outage.

Here is an opportunity to implement the green energy vision set by ELCITA and lead by example. By encouraging and enforcing companies to commit to using renewable energy and facilitating its availability and management, ELCITA can do our bit for a greener future.

Some more observations…

    1) Solar PV

In just one hour the sun delivers more energy to earth than the world uses in an entire year. Solar power has been effectively used to power general electrical appliances and heating/cooling. Apart from Germany, large installations are seen in China, USA, Italy and Japan. With production costs dropping, more and more developing countries are moving towards PV solar. With long experience and high quality standards, German companies are making inroads to international market in a big way. Both thick film and thin film PV technologies can be deployed in off-grid or on grid PV solar systems. While on-grid systems can cover small systems of 1KWp to large systems of several hundreds of Kwp, off-grid systems are for small installations and for stand-alone mini grids from say 1KWp to 1MWp. For stand -alone grids, storage is essential unless other renewables form part of the grid. India has massive potential for solar energy! Meanwhile Sri Lanka is planning to install renewables in a big way and possibly export power to India. Production costs have dropped to half from 1995 to 2010 thanks to research, automation in production and lower material costs.

   2)  Biogas

Biogas (from Anaerobic digestion – AD) is burned in combined heat and power plants to generate electric energy and heat. Biogas is generated using agricultural waste, municipal waste and energy crops. Germany uses corn crops for biogas plants. Biogas production depends on source material and process condition like temperature and pH value. It is a combination of methane and CO2. Biogas can be used in combined heat and power plants (CHP) and electricity generated can be used in public grid or stand-alone application or for minigrid in rural areas. Bio-methane when separated can be fed into natural gas grid used for heating and for vehicles.

Germany has around 8000 biogas plants in operation. In Germany, Biomethane content in natural gas has increased from 2% in 2010 to 20% in 2013. This has lower emission levels compared to diesel and petro vehicles. The residue can be a good source of manure. By 2014 27,000 GWh of electricity was generated using Biogas supplying to 6.8 million households.

    3) Biomass

Biomass for cooking and heating is very common in many parts of the world. Solid biomass includes all dried items or bulk items made from plants or parts of plants like wood pellets or wood chips. In 2014, 16,250 TMh of power was generated using biomass . Biomass can also be used to generate electricity in combined heat and power (CHP) plants. Sustainability aspects like protection of ecosystems, social aspects and reduction of greenhouse gases have to be considered while setting up of biomass facilities.

    4) Storing green energy

Renewables cannot replace fossil power stations without storage facility and there is no need storage till we reach 70% renewables in energy sector. This brings us to the question, “When do we need storage?” With phasing out of nuclear and coal, dependency on wind and Solar PV will increase. On windless days natural gas and biogas can fill in the gaps. In case of excess power generation, renewables can replace natural gas for heating requirements. Lithium batteries are getting cheaper by the day and can act as short term storage mechanisms for excess energy. Storage can include, mechanical storages like pump storage station, compressed air storage station, fly wheel. Electrical storage include super conducting coils and capacitors. Hydrogen and other gas systems, batteries/accumulators form the electrochemical storage.

    5) Grid integration

For integration of high levels of fluctuating sources like solar PV and wind energy plants, substantial changes in the areas of generation, transmission, distribution, storage and consumption are required. With more renewables feeding into the grid, the volatility of grid poses new challenges in maintaining the quality of power and performance. Voltage range, frequency band and protection against overload need to be monitored. Planning and optimisation of the entire generation hub and positioning of measurement points on the grid helps the process. Power grid studies and simulators are essential to assure reliable, high quality energy service.

    6) Renewables in transport

Reduction of oil import is the main driver for research and development of vehicles using electric power, natural gas and Hydrogen.. USA and Brazil have lead the way in production of alternate fuel. Technology to convert excess energy to Hydrogen and add it to natural gas network is available and can be used for filling vehicles. Toyota is leading the research on hybrid vehicles. Germany encourages use of vehicles with green energy by providing charging stations for electric cars and Hydrogen/gas filling stations for vehicles. Considering the efforts being made by all stakeholders, the day are not far when we can power our vehicles with alternate energy!

– Rama NS


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