Germany, Europe’s largest economy, has a rich hydropower heritage and is at the vanguard of the transition to renewable power systems. Germany’s Energiewende policies – targeting a shift towards renewable energy, greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and a phase-out of nuclear energy – resulted in renewables contributing 35.2 per cent of electricity generation in 2018, roughly the same as coal. Due to drought, hydropower generation dropped almost 15 per cent, and contributed 2.6 per cent of total power production, accounting for just over 7 per cent of total generation from renewables. The majority of the country’s hydropower resources are located in the mountainous southern provinces, with 50 per cent of all projects located in Bavaria and 20 per cent in Baden-Württemberg. These two states account for over 80 per cent of annual German hydropower production. Of an estimated 7,300 hydropower stations, about 6,900 have less than 1 MW capacity, while nearly 6,000 have less than 100 kW.
As deployment of wind and solar continues to grow, flexibility will become a key criterion for the next phase of Germany’s energy transition. Hydropower, despite occupying only a small proportion of the energy mix, will remain a system cornerstone due to its relative reliability and predictability. German flexibility services, whether coming from interconnections to neighbouring grids, energy storage, flexible generation or demand-side management all depend on hydropower resources in some fashion.
Germany has twelve ‘electrical neighbours’ with interconnectors totalling roughly 20 GW. To the north, Germany can tap into Nordic hydropower reservoirs. The 1,400 MW HVDC subsea cable with Norway, Nordlink, is expected to be completed in 2019 and will allow Norwegian hydropower reservoirs to absorb excess German wind and supply hydropower. To the south, hydropower-rich Austria and Switzerland contribute over 3.5 GW of hydropower to Germany’s system.
Until October 2018, Germany, Austria and Luxembourg shared a common power price-bidding zone, allowing for unlimited commercial exchange of power between the grids. Bottlenecks in Germany’s north-south transmission grid, however, were causing problems and knock-on effects to neighbouring countries.
In 2018, the EU split the common price-zone at the German – Austrian border, giving Germany time to build the necessary north-south connectors. Nevertheless, Austrian hydropower projects will continue to support the German grid, constrained only by the physical capacity of their interconnectors. Austrian pumped storage projects will still have access to the German grid, including the 360 MW Obervermuntwerk II pumped hydropower project in Vorarlberg, commissioned in 2018.
Germany itself has 6,806 MW of installed pumped storage capacity, but the German grid is serviced by a further 3 GW sourced from Luxembourg, Switzerland and Austria. These pumped storage projects still provide the lion’s share of utility-scale power storage, storing 8 TWh of power in 2015. Policy makers are aware that reforms are needed to continue to support storage facilities. The influx of low-marginal cost wind and solar has altered electricity price dynamics with consequences on business models for PHS operators.
In spite of outdated regulatory frameworks, both Engie Germany and RWE deployed innovative batteries coupled with their pumped storage projects in 2018. In addition to upgrading the Pfreimd project, Engie installed onsite a 12.5 MW lithium-ion battery to provide additional rapid frequency balancing services. This augments the already significant balancing role of the project, which itself is responsible for 5 per cent of all balancing power delivered to Germany’s grid network and 1 per cent of total balancing power in Western Europe. RWE installed a 7 MWh battery facility at their Herdecke Power Station.
This country profile is featured in the 2019 Hydropower Status Report. Download the report: hydropower.org/statusreport
This profile was last updated in May 2019.