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When German consumers were paid for power consumed!

New York Times in a recent editorial referred to a strange offshoot of technology development- German power utilities generating abundance of solar power paying consumers for the use of power! 

Germany has spent over $ 300 bn (around Rs. 19,50,000 crore) on creating power generation capacity through harnessing solar power. There is the limitation of storing power produced in such abundance and it is also difficult to shutdown quickly conventional thermal power stations, that run on coal, oil, gas or nuclear, even for a technologically sound country like Germany!  Ruhr mines in Germany have large reserves of coal/lignite. For decades thermal power generation was in abundance due to coal, oil and gas as feedstock. Unlike its neighbours France and Belgium, Germany moved away from nuclear power and has focused on wind and solar power. The vast country with scarce population (of around 82 mn) also has large land mass for the erection of solar modules. Add to these the capacity to invest in storage and the technology to switch to the operations to optimum levels. 

The long-term energy policy for India envisages phasing out new power capacity based on lignite (from 2022) and coal-fired stations (from 2027). There is also the focus on adding large capacity under nuclear power. The likely installed capacity by end of 2026-27 would include 275,000 MW of renewables and 14,880 MW of nuclear power. While these plans are impressive, the task of managing the grid with such multiple fuel-based power stations is bound to be daunting. For one, the installed power capacity of India, presently at around 360,000 MW, is much larger than those of individual countries in Europe. The continental distances involved in transmitting power, the management of over 100 utilities by different states and private operators are humongous to say the least. Even at much more modest capacities of around 18,732 MW, TANGEDCO has a tough task on optimising the load; there are added complexities of the vast differences in the cost of power produced/procured from different sources. To ensure availability, the state has also been going for long term power purchase agreements at costs much higher than those in its own power generating stations or from central stations like Neyveli Lignite Corporation. With large capacities created for wind and solar power and fierce price competition, the state has also been able to purchase power through open bids at low prices. On consideration of economics, the state has to opt for buying power at most economical prices. In this bargain it has serious impacts on technical and contract issues; the former relates to the shutting down of load on base stations like nuclear and thermal coal and the latter to renerging on contracts concluded for power purchase at higher rates. 

The German experience offers invaluable lessons for planning to manage the surging non-conventional energy production. 

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