Every month seems to be a big one for Germany's renewable energy sector. But this October was a particularly important one, featuring a slew of stories on how distributed generation is changing the country's energy landscape.
Since Germany's real Oktoberfest runs from late September to early October, we missed the initial party. But it's never too late to break down some of the most important developments in one of the world's biggest -- and most dynamic -- renewable energy markets. Here are some highlights.
1. Germany's grid hits 59 percent renewable peak
At noon on October 3, wind and solar made up 59.1 percent of power generation in Germany. It was fitting that renewable and conventional energy came together on this exceptionally sunny and windy day, which happened to be a public holiday: the Day of German Unity.
2. Germany's second-biggest utility looks to completely change its business model
How are European utilities responding to the surge in distributed energy? Many of them are struggling as revenues decline and customers use less power. In order to meet these challenges, the board of RWE, one of Germany's largest electricity providers, agreed upon a new “prosumer” business strategy. Rather than simply transmitting and selling electricity, the company plans to position itself as an enabler, operator, and integrator of renewable energy projects.
3. More German cities look to take back the grid
Although some utilities are trying to change, German cities don't believe they're doing it fast enough. There are now 8,000 German municipalities deciding whether to buy back local electric grids franchised during budget crises of the 1980s and 1990s. In September, the citizens of Hamburg voted to acquire control of its grid from utilities Vattenfall and E.ON. This month, Berlin will face the same question. And some U.S. cities are following Germany's lead. Boulder, Colorado voters also decided this week to move forward on municipalization.
4. E.ON looks to the cloud for distributed energy management
Meanwhile, another massive German utility is turning to cloud computing for its smart grid infrastructure and high penetrations of solar. E.ON announced in early September that it will use an IBM data center in Germany to host its smart meter IT infrastructure, with the goal of simplifying the meter management and the integration of distributed power. Customers can soon expect to see more information about energy rates and use patterns.
5. Germany uses wind for hydrogen production
Along with looking to traditional storage, German companies and grid operators are experimenting with new ways to deal with intermittent generation. This fall, E.ON and Swissgas AG injected hydrogen produced by wind power into the natural gas grid for the first time. The resource can act as a potential form of wind storage, as well as use existing infrastructure to move modest amounts of hydrogen.
While many of us faux-Bavarians were donning lederhosen and downing sausages to mark Oktoberfest, real Germans found time among the festivities to impress the energy industry with some major accomplishments.