Germany Had Enough Energy to Essentially Pay People to Use It on Christmas

A clean energy surplus is a hopeful note for the future. Other countries besides should also make these big investments in renewable energy.

People in Germany essentially got paid to use electricity on Christmas.

Electricity prices in the country went negative for many customers – as in, below zero – on Sunday and Monday, because the country’s supply of clean, renewable power actually outstripped demand, according to The New York Times.

The phenomenon is less rare than you may think.

Germany has invested over US$200 billion in renewable power over the last few decades, primarily wind and solar.

During times when electricity demand is low – such as weekends when major factories are closed, or when the weather is unseasonably sunny – the country’s power plants pump more electricity into the grid than consumers actually need.

The disparity arises because wind and solar power are generally inconsistent. When the weather is windy or sunny, the plants generate a lot of electricity, but all that excess power is difficult to store. Battery technology is not quite advanced enough to fully moderate the supply to the grid.

So when the weather is hot, like it was in parts of Germany over the weekend, and most businesses are closed, plants generate an excess supply of power despite unusually low demand. Then it’s a matter of simple economics – prices, in effect, dip below zero.

It’s important to note that Germany’s utilities companies aren’t depositing money directly into consumer’s accounts when this happens. Rather, the periods of negative-pricing lead to lower electricity bills over the course of a year.

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Traditional power grids – which mostly rely on fossil fuels to generate electricity – are designed so that output matches demand. But renewable energy technology hasn’t yet been developed to produce according to demand, since generation is a function of weather.

That’s “one of the key challenges in the whole transition of the energy market to renewable power,” Tobias Kurth, the managing director of Energy Brainpool, told the Times.

As storage technology lags behind the efficiency of renewable power sources, it’s likely that this negative-pricing situation will occur again. In that case, governments might need to provide incentives for people to increase their power usage when prices go negative.

These irregularities need to get figured out sooner rather than later, since renewable energy is growing rapidly, driven by the declining cost of technology and government subsidies. The International Energy Agency predicts that renewable energy will comprise 40 percent of global power generation by 2040.

In the next five years, the share of electricity generated by renewables worldwide is set to grow faster than any other source.

In Britain, renewable energy sources generated over triple the electricity as coal did in 2017, according to The Guardian. In June, during a particularly windy night, power prices actually went negative in Britain for a few hours as well – and it’s likely to happen again.

Germany Will Possibly Enact Law That Requires Device Manufacturers to Put in Dangerous Backdoors

Backdoors in technology are a problem because they are vulnerable to being exploited by more than just “good” people — they are also vulnerable to exploitation by malicious adversaries. With this reasoning in mind, backdoors (security flaws that are designed in) being required to be built in would make the German public much more at risk of harm to criminal threats. So this proposal to mandate backdoors is dangerous and should be opposed, as it’s a policy of horrible security.

German authorities are preparing a law that will force device manufacturers to include backdoors within their products that law enforcement agencies could use at their discretion for legal investigations. The law would target all modern devices, such as cars, phones, computers, IoT products, and more.

Officials are expected to submit their proposed law for debate this week, according to local news outlet RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland (RND).

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Furthermore, the new law would also give German officials powers akin to the “Hack Back” bill proposed in the US, allowing authorities the power to hack any remote computer. The Minister says this is important to “shut down private computers in the event of a crisis,” such as is the case with botnet takedowns.

But privacy advocates who also read the new law proposal say the text also contains verbiage that would allow the German state to intercept any traffic on the Internet [1, 2], effectively setting up a surveillance state with full snooping powers over everyone’s online communications. Experts called for caution before approving the new law, which could be abused in its current state.

German authorities anticipated such reaction and said that any access to such data would be allowed only after law enforcement have obtained a court order. But the problem with encryption backdoors is not how you access them, but that they exist in the first place and that they could be abused by ill-intent actors as well.

The law proposal is not a surprise for people who’ve been keeping an eye on such things. There are concerted efforts going on in Germany, France, and the UK to introduce legislation for mandatory encryption backdoors. In fact, de Maizière and his French counterpart even signed a joint letter they sent to the European Commission that supported encryption backdoors.