Interview

“We need to focus on quality”

Key players have described the biogas sector as being “in a state of shock, frustration and resignation”. Only 205 biogas plants were installed in Germany in 2013. Horst Seide, president of the German Biogas Association, discusses the sector’s prospects in an interview with new energy.

new energy: In 2013, 40 percent fewer biogas plants went online than in the previous year. In comparison to the boom of 2011, when 1,270 biogas plants were installed, expansion has plummeted by 84 percent. What does this mean for the sector?

Horst Seide: The decline is drastic. And under the current conditions we are expecting only 180 plants to be installed in 2014. If funding is only given in the future to plants that use waste materials, the whole sector is threatened with collapse.

new energy:What changes should be made?

Horst Seide: Rather than stifling growth, the German government needs to send a signal that the expansion of the biogas sector should continue. In the part of the coalition agreement that most affects the biogas sector, the two parties agreed that energy crops could also be used in new biogas plants in the future, which was something at least. However, they said that waste materials should mainly be used. We are not happy with this, but we have to live with it and we do not see it as the end of the biogas sector. For now it’s a case of waiting to see how exactly the word “mainly” will be interpreted – and then, as so many times before in the past few years, those involved will have to respond to the government’s demands and make the best of the situation. We can only tap into the further innovation potential of biogas if we use energy crops. The sector itself is willing to continue making electricity production more flexible.

new energy:The German Biogas Association’s position paper states that biogas could make 15 gigawatts (GW) of flexible capacity available in 2030. Have the current expansion figures and planned funding changes made you abandon this target?

Horst Seide: No, it is still attainable. Of course, it all depends on our rate of growth and the support we receive. At the moment, 7,720 biogas plants, with a total capacity of around 3,500 megawatts (MW), are producing electricity in Germany. If we can shift biogas towards the demand-based feed-in of electricity, and if we can grow at a moderate rate, then we could even achieve a capacity of over 15 GW.

new energy:How would that be possible?

Horst Seide: Biogas plants currently feed in electricity on a continuous basis, 24 hours a day, except during maintenance, which means they are working round the clock. It is now emerging that we will have under-capacities in the grid between 5 and 11 a.m. and between 7 and 11 p.m. in the future. If we now condense the hours of operation of biogas plants and only run the engines for eight hours each day, then a 15-GW capacity is actually attainable. But this means we have to invest in larger storage volumes and greater engine capacity. It doesn’t mean that we would need five times the amount of agricultural land to expand our current output of 3 GW to this figure of 15 GW. In 2013, 300 MW of additional capacity were installed without using more land. To achieve the 300 MW of yearly expansion that we are demanding, we would only need slightly more land.

new energy:  How would one go about reducing the hours of operation of existing biogas plants?

Horst Seide: A typical biogas plant with an output of 500 kilowatts (kW) would need to have its engine capacity boosted to 1.5 MW…

This is an abridged version of the interview – the full text is available in new energy issue 01/2014

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