This past Christmas, people in Germany experienced the true season of giving, thanks to their government. The general public didn’t have to pay any electricity bills for the weekend, and were in fact paid to use power.
Despite how ludicrous that sounds, it’s actually true. Electricity tariffs in the country went into the negative for most people on that Sunday and Monday, December 24 and 25, because they just had more power than was needed.
So how does that happen? Well, Germany has invested over $200 billion in renewable energy over the past few decades, especially wind and solar power. Unfortunately, they don’t have the battery technology to store any excess power. On most days, that question never arises. However, on days when it’s sunnier than usual or major holidays when major factories are closed, the power plants generate more electricity than the entire country needs. And with the supply so much more than the demand, it obvious drops the price below zero.
In addition, because Germany doesn’t have enough in the way of solar batteries, all of that power would go to waste if it wasn’t being tapped immediately, so people are incentivised with money to turn the lights on. They’re not given a cash or cheque of course, but that negative balance is counted against their usual electricity bills.
According to the New York Times, some manufacturing plants and offices were paid about $60 per megawatt-hour to use electricity on negative-priced days through the year. It’s something governments and utilities companies have to think about, as the world slowly makes the transition to renewable energy.