Sometimes it feels like we are living in the future with the sheer amount of new technologies that surround us. Not only are these technologies growing in number, but they are also getting better. Renewable energy is one of those areas in which we have seen dramatic improvement over the past few years. Some nations are adopting these resources better than others, and some well enough that they may actually pay their citizens to use electricity.

Germans use energy this weekend, receive money

The high winds that occurred in Germany this weekend drove the price of electricity lower than ever before. In fact, the price per kilowatt hour dropped into negative territory. This left the power companies with two options: shut down their plants to decrease the supply of electricity, or pay customers to take electricity off the grid.

It may sound outlandish to pay someone to take your product; however, this was a great strategy with perfectly good reasons behind it. The first and foremost explanation is that it does not take any plants offline. Turning off and turning on plants is not as simple as switching a light switch on or off. Not only are the shutdown and startup protocols time-consuming, they also could put people out of work for the time the plants are out of order. Another thing to consider is that this wind was only forecast to last over the weekend. Shutting down for even one day to try and keep prices above zero for only one weekend would have been foolish. A third reason may have also factored in here: it was an excellent marketing opportunity. Utility companies often find themselves viewed unfavorably by their (often captive) customer base. Offering to pay someone to use your product or service always wins points.

Don’t get used to this quite yet

While the prices of renewable resources will continue to plummet, we should not expect to see this type of behavior from companies too often. One reason for this is that the weather conditions which made this possible were perfect, and we cannot rely on the weather to act this way constantly. Secondly, if there were ever a point at which energy were cheap enough, efficient enough, or the weather were consistently cooperative enough to see extended periods of negative energy costs, then we would see utility companies begin shuttering their plants to bring the market back to an equilibrium. So while this was a fun exercise in market economics and a cool case study of an energy company paying its customers, it is unlikely we will see a lot more of this in the future.

This makes me even more hopeful for renewables

This weekend demonstrated that any doubt of renewable energy’s future dominance is gone. It’s most definitely the future, and that is great to me. Now we need to begin aggressively training an even larger workforce to service more renewable plants worldwide. It is an exciting time to be alive. I just wish that I had a mining rig in Germany this weekend.