Monthly Archives: August 2014

We don’t need no stinkin’ baseload

Since I wrote the story about an environmentalist who wants more green power in order to have less black-outs and the one that claimed that there were absolutely no issues with wind and solar energy, some words kept on resonating in my head. I found it really strange that two, I think, intelligent persons who should have some insight in the Belgian energy production situation, (mis)represent their case in such a way by stating that the base load of our nuclear plants was the cause of the near black-out that we had last year. That seems putting the reality upside down.

They should know that we have a nuclear base load. My thought was that they probably didn’t really accept the concept of base load and that their reactions came from this. I became curious how they looked at it, so I fired up Google and searched for instances where they talked about base load. I started with Chris Derde and in no time I found his twitter account. His tweets were as one-sided as his comment on the VRT opinion blog. I would have material enough for a separate blog…

On his twitter page, I found a retweet of a tweet by Chris Nelder with a link to the blogpost Why baseload power is doomed.

Bingo.

I heard such things before, that continuous electricity production is possible with only wind, solar and initially some biomass. What I remembered about this is that it was based on a radical change in society, how we work and live. Not exactly realistic. This was no different in the blogpost. This is how they put it:

The notion that renewables cannot provide baseload power is really an artifact of the way the grid and its regulators have evolved. If all generators were able to ramp up and down on demand, and if grid operators were able to predict reliably when and where the sun would be shining and the wind would be blowing, accommodating any amount of power from renewables would be no problem.

Sounds very nice of course. IF, and ONLY IF, they really can ramp up and down on demand.

They give an example of how a grid should work with wind and solar energy: Texas. They called it the “best example in the United States”. That was a surprise for me. I associated Texas with oil and gas, not with green energy sources. But indeed, when googling it, it showed a lot of links to sites that glorify the Texan power grid for its large contribution of wind and solar.

In a way I could see this work in Texas, at least more than here. Texas is situated much more to the south, there is more sun & wind there and peak demand might be closer to peak production. Compare that to our cold and rainy Belgium, in which production of wind and solar is the lowest when demand is highest. So, even if this is a good example of integrating green power in a grid, I am not really sure if the Texan example could be made to work here in Belgium.

Coming back to the idea of those who blame the base load power for destabilizing our grid. They don’t seem to realize that we have an old-style grid and we will have to play with the rules of that old-style grid. However superior their ideology might be, however good their proposed solution might be, in the CURRENT grid it is THEY who are making the grid unstable by adding an variable amount of power on a grid that is not adapted to take this.

Saving electricity in a hurry. Not so fast…

In the last weeks we heard a lot about the looming electricity shortage next winter, mostly devastating messages. Last Monday I noticed two different voices that seem to suggest that this could be solved with green technology. Previous post was about the first message (the restart of the “green” biomass plant at a high cost and minimal capacity). This post will be about the second message, a press release from Bond Beter Leefmilieu (could be translated as “Federation Better Environment”), titled Bond Beter Leefmilieu asks rapid change of lighting. At the bottom it links to a report called Saving electricity in a hurry, which seems a bit lacking in substance.

That hurry apparently because of the electricity shortage that our country could experience next winter and this savings could supposedly help us with our energy security at peak demand.

This is how the press release begins (translated from Dutch):

Changing lighting in Service sector buildings saves 800 MW.

Everyone is looking frantically for solutions now that the supply this winter is under pressure, The attention to saving is minimal. However, for example changing lighting in the service sector can give significant savings on the fairly short term.

A savings of more than 800MW on peak demand can be realized with efficient lighting on a large scale in the service sector, with 40% of electricity in 75% of the buildings saved on lighting. We are thinking about office buildings, schools, hospitals, banks, etcetera. “A relighting can be performed within two months and a savings of 50 to 70% can be expected. Earn-back time of investment is between one and four years. Nothing but advantages, “confirms Robin Bruninx of energy consulting firm Encon. “Companies have to be convinced with targeted counseling and financial support.”

I recognize the numbers the author is using. I already heard about a 812 MW savings from renovating lighting in the service sector in a report from 3E from 2013 (that was build on a report from 2006). The argument was almost identically used for convincing that we could do with less or no coal and/or nuclear plants, that we need less import and now that we can cope with the potential shortage next winter(s). It was not clear from the press release, but the dossier was build on this earlier report. But as far as I know this report was more than just the 812 MW of savings by changing the lighting of buildings. It also looked at two other measures: renewal of electric heating systems and more efficient pumps in the industry. Together they add to 1.116 MW of savings. Why only focusing on one of the measures in the press release? Probably will have to do with politics, but I can’t see the reason yet.

While I agree that 800 MW is substantial savings, there is a pesky thing called reality. That 800 MW is potential, not something that is certainly achievable within a couple months. It starts from the assumption that 75% of the buildings will save 40% of electricity. The big question is how much of that is realistically possible.

Sure, relighting can be possible within a couple months. On an individual basis that is. But on a large scale…really? I don’t think it will help our electricity security next winter. Whether the government takes action or not.

That is not difficult to understand. The author obviously want the government to take control of this. But our government has more pressing things to do. They need to find 17 billion euro just to balance the books. I don’t think they are really keen on investing in relighting with a pay-back time of one to four years.

Even if our government is taken this seriously and want to spend money on it now, it will still take a really long time before action can be taken. Without even thinking about the fact that all that lighting equipment has to be available on the short term, the lighting consulting firms have to cope with the work, together with the technicians doing the replacement/renovation in those 75% of the buildings of the service sector. If one want to do a relighting in building on a large scale, one have to have all those on a large scale too.

So I don’t really believe the insinuation that this savings can make the difference next winter. They backpedal at the end that it “might be unthinkable, but as long as there is political will a lot is possible”…

The author seems to be challenged by the term “potential”. Just as the reporter who thinks that the full amount of installed capacity is continuously available, this advisor is counting on the 800 MW of potential savings.

To be clear, I have no problem with saving energy. On the contrary. But in reality the proposed solution is highly exaggerating its impact. However nice the plan may be, it is not exactly presented realistically.

Max Green is in fact Min Green

The potential shortage of electricity on peak moments in winter keeps the media busy. Two messages caught my attention. The first one is the subject of this post.

It is the message of a biomass plant that was closed, but could be restarted in the next month (Dutch). The plant is called Max Green and is the biggest biomass plant in Belgium. It was said it could deliver “green” power for 320,000 families by burning wood pellets. It was said it is a stroke of luck for our energy security in winter.

When looking a bit deeper a different picture comes clear. The plant was converted into a biomass plant in 2011 and was closed in 2013. The reason is recognizable for those who follow the green energy production story. Because it was a renewable energy plant they got subsidies. 8 million euro per month, meaning 96 million per year. That is a bit less than 1/10 of all subsidies in Flanders for biomass, solar and inland wind together.

In principle they weren’t entitled for subsidies, because subsidies are only given for biomass plants that burn waste materials like bark, pruned branches, twigs, root woods and so on. Initially they got permission to burn wood pellets, but the wood processing industry objected the decision because it was unfair competition.

The market disturbed by subsidizing of economically inviable “green” energy. Where did we hear that before?

The subsidies were retracted and Electrabel, the owner, closed it. Without subsidies the plant will run at a loss.

Also no surprises here.

Now a solution was found. Max Green will get subsidies again, but they had to guarantee that they would only use wood from abroad.

Importing wood from abroad. Do they still call that green energy?

In the end, how much energy does that largest biomass plant of Belgium produces that we should call us lucky for it restarting, mostly unreported, wait for it … 180 MW. We need additionally more than 2,000 MW on peak moments and if it is true that our import from abroad is compromised, we are looking at much more than that. 180 MW will hardly make a dent, a very expensive one that is. Why is the media cheering an economically not viable solution with a minimal result that disrupt the market of those that do make sense?

“Installed capacity” versus “electricity produced”

One thing that I notice in the media is how easy it is to confuse “installed capacity” and “electricity produced”. An example is an article in the printed edition of “Het Laatste Nieuws” (a Belgian newspaper) about our looming shortage of electricity next winter. The journalist made the following calculation:

Wind and water 1,800 MW
Fossil fuels 5,500 MW
Nuclear power 1,912 MW
Import from abroad 3,500 MW (?)

In a very cold winter we need about 14,000 MW at peak moments. With the remark that we still have no idea if we can trust having the much needed 3,500 MW import from abroad. Even if we could trust having this imported electricity, we fall short about 1,300 MW according to these numbers.

The problem is the 1,800 MW number for “wind and water”. As it is used, one would think that this 1,800 MW is something to count on. It is assumed it is as reliable as the other numbers. Yet that is not the case. Meaning that the journalist is lowballing the shortage.

That 1,800 MW seems familiar to me. 1,778.95 MW to be exact, is the current nameplate capacity of wind energy, not the real output that we would expect. It doesn’t mean we get that much electricity from wind. It is the number that we expect when the wind blows optimal across the whole country and only for that long. This hasn’t happened before.

Let’s look at the real number of the production of electricity by wind and water in Belgium. It can be found on the Elia website I started making screenshots the day I started to write this post:

Source: Elia

Source: Elia

The water-part of this is probably from the pumped storage power station of Coo that is pumping water to a higher basin (therefor the negative production at some moments) and later producing power when it is needed by letting the water flow in the lower basin again.

It is obvious from these graphs that nowhere in this period there was a production of 1,800 MW by wind and water. Not even close. The first day there was a peak of about 800 MW for a few hours. The second day around 400 MW for some brief moments. The third day there was a peak of somewhat more than 1,000 MW but only for a very, very brief moment. If we ignore the fact that the water-part sometimes uses electricity, the wind/water power source goes from about 10 MW to about 1,000 MW. And those peaks were only for a very short short time. Far from being 1,800 MW continuously.

This also clearly shows the intermittent nature of wind power. In those three days there were several periods that there was hardly any electricity production by wind. For example on the 20th the generation of electricity was extremely low, also at peak hours. The same with the production on the 21th before noon. Suppose this was winter and suppose we would solely rely on wind (and solar) as some think is plausible, at that time we would need as much capacity from conventional sources as there is consumption to fill in that gap. If that conventional power would not available, we would experience a blackout. That is the Achilles heel of wind and solar power. Backup is needed for those times that there is little wind and solar. Like at peak hours in winter.

People often confuse between installed capacity and actual production. Even journalists and politicians alike. Proven by this article in the newspaper. They assume that renewable energy is the same as its conventional counterpart. But renewables are a completely other beast with specific properties, such as intermittency.

It is not because 1,800 MW is installed that 1,800 MW is produced continuously.

Why the media only talks about blackouts and not about the cause?

why only telling about blackouts and not about the cause

Since last week we got to hear a lot of news stories about our country not been able to provide electricity to its citizens next winter. Elia, our power grid operator created a list of villages that could be cut off from the power grid in case of an imminent power outage. That the government and the net operator were contemplating cutting rural villages off the grid was already known for a couple years by now. What was new is that an actual list was made. It contains a number of villages divided into six areas. According to the severity of the blackout threat the net operator can cut power in one or more of those areas. The mayors of some villages were obviously not amused. The list was not publicized, so they don’t know if their village is on the list and risk being cut off next winter.

Some background. In the past our country was powered for the biggest part by nuclear power plants. They produced about 55% of our electricity. They were planned to be closed in next years, but because our power infrastructure was old, that date was postponed several times. In the meanwhile small cracks were found in the cooling water basin of two of them and they were closed, another plant was temporary closed for maintenance and a week ago one came to an emergency stop, suspected due to sabotage.

This meant that we now only have one third of our nuclear capacity (base load) left. Now electricity consumption is still low, there seems to be no problem yet. But this could change in winter time when wind and solar sources underperform during our biggest consumption of the year and our neighbors (except France) have the same problem. This meant that our government and our grid operator Elia decided to cut some communities off the grid when an outage is eminent and other measures didn’t work.

People got angry when they heard there was a list made, but was not publicized. That is not hard to understand, if those people knew they are on that list and having a high risk of being cut off the grid, those citizens could prepare should the situation occur. Which is not possible if they are unsure about being on the list or whether Elia will cut off the whole of that village or just a part. Interesting information to get when one want to be prepared.

A Belgian newspaper asked cities and villages whether they knew they are in a risk zone and if they were taking measures already. Some did know that they live in a risky area and some of those already have emergency plans, like emergency generators. But most of the villages that responded didn’t even know if they are at risk or not. The village that I live in doesn’t know whether they are on that list, but have some emergency plans when it would happen. Next month they will get to know if they are on that list or not.

What I missed in all the reporting on this issue is that there was no mention whatsoever about the cause: the renewable energy policy of our country. Those wind/solar policies have a disruptive effect on other sources of electricity. Generous subsidies and the priority rule that make other power sources unprofitable. Which means no upgrade or building new power plants and sticking with our old, less reliable, infrastructure. We are now paying the price for this. There is of course also the missmatch of wind and solar versus consumption in winter, which will make the situation worse if it happens.

The most interesting are those articles in which it was possible to comment. Reading those comments it was clear that the public knows exactly what the issue is all about.

Here you have it. The media doesn’t know about the issue or doesn’t want to tell about it, while members of the public already figured it out. Even despite the persistent failure of the media and our politicians to report on it.

Update 1
Currently there also seems to be a problem with our ability to import electricity from abroad. The high voltage transmission station that connects us with the French power grid failed last March and is still in repair, probably finished next year. It failed by a lack of lubricating oil. This seems similar to the problem of the now non-active nuclear plant Doel 4. Also a lack of lubricating oil was the cause why the plant came to an emergency stop. Some think it could be an act of malice.

Whatever the cause, it decreases our ability to receive power from France when we will need it most. If we were in a pickle by the close down of those four nuclear plants, then we are in deep shit now.

Update 2
Another transmission station, this time one that is connecting our country with The Netherlands, is in maintenance, therefor also limiting the import from there.

Update 3
There was a lot of cheering that a solution was found. The reactor Tihange 1 would be active from November on, so will be available in winter in stead of being in maintenance. Nice of course, but as far as I know this was not even the problem. The problem was that 3 reactors were closed in quick succession. Sure, it would help that Tihange 1 will be back in production, but this wasn’t the problem in the first place.

Not knowing both sides of the issue means any decision made is uninformed

In last post I gave examples of the very one-sided arguments used pro wind and solar energy. One could say: what is all that fuss about? Renewable sources are definitely not perfect, but could be used in our electricity needs. When we tell about the disadvantages, policy makers may be not as keen to invest in them. Kind of throwing out the good with the bad.

On the other hand, what if our policy makers only hear this:

  • Renewables are cheap
  • They are clean
  • Using them prevent emissions
  • They can be treated as fossil fuel energy sources
  • They can be fitted in our current grid
  • They can replace fossil fuels
  • We can switch now with the current technology
  • We have to subsidize them in order to promote their use

and do not hear this:

  • Wind and solar have low energy density and the devices that catch them are very expensive
  • There are emissions in all stages: production, transportation, construction, producing electricity and scrapping.
  • One also needs to account for the backup power needed and that backup plant will probably use conventional fuels
  • It is intermittent, so the statement that “windmill x can provide electricity for y number of people” is flawed
  • It can destabilize a grid when for example production of renewables is high and consumption is low. Or vice versa
  • Renewables have a low energy density and can not replace a fuel with high energy density
  • Our current society is highly dependent on fossil fuel
  • Subsidizing can disrupt the other power sources in our grid by making them unprofitable

How could you expect them to take well-informed decisions on integrating intermittent power into our society? They need to know the pros and cons to be able to balance them. If they don’t know both sides of the issue, any decision they make about it is uninformed.

Move along, there are absolutely no issues with wind and solar energy

The opinion piece by Luc Pauwels about the specter of the black-out was not only interesting because of what it said, but also for its comments. Those were remarkably on topic and valuable points were raised. Yet, one of the comments stood out of the rest. It is the prefect example of the one-sidedness of the arguments used by the supporters of green energy.

That particular comment was made by Chris Derde. He seems to be the director of Fortech (a company that operates wind mills) and manager of “Wase wind” (idem dito). He obviously tries to defend the standpoint of green energy production and seemingly doing it in extremes.

Before we go to the comment, let’s first summarize what the opinion piece was about: the increase of electricity of wind and solar put a strain on the Belgian power grid. The grid manager, Elia, is having more difficulties to balance the load and in the last years our grid came very close to a black-out several times.

The comment is originally in Dutch, but I translated it to English. This is how it starts:

There has never been too much green power in Belgium or the EU. However, when there was gratis pure fuel of wind and solar available, nuclear waste was still produced, coal and gas burned to generate electricity. That’s a shame!

Continue reading

No guarantee that the lights will stay on

lights out

While Bond Beter Leefmilieu are claiming that we need “more green energy to avoid black-outs” in winter, there are other voices in this matter. It are the voices of those who have to deliver that electricity in a continuous way to the grid. Melchior Wathelet (until a couple weeks ago Belgian Secretary of State for Energy) and the Belgian net manager Elia became more pessimistic over time as reported by Luc Pauwels in his opinion piece The specter of the black-out. Luc Pauwels, himself the energy expert of the VRT (Flemish broadcast station), made this analysis before. As did the Secretary of State (translated from Dutch):

I can not guarantee that the lights will stay on.

I have heard that quote many times before in the last year. The “plan” now seem to be that when a black-out is looming, the plants with high electricity demand will be asked to take less electricity and slowdown or stop their activities for a while. If this doesn’t work and back-out is still close, then electricity will be cut off in some areas in the country side in order to save the grid…

What are the problems they foresee? The context is rather similar as painted by Bond Beter Leefmilieu in previous post. We need the most energy in the winter months during weekdays at the start of the evening. But at that moment the electricity production from renewables is the lowest and that energy have to come from somewhere. We need the least energy in summer when people are on vacation. At that moment electricity production from renewables is high. The more we rely on renewables in our electricity production,the more difficult the balancing act will be.

Our net manager Elia already is having problems coping with the electricity demand during the winter months. In the last years we came several times to a near black-outs. A black-out in winter in Belgium could spell disaster. We depend heavily on electricity and it could even affect other systems. For example, I heat my house with natural gas, but without electricity the pump that sends the heated water to the radiators will not work anymore. Even if there is natural gas available in times of a black-out, my heating system will be dead in the water. No heating and freezing temperatures is not a good combination.

The analysis of Luc Pauwels, as well as of Elia and the Secretary of State, is that the increase of intermittent energy sources puts strain on the grid. To make it worse, the priority given to green energy makes it difficult for other energy plants. They now run at suboptimal capacity and becoming less profitable to operate. Some had to close their doors. Our energy infrastructure is old and has a need for renewal, yet because of subsidies to green energy projects and the priority given to the energy from these projects, it is also not profitable anymore to build new ones. This means it will get more difficult for our net manager to balance the variable load.

The engineers of Elia are the ones that are actually doing the balancing act and have to solve the technical issues that the activists fail to see. As far as I can see they do a good job considering the lights stayed on although we came very close to black-outs several times in the last years. But for how long?

Avoiding blackouts just by replacing reliable power sources with intermittent ones

just wait until the wind kicks in again

It keeps surprising me how many people actually think that electricity production by wind and solar is a continuous process. It probably has to do with the media that paints electricity generation of green energy as equal to that of fossil fuels, only cleaner. In that light this little message from Els Bonte (Dutch) makes some sense, although her naive thought made me laugh (translated from Dutch):

green electricity → less likely to get a blackout.
So join the group purchasing greenpeace green power!

It was made two years ago and was from a movement that wanted to make at least one nuclear plants redundant, in order to have less risk of blackouts in winter. It is beyond me how she could think that removing reliable sources from our power production and replacing them with unreliable sources would make our power grid more stable!? I think she didn’t gave it much thought.

I dismissed it as an isolated case of someone talking about something she didn’t know much about. Not many people could be that naive, wouldn’t it? Well, it seemed there are. After a while I realized that the short message was apparently shared across the internet. So not only the author found this plausible, also those who shared this message were digging it. I was puzzled. As far as I know it were intermittent energy sources that made the grid unstable. So how could they ever come to the opposite conclusion that green electricity means a more stable grid?

My light bulb moment came when reading the 2013 e-zine Reopening nuclear power plants increases the risk of black-out from Bond Beter Leefmilieu (could be translated as “Federation Better Environment”) that went to the heart of the myth and could explain this naive mindset best (translated from Dutch):

An imbalance between supply and demand may affect the stability of the electricity grid. With the restart of Doel 3 and Tihange 2 next Sunday, June 2, the power supply could even surpass the demand.

With a lack of capacity, security of supply is compromised. That is true during the winter months at the beginning of the evening when activity in households as well as in factories and offices is highest. But there is also an increased risk of blackouts in the event of over-production. On Easter Monday this year, with optimal weather conditions for the production of green energy, 30% green electricity was supplied to the grid. We only got rid of that excess capacity, yes, without Doel 3 and Tihange 2, with export abroad and we had to pay for it. Since the share of renewable electricity will only rise in the coming years, we ask the crucial question whether additional capacity of the nuclear power plants is desired altogether.

Jonathan Lambregs

The winter of 2013 proves otherwise
Last winter has proven that sufficient capacity is present in Belgium in order to get through difficult times. Admittedly, we have imported electricity from abroad, yet our own gas plants – a emergency solution – stayed unused. The decision to import energy instead of using the gas plants was made on financial basis. We got trough the winter months without the electricity of Doel 3 and Tihange 2.

Danger to the net
Since it is difficult to tailor the production of nuclear electricity to the demand, a constant amount of electricity will be put on the grid. For example, the stations run throughout the year at full speed guaranteed in order to absorb peak demand during the winter. And it is this constant supply that becomes a growing obstacle, in combination with an increasing proportion of flexible renewable electricity.

I was baffled. To me that sounded completely and utterly ridiculous. Nuclear plants give a constant base load to the grid, so if something makes the grid unstable, it wouldn’t be nuclear energy. Ridiculous or not, the author is obviously believing this fairytale.

Luckily, the article gave me an inside in how he came to the bizarre conclusion that nuclear plants were making the grid unstable.

As mostly in such communications, there is always a core of truth in it. There is no shred of doubt that an imbalance between supply and demand affect the stability of the grid and in that regard overproduction is as bad as too little production. It both can bring a grid on its knees. Sure, there was an overproduction on Easter Monday in 2013. And yes, it was not possible to power conventional plants down quick enough and we had to pay for exporting our overproduction (other neighbor countries had the same problem, so there was no need for it). He is also right that in winter months our need for energy is the highest, especially in the beginning of the evening on workdays. It is also true that nuclear power plants can be difficult to power down/off. It is also true that we got through the winter of 2012/2013 without the two nuclear power plants Doel 3 and Tihange 2. Those things are correct.

But then I quickly found what the fatal assumptions of the author was. It was there, all along in the article. It was fueled by that near black-out that we had on Eastern Monday of last year.

Easter Monday is a holiday in Belgium. It was sunny and windy at that time. Wind and solar that normally produce suboptimal, suddenly produced optimal and there was not much consumption because of the holiday. This meant that we had an overproduction of electricity and conventional power plants hummed on as nothing happened because it took a while before they could be powered down. The Grid Manager could avert disaster by exporting electricity to France. Danger was luckily averted, but it came very, very close to a black-out.

This let some green minded, naive activists believe that green energy was mature enough to power our country and that the nuclear power plants were the culprits of this near blackout. They couldn’t be powered down/off quick enough… That is some strange logic, but it gets even worse: he also thinks that we can produce more than enough power because, even without those two nuclear plants: we needed to export the generated extra electricity on Eastern Monday. Although he truthfully explain the context, he fails to make the observation that Eastern Monday-conditions and winter-conditions are not really comparable. On Easter Monday there was a lot of production and a small consumption. In winter there is only little production and the biggest demand of the year.

He later adds that the winter of 2013 proved that nuclear power plants are not needed. That we survived the winter of 2012-2013 without the 2,000 MW of those two plants is not necessarily proof that everything was fine and we had electricity to spare. On the contrary, we were STRUCTURALLY dependent on the supply from abroad and it came very close to black-outs in January. Not an ideal situation at all. This was no situation to glorify. We were very lucky nothing seriously happened in that period.

And yes, gas fueled power plants weren’t brought online, but not because we didn’t need them. He was right about that, the decision to not use them was a financial one. They were not used because they were too expensive to operate … due to the sky high green subsidies for green energy in the first place.

The real problem was not the nuclear plants that couldn’t be powered down, but the intermittent nature of wind and solar that was injected into a grid that isn’t capable of dealing with it. How could he ever think that an energy source that provides electricity from zero to 30% of our production can be stable in a grid that is unprepared for that? How could he ever think that removing the base load from the grid and adding even more intermittent energy sources to it would make that grid more stable? The proportion of green energy at that time was only 7% and most of that came from biomass (burning stuff) anyway. This means that energy sources that amounts on average of a couple percent, could bring our grid to its knees. I don’t want to think about what would happen when this would be 20%…

Continuous power can not be provided with non-continuous power sources, unless we can balance the load or store the energy for later use. Powering down a reliable power source in a grid (that delivers electricity in a continuous way) without a reliable replacement is just insane. That is not exactly rocket science.

How can one come to such a mindset? Thinking back to my own believer years I think it is a combination of the focus on green energy and the misrepresentation of the media that green energy has the same properties as fossil fuel energy, but just cleaner. Therefor seeing nuclear energy as an additional and discardable power source, not as the base load that it is now.

If you looked closer, that Easter Monday also showed us that green energy is not that mature after all. Sure, we had an overproduction in the afternoon, but before that there wasn’t enough energy produced and we had to import it from abroad. After the overproduction we also had too little production and again we had to import. So we had to pay twice that day: once to import electricity in the morning and in the evening when renewables weren’t producing much. But we also had to pay for exporting our overproduction in the afternoon. So even on a optimal day with loads of wind and sun, there wasn’t even enough to provide green electricity throughout the whole day.

He really got me laughing when he was saying that “renewable energy” was “flexible”.

Flexible renewables? Did he really say that?

Yep, he did. He probably meant “intermittent” or “variable”. There is nothing flexible about electricity production via wind and solar. How do wind and solar compare to that conventional plants that are so hard to power down? Our current conventional power plants are old and don’t have the same flexibility that newer models have for powering down. But before all they are reliable sources of energy. It is possible to simulate the electricity consumption throughout the day and that is needed when providing electricity in a continuous way on the grid.

As far as I know this is not even remotely possible with that “flexible” wind and solar energy.

The other side of the pause

One of the first followers of this blog, eSell, asked in the post “You got to have faith (about the pause as seen by the KNMI) if I could give my opinion on an article he found on the Royal Society website called 10. Does the recent slowdown of warming mean that climate change is no longer happening?. Because I was planning to do a post on the pause anyway, I decided to upgrade that reply to a post. This post to be exact. Following are my opinions on this article as an interested member of the public.

First let me say that it is some change that climate scientists (other than the “3%” skeptic ones) start to acknowledge the existence of the pause. That was different just a couple years ago. The mainstream media still doesn’t even mention it, at least here in Belgium. Most members of the public are not even aware of it, they think temperatures are still going up rapidly.

It also caught my attention that the term global warming was not used once. Although they were speaking about rising global avearage temperatures, they insisted on using the term climate change. They probably want to avoid confusion talking about global warming in a period when there is no global warming for one and a half decade.

Back to the article. As often in climate communication, the statements that were made were basically correct, but very one-sided and it is more important what they didn’t say.

It is correct that a cooling trend of about a decade and a half is not that significant in the long term. As far as the sparse data can be trusted, there has been a warming trend since the measurements started in the 1850s. There were also cooling trends during 1880-1910 and 1950-1980. The climate system is more like a cycle and it will warm or cool, about every 30 years or so.

It is also true that the subsequent peaks were higher than the previous and while we have technically a standstill of temperatures it is still at a high level.

It is also true that air can hold much less heat than water, that oceans (3/4 of the earth surface) have a big influence on the climate and that during El Niño events heat is coming out of the ocean. The 1998 El Niño was a very big one that left a very strong spike in the global temperature record and was also a step change in the records.

It is true that the sun is less active.

It is true that volcanic activity can increase the amount of (reflective) aerosols and have an cooling effect on temperatures.

It is true that there has been heatwaves in 2003, 2012 and 2013.

They basically state that it is a combination of heat going in the oceans in stead of in the air (where it is being measured), combined with some small influences like the low sun acitvity and volcanoes.

I heard that argument before. Global warming is not noticeable anymore because the heat is going into the (deep) ocean in stead of in the air. In this article the explanation seemed to be centered around the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which is a naturally occurring phenomenon. It consists of a El Niño phase and a La Niña phase. During a La Niña event there is a heat uptake in the east-central tropical Pacific Ocean. The ocean surface will warm by the radiation of the sun. The trade winds will pile up the water at the Western side and hold that warm water below the surface. This means that a cool surface will be measured because the warm water is hidden below that cool surface. When those winds slow down, the piled up water sloshes back to the East and the warm water is coming back to the surface. A warm surface will be measured. This could give a spike in the global temperature records, like for example the 1998 El Niño event which even gave a step change bringing global temperatures to a higher level than before. It is now said that if a next strong El Niño events comes (some day it will come) temperatures could rise again. Et Voilà, global warming is back again.

The remark of the sun activity is a surprise to me. Indeed, solar activity is low, but in the past the sun has been neglected as a potential cause. It is the first time I see it being used as an argument for the pause by scientists who adhere to the anthropogenic warming theory. They think the influence is small though. The same with volcanoes. They think that it is a small effect. Yet, some think that the warming of the planet will cause more volcano eruptions in Northern latitudes because of melting ice which results in less pressure on the earth’s crust…

That is no real surprise. They can’t say ENSO, solar activity and volcanoes are a big influence, because they believe that the influence of (anthropogenic) CO2 is the main driver of the increased global temperatures. So those natural influences can’t be big, otherwise it would go against the theory. Yet they are big enough to counter the temperature rise expected from CO2.

Does this mean that they are right that natural variability is masking the anthropogenic warming? Could be, but not necessarily. The influence of the natural variation on the pause is only part of the equation. If one accepts that a low solar activity and La Niña events have enough oumph to substantially mask the increase, then we should also accept that earlier high solar activity and predominantly El Niño events have enough oumph to substantially attribute to the earlier rise. One can not separate them both. It is not only during this pause that these have an effect, they were also part of the rise.

They may be right that the pause may not invalidate the theory of anthropogenic warming, but it definitely makes it weaker. The anthropogenic warming theory says that CO2 is the main driver of temperature rise in our climate system. In that decade and a half we were responsible for about 30% of all human emitted CO2 in the atmosphere. Although we emitted unprecedented amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere, we saw a standstill of temperatures, yet according to the theory we would expect to find an increase. Not only from the emissions in that time frame of the pause, but also the long term forcing of the accumulation of the CO2 that was emitted from the 1950s until the late 1990s. The pause tells us that there is at least one, probably more, elements in the climate system that are as big as the forcing of all that CO2 is. Otherwise it could not hold back temperatures with an unprecedented load of CO2 in the atmosphere.

This natural variation has not been accounted for by climate models (which are based on the theory), so they never foreseen the pause and are running way too high. This is the comparison Dr. Roy Spencer made of 90 climate models and two observational datasets (one surface dataset in green and one satellite based in blue):

CMIP5 models vs observations

Source: Source: Dr. Roy Spencer

Only two model runs come in the neighborhood of the observations. All the rest is (way) above. Yet, these are the things we base our policies on.

They also don’t tell about other problems with the theory. The highest absolute temperatures were measured in the 1940s, before humans emissions started to rise strongly. Not only that, the slope of the rise in temperatures during the 1910-1940s is quite similar to that of the 1980s-2000s. So the assumed natural temperature rise has the same slope as the assumed anthropogenic temperature rise.

Which brings us to other possible cause(s) of the rise: what was the cause for the rise of the 1850s-1880s and later of the 1910s-1940s? This couldn’t have to do with human emissions. What we do know from history is that in the 1850s we came out a period called the Little Ice Age, which was a cold period of ± 500 year. A competing theory is that our current rise in temperatures is caused by the recovery of that cold period. If there was a cold period of about 500 years, why would a subsequent period of 160 year having gradual higher temperatures be that unusual?!

The graph they added (that was showing that there was really a trend upwards in the instrumental record) was probably to frame anthropogenic warming as a long time trend. Yet in the light of the a possible recovery of the Little Ice Age, this could well be a meaningless exercise.

The future will tell. One thing is sure, change will happen. Up or down. Temporary or a step change. We are now in a situation were we put unprecedented amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere. China and India are developing. Africa wants to join in too. Whether we want it or not, we are actually doing the “experiment” of seeing what happens when CO2 levels increase. The longer the pause lasts, the bigger the discrepancy between the theory and what we observe. And the worse it looks for the theory.