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?

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