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!
That there hasn’t been an overproduction of green power is just a perception that not everybody seems to share. For example, those who actually deliver electricity in a dispatchable way to the grid don’t really agree. Before the use of renewables our grid did just fine. It is when renewables entered the market that the difficulties to balance the load started. So what was the real reason for the pressure put on the grid? Were it the conventional sources (that did just fine before that)? Or the renewables with its intermittent nature?
The second sentence, gratis and pure argument, allows me understand were that comes from. If renewables are pure, gratis and have the same properties as conventional generated energy, then nobody would be surpised that someone claims that there can’t be enough green energy and and that it are conventional sources that are the problem. But are renewables really free of charge, are they so very pure and do these have the same properties? Well, it depends how one looks at it.
Sure, the wind is blowing free of charge, but the devices that catch that energy and convert it to electricity certainly aren’t! On the contrary, they are very expensive, Just look at the plentiful of subsidies they need to be able to exist. That is not hard to understand. Wind and solar energy have a low energy density, therefor needing large and expensive contraptions in remote areas to be able to catch that energy.
Sure, they are pure, but only if you don’t look at the pollution to produce them, the energy used in their construction, transportation and also the backup power plants that run at suboptimal speed and will pollute then even more.
Sure, electricity of wind and solar isn’t distinguishable from conventional sources. It are the same electrons, but they are produced in an intermittent way. You probably heard that many times before on this blog.
That is the shortsightedness of those who promote these solutions. Renewables also have a black side, not acknowledged by their promoters and the media. Ignoring important issues that need to be understood in order to make balanced decisions about using wind and solar energy to “cut emissions” or to “save fossil fuels”.
But I digress. The comment continues:
Besides, solar and wind power appears certainly predictable (see the website of ELIA). Electricity can be saved. A pumped storage power plant was build in Coo to balance production of nuclear power plants. That would better be used for renewables. Besides, a lot can be done by bringing consumption in accordance with electricity supply.
I know that Elia is predicting wind, but I don’t know their accuracy. But the fact that they claim that it is becoming more and more difficult to balance the grid, does mean they are not as good as they need to be. The same with near black outs. If they knew that there would be a lot of wind and sun on April 1th of last year, then they could have taken precautions. They obviously didn’t do that and were just managed to avert a black out by exporting energy to France, that was able to absorb it into its grid.
True, electricity can be saved, even in our tiny country. We indeed have the pumped storage of Coo. But this has a rather limited capacity of four to five hours until the reservoir is empty. It can shave off peaks by pumping up water and use that water later to produce electricity if it is needed, but that is about it.
I agree that a lot can be done to bring consumption in accordance with the intermittent supply, but this also shows the failure of green energy as a dispatchable energy source. It is not a matter of better technology that improves our live, but a technology that needs our adaptation to the quirkiness of green power generation.
The hours that the Belgian grid was under high pressure or came close to a black-out, never had to do with renewables, but always with the unexpected failure of a large nuclear power plant or even two on the same day. The moments of excess power production had to do with the inability of powering down nuclear power plants. Indeed, technically it could be done, but they don’t do it for financial reasons and now wind energy is asked to power back.
So it is always the fault of the conventional energy sources, whatever the problem. It is easier to blame something else. If the problem of blackouts is the unexpected failure of one or more large power plants, then doesn’t this mean that those conventional power plants have a very big influence on our power supply? So big that when one or more fail our energy stability is in danger. Wouldn’t that be an argument to keep them running, at least until something with the same reliability can replace it?
Currently only one third of our nuclear capacity is online. This should be the opportunity for green electricity to prove their case. This would be their chance to proof that renewables are trustworthy and can be relied on. Yet, the reality is that in this situation we don’t rely on renewables to supply us with plentiful energy, but we rely on import from abroad. More specifically France that relies for 90+ percent on nuclear energy. So in the end it all stays the same. We still rely mostly on nuclear energy. This time not nuclear from our own production in Belgium, but those produced in France. To fit in when wind and solar fail to do so.
It is hard to understand that in the past few weeks the conventional electricity companies warn about electricity shortage and simultaneously announce to close gas plants. Putting the knife on the throat of the community and letting them pay for their own bad choices.
This is an ugly one. While it is true that conventional power companies warn us about electricity shortage (in winter) and that it is announced that gas plants will get closed in the near future, he fails to show the reason for this: because of the huge subsidies for renewables, the conventional power plants become less profitable. Therefor some of them will have to close their doors. For the same reason there is also no incentive to build new power plants, which is not a good thing in a country with an old power infrastructure.
It are the same renewables he is defending that force the (gas) power plants out of business. In a economy where renewables would be used in a supply & demand-system, they wouldn’t even survive and conventional energy plants would be thriving. It is this unfair competition that drives them out of the market, not a failure to perform.
Sure, the community is paying for bad choices, but not the ones he is thinking about 😉