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 case 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 that 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.

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