Do wind and solar help to keep our lights on in winter?

power-shortage

Minister Wathelet introduces the plan to shut off certain areas from the grid Source: Belga

The moment has come. Our government showed their plan of disconnecting the rural areas in case of an imminent blackout. The village I live in is classified in level 6: it is in the group that will be first to be disconnected from the grid 😦 So, if a problem occurs with the energy security next winter, we will be the first to experience the consequences…

Elia factors in 49 hours of shortage of electricity in a normal winter and 116 hours in a severe winter. This will be on peak demand. Luckily it is not anticipated taking longer than 3 hours at a time.

In all the reporting I saw, it is stated that nuclear energy is the culprit of this debacle. In a way this is understandable, we lost half of our nuclear capacity in a short time frame, so this surely will have an impact on our energy security. But the nuclear exit is not something unexpected. Our politicians knew exactly that our nuclear plants were to be closed soon. It was already decided in 2003 and from next year the first plants would have to close.

Were no investments done? Well, on the contrary, A LOT of investments were done. For wind and solar. These investments pushed other sources of energy production out of the market and instead of building new power stations to accommodate for the nuclear exit, older power stations were closed and no new ones build. The first new gas plants are expected in … 2019. They are not even ordered yet. There has been substantial investments, but not in technology that could help us out in this situation.

So instead of being ready for our nuclear exit, our power generation plants are old and decreasing in number, when they should be on the increase. If something happens we are screwed. Therefor it is the over-investment in economically not viable energy sources that brought us into this dire situation.

I find it hyprocritical of our green (and socialist party) politicians to blame our looming power shortage on nuclear power. If there wasn’t an oversubsidizing of wind/solar/biomass and some investments were reserved for base load power generation, our grid wouldn’t be in disarray and we wouldn’t be in this situation. This seems overlooked completely in our media.

With increasing suprise I also took note of the puzzling statement of a mayor of a village that will be cut off the grid (translated from Dutch):

[…]

Own wind turbine

Mayor Hans Vandenberg (CD&V) of the village of Bekkevoort wants more action on green power. “I see that we are one of the few municipalities in the Hageland (a geographical area) that has two wind turbines on their territory,” he says. “If there would be one everywhere, there would be less power shortage, but not all governments here give the green light for this. Higher government should have to emphasize that more.

[…]

That is very short sighted. I think he didn’t really think it through. How much better would it be if our national energy production would be provided with an increased proportion of wind and solar? So let us look at the data. In the last two weeks I was following the electricity generation of our national grid from the different energy sources. Some days were quite sobering. For example:

Figure 1: Belgian energy by wind on August 20, 2014. Source: elia.be

Figure 1: Belgian energy by wind on August 20, 2014. Source: elia.be

Figure 2: Belgian energy by wind on August 24, 2014. Source: elia.be

Figure 2: Belgian energy by wind on August 24, 2014. Source: elia.be

Figure 3: Belgian energy by wind on August 25, 2014. Source: elia.be

Figure 3: Belgian energy by wind on August 25, 2014. Source: elia.be

Figure 4: Belgian energy by wind on September 1, 2014. Source: elia.be

Figure 4: Belgian energy by wind on September 1, 2014. Source: elia.be

Figure 5: Belgian energy by wind on September 2, 2014. Source: elia.be

Figure 5: Belgian energy by wind on September 2, 2014. Source: elia.be

We see moments in which only one or a few MW’s is generated by wind while our nameplate capacity is 1,800 MW. That is about 0.1% of the optimal production! Most of the production stays under 100 MB. If we look at the periods of peak demand (in the morning from 7 AM until 9 AM and in the evening from 5 PM until 8 PM) we spot some problems. In figure 1 we see very little production in the morning peak as well in the evening peak. In figure 2 we see a crash in the evening peak. In the others we see a dip in the morning peak. If something like that happens in winter (there is more risk to it because wind and sun will be less available than now) we will need backup capacity for almost the total peak energy demand! And those plants should be spinning in the background and be shut down for most of the year. Not very profitable.

And what about solar? Will that not help? It is producing at daytime when we need more electricity than at night. True, but in winter this is not going to save us. In the morning peak as well in the evening peak it will get/be dark already and production will be low/non-existing. The power shortage problem is all about peak demand in winter.

Seeing all this, it is no wonder that the countries with the most renewables are among the least reliable ones. Yet this is not what the media is telling us. The underlying problem is not nuclear plants that are put offline, but the failure to make investments in baseload power generation to replace old nuclear plants that need to be replaced anyhow. Instead huge amounts of money were diverted to a technology that is not economically viable and doesn’t help us keeping the lights on at peak demand.

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