Wind breaking all records … for as long as it takes

Today we got cheering in the Belgian media about a new record of wind energy production. It goes like this: energy production from wind energy reached a new record last Monday. There was a production of 38,8 GWh that day, enough electricity for about 4 million families and about 15% of the total energy demand. The previous record was from December 11.

One of them even said that thanks that thanks to the good production of wind energy and the re-opening of nuclear reactor Doel 4, there is no threat of a blackout at this moment.

Yeah right.

As far as I know the risk of a blackout is when the temperature is around -6 °C and during peak at working days. There are no freezing temperatures at the moment and we are at the beginning of a holiday week. Very small risk of a blackout, with or without wind energy. The risk will rise again beginning of January until March-April or so.

One commenter in an online news magazine said jokingly: “So if there is no wind for a moment, are we risking a blackout then?”. Touché.

This is something I have seen before. When it comes to alternative energy sources, we only hear the good things. When a wind mill is erected, we hear triumphantly that it will generate power “for x number of families”. When there is a record we got to hear how good the technology does and sometimes even an excited cry that we are getting somewhere in our energy independence… No context is given that this is actually just a snapshot of production in a very small time frame.

What we in general get to hear from the media is this:

  1. Alternative sources are a good replacements of fossil fuels
  2. It always get better and better
  3. When numbers are given, we get to hear the nameplate capacity, not the real capacity

What we don’t get to see is this:

  1. Alternative sources are intermittent and need backup to work properly
  2. The production depends strongly on the availability of sun and wind, not necessarily of the time we need more or less power.
  3. Nameplate capacity is not actual production
  4. What happened to the energy that was produced before or after we had a need for it?
  5. This is only a small part of the truth, this is only the high ends for a few hours or a couple days, ignoring the rest of the time where there is (much) less production

To illustrate the issue, this is the electricity production from wind in the last month:

Electricity production in Belgium from wind from November 25, 2014 to December 24, 2014

Electricity production in Belgium from wind from November 25, 2014 to December 24, 2014 (Source: http://www.elia.be/en/grid-data/power-generation/wind-power

It fluctuated strongly from 0.002% just before noon of November 29 to 91% in the late evening (just after peak) of December 22. That is a range of 91%! Remember, the goal is to put electricity on the grid in a continuous way.

Only one source dare to give a tiny balance in their reporting: that it was not a good year for wind energy … except for now. That gives it a different dimension. So why is it that when it comes to alternative energy that we only get the good news and hardly any bad news? And with climate communication it is the contrary, we get only to hear the bad news and hardly any good news?

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