Monthly Archives: August 2015

From pot, kettle and renewables

In the category “strong statements”, today an interesting reaction on the news of the nuclear reactor getting offline last week Thursday. It came from Johan Vande Lanotte, former Minister and current member of the Chamber of Representatives for the Flemish socialist party. In his own style he stated: if renewable energy failed so often, this government would have quit it a long time ago.

I had to chuckle when I read this. I hope he isn’t talking about wind and solar. These are not exactly the pinnacle of reliability and not exactly chosen for their performance either. As seen in one of previous posts, solar energy doesn’t contribute much to the morning and to the evening peak, the time of the day when the demand for electricity is highest. Even in this season when days are rather long and nights short. In the wintertime, when the demand is highest over the year, the contribution of solar energy to our electricity production during the peaks is non existing.

Adding wind energy doesn’t seem to make it much better, at least not currently. Just look at the last seven days:

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The saviors versus the realists

Continuing on the short, but misleading article about solar energy doing better than nuclear on August 13, in the comments there was an interesting conversation of some solar panel owners who complained that they have to pay extra for their use of the grid. It started like this (translated from Dutch):

incredible that we, owners of solar panels once more have to cough up a hefty amount extra because we use the grid. Long live Belgium.

Alluding to the fee to be paid by all those who produce electricity and put it on the grid. Initially, individual home owners with solar panels were exempt to promote the installation of solar panels, but later it was ruled that also home owner had to pay the fee. Another comment followed up on that: (translated from Dutch):

Today I have consumed nothing and produced a lot. I now must pay for that …. Meanwhile, my energy is sold. I call that theft

Another commenter seems better informed and turned the tables (translated from Dutch):

Energy from solar panels is expensive and over-subsidized. It is because of them that we now pay about 80 euro more per year. Yet some believe that they should receive more compensation, that is barking mad. If the meter turns backwards, you are selling your energy at the price that you’d otherwise have to pay and then there are the certificates. Theft.

Later someone with the handle “Dumb blonde 1” jumped in, repeating the “solar energy saved the day (notwithstanding this argument being tackled before) and living up to the chosen handle (translated from Dutch, some interpunctuation added for clarity):

should all solar panel owners disconnect their system now, then all those jealous people would be without power like in Poland not long ago. Actually, now is the time to pull together against the unjust transport costs and to those jealous people, the person who puts the energy on the net that he didn’t consume gets no euro cent for that, those are sold by the company and is pure profit for them. The solar panel owner only gets the certificate

Well, I don’t think that this is what reality shows. Luckily sanity prevailed when another commenter dropped by (translated from Dutch):

If all solar panel owners switch their systems off, then no one would fall without power. This happens every night and every time there is insufficient or no sun. The fossil backup then kicks in and all the lights will stay on. A solar panel has a efficiency of 15%. This has nothing to do with jealousy but with pure natural laws, which are the same for everyone, rich or poor, solar panel owner or not.

That is hitting the nail on the head.

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Solar panels came to the rescue … in the dark

The media story that for the first time more solar energy was producted than nuclear energy was hilarious when one understood the situation or when one had some background. The others where put on the wrong track. This was clear from the non-critical comments on that article. For example this very condensed comment of someone coming to the defense of solar panel owners (translated from Dutch, interpunctuation added by me for clarity reasons):

and then complaining about people with solar panels, happy we have these people, otherwise we were again without power

This reaction was made in the light of the criticism on people with solar panels. They received this criticism already some time because they make the energy invoice more expensive, but this was recently stirred up again when our current federal government decided to increase the energy price and one (rather large) part of that cost is the financing of green certificates (is an amount of money paid to panel owners for each 1,000 kWh produced). Which explains the “complaining about people with solar panels”-part of the comment.

The second part was a bit harder to understand. The commenter apparently understood the story from the media as:

nuclear power reactor gets offline → solar energy had a good day and took over → Hooray! A victory for solar power in Belgium!

However, that is not what actually happened in the real world. This is what happened that day:

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More solar than nuclear energy produced in Belgium … or maybe not

Last Thursday, a Belgian nuclear reactor (Tihange 3) went offline just after midnight. There seemed to be a technical defect that triggered an automatic stop. Luckily this didn’t happen in winter. The defect was fixed, but the owner took the opportunity to do the maintenance a couple months earlier than foreseen, so the reactor will only be put back online at the end of the month. That makes five of the seven reactors are now offline.

This gave rise to the expected hooray messages in the media: “More solar than nuclear energy produced in Belgium today for the first time”. A message apparently attributed to the VTM television news. This is how it goes (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

Because of the failure of Tihange, now five of the seven nuclear reactors in our country are not working. As a result, today more solar energy than nuclear energy was produced in our country.

That never happened before. From a quarter past eleven this morning, solar panels delivered around 1,550 megawatts of electricity, more than the 1,450 megawatts of nuclear power plants.

And then the solar panels delivered less than expected because of mist and light clouds. When the sun is shining, they can generate almost twice as much energy.

Sure, since Tihange 3 went offline, solar energy production was higher than nuclear … for as long as it took:

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(The idealization) of the science in climate science

It has been more than a month when I wrote a post about Tom Peterson who explained the adjustments done in the Karl et al paper. At that time it surprised me that he decided to sent his correspondence to a blog that is characterized with ad hominem attacks on a regular basis by its blog owner. If this is his preference, I wondered about his mindset.

On the same page of the posting, there was a youtube video of a TEDX talk of Tom Peterson about “what is science and how it differs from Art, Law and Quackery” about how he sees science and more specific climate science. It was a succession of quotes from other scientists about science, luckily mixed with some personal thoughts. Listening to the discourse I could basically agree with his statements, but with most of them I had the question how they fit in with climate science. Here are the highlights that surprised me:

Science is the process, key is testing
Well, I can agree with that.

Must be falsifiable
He gives the example of aunt Mildred who claims that there is a ghost in her closet, yet because there is no way of testing this, it is not scientific, he goes even so far telling that therefor it hasn’t something to do with reality. Nice example, maybe a bit strongly put, but how much does this relate to global warming, knowing that the central tenet of the AGW theory (that CO2 is the main driver of global warming) is, well, not falsifiable either? Neither are the mathematical models. Does that mean climate scientists are not talking about reality? Just sayin’ 😉

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Wind powered trains

Last Friday I read this headline in the paper version of a Flemish newspaper (Het Nieuwsblad) (translated from Dutch):

Wind powered trains

The journalist of course doesn’t mean that our Belgian trains will be retrofitted with gigantic sails. Or a wind turbine on top. The story goes like this: 20 windmills of a nominal capacity of 2MW will be erected along a railroad track, those will be connected to the grid and the electricity generated by the wind will power 170 trains, even having some spare fulfilling the electricity needs of about 36,000 families.

What is not to like?

As you can guess this is only part of the story and no background is given by the journalist. Those windmills obviously don’t directly deliver the electricity for those trains to drive (otherwise only a small number of trains will drive when there is little wind and even no trains will drive when there is no wind). What he actually means is that those windmills produce ON AVERAGE enough electricity to let those 170 trains drive. The problem with this is that trains don’t drive ON AVERAGE, they (should) have a strict schedule.

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Learning from the pros: reframing the issue

If the controversy on the use of the Lubos_Motl handle by John Cook was interesting enough, the response of Skeptical Science was even more interesting.

This is how they introduce the issue to the readers:

A number of peer-reviewed studies have observed a link between climate science denial and conspiratorial thinking.

Hey, I know where this is going! Seemingly they want to frame their opponents as conspiratorial thinkers on the basis of these “peer-reviewed studies”.

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