Monthly Archives: January 2016

Declaring one’s intention to switch provider is not the same as actually saving electricity at peak hour

gray to green

The new campaign of the Flemish Green Party (Dutch) is rather confusing. It is difficult to determine what they are trying to achieve. If we just look at the title it is rather clear: “We close Doel”. Doel being the two nuclear reactors Doel 1 and 2. I can understand that. These are the two oldest reactors in our country and if they are not needed, as they say, then they can just as well be closed.

There was also the statement in their FAQ that by saving electricity in the evening consumption peak, those two reactors would become redundant. I also can understand that. The grid has to accommodate the highest consumption. In our country that is in winter, specifically during the evening peak. If that evening peak is lower or non-existent, then less supply needs to be guaranteed.

But, remarkably, this is not how the campaign is conducted (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

You too can make a difference. Switch today to a green energy supplier and make the closure of the nuclear power plants possible. Sign up and receive immediately a useful road map in your mailbox.

The motto of the campaign is: From gray to green. Gray meaning “gray electricity” (from non-renewable sources) and green meaning “green electricity” (from renewable sources). Basically, people can fill in a poll and declare that they want to switch provider, from gray to green. Or, as an alternative, to declare that they already did so in the past. If they choose that they want to switch, they will get additional information how to perform this switch. Central at the home page is a counter that keeps track of the kWh of those who are willing to switch to a green provider (not sure though what happens with those who declare they already switched).

So people could make a difference by … just declaring their intention to switch to a green energy provider? But more importantly: what has switching to a green provider practically has to do with making Doel 1 and 2 redundant? If those who switch to a “green” supplier still use electricity at peak moments, then consumption will not change anyway.

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In order to save 5 kWh, one needs to have a consumption of at least 5 kWh

wij sluiten doel

The Flemish Green Party (Groen) has a new campaign: We close Doel (Dutch). Doel being the two nuclear reactors Doel 1 and 2. The campaign itself is rather confusing, but more about that in a later post. This post will be about a puzzling statement in their FAQ that caught my attention. It is part of the answer of the question whether, ahem, “the climate needs nuclear energy”. This is the statement (my emphasis):

Nevertheless there are a lot of opportunities in Belgium to take a different approach. If 180,000 people reduce their energy use by 5 kWh during peak moments (between 6 and 7 PM), then we can achieve a savings equivalent to the capacity of Doel 1 and 2.

I heard this claim before and thought it was unrealistic anyway. But while I had no details back then, I ignored it. Now I got some more details and I could reconstruct their argument:

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Creative accounting with wind energy

As seen in last post, it is deceitful to use the metric of “household equivalents” when talking about an intermittent energy source injected in a continuous working grid. It is one thing that journalists do this, but producers of wind power should know better, right? Then think again. The very first post on this blog, back in february 2013, was about such a claim made by a wind energy producer, C-power. They went even furter than this in their environmental impact page in which they paint an incredibly rosy picture of wind energy. It all starts with the “it is good for our (grand)children” meme:

“With our 325,2 MW offshore wind farm, we contribute to delivering a cleaner and safer environment to our children and grandchildren”, says CEO Jaak Rutten.

Throughout the years I have learned this to be a red flag. They continue:

Compared to the environmental impact of traditional energy sources, the environmental impact of wind power is very positive. Wind power consumes no fuel, and emits no air pollution. Wind power does not generate any toxic waste nor does it constitute a major safety risk.
The energy consumed to manufacture and transport the materials used to build a wind power plant is equal to the new energy produced by the plant within a few months.

C-Power will, with its expected yearly production of 1 TWh, avoid every year 415,000 tonnes CO2, which represents:

  • the annual CO2 absorption of a forested area of 65.000 ha
  • 1/3 of the forest area within the Flemish Region

The story they paint is so skewed that I don’t really know where to start here.

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The misleading measure of “household equivalents”

In last post there was a statement from a documentary maker about wind turbines that:

… each one [is] capable of powering 2000 households” …

Such statements are common in the media when alternative energy is concerned. For a country like Denmark I think this could somehow work, but other countries don’t have for example a couple of bigger neighbors that are able to absorb their overproduction or readily provide power when there is a shortage on their grid. Yet, also in Belgium this statement is used plentiful and, according to me, unwarranted.

The problem with this statement is that it has no relation whatsoever with reality. None of those households can actually rely on the supply of one or even more turbines. Those households get the average of the energy produced by it. In a way, one could say that over one year the turbine produces as much energy as the average yearly demand of those households.

What is not to like?

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Wind, a free source of energy and other one-sided information

danish windmills

A couple days ago I watched the Discovery Channel program “Incredible Engineering Blunders”, the episode that looked at the problem which the early Denmark offshore windmill suffer from. To summarize: the foundations of the early windmills were build on a monopile foundation, but because a windmill is very top-heavy, there are huge strains on the joints. If the grout in that connection cracks or grinds away, the windmill could sink down on the base pipe. Although there are stoppers in place that initially prevent this from happening, these were not designed to take the full load of the turbines on a permanent basis. If they crack under the pressure, the turbines could collapse into the sea.

But that was not the thing that got my interest. It was the typical way in which wind energy was described (my emphasis):

[…] I am heading out in the freezing North Sea to help to fix a blunder that threatens the lights switch off in Denmark. […]

[…] The wind that is churning up these waves and my stomach, is a free source of energy that is helping to meet Europe’s increasing power demands. […]

[…] On this site alone there are 80 turbines. Each one capable of powering 2000 households. This is a booming industry and it really is the future of power generation. […]

[…] Europe’s off shore wind turbines create a clean, unlimited power. […]

[…] They also work in deeper water, opening up more potential sites out at sea. That means cheaper, more abundant, clean power for everyone. […]

Basically, this is exactly the same what the media is tells us: wind energy is free, clean, unlimited, it can power x number of households, it already has an important share and it is the future of energy production. These are not exactly lies, but it is only part of the truth.

It threatens the light switch off

It seems to have such an important share that it threatens the lights to switch off in Denmark. That is a bit over the top. While Danish wind mills produce on average 34% of the electricity supply, that is on average. Wind energy, being intermittent, it has sometimes a higher share (and then this fact is hyped all over the media) and sometimes has a smaller share (not reported in the media). I think their negative effect on the reliability of the grid is threatening much more the lights switching off than when their share would be declining for whatever reason.

How much less than average? Well, a lot less. When downloading the Denmark wind data from 2015, the minimum production was 1.1 MWh on October 4, 2015 at 08:00 (0.023% of the installed capacity)! The total load at that time was 3008 MWh. So something was able to take over to compensate for the other 3006.9 MWh that hour. That day the production was really low, a meager 634 kWh for the full day (about 0.5% of the installed capacity). Total load was 78625 MWh. So something took over for the 77991 MWh that day. Anybody heard about that in the media?

If the other sources could compensate for such a huge dip in production, then some windmills that stop working because of foundation problems would very unlikely threaten lights to switch off…

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High concern, but low priority

A question that I have been asking myself over the last posts was how it was possible that the climate change topic could get such high scores. In almost half of the countries surveyed, more than 50% of the respondents were very concerned about Climate Change and some countries even had a score as high as 79% on climate change worries. It gives the impression that climate change is high at the list of worries of the public.

This in stark contrast with what other polls show, for example the MY World global survey 2015:

MY World 2015 overview

It shows action on climate change dead last. So what is the catch?

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China’s “top” global threat: the power of the 19%

When reading the article behind the Climate Change Quiz page of previous post, I came across a link to another article from pew with the catching title: Climate Change Seen as Top Global Threat. It seems to go back to the same survey that was used for the quiz (Spring 2015 Pew Global Attitudes Survey) and took place from March 25 to May 27, 2015. While the quiz was based on three questions from that survey on climate change, this “global threat” article was based on specifically those who said that they are “very concerned” about some threat, amongst which climate change is one.

My first thought when I saw what the other threats were: these are not all “global” threats. I don’t think that for example “Territorial disputes with China” qualifies as something “global”. But never mind, maybe it is used as something that is considered as a threat “globally”?

So I looked at their nice visualization of those “top” “global” threats:

That is not exactly “global” either!

First, there are quite some white, unsurveyed, areas on that map (about 1/4 of the population not taken into account). Second, none of those issues were “globally” considered as a threat. The only thing one could say is that there were more countries colored blue than any other color.

But then I spotted the giant elephant in the room and slowly started to understand what was exactly meant by “top” threat: among the countries that were “very concerned” about Climate Change was … China.

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Are we smart if we agree with others?

When looking for information to be used in a previous post, I came across this article: Pew: Americans the least concerned about climate change at the Washington Examiner. The thing that initially caught my attention was the first sentence:

Despite the heavy media and political pressure to make global warming and climate change the top issue in the nation, it is more of a concern to citizens in 36 of 40 other industrialized nations than in the United States, according to Pew Research Center.

I can imagine the frustation. The media and politicians did their very best to promote the global warming and climate change scare in the US, yet it was more of a concern in other countries… The irony.

But that is not what this post will be about. The most remarkable in that article was the screenshot of this tweet, just below that statement:

pew research twitter

So the challenge was to see how smart we are and how we compare to others. Not sure how smartness and agreement with others are linked. Does it mean that we are smart if we agree with others? Or vice versa? My guess is that he means that agreeing with the majority is the smartest thing to do. I can see where that comes from, but I think there are many reasons why majorities exists and those reasons are not necessarily good ones.

Anyhow, I became really curious about how I would do in that survey, so I went to the Climate Change Quiz page. These were the three questions:

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It is okay to be skeptical (but apparently not about the AGW consensus)

During the holidays, while zapping from one channel to another on television, I came across a documentary about the life of James Randi. While I have never been much interested in magicians or escape artists, I found this nevertheless an interesting program to watch. I didn’t really know much about Randi until that point. I vaguely remembered that he had something to do with the debunking of Uri Geller back in the 1970s. The part where I landed into the program was when he made a list of points to take into consideration when Geller wanted to do his tricks, effectively stopping one of Geller’s performances in its tracks. He also revealed a number of charlatans and tried to educate the public about critical thinking. What I remember from the documentary is a man in search of the truth with a scientific approach. A researcher who didn’t just believe in everything he has been told, but relied on the facts.

After I saw the documentary, I became curious: he didn’t seem to be the person to mindlessly agree with a consensus, so how would he think about the global warming controversy? Would he “believe” in it or not? So I found myself googling and it didn’t take long before I landed at his article AGW revisited at the James Randi Educational Foundation site (if you haven’t read it yet, recommended). The article dates from December 2009. Quite some time ago, back then my skepticism was only a year old and this blog wasn’t even a thought in my mind. In that article he displayed a nuanced and humble view. He agrees that our Earth is warming, he agrees that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, that we increasingly emit it in our atmosphere, that the issue is however very complex, that there is not much historical data, that science is not done by consensus, that we should occupy us with current problems and so on. That is the critical thinking Randi I saw in the documentary.

To me it didn’t look controversial at all. On the contrary, it seems more or less in line with how I think about it. He just asked whether we currently have the means of knowing with any certainty that global warming is caused by humans. He didn’t even claim that global warming didn’t exist or that humans couldn’t have some effect in it, yet apparently he got labeled a “denier” by the very people that celebrate him. He got such strong negative reactions that he wrote a follow-up: I am not denying anything (if you haven’t read it yet, also recommended to do it now).

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