Monthly Archives: February 2016

Is the increasing share of renewables reducing German emissions?

Greenpeace, WWF and Bond Beter Leefmilieu published a brochure called 9 myths about the German Energiewende debunked (Dutch). When I hear that those organizations made a brochure together, then my expectation is that it will be one-sided. When reading it, my expectation quickly got confirmed. Yep, it is one-sided.

Just look at the first myth that they debunk: “The closure of nuclear power plants increases German CO2 emissions”. This title is followed by a summary, written in a large, colored font (translated from Dutch):

Since the start of the German nuclear phase-out in 2002, the CO2 emissions from the electricity sector decreased from 329 million tons to 301 million tons. The total German CO2 emissions in 2014 were 26% percent lower than in 1990.

Between 1990 and 2014, German CO2 emissions decreased by 26 procent. With that, Germany is doing even better than its Kyoto target of 21 percent. […]

That 26% figure is repeated twice already in the first few lines. It is also standing out on the second page (it is printed in boldface and in a colored, large font) (translated from Dutch):

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How sustainable is exporting excess power?

This weekend I found the Agorameter. It is a tool that shows German electricity data in real time. Not only production, but also import/export and prices. Initially I just used it to compare with the Belgian situation, but after some playing around, there was something that surprised me. Just look at this screenshot of the import/export of Germany:

I heard many times that Germany exports a lot of its electricity to its neighboring countries in the context of the energiewende, but I certainly didn’t expect it to be that much. It is clear that Germany exported much more than it imported last week. This is mostly being reported as a positive thing: much more electricity is produced than what they can use, so they can export their excess. But there is much more to it than just that and not all of it is as positive.

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The signal given by switching from gray to green. What signal?

The counter of the We close Doel”-campaign is currently at 3,295,737 kWh. The counter didn’t move much in the last week and stood at the same number for the last four days. Time to contemplate about the significance of this number.

Wij sluiten doel counter: 3295737 kWh

To recapitulate: the Flemish Green Party started a campaign to “close Doel 1 and 2” [the two smallest nuclear power reactors]. On their website, people could indicate that they were willing to change electricity provider and by calculating how many kilowatt hours can become green, they want to show that the nuclear reactors of Doel 1 and 2 could indeed be closed. This would be a “clear signal to the government”.

The number seems impressive, at least according to Flemish standards, but my question would rather be: what is the meaning of that number and, more importantly, can it be related to what the Flemish Green Party is trying to achieve? Looking at the campaign, it is not really clear what this switching from gray to green energy has to do with the closure of the two reactors, so how relevant is that number when it comes to the closure of Doel 1 and 2?

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Woods in Flanders: only counting the losses, the balance will be negative

In the controversy around the inventory of the woods in Flanders the theme was the same: woods are disappearing year after year. To recap, these are the relevant quotes from the tweet of Groen [Flemish Green Party] (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

Every year, more woods are disappearing in Flanders.


In Flanders, more woods are cleared than planted.

“More being cleared than being planted” and “more are disappearing”, if I understand that well, it means that the area is going down, so less hectares occupied by woods each year that is passing.

The same thing in the foreword of the quiz from De Afspraak [talk show on the Flemish Television] (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

Environmental organization BOS+ examined at the request of Knack [a Flemish magazine] what the real state of the woods is in Flanders. The study found there are more woods being cleared than planted, contrary to the claims of Schauvliege [Flemish Minister of Nature].

Deforestation permits were issued for on average of 300 hectares of woods per year in the past ten years. In 2014 – the latest year for which figures are available – 263 hectares were cleared. In 2012 it was 195 hectares and in 2013 193 hectares.

More being cleared than being planted, that also looks like a downward trend to me. They also looked at previous years and found that 195 hectares were cleared in 2012, 193 hectares in 2013 and 263 hectares in 2014. So from the years that were presented, one could assume that there was an increase in cleared area over the last three years.

All in all, everything in the communication seems to assume that the numbers go down, that woods got lost. Remember that 263 number. It is important further in the post.

But I had more questions than answers. It was all rather vaguely presented and only with partial numbers. Something didn’t seem right. The first red flag was that if the average number of cleared woods in the last decade is 300 hectares and in the last three years 195, 194 and 263 hectares were cleared, then what about the previous years? 194, 195 and 263 are all less than 300, does this mean that there were much more permits given before that?

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Three candles to blow!

three years

It is three years ago since I started this blog. Since that time I wrote 283 posts (this being the 284th). There is no shortage of inspiration yet, only a shortage of time to write them down.

Some figures:

Thank you all for passing by!

A wood or not a wood, that is the question

On the Twitter account of Groen (the Flemish Green Party), I found this message:

twitter groen boswijzer

Translated from Dutch:

More woods are disappearing in Flandres every year

The new wood barometer is available. In Flanders, more woods are being cleared than planted. Contrary to what Minister of Nature Schauvlieghe keeps claiming. Retweet this image if you want more woods and green in your neighborhood →

I recognize the controversy. I already had a post on this subject in the first year of this blog. Just to summarize: the Minister of Environment, Nature and Agriculture had a new tool for counting the wooded area using high resolution images taken from the air. In 2013 they published the first numbers after the base line measurement of 2011 and claimed an increase of 8,262 hectares. Bos+ (a NGO) has a competing measurement system based on the information of “official” licenses & subsidies and claimed that there was not much of a difference. Groen claimed that there was a decrease. In the end they all had it right, they just used different definitions and therefor came with different numbers.

The counting method of the Minister was a very objective one. It specifically defined a wood as:

  • a collection of trees
  • trees are higher than 3 meters
  • in an area of at least 0.5 hectares
  • a length to width ratio of at least 2.5
  • a cover of at least 50%.
  • .

Although this is the most accurate tool available, it was strongly criticized by green organizations. For example it also took into account trees in fallow land or trees along roads, railways,… Every collection of 3 meter high trees on any area of at least 0.5 hectares is counted. Whether it was officially subsidized or not, whether it was officially licensed or not. On the other hand, the Minister (not rightfully) claimed that this increase was indicative for a better forest policy and forgot to communicate the margin of error (it was bigger than the measured increase). If you want to read the complete story, just follow the link above.

The tweet also linked to De Afspraak (a talk show on the Flemish television) and when looking for more information about that episode, I found that they also recently made a quiz called “Wood or not”, based on this measuring tool of the Minister. In this quiz they compiled 8 images of landscapes and challenged people to guess whether the tool of the Minister would recognize these landscapes as being woods or not. Although I expected the most extreme examples, I couldn’t resist to take the quiz…

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Talk is cheap: strong climate action is good for the economy

It always surprises me when someone is claiming that a transition to intermittent energy sources is “good for the economy”. This evening I was watching the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space & Technology hearing of last Tuesday titled: “Paris climate promise: a bad deal for America” and yes, again there was someone praising such transition and how good it all would be.

US House Committee Science Space  & Technology hearing Feb 2, 2016

The praise came from Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the World Resources Institute, who had the dubious task of defending the outcome of the Paris climate conference last December. Although I liked his enthusiasm, I had the impression that he wasn’t alway very honest, for example when describing the commitments of China and India. I think he greatly oversold the outcome of the climate conference. His story was overly rosy and he seemed to be completely unaware of any issues with intermittent, low density energy sources. If this is how he frames it, I fear for the rest.

Just a few of the many claims he made in his oral statement (my emphasis):

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The perception that green electricity is really cheaper

When I first heard about the “We close Doel”-campaign of the Flemish Green Party, I had the impression that they want to create the perception that it is nuclear energy that is raising our energy bill. That is odd. As far as I know it are subsidies for alternative energy and all kind of taxes that do the trick. Therefor it was interesting to see how they are wriggling every which way in order to hide the fact that green energy is really expensive. On their campaign website it was no different (translated from Dutch):

Is green electricity really cheaper?

Decommissioning nuclear power plants costs money, lots of money that we will have to pay anyway. But keeping Doel 1 and 2 open ten year longer, will cost the government an estimated 700 million in investments for the patching of old reactors, processing of nuclear waste and additional safety measures. That cost is a choice and you pay your energy bill and on your tax return.

I agree that decommissioning nuclear power plants costs money, probably lots of money. I also agree that we have to pay it anyway (now or within 10 years). But isn’t there the statutory decommissioning funds? That fund is set up by Electrabel, it is not our government that have put money into it. If the cost of decommissioning is being calculated in our invoice, then it is probably already done and on the invoice of the Electrabel customers.

That 700 million investment referrred to, is paid by Electrabel, not by our government. Add to that: this 700 million is for 10 YEARS, while for example subsidies for onshore wind/solar/biomass (even excluding offshore wind) in Flanders alone, amounts to over one billion PER YEAR until at least 2020. Add probably 700 – 800 million for offshore wind. These amounts are mind boggling, especially when we know that it is only part of the costs. And they are making problems for an amount much, much lower than their preferred alternative power sources which are actually increasing our energy bill?

Then they continue with how cheap alternative energy really is (translated from Dutch):

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