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?

First, it is counting the yearly consumption of electricity of people who filled out a form declaring they are willing to switch from a “gray” electricity provider (from non-renewable resources) to a “green” electricity provider (from renewable resources). To be clear, these are not people who actually did the switch, it are those who indicated that they are willing to do the switch. It is not even clear if these people would be able to do that. When we look at the campaign website, we see there were two forms that could be used. The first form was for those who currently have a gray energy provider and want to do the switch to a green one. The second form was for those who already had a green electricity contract, but nevertheless want to support the campaign. In both forms the yearly consumption of electricity has to be given, so my question would be whether the counter is the sum of all those who filled out the first form? Or the sum of both forms? If it is the sum of both forms, then this would be misleading, because those who filled out the second form are not people that want to change provider, but already did so somewhere in the past.

Second, even if that number is only from those who filled out the first form, then we aren’t out of the woods yet. There is only one provider that manages the Belgian nuclear power plants: Electrabel. If they want a change, then they have to count people who switch from Electrabel to another provider. But this is not what the campaign is doing. Nowhere in that form is asked which provider one is willing to switch from. So it is entirely possible that some subscribers have the intention of switching from for example Eneco or Lampiris, not from Electrabel. Or even switch to a green product from Electrabel like “easy green”. There is no way to differentiate from all these. So much for a signal to Electrabel.

Finally, let’s just assume for the sake of the argument that this number is only from those who actually (want to) switch from Electrabel to a green provider. Would it then be possible to close those reactors with such a number on the counter? A production of 3,295,737 kWh per year can be produced by a power plant of about 376 MW. Not enough to close one of the two reactors (both Doel 1 and Doel 2 have a capacity of 433 MW).

But this is the AVERAGE production. People don’t consume electricity on AVERAGE, but consumption follows a certain pattern throughout the day. For working days this would be: little consumption at night, a morning peak around 8-9 am and an evening peak at 6-7 pm, then gradually back to a minimum for the night. These peaks will be lowest in summer and highest in winter.

This is why we need more electricity in winter than in summer. If those winter peaks would not be there, we wouldn’t need a production capacity as big as we have now. Green energy would not help. Solar energy will not be helpful, because it is still dark at the morning peak as well as at the evening peak. Wind energy is not certain either, so the conventional power sources need to be dimensioned to cope with the total peak demand. The green party certainly know about this, because one of the (unrealistic) solutions they proposed in their FAQ was that 180,000 people could reduce their energy use by 5 kWh during peak moments (between 6 and 7 PM) to achieve a savings equivalent to the capacity of Doel 1 and 2 (assuming that they consume that much energy in the first place).

How unrealistic this may be, it is a much better proposal because it actually tries to avoid the need for Doel 1 and 2, while this is not so certain when people indicate their willingness to switch from a gray to a green provider.

Electrabel will probably not be that impressed. It is not really clear who all those supporters were who are willing to switch. It could be people who are willing to switch from Electrabel to other providers, but it could also be those who switch from other “gray” providers than Electrabel. Heck, it could be even those who switch from another gray provider to a green product of Electrabel or even those who already switched in the past and therefor should be of no concern to Electrabel. There is no way to differentiate by how the campaign was constructed. Neither is sure that these supporters will actually do the switch in reality. There is a difference between supporting a campaign and actually do the switch.

Our Government probably would not be to much impressed either. Their goal was to guarantee the security of the supply at a low price, even if they would sympathize with Electrabel. I really doubt whether they would be worried about people willing to switch provider.

I am not impressed either. While the campaign looks professional, it is rather low on substance. Even if their campaign was successful, it would not guarantee that Doel 1 and/or 2 could be closed, nor is it a strong signal that they wanted it to be.

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