Security of energy with intermittent energy sources

The 6th myth of the Greenpeace brochure (translated from Dutch):

Security of energy supply is not guaranteed

is an interesting one. Besides the usual one-sidedness, it gives us a glimpse of what they see as the energy production of the future. But first their summary (translated from Dutch):

Because of the strong growth of renewable energy, Germany has a surplus of energy and can it further reducing fossil and nuclear base load. However, to keep the energy supply guaranteed, a flexible and European approach is needed.

That first sentence is a misleading one. It gives the impression that alternative sources already have the ability to replace conventional sources, just start to dismantle the conventional sources and the export problem is solved. In reality that surplus is the consequence of how Germany deals with intermittent energy sources on its grid. Therefor I think that the flexible and European approach will not really work, but more about that later in the post.

But, as I said, the most interesting in this chapter was their energy dream of the future:

Estimation of the German energy demand during a week in 2012 and 2020. Renewable energy needs flexible plants, not (nuclear or fossil) base load. Source: Volker Quaschning, HTW, Berlin

Estimation of the German energy demand during a week in 2012 and 2020. Renewable energy needs flexible plants, not (nuclear or fossil) base load. Source: Volker Quaschning, HTW, Berlin

This is the representation of a week of energy production in 2012 compared to what they think production will be in 2020. The biggest differences is the absence of base load in 2020, the conventional sources consist of flexible energy sources that closely follow wind/solar. At times these even drop to zero, that seems not really realistic. Also, solar energy seems to be gown quite a lot and wind energy shrunk, while in reality installed capacity for solar is decreasing and that of wind energy is increasing.

In a way, I have no real problem with this assertion. If this can be done in an economical and practical way, I would say: go ahead. I don’t really care whether continuous production is achieved by base load or by flexible plants. Obviously it will not be that simple and also the author(s) of the brochure seem to understand that. These are the measures they think that need to be taken to achieve this goal:

  • flexible power plants in stead of base load (as seen in the example)
  • cooperation is needed between European countries for greater interconnection
  • thorough development of techniques for storage and demand management (also visible in the graph by the lower peaks and higher valleys)
  • the operating model of the electricity market has to be revised, in which the flexibility of both production and demand for electricity must be central.

That is a drastic change that has to be accomplished in just five year (the brochure was published in the second half of 2015). But that is not exactly where they want to be. This is what they wrote further in the text (my emphasis):

But Germany has committed itself to move away from nuclear energy and fossil fuels.

If I understand that correctly, even the flexible fossil fuel plants have to go and replaced by something else. That remembers me of what they wrote about the lessons for the energy supply in Belgium when they discussed the second myth (my emphasis):

A nuclear phase-out in Belgium does not have to lead to new coal plants. The study “Our Energy Future” teaches, like many other studies, that strong growth in renewable energy, combined with energy efficiency, flexible energy demand and a strong interconnection with neighboring countries, can provide a reliable energy supply. In the transitional period, gas power stations will still guarantee a flexible addition to renewable energy production. By 2050, our country can run for 100 percent on renewable energy in an integrated European network.

I am not really sure whether an integrated European network will be able to replace flexible fossil fuel plants, especially knowing that most countries are betting on the same horses: wind and solar. With the current strategy of building more wind and solar without investing in the balancing of their production on the grid (basically overproduce and export this abroad), this doesn’t seem like a good idea. If one country has an oversupply of energy, others probably will have too and vice versa.

Just four years from this goal of flexible production to balance wind and solar, there is a long way to go. Hydro power (disliked by Greenpeace) is still ridiculously small and not growing much. Biomass (also disliked by Greenpeace) seems to be used as base power, it is rather small anyway and not growing much. Installed capacity for gas even declined in 2015 compared to 2014 while they should be building it now. Coal is even going up for some years now. So I can only guess that the Germans would made some really big progress towards demand management and storage other than hydro, otherwise this goal will be hard to reach.


One thought on “Security of energy with intermittent energy sources

  1. poitsplace

    The thing that gets me is “flexible demand”…they’re so very generous with YOUR NEEDS. They are literally talking about giving economic incentives (or outright taking control) so they can switch off consumption when their shitty power sources fail. And even that doesn’t sound as bad as the reality. Let me try again,..They’re going to pay rich industrialists to send poor workers home when “green”, shitty power sources fail…sometimes with a notice of minutes. Oh and then they’ll blame the factory owners …exactly the same way the more “liberal” people in the US blamed the oil industry for taking subsidies that the “liberal” people put in place.


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