Who cares about a lack of PV in December when there is plenty of wind and more sun to come in the coming months?

On the last day of 2017, our Minister of Energy (who is fiercely promoting solar energy) posted a tweet to thank all people who installed solar panel on their during 2017. He got a prompt reaction from someone asking how much electricity those solar panels produced in December. The Minister of Energy replied with this remarkable tweet:

Translated from Dutch:

December 2017 was indeed historically low on sunshine. But there was wind and the sun will compensate plentifully in the coming months #HappyNewYear

Basically, solar energy production sucked really bad in the previous month, but, hey, there was more wind and there is more solar energy to come in the coming months anyway.

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I would glad to laugh if it was a joke, but his guy is our Minister of Energy and I am afraid that he was serious about it.

Since I was already gathering some wind/solar-information for another project, I thought it might be a good idea to look at those claims.

This is what wind and solar energy production did in December 2017:

Source: Elia

It is clear that solar energy (yellow line) did not contribute much. The main contribution indeed came from wind energy (blue line), which is not hard to understand since there was quite some stormy weather in December.

This is confirmed by the proportion of the produced solar energy to its installed capacity (2,552.78 MW in December 2017):

Source: Elia

The maximum was 24% (during 15 minutes) and on average 1.48%. If I look at previous years (Elia has data from 2012 on), then 2017 was the lowest, although 2012 was a close second (at least based on maximum and average share).

How did wind energy do (installed capacity was 2,621.82 MW in December 2017):

Source: Elia

Wind energy fares much better. This is also clearly visible in the share of wind plus solar energy within the total load because wind is by far the strongest factor in December 2017:

Source: Elia

Many other views could be shown, but some things should become rather clear by now. While it is undoubtedly true that there was much more wind energy in December 2017, how relevant is this for our energy supply? The “but there was more wind”-claim shows me that he assumes that this wind somehow compensates for the lack of solar production in that month. In the same line is the claim that production of energy in the “coming months” also will compensate for the lack of solar energy production.

Which is somehow true, but only when looking at it as AVERAGES. If we look at the production of wind and solar in December as averages, then yes, he is right. Then the surplus of wind energy production compensates for the lack of solar energy production.

The “coming months” is a bit ambiguous however. In the coming months, solar energy production will slowly ramp up a bit, but not that much in February, March or April. Production will be highest in July – August, so I think he means as an average over several months/half a year. Then it makes sense.

It however doesn’t make sense for our power grid. We don’t consume electricity on average. There is a certain consumption pattern over a day, a week or a season. Wind and solar are intermittent energy sources, so they don’t align with consumption patterns, but with the availability of wind and sun. Electricity however is instantaneous, it is a continuous flow and energy that still has to be produced in the coming months can not compensate for our current needs.

Wind and solar can compensate on average, but not instantaneous. There are several examples of that in the previous graph. Look for example at the beginning of the graph where the wind+solar line almost touches the x-axis. At that point, solar energy contributes exactly 0 MW. There was some wind, but not much (11.83 MW or just 0.45% of its installed capacity). Total load at that point was 9,377,51 MW, so 9,365.68 MW will have to be available (produced by another power plant, from storage, imported from abroad and/or avoided). There is no borrowing from expected production in the coming months, it has to be there at the moment that it is needed.

If we want to rely predominantly on wind and solar energy, then this point will be the Achilles heel of the system. Even if we increase our capacity of wind and solar tenfold of what we have now, then production would still only be 118.3 MW and 9,259,21 MW has to be available from somewhere else or avoided. Import could also be compromised in the future since most neighboring countries go for the same solution and therefor could encounter the same problem at the same time.

I surely hope he is aware how the power grid is working, that wind and solar are not dispatchable power sources and posing specific challenges when integrating them on the grid. His education is in the field of communication and when I look at his advisers on Energy, then that doesn’t give me much confidence that they are aware of that either.

Tommelein energy advisers

These are their qualifications:

  1. Nele Rooboeck: Master of Law and Master of Energy and Environmental Law
  2. Elisa Van Gerven: Master of Law
  3. Lorenzo Van de Pol: Master in Political Science
  4. Kelsey Van Maris: Master in Comparative and International Politics
  5. Jochen De Smet: Bachelor Environment (not sure what that is) + energy expert type b (apparently a training to do energy audits of houses).

These are not exactly the profiles that I would expect for those whose job it is to advise on the transition towards intermittent energy sources. If those are the people leading our country in the energy transition, then I fear for the worst.

It doesn’t get better when I view some “energy experts” of the political parties. I came along two of them in this blog. For example the “energy expert” who thinks that we can close a nuclear power plant when households save just 1% energy (which is not even remotely true and the result of some very naive calculations) and another “energy expert” who believes that we can rely on the average production of intermittent energy sources in winter (which shows he doesn’t seem to understand the concept of intermittency).

These experts are (sometimes aggressively) promoting wind and solar as THE solution, yet seem to be unaware of the consequences of intermittent energy sources in a continuous flowing system. It doesn’t give me much confidence in the current energy project they are proposing.

There seem to be a huge drive to increase the share of wind and solar, without looking at affordability, energy security or sustainability. They just want to go ahead.

It seems a bit like the Titanic where the captain and the sailors already left the ship, a bank director is now in charge and leads a team of lawyers and experts in political sciences to steer the ship to its destination (the musicians were unfortunately not able to help because they still have to play some tunes).

Suddenly people start to scream “Ice bergs! Ices bergs!”.

“Full steam ahead!”, commands the bank director very enthusiastically.

Pray for us…

5 thoughts on “Who cares about a lack of PV in December when there is plenty of wind and more sun to come in the coming months?

  1. poitsplace

    As I pointed out before (and you of course already know), in order for renewables to work we need storage greater than the storage built into the existing energy infrastructure. To use 100% renewables we can’t have any of this nonsense where we use fossil fuels as a crutch and then act as if renewables were actually up to the task the whole time.

    In order to buffer electrical production (as an example) in the US alone, I estimate there would need to be about half a petawatt hour of storage. That works out to about 50 billion powerwall batteries…which would cost about 250 trillion dollars…and need to be replaced about every 10 years. Of course there are other “solutions” but they all have very high costs.

    …AND SIDE NOTE: I hadn’t ever bothered to look at actual installed, utility scale generating plants in the US until just now. Between gas, coal, and nuclear there is 850gw of generating capability or enough to meet the 10TW/h per day requirement twice over!!! So the bar for renewables is WAY higher than I ever imagined. https://www.eia.gov/electricity/monthly/epm_table_grapher.php?t=epmt_6_01

    OK, I’m once again dumbfounded by how far off estimates are from reality, so I guess I’m cutting this short until all that has time to sink in. It is amazing to me that at every turn they give renewables the best possible assumptions…yet with every new aspect I research, the real world data shows that renewables are harder to use than I’d imagined, perform more poorly than I’d expected, and are just generally a worse idea than I’d thought originally.


    1. trustyetverify Post author

      We indeed need more storage/backup if wind and solar are to be the major producers of electricity. Even more, we need seasonal storage/backup. At our latitude, the lowest demand is in summer and the highest demand is in winter (more than double the summer demand). The contribution of solar to electricity production in winter to peak demand on working days is nothing or next to nothing. The contribution of wind is variable and low wind conditions could coincide with absence of sun (as was the case at the beginning of December). Then something else (storage or backup) need to take over.


      1. poitsplace

        Also a bit of a side note, the self-discharge rate is actually a non-trivial issue since a 500 terawatt hour Lithium battery array would add about .5 TWH per day to the 10 TWH load just to keep it charged. Most of the cheaper technologies would take far more. Interestingly enough, when you do the math on this sort of thing, you run into the goofy and counter-intuitive reality…sometimes it would be cheaper to just use a much higher loss storage system and just double the renewables intput. One of the “cheapest” thing I could imagine doing was to just double up on production, convert the excess into hydrogen that would just be burned in a conventional power plant.

        Of course, all of these options are ridiculously overpriced and labor intensive.


  2. wolsten

    Reblogged this on Wolsten and commented:
    I am not comforted that imbecilic energy policy is not confined to the UK, though I get the feeling that Brexit will force some harsh reality on otherwise clueless ministers. It’s a certainty of physics and engineering that wind and solar are dead ends for dispatchable power. The only question is how long it takes politicians to wake up.



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