Monthly Archives: April 2022

What when the sun doesn’t shine and the the wind doesn’t blow: batteries!?

The big question was asked again. Remember, a few posts ago, our Minister of Energy tried to answer the question “What happens when the wind doesn’t blow?”, a question she apparently got asked a lot. Back then she managed to evade answering that question.

The question came back in an interview (Dutch ahead) about the energy transitions she gave to a news magazine from Brussels. Initially, it seemed we would not get an answer (the interview was interrupted at the exact moment when the question was asked), but fortunately the reporter was persistent enough to ask the question again later in the interview (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

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Wind from Denmark to the rescue?

One of the solutions that our Minister of Energy proposes for the energy transition is interconnectivity. In the webinar she gave at the end of 2020 (see previous post) she was pleased that Belgium got connected to the German grid and therefor could start to take advantage of the electricity produced by solar and wind in Germany. I am less optimistic about that. As I found in some previous posts like for example here, here and here, Belgium and Germany are neighbor countries and therefor have similar patterns of solar and wind production.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that no gains could be made by this interconnection. There will be times when Belgium could use the solar/wind overproduction of Germany, but when Germany has a excellent intermittent production, then generally Belgium does too. The same when Germany has only little intermittent production, then Belgium generally experience the same. The more intermittent capacity build in the two countries, the less Belgium will be able to take advantage of excess electricity production from intermittent energy sources.

This is however not the only interconnection that our Minister of Energy wants. A year after the webinar, she signed a memorandum of understanding (Dutch ahead) with Denmark to look into the possibility of a submarine power cable connecting Denmark with Belgium. That made me wonder whether this submarine cable would make it possible for Belgium to take advantage of Denmark’s excess intermittent electricity production and that is what I will look into this post.

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What happens when the wind doesn’t blow?

Can’t get enough of the unthinking claims of our Minister of Energy. In my search for more information on the nuclear exit, I came across a webinar that she presented at the end of 2020 in which she explained her vision on this nuclear exit and the energy transition needed to accommodate this exit. She explained that a diverse set of solutions is needed, among which interconnectivity, gas-fired power plants and storage like batteries. She then continues (at 33:45 in the webinar, translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

And at the same time, we are also going to need baseload capacity, so energy sources that are running well and offshore wind really has a potential for that.

Those two statements took me by surprise. Green politicians generally don’t like the idea of baseload. The concept of baseload comes from conventional grids in which some power plants generate power at a fairly constant rate over an extended period of time, meeting minimum demand. With that definition, offshore wind obviously doesn’t have much potential for being baseload.

That she believes that “baseload is needed” is surprising at first, but notice that she redefines the term. According to her, baseload just means power sources that “run well” and then intermittent power sources can obviously also be considered baseload. They just have to “run well” (whatever that might mean).

Okay, just look at what this offshore wind “baseload” did the past two weeks (from when I started writing this post):

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Claim: 1 GW solar and wind equals 1 large nuclear power plant

Our Minister of Energy keeps on making unthinking claims. In a post a couple weeks ago, I wrote about the “2 GW only represents 2% of our energy supply” claim that she made in an attempt to minimize the effort needed to replace nuclear by solar and wind, apparently not realizing that the share of solar plus wind is not that much better when using the same standard. Recently she made the claim that our government will realize 1 GW of renewable energy every year in the coming years and that this equals 1 large nuclear power plant per year.

She made that claim after the decision was announced that Belgium will keep its two youngest nuclear reactors open for another decade (the illusive “plan B”). The Minister went to that meeting with the proposal to close all nuclear plants and a comprehensive plan to promote solar and wind amounting to 8 billion euro. The final decision was to keep open the two youngest reactors and only 1 billion euro of that 8 billion was approved, so she obviously had to accept some losses. It is in that context that the claim was made in the radio program “De Ochtend” (“The Morning”) after the reporter put forward that this result is not something to be proud of. The Minister objected to that view and doubled down by framing the result of the negotiations as some kind of victory (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

Gosh, do you know with what I am coming home with? I am coming home with 1 GW of energy that we will realize every year in the coming years. For comparison, 1 GW is 1 large nuclear power plant.

That is not a one-off, she said something similar at the end of the interview (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

One of the most important things on the top of my list is, and that’s going to sound really boring: defense and aviation. They have radar systems, they have areas that are not accessible to wind turbines where we can realize 1.5 GW of renewable energy. That is more than a large nuclear power plant with a one-time investment.

This comparison with nuclear seems to suggest that Belgium would replace a 1 GW nuclear power plant per year, but this obviously can’t be what she is claiming because in that case Belgium’s huge electricity problems would be painlessly solved in just a few years. Therefor I assume that she means that she just wants to add a capacity of 1 GW of solar and wind per year. However, these two don’t compare that well. The impact of 1 GW of solar and wind capacity will be much less than 1 GW of nuclear power, so it might be much less impressive than she is suggesting. How much less? Well, let’s just make that comparison.

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