Author Archives: trustyetverify

Cutting down the tree while praising its harvest

Debate on energy security in the Belgian Parliament on 20221208

Last weekend, I came across this interesting article about a discussion about energy security (Dutch ahead) in the Belgian Federal Parliament. First some background. This discussion took place last year on December 8. The Belgian grid manager (Elia) published at that time a report that there might be a small capacity shortage in the winter of 2024 and a large capacity shortage in the winter of 2025. There was already the earlier decision to extend the life of the two youngest nuclear power reactors, but those nuclear reactors would not be available in these two winters because of maintenance necessary for their life extension. The other five nuclear reactors will be decommissioned by 2025, meaning that Belgium will enter these two winters with roughly half of its production capacity.

It therefor should not come as a surprise that some members of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives directed a lot of criticism towards the energy policy of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Energy. For example, Bert Wollants aired his fear that the lights will go out in 2025 (Dutch ahead) if we don’t keep more nuclear power reactors open. He pleaded to make a swift decision on keeping more of them open. He was not the only one who made that plea.

Then the Prime Minister had his chance to respond to the criticism. It is the first part of his response that raised my eyebrows (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

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Offshore wind with a capacity of “3.5 nuclear power plants”

In her interview in the Flemish newspaper (subject of previous two posts), our Minister of Energy not only said that the wind always blows somewhere in Europe, and especially at sea, but she also made following remark about Belgian offshore wind (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

When I became minister, I hoped that our new offshore wind farm would be operational by 2027. It has a capacity of 3.5 nuclear power plants and can supply all Belgian households with electricity.

I heard members of the current Federal Government draw (variations on) this analogy between offshore wind and nuclear power plants quite a lot lately, especially (and unsurprisingly) by members of the Flemish Green party.

For the record, there is a core of truth in this statement. It is true that the capacity of offshore wind in Belgium is expected to be 3500 MW in 2027 and since most Belgian nuclear power reactors (not “plants”) have a capacity of about 1000 MW, the capacity of offshore wind will equal the capacity of 3.5 nuclear power reactors by 2027. That is where the similarities end.

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The wind always blows somewhere in Europe

As seen in previous post, Belgium experienced a dunkelflaute (a period of low solar and wind power production) on November 29 and, depending on one’s definition of dunkelflaute, it may even be longer. Belgian politicians envision a situation in which Belgium relies more on import of electricity, so I wonder what those neighboring countries did during this event and whether they would be able to help us in such a situation. My expectation (based on previous posts like here, here, here and here), is that they all went through the same or at least a similar event.

Let’s start with what happened in Belgium from November 28 until December 2:

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Dunkelflautes last just a few hours (oops, days)

There was a dunkelflaute at the end of last month. “Dunkelflaute” is a German word, mostly translated as “dark doldrum”. It is a period in which there is no(t much) sunlight and no(t much) wind, resulting in very low electricity production from solar panels and windmills. The media told us that Monday November 29 was such a day.

This is what solar and wind did compared to total load:

Chart0020a: Dunkelflaute belgium 2022-11-29

Solar and wind indeed did not do well on that day. Electricity production by solar and wind was mostly hugging the x-axis for most of the day. The combined average capacity factor for solar and wind was a measly 1.53% (between 0.06% and 7.89%). It was particularly wind that did poorly. Luckily there was some sun to elevate the capacity factor, but even that was pretty limited because days are short at this time of the year at our latitude.

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Update on Arctic annual minimum extent and volume

Back in July, I wrote two posts on the Arctic sea ice annual minimum, one about the sea ice extent and one about sea ice volume. In the meanwhile, there was a new minimum in September 2022 and I wondered what the evolution was of those minima. This post is an update on the volume as well as the extent graphs.

Let’s start with the volume data. This is a plot of the annual sea ice minimum extent from 1979 until 2022:

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The decline of trust in scientists between April and November 2020

Remember previous post in which I wrote about a handbook containing the claim that complete trust in scientists doubled between 2019 and November 2020, this while the poll that the authors referenced (but for obvious reasons didn’t link to) showed a rapid decline of trust after April 2020. Initially, trust levels in April 2020 quadrupled relative to 2019, but ended up in November as a doubling relative to the year before. Basically, although trust ended higher than the year before, half of those who completely trusted the scientists in April lost that trust by November.

The jump of trust in April 2020 was remarkable, but understandable. The world was confronted with a virus that was not only contagious but also deadly and people tend to unite in the face of external pressure, this combined with high expectation and the scientific community showing strong willingness to find a solution.

But then, why a decline already one month later and even more a half year later? This might have different reasons. The effect could be temporary, as suggested by the subtitle of the “trust in scientists” wiki page (but for some reason not explained in the rest of that text). I think there are other reasons and I will propose some in this post.

Reading the handbook, it struck me that there was a small discrepancy between the statement in the handbook (how much people trust scientists) compared to what the poll they referenced looked into (how much people trust science and research). This are two different things to me. At the beginning of the pandemic, I was surely trusting the science (as the method), but not necessarily the scientists (who use this method in various degrees and maybe even are motivated by other things).

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Trust in scientists increases

At the end of August, Cliscep had an interesting post about a Google campaign against misinformation on social media based on (psychological) inoculation research. That post also pointed to some videos on the inoculation Science website. Looking around this website, I also found a link to the COVID-19 Vaccine Communication Handbook in the “Inoculation explained” tab. The handbook was a collaboration between several (social science) researchers among whom Stephan Lewandowsky and John Cook as two of the lead authors. That promises to be interesting, I wonder what tricks they came up with this time.

Going through the handbook, trust in scientists seems to be an important element in the handbook and this infobox at the bottom of page 4 immediately caught my eye:

Trust in scientists increases:
Surveys in several countries have shown trust in scientists to increase.
In Germany, the share of people who completely trust scientists
doubled between 2019 and November 2020, and around 70% of the
public trust scientists. In the U.K., 64% of respondents indicated in
April 2020 that the pandemic had made them more likely to listen to
scientists and researchers.

Link to Wiki page Trust In Scientists

It caught my attention because, by using the present tense, the title seems to suggest that trust is on the increase (at least at the time the handbook came out). I can certainly agree that trust in scientists surged at the beginning of the pandemic, but as far as I know, that initial trust was already declining for quite a while by the time that the handbook was released (January 7, 2021). Therefor it didn’t make much sense to me that trust in scientists was still increasing at that time and it made me wonder what evidence the handbook provides to support this position.

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A capacity of 3.5 nuclear power plants produced at sea by wind energy

The Ventilus project is a future 380 kV high-voltage power line with a capacity of 6 GW that will connect the Belgian coast with the rest of the country and will also serve as a (second) interconnection with the UK. There is quite some protest against it. It was planned as an overhead power line, but people living along the trajectory want the cables below ground. To my surprise, the Green party wants them above ground and demands a quick approval of the project by the Flemish Government. This is how Jeremie Vaneeckhout (the Flemish green party co-chairman) explains the urgency of the project (transcription translated from Dutch, my emphasis)

Ventilus is not only the project that can ensure that a capacity of 3.5 nuclear power plants produced at sea by wind energy, that we get that on land. It is also the guarantee that the vehicle fleet can be made electric, can be electrified, and that our grid will not fail, that all West Flemish companies can certainly remain on the grid.

The first time that I heard this, it didn’t make much sense to me. Our largest nuclear reactors have a capacity of 1 GW, but offshore wind currently has a capacity of 2.2 GW, so he is likely talking about a future capacity (but then (much) less than the 8 GW that the Minister of the North Sea envisioned). Where does this 3.5 GW number comes from? My guess was that it is the future capacity of offshore wind by the time that Ventilus will come into use. I found dates between 2027 and 2030, but Belgian offshore wind should already exceed 3.5 GW by then.

There also were others that started to use that the Ventilus-is-3.5-nuclear-reactors claim around the same time relating to Ventilus. The chairman of the Flemish socialist party said the following in an interview on Flemish television news one week earlier (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

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The surprising change of position on plan B

Terzake 2022-08-29

The current plan of the Belgian Government is to keep the two youngest nuclear power reactors (Doel 4 and Tihange 3) open for ten more years (called “plan B”). That was a blow for our Minister of Energy who, as a member of the Flemish green party, relentlessly advocated for a complete nuclear exit (“plan A”). This makes her statement in an interview on current affairs program Terzake rather curious (translated from Dutch, emphasis by the Minister in the interview)

The essence is security of electricity supply. The most performing power stations that we have are our two youngest nuclear power stations, which lifespan we are going to extend by ten years, at my initiative, at my request.

?!?!?!?!?!?!?

This statement in which she praised herself for keeping the two youngest nuclear reactors open came as a complete surprise to me and many others. She made it very clear in the past that she wanted nuclear electricity production gone, all of it and as soon as possible. This sudden emphasis on herself as the one who initiated and requested this elongation is therefor pretty remarkable.

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Claim: 8 GW offshore wind capacity corresponds to 8 nuclear reactors

A couple months ago, I wrote about the claim of our Minister of Energy that 1 GW of renewable capacity equals 1 large nuclear power plant (she obviously meant “reactors”). I recently came across a variation on this claim made by another member of our Government, the Minister of the North Sea (at least the stretch of the North Sea that belongs to Belgium). Here is what he said about the future plans for wind power in the North Sea as reported by a journalist of a Flemish newspaper (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

According to Van Quickenborne (Minister of the North Sea), it is even possible to reach 8 gigawatts with a third wind farm by 2040. “This capacity is enormous, it would correspond to 8 nuclear reactors,” says the Open VLD politician, who believes this is enough to supply all Belgian families.

This seems impressive at first glance. Basically, the total capacity of wind mills on the Belgian part of the North Sea is expected to amount to 8 GW by 2040, which the Minister then compares to the capacity of 8 nuclear reactors.

There is a core of truth in this claim (our largest nuclear reactors have a capacity of 1 GW each, so 8 GW would correspond to 8 of those), but it is pretty misleading. It is comparing two different types of electricity generation having a (radically) different output.

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