Category Archives: Belgium

Post related to global warming/climate change communication in Belgium

A “skewed” distribution: synchronizing intermittency

According to some of our politicians (among them our federal Minister of Energy) we are missing out on cheap electricity from solar and wind. They look forward to abundant electricity from abroad, specifically from Germany, and to be able to import this cheap electricity.

We surely will get dependent on imported electricity soon. Belgium is going to decommission 6 GW of nuclear capacity (currently producing roughly half of our demand) by 2025 and replace it with 2.3 GW of gas fired power plants plus increasing solar and wind capacity. It is expected that Belgium will get structurally dependent on import for about 25 to 30% of its demand (and likely a whole lot more by 2050).

As I wrote several times before, I have my doubts whether that import will be cheap and my suspicion has to do with the time when this cheap electricity is produced. I think that the three dates explored in previous post can shed some light on why the prices of imported electricity from Germany will not be cheap. Let’s just look what prices did during those three days.

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A “skewed” distribution: interconnecting intermittency

While creating the graph that I used in previous post, I noticed something that I expected for a long time. Remember, my graph was a recreation of this graph showing the sorted daily contribution of solar and wind in the Netherlands:

Sorted contribution of solar and wind of the Netherlands

It shows that the lowest daily production of solar and wind between January 1 and November 16 was measured on November 16. When I was creating my graph depicting the Belgian sorted daily contribution, I found that the lowest production of solar and wind in Belgium over the same period was also November 16. That should not have come as a surprise, Belgium and the Netherlands are neighboring countries.

That November 16 date was not the only date that appeared in that original graph. Besides November 16 (lowest production) there are also July 29 (highest production) and August 2 (in between). That made me wonder whether those two other days match as well and to what extent this is also true in other neighboring countries. I have some data from solar and wind in Germany, so I will also include Germany into this comparison. Let’s dive right in.

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A “skewed” distribution: the volatility of solar and wind

This tweet sums up the biggest problem with intermittent power sources:

Yesterday, a fairly dramatic low in terms of solar & wind output. Fortunately, there were also great days this year.
Although sun and wind often complement each other, the total forms a rather ‘skewed’ distribution. We will have to learn to deal with that soon.
#graphoftheday

Tweet WM_visser 2021-11-17

This is the graph he is talking about:

Sorted contribution of solar wind (The Netherlands)

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The fossil-fuel subsidies blind spot

Belgium apparently signed the declaration to end “fossil fuel financing”:

Tweet John Murton 2021-11-12

The guy on the left is John Murton (UK Envoy to COP26) who is thanking Zakia Khattabi sitting on the left (Belgian Minister of Climate, Environment, Sustainable Development & Green Deal from Ecolo, the French-speaking Green Party of Belgium) for joining the declaration. The inconvenient reality is that the Belgian Federal Government very recently approved subsidizing the building of new gas-fired power plants in order to replace nuclear power plants.

Most comments below the tweet highlighted the hypocritical nature of that signature, rightfully so. John Murton tried to defuse the situation by responding that he actually meant “international financing” or “overseas financing”, but nobody was particularly impressed by that intervention, also rightfully so. It is still hypocritical to pledge to end international/overseas fossil-fuel financing while at the same time subsidizing the fossil-fuel industry nationally.

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If the goal is to limit emissions…

In previous post, I left off concluding that the displacement of nuclear by natural gas will increase emissions. This based on the notion that displacing a low emission power source by one with a higher emissions will logically result in more emissions.

The big question is of course by how much? Not all nuclear capacity will be replaced by natural gas and solar and wind capacity will increase. To summarize, this is the change that is proposed:

  • Solar/PV: from 4787.56 MW now to 11 GWp by 2030
  • Wind
    • Offshore wind: from 2,254.4 MWp now to 4,000 GWp by 2030
    • Onshore wind: from 2,578.809 MWp now to 3,500 GWp by 2030
  • Natural gas: from 5,300 MW now to 5,600 MW
  • Nuclear: from 6,000 MW now to 0 MW.

Although the needed capacity of dispatchable power decreases very slowly compared the rapidly increasing peak production, the total amount of electricity produced by natural gas fired power plants will get smaller, therefor less emissions will be produced. This makes the dispatchable power sources less to not economical viable, but it might limit those extra emissions within reasonable bounds.

It might even be possible to find ways to lower emissions instead of limit them. There was an interesting response to the tweet of our Minister of energy. It was in French and if his twitter account information is truthful, the response came from an economist connected to an energy company:

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Nuclear undercutting wind?

This is already the third post in the series on the tweets of the Belgian Minister of Energy about offshore windmills that were temporary shut down on July 29. The first post was about the “low pricing”, that were in fact day-ahead prices and nothing to cheer about. The second post dug deeper in the statement that Belgium benefited from the import from Germany’s surplus electricity from solar and wind. Yet, when Germany had high production of electricity from solar and wind that day, Belgium had a high production too and it was primarily exporting its own surplus, so there was no import from Germany to benefit from at that moment…

The subject of this post will be the inflexible power source that, according to the Minister, was the root cause of this curtailment. The first tweet didn’t name the culprit, it was in the fourth tweet that she used the n-word (nuclear):

There you have it, today a practical example that shows how our energy system must change and that nuclear energy stands in the way. They simply undercut sustainable CO2-free production. 4/5

There were several charts added to the first tweet to support her claims, however there was no chart illustrating the claim that “nuclear is in the way” (although it would have been pretty simple to do, just show a quasi straight line for nuclear while having a nose dive for wind). If she would have looked at what nuclear did on July 29, this is what she would have seen:

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Belgium benefits “extra” from surplus German solar and wind

Central in the tweet of our Minister of Energy (see previous post) is the role of Germany in the event of July 29, when Belgian offshore windmills were shut down: (translated from Dutch, my emphasis)

Due to a lot of German wind & sun + imports, Belgium has the lowest prices.
Due to negative prices, a lack of flexibility and storage, offshore wind is currently being shut down.
100% renewable via flex & storage. Look to the future, instead of recipes from the past. 1/5

Followed by (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

Production in Germany: 24 GW wind and 16 GW solar. Belgium benefits extra thanks to its import capacity, flow-based (flow factor competition) and the minram70%. 2/5

As I understand it, (forecast of) surplus electricity by solar and wind from Germany kept Belgian (day-ahead) prices low and Belgium benefited extra from this surplus electricity on July 29 because of its import capacity. I can understand the statement that this day-ahead price combined with a lack of flexible power sources and storage can lead to wind mills being shut down. I however find it highly unlikely that we benefited extra from import of German electricity.

The Minister of Energy provides this chart to support her claim:

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Belgium has the “lowest prices”

When does the good news ever stops? At the end of last month, our green Minister of Energy sent out this cheering tweet (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

Due to a lot of German wind & sun + imports, Belgium has the lowest prices.
Due to negative prices, a shortage of flexibility and storage, offshore wind is currently being shut down.
100% renewable via flex & storage. Look to the future, instead of recipes from the past. 1/5

This is the screenshot:

Tweet TinneVdS 20210729: 1 of 5

It is a thread of in total 5 tweets and the first two detail an issue occurring on July 29 when (some) offshore windmills were shut down. There are several things in this thread to look closer into, but I will solely focus in this post on the “lowest price” claim in the first sentence of the first tweet.

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Virtual energy plant: cheap and (going towards) 100% renewable

Hooraaaaay, our energy problems were just solved! I just viewed a short video about a “smart” energy system (Dutch ahead) that will power a new residential area called “De Nieuwe Dokken” in Ghent (Belgium). According to the video, the components of this system are:

  • solar panels on the roof
  • a big battery
  • charging points for electric vehicles
  • heat pumps
  • a very smart computer system to control all those energy flows.

Of course, it will be cheap, dirt cheap even. At several occasions in the video, the economic benefits of the system were praised. For example, electricity prices went negative on May 30 and one even got paid to take electricity from the electricity grid.

Wow, where do I have to sign up for that!?

When there is no(t a lot of) sun combined with high consumption, don’t worry, then the system could provide the electricity stored in the car batteries (after those gorged themselves with plentiful of energy during day) to the households.

Easy peasy. See, it doesn’t have to be that complicated.

Our Minister of Energy also made an appearance, proudly stating that this is how our (national) energy system will look like in the future, just on a larger scale. How cool is that! Our tiny country is showing the world how it is possible to realize 100% renewable energy on the cheap.

You are welcome, just thank us later 😉

There are however some, ahem, small details that for some reason were not explained in the video…

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Intermittent versus base load when aiming for a balanced grid: a simple test

In previous post, I assumed that a grid with a base load might be easier/better than a grid based on intermittent power sources when the aim is a balanced grid. I based this on the hypothesis that in the former system much less energy needs to be displaced than in the latter, therefor it would be easier to balance.

That is something that I can check. I could put some grid data in a model and then change a parameter in order to see which one of the two is easier/better and to what extent.

Without further ado, this is what I did:

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