Category Archives: Belgium

Post related to global warming/climate change communication in Belgium

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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When the aim is a balanced grid, is intermittent power easier/better than nuclear?

While cleaning up some old files, I found a link to a tweet that I used one year ago in a post on windmills “balancing” the grid. To recapitulate, during the first lockdown in Belgium, there was a lot of solar and wind power, but there was low demand. However, nuclear produced flat out, as usual. Not wanting to produce at negative prices (because of high production and low demand), windmill owners started to shut down some of their windmills. This curtailment was then framed as wind “balancing” the grid.

Below this tweet was another one written by the same author. It is his answer to the question whether there are quantified estimates on what would eventually be realistically possible with dynamic demand response:

Tweet Dieter Jong 2020-04-21

I apparently glossed over this tweet at the time I made the post, but that is an interesting question. So, in what way is that left graph easier/better than the right one when the aim is a balanced grid at all times?

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Blackouts: candlelight dinners and evenings without television?

Around the same time that I started writing previous post, I came across the article Guaranteeing power at all times is absurd (Dutch ahead) about our energy security. It is an opinion piece by Belgian economist Etienne De Callataÿ after our new Federal Government announced its intention of closing our nuclear infrastructure by 2025.

In that article, he makes the case that security of electricity supply should not be top priority for our Government and goes as far to write that one or two days of blackout per year is not the end of the world…

I think that I can somehow understand his reasoning, but first let’s look how De Callataÿ explains his strategy.

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Our new Federal Government

While I was blogging about the grid batteries in South Australia, we got a new Federal Government. It took a while, we were without a functional Federal Government since December 2018 when the then coalition broke up. This new coalition consists of seven parties from four different political groups. This Frankenstein coalition want to be called the “Vivaldi” coalition (after the violin concertos “The Four Seasons” by Vivaldi, representing the colors of the four political colors of the groups in the coalition). To make such a coalition work, compromises had to be made and also political presents had to be given.

Probably one of those presents is that the Minister of Energy is provided by the Green party. Our Minister of Energy now is Tinne Van der Straeten and the readers of this blog know her as the politician who managed to increase, ahem, fossil fuel subsidies and the Green party was apparently proud of that achievement.

The new coalition is very ambitious. When it comes to energy, they aim for the closure of the nuclear power plants by … 2025. To put that in perspective, our nuclear plants currently produce almost half of our electricity and this amount of power needs to be replaced within the next five years (it took decades to come to ten or so percent of solar and wind). They want to do this replacement by stimulating intermittent technologies, cooperation with neighbor countries (increased import and export), energy saving and also some gas-fueled power plants will be needed too. At the same time they also want to make energy cheaper, ensure energy security, create more jobs and lower emissions. All this without having to increase taxes…

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Wind keeping the system “nicely balanced”: does more wind power means better air and cleaner electricity?

Let’s continue with the open letter from the energy company Eneco (see previous post), in which its CEO complains that his company “felt obliged” to shut down some of their windmills despite it was windy. It is framed as the result of the “inflexibility” of nuclear power that pushes wind aside and, most importantly for this post, as a choice for better air and cleaner electricity (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

Renewable energy could provide half of our consumption. In itself this is a good prospect: better air and cleaner electricity from wind & sun. We should all be pleased with that.

The framing in the open letter made me wonder how much wind power was curtailed exactly? Also, assuming that nuclear power would get turned down a notch during the lockdown, how much cleaner would electricity production then get?

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Wind keeping the system “nicely balanced”: wind, meet nuclear

Never could imagine that the words “wind energy” and “nicely balanced” would be used in the same sentence. This was achieved in this tweet (for the international readers, “BE” is the country code for Belgium):

BE update: Wind offshore dropped as of 10am, onshore as of 11am. And it is keeping the system nicely balanced. But of course, if only we could have dynamic demand response to this, society wouldn’t have to loose this cheap energy.

This are the graphs that accompanies the tweet:

Tweet dieterjong 20200421

There was indeed a sudden loss of wind capacity somewhat before noon, correlating with a negative price and leading to positive prices again. Initially, I assumed that the twitterer was being sarcastic, mocking a sudden wind lull, but scanning through his Twitter time line suggested that this might not be the case…

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(Another) ten years to prevent disaster?

Today is the 11 year anniversary of a four minute, super alarmist, clip called the The Big Ask (Dutch ahead). It was produced as an incentive for our politicians to “act now” on climate change. Central point of the clip is the tipping point when reaching a 2°C temperature increase threshold (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

The Big Ask 20191126: two degrees

If the temperature keeps rising, two degrees warmer at a certain moment, then it happens: then the planet starts to warm itself up, faster and faster and faster. That’s what they call the tipping point. Then we can not do anything anymore. Then it is totally out of our hands, say the professors. But they also say this: we now have between four and ten years to ensure that we do not reach that turning point.

The mathematically gifted among us will be able to confirm that 2008 + 10 = 2018, bringing the deadline that the problem could be fixed to (November) 2018. Meaning, already behind us.

The director of that clip appeared in a current affairs program of December 16, 2018, just beyond that deadline and, remarkably, this is what he said about the tipping point (translated from Dutch):

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A simple model: seasonal storage in perspective

In previous posts, I threw around a bunch of numbers and sometimes mentioned that these are insanely high, but never gave an idea how high. I now will try to put them in perspective in this post. I found a sweet spot where solar and wind both could deliver enough power to meet demand. This happened at 8.57 times the current capacity of solar and wind, supported by seasonal storage of 2,421 GWh. I called that an insane amount of storage. How would this compare to actual demand over the year?

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A simple model: an optimal mix of solar and wind?

When comparing seasonal characteristics of solar and wind in previous post, there was one graph that got my attention:

simple energy model (charts007d) - belgium - solar x10 and wind x19.05 - reference year: 2018 - with_unlimited_storage

It shows wind got shortages (visible orange lines) during the summer months, while solar had its best production at the same time. Solar got shortages in the beginning and end of the year, while wind had a decent production at the same time. Then it is tempting to assume that solar and wind are complementary. I understand that solar and wind are only complementary on average. When it comes to individual timeslots, they are certainly not complementary. That is an disadvantage when production and demand need to be in balance at all times.

What if we throw in storage? Is there an optimal mix of solar and wind that can deliver as much as possible direct power from solar and wind, therefor minimizing storage requirements? Separately, both solar and wind have dizzying storage requirements. Yet they could be balanced by means of 2,421 GWh storage in my first post on storage. This tells me that quite some gain is possible combining them both. Can we go even lower by varying both capacities? Maybe even in a storage range that is feasible? However, at a higher multiplier both drifted apart and solar was left far behind, so it might not be as simple as it looks.

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