Category Archives: Climate Politics

The (poor) knowledge of Green party voters

Besides the question about the nuclear exit and the questions on the willingness to take action on climate change, there were also two questions that were gauging the level of knowledge of the participants regarding climate change and energy. In the survey, it is called the “perception of the evolution of climate indicators”.

The first question was how the participants perceive the evolution of CO2 emissions in Belgium. The correct answer to this question is that Belgian emissions decreased over time and this was also shown in the reportage in the form of a graph:

De stemming 2022 part 3: CO2 decrease Belgium

That should have been a pretty easy question, but the result is pretty surprising.

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The (un)willingness to take action on climate change

The subject of previous post was the opinion of the Flemish people on the nuclear exit. The survey question that I looked at (“We must keep nuclear power plants open, also after 2025”) was only one of four questions in the category “Policy positions”. There were three other policy positions surveyed that I will look into in this post. I will also look into the results of some related questions like the category “Willingness to take action”, the “Willingness to give up on part of income” and whether “too little or too much measures were taken”.

In the meanwhile, I found a link to the survey report, so I don’t have to rely solely on the general numbers that the reporter selected, but I can show more details.

The three other policy positions are:

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A shift in views on nuclear energy?

The results of a new opinion survey were published at beginning of May. The survey is called “De Stemming” (The Voting”) and is an annual opinion survey of Flemish people commissioned by two media companies, VRT (Flemish television) and De Standaard (Flemish newspaper). It gauges the political views of the Flemish people, their voting behavior/intentions, their view on political issues, their evaluation of political performance and also their opinion on current events (like Ukraine).

I got interested in this survey watching a video describing the results of the item “Climate and Energy”. The video starts with the views on the Belgian nuclear exit (translated from Dutch, red oval around the questions by me):

There is great support for nuclear energy in Flanders: 81% of all Flemish people want nuclear power plants kept open after 2025.

De Stemming, deel3: nuclear power plants 81% support

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Electricity price briefly below zero thanks to sun and wind!?

There was a high production of electricity from solar and wind previous weekend (weekend of April 23-24). As expected, there was the usual cheering and celebrating of this event. One of the many was this tweet from a member of the Flemish Green party (translated from Dutch)

Still need arguments for the roll-out of renewable energy?

Electricity price briefly below zero thanks to sun and wind

Tweet WouterDeVriendt 2022-04-25

He links to a newspaper article with the same title and brings forward these negative prices as a decisive argument for more solar and wind: if you weren’t convinced yet, then this surely is the argument that will.

I don’t really agree with that. Those negative prices over the previous weekend are not an argument for the roll-out of solar and wind (maybe even the contrary) and it shows his poor understanding of why exactly electricity prices dipped below zero in that weekend.

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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 (I think she means nuclear power “reactor”).

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 reactor 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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A “skewed” distribution: the overlooked consequence of decommissioning nuclear power

In previous post, I detailed the contradiction of Belgium wanting to profit from German cheap import while employing the exact same balancing strategy as Germany. I illustrated this by comparing German electricity export and prices on days of the lowest, highest and median output of solar and wind. This showed that when Germany exports its excess electricity, prices are generally low, but at that time Belgium is also busy exporting its excess electricity. And vice versa.

Now you could object that this is not a good representation of the argument of our Green Minister of Energy. Her argument is that nuclear power stands in the way because it can’t modulate its output (enough) to follow the intermittency of solar and wind, sometimes leading to wind power being curtailed and/or exported at times when Germany is exporting abundant and cheap electricity. The goal of the Minister is to get rid of nuclear power generation so Belgium doesn’t need to curtail its own production when it is sunny and windy, while also being ready to profit from cheap electricity from Germany. Ka-ching!

That is true, decommissioning nuclear will allow for more cheap import from Germany, but this will only be temporary and lead to an even bigger problem…

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Halfway to zero: in search of virtual emission decreases

And now for something completely different. Via Watts Up With That I learned about a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study titled “Halfway to zero: progress towards a carbon-free power sector“. The conclusion of the study is that the US power sector is already halfway to zero carbon emissions. This is their overview graphic with all the gains that were made since 2005:

Halfway to zero: emissions: bau vs actual trajectory

They didn’t look at actual emission decreases from 2005, but compared current emissions to emission projections made in 2005.

They exhausted this technique in the rest of the study. Another example is the statement that the total electricity bill in 2020 is 18% less than projected. Mind you, this again is not an actual decrease. Consumers don’t see their electricity bills drop by 18% since 2005, it was projected in 2005 that the electricity bill would be higher in 2020 than what it actually was in 2020.

That is a pretty neat technique, they basically show that things could be worse and can then declare this as a gain.

I am in a cheeky mood right now, so let me try to apply this technique in my own life and see how much gain I can squeeze out of it…

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