At the beginning of this month, I found an article in a Flemish newspaper that seemed to be inspired on the gas deficit alarm from the UK National Grid. It was titled “Renewable energy gets us though the winter cold”. This is how the story goes: the very cold February of this year did not result in record natural gas consumption. We used less natural gas in February 2018 than six years ago in February 2012. The demand for natural gas from households and industry stayed more or less the same. The difference was the demand for natural gas for electricity production, which was lower in 2018 than back in 2012.
Conclusion of the article: there was no record natural gas consumption in February because renewable energy grew in the last six years and this increased share lowered the demand for natural gas power. Because of this, we currently don’t need as much natural gas than we would only six years ago and there was no shortage in our country.
A curious infographic from the twitter timeline of the Flemish greens (translated from Dutch):
For the first time, renewable energy delivered 100% of electricity consumption in Germany
That struck me by surprise. I was quite busy in the last few days with another project, so I clearly missed the news.
My first reaction was: 100% delivered by renewables, sure, but how many minutes? The second question: when did this happen? There was no date on that infographic, so it was not very clear when this actually happened. I guess it was somewhat before the tweet was posted (January 8), so I went to the Agorameter website and it showed by default the last 3 days (from January 6 until 9). I removed the conventional sources from the graph and to my surprise, I saw no period in which the production of renewable energy equaled consumption.
Not even close.
On the last day of 2017, our Minister of Energy (who is fiercely promoting solar energy) posted a tweet to thank all people who installed solar panel on their during 2017. He got a prompt reaction from someone asking how much electricity those solar panels produced in December. The Minister of Energy replied with this remarkable tweet:
Translated from Dutch:
December 2017 was indeed historically low on sunshine. But there was wind and the sun will compensate plentifully in the coming months #HappyNewYear
Basically, solar energy production sucked really bad in the previous month, but, hey, there was more wind and there is more solar energy to come in the coming months anyway.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I would glad to laugh if it was a joke, but his guy is our Minister of Energy and I am afraid that he was serious about it.
It was with quite some surprise that I read this tweet written by Joeri Thijs (spokesman of Greenpeace Belgium) (translated from Dutch):
India and China are gradually becoming the new climate leaders. Europe urgently needs to step it up a notch.
I was surprised reading such a statement, especially related to China which has by far the highest emissions. Also, their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) basically said (from memory) that it would peak emissions only by 2030 and afterwards work on energy intensity (which doesn’t necessarily mean a decrease in emissions). So how could he consider both countries to be climate leaders in that regard? Especially compared to the EU, which is actually doing something in order to cut emissions.
On the one hand, the comparison seemed ridiculous, but on the other hand, I think I could somehow understand what he means. As seen in some previous posts (like this one), almost half of new solar PV in 2016 was built in China and India was also in the top 5. So if one only focuses on this specific aspect, then it is very tempting to claim that China and India are world leaders in this area.
That is of course only one side of the story and the other side doesn’t look very favorable.
In line with previous post, there is this article from a Dutch newspaper titled “Engie can not pay for major maintenance of gas-fired power plants anymore” (translated from Dutch). Philip Pouillie (CEO of Engie Benelux) explains that his company can’t afford to pay for the periodic maintenance of their gas-fired power plants anymore, delaying them as long as possible because they expect not to be able to earn back that money anymore. This is the reason that is given (translated from Dutch):
Engie has suffered from the low electricity price. That is a result of the growth of sustainable energy, the cheap power from coal, over-capacity and cheap import power from Germany. But the gas-fired power stations should, according to the energy companies, continue to run as ‘back up’ during the transition to wind and solar energy that will get shaped in the coming decade.
Another newspaper from the Netherlands explained it in a similar way:
The revenue of the [gas-fired] plants is too low to pay back the investment in major maintenance, the French energy giant expects. That is partly due to the low electricity price, overcapacity on the Dutch market and the production of renewable power. Electricity generated by gas turbines is relatively expensive compared to electricity from other sources, such as wind, sun and coal.
It is somehow suggested that alternative energy in combination with coal, overcapacity and import from Germany are causing these cheaper prices, therefor pushing gas-fired power plants out the market and now it are those gas-fired power plants that need to be supported. In the first article it also seems to be suggested that gas is only needed in a transition period, that in the future wind and solar can somehow do it on their own.
You could argue that decreasing prices are a good thing, whether it is due to sustainable energy, overcapacity, cheap import power from Germany or whatever. If these lead to low electricity prices, then let’s get more wind and solar… Unfortunately, as usual in alternative energy reporting, both articles only tell half of the story.
In the opening a new era for solar power news item discussed in previous post, there was this rather puzzling paragraph (my emphasis):
The deployment in solar PV and wind last year was accompanied by record-low auction prices, which fell as low as 3 cents per kwh (or kilowatt hour). Low announced prices for solar and wind were recorded in a variety of places, such as India, the United Arab Emirates, Mexico and Chile. These announced contract prices for solar PV and wind power purchase agreements are increasingly comparable or lower than generation cost of newly built gas and coal power plants.
There were many more questions than answers. What are those “announced auction prices”, what do they mean by “increasingly” and why aren’t there leading countries like European countries or USA on that list?
It seems to somehow suggest that the generation cost of solar PV and wind power is now “increasingly” cheaper than that of gas or coal. It is a bit odd that an energy source like wind, that in this region still depends on subsidies to survive, would be in such a position that it increasingly rivals gas and coal power. That doesn’t make much sense…
When I read the Bloomberg news article about solar capacity growing 50%, I was pretty disturbed. I was even more disturbed when I read its source: the IEA news article Solar PV grew faster than any other fuel in 2016, opening a new era for solar power.
I could understand that the Bloomberg journalist might have no clue what he was copying and pasting, but I expected much more from an organization like IEA.
The first sentence of the IEA news article sounds familiar for those who read previous two posts:
New solar PV capacity grew by 50% last year, with China accounting for almost half of the global expansion, according to the International Energy Agency’s latest renewables market analysis and forecast.
This was the subject of the last two posts, in which it is shown that the growth of installed capacity of photovoltaic is a meaningless metric for the growth of solar energy consumption. That 50% growth (which is in fact a 33% growth) translates to a 0.13 percentage point growth in solar energy consumption when compared to the total energy consumption worldwide.
This focus on the growth of installed capacity allowed the IEA to overstate the impact of solar energy. They even went a step further in the next paragraph(s) (my emphasis):