Tag Archives: Cherry Picking

Renewables are so cheap (define “cheap”)

Is renewable energy cheap? I often heard this claim in the past, mostly from politicians who want to justify their policies, but also from scientists. I then assumed that not all costs were counted, but had no clue what their specific arguments were.

The claim was also made in the current events lecture “A Sustainable Energy Supply for Belgium” (see previous post), specifically in the second lecture. The claim was that renewables are so cheap that they push fossil-fuel fired power plants out of the market. Odd, because subsidies for for example wind energy still exist in Belgium. If wind energy is really cheaper than fossil-fuel energy, then those subsidies don’t make much sense. Luckily, the speaker (Johan Driesen) took some time to explain his arguments in support of his claim and that made it very clear what he exactly meant by being “cheap”.

This is the part where he explains his reasoning (Dunglish not mine):

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Meaningless metrics, episode umpteen

We got some pretty confusing information in the last few weeks. On the one hand, we got to hear that there is no long term vision for energy policy by our politicians and that this leads to the increased risk of having blackouts in winter. We were in this situation before. In the last several years we got to hear in autumn that we risk having blackouts in the next winter.

On the other hand, there was the communication that Belgium is doing just fine and is even at the top when it comes to energy policy! An example of this is a tweet from Bart Tommelein (Flemish Minister of Energy), reacting to the claim that our politicians have no long term vision on energy (translated from Dutch):

The best interconnected country in Europe, 2nd country per km2 for solar energy, 3th country in Europe per km2 for wind energy and pioneer in offshore wind. It is really not that bad. But these nuclear power plants surely need to be replaced.

Which is of course a completely meaningless answer. Even if we assume that this energy-per-km2 metric is somehow meaningful, solar and wind will not help us much in winter. Solar is not available at peak demand and wind is not reliable enough to keep us from blackouts.

It was however the claim that we are in second and third position that caught my attention. Initially, I assumed it was the same (meaningless) metric he used in the beginning of this year. Back then in January, he claimed that Belgium was in third position when it comes to solar energy per km2 and the fourth position when it comes to wind energy. Back then, it became clear that he meant that we were among the best in consumption of solar/wind energy per area (in MWh/km2).

In that post, I already mentioned that this is a meaningless metric since it depends on the area and population density of a certain country. Belgium, being a small and densely populated country, will always being in the advantage when it comes to energy consumption per area. Not just solar or wind, but any energy source.

Compare this with the recent tweet that states that we now are in second position when it comes to “solar energy” and third when it comes to “wind energy” in Europe (EU?). Hey, did we advance one position for solar as well as wind in the last eight to nine months?

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Record hunting continues: a contribution of … 85%!

Hopefully it is not getting boring by now, this is another post on the meaningless metric of contribution of solar and wind. For those who have had enough of it, some reassurance, it will probably be the last on this subject and I will keep it as short as possible.

In this post, I am going to mine for an inconvenient example again. There are other energy sources in Belgium than solar and wind. The most interesting is nuclear. Half of our electricity comes is produced by nuclear power plants. If we do the same as solar and wind (look for record contribution), then this might get us some interesting numbers. Since total load varies throughout the day/the week/the seasons, we are bound to to find some high numbers, maybe even really high numbers.

And yes, when I calculated the contribution of nuclear in the period September 2017 – July 2018, the record value was …

… wait for it …

85%!

Eighty five percent? Where were the Minister and Elia on September 11, 2017? I also didn’t hear anything on the news either. If we have to cheer for the 45% contribution of solar PLUS wind, why was there not a peep about a 85% contribution of nuclear, all on its own?

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A new record: 0.016% contribution of solar and wind to total load!

Can’t get enough of the (meaningless) metric of record contribution of solar and wind to total load. This time, I will go hunting for another such record myself, using the exact same data that leads to that cheered record.

Remember from previous posts that the claim was made that Belgian solar and wind contributed 45% of total load on July 28 and that it was brought as something significant. Also remember that July 28, 2018 is a Saturday and that there was coincidentally a lot of solar PV and wind energy production, leading to a big contribution of solar and wind to total load. When it comes to intermittent power sources, that record is basically meaningless.

There was also this graph from Elia (our network manager) that showed other similar records of the last 11 months (see also this post):

As I explained in my first post on the subject, it suggests a steady increase. Until you realize that these are spot counts of coincidental high values, it is no less than cherry picking.

But if our Minister (and the network manager) are allowed to cherry pick, so am I! Solar and wind are intermittent energy sources and the record values are directly related to the failure to follow demand by those sources. Therefor, if there are records of maximum contribution (low demand at times of high production), then there are also records of MINIMUM contribution (huge demand at times of low production).

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Yet another meaningless metric: contribution of solar and wind to total load

“A new record for solar and wind”. This is stated in a tweet by our Flemish Minister of Energy:

The hashtag “stroomversnelling” (the Dutch word for “rapids” and used in expressions it roughly means “speeding up” or “moving faster”) and he often uses it in relation to his policies. So, do I understand it correctly that he connects the current policies are the reason that this record was broken?

That “new record” was solar and wind producing 45% of the Belgian electricity load on Saturday July 28 at 15:00. My first reaction was: “So what?”. It probably would boil down to a few minutes in the weekend. The Minister has a history of unnuanced and misleading tweets, so I thought it would be a good idea to check what that record is all about. I turns out that this record was even less significant than I expected.

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Oreskes 2004 and Peiser

As mentioned in previous post on the consensus article in skepticalscience, there was an entry explaining the Oreskes 2004 paper. In the article, it was presented as “Oreskes 2004 and Peiser”. Which was an odd thing. Peiser didn’t write the paper together with Oreskes (otherwise it would be “Oreskes and Peiser, 2004). At the contrary, Peiser wrote a critique on the conclusion of the paper (that not a single paper rejected the consensus position). The author of this article seems to have a lot of confidence also mentioning the critique together with the Oreskes paper.

At that time, I did not know much about the Peiser critique and initially had to rely on the explanation provided by the author of the skepticalscience article. This is how the critique is presented in the article:

Oreskes 2004 and Peiser

A survey of all peer-reviewed abstracts on the subject ‘global climate change’ published between 1993 and 2003 shows that not a single paper rejected the consensus position that global warming is man caused (Oreskes 2004). 75% of the papers agreed with the consensus position while 25% made no comment either way (focused on methods or paleoclimate analysis).

Benny Peiser, a climate contrarian, repeated Oreskes’ survey and claimed to have found 34 peer reviewed studies rejecting the consensus. However, an inspection of each of the 34 studies reveals most of them don’t reject the consensus at all. The remaining articles in Peiser’s list are editorials or letters, not peer-reviewed studies. Peiser has since retracted his criticism of Oreskes survey:

“Only [a] few abstracts explicitly reject or doubt the AGW (anthropogenic global warming) consensus which is why I have publicly withdrawn this point of my critique. [snip] I do not think anyone is questioning that we are in a period of global warming. Neither do I doubt that the overwhelming majority of climatologists is agreed that the current warming period is mostly due to human impact.”

A [snip] in a skepticalscience article? I need to know more about that! What exactly got snipped in that quote from Peiser?

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When the relevant data doesn’t fit the narrative, just use other data that will and suggest that the relevant data fits even better

A graph that caught my attention in the “100% renewable electricity in Australia” paper by Blakers and Stocks was this one:

It shows growth of the installed capacity of solar PV and wind compared with other energy sources between 2014 and 2016. The remarkable increase of solar energy stood out, it almost doubled in three years time. Wind energy did not do bad either, the increase grew in 2015, dropped a bit in 2016, but nevertheless stayed above the 2014 value.

There is something weird about this graph: there is also an entry “nuclear” and, as far as I know, Australia doesn’t have any nuclear power plants. So this is obviously not the Australian situation.

The relevance of the graph was explained in the paper as (my emphasis):

PV and wind constitute half of the world‘s new generation capacity installed in 2014-16 (Fig. 1). In recent years, these sources provided nearly all new generation capacity installed in Australia.

That PV and wind constitute half of the new generation capacity is rather meaningless since they are comparing intermittent energy sources with dispatchable energy sources. But let’s assume, for the sake of the argument, that this comparison is somehow meaningful. What they apparently want to say is that the installed capacity of solar PV and wind did very well compared to other power sources worldwide (which explains the “nuclear” entry) and that solar PV and wind in Australia were responsible for nearly all of the growth. Therefor suggesting that there is a similar increase for Australia, only much better since solar PV and wind provided most of the new installations there.

The big question then is: why don’t they just use the Australian data to illustrate their case? The subject of the paper is renewables in Australia, yet they illustrate their claim with renewables in the world. More, since Australian solar PV and wind were almost the only generation capacity that increased between 2014 and 2016, the Australian situation should in theory be a much better illustration of what they want to prove.

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