Tag Archives: Nameplate Power is not Actual Output

Half News: (installed) capacity of wind energy has overtaken coal

From the half-news department comes the article titled Capacity of wind energy has overtaken coal in De Morgen (the Flemish Guardian).

Wind energy overtakes coal - De Morgen , February 9, 2017

This is how it is explained (translated from Dutch):

Last year, the installed capacity of wind power in Europe surpassed that of coal. This according to figures from the industry association WindEurope.

In terms of capacity, only gas-fired power plants preceded wind energy.

The source was an article with the same title from Belga (a news agency) and it was copied verbatim by a huge flock of news sites in Flanders.

The article in De Morgen jumped out as a sore thumb: it appeared in the section “Science”. Probably copied by a “science” journalist who had no clue that comparing installed capacity of wind with coal is meaningless and a direct comparison of the two is misleading.

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Flemish (onshore) windmills have almost the same capacity as a nuclear reactor

The journalists of our beloved Flemish media seem to go ballistic lately. Yesterday there was the item in the VTM news about the current “drought” that was “direct result of climate change”. Today the VRT news felt it had to compete with that and went full stupid in an article with the sensational title:

Flemish windmills have almost the same capacity as a nuclear reactor

vrt news 20161228 windmil

Apparently the onshore windmills in Flandres have a total capacity of 920 MW, which is only slightly below the capacity of (some of) our nuclear turbines (at somewhat above 1,000 MW).

Hurraaaah!!!

I am afraid that I have to spoil that party…

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In search of “only” 1414 MW (if non-dispatchable power sources are dispatchable)

Last Thursday, a Flemish newspaper brought the story that “the lights will go out in 2020”. We heard that many times before in the past. This time the statement was made by Andries Gryffroy, who was called the “energy expert” of N-VA (Flemish political party on the center right). He rightfully questioned the “energy plan” of current Flemish Minister of Energy, which is solely based on extra solar and wind energy. Even with those extra windmills and solar panels, we will not be able to produce enough energy to meet our demand in a few years and could face power shortages by 2020. More, several old conventional plants will need to be decommissioned in the next years and the new solar panels and wind mills need backup. He gave the example that in winter only 3% of nameplate power of solar energy is produced, while we use most energy in winter.

Okay, I dig that. Solar and wind provide less energy in the winter when we need most energy. Just adding more intermittent energy sources without backup and additionally decommissioning older conventional power plants, makes a good recipe for energy shortages. Especially in winter at peak demand. Especially with our aging power plants. Our politicians are talking about energy security for years now, but in the end go for extra windmills and solar panels. Probably to meet the EU goals.

Although I agree with what was being said, there were some things that seemed rather odd. For example, it was calculated that in winter we will have a shortage of 1,414 MWh and explained that this is the equivalent of 1.5 Belgian nuclear power plants. Which doesn’t make much sense. 1,414 MWh is the electricity that 1.5 nuclear power plants will produce in one hour. My guess was he was confused between “megawatt” (power) and “megawatt hours” (energy). Or was it the journalist that brought in the confusion?

Also the calculated number was puzzling. At first glance, it seems rather unrealistic. Apparently, we would be able to decommission older gas power plants PLUS arrange backup for a doubling of our capacity of intermittent energy sources, yet only need 1.5 conventional power plant to compensate for all that!?

Luckily, the paper version of the news paper mentioned how the calculation was actually done:

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The partial eclipse and electricity production

Last Friday, we had a (partial) solar eclipse of the sun visible in Belgium. The moon passed before the sun and covered about 80% of it. In the months before this event, there were several articles published in the media that worried that a possible blackout could be possible. Some were afraid that although we survived the energy crisis this winter, yet now we would get the fatal blow that would get our power grid on its knees. Some said we could lose a maximum of 3,000 MW generated electricity from solar installations in our country.

At the end of last year I made a blog post about this and remarked that these doom scenarios would be highly unlikely because of the tiny fraction electricity produced via solar panels in Belgium. I also remarked that 3,000 MW is the total installed capacity, so we would lose only a fraction of that and our grid would have no problem absorbing that.

Now the numbers are available, let’s have a look at it. First let’s look at the general figures of the electricity production in Belgium last Friday:

eclipse 20150320 total power generation Belgium

Total production of electricity in Belgium on March 20, 2015 source: http://www.elia.be/en/grid-data/power-generation/energy-cipu-units

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Wind breaking all records … for as long as it takes

Today we got cheering in the Belgian media about a new record of wind energy production. It goes like this: energy production from wind energy reached a new record last Monday. There was a production of 38,8 GWh that day, enough electricity for about 4 million families and about 15% of the total energy demand. The previous record was from December 11.

One of them even said that thanks that thanks to the good production of wind energy and the re-opening of nuclear reactor Doel 4, there is no threat of a blackout at this moment.

Yeah right.

As far as I know the risk of a blackout is when the temperature is around -6 °C and during peak at working days. There are no freezing temperatures at the moment and we are at the beginning of a holiday week. Very small risk of a blackout, with or without wind energy. The risk will rise again beginning of January until March-April or so.

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Power shortages because of solar eclipses?

In the newspaper of today (Het Laatste Nieuws of December 4, 2014) I found this tiny article that caught my attention:

Now also power problems because of solar eclipse?
In the morning of March 20, 2015 in Europe a power shortage looms because of a solar eclipse. The sun, the moon and the earth are almost aligned that day, so that 84% of the sun is covered by the moon. Therefor electricity production from solar energy will drop. In Belgium solar panels representing a capacity of 3,000 MW. Which threatens to collapse largely between 09:30 AM and 11:30 AM. Professor Ronnie Belmans KU Leuven considers the probability of sudden power shortages on that day high.

Seems very dramatic, 3,000 MW is a rather large chunk of the energy that is put on the grid. But as much in alternative energy communication this is only part of the story.

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“Installed capacity” versus “electricity produced”

One thing that I notice in the media is how easy it is to confuse “installed capacity” and “electricity produced”. An example is an article in the printed edition of “Het Laatste Nieuws” (a Belgian newspaper) about our looming shortage of electricity next winter. The journalist made the following calculation:

Wind and water 1,800 MW
Fossil fuels 5,500 MW
Nuclear power 1,912 MW
Import from abroad 3,500 MW (?)

In a very cold winter we need about 14,000 MW at peak moments. With the remark that we still have no idea if we can trust having the much needed 3,500 MW import from abroad. Even if we could trust having this imported electricity, we fall short about 1,300 MW according to these numbers.

The problem is the 1,800 MW number for “wind and water”. As it is used, one would think that this 1,800 MW is something to count on. It is assumed it is as reliable as the other numbers. Yet that is not the case. Meaning that the journalist is lowballing the shortage.

That 1,800 MW seems familiar to me. 1,778.95 MW to be exact, is the current nameplate capacity of wind energy, not the real output that we would expect. It doesn’t mean we get that much electricity from wind. It is the number that we expect when the wind blows optimal across the whole country and only for that long. This hasn’t happened before.

Let’s look at the real number of the production of electricity by wind and water in Belgium. It can be found on the Elia website I started making screenshots the day I started to write this post:

Source: Elia

Source: Elia

The water-part of this is probably from the pumped storage power station of Coo that is pumping water to a higher basin (therefor the negative production at some moments) and later producing power when it is needed by letting the water flow in the lower basin again.

It is obvious from these graphs that nowhere in this period there was a production of 1,800 MW by wind and water. Not even close. The first day there was a peak of about 800 MW for a few hours. The second day around 400 MW for some brief moments. The third day there was a peak of somewhat more than 1,000 MW but only for a very, very brief moment. If we ignore the fact that the water-part sometimes uses electricity, the wind/water power source goes from about 10 MW to about 1,000 MW. And those peaks were only for a very short short time. Far from being 1,800 MW continuously.

This also clearly shows the intermittent nature of wind power. In those three days there were several periods that there was hardly any electricity production by wind. For example on the 20th the generation of electricity was extremely low, also at peak hours. The same with the production on the 21th before noon. Suppose this was winter and suppose we would solely rely on wind (and solar) as some think is plausible, at that time we would need as much capacity from conventional sources as there is consumption to fill in that gap. If that conventional power would not available, we would experience a blackout. That is the Achilles heel of wind and solar power. Backup is needed for those times that there is little wind and solar. Like at peak hours in winter.

People often confuse between installed capacity and actual production. Even journalists and politicians alike. Proven by this article in the newspaper. They assume that renewable energy is the same as its conventional counterpart. But renewables are a completely other beast with specific properties, such as intermittency.

It is not because 1,800 MW is installed that 1,800 MW is produced continuously.