Tag Archives: Nameplate Power is not Actual Output

A capacity of 3.5 nuclear power plants produced at sea by wind energy

The Ventilus project is a future 380 kV high-voltage power line with a capacity of 6 GW that will connect the Belgian coast with the rest of the country and will also serve as a (second) interconnection with the UK. There is quite some protest against it. It was planned as an overhead power line, but people living along the trajectory want the cables below ground. To my surprise, the Green party wants them above ground and demands a quick approval of the project by the Flemish Government. This is how Jeremie Vaneeckhout (the Flemish green party co-chairman) explains the urgency of the project (transcription translated from Dutch, my emphasis)

Ventilus is not only the project that can ensure that a capacity of 3.5 nuclear power plants produced at sea by wind energy, that we get that on land. It is also the guarantee that the vehicle fleet can be made electric, can be electrified, and that our grid will not fail, that all West Flemish companies can certainly remain on the grid.

The first time that I heard this, it didn’t make much sense to me. Our largest nuclear reactors have a capacity of 1 GW, but offshore wind currently has a capacity of 2.2 GW, so he is likely talking about a future capacity (but then (much) less than the 8 GW that the Minister of the North Sea envisioned). Where does this 3.5 GW number comes from? My guess was that it is the future capacity of offshore wind by the time that Ventilus will come into use. I found dates between 2027 and 2030, but Belgian offshore wind should already exceed 3.5 GW by then.

There also were others that started to use that the Ventilus-is-3.5-nuclear-reactors claim around the same time relating to Ventilus. The chairman of the Flemish socialist party said the following in an interview on Flemish television news one week earlier (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

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Claim: 8 GW offshore wind capacity corresponds to 8 nuclear reactors

A couple months ago, I wrote about the claim of our Minister of Energy that 1 GW of renewable capacity equals 1 large nuclear power plant (she obviously meant “reactors”). I recently came across a variation on this claim made by another member of our Government, the Minister of the North Sea (at least the stretch of the North Sea that belongs to Belgium). Here is what he said about the future plans for wind power in the North Sea as reported by a journalist of a Flemish newspaper (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

According to Van Quickenborne (Minister of the North Sea), it is even possible to reach 8 gigawatts with a third wind farm by 2040. “This capacity is enormous, it would correspond to 8 nuclear reactors,” says the Open VLD politician, who believes this is enough to supply all Belgian families.

This seems impressive at first glance. Basically, the total capacity of wind mills on the Belgian part of the North Sea is expected to amount to 8 GW by 2040, which the Minister then compares to the capacity of 8 nuclear reactors.

There is a core of truth in this claim (our largest nuclear reactors have a capacity of 1 GW each, so 8 GW would correspond to 8 of those), but it is pretty misleading. It is comparing two different types of electricity generation having a (radically) different output.

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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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Solar and wind replace nuclear?

A small interruption from my 6-years-of-blogging series. This blog documented several meaningless (or even wrong) remarks from our (now former) Flemish Minister of Energy. I was a bit sad when I heard that he chose to be mayor of Ostend in stead of Minister of Energy, but apparently he doesn’t have to be Minister to utter such remarks. On a congress organized by his party (OpenVLD) he made following claim (translated from Dutch):

Today, offshore wind turbines provide 1.2 GW of energy production.

That is not even remotely true. Belgian offshore wind provides much less than that. The 1.2 GW is the capacity. The real production will vary, but will be on average a fraction of that number.

He obviously is confusing capacity with production. Why am I not surprised? Strange however is that the error is still not corrected yet at the time I published this post (now more than a week later). Didn’t they notice it? Or do all the energy experts of that political party stand behind this number?

Then comes the interesting part that leads to the subject of this post (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

“By 2026 we will increase this to 4GW without subsidies. From then on, the offshore wind farms will provide 20% of the total electricity requirement. This is just as much as the total electricity consumption of all Belgian families, “says Bart Tommelein.

This claim reminded me of the new energy pact made by the Flemish Green party, published a few days before the congress. It has a similar claim (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

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Belgian offshore wind produces as much as four nuclear plants

Last Monday, our Prime Minister gave a speech on the occasion of the Belgian Diplomatic Days (Dutch ahead). In his speech, he claimed that a lot has been achieved by the current Government and, as an example, he made the remarkable claim that the Belgian wind farms in the North Sea produce the same as four nuclear power plants! He raised four fingers and said “four” twice, so he apparently wanted to make a point with this specific claim.

Screenshot VRT news of January 28, 2019

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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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Solar and wind power through the eyes of an investor

It is the time of the year again. Autumn had just started and the media was flooded with stories about possible power failures this winter. Under the current circumstances a power failure seems rather plausible. Nuclear power delivers 50-60% of our electricity and six of the seven nuclear reactors will be scheduled for maintenance this winter. This could become a real issue in the coming months.

The reason that we are in such a pickle right now is because the last seven governments had no strategic energy policy vision. The initial decision to phase out nuclear power was taken in 2003, but until now there are no concrete plans to actually replace it with something else. Okay, maybe that is not entirely true: enormous investments were made in solar and wind power. Maybe that was just the plan, replacing nuclear with solar and wind power? The problem is that these investments will not help us with the current problem. Production of solar energy is limited during winter and it is even non-existing during peak hours. Wind power is intermittent and there is no guarantee whatsoever that it will be available when needed.

There are however people who don’t agree and claim that we now should invest even more in renewable energy. One of them is Marc-Philippe Botte who works for an investment company in renewable energy and wrote an opinion piece (Dutch) published on the website of our Flemish Radio and Television (VRT) in which he defends more investments in solar and wind energy.

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The impact of that “exponentially growing” capacity of solar PV and wind on electricity generation in Australia

In previous posts, I several times made the remark that installed capacity is not a good measure to define the success of solar and wind energy. Those remarks were the reaction on the claims of Blakers and Stocks that solar PV and wind energy are “growing exponentially”, that they are “on the path of dominance” when it comes to new capacity and that they “are on track to entirely supplant fossil fuels worldwide within two decades”. The authors also claimed that other low-carbon energy sources would only play a minor supporting role.

The subject of this post will be the impact of this much celebrated new capacity of solar PV and wind when it comes to the actual production of electricity by those sources. I did something rather similar in another post with world data, my guess was that the outcome for Australia would be something rather similar.

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Solar PV and wind are on track to replace all coal, oil and gas within two decades (define “all”)

Solar PV and wind are getting so cheap and more abundant that they are on track to entirely displace fossil fuels worldwide by 2032. This remarkable claim is made in The Conversation article titled Solar PV and wind are on track to replace all coal, oil and gas within two decades.

It is a remarkable claim because the last figures that I found show that solar PV plus wind generated only a tiny fraction of total energy compared to fossil fuels. So I would doubt that solar PV and wind suddenly could replace all coal, oil and gas in just a couple decades. Two decades seems like an awfully short time to go from (almost) zero to hero.

That made me really curious about the principle behind this claim. To clarify their case, the authors showed two graphs. This is the first one:

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Photovoltaic additions surpassing the net growth in coal: the birth of a new era of solar?

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):

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