Tag Archives: Solar energy

A future for solar energy in the Netherlands: fact check or wishful thinking?

The subject of previous posts was a statement in the second energy fact check of the “factchecker energie” from the Energy Agreement of the SER (Social Economic Council of the Netherlands). The question that get answered in this second fact check is whether solar energy has a future in the Netherlands. This post will focus on how this is answered.

Reading the fact check, it appeared overly optimistic. As with other communication on renewable energy, the author only highlights the positives and ignores the negatives.

This is how the fact check continued (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

The central planning bureau (CPB) has recently published a report which concludes that solar energy will have a marginal role in the future European electricity supply and wind energy will play an important role. In the most optimistic scenario, solar power fills in up to 8% of the electricity demand. According to the analysis of the CPB, this is mainly because it is so difficult (expensive) to bridge the difference in summer and winter revenues.

Prof. Dr. Wim Sinke of ECN made several remarks on this CPB study. He points out that the CPB is too pessimistic about the cost of solar electricity and is still insufficiently sensitive to the rapid developments in the field of power-to-heat, power-to-gas and power-to-products. The CPB looks only to the electricity system, but not enough to what’s called system integration. By the way, the CPB points in his study also to its limitations, such as the fact that because of the followed methodology, electricity storage cannot properly be taken into account, and it indicates that follow-up study is needed.

If I understand that correctly, the CPB doesn’t believe that solar energy will have much of a future in the Netherlands, but the author of this fact check thinks otherwise. This because:

  1. the CPB is too pessimistic about the cost of solar power
  2. there are rapid developments in the field of solar energy
  3. electricity storage is not properly taking into account in the CPB report.

While that might all be true, it is only half of the story.

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Do wind and solar “complement” each other during winter?

The second fact check of the “factchecker energy” of SER is titled: Is there a future for solar energy in the Netherlands?. Although the author of this fact check admits that solar energy only has a very tiny share (0.1% of the energy consumption) and it needs to be balanced by other flexible energy sources, he is very optimistic about the future. His “fact” check seem to rely on future developments related to solar energy.

As a whole, it seems a quite bland and overly optimistic fact check, but there was one statement that caught my attention (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

There is a factor of ten difference between summer and winter output of solar panels. What the share of solar power in the electricity mix will be, will depend to a large extent on the developments in electricity storage (for short and longer periods) and of the expansion of the electricity connections with other countries. Wind power and solar energy complement each other in that respect: the supply of wind power is higher in the winter when the supply of solar energy is lower.

That is an interesting statement. Apparently wind energy produces more power in winter and this compensates for the loss of output of solar cells during the same time. I decided to have a look at the data to find out to what extent “wind complements solar”, but also the significance of this phenomenon in a continuous working grid.

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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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From pot, kettle and renewables

In the category “strong statements”, today an interesting reaction on the news of the nuclear reactor getting offline last week Thursday. It came from Johan Vande Lanotte, former Minister and current member of the Chamber of Representatives for the Flemish socialist party. In his own style he stated: if renewable energy failed so often, this government would have quit it a long time ago.

I had to chuckle when I read this. I hope he isn’t talking about wind and solar. These are not exactly the pinnacle of reliability and not exactly chosen for their performance either. As seen in one of previous posts, solar energy doesn’t contribute much to the morning and to the evening peak, the time of the day when the demand for electricity is highest. Even in this season when days are rather long and nights short. In the wintertime, when the demand is highest over the year, the contribution of solar energy to our electricity production during the peaks is non existing.

Adding wind energy doesn’t seem to make it much better, at least not currently. Just look at the last seven days:

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The saviors versus the realists

Continuing on the short, but misleading article about solar energy doing better than nuclear on August 13, in the comments there was an interesting conversation of some solar panel owners who complained that they have to pay extra for their use of the grid. It started like this (translated from Dutch):

incredible that we, owners of solar panels once more have to cough up a hefty amount extra because we use the grid. Long live Belgium.

Alluding to the fee to be paid by all those who produce electricity and put it on the grid. Initially, individual home owners with solar panels were exempt to promote the installation of solar panels, but later it was ruled that also home owner had to pay the fee. Another comment followed up on that: (translated from Dutch):

Today I have consumed nothing and produced a lot. I now must pay for that …. Meanwhile, my energy is sold. I call that theft

Another commenter seems better informed and turned the tables (translated from Dutch):

Energy from solar panels is expensive and over-subsidized. It is because of them that we now pay about 80 euro more per year. Yet some believe that they should receive more compensation, that is barking mad. If the meter turns backwards, you are selling your energy at the price that you’d otherwise have to pay and then there are the certificates. Theft.

Later someone with the handle “Dumb blonde 1” jumped in, repeating the “solar energy saved the day (notwithstanding this argument being tackled before) and living up to the chosen handle (translated from Dutch, some interpunctuation added for clarity):

should all solar panel owners disconnect their system now, then all those jealous people would be without power like in Poland not long ago. Actually, now is the time to pull together against the unjust transport costs and to those jealous people, the person who puts the energy on the net that he didn’t consume gets no euro cent for that, those are sold by the company and is pure profit for them. The solar panel owner only gets the certificate

Well, I don’t think that this is what reality shows. Luckily sanity prevailed when another commenter dropped by (translated from Dutch):

If all solar panel owners switch their systems off, then no one would fall without power. This happens every night and every time there is insufficient or no sun. The fossil backup then kicks in and all the lights will stay on. A solar panel has a efficiency of 15%. This has nothing to do with jealousy but with pure natural laws, which are the same for everyone, rich or poor, solar panel owner or not.

That is hitting the nail on the head.

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Solar panels came to the rescue … in the dark

The media story that for the first time more solar energy was producted than nuclear energy was hilarious when one understood the situation or when one had some background. The others where put on the wrong track. This was clear from the non-critical comments on that article. For example this very condensed comment of someone coming to the defense of solar panel owners (translated from Dutch, interpunctuation added by me for clarity reasons):

and then complaining about people with solar panels, happy we have these people, otherwise we were again without power

This reaction was made in the light of the criticism on people with solar panels. They received this criticism already some time because they make the energy invoice more expensive, but this was recently stirred up again when our current federal government decided to increase the energy price and one (rather large) part of that cost is the financing of green certificates (is an amount of money paid to panel owners for each 1,000 kWh produced). Which explains the “complaining about people with solar panels”-part of the comment.

The second part was a bit harder to understand. The commenter apparently understood the story from the media as:

nuclear power reactor gets offline → solar energy had a good day and took over → Hooray! A victory for solar power in Belgium!

However, that is not what actually happened in the real world. This is what happened that day:

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More solar than nuclear energy produced in Belgium … or maybe not

Last Thursday, a Belgian nuclear reactor (Tihange 3) went offline just after midnight. There seemed to be a technical defect that triggered an automatic stop. Luckily this didn’t happen in winter. The defect was fixed, but the owner took the opportunity to do the maintenance a couple months earlier than foreseen, so the reactor will only be put back online at the end of the month. That makes five of the seven reactors are now offline.

This gave rise to the expected hooray messages in the media: “More solar than nuclear energy produced in Belgium today for the first time”. A message apparently attributed to the VTM television news. This is how it goes (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

Because of the failure of Tihange, now five of the seven nuclear reactors in our country are not working. As a result, today more solar energy than nuclear energy was produced in our country.

That never happened before. From a quarter past eleven this morning, solar panels delivered around 1,550 megawatts of electricity, more than the 1,450 megawatts of nuclear power plants.

And then the solar panels delivered less than expected because of mist and light clouds. When the sun is shining, they can generate almost twice as much energy.

Sure, since Tihange 3 went offline, solar energy production was higher than nuclear … for as long as it took:

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