Tag Archives: Solar energy

“Electricity prices” decrease the more sun and wind there is in the mix

Are solar and wind the cheapest? That seems to be the suggestion in this this tweet (translation from Dutch, my emphasis):

Time and time again, it appears that electricity prices decrease the more sun & wind there is in the mix.
Likewise, all trend lines will reach ZERO once the share of solar & wind approaches 100%.
January 2023 is no exception.

Twitter: BM_Vsser 2023-02-05

Ah, that elusive electricity-prices-go-down-when-the-share-of-solar-and-wind-increases narrative again. As expected, there were several commenters singing the praise of the cheapness of solar and wind energy. But then, what does he mean by “reach zero once the share of solar and wind approaches 100%”? And what exactly are those “electricity prices” that he is talking about?

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Offshore wind with a capacity of “3.5 nuclear power plants”

In her interview in the Flemish newspaper (subject of previous two posts), our Minister of Energy not only said that the wind always blows somewhere in Europe, and especially at sea, but she also made following remark about Belgian offshore wind (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

When I became minister, I hoped that our new offshore wind farm would be operational by 2027. It has a capacity of 3.5 nuclear power plants and can supply all Belgian households with electricity.

I heard members of the current Federal Government draw (variations on) this analogy between offshore wind and nuclear power plants quite a lot lately, especially (and unsurprisingly) by members of the Flemish Green party.

For the record, there is a core of truth in this statement. It is true that the capacity of offshore wind in Belgium is expected to be 3500 MW in 2027 and since most Belgian nuclear power reactors (not “plants”) have a capacity of about 1000 MW, the capacity of offshore wind will equal the capacity of 3.5 nuclear power reactors by 2027. That is where the similarities end.

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The wind always blows somewhere in Europe

As seen in previous post, Belgium experienced a dunkelflaute (a period of low solar and wind power production) on November 29 and, depending on one’s definition of dunkelflaute, it may even be longer. Belgian politicians envision a situation in which Belgium relies more on import of electricity, so I wonder what those neighboring countries did during this event and whether they would be able to help us in such a situation. My expectation (based on previous posts like here, here, here and here), is that they all went through the same or at least a similar event.

Let’s start with what happened in Belgium from November 28 until December 2:

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Dunkelflautes last just a few hours (oops, days)

There was a dunkelflaute at the end of last month. “Dunkelflaute” is a German word, mostly translated as “dark doldrum”. It is a period in which there is no(t much) sunlight and no(t much) wind, resulting in very low electricity production from solar panels and windmills. The media told us that Monday November 29 was such a day.

This is what solar and wind did compared to total load:

Chart0020a: Dunkelflaute belgium 2022-11-29

Solar and wind indeed did not do well on that day. Electricity production by solar and wind was mostly hugging the x-axis for most of the day. The combined average capacity factor for solar and wind was a measly 1.53% (between 0.06% and 7.89%). It was particularly wind that did poorly. Luckily there was some sun to elevate the capacity factor, but even that was pretty limited because days are short at this time of the year at our latitude.

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Electricity price briefly below zero thanks to sun and wind!?

There was a high production of electricity from solar and wind previous weekend (weekend of April 23-24). As expected, there was the usual cheering and celebrating of this event. One of the many was this tweet from a member of the Flemish Green party (translated from Dutch)

Still need arguments for the roll-out of renewable energy?

Electricity price briefly below zero thanks to sun and wind

Tweet WouterDeVriendt 2022-04-25

He links to a newspaper article with the same title and brings forward these negative prices as a decisive argument for more solar and wind: if you weren’t convinced yet, then this surely is the argument that will.

I don’t really agree with that. Those negative prices over the previous weekend are not an argument for the roll-out of solar and wind (maybe even the contrary) and it shows his poor understanding of why exactly electricity prices dipped below zero in that weekend.

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What when the sun doesn’t shine and the the wind doesn’t blow: batteries!?

The big question was asked again. Remember, a few posts ago, our Minister of Energy tried to answer the question “What happens when the wind doesn’t blow?”, a question she apparently got asked a lot. Back then she managed to evade answering that question.

The question came back in an interview (Dutch ahead) about the energy transitions she gave to a news magazine from Brussels. Initially, it seemed we would not get an answer (the interview was interrupted at the exact moment when the question was asked), but fortunately the reporter was persistent enough to ask the question again later in the interview (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

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Wind from Denmark to the rescue?

One of the solutions that our Minister of Energy proposes for the energy transition is interconnectivity. In the webinar she gave at the end of 2020 (see previous post) she was pleased that Belgium got connected to the German grid and therefor could start to take advantage of the electricity produced by solar and wind in Germany. I am less optimistic about that. As I found in some previous posts like for example here, here and here, Belgium and Germany are neighbor countries and therefor have similar patterns of solar and wind production.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that no gains could be made by this interconnection. There will be times when Belgium could use the solar/wind overproduction of Germany, but when Germany has a excellent intermittent production, then generally Belgium does too. The same when Germany has only little intermittent production, then Belgium generally experience the same. The more intermittent capacity build in the two countries, the less Belgium will be able to take advantage of excess electricity production from intermittent energy sources.

This is however not the only interconnection that our Minister of Energy wants. A year after the webinar, she signed a memorandum of understanding (Dutch ahead) with Denmark to look into the possibility of a submarine power cable connecting Denmark with Belgium. That made me wonder whether this submarine cable would make it possible for Belgium to take advantage of Denmark’s excess intermittent electricity production and that is what I will look into this post.

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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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Comparing solar and wind in the Netherlands with Belgium

In the post at the end of February, I compared two graphs showing the electricity production by solar and wind versus household electricity demand of the Netherlands, this for the months of June 2021 and December 2021. Belgium is a neighbor country of the Netherlands, so I wondered how electricity production by solar and wind in Belgium would compare with the Netherlands in the same period.

Both countries have around the same share of solar and wind in electricity demand, but population is different (more people in the Netherlands) and also have different installed capacities of solar and wind (much more solar capacity in the Netherlands), so that could show some interesting differences.

The Belgian solar and wind data is registered at 15 minutes intervals, but I don’ t think that this is the case for the graphs of the Netherlands. My guess is that it uses 1 hour intervals (quarter hour intervals or half hour intervals would give much more fluctuations). Combining the data of Belgium at 1 hour intervals with the digitized data from the Netherlands gives this:

Chart16b: solar and wind, Belgium vs the Netherlands

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Pot, meet kettle: 2 GW represents only 2 percent of our energy supply

Turns out that our Minister of Energy last week made the claim that “2 GW represents 2% of our energy supply”. That doesn’t make much sense. Initially, I couldn’t find where exactly she said that. There was a lot of chatter about it on social media, but it was not clear what she said exactly and in what context. Luckily, I found this tweet on her Twitter time line (translated from Dutch):

Government will decide on the basis of affordability and security of supply and I will add a third criterion: energy independence.

2 GW represents 2% of our energy supply. We need an agreement for 100% of our energy supply.

Tweet TinneVdS 20220328

The tag #deochtend in that tweet refers to the radio program “De Ochtend” (“The Morning”) and yes, on February 28 there was an interview in that program with our Energy Minister about the situation in Ukraine and its consequences on our energy prices (from 02:13:48 until 02:24:40, the 2% claim is made at 02:22:24). The context of this claim is the Belgian nuclear exit. There are currently two options:

  1. Decommissioning all seven Belgian nuclear power plants (plan A)
  2. Decommissioning the five oldest and only keeping the two youngest running (plan B).

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