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.
It is not unusual in alternative energy communication to ignore or minimize its negative sides. This is no different in the Conversation article on solar PV and wind being on track of replacing fossil-fuels within two decades as discussed in the last two posts. Halfway the article there is the only admission that there might be a negative side to solar PV and wind energy:
A renewable grid
PV and wind are often described as “intermittent” energy sources.
When I read this the first time, I had high hopes that real issues would be tackled. That hope was in vein, it was followed by this sentence in full cheering mode:
But stabilising the grid is relatively straightforward, with the help of storage and high-voltage interconnectors to smooth out local weather effects.
At the beginning of this month, I found an article in a Flemish newspaper that seemed to be inspired by the gas deficit alarm from the UK National Grid. It was titled “Renewable energy gets us though the winter cold”. This is how the story goes: the very cold February of this year did not result in record natural gas consumption. We used less natural gas in February 2018 than six years ago in February 2012. The demand for natural gas from households and industry stayed more or less the same. The difference was the demand for natural gas for electricity production, which was lower in 2018 than back in 2012.
Conclusion of the article: there was no record natural gas consumption in February because renewable energy grew in the last six years and this increased share lowered the demand for natural gas power. Because of this, we currently don’t need as much natural gas than we would only six years ago and there was no shortage in our country.
From the department of everyone-gets-a-price comes this tweet (translated from Dutch)::
Also in the field of wind energy, we are currently at the top in Europe
Huuuurrrraaaah! Belgium is at the top in the EU for something!
On the last day of 2017, our Minister of Energy (who is fiercely promoting solar energy) posted a tweet to thank all people who installed solar panel on their during 2017. He got a prompt reaction from someone asking how much electricity those solar panels produced in December. The Minister of Energy replied with this remarkable tweet:
Translated from Dutch:
December 2017 was indeed historically low on sunshine. But there was wind and the sun will compensate plentifully in the coming months #HappyNewYear
Basically, solar energy production sucked really bad in the previous month, but, hey, there was more wind and there is more solar energy to come in the coming months anyway.
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I would glad to laugh if it was a joke, but his guy is our Minister of Energy and I am afraid that he was serious about it.
In line with previous post, there is this article from a Dutch newspaper titled “Engie can not pay for major maintenance of gas-fired power plants anymore” (translated from Dutch). Philip Pouillie (CEO of Engie Benelux) explains that his company can’t afford to pay for the periodic maintenance of their gas-fired power plants anymore, delaying them as long as possible because they expect not to be able to earn back that money anymore. This is the reason that is given (translated from Dutch):
Engie has suffered from the low electricity price. That is a result of the growth of sustainable energy, the cheap power from coal, over-capacity and cheap import power from Germany. But the gas-fired power stations should, according to the energy companies, continue to run as ‘back up’ during the transition to wind and solar energy that will get shaped in the coming decade.
Another newspaper from the Netherlands explained it in a similar way:
The revenue of the [gas-fired] plants is too low to pay back the investment in major maintenance, the French energy giant expects. That is partly due to the low electricity price, overcapacity on the Dutch market and the production of renewable power. Electricity generated by gas turbines is relatively expensive compared to electricity from other sources, such as wind, sun and coal.
It is somehow suggested that alternative energy in combination with coal, overcapacity and import from Germany are causing these cheaper prices, therefor pushing gas-fired power plants out the market and now it are those gas-fired power plants that need to be supported. In the first article it also seems to be suggested that gas is only needed in a transition period, that in the future wind and solar can somehow do it on their own.
You could argue that decreasing prices are a good thing, whether it is due to sustainable energy, overcapacity, cheap import power from Germany or whatever. If these lead to low electricity prices, then let’s get more wind and solar… Unfortunately, as usual in alternative energy reporting, both articles only tell half of the story.
In the opening a new era for solar power news item discussed in previous post, there was this rather puzzling paragraph (my emphasis):
The deployment in solar PV and wind last year was accompanied by record-low auction prices, which fell as low as 3 cents per kwh (or kilowatt hour). Low announced prices for solar and wind were recorded in a variety of places, such as India, the United Arab Emirates, Mexico and Chile. These announced contract prices for solar PV and wind power purchase agreements are increasingly comparable or lower than generation cost of newly built gas and coal power plants.
There were many more questions than answers. What are those “announced auction prices”, what do they mean by “increasingly” and why aren’t there leading countries like European countries or USA on that list?
It seems to somehow suggest that the generation cost of solar PV and wind power is now “increasingly” cheaper than that of gas or coal. It is a bit odd that an energy source like wind, that in this region still depends on subsidies to survive, would be in such a position that it increasingly rivals gas and coal power. That doesn’t make much sense…