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…
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):
Reading previous post one could remark that a 33% growth in photovoltaics (PV) is already an excellent result and rather close to 50% anyway, so what is the big deal about the IEA inflating a 33% growth to 50%?
I think that none of the two numbers is representative for the impact PV has on energy use, but let me first show the story as it is brought. This is how PV growth looks like according the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2017:
This looks quite impressive, even when PV grew “only” 33% in the last year. At first glance this seems to be a sign that PV is expanding rapidly. According tot the IEA news story, PV is growing stronger than other energy sources (in installed capacity). Which is mathematically true, but how relevant is it in the bigger picture?
In line with previous post (on the claim that solar is to surpass nuclear by the end of the year), there is this Bloomberg article titled Solar Grew Faster Than All Other Forms of Power for the First Time. A new IEA report claimed that:
solar powered by photovoltaics, or PVs, grew by 50 percent, with almost half of new plants built in China
There was no link to the report, there was only a link to a Bloomberg page with the company profile of IEA. Searching the IEA website revealed that the article “
Solar PV grew faster than any other fuel in 2016, opening a new era for solar power” was rather similar to the Bloomberg article and reported the same claims. It described this report: Market Report Series: Renewables 2017 – Analysis and Forecasts to 2022.
Unfortunately, the report is paywalled and I will need to reach for my wallet first to get access to it. Which is not something I wanted to do. Luckily, there is the BP data that I used in the last few posts. It also has the photovoltaics installed capacity data. The second part of the claim was easily found. The difference of installed photovoltaic 2015 versus 2016 for China is 34,530 MW. Worldwide difference is 75,093 MW. Meaning roughly 46%. So “almost half of new plants built in China” seems to be confirmed by the BP data.
However, I had some problems confirming the first part of the claim (that “PVs grew by 50%”). According to BP, the worldwide increase of photovoltaics capacity is 33.2%:
That is considerably less than the 50% claimed by the IEA.
That is quite puzzling. I don’t think it is a rounding issue. It is very unlikely that 33.2% (or 0.332) is rounded to 50% (or 0.5). So I assumed that the IEA data is rather different from the BP data and since I no access to that data, I initially forgot about it.
Another tweet that grabbed my attention this week:
The text of the tweet:
Speed of energy transition every day more jaw dropping. Solar to surpass nuclear by end 2017.
That seems odd. In previous post I looked at the share of the different energy sources in worldwide primary energy use in 2006 and found that 11.6% was generated by nuclear and only 1.5% by solar in the EU. When I look at the BP figures for energy use worldwide (1,3276.3 Mtoe), then nuclear (592.1 Mtoe) has a share of 4.5% and solar (75.4 Mtoe) has a share of 0.6%.
Yet now we get to hear that solar will somehow surpass nuclear by the end of 2017…
The tweet linked to the slightly more nuanced article “Solar energy will surpass nuclear by the end of the year” and the included summary gives a glimpse of what is really meant by “solar that surpasses nuclear” (my emphasis):