Tag Archives: Wind energy

The experts who forgot that wind energy is intermittent

A final post in the energy fact check series from SER. Fact check number 4 is titled “Do wind mills run mostly on subsidies?“.

This is the reasoning why subsidies are necessary according to the fact check: since the cost of wind energy is somewhere between €0.074 to €0.098/kWh for onshore wind and €0.133 en €0.157/kWh for offshore wind and on the price on the energy market is around €0.04, therefor subsidies has to be provided to settle the difference.

I have no problem with that.

The fact check starts with the costs of wind energy: cost of the wind mills, installation and maintenance. That is rather brief, but luckily there was a source at the bottom of the page for more information. Unfortunately, no link to it, just a name of a report: Final advice base costs 2014 by ECN (Energy research Centre of the Netherlands). Fortunately that report (Dutch) was easily found on the internet. Strange, why was there no link provided for a source that is readily available online?

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The (actually not so) “excellent” fact check

There was some controversy related to the third fact check of SER on energy. This fact check is titled “Nearby residents have mostly nuisance and little benefit from windmills(Dutch). Two action groups opposing wind mills read the fact check and were not amused. They claimed that the information of the fact check was not objective and incomplete.

Rightfully so. That fact check exaggerated the advantages of wind energy and minimized its disadvantages.

This is no big surprise. This kind of framing is not only done in this fact check, but also in the four other energy fact checks of SER. I would even say that this framing is endemic in alternative energy reporting. The advantages are being emphasized and the disadvantages minimized or even ignored. Being confronted with the nuisance of wind mills first hand, it was probably not that hard to notice for those two groups.

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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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Half News: (installed) capacity of wind energy has overtaken coal

From the half-news department comes the article titled Capacity of wind energy has overtaken coal in De Morgen (the Flemish Guardian).

Wind energy overtakes coal - De Morgen , February 9, 2017

This is how it is explained (translated from Dutch):

Last year, the installed capacity of wind power in Europe surpassed that of coal. This according to figures from the industry association WindEurope.

In terms of capacity, only gas-fired power plants preceded wind energy.

The source was an article with the same title from Belga (a news agency) and it was copied verbatim by a huge flock of news sites in Flanders.

The article in De Morgen jumped out as a sore thumb: it appeared in the section “Science”. Probably copied by a “science” journalist who had no clue that comparing installed capacity of wind with coal is meaningless and a direct comparison of the two is misleading.

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Flemish (onshore) windmills have almost the same capacity as a nuclear reactor

The journalists of our beloved Flemish media seem to go ballistic lately. Yesterday there was the item in the VTM news about the current “drought” that was “direct result of climate change”. Today the VRT news felt it had to compete with that and went full stupid in an article with the sensational title:

Flemish windmills have almost the same capacity as a nuclear reactor

vrt news 20161228 windmil

Apparently the onshore windmills in Flandres have a total capacity of 920 MW, which is only slightly below the capacity of (some of) our nuclear turbines (at somewhat above 1,000 MW).


I am afraid that I have to spoil that party…

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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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Creative accounting with wind energy

As seen in last post, it is deceitful to use the metric of “household equivalents” when talking about an intermittent energy source injected in a continuous working grid. It is one thing that journalists do this, but producers of wind power should know better, right? Then think again. The very first post on this blog, back in february 2013, was about such a claim made by a wind energy producer, C-power. They went even furter than this in their environmental impact page in which they paint an incredibly rosy picture of wind energy. It all starts with the “it is good for our (grand)children” meme:

“With our 325,2 MW offshore wind farm, we contribute to delivering a cleaner and safer environment to our children and grandchildren”, says CEO Jaak Rutten.

Throughout the years I have learned this to be a red flag. They continue:

Compared to the environmental impact of traditional energy sources, the environmental impact of wind power is very positive. Wind power consumes no fuel, and emits no air pollution. Wind power does not generate any toxic waste nor does it constitute a major safety risk.
The energy consumed to manufacture and transport the materials used to build a wind power plant is equal to the new energy produced by the plant within a few months.

C-Power will, with its expected yearly production of 1 TWh, avoid every year 415,000 tonnes CO2, which represents:

  • the annual CO2 absorption of a forested area of 65.000 ha
  • 1/3 of the forest area within the Flemish Region

The story they paint is so skewed that I don’t really know where to start here.

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