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…
Belgium fossil-fuel free in nine steps
According to the Flemish Green party, Belgium can become fossil-fuel free and in a video they identified nine steps (translated from Dutch) to do that. When I found this article this week on their website, I was rather curious how they envisioned becoming fossil-free. Until then, I came across vague claims. Unfortunately, this campaign is no different.
The page was not dated and there was also no date incorporated in the the url slug, but since the campaign was inspired by Trump becoming president, I guess it is from the beginning of this year. The greens stated that now a “climate denier” became president, it was time for Europe and Belgium to show leadership in clean, renewable energy.
The proposals are presented in the present tense. I understand that this is a way of planting the idea in the heads of the people that it is possible already now. They also give an example of a country that accomplished this step already to support their claim. The problem is that they are also present them in the present tense, although some of them are not accomplished yet. This gives the impression that more is being accomplished than there is in reality.
These are their nine “steps” to become fossil-fuel free (transcript of the video, translated from Dutch):
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?
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.
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.