Tuesday, 16 January 2018

For all the hot air about wind farms, we have never worked out the true costs - Cormac Lucey

From Cormac Lucey's blog

At the general election in 2016, Fine Gael’s manifesto stated: “Ireland’s long-term interests are best supported by further decreasing our dependence on foreign fossil fuels through the continued development of indigenous renewable energy.” The party differed little from the broad political consensus that has driven Irish energy policy over the past two decades.

Where political consensus exists, critical scrutiny suffers — and is replaced by reflexive, unthinking support for the new orthodoxy. For example, take a speech last November by the enviroment minister Denis Naughten at the Take Charge conference, run by the Institute of International and European Affairs and the ESB, which explored how to link Ireland’s future of low-carbon energy into the lives of people in a practical way.

“Ireland relies on high emissions and imported fossil fuels to meet over 88% of our energy needs,” said Naughten. “This costs around €5bn. That’s a cost we cannot afford in cash, and which our planet cannot afford at all. If the money that Ireland spends on energy imports can be redirected to energy efficiency and smarter energy services, it will replace imported fossil fuels with local jobs and opportunities for Irish companies.”

This is gobbledygook verging on baby talk.

Read the rest here :

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Irish State sold profitable Power Station for 10% of it's cost

In 2010, Bord Gais Energy, then owned by the Irish State, began operation of Whitegate Power Station, a 445MW  gas powered station in Cork. It cost € 400 million to build.   

In 2014, Bord Gais and it's assets was sold off to Centrica UK. It was rumored at the time that the State took a hit of as much as €360 million on the sale of Whitegate.
As this newspaper [Irish Independent] revealed last week, the "enterprise value" paid for Bord Gais by new owners Centrica was €210m. However, this included €60m of income that would have been earned anyway if the company wasn't sold. Furthermore, the book of 680,000 Bord Gais customers could have had a value of about €110m, so this suggests a value of just €40m was put on Whitegate, which cost €400m to build.
The 2014 accounts show the power station valued at € 39 million confirming the massive loss. Somehow the power station lost 90% of it's value in four years. Did they spend too much on it's construction ? ESB built an 884MW gas powered station in the UK costing € 820m which works out at just under a million euros per MW, roughly the same cost as Whitegate.  Aghada power station, which is situated close to Whitegate, was built for slightly less at € 360m, about € 0.8m per MW. So the loss in value of € 360 million could not be attributed to over spending on construction. 

The most recent accounts shows that operating profits at Bord Gais Energy jumped from €50m to €63m during 2016.  I cannot say how much of this profit is attributable to the power station but the accounts do say that :
Whitegate benefited from good reliability and availability throughout the year.
Within the energy generation market, Whitegate remains both reliable and efficient and continues to achieve high market availability. 

The generation profile for the power station below shows that it was generating less by 2014.

Source EPA

Presumably this was a trend that government officials thought would continue into the future but in reality, we can now see that the power station did in fact return to growth and achieved high market availability. 

The constant ramping up and down to accommodate more and more wind energy would also have been another contributing factor that led to the loss of it's value. But the recovery of the power station in the energy market is a surprise considering that about 650MW of wind farms were built between 2014 and 2016, which theoretically should have displaced more gas power. 

The above graph shows that the capacity factor (actual output / maximum output) for the gas power station increased to 68% while that of wind energy dropped to 27%. Whitegate now has the second highest capacity factor for gas in Ireland (Dublin Bay CCGT has the highest at 80%)

It appears that the government officials and consultants wrongly assumed that adding wind capacity meant more wind energy and less gas power. Of course, increased demand was another factor in Whitegate's market recovery. But no matter what excuses can be made, the loss to the Irish State of € 360 million shows gross incompetence. The Irish government bet on wind, whilst the private sector bet on gas. Where idealism meets pragmatism in the business world, the latter usually wins out. 

Has wind energy distorted asset values in the energy market ? Consider that recently Greencoat Renewables paid €2.5m per megawatt for a wind farm in Co.Kerry compared to the €0.9m per megawatt it cost to build Whitegate. 

The cost of Brexit to Ireland is estimated to be €200m per year, however our own government conducted business deals long before Brexit that cost us more than that. 

As usual, the taxpayer picks up the tab.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The Climate-Energy Problem : A Response

Engineers Ireland yesterday published a fairly in-depth article that caught my attention. There are some points I do agree with, for example, on the conservation of oil and the contribution of fossil fuels and Industrial Revolution to people's lives. I have done a short rebuttal of some of the other points made --

It goes without saying that the second stage of the Industrial Revolution is irreversible and must be sustained by new energy sources because the vast majority of people now reside in cities and earn their living in economic sectors which did not exist before 1900. These people cannot now return to their great grandparents’ employment in agriculture which has been mechanised.

1) Developed world people are not reproducing at rates like before when  huge families were the norm. Only poorer regions like Bangladesh and India have sustainable birth rates (higher than average IQ populations tend to have lower birth rates - see Japan and Hong Kong for example). If people in these poorer regions are using 35 times less oil per person than in the developed world (as stated later in article), then they can return much easier to an agricultural society as before. The Industrial Revolution in the developed world is therefore sustainable if there were low levels of immigration.

The problem is that this transition is unsustainable without the enormous mechanical energy output of more than a billion newly-invented oil, coal and gas-fuelled machines which have caused atmospheric carbon dioxide to reach 400 parts per million.
2) Co2 levels of 400 parts per million are low historically speaking and has helped greening of the planet.

An oil-burning heater does not increase anybody’s productivity. It has an HPM of zero hence heating oil is wasted oil, yet over 30% of global oil production is used for heating. Moreover the 700 litres of diesel emits almost 2 tonnes of carbon dioxide, yet biomass is an alternative which is both carbon-neutral and cheaper than oil.

3) For biomass to be sustainable you would have to cut down trees with a handsaw and transport it with a horse or wheelbarrow so you're back to pre-Industrial Revolution times.

It could and should initiate reforestation, dedesertification and carbon capture.

4) Renewables are often built on forested land displacing green spaces which should be left as forest areas (see Coillte) . Extra CO2 in atmosphere is leading to de-desertification in regions like the Sahara.

During the recent financial crisis in the US, the pragmatic Ben Bernanke pronounced, “Quantitive Easing is wrong in theory but it works in practise, and the Fed will drop money from helicopters if required.”

If something is wrong in theory but works in practise then query the theory. In the situation Bernanke found himself conventional economic theory had become obsolete and by dropping money from helicopters he averted an unnecessary decline in demand in the US economy which is now consumer-driven since the cost of production is so low.

Today an increase in the money in circulation causes an increase in demand which causes an increase in the quantity of products coming down existing, paid-for, automated mass-production lines (and from China, Korea etc.) This benefits manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and consumers.

In fact the exact opposite is true and the following chapter makes the irrefutable case that the free-market has within itself the seeds of its own destruction. 

5) Printing of the money supply, welfare state, government debt, mass immigration are all unsustainable.  Want to reduce CO2 ? Then you need to tackle all of these. These factors are not the fault of the free market - they are the caused by Government policy.

Why should any highly profitable oil company be serious about developing an alternative-to-oil which is less profitable than oil?

6) Oil has a high Energy Return on Investment (EROI). That is, the energy emitted through consumption is many times that of energy required to extract it. The same is not true for alternatives at the moment. It is interesting that as wind energy has increased in Ireland, offsite diesel generation has also done so. There are now nearly 400MW of demand side units.

It is interesting that all talk of Peak Oil has stopped or is not taken seriously anymore.

At any rate, why should it be up to Oil companies to develop a serious alternative ? Were motor cars developed by the horse industry ?

By Owen Martin

Monday, 8 January 2018

Is Ireland Becoming Wetter ?

In 2013, the Irish media reported that "ongoing climate change will make Ireland wetter over the coming decades". This claim has persisted ever since climate hysteria took root here.  I took a sample of seven weather stations from different areas of the country to test the claim. In every single one, 2016 and 2017 had less rainfall than 2015. Only two showed more rainfall in 2017 Vs 2016. The other five showed declining rainfall levels over the past two years. 

To further investigate this trend of lower rainfall levels, I checked a completely different source - hydro power. Years with high rainfall should coincide with years that had high hydro power output and vice versa.  I obtained hydro power data from SEAI from 2008 to 2016. 2008 and 2009 were high points for hydro that have not been matched since. Since then, hydro power has varied but there is a clear overall decline.

The fall in rainfall during 2016 vs 2015 can also be seen corroborating the above weather stations.

Monday, 25 December 2017

Technical Problems with High Levels of Wind on Christmas Eve

New Report Describes Total Decarbonisation Dream as Wishful Thinking

On Christmas Eve, wind was providing just over 60% of electricity demand. This is new territory for the Irish grid (or indeed any grid). Eirgrid began trials of allowing a maximum of 65% for wind energy (wind penetration) in November. Wind generation was also exceeding the wind forecast. 

Jolly good I hear you say. However, it can be troublesome balancing this level of wind as other plant are forced to run below their optimum efficiency. The additional unforeseen wind also creates more problems as scheduled plant are constrained off.  Variances in the frequency are a good indicator of just how much trouble these high wind conditions can cause. A stable frequency is required for a stable grid and a certain amount of conventional plant is required to maintain the frequency within a tiny range. 

As the wind level rises, the frequency falls below 50Hz. At around 15:40, some of the wind energy is shut off and the frequency returns again to 50 Hz.

These technical problems have been highlighted in a new report on the German electricity grid (Hidden Consequences of Intermittent Electricity Production).

Another important difficulty caused by intermittency is the increased vulnerability of the electricity grid to instabilities. This is particularly visible in countries that are not so well interconnected like Ireland. An example of a threatening oscillation occurring at a 400MW power generator (24/4/2014 between 21:40:40 and 21:41:00) is shown in Fig. 3 (adapted from M.Zarifakis et al.,  “Models for the transient stability of conventional power generations stations connected to low inertia systems”, Eur. Phys. J. Plus 132, No.6, 289 (2017), op. cit.).

Grid stability is now a major issue around Europe :
Further, if one keeps the current Alternative Current grid technology, a certain minimum amount (~ 20-25%) of “rotating mass” has to be present to guarantee stability.  If this cannot be sufficiently provided using biomass, and if fossil and nuclear based power stations are not allowed, problems will arise. Instabilities caused by large contributions of intermittent power e.g. from wind or solar PV pose a major threat to the stability of the electrical network of a country and to the safe operation of conventional generator systems, as exemplified in Ireland. If no economical solution can be found for such difficulties, conventional backup power based on fossil fuels or nuclear power will necessarily have to remain part of the electricity system.
Their conclusion is in agreement with the work carried out on this blog :

A last point is the economic feasibility of such a system. Germany, with currently an installed capacity of about 90GW in solar PV and wind, has one of the largest renewable systems installed in the world. The cost (including feed-in tariffs, subsidies, extra costs because of court cases due to unfulfilled promises etc…) is estimated between 250 and 300 billion Euros, integrated over the last 10 years. The CO2 reduction on world scale realized by this system is less than 1‰. As discussed above, a 100% iRES without backup or storage systems makes not much economical sense and will lead to a doubling or tripling of the total costs, compared to the conventional system in use now. It is to be expected that not many countries are able to pay for such a costly and inefficient system. The question can thus be raised if the current EU plans for the electricity sector are bound to fail? 

Finally, the electricity sector is only a minor part of the problem. If one wants to completely decarbonise our economy then one should also include other private and economic sectors. Given already the challenge of a 100% renewable electricity system and the complexity of replacing the present primary energy supply based mainly on chemical energy by renewables, this total decarbonisation looks to be wishful thinking, at least at the present stage of technology. Would it not be more useful to invest in research and development of conventional and new energy systems rather than blindly investing in an existing “green” technology which seems bound to miss its goal? The other question is whether decarbonisation should be our primary concern. Is this really the best investment for a better future for mankind, as discussed in B.Lomborg, “Cool It”?A critical assessment of the EU plans is also voiced in countries outside the EU, in particular the United States under the presidency of Obama. Does transforming the present primary electricity supply (based presently mainly on fossil and nuclear sources) into a 100 % intermittent Renewable Energy System, as imposed by the EU, need to be the challenge and moral quest of the 21stcentury? This will for sure affect our society and standard of living if current EU plans are not corrected for the problems that are emerging from the grand renewable experiment in Germany of the recent years.

The full report can be found here :