Thursday, 11 December 2014

Lies, damned lies and Interconnectors

American author, Mark Twain once wrote :

Figures often beguile me," he wrote, "particularly when I have the arranging of them myself; in which case the remark attributed to Disraeli would often apply with justice and force: 'There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.'"

This phrase is aptly applied to any energy statistics where interconnectors are involved. SEAI released a report this week which showed that the carbon intensity of electricity had reached a new low in 2013 and that gas and coal consumed during the electricity generation process had fallen from the previous year. However, 2013 was the year that the East West Interconnector came online. This meant that those who only read the "Highlights for the Year" section (i.e. most of the Irish media) fell into Twain's statistics trap. As the SEAI explain on Page 24:

Imported electricity is also considered zero carbon from Ireland’s perspective under the Kyoto Protocol as emissions are counted in the jurisdiction in which they are emitted. This resulted in the carbon intensity of electricity dropping by 48% from 896 g CO2/kWh in 1990 to a new low of 469 g CO2/kWh in 2013. 
So EU Diktat allows us to transfer the emissions produced from 7.6% of our electricity consumption (of which 40% was coal) to our neighbours, the UK. The following graph shows that we import 25 times more energy that we export through the East West interconnector, as wholesale prices are currently cheaper in Britain : 

Average East West Interconnector energy flows (MW) from Eirgrid data

Surely if the EU were serious about members doing their bit for "climate change" then, the method of accounting for emissions and fuel use from interconnectors should be in the country of consumption not generation. Theoretically, (though technically impossible), a country could import all its electricity from other countries and claim to be "carbon zero". This allows countries to bear no responsibility for the energy it consumes. But then again, the EU are not good at taking responsibility themselves. As the Irish Academy of Engineers (IAE) noted :

As manufacturing has shifted from Europe to Asia, the EU has effectively outsourced the production of GHGs to other countries, particularly China. Global GHG emissions have not actually been reduced, but just relocated.

And industry will continue to move out as long as Ireland and the EU continue to pursue energy policies that don't take account of the need to be competitive. The American Chamber of Commerce Ireland made this plain in their recent submission on energy policy:
Energy costs in the US and a number of other competitor locations have fallen in recent years, generally as a result of greater use of unconventional sources, such as shale gas and oil. This is having profound effects on global energy markets and on the competitiveness of industry in the US. European energy prices compare poorly with the US, and within Europe, Ireland has prices that are among the highest.
The EPA were also issuing statements this week stating :
Greenhouse gas emissions from the Energy sector decreased by 11.1% in 2013 as power generation increased from renewable energy, including both wind and biomass.
Again, you had to read further on down the article to find out about the accounting method used:
There was also a significant increase (+220%) in electricity imported through the interconnectors – the associated emissions are not included in Ireland’s greenhouse gas inventory estimates. 

 So we have now reached the point of no return in terms of energy statistics. From 2013 onwards, it will be more difficult to establish the contribution (if any) renewables are making towards lower emissions and fuel consumption.


  1. Would using more such interconnectors and their magical carbon accounting methods be the cheapest way to overcome our Carbon Problem?

    1. The current SNSP limit is 50% so with 2 interconnectors and high wind capacity already on the system its hard to see where the room is for another one, unless you get long periods of low wind.

  2. The system produced some weird situations: 1) Farm produce here has a co2 footprint even thought most of it is consumed abroad. Coal mined in Poland and sold here has its footprint here too, where consumed. Farmers plants absorb co2 but its not discounted from food co2. Spanish fishing boats fishing in Irish waters emit co2 counted here. co2 used to make wind turbines is counted n the country where made, not here. Technically if 50% interconnection were available, we could import coal power from the UK with no co2 added to out footprint