Saturday, 21 February 2015

Energy Untruths : The 6 Billion Euro Question

Imagine if a newspaper printed the following :

If we invest enough money in our rugby pitches we will improve our soccer team

This claim is obviously and self-evidently false. However, the equivalent of this claim in energy terms was made in today's Irish Times :

A lot of the energy from renewables would come from the western fringes, where the national grid has been weakest, necessitating an investment of €3 billion to upgrade. (Against that, imported fuels cost more than €6 billion a year.)

This is suggesting that the investment in the grid upgrade is worthwhile because it will help reduce our fuel imports bill. But, according to the SEAI, 75% of our fuel bill comes from oil which makes up less than 1% of the fuel used in electricity generation. So that means that about € 4.5 billion of the € 6 billion fuel import bill has nothing whatsoever got to do with electricity generation.

So the €3 billion grid upgrade can only impact on circa € 1.5 billion of fuel imports, not €6 billion as suggested by the Irish Times.  

Fuel Import Bill has risen

So what are we doing installing all these wind farms and interconnectors ? Well, part of the reason is to reduce our dependency on fuel imports :

Reducing our dependency on fossil fuel imports, ensuring investment in the networks and delivering investor certainty through predictable responsive regulatory and policy frameworks are key drivers for energy policy. In line with both EU and international energy policy direction, the development of renewable energy and sustained ambition in energy efficiency are cornerstones of this Government’s energy policy objectives - Previous Energy Minister, Pat Rabbitte 2012.

But what has actually happened ? Well, believe it or not, our fuel bill has actually risen from circa € 6 billion in 2011 to € 6.7 billion in 2013 :

But in the same period we installed almost 300MW of additional wind energy at a cost of around
€ 600 million (€2m per MW) or 0.6 of a billion euros. Just ask yourself - is this bang for your buck ?

To put the fuel bill in perspective, €6.7 billion is equal to the annual fuel bill for German airline, Lufthansa. Yet nobody is arguing that airline's should be reducing their fuel bills . Indeed, according to the Irish Times article, Air transport makes up about 15-16% of our fuel bill, slightly more than our reliance on fuel for private cars. Do you hear calls for airlines to begin making radical changes to cope with future uncertainties and "peak oil" ? 

As Peter Hitchens, the English journalist said recently - if a principle given to support a policy is not applied universally, then there must be another reason behind a policy - or something to that effect. This is reminiscent of the quote by JP Morgan :

A man always has two reasons for doing anything: a good reason and the real reason. - J. P. Morgan 

While we are on the subject of airlines and "peak oil", what are the oil reserves like at the moment ? Well, according to the International Energy Statistics, we are at a new high :

Graph taken from

So what is the real reason for the current energy policy ? - well take a look at your 
electricity bill.

Do the Maths !

In the same Irish Times article above, Dick Ahlstrom, made the following claim :

The highest energy peak yet to occur on our national grid topped out at just over five billion watts of electricity (5GW). A single lake covering, say, two square kilometres had the potential to produce 100GW of electricity, more than we would use over 20 years.

Francis Clauson has contacted me to explain the simple maths error made here :

5GWhrs is what is required to meet 1 hour of peak demand, not 5GW. So correct maths is :

100GWhrs / 5GWhrs = 20GWhrs

i.e. The lake referred to above will provide enough power for 20 hours, NOT 20 years !!!!


  1. Dick Ahlstrom did nothing in his Irish Times piece to bolster his credibility as a thinking journalist. Shvets’ wishful thinking in ‘Spirit of Ireland’ is countered by the assertion by Professor O’Malley of UCD in his Green Paper presentation that Ireland would need 500 Turlough Hills if we were completely dependent on wind.
    His analysis of micro generation is particularly trite. He appears unaware that Spain and France are in the process of banning micro generation, both for grid supply and for consumption substitution because of falling revenues to utility companies who still have to maintain the distribution infrastructure whilst deriving a reduced revenue.
    The remainder of his piece deserves no comment – it is a pity that a highly respected broadsheet such as the Irish Times does not carry out better editorial review of pieces that it publishes!

  2. But, would the lake not get refilled every night (in theory). So if the lake had enough water to generate 20 hrs worth of power (energy consumed per unit time) and assuming wind energy was able to replace the water during periods of low demand then you just might have a workable system.
    I know there's a lot of ifs and assumptions in the above. Part of the problem seems to be a basic misunderstanding of the difference between energy and power.

  3. What irritates is a newspaper science correspondent should articulate the issues clearly so people understand. The impression I got was the lake once full would give 20years electricity (which is obviously wrong)

    The public need clearly articulated messages without these types of misinterpretations.

  4. I deal with this subject in my videos. val martin ireland you tube myth about wind energy video No 9. "Storage"
    I start to talk about pumped storage at 9 minutes into the clip. I recommend you view it from then on.
    The deceit here is to mix wind energy with standard fossil fuel energy and use it to pump the water. One quarter is lost. The Irish government is crazy and deluded to try this, which is why they must be stopped.

  5. No deluded Val they know exactly what they are doing, lining there pockets from the vast reserves of the wind industry scam, all so they can milk us and the UK for lucrative subsidies

  6. That Dick Ahlstrom comment is messed up, but so is your correction. A pumped storage lake doesn't produce *any* net energy. You use energy to pump water uphill, and then draw it back down as required. The idea is to smooth out the intermittent availability of wind power. You need as much stored energy as will be demanded during the longest period for which your wind resources might be becalmed. You also need to be able to draw it down at the *rate* it is required. Power is defined as the rate of energy consumption.

    The original Shvets proposal which can still be found online recommended a minimum of 50 GWh of energy storage, but preferably 90 GWh. The power output is less clear, but the idea seems to be that it could provide several GW for some tens of hours.

    Those who are hazy on the distinction between energy and power should just think of it as a giant rechargeable battery capable of powering the grid for a while between recharges.

    1. The Spirit of Ireland proposal involved pumping water from grid power, not wind power

  7. Onshore wind - we don't have the space for it, and will have less space once the effects of LFN trigger a flood of JRs; and as for fracking - it's a big over-hyped toxic f@rt with nothing behind it

    There are alternatives:

    - offshore wind
    - energy efficiency (tax on needless business flights if they can be done by video-link; smart street lights on motorways etc
    - nuclear, especially thorium-based nuclear
    - solar (solar, even in our cold dark N European countries, technology efficiency already is at 80% of what it would be in eg Saudi