Tuesday 28 July 2015

The Great Grid Scandal

In many cases growth in demand for electricity results in higher power flows on the transmission network. Where the power flows exceed the capability of the Grid, reinforcement is necessary. Demand forecasts are therefore a good indicator of the need for grid investment. A well established relationship exists between economic growth and electricity consumption. The forecast for demand levels in 2025 are based on the Economic and Social Research Institute’s long-term forecast of moderate growth in economic activity [Eirgrid 2009]. 

In a recent radio debate on RTE This Week programme, which can be listened to here, we were told that the Grid 25 programme is still required regardless of renewables. This is quite simply false and mis-informs the public.

The main economic justification behind Grid 25 was the following graph from 2009 when Eamon Ryan was Minister for Energy:


As everyone knows, this level of demand never materialized. In fact, demand went in the opposite direction.

In normal economic projections for projects, if the projections don't materialize, then the project is dropped or at least scaled down. But the entire Grid 25 programme is still being pushed by the establishment and lobby groups. Quite why, I am not sure. Forget the banking enquiry, we desperately need an enquiry into this now.

Billions of euros, high electricity bills and environmental destruction are at stake.

There are other questions which also arise - what happened to our investments in energy efficiency which were supposed to reduce demand ? Does this show that the establishment have secretly thrown energy efficiency out of the window and are only paying lip service to it ? What are the reasons for this ?

Of course, facilitation of wind energy and the government's plan to have the highest electricity bills in Europe is still part of the justification for the grid plans :

Many of the locations suitable for renewable energy generation schemes are in areas where there have been little or no generation developments heretofore. The aggregate of renewable generation capacity in some areas is equivalent to large conventional generation stations and in many cases the network is not capable of carrying the power from these generation sources. Significant reinforcement of the Grid will therefore be required to cater for the new power flows from renewable generation. It will not be possible to utilise Ireland’s natural resources of renewable energy without the essential upgrades outlined in GRID25 [Eirgrid, 2009].
The primary driver for the Grid West project is the connection of new renewable energygeneration planned for the region; specifically projects proposed by Coillte, ESB and Bord naMóna [Eirgrid, 2015

 But this doesn't explain why the following lobby groups have an interest in Grid 25 going ahead :

Chambers Ireland
Enterprise Dublin
Failte Ireland
Institute for Ecology
Irish Congress of Trade Unions
Irish Countrywomen's Association
Irish Environmental Network
Irish Farmers Association
Irish Landscape Institute
National Parks & Wildlife Services
Royal Town Planning Institute

These groups form part of the National Advisory Committee to Eirgrid. Why are these groups pushing the €4 billion euro Grid plans and wind energy, and resisting investment in energy efficiency while ignoring the economic reality since the projections were made in the above graph ?

It seems when it comes to energy, everybody goes silly.

Sunday 26 July 2015

Europe to enter period of electricity rationing ?

The European Commission have been busy in recent months drawing up plans for a new electricity market. A press release last week stated the following :

Firstly, by spreading renewable energy generation across Europe through interconnected networks, high generation can compensate areas with lower generation. At the same time the market has to give clear financial incentives for renewable energy generators to make their production as predictable as possible. Furthermore, in periods of low generation, and high prices, by reducing their demand, consumers can help fill the gap by reducing their demand, while the market has to ensure they are adequately compensated for this role.
So peak demand is to be phased out by switching off customers at peak times.

Are the EC really expecting that people will have to use candles and torches when they come in from work at 6pm during peak demand ?  I have a feeling that this will simply transfer one form of fossil fuel energy generation (in power plants) to another local form such as diesel generators and gas cylinders.

What is happening is that once alot of intermittent forms of generation are integrated into an electricity system, consumption of electricity must also become intermittent. Supply must match demand. Smart meters are the wind turbine equivalent of an electric socket, an intermittent form of electricity use. I'm not sure how it's going to work for your local chipper who at 6pm will need to refuse orders. Or how families are going to explain to their hungry children that they can't switch on the cooker for another couple of hours.

EC "Power to Consumers" Fact Sheet, July 2015

Of course, energy efficiency should be encouraged, but what is being proposed here is a totally different ball game. This is about changing consumer behaviour to match the intermittency of wind and solar.

Saturday 25 July 2015

Morgan Kelly

"A lie told often enough becomes the truth." - Vladimir Lenin

Morgan Kelly and Jim Power, 2007

Morgan Kelly and Brendan Keenan, 2008

Morgan Kelly was the man who rescued Irish economics, who pulled it out of the group-think abyss it had got itself into. If we can sum up in one phrase what made him different, it would probably be focused analysis on the right data. 

The other two commentators / economists he went up against in the above videos were guilty of two crimes - firstly, analysis of the wrong data (in the case of Jim Power he spoke about Ireland being underdeveloped and the risk of multi-nationals pulling out and in the case of Brendan Keenan, not looking at any data at all or just falsified data) and secondly, an inability to see past the conventional view supported and spun by the invested interests of the time. The road to the truth is often a lonely road as I'm sure it was for Mr.Kelly back in 2007 and 2008.

The data that people should have focused on in 2007 was the loan books of the banks, what their exposure was to the construction sector, the prices of houses relative to other EU countries and crucially the true capitalization status of the banks. Mr.Kelly appeared to have done his own analysis on this data, independent of anyone else in the State.

I can remember back then that people were told that "we should not talk down the economy" as if an economy built on a confidence trick was something sustainable and worthwhile. Looking back now, it was clear this was the same kind of talk that a ponzi scheme conman would have used.  

Surely there is a lesson here - if you haven't looked at the data behind an economic sector, then what have you based your opinion on ? It is also startling to look back now at how lies told by institutions in Ireland were simply lifted ad verbatim, and without question, by other institutions and commentators in the media until these lies eventually became the apparent truth, and accepted by society. Nobody went back to check the original source, except Mr.Kelly of course.

Today, we can see similar untruths being spun in relation to energy, a quite complicated subject that takes quite a bit of research and analysis of data to grasp a good understanding of. 

But not just energy, it also happens on quite simpler subjects such as the EU and export figures, to name but two. Sadly, politics still takes precedence over education.

Thursday 23 July 2015

How many homes can a wind farm power ?

SSE Airtricity says that when built the wind farm will deliver enough green energy to power 84,000 homes, which is equivalent to almost 90% of the homes in County Galway.

A new wind farm to be built in Galway will be the largest in Ireland at 169MW. One might wonder where the figures for the number of homes to be powered by a wind farm or indeed any generating plant comes from. And is there a more accurate method of calculating this figure for a new wind farm  ?- as we shall see, the correct answer depends on the amount of wind farms already installed in the system.

The calculation used in the above newspaper article is as follows :

( 169MW capacity x 8,760 hours in a year x 28.5% capacity factor ) / 5MW annual power requirements for an average house

So it is envisaged that the output of the windfarm will on average be 28.5% of it's ideal output i.e. if the wind was blowing at the right speed for 100% of the time.

So there will be times that the output will be above 28.5% and times it will be below. Hence, the key word is on average. Average power is not as useful as reliable or dispatchable power. That is why a system powered completely by wind energy is impossible.   So the 84,000 homes will not be powered directly by the wind farm, but rather as part of a system that includes power from more reliable sources such as gas, peat, coal etc. It is only equivalent power that the wind farm generates. On their own, a wind farm cannot power a house at all.

So the statement above is accurate to a certain extent - enough and equivalent are the key words. But it is actual power that we need to consider. We need to convert this to the equivalent in reliable power. (We are back to the old argument about the difference between energy and power.)

Capacity credit is therefore a more useful method of calculating the number of houses that can be powered by a wind farm :

The inherently variable nature of wind power makes it necessary to analyse its adequacy impact differently from that of other generation units. The contribution of wind generation to generation adequacy is referred to as the capacity credit of wind. This capacity credit has been determined by subtracting a forecast of wind's half hourly generated output from the customer electricity demand curve. The use of this lower demand curve results in an improved adequacy position. The amount of conventional plant which leaves the system with the same improvement in adequacy as the net load curve is taken to be the capacity credit of wind [Eirgrid 2009].

Analysis of wind data has established that this capacity credit is roughly equivalent to itscapacity factor at low levels of wind penetration. However, the benefit tends towards saturation as wind penetration levels increase. This is because there is a significant risk of there being very low or very high wind speeds simultaneously across the country. This will result in all wind farms producing practically no output for a number of hours (note that turbines switch off during very high winds for safety reasons). In contrast, the forced outage probabilities for all thermal and hydro units are assumed to be independent of each other. Therefore, the probability of these units failing simultaneously is negligible [Eirgrid 2009].

So we can see that this gives us a more accurate measure of the contribution of wind towards powering homes. We are currently at about 2,300 MW of wind so adding the new Galway wind farm will bring us to about 2,500MW. The capacity credit for new wind farms reduces as we install more wind farms so wind farms installed back in 2008 and 2009 contributed more to the overall system than ones installed today in 2015. This is because, to put it quite simply, the risk of blackouts increases (as does wind curtailment). Conventional gas generators will be placed on high alert for the next few years as we install more and more wind.

So our new 169MW wind farm will contribute only about 30-40MW to the overall electricity system in conventional generator terms. This equates to about 17,000 homes or 20% of the number of homes stated above.

Are we really getting bang for our buck, considering the environmental impact (about 70,000 tonnes of concrete will be required in its installation) and cost to the consumer of this wind farm   ?

Thursday 16 July 2015

Offshore Renewable Energy Strategic Environmental Assessment

In 2010, the Department of Energy and SEAI prepared a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) for their Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan (OREDP). To comply with the SEA Directive, alternatives to the Plan were considered, including the option not to implement the plan. So were these alternatives assessed correctly ?

It is accepted that there will be environmental impacts :

The SEA has identified that, in some locations, there is potential for the development of offshore wind, wave and tidal energy to have likely significant adverse effects on the environment. This is mainly off the west coast of Ireland which is recognised as being of significant environment and seascape/landscape importance/value. 

So considering that we are looking at significant and irreversible impacts on our coastal and ocean environment (and species), what are the impacts of not implementing the plan ?

Potential effects relating to not combating climate change such of continued effects on temperature, sea levels, precipitation, storminess, sea temperatures and these effects of these on species and habitat distribution and abundance, food chains etc. 

 This is misleading for two reasons. Firstly, whatever Ireland does to combat climate change will be reversed by many multiples by China and India who are building coal plants to meet their world record energy demands. If we even look closer to home, the Netherlands are building three new coal plants with total capacity equal to four Moneypoint coal power stations. Germany are also reliant on new coal power stations :

Water vapour rises from the cooling towers of a brown coal power station in Germany

Ireland does not have a separate climate to Netherlands, Germany or China so if man made climate change will result in an environmental catastrophe here in Ireland, the decisions which can prevent it will need to be taken outside Ireland.

Secondly, the effect of climate change on temperature is still uncertain. The raw records (as opposed to the modified ones) from Valentia Observatory show no remarkable increase in temperature :


Indeed, understanding of the climate and the mechanisms that control it is still not properly understood by scientists. It was alleged by James Delingpole that the following extract from the draft IPCC report was altered for the Summary for Policy Makers :

None of the studies cited above has shown clear evidence that we can attribute the observed changes to the specific case of increases in greenhouse gases [sic]. No study to date has positively attributed all or part of the climate change  observed to man made causes. Any claims of positive detection and attribution of significant climate change are likely to remain controversial until uncertainties in the total natural variability of the climate system are reduced. Will an anthropogenic climate [signal] be identified. It is not surprising that the best answer to the question is  “ We don’t know”.

This extract now seems to be deleted from the IPCC website since 2011 :


So there is absolutely no certainty that the negative impacts on the environment in the "Not Implementing the Offshore Renewable Plan" will actually occur or indeed that Ireland can do anything to prevent it anyhow.

But it is a certain certainty that there will be significant impacts on the ocean and its habitats by installing renewable energy and offshore grid infrastructure in implementing this plan.

So the impact on the Irish environment from climate change is both uncertain and out of our hands in any case and should not be included in this assessment. But the environmental impact of going ahead with this plan is both certain and as a direct result of actions the Irish government take. Therefore, the latter needs to be given full consideration in the assessment.

Other impacts include volatility of prices of electricity from fossil fuels and the implications of these on business/enterprise in Ireland as well as the effects on domestic customers in terms of fuel poverty etc. 

This should not be an issue as the reverse is actually true. Offshore energy will require a higher subsidy than onshore energy due to its higher capital costs. As onshore renewable energy is already higher than fossil fuel generated energy, offshore will then be even higher. There are also extra costs from further increasing the surplus of generation capacity and installing a new grid. So electricity bills will increase from implementing the plan, not from not implementing it.

Limitations relating to intermittency of supply from onshore wind. In comparison tidal energy is much more predictable and constant and offshore wind is generally less intermittent. 
Once again, there is no actual evidence to back this up.  The following graph comes from a presentation by Mark O'Malley of UCD Engineering Department :

 We can see that there is a high correlation of wind and wave energy. In otherwords, when the wind is blowing, so too are the waves rolling. And vice versa.  Offshore wind does tend to have higher capacity factors (i.e. output) but would still be classified as non dispatchable i.e. it can't be switched on at will unlike a conventional plant.

So the benefits of this enormous plan are still not clear to the ordinary citizen. The benefits to the country from not implementing it are also not made clear - maintenance of our pristine ocean environment and habitat, lower energy costs and therefore more jobs, less surplus capacity, more reliable electricity and improved tourism image (which also results in more jobs).

The SEA Directive states :

Member States shall ensure that environmental reports are of a sufficient quality to meet the requirements of this Directive

What do you think - is this assessment of "sufficient quality"  and an examination of all alternatives when all options are open or is it just rubber-stamping of a decision already made ?

Gas Vs Wind - more inaccuracies

Joanne Daly, senior energy analyst at Vayu, said the continuing integration of wind energy onto the grid is assisting in reducing the amount of gas-fired generators used to produce electricity, which is typically more expensive than that generated from renewable sources.
The above was published in the Irish Times recently. It is a claim that has been stated so many times in Irish media outlets that people are actually believing it is true. Gas does not receive a fixed subsidy, renewable energy does. Gas receives on average €50 - €55 MWh, wind receives about € 80 MWh.

The Irish market works in such a way that all generators receive the same wholesale price. Then on top of this wind now receives about € 180 million from the PSO while gas receives about € 30 million :

So where is the evidence for Ms Daly's claim above ? 

Thursday 2 July 2015

Better late than never - Minister sees sense

The commercial success of onshore wind means that we are now at the point where a gradual move to a more market based support for the technology is appropriate - Alex White, Minsiter for Energy, 26th May 2015.

Who was right - IWEA or IAE ?

THE Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA) has described as “bizarre” a report from a leading group of engineers which called for Irish wind energy investment to be halted so Ireland could ensure its international competitiveness - Irish Examiner, March 4th, 2011.

So four years on, who won the argument - the Irish Wind Energy Association or the Irish Academy of Engineering ?

We were told that :

IWEA chairman Michael Walsh yesterday warned that there is no “solid reason why the high gas and electricity prices of 2008 will not return”.

We know now that in fact the price of gas has dropped significantly (about 40% from last year). Mr Walsh lost the bet. But he was right about the high electricity prices but not for the reasons he thought. We now have higher electricity prices than in 2008 but this is due to hikes in levies and network costs. If electricity prices were more reflective of fossil fuel prices, they would have gone down, not up.

“It also does not reflect the relationship between wholesale prices and wind generation. The study by Redpoint released this week demonstrates that this effect reduces the price of electricity by €256m per year by 2020 against a public service obligation cost of €52 million,” - Michael Walsh, IWEA, 2011.

There is no evidence that wind reduces wholesale prices or if there is, I have yet to see it.  Indeed, if the IWEA statement above was correct, then that would mean, given lower gas prices and lower wholesale prices, our electricity bills should have come down significantly. But instead they have risen and Ireland now has the third highest electricity prices in the EU :


Eurostat shows the Energy and Supply component of electricity bills for households which would include the wholesale price. As you can see, this component has risen 20% since 2011, at the time the Irish Examiner article was published :

This tends to indicate that the wholesale price has only gone in one direction - and its not down. Remember, the above data does not include subsidies for wind farms or subsidies of any kind. So before you even add on the subsidy, the price of electricity has gone up, not down, which it should have done according to IWEA. Wrong once again. The report prepared by Redpoint should be consigned to the same bin that ESRI's "soft landing" report was eventually thrown in.

The addition of €30/Mwhr to the costs of wind generation is not supported by any quantitive evidence or indication how the estimate was reached,” - IWEA, 2011.
One can see from the diagrams here, that the wholesale price is normally around the € 50 MWh mark, outside peak times. Under REFIT, wind gets € 70 per MWh, plus another circa €9.95 MWh balancing payment.  So the additional € 30 MWh calculated by IAE back in 2011 was spot on and still applies in 2015. Wrong again, IWEA.

So why is our energy policy still been led by those who have been proven wrong ?