Tuesday 28 June 2016

Brexit (Or Not) : Lessons From Lisbon

 "Oh, no, no I've been through this movie before - Bob Dylan, 1964
Broken words never meant to be spoken,  Broken treaties broken vows, People bending broken rules, Everything is broken - Bob Dylan 1989

Opinion by Owen Martin.

Last Thursday's Brexit vote has re-shaped British politics for good or for bad. It was akin to throwing up all the pieces of a chess game into the air and re-starting the game wherever the pieces happened to land.   From an energy and climate point of view it is too early to say what will happen. Ireland may not have to build the North South Interconnector if the North revokes the EU legislation which prevents them from keeping their power stations open. Who knows, Britain may go into a period of traditional common sense where they dont have to worry about (nor spend billions on) changing the weather anymore. But any myriad number of things could happen between now and the time Article 50 is triggered, and between the time it is triggered and UK effectively withdrawing from the EU (Personally I was hoping to buy cheaper stuff from England but the sterling hasnt dropped as much as the media made out). 

The following diagram is fairly self explanatory and comes from a Norwegian newspaper
There are many hurdles that must be crossed before Britain makes an effective withdrawal, if it does at all. 

One possible option is that the political class that are saying now that they accept the result will change their minds in six months time as events sweep the political landscape from under their feet both at British and European level. Who knows where the pieces will land ? But haven't Ireland been here before ?

In 2008, Ireland voted No to the Lisbon Treaty. In 2009, they were asked again. This time they voted Yes to the same but slightly amended referendum. In the intervening years, there was no great political shake-up.  The Prime Minister, unlike in Britain, remained in office until the next general election in 2011. The opposition leader, Enda Kenny, also remained as leader. It wasn't until 2010 that opposition backbenchers revolted but Kenny successfully fought them off and is now Prime Minister (since 2011). Contrast this to what is happening in the days following Britain's cataclysmic vote. Of course, their vote is somewhat more serious although there was a real danger that Ireland would get left behind after their No Vote in 2008. 

Let's see what was said at the time in 2008 after the initial vote :

Prime Minister, Brian Cowen

And again 

And again 

The Minister For Foreign Affairs was at it aswell :

And the Left Wing Opposition :

Britain's Foreign Secretary was also very clear :

Financial turmoil was the result :

The No side were accused of lying :

A second referendum was not possible :

Sound familiar ?

A year later, Ireland were given another chance and this time voted Yes.  Of course, the EU could not continue without Ireland's ratification as other member states threatened legal action. Could it continue without UK membership ? The UK is the second largest intra-EU importer of goods and the second largest net contributor to the EU budget (worth about € 85 bn per year to the EU combined), so possibly not. We are about to find out.

The day after the Brexit referendum the mainstream media were busy telling us that Leave Voters didn't know what they were voting on, that they hadn't understood the issues at all : 

It is far more likely that the 28% of the electorate who hadn't bothered to vote were the ones busy googling the "EU". But Google and the media have planted the seeds of doubt. This is most likely a prelude to the Post - Vote Poll which I have no doubt will confirm their contention that leave voters, in general, were clueless. Here is the Post-vote poll taken after Lisbon Treaty Referendum Part 1 :

40% of the No voters didnt understand, so the referendum had to be run again and the rest is history. 

With the Tory leadership contest not happening for another three months, anything could happen in the meantime.

Sunday 26 June 2016

PSO Levy to increase by 36%

The Energy Regulator is proposing to hike electricity bills with a 36% increase in the PSO Levy to pay for renewables (mainly wind energy) : 

The levy for renewables has nearly doubled from €180 million to € 334 million to pay for extra wind turbines and to compensate for the low wholesale prices. 

The extra payments to peat are more than cancelled out by a clawback of payments to gas powered stations. So in fact, the PSO should be coming down rather than going up. 

Things can only get worse for consumers from here on in unless the new minister puts a cap on wind subsidies.

Thursday 16 June 2016

Rising Costs of Stabilizing Irish Grid

Synchronous Condenser in Australia (Wikipedia)

As levels of wind energy increase, fossil fuel generators and other devices are been called on to provide stability services to the Irish grid to help prevent blackouts. Its a simple engineering fact that as wind energy increases, the grid loses inertia and the frequency of electricity sent to your home becomes more difficult to control. The frequency of the Irish grid is set at approximately 50 Hertz, give or take about 1 Hertz, and all our appliances will not run outside this small range. 

Large power stations have trip switches that deactivate generators when the frequency moves outside this range so if the grid loses inertia for even a few seconds, there will be a cascade effect as generators drop out. A widescale blackout is the likely result. The rotational speed of wind farms is changing all the time and at different regions and it's because of this that they can't provide inertia to the grid. Gas and coal power stations are classed as synchronous generators because they provide stability to the grid, while wind farms and the East West interconnector are deemed non synchronous generators (SNSP). 

At the moment non synchronous generators are limited to 50-55% penetration in the grid. It is envisaged that this will have to rise to 75% in order to achieve the 20-20 targets. A consequence of this will be less synchronous generators online during high wind periods and increased risk of blackouts. So synchronous generators need to be paid more to maintain stability through what are called ancillary services.     

The diagram below shows that these ancillary or grid stability payments increased from € 24.5 million to € 26 million in the year to April 2016. 

POR means Primary Operating Reserves and SOR Secondary Operating Reserves. POR can step in up to 5 seconds and SOR up to 15 seconds to replace a generator that suddenly drops out. Tertiary Reserves (TOR1 and TOR2) take longer to start but can be maintained for longer time. These reserves are set by the single largest generator that happens to be online at the time, usually the East West Interconnector. However, demand for fast reserves, which are inefficient and high emitters, is increasing with higher levels of wind as wind fluctuations dominate the grid

The largest increase was for Reactive Power services. These are mostly provided by synchronous condensers which are able to provide stability in times of large voltage changes due to stochastic wind energy. Engineers at UCD provide a good overview of these devices here.  

Like battery storage units, synchronous condensers are net consumers of electricity but are essential for keeping the lights on with high levels of non-synchronous wind energy.  Adding units that consume more energy over their lifetime that they can generate is a consequence of the wind program and should have been included in a cost benefit analysis, which as we know, was never done.

Saturday 11 June 2016

Global Warming Update: Ireland Gets Colder

Met Eireann have reported that Spring in Ireland is getting colder. Funny enough, I didn't hear much about this on RTE News or in the media. 

This means that Spring 2016 was colder than the average for 1981-2010 (LTA). This was the period which scientists warned us that the Earth was warming up like never before. So now Ireland is bucking the trend. 

What's more, three out of the last four Spring's had lower than average temperatures than that of the recent warm period. 

Spring 2013

Spring 2015

This doesn't fit the climate change narrative of course, so don't expect to hear about it elsewhere in the media.

Sunday 5 June 2016

Head in the Clouds

  • Our planet’s pre-industrial climate may have been cloudier than presently thought, shows CERN’s CLOUD experiment in two papers published in Nature.


Thanks to the diary of John Kevan of Kilkenny, we know that January 1682 was a cloudy month indeed (cloudie = cloudy):

In fact, the weather of January 1682 was not much different to January 2016 :