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 :

Monday 18 December 2017

China Energy In Numbers - Part Two

China are building an additional 70GW of natural gas capacity between now and 2040. 

This is enough capacity to meet the entire demand of Germany on a December day. Germany has a population of 80 million people and a manufacturing sector second only to China on a global scale (it's manufacturing sector accounts for 23% of its GDP and is double that of the UK). 

Click on the tag "China" to see both Part One and Two

Sunday 10 December 2017

PSO Paradoxes

Recently, this blog reported the not very widely known or reported fact that the contribution of wind decreased last year by 6% despite building 20% more wind farms. This was because the capacity factor (actual output / maximum output) dropped to 27% in 2016. Or another way of saying this is that there was less wind blowing last year. 

At the same time, the PSO Levy, which pays wind farms the difference between the subsidized price and wholesale price, increased last year by 20% (some of that going to peat).  This is a bit of a paradox - wind farm installations increased by 20% but total wind output dropped by 6%, yet the subsidy for wind increased by 20%. 

If a farmer cut his herd or crop by 6%, would he receive more subsidies ? 

The answer is that the Energy Regulator estimates the PSO Levy a year in advance. For 2016, the wholesale price dropped much more than was estimated and so the PSO Levy had to increase to compensate for this large drop in market prices (called the R-factor). 

Another paradox is that the PSO is also paid to higher emitting peat generation at the same time as wind generation. So some, if not all, the CO2 savings from wind have been cancelled out by the use of peat generation instead of gas. PSO payments to peat are due to be phased out by 2019.  

Tuesday 5 December 2017

The Passing of David Whitehead

by Owen Martin

david whitehead1a

David Whitehead was an occasional contributor and commentator on this blog. It was with much sadness that I heard about his recent passing at the age of 75. Although I never met him, we regularly exchanged emails and his wealth of knowledge on all things climate and energy was breathtaking. He was a qualified geologist and paleontologist and had a career in mining. The Whitehead torpedo was invented by a relative, Robert Whitehead.

His enthusiasm and knowledge will be deeply missed.

A Selection of Writings by David 

Ice core proxy data from Greenland ( GISP2 and NORTHGRIP ) show that, in high northern latitudes (around 75ºN,) for the last eleven thousand years, each and every successive millennium has been cooler than its predecessor. In the minor climate cycles of the last four millennia both the low and high temperatures of successive cycles have tended to a lower temperature than the previous cycle. Based on geological history, the predictable evolution of the earth’s orbit, the precession of the equinox and obliquity of the ecliptic and even ignoring the possible effects of variation in solar radiation and the its effects on the magnetosphere, the geological prognosis is for the present long term cooling trend to continue. This will lead eventually to a return to glacial conditions in what are now cool temperate climate zones in both hemispheres. The geographic extent of warm temperate and tropical climate zones will shrink, the atmosphere will become much dryer and much more dusty than it is now and CO2 concentrations will gradually fall to lower levels. 

The severity, timing and rate of the slow, long term climate change currently under way cannot yet be forecast with any confidence. Nevertheless, Eemian random temperature variation demonstrates that even while the average temperature of succeeding millennia is falling, one to four century scale warming cycles of as much as 3ºC, like the one we are presently enjoying, still occur. In the Eemian record there were several millennia with warming cycles of this magnitude a few centuries long even when the average temperature was falling relentlessly in succeeding millennia.

A few centuries of warming do not constitute a climate change trend of any significance when viewed in the light of the Pleistocene, or even the much shorter Holocene climate record. While we should enjoy and benefit from the current warming cycle we are deluding ourselves if we think that in the long term climate change can be controlled by attempts to regulate atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Holding vast conferences such as COP 21 every few years may be politically and financially rewarding for their participants but their outcome will effect the climate not at all. They are, however, likely to negatively effect the health and economic well being of the rest of the planet’s population.

Published on Irish Energy Blog, 2015.

Sir, – The Irish Times recently (April 17th) published a factual article about geologically recent climate changes and their impacts on the west coast of Ireland as discussed by Michael Williams, professor of geology at NUIG, with Lorna Siggins.
This drew shrill, not to say hysterical responses, from Messrs Price and O’Raifeartaigh (Letters, April 21st), neither of whom appear to be aware that during 11 separate periods in the last million years, since the Mid-Pleistocene (climate) revolution Ireland was buried beneath kilometers of ice, that sea levels were 150 metres lower than now and that these frigid conditions prevailed for nearly 90 per cent of that million years. Only during brief intervals did the ice melt and the sea rise to near its present levels.
If Mr O’Raifeartaigh were to consult the peer-reviewed literature he would find that the turnaround from warming to cooling in every case occurred when carbon dioxide levels, as recorded in the Vostok ice core, were at their peak value. We are utterly blessed to live in one of these short warm periods which only started 9,000 years ago.
Perhaps Price and O’Raifeartaigh are also ignorant of the fact that from 8,000 to 4,000 years ago our climate was 2-3 degrees warmer than now and that a cooling temperature trend has been in place since then.
In the past we have adapted to both warming and cooling and that is still the best, and probably the only strategy that has any chance of success. Trying to control atmospheric carbon dioxide is a strategy that will only succeed in impoverishing us all.
By the bye, the IPCC and the UK Met Office have both stated unequivocally that the recent extreme weather events can not be attributed to “climate change”.
I do agree with Mr Price on one point, and that is the suggestion that The Irish Times engages someone well versed in climatology and paleoclimatology so that your readers might benefit from more fact and less hysteria about the earth’s history of climate change. 
Published in Irish Times, April 2014

Shannon Floods - Climate or Contour ?

Monday 4 December 2017

Brexit : Can Ireland and UK Negotiate a Bilateral Trade Agreement ?

Last year, the House of Lords recommended Ireland and Britain negotiate a draft bilateral agreement. The Irish Minister for Finance rejected this, stating that UK would have to negotiate with the EU.

But there was a precedent for bilateral Irish / British negotiations on trade. In 2013, both governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the export of wind energy from Ireland to the UK. In effect, a trade agreement. The Greens lost the following election in the UK and the agreement ultimately never proceeded due to lack of political will, not because of any procedural issues. 

It seems when it comes to wind energy, there are no rules or procedures. All that is required is the political will.