Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Don't dis Energiewende. Attack German energy policy instead

A typical justification for Energiewende lists 6 objectives (pdf)

  1. Fighting climate change
  2. Reducing energy imports
  3. Stimulating technology innovation and the green economy
  4. Reducing and eliminating the risks of nuclear power
  5. Energy security
  6. Strengthening local economies and providing social justice

Consider objective A (Fighting climate change). This would probably be considered most important for us Anglo-Saxons because we're supposed to be pragmatic. Actual CO2 emissions reductions are partly done by a carbon-accountants trick: renewables are defined as CO2 free by diktat, not with evidence. Every Energiewende naysayer is defined as a climate change denier. When I query Energiewende supporters, they often say: Germany is moving towards decarbonization with renewable energy. In some vague, undefined, future: Germany will become carbon-free. When dis Energiewende, boosters try to befuddle me with arguments using one or all of the 6 objectives above. At the limit this comes down to the claim: you're not German, you don't understand us. In contrast when I dis German energy policy I can just say Germany is not reducing CO2 emissions, it's creating social injustice. They can't refute those two claims. They can refute the claim that Energiewende is failing with endless sophistry.

So I say: stop dissing Energiewende and start dissing German energy policy.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Renewable Energy Intermittency

In my arguments below, I don't assume wind can't supply 'baseload', but I do assume extra dispatchable plant is required when wind and/or solar don't deliver. This intermittency can be daily, seasonal or weather dependent.

Solar fails at night, on cloudy days, when it snows or dust storms blow. The further away from the equator, the bigger the problem with intermittency. Britain lies at 51° to 59° latitude. We get at least 6 times more solar in summer than winter. Britain also faces peak demand of about 55GWe in winter (about twice the minimum summer demand) We have very short deep mid-winter days with the sun low on the horizon. This makes solar a particularly bad idea for Britain because we'd need to overbuild 8 to 10 times to get the solar power we'd need in winter. In practice, in winter, solar provides very little for Britain. Germany is not a lot better (w.r.t. latitude) yet poor Germany now has about 40GWe of solar capacity.

Wind fails on windless days and may be curtailed on windy days. So wind never matches its nameplate capacity. Historically British wind capacity utilization averages 28% of nameplate (23% onshore, and 33% for offshore). In practice we've often seen wind capacity fall to just 1% (over several hours), less than 5% (over days); less than 10% (over many weeks).

Solar and wind intermittency cause many problems:

  1. Cost of coping with intermittency. Extra electrical plant is required to generate when solar and/or wind plant produce low or no electricity. This extra plant costs additional money to build and operate. Today this must be fossil fuel plant. In future it may be energy storage. Energy storage is far more expensive than fossil fuel plant. Currently, pumped hydro is the cheapest energy store but the cost of that is huge. For a wind-powered Britain. (a, b)
  2. It's less efficient. The extra fossil plant required to backup wind and solar runs less efficiently. 1st: it cycles on/off more (wasting more energy to get hot). 2nd: It is often left on to keep boilers hot, without generating any electricity at all. If energy storage is used instead, inefficiencies are introduced because energy is lost when storing and lost again when using (converting from PE to electricity). Also, the majority of energy store technologies lose energy whilst actually storing. The longer energy is stored the more is lost. ( c )
  3. Significant CO2 emissions continue. Anticipated CO2 reductions from renewable energy have not arrived. Germany is the most spectacular example of this failure. It's mainly because fossil plant now runs more inefficiently. (f, g, h)

The myth of "Wind is always blowing somewhere". One RE plan builds interconnectors between countries so that on a windless day, Britain, for example, will be supplied by windy Germany or sunny Spain. The problem with this notion is that it will rarely work. Low wind periods are often seen throughout the whole of Europe! Nor will sunny Spain be much use to Britain in winter. (d, e)


  1. I calculate Britain would need 17,464 GWh of pumped hydro to buffer wind
  2. Pumped storage will increase costs 10 fold (youtube)
  3. Hidden CO2 emissions from renewables
  4. Wind Blowing Nowhere
  5. Wind Blowing Nowhere – Again
  6. No German CO2 emission reductions for 6 straight years
  7. Grand Debacle: Germany’s Renewable Energy Effort Turning Into A Colossal, Costly And Senseless Failure!
  8. Germany’s 2020 greenhouse gas target is no longer feasible

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Damian Carrington gets everything wrong on nuclear power

At his Guardian blog, Damian Carrington gets everything wrong - about nuclear power and electricity in general. Five ways to power the UK that are far better than Hinkley Point. None of his 5 alternatives make sense.

'Energy efficiency' really means using less energy - less electricity in this case. It's because we use so much energy that our lives can be so productive. It's been estimated the electricity available to people in wealthy countries is roughly the equivalent of having 56 servants working for you in pre-industrial times. France uses far more electricity than Britain per capita. French worker productivity is also far better than Britain's. Just put 2 and 2 together.

Massive build out of wind and solar power (about 115,000 MegaWatts) has, if anything, increased German CO2 emissions. Germany hasn't seen a CO2 emissions fall since 2009. Its per capita emissions are actually up again last year, and up on 2009 by about 2%. The reason for this is because both wind and solar are intermittent. Output depends on time of day, season, and weather. Nuclear-abolishing Germany emits 12 times more CO2 per unit of electricity than nuclear-powered France. Germany keeps much of it coal-fueled power burning all the time. Because boilers must be kept hot so that the generators can quickly go on grid to meet demand. .

The intermittency of solar and wind make such electricity both more expensive and more CO2-intensive than Damian would have us believe. It's more expensive because we need just as much fossil plant as we used before to meet mid-winter peak demand when solar delivers nothing and wind can fall as low as 1% of nameplate capacity [as often happens during a very cold period]. We pay for two sets of electricity generation. Solar and wind are more CO2-intense than claimed because fossil powered electricity runs less efficiently with wind and solar on the grid. see: GETTING TO ZERO: The hidden CO2 emissions from renewables

Can more interconnectors improve things for Britain. We already import a lot more electricity than we export. So yes, we can import more. Nuclear powered France often has more electricity than she needs - most of the year - apart from when France faces peak demand. Herein lies the problem with interconnectors: peak French demand often coincides with peak British demand and, if that happens on windless days, it will be disastrous for Britain. Rather than export to us, the French will, rightly, take care of themselves first. The same problem applies to other European countries. Their peak demand very often coincides with ours. We can't rely upon another myth fostered by the renewables community : that the wind is always blowing in a neighboring country when it's still here.

Energy storage can not fix the problem of renewable power intermittency because the cost would be out of this world. [ Vast amount of storage will be required, Energy returned on energy invested makes storage-backed wind and solar non-viable. ]

Cost reductions - almost everything can fall in cost. Nuclear power too. At £18bn, the Hinkley EPR reactors are US $7770/kiloWatt. Lovering, Yip and Nordhaus show that South Korea, for example, can deliver nuclear power at only US $2000/kiloWatt. There's a thorium molten salt reactor design : ThorCon, claiming US $1000/kiloWatt. In order to take advantage of these we need to take on Damian and his anti-nuclear power mates.

Friday, 18 March 2016

The promise of renewable energy

1878: Augustin Mouchot displayed a solar power generator at the Universal Exhibition in Paris

1883: the first ever pv solar array, by Charles Fritts on a rooftop of 42 Nassau Street, NY

1888: Charles Brush's windmill for generating electricity was 60 foot and supplied 12kW

1941: The World's first Megawatt wind turbine [ Smith / Putnam ]

The rationale for renewable energy subsidies, mandates, and feed-in tariffs (FITs), has been that the technology is young and needs a leg up. Renewable energy technologies are not young. They are older than nuclear power.

California has been trying to do renewables since 1978 : for 38 years. In 2014, natural gas still made 61.3% of California's electricity.

The two main problems facing renewable power are very low power densities, and intermittent output. Such low power densities means vast amounts of renewable energy plant must be built. It would still not be very non-carbon. We'd still need about as much fossil fuel plant as before because solar delivers nothing when British peak electricity demand calls - at about 5pm in deep mid-winter. The minimum output of British wind - over the entire country - is less than 1% of nameplate capacity.

Calls for more renewable energy should be recognised as either stupid, or malicious. Many of the people advocating renewable energy have a Luddite and/or neo-Malthusian worldview. It doesn't matter to such people whether we decarbonize energy. What really counts for them is that we slow, or hobble, industrial society by making energy expensive. They'll never admit this, because it's a certain vote loser. Hence the lies :- our renewable powered world is just a few years away ...

Climate political football

Lately climate warrior Ed Miliband, and the Green movement in general have been making great waves about how the evil Tories are destroying your climate. The facts, dear reader, are the opposite. The Tories have a much better record of reducing fossil and coal use than Labour. Notice the period mid-1997 to mid-2010 : the last Labour administration. The 3 main classes of fossil fuel: coal, oil, and natural gas showed no decline at all.

Disclaimer: I've never voted Tory in my life and probably never will.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Climate Hypocrites in the media

Don't you just hate hypocrites, especially in the media? Promoting poverty and austerity for the majority of us while ignoring the lifestyles of media darlings. I puke every time I see the DiCaprio / Travolta / Huffington (Huff post) / Matt Damon / James Cameron (movie director) / etc lovvies telling the rest of the world to be poor and love it.
Avatar Director James Cameron warned of a future “world that’s in shambles” because of climate change, and said he believes “in ecoterrorism” yet, he owns an impressive private collection of motorcycles, cars, dirt bikes, a yacht, a helicopter, a Humvee fire truck and a $32-million submarine. ABC and CBS even praised Cameron for his submarine purchase, with CBS’s Gayle King saying she loved his “passion and curiosity.”

Leonardo DiCaprio ironically stood in front of the UN warning that “if we do not act together, we will surely perish” – just three months after he had flown to Brazil on a private plane to borrow an oil billionaire’s 470-foot yacht. Yet, ABC News praised him for “not just talking the talk.”
-- Climate Hypocrites and the Media That Love Them - The Not-So-Green Habits of Hollywood Gasbags

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

2015: Carbon intensity of electricity in Germany was 12 times that of France

by Suzy Waldman, a tweet I copied:
For those who still believe in Energiewende: carbon intensity of electricity in Germany was > 10X of France in 2015.

Friday, 4 March 2016

UK National Infrastructure Commission call for a "smart power revolution"

Renewable energy dreamers are not content with driving up energy costs, and pricing steel production out of the UK, for example. A new report by UK's National Infrastructure Commission calls for a "smart power revolution". I, personally, don't think there's anything smart about hiking up electricity prices for the poor. They want "smart power principally built around interconnection, storage, and demand flexibility". They shamelessly claim it "could save consumers up to £8bn a year by 2030". If those savings happen, I say they will be based on people using less energy. If you don't spend money you save it! Who knew that?

An important issue I have with this is that productivity in our economy and lifestyles, is intimately dependent on levering energy to do work for us. That's been the case since the industrial revolution began. There have been no paradigm shifts decoupling energy use from economic well-being. Flexible energy sources at home allow us to save time in a host of ways: washing clothes, communicating electronically, preparing food. Energy takes us to work and lets us travel for leisure, to see family and friends or visit most places on Earth.

The first thing that puzzles me about their report was their demand for energy storage. What economic energy storage are we going to put on the grid? More importantly why?

Energy storage, just for the sake of it, is a cost. Of course we already have energy storage. It's called fossil fuel, nuclear power and pumped storage. To this they may want to add: air storage, batteries, capacitors, ...

energy density (kJ/kg)
Uranium80.6 billion
Lithium Ion battery360
Pumped hydro. Water at 100 m dam height (potential energy)1

The only reason people are talking about adding more energy storage to the grid is because of a perceived need to do away with fossil fuels and nuclear power in favour of intermittent, and low power density renewable energies.

What are their specific proposals anyhow?

  1. Interconnectors to Norway and Iceland. Two countries with populations of 5.1 million and 0.32 million. Britain's population is 12 times greater, so these interconnectors are hardly likely to make much difference.
  2. More remarkable is their call for:
    "Storage - technology is accelerating at a remarkable speed. The UK could become a world leader in making use of these technologies, not through subsidies, but by ensuring that better regulation creates a level playing field between generation and storage."

    Britain is now spending a fair bit, tens of millions on energy storage R&D. The USA has been spending far more than that for a decade. There have been no big breakthroughs to suggest grid-scale storage is economically sensible. The biggest hindrance holding back grid-scale storage are pathetic energy densities of the new technologies (on the low end of the scale in the table above) compared with what we already have (fossil and nuclear).

    Why would anyone want a level playing field between generation and storage? It's a lunatic proposal. Grid providers should be mandated to provide reliable power to the grid. We can probably do this with future nuclear power by adding molten salt storage at no more than 10% increase in capital cost, and hardly any increase in running cost. Wind and solar should also provide their own storage, at the place of origin. Adding storage to the grid just for the sake of it as they seem to propose is a cost with no real benefit.

  3. Finally, to top it off, they propose
    "Demand flexibility - A new generation of hi-tech systems means consumers can save money and cut emissions without inconvenience. Government should ensure the UK’s benefits by improving regulation, informing the public of its benefits and piloting schemes on its own estate"

    By demand flexibility, they mean

    1. replacement of our current (well-functioning) electrical devices with more expensive ones fitted with a "smart" off switch controlled by your grid provider. A bit thick if you ask me.
    2. shutting down factories and industry at times of high demand (winter).
    3. for "improving regulation" read "these measures will be mandated."

Will any of this really add to our quality of life? No. At best it will lead to no improvement in life quality.

Will it really make a dramatic difference to carbon dioxide emissions? No. It's being done to support an electrical grid flush with renewable energies. Yet in Germany we know that adding 80,000 megawatts of wind and solar to their electricity grid has not actually lead to CO2-emission reductions.

Who are the great and good of the National Infrastructure Commission anyhow? Are they political representatives who can be held electorally responsible for their decisions? No. Are they electrical engineers who know what they're doing? No. Out of the nine, one is a civil engineer, whom I'd expect more sense from.

It seems to me that this QUANGO have been drinking the climate campaigner kool aid. They've come to believe the CC-propaganda. It's the kind of thing I expect from green loonies at the Guardian Environment section. Not from QUANGO bureaucrats.

The smart grid they call for exists as nothing more than a model in a climate crusader's spreadsheet. I have nothing against improving energy efficiency. Energy savings are possible by say, adding domestic solar water heating, and heat pumps to our homes.

Nor am I a climate denier. It's prudent to reduce CO2 emissions. We can do that with a nuclear powered electricity grid.

Yet, if we must employ someone to redesign the grid to improve efficiency, let it be electrical engineers please. Not economists and retired politicians.

If the justification for these measures is to be lower CO2-emissions then let's measure success by how well we do just that. France and Sweden lead the EU with, by far, the lowest CO2 in the electricity sector. Let's just copy their success.

Their 3 reports (pdfs) are here:

  • Smart power
  • Costs and benefits of GB interconnection: A Poyry report to the National Infrastructure Commission
  • Delivering future-proof energy infrastructure: Goran Strbac et al

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

The problems of precautionary thinking in politics, and why we should stop it

I arrived at this post after writing a short book review [book X]. Although it began as a criticism of environmental thinking, I expanded it into a criticism of precautionary thinking, and hypothesis led doom-mongering in general.

The issue I have with highlighting problems is that is does not, necessarily, lead to action to solve the problem. It may lead to actions which create other problems instead; for example: biofuels and biomass were part of a package of "solutions" aimed at reducing CO2 emissions, but, IMO, it primarily led to more pressure on wildlife habitats. There are better alternatives to biofuels and biomass: which are more protective of nature, economically more efficient, and emit less CO2. Example 2: Banning neonicotinoids will reduce agricultural yields, or lead farmers to adopt worse solutions, and fool us into thinking we've solved a problem we haven't. Recent findings indicate[1, 2] that declining bee populations are mostly a man-made problem nothing to do with neonicotinoids.

The general pattern behind mamy enviro bans, and much rule-making is the "Precautionary Principle", PP. There's also a weak form of this which I call precautionary reasoning. With precautionary reasoning, the hypothetical threat, need not pose an existential danger, just a serious one; or a serious danger viewed by a minority. Let me return to my issues with "highlighting problems": greens see this as raising awareness, and part of a necessary media work / lobbying to change things for the better. In enviro thinking, every problem highlighted leads to a potential problem solved. I disagree. In many cases, it just leads to cynicism, or despair. I first began to realize this long ago from studying post-structuralist, post-modernist and Critical Theory, in the early 1980s. Reading Peter Sloterdijk's CCR[3] only hammered home the issue.

We see the fruits of raising awareness in the anti-nuclear power, and deep-green movements, in people like ... [names deleted!], a bunch of depopulators who lie incessantly. In my view, when we highlight problems which appear to have no solution, we make things worse because we fan despair and cynicism. In order not to fan despair and cynicism, when raising a problem, we are duty-bound to make sure that our solutions are:

  • actual solutions,
  • doable, e.g. economic and
  • beneficial to the majority.
We must apply cost-benefit reasoning. PP and precautionary reasoning are antithetical to cost-benefit reasoning. Precautionary reasoning is often used to short-circuit cost-benefit reasoning. Ideas similar to precautionary reasoning often pop up in other spheres too; especially in debates over crime, and security:
  • "We must pass this law because, if we can save just one child ..."
  • "We must monitor all communications to stop terrorism"
  • "We must take all possible measures (i.e. go to war in a foreign land) to eliminate terrorism. It is an existential threat to us"

At worse, precautionary reasoning often involves making up the existential threats too e.g.:

  • Tony Blair's dodgy dossier with Saddam's WMDs that are just 45 minutes away from striking at Britain.
  • The anti-war movement's nuclear winter.
  • Two-headed Fukushima babies, and God knows what other radiation myths that are really fraudulent products of the deep-green movement.
  • Atomic breeder reactors leading to nuclear weapons proliferation.

When they make up threats, precautionary thinkers think they're being responsible! The invented threats of nuclear power were seen by the likes of Amory Lovins and David Brower as legitimate issues to raise. The anti-nuclear power movement did not begin in bad faith (as a set of deliberate lies). It began to "raise our awareness" by posing hypothetical problems. The anti-nuclear power movement succeeded because the hypothetical risks they raised seemed to pose existential dangers to humanity. Their success was in convincing people that their hypothetic risks were real dangers. Hypothetical risks were taken as real scenarios to be guarded against. For example: atomic weapons proliferation concerns were a big reason why breeder reactor research slowed and became mired in red tape, and rules which actually prevent it.

I discussed these issues without once talking about democracy, or what the majority want and need. In my defence, I'll argue that a focus on precautionary reasoning disempowers democracy because it's used by state institutions to fortify the most anti-democratic elements of the state: the security services. But also, because, as I said, it tends to lead to cynicism, or despair, which can lead to people giving up on democratic change.

  1. Humans To Blame For Declining Bee Populations - Study
  2. Bee health update: Latest field studies again conclude neonicotinoids not key problem
  3. Critique of Cynical Reason, 1983, by Peter Sloterdijk. This book purports to be a critique of cynical reason, but ends up as a manifesto for cynicism. It's an inevitable paradox of posing problems for which you have no solution.