Forget renewables, consider them UNRELIABLES

Forget renewables, consider them UNRELIABLES

by Paul Spare
article from Wednesday 23, January, 2019

THE EU HAS INVEIGLED its tentacles into multiple aspects of the domestic and industrial worlds – rarely with beneficial results.  On the macroscale it has proscribed the design of light bulbs and maximum vacuuming power that are acceptable, whilst at the other end of the spectrum it has introduced policies to define future energy options.

However, despite having advice available from the most experienced and knowledgeable engineers and scientists in the world, it continues to make irrational decisions about future energy supplies and produce adverse, rather than positive effects.  These decisions are not merely an academic aside, but threaten our complex industrial society.  

There are a number of factors that have to be considered in developing energy policy, any one of which may be dominant at a particular time, for example:

National energy security


Low resource use

Carbon (CO2) emissions

Plant longevity / controllability.

Since the turn of the century, the EU has largely excluded all but the issue of CO2 emissions, but even here, its policy is not objective, but is based on doctrine rather than auditable data and cannot be justified by a rational analysis of the facts.   It has selected renewables (better named as unreliables) but rejected nuclear power as the low-carbon option.  This is a capital error.

This perverse selection is a consequence of its relationship with the green pressure groups that it consults regularly.  Unfortunately the groups from whom it seeks advice are dependent upon the largesse and subsidies provided by the EU.  Inevitably they endorse the EU selection rather than provide the objective statistics so necessary for decision making.  A rational strategy to reduce emissions would have identified the low carbon states in Europe and sought to secure CO2reductions by embracing their practices.  The prime examples are France, Sweden (and non-EU Switzerland) that by a combination of nuclear and hydro power plants produce ‘per capita’ emissions below 5 Te/ annum.  German emissions exceed 8.5, the UK a mid-range 6.5.

Instead of adopting this logical approach and evaluating decades of substantial and compelling data, the EU have established the 20/20 option of having 20 per cent of their energy supplied by renewable plants in 2020 thereafter increasing to ever higher contributions in coming decades. Individual countries falling below the 20 per cent figure can actually fudge the results by pairing with better performing states, but that is EU political tinkering.

It is blatantly obvious to anyone who ventures outside their air-conditioned building that power systems such as wind turbines, solar and wave machines that depend on the weather, vary erratically over a wide range.  Data from websites such as Mygrid and Gridwatch reveal that renewables often produce the lowest output when a maximum is required – eg during a freezing winter anticyclone. Last Friday, 18th January 2019, at 7.00pm wind power was producing 9000 MW, some 25 per cent of demand. However as the breeze abated, it declined steadily to be producing only 2000 MW – only 5 per cent by 6.00pm on the following day.  Since gas station output was already close to its maximum, coal-fired plants had to rescue us from power cuts by producing 5000 MW. The CO2 contribution from the essential backup stations has to be added to the wind power contribution since the two go together. By 22nd January at 6.00pm – peak power time – the wind contribution is less than 3 per cent.  It is not surprising therefore that the EU 20/20 policy is failing with CO2 emissions increasing by 0.6 per cent in 2017 over 2016.

Moreover, to illustrate the futility of building 10,000 wind turbines across the UK, we were able to import more electricity (3000 MW) from France and Holland through two cables than all the wind turbines’ output. Too many people in Brussels appear to find deep sand in which to bury their heads when these statistics are published. The UK has committed to reducing its CO2 output to 100g/kWh of electricity but already this January, despite this fleet of turbines, it has exceeded 400g/kWh on five windless days. This will deteriorate further as the nuclear plants are retired from 2023.

In preferring unreliables to nuclear power, the EU has, in addition, disregarded the superior performance of nuclear power with regard to other factors. Nuclear fuel is a resource that has no other significant industrial use, plus its power plants are controllable and can operate with load factors of 90 per cent for months continuously.  This matches our continuous demand for secure and reliable electricity.  Intermittent renewables do not. 

Despite this overwhelming evidence that wind and solar provide little security even during weather conditions that are in no way abnormal, the EU insists that UK coal-fired stations must be retired early to reduce CO2 emissions.   Also that France must phase out a proportion of its low carbon nuclear stations and build wind farms instead.  I can only liken this folly to a situation in which the skipper of a lifeboat that faces being becalmed is compelled to throw his engine overboard and erect a sail.

How will the EU bureaucrats monitor CO2 emissions when there is no electricity for their offices, smartphones and computers on days when the sun and breeze stubbornly refuse to produce adequate power? The record in Germany should be a salutary reminder of the doctrinaire commitment to unreliables.   Having spent tens of billions of Euros, their CO2 emissions are almost the same as ten years ago. 

A corporate megalomania appears to have infected EU policy makers deluding them into believing that their Directives and edicts can overcome nature and derive power from renewables at any time, if the environmental policies are sufficiently virtuous.  There is also another aspect of this EU policy that is rarely discussed.

Anyone inclined to detect conspiracies in international politics should find EU energy policy very fertile ground.  If our international trading competitors desire to put our industries at a disadvantage and damage our economies then what better way than to cause the protracted weakening of electricity supply?

Firstly, exaggerate the damaging effects of coal power and force its premature closure; secondly introduce obstructions to prevent the state from assisting investment in replacement nuclear plants; thirdly increase our dependence on imported supplies of natural gas; fourthly encourage the construction of unpredictable and uncontrollable renewable plants that will bring power cuts.  At the same time, our competitors adopt the opposite policies by building more coal and nuclear plants.  

Whilst struggling to make progress with this present situation, the EU demands increased electricity generation as it proposes to replace petrol and diesel by electric vehicles and ultimately phase out domestic gas heating. The future is electric. Has a hollow ring with present policies. The future is darkness. Sounds more accurate.

Paul Spare CEng FIMechE FEI Photo: Torness Nuclear power station, East Lothian.

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