Monday, July 30, 2012

Dumbing Down the Energy Debate

Sometimes you can pack an immense amount of useful information into a single graphical image. Other times a graphical image can appear to contain a large amount of information, but in fact it contains virtually zero useful information. An example of the latter is the graphic below, presented by Real Clear Energy:
It is crucial that the Germans get their energy future right -- they are gambling the future of Germany and all of Europe on getting it right. The result of wishful thinking and self deception in this context is likely to be catastrophic. Openness and honesty are vitally important, at a juncture when Germans are shutting down reliable nuclear plants and are exposing their jugulars to expensive, intermittent unreliable forms of energy.

First of all, the data for the graphic apparently comes from Germany's BDEW, but the Real Clear Energy article refers to their source of information as "Germany!"
Germany reported last week that it has been able to generate 26% of its electricity from renewable resources over the first six months of 2012. This is reflective of its effort to ramp up renewable sources in an effort to close all its nuclear reactors by 2020. Renewable sources provided only 20.45% last year and 18.3% the year before. _RCE
To ascribe a statement to "Germany" is absurd. Energy journalists must be specific about the sources of their information -- in this case a specific agency of the German government.

Secondly, the article refers to "percentage of energy generated" without specifying whether the generated "energy" was used, dumped, or exported. Intermittent unreliable forms of energy cannot be treated the same as energy from dispatchable power plants (gas turbines, hydro turbines, backup storage . . .) or baseload power plants (nuclear, many coal plants ...). In fact, Germany's grid came very close to being destabilised by its vulnerability to intermittent unreliables:
The good wind supply situation in December also showed some drawbacks for grid operation. While wind generation in the North of Germany was at a high level, system stability in the South of Germany was jeopardised. On 8 and 9 December 2011, for instance, Germany had to rely for the first time on capacities of Austrian reserve power stations to ensure security of supply. "As a result of strong wind supply in the North, fully utilised networks in the Centre, and generation congestion in the South of Germany, reserve capacities of Austrian gas and oil-fired power stations had to be used to be able to serve demand. This cannot be in the sustained interest of the energy turnaround. _BDEW

The German government is attempting an impossibility, and is betting its future and the future of its people on a sure loser. Intermittent unreliable forms of energy such as big wind and big solar, are qualitatively different from the stolid workhorses of modern utility grids: baseload and dispatchable power.

Not only is it impossible to substitute intermittent unreliable energy sources for dispatchable and baseload power generation, it is actually very dangerous to attempt anything above 20% penetration of the intermittent unreliable energy sources onto the grid.

Germany's grid is due for greater and greater destabilisation as the government attempts to force utilities to depend more and more upon the intermittent unreliables.

Energy media such as should be able to recognise disinformation, and have the courage to confront information sources with the fact of their disinformation. This is particularly true in the editorial section, where the above graphic was found.

The information in the graphic above is essentially meaningless, because it omits the crucial data specifying the ultimate use of the "generated energy" and the effect which the "generated energy" had upon the power grid and the rest of the installed power generation infrastructure.

Wishful thinking is okay, in private fantasies. But when the entire future of the European continent is being bet on wishful thinking, the grownups need to stand up and speak out.

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