Greenpeace and renewables on the grid

They seem to think that this is an argument in favour of their plans:

So, will the Energy [R]evolution mix in the year 2050 guarantee
a safe and secure 24/7 power supply?
The answer is yes! The analysis showed that there is only a 0.4%
chance – or 12 hours a year – that high demand correlates with
low solar and wind generation.

Meaning that for only half a day a year does the entire continent get plunged into the Middle Ages of no electrical power at all as the grid falls over.

This isn\’t quite the same as what I would call \”reliable\”, you know?

What\’s also amusing is that they define photovoltaics as \”fully commercial\”. So, why in buggery are we offering a feed in tariff of four times the going rate then?

Doesn\’t convince somehow.


26 thoughts on “Greenpeace and renewables on the grid”

  1. Surely 0.4% of 365 days is 1.46 days, or 35 hours per year.

    Or is that not how the maths works?

  2. @ Richard,
    I think Greenpeace use Bistro Mathematics.
    A 0.4% chance of it ever happening doesn’t equate to any hours per year; a 0.4% frequency would be 35 hours per annum as you point out.
    I still haven’t worked out how their suggested grid connections from the Sahara to islands can be economic – the transmission losses would be horrendous – and how many maintenance engineers they get for €2,000 per annum.

    Tim adds: The transmission cables are supposed to be DC…apparently that helps. I dunno myself….

  3. OK, I’ve got to the point where they are publishing straightforwardly identifiable lies. Cape Verde should be a poster boy for wind-powered generation because it has reliable on-shore and off-shore winds early morning and late evening as the temperature differential between land and sea reaches a diurnal maximum. So – when I was there every decent hotel had to have its own diesel generator to cut in when the mains power fails. This is what Greenpeace calls successfully providing power to the three main communities – so successful that the government called in British consultants (I met some while I was there) to try to privatise the state electricity monopoly because it was such a mess.

  4. The transmission cables are supposed to be DC…apparently that helps.

    I’m not sure how. The reason Tesla got one over on Edison was because he figured out transmitting in high-voltage AC minimises losses. Edison went so far as to electrocute an elephant in response.

  5. I think the weasel word is ‘and’. A 0.4% chance ‘that high demand correlates with low solar AND wind generation’. So they are saying that if we have low wind in the day, solar will pick up the strain, so its only if there is low wind at night will the ‘leccy run out.

    This of course assumes massive overcapacity – you have to have enough solar to run everything when the wind doesn’t blow, and enough wind power to run everything as well (admittedly only at night).

  6. “half a day a year does the entire continent get plunged into the Middle Ages”

    Remember, for much of the green movement this is a feature not a bug.

  7. Well, in the days of Tesla and Edison, the only way to easily step voltage up and down was with a transformer, and transformers don’t work for DC.

    Nowadays you can do it with solid state devices.

  8. More weasel words: “only a 0.4%
    chance that high demand correlates with
    low solar and wind generation.” OK, so what about the times when moderate demand coincides with low solar and wind generation, or even when low demand correlates with damn all solar and wind generation – like on a calm night?

    Those periods of general blackout are going to amount to much more than 0.4% of the time, no?

  9. What Ian B says. The reason you need to step up the voltage for transmission is to reduce I^2R losses. That is the power drawn and the resistance of the transmission lines are fixed so if you can reduce the current drawn you reduce the power losses in the transmission lines.

  10. It also seems to me to be probably disingenuous by lumping together solar and wind. That is, some days you’ll have lots of solar, and other days you’ll have lots of wind. So, if you want a stable 1GW of generation capacity, you need 1GW of solar and 1GW of wind, if you see what I mean, because you often won’t have both together.

    On a general point; despite all my studies and understanding of the primitive society we still live in, I still sometimes have “I can’t believe this is really happening” moments. That those limited areas where we had in general escaped magical thinking- science and technology, mainly- have now slid all the way back into that magical thinking. Incredible really, especially when you realise it took just a couple of generations from “cranks” to “received wisdom”.

  11. Well, if you have an underground cable about 6 feet in diameter (or a supercooled one of about a foot or so in diameter, with a pure vacuum enclosing an outer casing to prevent heat reaching it from the ground and also a liquid helium circulation system to draw away the heat generated from resistance in the wire) you may be able to reduce transmission losses between Morocco and Spain or Algeria and France to an BUT Greenpeace wants to provide electricity in Siberia during winter, when they have negligible winds (yes, I *do* know that) by transmission from the Sahara and points south (forget the Gobi – China will use every kilowatt it can get from there). Minus 55 degrees Centigrade is normal in winter in Sakha (some parts get to minus 60). If you don’t have electricity in Sakha you shut down the second-largest diamond producer in the world, but more importantly 90% of the local population will freeze to death because all the thermostats use electricity; if you don’t have electricity in western Siberia you can’t have the gas to power all Greenpeace’s gas-powered electricity generating plants. Sakha reckons it has one million tons of coal reserves per inhabitant but Greenpeace wants them to freeze to death rather than burn some of that coal – non-renewable resource that will run out after the Sun turns nova!

  12. John77 (#2) – “A 0.4% chance of it ever happening doesn’t equate to any hours per year”

    But aren’t they talking about a 0.4% chance of blackout at any particular time (rather than a 0.4% chance of blackout ever happening), and doesn’t that average out over the long term at blackouts 0.4% of the time?

  13. Andrew Zalotocky

    Environmentalists are opposed to any form of electricity generation that could actually meet our needs. They also demand that we should stop consuming things, give up all modern conveniences and embrace austerity. The obvious conclusion is that the green fanatics are deliberately trying to create an energy crisis as a pretext for the imposition of rationing and government control of our lifestyles. The bastards want our electricity supply to be inadequate and unreliable.

  14. @ Richard
    That is not what they say.
    Statistics distinguishes between Probability Distributions and Frequency Distributions. A Probability Distribution measures the “expectation” (O.K. that’s jargon but bear with me) of the event happening within the defined universe, the Frequency Definition measures how often it is “expected” to occur within the defined universe. So Greenpeace seem to be saying that 0.4% probability of their system failing before the end of time is equal to 12 hours per year.
    If they mean that it is just pig-ignorant.
    If you throw a die it will not show one-sixth of a six, or of a five or… it will show a number.
    What we say is that if you honestly throw an honest die, then the chances of a six or five or four… is one-sixth.
    Apparently Greenpeace have said that the chance of their system *ever* failing is 0.4% which equates to 12 hours per year. May God give me patience – Richard pointed out that 0.4% as a frequency distribution was 35 hours per year; if Greenpeace is actually right they anticipate and expect that their plan will mean several thousand years of complete eletrical supply failure prior to the remnants of the human race being burnt to a crisp.

  15. I’m amazed that they think 0.4% is acceptable. As an ex telecomms engineer, we used to talk about 5 nines or even 6 nines reliability – that’s long-term uptime of 99.999% or 99.9999%. I would expect the electricity supply industry to have similar targets.

    As for transmission losses from The Sahara desert, AC has losses in the insulation due to the field reversing 50 times a second as well as resistive losses in the conductors. DC has next to no insulation loss but similar levels of conductor loss. It’s generally easier to design superconducting DC systems than AC systems, if a superconducting system proves to be more economic over the system lifetime.

    Myself, I don’t see the Sahara Sunshine becoming economic or politically stable enough to power Western Europe, let alone Siberia, anytime soon.

    Also, skimming the document, I think they considerably overrate our capability to maintain a stable ‘supergrid’, given the variability and potentially unpredictable mix of generation and consumption. It looks like an attempt to paper over well-founded criticisms of previous proposals they have made for ‘going renewable’.

  16. The New Zealand government has got some sense. They just stripped Greenpeace of its charitable status.

  17. Is the actual study, and its figures, available? The report just said they looked at “high” demand and “low” sun and wind. What criteria were they using?

    AFAICS the only meaningful way to study such a thing would be to have a model generating system, and compare its hypothetical output to anticipated demand. So these figures don’t seem to be meaningful, to me.

  18. John77, thank you for the explanation.

    As you say, if it’s a chance of it ever happening, then translating that into hours per year seems meaningless.

  19. I’ve just been reading bits of the report, and it’s a hoot.

    A nice big heading:
    “50% wind power is possible already”

    The proof?
    Wind power provided between 50% and 53% of Spain’s electricity demand for five and a half hours during the night on 7 November 2009.

  20. Tim, please keep and encourage Richard: not only did he beat me to comment that: “0.4% does not equal 12 hours per annum” but he can point out Greenpeace nonsense without being a pedant like myself.
    In Cabo Verde wind power generates *more than* 50% of the countries’ electricity needs *for a few minutes each day* (mostly while most of the population are still in bed).

  21. Well, I went back and actually read their brochure. The headline figure actually then leads to an analysis of whether their proposed infrastructure (including usual optimisms) can keep the lights on during the extreme events. And their answer is yes.

    So they aren’t actually saying they’re accepting that the lights will go out .4% of the time, it is that they can keep them on even during the extreme events.

    I haven’t had time to study the whole thing in detail. They do rely on the installation of 4HV interconnects from the putative solar instatllations in Africa, at a cost of 90 billion euros, which sounds a lot but compared to what the State currently pisses up the wall, not muchr really.

    So it comes down to whether their proposed energy system will work as advertised; I’m skeptical, but it’s not actually saying what it appears to be saying, so far as I can see.

  22. @ Ian B
    Did you read the bit where they say their wonderful systems limit householders to a 6 amp fuse – lights and computer but no heating or cooking?
    I can shave with cold water in the dark (and have done so) but do not eat raw meat; more importantly, for me, coffee needs boiling water.

  23. @John77

    I must have skipped past that bit, I was specifically racing through the gripping yarn to find the “extreme events” bit.

    So, it’s “Dark Ages All The Time” then, eh? Thought as much.

    “We can supply all the energy you need, so long as you don’t need any”. Hmm.

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  25. MikeinAppalachia

    “Guarantees should be established that exclude the possibilityof transferring electricity from nuclear origin through
    the new interconnections.”

    I kind of lost interest at that point, but even by then it is obvious that their whole fantas..excuse me, plan is to use demand control-which is all a “Smart Grid” really does-to reduce peak demands to fit their supply mode.

    Over long distances DC transmission can carry an equivalent amount of power with less resistive lossses compared to AC as the DC doesn’t cause inductive losses with their added magnitudes of current (see “power factor”). But, each “end” of the transmission line has to have a rectifier/inverter station to change the delivered power back to AC unless we go to a world of DC usage vs our current AS distribution. The cost of these inverters usually cancelles the DC advantage, but DC has a place in integrated grids to provide stability in the face of very high VAR demand by the connected AC long lines.

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