A COUPLE of months ago the Labour Party announced that it is committed to entirely decarbonise our electricity supply by 2030. To do that, they say, we must build an extra 90 GW of wind and solar capacity, effectively tripling current capacity.
These crazy ideas are based on modelling from a tiny outfit named Ember, who call themselves ‘a global energy think tank’. According to their website, Ember use ‘data-driven insights to shift the world from coal to clean electricity’, so they are hardly objective, nor is there any evidence of any technical expertise. The only experience their small group of employees seem to have is campaigning against fossil fuels and data analysis. I doubt whether any of them know the first thing about how electricity grids work.
As is usually the case with these climate outfits, Ember is funded by ‘philanthropic organisations’, code for far left foundations, though they do not say which ones.
An extra 90 GW? Sounds easy, eh?
Of course, they have worked out in detail just how the grid can run without gas and coal power and with so much intermittent capacity. Well, you would have thought so, wouldn’t you? Sadly the analysis they have produced is short on detail and decidedly amateurish, as their own data shows. The crux of it is the generating capacity they propose for 2030. In particular the firm, dispatchable capacity:
Bio – 8.1
Gas – 10.9
Gas with Carbon Capture – 2.6
Hydro – 1.9
Hydrogen – 6.5
Nuclear – 6.8
Oil – 0.1
TOTAL – 36.9 GW
On top of that, of course, is 85 GW of wind and 51 GW of solar power.
Peak demand is projected at 62 GW. If we accept that storage can smooth out the peaks and troughs during the day, we are still looking at an average daily demand of about 57 GW, as intra-day range is about 10 GW.
We can forget about Demand Supply Response, batteries, V2G (discharging EV batteries to power the grid) and other forms of storage, because these are all limited to a few hours effectiveness at most – enough to smooth out demand during the day and balance the grid during short term fluctuations in generation.
In winter we can also ignore solar power, which will produce at little more than 1 per cent of its capacity – in other words, that 51 GW nameplate will provide less than 1GW.
Having 85 GW of wind power is of little use when the wind does not blow. Just two weeks ago we went four straight days where wind power averaged just 1.6 GW, 9 per cent of capacity. For more than 24 hours, it was at less than 1 GW.
Periods like these occur every winter, and can often last a fortnight and more. It is plain therefore that at times like this generation will be well below demand. Even with the highly speculative 19.5 GW of European interconnector capacity projected by the National Grid, we will still struggle. And to be reliant on imported electricity for a third of our power is something no responsible government should ever contemplate.
I have not even got into the need for reserve capacity, over and above peak demand. You cannot rely on all of those generators working flat out 24/7. Experts in power generation would have told the children who wrote this nonsense for Ember that to meet peak demand of 62 GW, you probably need at least 70 GW, ideally 80 GW, to insure against plant outages.
Nor have I mentioned the need for properly dispatchable generation to provide grid inertia. (In simple terms, heavy rotating equipment such as turbines helps to stabilise grid frequency, a bit like a shock absorber. Wind turbines and solar panels cannot do this. A surge of renewables on to a grid without sufficient rotating mass could cause serious problems, leading potentially to blackouts. (More about this here).
Our energy security, and all that goes with it, are being put at risk by politicians who don’t understand how the grid works and who are reliant on advice from wide-eyed kids playing around with their Xboxes who think they are saving the world.
Who needs electricity anyway, Ed?
As if to prove the point made above, the last few days have been extremely cold with little wind. From Sunday to Tuesday, wind power averaged just 1.6 GW, which is only 5 per cent of capacity. For much of the time it has been below 1 GW, while total demand has been above 40 GW. The same weather is forecast to continue until the weekend.
To keep the grid running, our gas generators (CCGT) have been working flat out, averaging 22 GW. We even have a gigawatt of coal power working at West Burton to meet demand.
Ed Miliband wants to build another 90 GW of wind and solar power. But that will be a fat lot of good when we have weather like this week.