Wednesday, 29 March 2017

The Impact of High Levels of Wind Energy on Conventional Plant

On Wednesday 25th January 2017 wind energy reached a new record of 2,400MW for the Republic of Ireland. This post will look at the impacts on some of the other generation sources.

CCGT ( Gas)

Only three out of eight CCGT ran during the day - two in Dublin (Poolbeg and Dublin Bay) and one in Cork (Whitegate). Presumably, the other 5 plants were paid capacity or constraint payments to shut down for the day.

Wind generation was unusually stable during the day and so Dublin Bay and Whitegate mostly followed demand while the output from Poolbeg had a flat profile. Dublin Bay ran the most efficiently. Whitegate's output hovered between 45% and 60% of it's maximum (or rated capacity otherwise known as load). Poolbeg, on the other hand, operated at about a quarter of it's rated capacity. Operating a CCGT at this level leads to higher specific emissions and fuel consumption, something like driving your car in second gear all the time. 

It would have been therefore preferable to have operated Whitegate on higher loads and take Poolbeg off the grid altogether. The requirement for two power stations to be on load at all times in the Dublin area probably lead to this less than ideal situation.


Two out of the the three generators at Moneypoint operated for the day and like the CCGT mostly followed demand.   They operated at an average of 50% of maximum output with minimum output at 40%. A load of 40% capacity is likewise not exactly ideal in terms of efficiency. 


The three peat power stations are being run on baseload and as a result are not affected by high wind levels. The biomass component seemed to be out of action. The question arises as to why (like wind) peat still receives a subsidy if it is always allowed to operate in the electricity generation market (Though I think the peat subsidy is being phased out). 

OCGT (Gas)

Both open gas cycle units at Sealrock operated at close to full output for the day as like wind they have priority dispatch in the system.

Demand Side Units (DSU)

One relatively new problem for Eirgrid is that despite having all this additional generating capacity in place, matching supply with demand is not as straightforward as previously thanks to the presence of stochastic wind energy. Fast acting plant is one answer to this. Another solution is reducing demand during periods of high demand. Demand side units reduce the demand during peak times giving industrial users a choice to shut down production or use their own diesel generators. 

As more wind is added, more reliance will be placed on DSUs and ironically diesel generation. During this day, on average 18MW per hour of DSU was called on to help keep the lights on. Not a significant amount at this stage. But according to Eirgrid :

The capacity of Demand Side Units in Ireland has increased to 230 MW, and is set to increase further. 

East West Interconnector to UK (EWIC)

The UK interconnector played a crucial role on this day. For most of the time, Ireland sent across it's surplus wind but for an hour, between 6pm and 7pm, Irish generation was insufficient to meet the rise in demand as people arrived home from work and turned their kettles and cookers on. It's an unfortunate fact that you can't "switch the wind on". Also you can't simply switch a large power station like a CCGT on. 

The preferred solution by Eirgrid, presumably because it was cheaper than the other option discussed below, was to reverse the direction of electricity in the interconnector. However, the UK was strapped for generation at this time and (incredibly) France were reliant on UK imports. A precarious situation for the UK but 120MW of spare power for Ireland is not a significant amount for a system of their size.

There is still a shortfall of about 200MW at peak time (where blue line is higher than orange line in the second graph above) which I'm not sure how they made up. Possibly more hydro or DSU or some other peaking plant that I may have missed.

The other option available to Eirgrid would have been to simply increase output from Poolbeg as the demand began to rise. After all, it was being operated at well below optimum efficiency as discussed above.  This is presumably what would have happened if there was no interconnector. Usually the low cost of power purchased from UK would make importing a cheaper option but I can't imagine a grid with such a tight capacity margin as the UK's giving away low cost power during peak demand times. But I can only assume it was somehow cheaper in this case.

The power UK sent to Ireland was made up mainly of gas and coal generation with some nuclear and wind : 

The generation mix for the day is given below  :

Monday, 27 February 2017

Why does Wind Energy still require a subsidy ?

In 2015, wind generation accounted for 22.8% of the electricity generated and was the second largest source of electricity generation after natural gas - SEAI.

The SEAI have reported that wind was the second largest source of electricity generation and ahead of coal power for the first time in 2015.

This means it is now providing a considerable amount of power in a given year. Neither gas or coal power receive a subsidy. Instead they receive the market price.

Coal produced the same amount of power in 2014 as wind did in 2015 (22%) but without a subsidy.

So this begs the question - why does wind power still require a subsidy to compete when it is now out-competing coal ?

Friday, 24 February 2017

Ireland's Debt Problem

An economic policy based on rising debt and low corporate tax rates is not and never was sound policy - by Owen Martin

While the Irish media make a fuss over who will be the next leader of Ireland's biggest political party (Fine Gael), everybody ignores the real elephant in the room. According to the European Banking Authority, Ireland has the largest combined private and government debt as a percentage of GDP in the EU and two thirds higher than that of the US. 

 I'm not sure how this graph is not sending shockwaves through the Trump obsessed Irish media and political establishment - From EBA 

While Greece, Italy and Portugal have higher Government debt, Ireland's private sector debt to GDP dwarfs those countries. Which means that for the size of Ireland's economy, it's private sector has taken on alot of debt.

But not only businesses and industry. We have the 5th highest household debt as percentage of net disposable income in EU with about twice as much debt as income per household. This may explain how we rank so high in numbers of new cars across the EU.   People are taking out car loans that perhaps they can't really afford. It shows that we as a nation are still addicted to debt.

Denmark, Netherlands, Iceland and Norway all have higher household debt than Ireland but these countries are doing much better when it comes to Government debt as percentage of GDP. Ireland ranks 5th in terms of Government debt to GDP. So while Greece and Italy have higher levels of government debt, they have about half of the household and private sector debt. Denmark's high level of household debt doesn't seem as bad considering they have half of Ireland's Government debt to GDP. 

Norway have the wealthiest government in Europe. In fact, they are far ahead of second place Luxembourg and Finland. Norway has slightly more household debt than Ireland. But that kinda makes sense - they are a wealthy country. Ireland has the 5th poorest Government in Europe (Italy and Greece lie at the bottom). Our government has dismal revenue, in part thanks to our low corporation tax rates. Yet we carry roughly the same household debt as Norway and have an even higher private sector debt to GDP.  This is called "living beyond our means".  Yes, Ireland could do with the € 13 billion in tax revenue owed from Apple. Laughably, the Irish government is appealing this decision

Irish Govt has the worst revenue in Europe yet reject a €13 billion EU tax ruling made in Ireland's favour

Of course if all that debt was used wisely, perhaps we could become richer. We are reliant on Norway's gas which arrives to us through UK pipelines. The Irish government have banned fracking so this dependence will continue for the foreseeable future. Imagine if some of that debt was being used to extract our own gas reserves.

Ireland spends the most on health after Iceland in Europe, yet we still have a permanently dysfunctional health system

Ireland has the third highest electricity prices in Europe.

The Irish government takes pride in divesting from fossil fuels and pushing through massive renewables and electricity infrastructure programmes that cost billions and without any proper assessment in the name of climate change.  We pride ourselves on having a massive welfare program and our representatives want to take in more refugees (without any proper assessment). Green/Left politicians cry out as to why we don't do more to tackle climate change, take on more debt (One cannot go the EIB looking for €5 million or €10 million; one needs to go looking for €2 billion. It is there.) and take in more refugees. Ireland is trying to save the world on a sinking ship but our politicians and media don't even realize we are on one.  Have we learned anything from the crash in 2008 ?


On the positive side, exports are still strong and benefit from the stronger dollar as against the euro. If we went back to our own currency, it would be a strong one as the above graph shows. Presumably thanks to our exports. However, the weaker sterling is not good for exports to Britain. There is a chance that Ireland may actually benefit from Brexit if companies there relocate to Ireland.

Ireland has managed to get out of it's budget deficit abyss and back to something fairly normal. If Multinationals move out we could see some real problems, but we would no longer see the massive distortions to our GDP anymore. Perhaps that could be a good thing in the long run. Living on a false economy (now known as Leprechaun economics) is what got us into trouble last time.

I can't see how Ireland's economic fundamentals are much different to that of the Celtic Tiger era.   If anything, things have got worse.

Monday, 20 February 2017

The French - Irish Interconnector

Pat Swords on the proposed Interconnector from Ireland to France :

JP Morgan famously said: “A man has two reasons, the good reason and the real reason”. Thought about that today when I saw the latest spin from Eirgrid, i.e. spending €1 billion of our money, which was of course for our wonderful benefit:
One has to laugh at the total ignorance of the press, do they ever actually think about the crap they write, although if we had to pay to read it like in the past, nobody really would anymore.
This €1 billion interconnector to France is to power 450,000 homes and increase security of supply, which is a bit daft, as we already have a system, which does that and has been ultra reliable for decades, so why do we need to spend another €1 billion on another one to do the same thing?
Yes France has a lot of cost competitive nuclear, but when the cold weather hits France, their electricity consumption soars, as they have a lot of domestic electric heating. If you don’t believe me watch the dial on the top left when the cold weather comes in, they are really struggling to match demand during these periods
When the cold weather hits France it often hits here too. So if we bring in French nuclear off peak and at competitive prices, this is a short term gain, but means that some of our existing generation capacity will simply in time shut up shop. So what happens then when it gets real cold? Of course the French will suffer blackouts, as the lovely new interconnector keeps sending French electricity to Ireland. After all there is plenty of precedent of such issues and how we can rely on the EU’s trading ‘rules’ when the ‘chips are down’:
Maybe people will smell the coffee when the power eventually comes back on and they can brew it?
So let’s get down to the real reason, which one will never get from the so called professionally paid news media. One has to ferret it out oneself, such as using the Aarhus information rights utilised effectively in the article above. However, isn’t it amazing how our so called ‘public servants’ (don’t make me laugh), try every trick in the book to obstruct citizens seeking information, even to the point of breaking the laws, which apply to them?
With regard to this wonderful interconnector, it is part of the EU’s Projects of Common Interest, which has been part of a long drawn out Communication at UNECE, which is in its final phase with the draft findings and recommendations likely to be out this spring. The EU fought tooth and nail, right to the head civil servant in the EU Catherine Day (wouldn’t you know it Irish!), that nobody would have access to information relating to the justification for these projects. However, go to Annex 6 of the Communication and Questionnaire for E 153 – Grid Link (page 83/119 of the pdf)
“This investment is planned primarily to facilitate the integration of 1,283 MW of wind generation in the south of the country. This is approximately equivalent to 0,054 GW/1000 km2 based on GW of additional wind installed within county boundaries. Because of the favourable wind conditions on the island of Ireland and offshore there is interest (evidenced by applications for grid connections) in developing renewable generation capacity well in excess of what is required for native demands. The connection of such capacity can only be facilitated if further interconnection is installed to provide access for this generation to the British and continental European markets, in addition it will facilitate future interconnection to Great Britain or France.”
One of the things that is strikingly clear, is that the Irish grid system can’t take more wind without a major build-out, which includes more interconnectors. So developers may well get their planning for wind turbines, but the realty of project completion and operation hinges on other developments in grid infrastructure, including those interconnectors. The East West interconnector, linking Malahide to the Welsh grid, cost Irish consumers over €600 million and the UK consumers not a cent. It was raised, but not addressed in the first Communication I brought in 2010 to UNECE.
For instance, the below from what is a ‘Green tinged (and funded) German think Tank’:
Social cost benefit analysis of interconnector investment: A critical appraisal
Bremen Energy Working Paper No. 02, July 2010 (published in Energy Policy, 39(6), 2011, pp. 3096-3105.) Michiel de Nooij
“Some, like the European commission, claim that Europe needs more transmission capacity and interconnectors. This paper studies interconnector investment decisions from the perspective of a social cost benefit analysis (maximising total welfare in a country). For two European decisions to build an interconnector (NorNed and the East West Interconnector) the analysis underlying the decisions is discussed in detail, and will be compared with lessons from theory and decisions made in other jurisdictions (Nordel, California and Australia). The key findings are that (i) it is unclear how much demand for transmission capacity and interconnectors there actually is, and thus how large the benefits of investing will be. (ii) Both studies analyzed are not correct. Main criticism includes that they do not take the reaction of producers to new interconnection capacity into account; ignore part of the potential benefits of more competition; and make a strange assumption with respect to discounting. (iii) Decisions in Europe are taken very differently, leading to situations in which approval of an investment might depend on who has to approve. (iv) Therefore, it is unlikely that interconnector and transmission investment decisions in Europe currently are maximizing social welfare. Some lessons for future cost benefit analysis are drawn.”
In other words, the figures were a fudge and there was no rational economic justification for it, it all came down to ‘who has to approve’!
This same point came up with the Irish Academy of Engineering’s report in 2009:
“1.2.3 East­West Interconnection (EWIC), In July 2006, the Irish Government decided to construct an interconnector from Ireland to Great Britain. It would appear that this decision was taken without the benefit of a robust techno‐economic study or cost benefit analysis.  
In addition it is not clear that the main benefit, the “capacity savings”, amounting to some €40m annually out of a total annual benefit of €66m, would be attainable under current market rules, as the benefit would appear to imply 100% usage of the interconnector. The Academy understands for example that during 2008 the usage factor on the Moyle interconnector was approximately 14%. This would appear to indicate a much lower likely benefit from EWIC.”
Looks like Eirgrid are happy to dismiss these issues for their projects on the basis that the punters and decision makers (a shower of punters with our money) only read the crap in the Irish Independent, etc., which is a reproduction of what they feed the lazy journos in the first place.
God help us from all this stupidity and the appalling mess it leaves behind, as if we didn’t have A&Es and hospitals crying out for investment, etc.

French Grid Case Study - 20th January 2017

Figure 1
Figure 2

On 20th Jan, as demand hit 93.8GW (Figure 2), France was dependent on over 4.5GW of imports (Figure 1). In previous years, France was a net exporter. At the same time in Ireland, wind was only at 30% of max output leaving nothing for export if an interconnector to France was in place. Most likely French grid operators were engaging in load shedding to prevent blackouts - see here for more details 

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Recent Protests in Dublin

Members of the Campaign Group United Against Racism during the rally

Image result for protests dublin trump

--Protests outside American Embassy against America's refugee policy. America has admitted about 40,000 refugees to date.

--Protests outside Japan Embassy against their refugee policy. Japan has admitted 28 refugees to date.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Price of Electricity and Renewables Revisited

Previous work by Willis Eschenbach and Euan Mearns showed the relationship between Electricity costs and per capita installed renewable capacity. A new European Commission report shows the increases in electricity prices since 2010. I put this on a graph alongside the increase in share of electricity from renewable sources [Figure 1].

Figure 1 : Increase in electricity prices 2010-2015 plotted alongside increase in share 
of renewables in electricity generation 2010-2014

So the UK went from renewables providing 7% of electricity generation in 2010 to 17% in 2014 resulting in almost a 50% increase in prices over the same period. Ireland is in the top five increases in electricity prices over this period. Denmark seems to be an outlier (although they started off from very high prices) but most countries who invested heavily in renewables saw a sharp rise in electricity prices. 

Something that struck me was the proliferation of PIIGS countries at the top of the graph. So I labelled the top government indebted countries on the same graph [Figure 2] :

Figure 2: Top 7 member states with highest Government debt as % of GDP 

Greece, Italy and Portugal are the top 3 indebted countries in the EU (Debt of general government, as a percentage of GDP). Most of the countries investing heavily in renewables are also running up the biggest fiscal deficits. They have put environmental sustainability above economic sustainability. However, surely the two are linked ? If capitalism is the driver of climate change then living beyond your means must be twice as bad.


1)  Monitoring progress towards the Energy Union objectives – key indicators - see Page 62

2)  Share of electricity from renewable sources in gross electricity consumption (%) - unfortunately this only goes up to 2014, whereas the prices in 1) goes up to 2015, so if a more recent report comes out I will update this blog. Still, Figure 1 is indicative of the electricity price/ RES-E trend.

3)  Risk Assessment of the EU Banking System - See Figure 1

Sunday, 5 February 2017

The Great Wind Farm Sell-Off

A Canadian wind energy group, Brookfield Renewable, has recently decided to sell 130MW of Irish wind farms. It bought the wind farms in 2014 when Bord Gais were selling off it's assets. 

Gaelectric, an Irish wind company, are selling off 230MW of Irish wind farms to a Chinese energy group - CGNEE.  

This recent trend of selling Irish wind farm assets may have something to do with a High Court case involving Enercon Wind Farm Services and a group of residents in Banteer, Co.Cork. While the case is not yet settled and due for hearing again in April, one Irish newspaper published reports that Enercon have accepted liability for nuisance, this was then disputed by Irish Wind Energy Association, and the article has being taken down.

My sources tell me that the residents have being forced to move out due to noise and disturbance from the nearby wind farm.

UPDATE : The newspaper in question has today published that seven families are on course to receive damages in this case :