Monday, 28 September 2015

Government inconsistent on city pollution and coal

State wide ban on smoky coal

Today, the Department of the Environment will introduce a State wide ban on "smoky" coal. While attempts to curb pollution, particularly in cities, are admirable, the Government are guilty of inconsistency in this matter. For many years, diesel has been encouraged through lower taxation with the result that diesel cars and fuel are cheaper to buy than petrol alternatives. This has resulted in increases of local emissions in built up and city areas. As economist Colm McCarthy explains :

Diesel engines give better mileage than petrol, hence causing lower emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere per kilometre travelled. But they produce higher emissions of local pollutants, including particulates and nitrogen oxide, and these are known to have adverse effects on human health, especially in built-up areas.

 Attempts to control this pollution have failed and in the wake of the Volkswagon emission scandal, its safe to say has failed miserably.

 But it is beginning to look as if a mistake has been made in Europe. Encouraging diesel to cut emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, is a worthy objective. But the control of low-level emissions from diesel through regulation seems to have failed. The European Commission is proposing a tougher testing regime, the standard bureaucratic response: if a policy fails, it needs to be intensified - always reinforce failure [sound familiar - admin note].

 So if the Government is concerned about city pollution, perhaps it can take a look at it's own failed policy in relation to motor vehicles (I have previously written about the benefits of using CNG for public transport).

And if it's concerned about coal pollution, then maybe it can take a look at Moneypoint power station and the options open to converting it to less polluting alternatives. People have a choice not to buy smoky coal, but the people of Clare and Kerry do not have a choice (except moving out of the area).

Could it be that it better suits it's owners bottom line to use cheap coal ? Then by the same logic, shouldn't ordinary people have the same right to avail of cheaper methods of heating their home ?

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Significant amounts of Generation in the pipeline

Eirgrid have announced that they are upgrading their transmission network to facilitate future increases in power generation.  Total planned generation will be 15,000MW by 2023 - three times that of peak winter demand. In otherwords, this is generation that is simply not required.

There is no mention of the cost or environmental impact of all this infrastructure. There is mention that in a period of volatile energy costs renewable energy sources can also contribute to cost competitiveness by reducing dependence on imported fossil fuels but as Irish Energy Blog has shown fossil fuel prices can come down in real life with investment in subsidized renewables preventing these savings from been passed on to the consumer :

Gas Prices Hit Six Year Low but still Electricity Bills rise

There is also the question of whether An Bord Pleanala (or the local planning authority) should carry out a cumulative assessment of this entire project, which includes new transmission and new generation, as it certainly looks like there will be significant environmental impacts.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Windless nights and cold seas

Windless Nights

Tonight, wind energy in Ireland is at 21MW, a capacity factor of 0.8% :

England is not doing much better with 420MW, a capacity factor of 3% :

But surely, if we had an interconnector to France we could import wind from there ?

Well the problem is there is not much wind blowing there either. Interestingly, they have more wind energy than Ireland has with 1,854MW and a capacity factor of 18.5%. So much for the idea that Ireland has the best wind speeds in Europe :

But this is only 3% of electricity demand in France which means they don't have any surplus wind energy to export to anybody. 

Nuclear power is providing 75% of their electricity demand so if we had an interconnector to France we would be importing mostly nuclear power (we currently import nuclear power from the UK). But oddly enough, there is still a superstitious fear of nuclear power in Ireland, although we are happy to import it from other countries.

Total wind capacity for the three countries is 25GW, at let's say, an average cost of €1 million per MW. This means that € 25 billion worth of energy infrastructure is producing just 9% of its rated output, contributing a grand total of 2% of total electricity demand (at 104GW) for these nations. This is what happens when Governments run loose with their people's money and bypass the legal assessments that could have prevented this waste of money. 

The EU's single currency has failed, their Schengen Agreement has failed, and their plans for an energy union based on intermittent renewables is failing. It is time for a re-think.

Cold Seas

There is currently a very cold body of water in the Atlantic around Ireland :


If we compare this to 2010, one of the coldest winters in recent history, the seas were much warmer back then at this time of the year :

It seems a good possibility that we are in store for a very cold winter with low winds. 

Things could get interesting.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Gas Prices Hit Six Year Low but still Electricity Bills rise

The above diagram gives a good indication of where gas prices in the EU are at. It reveals that gas prices have hit a six year low i.e gas prices have not been this low since 2009. Gas power is usually the last generator called on by the National Grid in Ireland so this is the one that sets the wholesale price of electricity for all generators (under the merit order system).

If we look at a recent wholesale price (SMP) profile we can see that it is well below € 50 / MWh, at about € 30 / MWh :

But still electricity bills are not getting cheaper. This amounts to an abuse of the free market, a market all consumers should be entitled to participate fairly in. The excuse of rising prices for fossil fuels is often used as a justification to hike bills but the opposite doesn't happen here in Ireland, the land where the electricity consumer can be milked till the cows come home.

The guy supposed to be regulating this can be contacted at

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Ex Green Minister gets more airtime

You could be forgiven for thinking that the leader of the Green Party, Eamon Ryan, was still a member of Government, or even an elected representative, but he is neither.

Tonight, once again, on the national television broadcaster, RTE, he will be given airtime to speak about green policy that nobody has voted for since 2007.

Has there ever been an ex-public representative that gets so much media time ?

Could it be that he is the last politician around that will defend the in-defensible ?

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Energy Minister shows he is out of his depth

He said Denmark, which generates 140 per cent of its energy needs through wind energy, had 5,000 turbines, compared with the Republic’s 1,450, despite having half the land mass - Minister For Energy, Alex White, September 2015.
Denmark generated 140% during one night. The following morning they were barely getting any of their energy needs from wind, with Denmark reliant on imports from Norway and Sweden :

Source: PF Bach

The implication given by the Energy Minister was that Denmark is generating 140% of its needs from wind all the time. This is an ignorant view and shows he is way too far out of his depth to be deciding energy policy at this time.

Denmark is also unique in that it can easily import and export to Norway, who have large amounts of the most suitable back-up for wind, namely hydro.

The UK do not want our wind. They have said as much. 

And France will not want our wind either. Nuclear plants cannot be ramped up and down like hydro. So Ireland will have to dump all its excess wind. Ireland does not have access to a Nordic type back up system so why is the Minister making comparisons with Denmark at all ?

Maros Sefcovic, vice president of the European Commission in charge of energy union, also spoke about how the integration of Europe’s energy markets, billed as the biggest transformation since the pooling of coal and steel production in the 1950s, had been accelerated by the West’s increasingly fractious relationship with Russia, which supplies most of continent’s natural gas.
While Germany and Italy are dependent on Russian gas, Ireland get's its gas mostly from Norway and the Netherlands. 

Fuel Poverty Conference

I was asked to write something on the upcoming Fuel Poverty Conference in Dublin.

I dont have much to say about it apart from the fact that one look at the speakers tells me everything I need to know about it.

Many of these speakers support the transition towards very expensive electricity here in Ireland. They have little understanding of the economics of electricity generation, nor the technical complexities involved, nor the environmental impacts of their plans.

Their ideas are based on religious zeal and are creating much social and environmental damage to appease the greedy.

If this is what passes for a "Fuel Poverty" Conference in Ireland in 2015, then there is not much hope for the future.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

The European Union - what has it ever done for us ?

"Yeah, that's all very fine, but the Romans are making us use windmills, what are we going to do on a calm night ?"

Let's take a cursory look :

Ireland has received € 4.6 billion in Farm subsidies

and € 4.4 billion in structural funds for roads :

That's a total of € 9 billion since 2000.

According to the IMF, we were forced by the ECB to pay € 8 billion to unsecured bondholders, which we shouldn't have paid. So that leaves us in net receipt of € 1 billion.

But we seem to be missing the elephant in the room. Much has been made of all the above in the Irish media.

Due to EU regulations, we have been forced to turn our electricity system upside down and make significant changes to accommodate large amounts of intermittent wind. Irish Energy Blog estimates this total cost at € 20 billion:

If we include REFIT over 15-20 years, this amounts to a minimum of € 2-3 billion. Then there are other support schemes for ocean and offshore energy which will be more expensive than onshore wind. This brings us up to circa € 25 billion. There will be no discernible benefit to the electricity consumer from these changes, in fact, its a net cost, particularly in these times of low fuel prices.

No mention hardly whatsoever has been made of this in the media, despite the fact that the sums for electricity dwarf the sums for bondholders, roads and farm subsidies.

This leaves Ireland at a net loss of € 24 billion as members of the EU.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Met Eireann recognise major impact of Atlantic on Ireland's climate

The Atlantic multidecadal oscillation (AMO) which relates to the North Atlantic sea surface temperatures, explains over 90% of the pronounced decadal variation in annual land temperatures and summer precipitation- Met Eireann, 2015.

 This clearly shows that the AMO and mean annual land temperatures over Ireland are in phase i.e. when decadal averages are considered mean temperatures over Ireland are warmer when the North Atlantic ocean is warmer than average. Mean summer rainfall over Ireland is also correlated to the AMO, with drier summers on average when the AMO is in a negative phase. 

Understanding the impact of these ocean variations when interpreting long climate records, particularly in the context of a changing climate, is crucial.

So in general, when Ireland has warm temperatures, the AMO is in positive phase, and vice versa.

Heavy rains in summer are mostly driven by a positive AMO  and drier summers occur mostly during negative AMOs. Presumably, the hotter weather causes more evaporation over the oceans, and therefore, more rain.

This means that we should be seeing colder, drier weather in Ireland in the coming years as the AMO moves to it's negative phase. This should see an upsurge in demand for heating fuel and electricity and an impact on harvests.

The full article can be read here :

Monday, 14 September 2015

Gas savings due to wind - 2013 and 2014 A Comparison

As far as I know there has never been a study of actual savings, that is, outside computer models, due to wind in the Irish system. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publish fuel consumption data for most power stations in the country. I have included the East West interconnector (EWIC), in terms of equivalent gas consumption based on the power it generated, as it displaces gas generation in Dublin (as it turns outs its output was very similar for both years).

2013 and 2014 are very good years for comparison purposes as electricity demand for both years was roughly the same, with a less than one percent increase in 2014.

The graph below shows the gas consumption for the six main gas plants (and EWIC) in Ireland for both years. No fuel data for 2014 was available for Whitegate so this was estimated based on electricity generated.

As one can see, both years look very similar. In fact, it works out at a 2% reduction in 2014 from 2013 levels. Approx 367MW of wind was added in this period. As wind energy displaces mostly gas generation from the grid, this works out at a very poor investment. With wind energy costing approx €2 million per MW in Ireland, an investment of € 730 million in wind turbines saves approx € 11 million of gas imports. The payback over the lifetime of these turbines (say 20 years) works out at total gas savings of € 220 million, with the capital investment never recovered in terms of the amount of gas fuel saved, which is what the wind turbines were designed to do in the first place.

This shows that the saturation point of wind energy in the Irish system has been reached. Whilst the Greens will argue that you can never have enough wind, this is a technically ignorant view, for many reasons pointed out previously on this blog (the technical limit of wind, the requirement for baseload plant, etc ).

Wind power output 2013 and 2014 (GWhrs)

We can see that output of wind increased from 4,231GWhrs to 4,731GWhrs but this only marginally reduced gas consumption year on year, as shown above, by 2%. This proves that although more wind energy was allowed into the grid, the gas plants simply ran behind the wind as back-up.

Certainly, there may have been larger savings in previous years but it has been well known that these savings diminish once you exceed optimum wind penetration levels.

For instance, Eirgrid in their 2010 Adequacy Report :

Analysis of wind data has established that this capacity credit is roughly equivalent to its capacity factor at low levels of wind penetration. However, the benefit tends towards saturation as wind penetration levels increase. This is because there is a significant risk of there being very low or very high wind speeds simultaneously across the country. This will result in all wind farms producing practically no output for a number of hours (note that turbines switch off during very high winds for safety reasons).
However, it is an unfortunate fact that the contribution to adequacy of additional amounts of wind decreases progressively and tends towards zero. Consequently, the incremental capacity credit of increasing WPG tends to zero. With increasing amounts
of Wind capacity the total plant rises significantly but the amount of non-wind plant only
falls off by a relatively small amount. In fact the amount of non-wind plant reaches a
saturation level. The result is a rising level of ‘excess plant’. Stated another way the
capacity credit for WPG rises more slowly with increasing amounts of WPG and tends to saturate.

There are significant costs associated with having ‘excess’ capacity on the system. Therefore the capacity surplus that results from WPG adds to the total generation costs.

It is amazing to see that what ESB predicted over ten years ago, when there was no wind in the system, come to fruition. In fact, the purpose of much of the writing in this blog was to draw the reader's attention to the added costs that we are all paying from having excess capacity.

So the question is why is the Government pursuing this policy when engineers at both ESB and Eirgrid knew and still know about the saturation point of wind ?


  1. The monetary value of fuel savings are based on 2012 costs. SEAI data shows that total gas used in electricity was 2,269ktoe for 2012. 586ktoe was displaced by wind according to SEAI, a saving of € 177m at €0.30m per ktoe. So total gas costs were €680m in 2012. Gas, in ktoe, used in 2014 was 85% of 2012 levels, therefore costing € 578m (680m x 85%). 2% of this is € 11m. Gas costs have come down since 2012 so this figure is actually a conservative estimate.
  2. There was a 26% drop in gas consumption in the other gas plants in 2014 (relevant data not available for all plants however) but these savings are small compared to the six above. When included in the above total figure, it pushes the 2% savings figure to 2.8%, so overall they only have a negligible impact.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Climate scientists predicted an Ice Age

Back in the 1970s, climate experts predicted that we were entering an Ice Age. Arctic ice was expanding and temperatures were dropping - pretty much the exact opposite of what they are claiming today. Funny enough sales of woolly jumpers have yet to rise.

But one has to wonder - whatever happened to that 1.5C (2.7F) drop in temperature ?

Thursday, 10 September 2015


Today it was announced that Apple have got planning permission for their data centre in Galway.

There will be no energy generating facilities at the site but eventually the company says it hopes to be in a position to support and drive new projects that would supply the entire power supply needs of the facility.

So no windmills or solar panels to be built nearby. So what are their real intentions ?

Apple says it will offset all the energy it uses from the national grid by purchasing the same amount from renewable energy providers and supplying that back onto the grid.
I think we need a Humpy Dumpty to provide an explanation for this Apple-wocky gobbledygook. 
We can make an analogy with someone doing their shopping to try to help us understand :
Peter says he will offset all his grocery purchases from M&S by purchasing the same amount from local markets and supplying this produce back into the market.
Are you any the wiser ? Why would any rational sane person do this ?