Wednesday, 30 December 2015

River Shannon Floods 1920 to 1950 - A Timeline

When more than 100 homes flooded in Athlone in 2009, homeowners were told that it was a once-in-100-years event. Six years later a similar event has unfolded - Irish Times, 12th December, 2015.

1930 Newspaper Headline (Irish Times)

I have researched newspaper archives and other reliable archive sources to verify the accuracy of the above quote. Are storms and floods like we are getting now "one-in-a-hundred-events"?. From the research I have done, I think that most Irish people who lived through the 1920s, 30s and 40s would balk at such a suggestion, especially those who lived around the Shannon Basin. Between 1920 and 1930, there were five exceptionally wet years - a-five-in-an-eleven-year-event - almost a one-in-two-year-event. Rain - Rain -  and more Rain was the constant weather pattern for this period, putting serious pressure on food and heat sources and putting the country on the brink of famine on a number of occasions for the first time since the 1840s.

By all accounts, we have been very lucky in the 21st Century. 

1923 - Heavy rains in October left thousands of acres of farmland around the basin of the Shannon waterlogged. Many crops were destroyed or unable to be harvested. Bogs were inaccessible meaning that turf could not be drawn away.

1924 - One of the worst flooding events in the Shannon region occurred in August after it rained continuously for 4 days.  It was reported that it was the worst flood in the Shannon region for forty years. The river burst its banks for many miles and large quantities of hay floated away. Potatoes turned black, corn was destroyed and turf unattainable. In the worst areas, there was talk of famine. The heavy rains affected other areas of the country aswell from Donegal to Dublin, completely destroying any hopes for a good harvest season in most places around the country.

By November of the same year, farmers threatened the Government with a "No Rent Campaign" if they did not maintain the Shannon at a "proper level". At the same time, it was agreed by all that it was an abnormally wet year.

1925 - Building of Ardnacrusha Hydro Dam begins. Locals at Lough Derg form a committee to oversea it's effect on river levels during and after construction.

1926 - In February, after four days of rain, the Shannon begins to flood again leaving "a great number of farm hands idle".

1927 - In July and August, some parts of Leitrim suffered severe flooding destroying three bridges and damaging many more. On the evening of October 28th, a major storm off the West coast of Ireland claimed the lives of 45 fishermen at sea.

1928 - In March, heavy flooding was reported around the Pullagh area with the local priest travelling one and half mile to church by boat.

However, things got much worse in November with the Shannon region suffering its worst floods since 1924. An experienced boatman drowns in the floods while rowing a boat from Shannonbridge to his home in Clonfert. People had to temporarily move out of their homes in Banagher. Railways, roads and large areas of crops were submerged.

The ESB dam at Parteen flooded and the water level at Killaloe was 10 feet higher than anytime in the previous 10 years. All low lying areas between Clonlara and Mountshannon were completely flooded leaving potatoes crops and hay destroyed.

Heavy rain and snow swept the country once again after Christmas bringing more floods and people had to move out once again.

There were also reports of dykes bursting in Belgium and Holland and the army being called in to assist with flood damage.

1929 - This year began with a drought after the much heavier than normal rains of the previous year. In April, it was reported that salmon were scarce and that fishing was at a "standstill". However, by September, the Shannon rose six feet over it's summer level. At Tarmonbarry, the country is described as like an "island sea". Athlone's athletic grounds are under three feet of water and Shannonbridge's famous potato crop is destroyed. Farmers around Carrick on Shannon and Roscommon area are the worst affected, with rainfall so heavy that many farmers find themselves in a serious situation.

1930 - After 1930, the idea of an "abnormally wet year" becomes a thing of the past as periods of very heavy rainstorms becomes the climate norm around the Shannon and elsewhere. There is no talk of "climate change". In January, people are once again leaving their homes around the Shannon. In Cork, the River Feale suffers it's worst flooding for 50 years due to a mixture of melting snow and heavy rainstorms, causing considerable destruction to property. The flooding gets so bad that the river changes course at one point, leaving an island two acres in extent, and destroying one of the best salmon pools. An electric pole only just erected some 15 feet from the bank was dislodged by the floods as it ate it's way under it.

The flooding eventually gets so bad around the Rivers Suck and Shannon that houses not flooded since 1924 are inundated with flood water of depths of up to twelve inches high. It is reported that houses "miles away" from the river Shannon are flooded and "rendered uninhabitable". The floods remain at an abnormal level for at least two months. The water rose so fast over a period of two days in January, that families who had moved back in to their homes had to move out once again after these two days. In Killaloe, water reaches the bedside of a sick man who had to be evacuated to safety.

Elsewhere, large areas of land in Offaly become so saturated that no winter ploughing can be done and there is much crop devastation around the River Barrow where it rises three feet above normal levels. Much of the sugar beat crop is lost around Leighlin Bridge and Borris, where weather is described as the "worst for many years". Wide areas are also flooded in North Galway.

After this 1932 had some flooding in areas while 1934 had very low levels of rainfall, the lowest since 1887.  Winter 1936 sees the return of widespread flooding around the Shannon Region while the floods during the winter of 1938 are regarded as the worst since 1924 with floods lasting for over 2 months.

1938 - The year begins with heavy flooding in February and March but by December 1938, the Shannon is at it's highest level since the ESB hydro generation scheme was built. Postmen deliver letters by boat, schoolchildren also travel by boat, food becomes scarce and cowsheds are raised using peat and plants. Like in 2015, many families are left stranded over Christmas. Many farmers are forced to sell their stock for "want of hay". It was reported that over one day, on the 2nd December between 9am and 1pm, 150 tonnes of water fell per acre- "Not within the memory of any old people was such a deluge experienced".

After this, 1942 and 1944 were reported as above average wet years.

1946 - The worst August weather "for a generation". Heavy rainstorms during August force the Government of the day to issue an appeal in September to save the harvest and there are calls for the army to brought in to help. Many crops, including potatoes, had to be imported from Canada and elsewhere as a result of the flood devastation.

Photo of floods in October two month after the initial storms in August (1946)

Things got so bad that the Bishop of Galway ordered that prayers be said for fine weather at all masses in his dioceses on Sundays. Dublin has its heaviest rainfall since 1932.

1947 - Very heavy snowfalls from late January till mid- March, the most persistent cold spell of the century. Five feet depth of snow in some places in the North. On top of this comes heavy rainstorms. The Shannon floods once again but also the River Erne and River Boyne in Co.Meath.

Flooded lands in Co. Meath where "flood waters stretch as far as the eye can see" (1947)
It's reported that it's "the worst outlook for farmers yet". Tractors are equipped with lights for the first time to allow them to operate during the night to save crops. 

 In April, farmers take the ESB to the High Court accusing them of contributing to the "annual flood damage". I would like to find out more about the results of the case but from what I can make out the case was rejected.

1948 - Widespread flooding during January including Cork, Tipperary, Carlow and Meath. However, this time there was not much damage done to crops. Banagher suffers from flooding later on in December.

1949 - Heavy thunderstorms in August followed a day of "oppressive heat" resulting in flooding of houses up to a depth of three feet. "Violent thunderstorms" hit the country later in October, with Dublin the worst hit. The record breaking rainfall for October in 1949 was broken in 2011 by around 2mm.

1950 - Terrential rain in February causes flooding in the Shannon. Wet weather ruins summer in July and the rain continues for ten weeks well into September. A strong storm in September blows down trees and telephone and ESB poles. A very wet year by any standards.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Wind Energy and Wholesale Price - Part 2

Wind Energy is Not Reducing the Wholesale Price of Electricity

This article compares the impact of wind on the wholesale cost of electricity in the years 2010 and 2015. The results show that the price of gas remains the single biggest influence on wholesale electricity prices in Ireland, while wind energy has very little effect, if any.

Energy costs
Constraint costs
Total Wholesale Costs

Figure 1: Wholesale Electricity Costs for Irish Electricity Market : 2010 and 2015

The Irish electricity market year runs from October to September.  The wholesale price of electricity is made up of energy payments and constraint payments (I'm excluding capacity payments because that is influenced by the number of generators in the system so will distort comparisons between years). We can see from the above diagram that wholesale electricity costs were higher in 2015 than 2010 by about 7%. 

Electricity Demand was still somewhat higher in 2010 as the effects of the recession had not fully bottomed out at that stage. Also, the very cold winter of 2009/10 increased peak demand for that year. Yet, wholesale prices were still lower in 2010, which as we shall see was likely due to lower average gas prices.

Figure 2: Electricity Demand in Ireland

The Impact of Gas Prices on wholesale price

The National Balancing Point, commonly referred to as the NBP, is a virtual trading location for the sale and purchase and exchange of UK natural gas. The Irish electricity price normally follows the NBP (the green and purple lines below) :

Source : European Commission

The Irish wholesale electricity price generally follows the price of gas because gas generators 
are normally the last generators to be called on after wind, coal and peat as explained in a 
previous blog article.

The NBP i.e. price of gas in the UK, in the latter part of 2015 had dropped to 2010 levels :

• European hub prices showed a slightly decreasing trend as low oil prices, steady LNG supply and increasing pipeline imports put downward pressure on prices. Gas prices have reached new lows. Excepting the temporary price drop in the summer of 2014, the average NBP price in October 2015 was the lowest since 2010 (European Commission).

So gas prices were similar in both years but 2010 had lower average prices over the whole year : 

The above graph declines sharply at the end (not shown) as gas prices fell further in September and October of 2015. So this leaves us with slightly higher wholesale prices in 2015 when compared to 2010 and explains Figure 1. But what about wind energy ? 2010 was a bad year for wind and haven't we had much more wind energy since then ?

Wind Energy

By the end of 2010, according to the SEAI, there was 1,440 MW of installed wind capacity. By the end of 2015, there was roughly 2,300MW. So we have had a 60% increase in wind farms between the two years. The Irish Times reported recently that :

Wholesale electricity prices were down 21 per cent in November 2015 compared to the same month last year, or 7.5 per cent when compared with October. Vayu said the drop was attributable to strong wind generation and lower prices for gas.
While Vayu are right about lower gas prices, strong wind generation doesn't seem to make any difference to wholesale prices. If it did, we should see lower wholesale prices in 2015 when
compared to 2010, but instead we see the opposite.

Indeed, it's quite possible that more wind energy contributed to higher wholesale prices because it led to increased reliance on expensive fast acting back up plant that otherwise would be rarely used.


Despite having wind capacity equal to half of our peak demand, we still have an electricity system almost entirely dependent on fossil fuels, mainly gas. These gas generators recover their costs by setting the wholesale price of electricity. Despite large investments in wind energy, Ireland is still exposed to fluctuations in the price of gas in the UK. With gas prices at their lowest since 2010, we should be availing of cheap electricity. Instead, wind energy is still receiving a fixed price above the low wholesale prices keeping electricity prices higher than they should be.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Shannon Floods - Climate or Contour ?

Guest Post by David Whitehead. BA(Mod. Nat.Sc.)TCD, FIMMM, C.Eng.

"The fact that it has manifested in different locations and it's now moving into the Midlands and it's an evolving situation over a number of days... it may well be associated with climate change - Irish Independent, 9th Dec 15.
Has climate change played a role? Although it can’t be said with certainty that the latest flooding was caused by climate change, scientists have for years been predicting increasingly frequent extreme weather. When more than 100 homes flooded in Athlone in 2009, homeowners were told that it was a once-in-100-years event. Six years later a similar event has unfolded. Locals say that the River Shannon was at a record low for October in Athlone just two months ago - Irish Times, 12th December, 2015.

There are several things that need to be borne in mind when listening to the rhetoric about the causes of Flooding in the Shannon basin- which includes about 20%  of the country.

The first is to remember that much of the Basin lies in the western half of the country which receives a much higher annual rainfall than the east and, not surprisingly, has a higher frequency of high and extreme rainfall events.

The second is to be aware that the altitude  at Lough Allen hydro dam sill is 50m above sea level, where it has been artificially held by the ESB  about 5m higher than its natural outlet  level as a holding pond to control the level at Ardnacrusha Hydro power station. The river falls to 45m above sea level at Leitrim and then only another 12m to Killaloe in Co.Clare. Thus the gradient is 17m in 170 km or 10cm per 1km. This slight gradient has to carry the waters of all the river basin to O’Briensbridge   in Co. Limerick .  Only  five shallow locks are required in all this distance to allow navigation for the full 170 km.

From Castleconnell (in North Limerick) to Limerick the fall is  33 m and it is this fall that provides the head for the Ardnacrusha  hydro scheme. More important is the fact that during the last glacial period the natural course of the Shannon was diverted south eastwards  (by an ice dam ) from its natural course from O’Briensbridge to Parteen (in Co.Clare) – which is more or less followed by the Ardnacrusha head race- to its present course where it cut down through and  crosses a ridge  at Castleconnnell. At this point the river bed is at 25m above sea level while the surrounding land rises to 35 on the east side and 65m on the west side of the present river channel. This constriction as well as those further upstream at Shannonbridge and Clonmacnoise, where esker ridges transect the river's course, together with the low- lying shores of the river and the very slight gradient mean it is not possible for the river to carry away even a normal level of winter rainfall – so it expands onto the surrounding callows which flood most years.

When there has been a prolonged period of rainfall and the major lakes are at their highstand and the callows are flooded and the ground is saturated, a heavy rainfall event will inevitably result in extensive flooding of the river banks.

Add to this the urban riparian developments at e.g. Athlone and the extensive covering of previous drainage catchments with tarmac  by Supermarkets, car parks  industrial estate and and domestic residential estates which carry water very swiftly to the river – much more so than agricultural land does and the scene is set for the sort of thing that happened in recent weeks.

I am sure most Irish readers all learned at primary school that the Shannon basin is  a saucer shaped depression – which is a roughly accurate description  and explains why the old cry of “dredge  the Shannon” is not a workable solution unless the gorge at Castleconnell is blasted out to form a much wider and deeper channel  extending all the way to Parteen – a huge, disuptive and very expensive civil engineering work - it will remain saucer shaped and there will be floods at frequent intervals.

Building windmills to generate electricity and punitively bringing the climate under human control by reducing CO2 emissions  will not change these unpalatable realities!

Saturday, 19 December 2015

The Electrification Paradox

It is hard to determine exactly what the Government's long term strategy for electrification is. Like a lot of their energy policies, it is very incoherent and full of inconsistencies. Take Eirgrid's new initiative to reduce peak demand by compensating households to switch off :
EirGrid has launched a competition to identify a company who will pay householders to reduce their energy consumption at high demand times. This is one of the first times a transmission system operator (TSO) has run such a competition.  This pilot project will benefit up to 1500 householders, who will see their annual electricity bills cut by up to €100 by participating in this scheme.The competition is open to companies who will work with homeowners and EirGrid to provide a service known as “demand response”. Demand response enables electricity customers temporarily reduce their electricity consumption in response to requests from EirGrid, resulting in savings on their bills.In Ireland, businesses and industry can already do this; however, it has not been available to homeowners until now.The goal for EirGrid is to manage demand on the national grid and give homeowners more control over their electricity bills. Fintan Slye, Chief Executive, EirGrid, said: “This is a really exciting development in the electricity market. We often hear about “Smart Grids” and their benefits – this is it in reality - technology innovation that puts money back in people’s pockets.  Any measure that helps reduce overall demand on the grid, while not affecting our daily lives at work and at home, can only be a good thing in the long term.”

The reason they need to do this is because so much of our electricity is set to come from intermittent sources, mainly wind. If you have an intermittent source, then demand must also become intermittent i.e. dependent on the weather.

But the Government's Plan is to increase rail electrification in the future :

Rail electrification substantially reduces the use of fossil fuels in public transport. There has been significant progress with the introduction of DART and LUAS, and the recently published Capital Plan 2016-2021 [40] provided for further such public investment in the Greater Dublin Area. Further rail electrification will be a priority in future capital plans.
This will have the opposite effect, substantially increasing demand for electricity during peak demand times when people are leaving work. So people travelling home on an electric train will get paid not to switch on their cookers and other appliances when they arrive home. But the demand due to increased rail electrification will far outweigh the reductions from Eirgrid's demand side measures. This means that more dispatchable power stations will be required, most likely from fast acting fossil fuel sources such as gas or oil, to ensure that when a train is due to depart, it actually does so.

As noted on this blog before, no proper analysis has been done on this in terms of emissions or fuel saved. If we ran more efficient gas plants, with gradual ramping to meet gradual increases and decreases in demand, would we have more or less savings than one with a system that used wind energy and fast acting inefficient gas and oil plants as back up ?

And if you took the billions been spent on new energy infrastructure and invested that in passive houses and energy efficiency, you would most likely have a lot more savings than the current plans.

But if you don't do the calculations and allow ideology take over, as during the Celtic Tiger, then you are doomed to fail.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Astronomy Ireland Lecture: The Search for Other Life in the Universe and Why Fermi asked the wrong question

A bit of a diversion on Irish Energy Blog to a physics/astronomy topic that's quite popular now - Exoplanets and the search for ET life. Astronomy Ireland held an excellent lecture in Trinity College last night which was given by Dr Duncan Forgan. Its quite exciting to hear about the new telescopes that will be launched in the coming years as successors to Hubble and the new techniques that are been used to find life in the universe. However, the question as to why we still haven't made contact with life out there is still puzzling physicists.

It was Italian physicist Enrico Fermi who first put the search for life into context by asking the simple question "Where is Everybody?". If there are billions of stars in the galaxy, and some of these stars are billions of years older than the Sun, then alien life should have arrived at Earth by now, given that it should only take them about 10 million years to travel across the galaxy.  This became known as Fermi's Paradox.

Why Fermi asked the wrong question

There are various theories which attempt to answer Fermi's Paradox which Dr Forgan explained but it seems to me that a different question needs to be asked.

If we consider how our own relatively advanced civilization came about, it was the discovery of fossil fuels that allowed us to "get off the land" and "into space". Fossil fuels had such high Energy Return on Investment (EROI), due to the energy intensity contained in them, that they allowed humans to get relatively easy access to huge levels of energy enabling us to move away from a largely agricultural based society and build the modern society which you see around you and eventually rockets and spacecraft. The problem is that the Fossil Fuel era is only a short blip in the Earth's history and indeed mankind's lifespan. The only reliable alternative to fossil fuels is nuclear power and indeed it even has a higher EROI than fossil fuels (see here). However, discovering nuclear power is by no means a certainty for any intelligent life (as opposed to discovering coal or gas) but we did it - and guess who was the architect behind it, none other than Enrico Fermi (pictured above). Note that the ESA used solar power to power their spacecraft to nearby comets but NASA used nuclear power to send spacecraft to Pluto and beyond the Solar System. When fossil fuels eventually run out (or become too uneconomical to drill for) nuclear power will be the main energy source for future civilizations until they can come up with another alternative when that runs out. But that is by no means certain either and who knows, the human race may eventually return to the pre-industrial age. Should this happen the modern advanced civilization that we know (and will know) will be simply a blip in man's history. And a very tiny footnote in Earth's history.

So where does this leave us ? Well, given the number of stars and planets in the universe, its an impossibility that we are alone as Fermi pointed out. But communicating to and receiving communication from other life out there depends completely on the stage of evolution of the other life, which depends on the quantity of fossil fuels available to them, and indeed whether they have discovered nuclear power or something similar that can allow their advanced civilization survive after fossil fuel stocks have been depleted on their own planet. This period of advanced alien life is likely to be just a blip on most of the habitable planets in our galaxy. Perhaps only a tiny few can extend well beyond their "fossil fuel age", if any at all.

So this then narrows down the number of habitable planets to those planets that currently hold advanced intelligent life. There may have been million of these planets in the past and there may be many more million in the future long after the human race have returned to the pre-industrial age or indeed become extinct. But they need to be on the same timeframe as us for us to make contact with them or vice versa. Imagine an alien life sending radio signals during the Renaissance - they would have unfortunately fallen on dead ears. "Sorry, I missed your call" on an intergalactic scale !

There is also the added problem of the time difference given the huge distances between us and habitable planets. I think a distance of 1 million light years equates to 1 year time difference. So, say an alien life is sending radio signals at a distance of 100 million light years away. This would reach us 100 years later at which point they may be unable to receive a return signal from us which would reach them another 100 years hence.

Therefore, the question we should be asking is not "Where is Everybody?" but "When is Everybody?"

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

If you really fear climate change, then you should be very worried

Reality is that which when you stop believing in it, it doesn't go away - Philip K Dick. 

Reality is divinely indifferent - Richard Bach

Greenhouse Gas Emissions from each sector in 2013 (Source:EPA)

Our government is fully committed to both wind farms and fighting climate change but a simple analysis of the figures shows that they have no hope of combating it without doing something major about agriculture emissions, converting most of our power stations to biomass and introducing legislation that will alter our fast moving modern society altogether. Green lobby groups are rightly angry because they see the writing on the wall - no amount of wind farms can ever stave off the alleged dangers of climate change. If you are a believer in man made climate change, then you need to change your government and do it urgently.

The Irish government officially accept that climate change is a serious threat to Ireland and that we need to reduce our emissions to stop it's effects. The action they are taking in response is to enact a Climate Bill which is pretty much toothless, setting up a panel of experts and forcing ministers to give speeches on progress (or lack of) - in otherwords, it encourages talking shops rather than action. The other action they are fully committed to is installing wind turbines up and down the country. Apart from this there is occasional lip service to energy efficiency and the possibility of giving more subsidies to non dispatchable plant such as wave or solar. But energy efficiency initiatives dont sound all that "sexy" and politicians always prefer building things rather than conserving.

I have no doubt that the development and advancement of onshore wind energy projects will be and must be a significant element of Ireland's energy policy and its approach to combating climate change in the years ahead - Minister for Energy, Alex White, December 2015.

The Irish Greens are pretty extreme in their belief in climate change. There is the very vocal Friends of the Earth, the RTE television star Eamon Ryan, leader of the Green Party and many others who seem to be in well paid jobs and are fully committed to fighting climate change. One wonders what will happen them if we experience global cooling in the next few decades. One thing they are united in is their vocal criticism of the government. Are they right ? Well, given that they believe in climate change, then they are right to be angry. Because building more wind farms wont have any effect.

The Electricity Sector

Emissions from electricity make up about 20% of Ireland's total emissions. EPA state that :

Emissions from Energy (principally electricity generation) decreased by 11.1% (1.42 Mt CO2eq) in 2013. This reflects decreases in coal and peat used in conventional fossil fuel fired power stations for electricity generation, by 16.4% and 9.5% respectively, and also a decrease in natural gas use of 8.3% in 2013. Electricity generated from renewables increased by 6.6% between 2012 and 2013.

But another significant reason for the drop in emissions in 2013 was the East West interconnector which came online at the very end of 2012. Importing electricity from the UK is good for your emissions count because they are counted in UK, not Ireland. The new interconnector provided about 8% of our electricity in 2013, emissions free, and resulted in a complete gas power station lying idle for most of the year (Huntstown CCGT plant in Dublin).

Electricity consumption increased by just 0.2% during 2013 which is the equivalent of about 10,000 more homes to power. Despite this there was a reduction in emissions of 11%. A spin person might attribute all this to wind, but as you can see from the below there were four other very significant factors which resulted in less emissions and given wind increased by 13%, an overall saving of 11% is a poor enough showing. One can see the clear ineffectiveness of wind from these statistics :

Factor that reduced CO2 emissions for 2013
% Change
Reduction in Coal
Reduction in Peat
Reduction in Gas
Increase in Interconnection
Increase in Wind
Total reduction
Note: Biomass increased and hydro decreased by the same amount cancelling each other out

So what if we doubled our wind capacity ? Given the technical limits of wind on the system and the requirement for 5 large power stations to be running at all times to provide stability to the system, the most we can ever do is half our emissions in the electricity sector. This would give us a 10% drop overall - and this is a very generous figure, considering the larger turbines recently installed will require more maintenance than their older models and also the not insignificant back up plant inefficiencies that will result from large levels of wind penetration. Somewhere between 5-7% is probably a more accurate figure but let's allow 10% for now. This would reduce overall emissions by 10%. That leaves the remaining 80% to deal with.

Current Outlook : Ireland intends to carry on building more wind farms. Large scale biomass and nuclear have been ruled out as options by Government completely eradicating any chance of making meaningful reductions in emissions. Many new data centres are been planned around the country in the next few years which will significantly drive up demand for electricity and associated emissions.

Agriculture Sector

Agriculture is the largest "offender" at 32%. One solution is that we carve up half of agricultural land, dispose of the animals and plant it with trees. This then would cut down agri emissions to 16%. We could then convert some of the power stations to biomass and use some or all of the wood for electricity. This then would leave electricity emissions at about 5%. But, we would need some serious machinery to cut all these trees down and transport them and there would be an increase in imports of polluting oil, so this may well bring us back up to 20% for agriculture. But bear in mind that the current government are opposed to large scale biomass electricity generation.

Current Outlook: Ireland plans to increase its food exports and thereby increase its herd. There are no plans to change land use to forestry. Ireland's Prime Minister has asked for a free pass on agriculture emissions at the Paris climate summit citing the recession and lack of investment. 

Transport Sector

The transport sector makes up 19% of total emissions. There would need to be mandatory purchases of new electric vehicles with generous grants made available. Charging would need to be at night only and restrictions on charging made during spells of low wind. Otherwise, more dispatchable plant would be needed which would increase emissions in the electricity sector. One way out of this would be the above mentioned full conversion of large power stations to biomass.

Dublin Airport would need to restrict passengers to about 5 million, one quarter of current figures. This will push up prices and Ryanair would be a thing of the past. It would also drive up Ferry use negating some of the emission reductions.   Large supermarkets would have to reduce in size as there would need to be restrictions on large delivery vehicles. Having very few fuel stations would instantly take out most of the large fuel tankers on our roads, themselves consumers of oil.   Perhaps we can use some of that forested land to plant biofuels and further lower emissions. We could get down to 5% with some serious repercussions for modern society.

Current Outlook : Transport emissions have recently begun growing again. Sales of new cars are up and higher than EU average, as are sales of heavy goods vehicles. Traffic on Dublin's M50 motorway is growing at 10 times the European average.  More people have flown through Dublin Airport this year than ever before.

Residential Sector

Residential emissions are 11%. Mandatory passive housing could maybe get this down to 8%. Maybe more land could be used to grow fuel for biomass heaters with a combination of district heating intiatives getting it down to 5%.

Current Outlook : emissions are rising due to increased coal use, doesn't seem to be much focus by government on CHP or district heating initiatives.

Industry Sector

The same retrofitting schemes could be done for industry getting it down from 15% to 7%.

Current Outlook: emissions decreasing slightly, but with electricity costs predicted to match or exceed Denmark's in the years to come there might not be any industry left wiping out all of this sector's emissions. Most likely government would grant exemptions to industry at this stage from green levies, much like what has happened in Germany.

Waste Sector

Waste emissions will increase in the future when Poolbeg waste to energy plant opens so lets bring that up to 6% from 2.5%.

Current outlook: Poolbeg plant will open soon, not aware of any other similar plants in planning


These changes would bring emissions to 48% of current levels - from 57MT to 27MT. This is a very generous figure as there are all sorts of unintended consequences with the above changes e.g. how many people will buy diesel generators and go off grid altogether ?

The changes are startling to those used to modern comforts. There will no longer be a guarantee that when you plug something into the wall that you will get electricity out. That holiday you had once a year - that will have to go. 

It all hinges on agriculture and how we decide to use this land in the future. More trees means less CO2 in the atmosphere, reducing emissions further. Enda Kenny, Ireland's Prime Minister, has asked the COP21 leaders for a pass on Ireland's agriculture emissions thereby making the transition required to halt climate change all but impossible, unless we do without electricity, heating and modern vehicles altogether. Quite rightly, then, the greens are angry at Kenny's capitulation to the agriculture sector. Without changes in use for significant amounts of agriculture land, no serious dent in our emissions can be made. Significant reductions in the other sectors, as you can see from above, depend on land changes in the agri sector. 

So we have a government who tell us that climate change is a very big threat to us, but who have bet all their chips on wind turbines and other non dispatchable technologies. The most this can do is reduce our emissions by 10%, if even that, which will have negligible impact on the projected impacts of climate change. Let's remind ourselves once again what our energy minister's plan to combat climate change is :

I have no doubt that the development and advancement of onshore wind energy projects will be and must be a significant element of Ireland's energy policy and its approach to combating climate change in the years ahead - Minister for Energy, Alex White, December 2015.

So ask yourself the question, is our government really serious about combating climate change or are they just paying lip service to the new trendy ideology ? Why are they pushing wind energy as the number one solution when they must know it can only make a tiny dent in our emissions ? Is there something else driving this mad rush for wind farms ? Most likely, it makes them feel good that they are doing something, even though it is something akin to trying to hold back the Titanic with an elastic band.

Reality shows us that the economy is recovering, and we desire more than ever the comforts of modern living - fast cars, airplanes and Irish beef.

So if you really believe in climate change, then you should be worried, very worried.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Storm Desmond - the problem with too much wind energy in one graph

Forecasted Wind energy output for 6th December, the day after Storm Desmond, shows a loss in wind generation of 91%

As I write, Storm Desmond is raging outside my window and wind energy output is providing almost 50% of demand. It is coming at a price, however, with ESB Networks reporting that about 12,000 customers had to go without power today due to damaged cables. But electricity is not just required on a Saturday, it is required every day. According to Eirgrid forecasters, wind energy output is forecast to drop by as much as 91% tomorrow, from nearly 2,000MW to 160MW over 16 hours. (a drop in capacity factor from 87% to just 7%)

This explains why wind has such a low capacity credit. Let's look at what Eirgrid had to say in 2009 :

However, the benefits [of wind energy] 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). In contrast, the forced outage probabilities for all thermal and hydro units are assumed to be independent of each other. Therefore, the probability of these units failing simultaneously is negligible [Eirgrid 2009].

What they mean is that a gas power plant (CCGT) of 400MW might drop out but will do so independently of another gas plant. So that would be a loss of 400MW which standby reserve would adequately replace. But wind farms do not act independently of each other.  Instead, when one drops out, chances are the rest of them will aswell. So now you have a huge hole in generating output of about 1,900 MW, equivalent to about 50% of tomorrow's demand. So you need to have about 5 large gas plants ready to step in. Starting these type of plant up from "cold" is not a good solution as engineers have stated that this is 20 times more damaging to plant than "warm" starts. It is also very expensive and high emitting in pollutants. So gas plant are kept running on low load behind the wind and will then step in tomorrow to pick up the load as wind slackens off. 

Eirgrid are lucky in that the wind is forecast to decline over a period of 16 hours. What would happen if they are wrong and it falls off at a quicker rate ? Then they may need more fast acting plant like diesel or open gas cycle turbines. These are more polluting than efficient CCGT type plant and will result in higher emissions, thereby negating some of the benefits of having all this wind generation. 

Can we close down any of our power stations and replace it with a huge fleet of wind turbines ? Can we really make a transition to a more sustainable "green" based energy supply ? 

As you can see from the above, the answer is no, not with wind farms.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Irish Times - is it Global Cooling or Global Warming ?

"Most discoveries are made regularly every 15 years'' - The Doctor's Dilemma, Play by George Bernard Shaw. 

The threats posed by rising temperatures worldwide are no longer seen as theoretical, but real and already evident in Africa, south east Asia, the Arctic and elsewhere - Irish Times, November 2015.
The world's cooling climate is reverting to conditions prevalent between 1600 and 1850 - Irish Times, May 1976 

By 1976, science had put 12 men on the moon and Richard Dawkins had just published, The Selfish Gene, an incredible analysis of genetics and the role of evolution in it.  The reason I state this is to show that science was at an advanced stage at this time. So the fact that there was consensus that the world was cooling at the time should carry alot of weight. However, the cooling at the time was mistaken for a long term trend when in fact the world slowly began to warm not long after the publication of "Global Cooling" articles such as the below in 1975 and 1976.

We can see the cycle of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) below and how concern about global cooling or warming have occurred in the period with the respective temperature variances  : 

The overall temperature trend in the past few hundred years, however, has been one of warming :

The above graph was produced from 14 separate global temperature proxies (sediments, boreholes, pollen, oxygen-18, stalagmites, magnesium to calcium ratios, algae, cave formation, etc. over a wide geographical range) and shows a warming trend starting around 1700, with warming  and cooling periods about the trend.  It is a remarkably accurate graph considering it was not produced from direct temperature readings. We can see that in the 5th century, the climate was getting warmer. This explains how Irish monks could live on Skellig Island off the coast of Kerry until circa 12th century, when temperatures were similar to what we have today. 

It also explains how St.Brendan made his voyage around the Atlantic about the same time and that Tim Severn's re-creation in the 1970s was indeed made under colder conditions. It explains the Vikings invasions of Greenland and Iceland. The pre-1700 Little Ice Age is also there.

So the climate began warming up circa 1700, long before man made carbon emissions and it's just aswell it did as nobody would have liked to have lived through another ice age. Going back to Dawkins, we know that humans evolved to adapt over short term climatic conditions and we are therefore blind to the overall trend lasting over hundreds and thousands of years.

The articles below, from the Irish Times in the mid-70s, shows we should not be confident about predicting the future climate. Of course, controlling pollution (a separate issue) is something which we do need to do something about. But our government seems to think (aswell as most of the political class) that building more industrial wind turbines will somehow sort out the main polluting sectors in Ireland - that of transport, heating and agriculture.