Sunday, 10 December 2017

PSO Paradoxes

Recently, this blog reported the not very widely known or reported fact that the contribution of wind decreased last year by 6% despite building 20% more wind farms. This was because the capacity factor (actual output / maximum output) dropped to 27% in 2016. Or another way of saying this is that there was less wind blowing last year. 

At the same time, the PSO Levy, which pays wind farms the difference between the subsidized price and wholesale price, increased last year by 20% (some of that going to peat).  This is a bit of a paradox - wind farm installations increased by 20% but total wind output dropped by 6%, yet the subsidy for wind increased by 20%. 

If a farmer cut his herd or crop by 6%, would he receive more subsidies ? 

The answer is that the Energy Regulator estimates the PSO Levy a year in advance. For 2016, the wholesale price dropped much more than was estimated and so the PSO Levy had to increase to compensate for this large drop in market prices (called the R-factor). 

Another paradox is that the PSO is also paid to higher emitting peat generation at the same time as wind generation. So some, if not all, the CO2 savings from wind have been cancelled out by the use of peat generation instead of gas. PSO payments to peat are due to be phased out by 2019.  

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

The Passing of David Whitehead

by Owen Martin

david whitehead1a

David Whitehead was an occasional contributor and commentator on this blog. It was with much sadness that I heard about his recent passing at the age of 75. Although I never met him, we regularly exchanged emails and his wealth of knowledge on all things climate and energy was breathtaking. He was a qualified geologist and paleontologist and had a career in mining. The Whitehead torpedo was invented by a relative, Robert Whitehead.

His enthusiasm and knowledge will be deeply missed.

A Selection of Writings by David 

Ice core proxy data from Greenland ( GISP2 and NORTHGRIP ) show that, in high northern latitudes (around 75ºN,) for the last eleven thousand years, each and every successive millennium has been cooler than its predecessor. In the minor climate cycles of the last four millennia both the low and high temperatures of successive cycles have tended to a lower temperature than the previous cycle. Based on geological history, the predictable evolution of the earth’s orbit, the precession of the equinox and obliquity of the ecliptic and even ignoring the possible effects of variation in solar radiation and the its effects on the magnetosphere, the geological prognosis is for the present long term cooling trend to continue. This will lead eventually to a return to glacial conditions in what are now cool temperate climate zones in both hemispheres. The geographic extent of warm temperate and tropical climate zones will shrink, the atmosphere will become much dryer and much more dusty than it is now and CO2 concentrations will gradually fall to lower levels. 

The severity, timing and rate of the slow, long term climate change currently under way cannot yet be forecast with any confidence. Nevertheless, Eemian random temperature variation demonstrates that even while the average temperature of succeeding millennia is falling, one to four century scale warming cycles of as much as 3ºC, like the one we are presently enjoying, still occur. In the Eemian record there were several millennia with warming cycles of this magnitude a few centuries long even when the average temperature was falling relentlessly in succeeding millennia.

A few centuries of warming do not constitute a climate change trend of any significance when viewed in the light of the Pleistocene, or even the much shorter Holocene climate record. While we should enjoy and benefit from the current warming cycle we are deluding ourselves if we think that in the long term climate change can be controlled by attempts to regulate atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Holding vast conferences such as COP 21 every few years may be politically and financially rewarding for their participants but their outcome will effect the climate not at all. They are, however, likely to negatively effect the health and economic well being of the rest of the planet’s population.

Published on Irish Energy Blog, 2015.

Sir, – The Irish Times recently (April 17th) published a factual article about geologically recent climate changes and their impacts on the west coast of Ireland as discussed by Michael Williams, professor of geology at NUIG, with Lorna Siggins.
This drew shrill, not to say hysterical responses, from Messrs Price and O’Raifeartaigh (Letters, April 21st), neither of whom appear to be aware that during 11 separate periods in the last million years, since the Mid-Pleistocene (climate) revolution Ireland was buried beneath kilometers of ice, that sea levels were 150 metres lower than now and that these frigid conditions prevailed for nearly 90 per cent of that million years. Only during brief intervals did the ice melt and the sea rise to near its present levels.
If Mr O’Raifeartaigh were to consult the peer-reviewed literature he would find that the turnaround from warming to cooling in every case occurred when carbon dioxide levels, as recorded in the Vostok ice core, were at their peak value. We are utterly blessed to live in one of these short warm periods which only started 9,000 years ago.
Perhaps Price and O’Raifeartaigh are also ignorant of the fact that from 8,000 to 4,000 years ago our climate was 2-3 degrees warmer than now and that a cooling temperature trend has been in place since then.
In the past we have adapted to both warming and cooling and that is still the best, and probably the only strategy that has any chance of success. Trying to control atmospheric carbon dioxide is a strategy that will only succeed in impoverishing us all.
By the bye, the IPCC and the UK Met Office have both stated unequivocally that the recent extreme weather events can not be attributed to “climate change”.
I do agree with Mr Price on one point, and that is the suggestion that The Irish Times engages someone well versed in climatology and paleoclimatology so that your readers might benefit from more fact and less hysteria about the earth’s history of climate change. 
Published in Irish Times, April 2014

Shannon Floods - Climate or Contour ?

Monday, 4 December 2017

Brexit : Can Ireland and UK Negotiate a Bilateral Trade Agreement ?

Last year, the House of Lords recommended Ireland and Britain negotiate a draft bilateral agreement. The Irish Minister for Finance rejected this, stating that UK would have to negotiate with the EU.

But there was a precedent for bilateral Irish / British negotiations on trade. In 2013, both governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the export of wind energy from Ireland to the UK. In effect, a trade agreement. The Greens lost the following election in the UK and the agreement ultimately never proceeded due to lack of political will, not because of any procedural issues. 

It seems when it comes to wind energy, there are no rules or procedures. All that is required is the political will. 

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Rise Despite Large Investment in Wind Energy

Want to reduce GHG emissions? Don't put all your eggs in the windfarm basket.

This week the EPA reported that emissions have risen across all main sectors in the Irish economy. It was widely reported on in the Irish media but certain details were either omitted or not focused on. 

In 2016, we had about 2,800MW of wind energy in Ireland, enough electricity generating capacity to meet about 50% of demand on a winter's day like today. If the wind was blowing constantly all the time. As it doesn't, we get about 840MW output on average. But this output varies every day and year. 

An interesting fact can be gleaned from this, although it is not apparent in the EPA report or in media articles (investigative journalists are in short supply, hence the need for blogs like this one). We built about 460MW of new wind farms in 2016. The EPA report states that :
Renewables now account for 25.6% of electricity generated in 2016 (down from 27.3% in 2015).

     So we built more wind farms, costing somewhere in the region of €600-800 million, but the total share of renewables contribution to electricity actually decreased. Yes, I hear you say, but what about demand ? Demand increased by 2.3%. We can infer from Eirgrid's reports that this was an annual increase of about 630,000MW/hr. This converts to an average growth in power demand of about 70 MW.

This means that the 460MW of new wind farms were not able to keep pace with electricity growth of 70MW or just 15% of the new wind capacity. So you can see the folly of adding more wind. New wind farms do not automatically mean more renewable energy or reduced emissions. 

Meanwhile, eco warriors and greens are warning about the dangers of Irish agriculture. Beef exports make up about 25% of total Irish exports. The same people egging on the eradication of our beef production are also (mostly) the same people freaking out about the negative impact of Brexit on the Irish economy. Looks like a serious case of cognitive dissonance to me.

1)  Eirgrid Report on wind energy 2016 -

Saturday, 25 November 2017

China Energy In Numbers - Part 1

This will be a series of short posts which I hope will put the energy revolution in China in perspective.

With Irish media outlets like state broadcaster RTE constantly pushing the narrative that China will be a renewables powerhouse within a couple of decades, I hope this series of posts will act as a counter balance to this type of propaganda.

China’s most recent Five-Year Plan has set a target for an additional 58 GW of nuclear capacity by 2020. 

This capacity will provide enough power equivalent to the average demand of the entire French grid on a typical winter's day.

-US Energy Agency

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Oil and Coal Imports Rise Since Irish National Renewable Energy Action Plan

In 2010, Ireland introduced it's National Renewable Energy Action Plan. One might have expected a reduction in fossil fuel imports since that time but in fact both oil and coal imports have risen. Only gas imports have declined. 


Imports 2016
Imports 2010

Gasoline (petrol)
Jet Kerosene
Gasoil DERV
Total Oil 9,009

Coal bituminous
                     Source: SEAI Energy Data

In the case of oil, most of the increase is due to an increase in motor cars. The increased coal imports are been used in Moneypoint Power Station and are a consequence of the price of coal having dropped since 2010.

What this proves is the madness of Ireland's wind only policy which can only displace gas, the least emitting fossil fuel. If we really are in trouble with the climate, then converting Moneypoint to either gas or nuclear is the only solution in town.  Which of course nobody really wants to look at and that tells you something.

Natural Gas Imports

As for gas imports, these have declined. Some of that is due to the 3,000MW of wind energy. Other equally important factors are the Shell gas reserve off the sea at County Mayo which came into production in 2016 (which in fact accounts for about 80% of the reduction), the new interconnector to the UK which up to recently was providing a net import into Ireland and an increase in peat and coal production. Gas imports have in total declined by 60% or 11% if Shell gas reserve is excluded.

Although there was a reduction in gas used in the residential sector, there was an increase in gas used in the industrial sector. In particular, the metals industry and behind that the foods industry.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

New Report: The Costs of Wind Energy in Ireland

The new report by Wind Aware Ireland is now available to read online :

Total annual costs due to wind have been calculated at € 1.2 billion. I would say this is an under estimation. Other costs such as ancillary costs and maintenance costs for conventional generation are missing from this report. Ancillary costs are now over € 70 million per year. Some of those are required without wind, others like synchronous compensation are a direct consequence of wind energy. 

I have to agree with economist Colm McCarthy when he says "It should not have been left to this voluntary group to raise these vital policy questions. "

Monday, 13 November 2017

Event Announcement: The Costs of Wind Energy in Ireland

Wind Aware Ireland will be launching their new report “The Costs of Wind Energy in Ireland” in Buswells’ Hotel, Dublin at 11.15 on Wednesday (15th November). This report may precipitate the latest scandal in public spending.
The report shows that the Irish State and consumer are spending approximately €1.2 billion per year on wind energy and no one has done the sums to justify this spend.
The Irish Academy of Engineering found that focusing mainly on wind to reduce emissions would create the highest technical risk, would generate the lowest amount of reliable electricity and had lowest public acceptability compared to using biomass or carbon capture and storage. They said “A detailed analysis needs to be carried out of the costs and socio-economic implications of reducing emissions”.
Economist Colm McCarthy noted “It is time for Government to acknowledge that Ireland has enough wind farms, that they cost too much in subsidies and that promising routes to cut emissions lie elsewhere.”
All legally mandated checks and balances for wind energy have been bypassed; no costs benefit analysis, no strategic environmental assessment and no regulatory impact analysis has ever been undertaken to justify this spend.
This sheer lack of accountability and the capture of policy by wind developers should be grounds for a national scandal.
Paula Byrne (PRO)
Phone:  057 86 27048
Mobile: 086 8241523

Friday, 10 November 2017

The New Renewable Electricity Support Scheme

The consultation for the forthcoming Renewable Electricity Support Scheme (RESS) ends today. Here is my submission :

A Floating Feed in Premium (FIP) which reduces over time to nil as the generators borrowings are paid down should be the primary financial support mechanism for the main RESS. This makes a lot of sense with regard to Irish wind energy which is now a mature technology, where there are no fuel costs and where Irish wind farms have access to the best wind resources in Europe.

I believe that LCOE is not a good measure for comparing different sources of generation.  As is well known, the system effects of uncontrollable variable renewables are not adequately addressed by LCOE, since adding uncontrollable variable renewables to a system increases overall costs (new grid and operating procedures, suboptimal operation of the conventional fleet and new fast acting plant required as back up), all of which tends to reduce system productivity thus increasing costs. LCOE doesn’t capture this, so a Total System Cost analysis is required to discover what the probable effect would be on the consumer. This does not appear to have been carried out.

I therefore do not agree with the statement that “the least-cost RES-e mix would consist of mostly onshore wind”.

Indeed, the system costs will rise exponentially with the higher levels of wind proposed in RESS as conventional plant will be forced to run at far below their optimal efficiency*.  

This means that the viability gaps of various renewable technologies are not comparable as stated in the RESS report. Some technologies incur less system costs (like biomass which can use the existing grid), some incur more.

In an analysis carried out by Irish Energy Blog, it was found that even without including the additional grid investment required for wind and other system costs, we have to spend € 1.00 on wind energy to replace 40 cents worth of fossil fuels. This does not represent value for money to the consumer nor is it a cost effective way of reducing fossil fuel imports.  I would support instead investing in energy efficiency and in particular Passive Housing as a more cost effective way of reducing emissions.

Best wind location in Europe

“Ireland has one of the best onshore wind locations in Europe. Purely from a technical perspective, ignoring all other considerations, the unrestricted technical potential for onshore wind would be more than sufficient to meet Ireland’s energy needs”.

I fail to understand why, if the above statement is true, Irish onshore wind requires a high support scheme. Surely if Ireland has one of the best onshore wind locations in Europe, then a lower support scheme would be required than other European countries as the resource is greater.

In Germany, onshore wind receives € 4.66cent – 8.38cent per kWh (according to duration of payment) (§ 46 EEG 2017) minus €0.40 cent per kWh (§ 53 no. 2 EEG 2017) compared with    € 6.72 cent per kWh (5.1 and 5.2 REFIT 2) in Ireland.  The support scheme in Germany reduces over time which makes sense as the wind farms loans are paid down over the same period. A similar “reducing” scheme should now be adopted by Ireland given that Irish onshore wind is a mature technology and has access to the best wind resources in Europe.  This would provide best value for money to the consumer. The support scheme should eventually reduce to nil after a fixed period of say 10 years.

This would ensure that our society is not locked into high energy costs for many years to come.

*Increased costs of combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT) running inefficiently to provide back up for when the wind does not blow were estimated to rise by €175 million per annum according to a 2014 Single Electricity Market report.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Flexible capacity to exceed 25GW in the UK by 2030

In the UK, flexible capacity from batteries, peaking plants and demand-side response is set to reach more than 25GW by 2030. That is over half of demand. And the reason is because of renewables :
The firm says the rise of intermittent renewables - which undermine the profitability of large baseload generators but still require backup power - will push annual revenues from flexibility to nearly £3 billion by the end of the next decade.

This is important because this capacity will not be as efficient as baseload generators such as combined cycle gas turbine generators. They will need to respond quicker and as a result they will have higher emissions.  So when the wind is not blowing, the grid operators will have to resort to these fast acting plant or reducing demand. It still remains to be seen how batteries will operate in practice on such a large scale. 

The same is happening here in Ireland. Capacity of demand side response units, usually diesel generators, are now at 260MW.

Full article here:

Monday, 30 October 2017

Storm Ophelia

On Monday 16th October, Storm Ophelia raged through Ireland. With lots of reliable wind energy around for a change, one might have expected high levels of wind power. 

As the above graph shows, up to 2,915MW of wind energy was forecast but only 745MW or 25% of available wind power was actually used. This is because there is a cut off point at which wind turbines can no longer safely operate. 

Monday, 16 October 2017

Data Centres Vs Steel Plants - A Comparison


•  Steel plants use 60% of the energy demand of a data centre but provide 26 times as many jobs

• Port Talbot steel plant in Wales provides 28.5 jobs for every megawatt of demand compared to 1.5 at the data centre at Athenry 

• Approval for planning permission of any industrial project should require a high jobs to energy demand ratio of at least say six or seven. 

Last week, Apple received approval for their data centre in Athenry, County Galway to great fanfare in the media. I can only find one article (in the Independent) which dealt with facts (Revealed: Data centres to swallow 75pc of growth in Irish power demand). The article gives a good overview of the problems that lie ahead. 

I am not in favor of opposing something for the sake of opposing it. I'm in favor of discussing all the available facts and basing decisions on those. What we have now in Ireland is approving something for the sake of approving it which is just as bad as the other extreme.  I fail to understand how a country which prides itself on it's higher education credentials does not discuss the facts in relation to new projects such as data centres. 

David Hughes wrote previously on the Athenry data centre (The Cloud Bytes Back) :

To give an example Apple are seeking permission for a 240MW data centre in Athenry Co. Galway, which will create up to 215 jobs. The electricity consumption of this data centre will be the same as 420,000 Irish homes. This is ¼ of all Irish homes or every single house in Dublin City, Dun Laoghaire, Fingal and South County Dublin combined. Basically, the electricity needs of 1 Million people.
It seems the jobs figure has been revised downwards to 150 full time jobs according to the above Independent article.  So that's about 1.5 jobs for every megawatt of demand.  

Let's compare that to another high energy industrial user - steel plants in the UK. Port Talbot steel plant in Wales was due to shut down in the near future but the employees fought hard and the plant remains open for the time being. It employs nearly 4,000 people.

Port Talbot steelworks’ current demand for energy is about 140 Megawatts (MW), about half of which is internally generated. That works out at 28.5 jobs for every megawatt of demand.

A steel plant therefore generates about eighteen times more jobs per megawatt of demand than a data centre. Even if those jobs were cut in half by new technology, steel would still provide more jobs by a factor of nine.

Based on figures for Port Talbot then, steel plants use 60% of the energy demand of a data centre but provide 26 times as many jobs
The Government is keen to promote Ireland as being a location where it can meet the needs of the IT sector by providing certainty around planning and power supply
Interestingly, the government is not trying to promote Ireland as a location for steel plants which would create many times more jobs. 

The impact on energy demand, fossil fuel imports, emissions, electricity prices and 2020 targets will be enormous from data centres. As a consequence, it will be harder to attract other high energy industrial users that could provide many more jobs.  There needs to be a good payback for Ireland Inc. to compensate. Of course, they need to built somewhere to provide the demand for internet services.  But Ireland should not allow so many to be built here. We simply cannot afford it. 

Approval for planning permission of any industrial project should require a high jobs to energy demand ratio of at least say six or seven. 


Saturday, 14 October 2017

Electricity Retailers Increase Prices

Most electricity retailers are increasing their prices this month and the blame is been put on wholesale prices. However, gas prices are no higher than 2005 levels. 

Figure 1: Gas prices since 2000

I have been keeping track of my own electricity bills since 2012. I wanted to see if the reduction in wholesale prices and gas prices have been passed on to the consumer. The result can be seen in Figure 2.

Figure 2 shows little correlation between gas prices and unit price of electricity

The result is clear. The large fall in gas prices has not been matched by a similar fall in the unit price of electricity.   There has been a reduction in gas prices of about 50%. The reduction in the unit price of electricity has been about 7%. If we compare the energy payments or the annual market value of the electricity wholesale market with the gas prices we do see a better correlation (Figure 3).

Figure 3 shows good correlation between Annual Energy Payments (in orange) and Gas Prices(in red)

This means that when the gas prices are low, generators receive lower prices from the market. But these savings in wholesale prices are not passed on to the consumer in any meaningful way.

The hidden force in these graphs is wind energy. It has increased every year since 2012 now making up about 23% of the electricity mix. While we are constantly told that wind energy reduces the wholesale price of electricity, there is no evidence in the actual data.   With this increase in wind energy, there has been a parallel increase in system costs - grid and transmission infrastructure, back up costs, new interconnectors, and high wind penetration feasibility programmes (known as DS3). 

All these costs make up the unit price of electricity. After that, the PSO Levy gets added on, another component that only ever increases (an increase has also been announced this month).

The Energy Regulator seems to be toothless in the face of an electricity sector with out of control costs, government interference and regulation. His name is now redundant, and increasingly appears more like something out of Orwell's novel 1984 where Government Departments like the Ministry for Truth do the opposite of their name.       

Monday, 9 October 2017

Fossil Fuels Have Dramatically Increased Life Expectancy

From World in Data

Historic Usage of Fossil Fuels

The above graphs are self explanatory and do not require an explanation. As a species we have become obsessed with "carbon emissions" and "clean power" but we have at the same time completely missed the bigger picture - which is that since humans discovered fossil fuels as a power source they have lived for longer than ever before. 

It doesn't mean that pollution is not an issue, it just means it needs to be seen within the larger context of the incredible contribution of fossil fuels to humanity.

Club of Rome - I will just leave this link here for those who want to dig a bit deeper.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Sea Level Rise (or Not) in Ireland ?

Climate change has caused the sea levels around Ireland to rise by almost 7cm since the early 1990s. This is due to the rising temperature of the planet, greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and the melting of glaciers. And the next five to 15 years is a crucial time period within which to act if we want to halt any permanent changes to the planet.  According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), climate change is most obvious in our changing sea levels.  “Observed climate change impacts are most evident in the global temperature record, sea-level rise, loss of glaciers and ice sheets and changes in the nature and intensification of precipitation events,” the EPA report states.“  Since 1993, average sea level has risen around Ireland by just over 3cm per decade,” the report reads.  The agency said that Ireland is particularly “vulnerable” to climate change because we are an island country with major cities located close to coastal areas - Irish Examiner.

There are only two sets of sea level data available in Ireland that I can find - Malin Head and Dublin.

Malin Head shows a fall in sea level from 1958 to the early 2000s. This comes from PSMSL.ORG.

Malin Head

The part in red has been flagged with possible errors. But clearly, choosing to measure the trend from the early 1990s will show a small rise in sea level. But measuring from the beginning of the data i.e 1958 would show a fall in sea level.

So its interesting that the EPA have chosen 1993 to begin their sea level trend from.
 Since 1993, average sea level has risen around Ireland by just over 3cm per decade - EPA
After 2002, the Office of Public Works took over operation of Malin Head. Again, no upward trend can be seen in the data. In fact the data begins at 3.1m in 2004 and ends at just below 3.1m in 2011.

Malin Head 2004-2011

It's not clear how the sea level fell from approx 7m to 3m between the 2001 and 2004 graphs when the OPW took over operation. I presume that they changed the local reference height.

The other data available comes from Dublin. This data goes back to 1938 and goes up to 2009.

Here there was a very small rise in sea level :

The mean sea level trend is 0.07 millimeters/year with a 95% confidence
interval of +/- 0.42 mm/yr based on monthly mean sea level data from
1938 to 2009 which is equivalent to a change of 0.02 feet in 100 years.

So in 71 years there has been a sea level rise of 4.97mm - or about half a centimeter

This is a long way from the 7cm rise since the early 1990s as reported by the EPA and Irish Examiner.

This then leaves just the satellite data. This shows a rise of 7cm between 1993 and 2016 and a further 1cm in 2017. However, it's important to note that the satellites need to be calibrated using the tide gauges :

Sea level can also be retrieved with measurements from space-borne sensors. These sources indicate a sea-level rise around Ireland of approximately 2–3 mm per year since the early 1990s [till 2012]. However, satellite measurements need to be calibrated carefully, the most common method being the use of tide gauges. 


This raises the question - how can the satellite data and tide gauge data vary by so much ? Compare it with the most reliable tide gauge data - Malin Head from 2004 to 2011*. Malin Head is also perfect considering the satellite data is for the North Atlantic.

Comparison of Malin Head Sea Level with North Atlantic Satellite Data

Satellite 2004-2011

The satellite shows an overall increase of approx 1.5cm. 

Malin Head shows no discernible increase at all. Notice how Malin head shows variances of 0.1, 0.2 and 0.3 of a metre within the same year. That means the sea was rising and falling by as much as 30 centimeters in some years ! That is a rise of almost one foot ! 

By comparison, the largest variance within any given year in the satellite data is just 2 centimeters. 

I do not understand why the satellite does not pick up the seasonal sea level variations of one foot in a year which incidentally are confirmed by sea level data at Aberdeen in Scotland. This makes me suspicious of the satellite data. But if the satellite is correct, then how is Malin Head not showing any increase at all ? This would mean the reference point on the land would be shifting at the same rate (highly unlikely ?). 

All in all, the case is not closed on sea level rise in Ireland. It may well be the case that in the future scientists will make an announcement about problems with satellite sea data similar to the announcement they made last week about their temperature models.

Also, is 24 years a long enough period to draw any conclusion ?

*According to PSMSL for Dublin - After examining the historical files it was discovered that data for Dublin up to 2001 was supplied as Mean Tide Data and not Mean Sea Level data. Because of this the data has been flagged within the database.