Running on renewables: How sure can we be about the future?

Posted: March 6, 2018 by oldbrew in Energy, research, Uncertainty
Tags: ,

Scottish offshore wind project [image credit :]

Researchers have discovered what common sense thinking has led many people to believe anyway, namely that sales pitches and reality can be quite far apart when it comes to renewable technologies and reliable electricity supplies.

A variety of models predict the role renewables will play in 2050, but some may be over-optimistic, and should be used with caution, say researchers.

The proportion of UK energy supplied by renewable energies is increasing every year; in 2017 wind, solar, biomass and hydroelectricity produced as much energy as was needed to power the whole of Britain in 1958, says EurekAlert.

However, how much the proportion will rise by 2050 is an area of great debate. Now, researchers at Imperial College London have urged caution when basing future energy decisions on over-optimistic models that predict that the entire system could be run on renewables by the middle of this century.

Mathematical models are used to provide future estimates by taking into account factors such as the development and adoption of new technologies to predict how much of our energy demand can be met by certain energy mixes in 2050.

These models can then be used to produce ‘pathways’ that should ensure these targets are met – such as through identifying policies that support certain types of technologies.

However the models are only as good as the data and underlying physics they are based on, and some might not always reflect ‘real-world’ challenges. For example, some models do not consider power transmission, energy storage, or system operability requirements.

Now, in a paper published today in the journal Joule, Imperial researchers have shown that studies that predict whole systems can run on near-100% renewable power by 2050 may be flawed as they do not sufficiently account for reliability of the supply.

Using data for the UK, the team tested a model for 100% power generation using only wind, water and solar (WWS) power by 2050. They found that the lack of firm and dispatchable ‘backup’ energy systems – such as nuclear or power plants equipped with carbon capture systems – means the power supply would fail often enough that the system would be deemed inoperable.

The team found that even if they added a small amount of backup nuclear and biomass energy, creating a 77% WWS system, around 9% of the annual UK demand could remain unmet, leading to considerable power outages and economic damage.

Continued here.
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[Random snapshot at time of post]

  1. ” in 2017 wind, solar, biomass and hydroelectricity produced as much energy as was needed to power the whole of Britain in 1958,”

    Except of course it could not have powered Britain in 1958, for the same reasons it can’t now.

  2. TinyCO2 says:

    I wonder if they included imports and if so, do they see them as guaranteed or just as patchy as our own renewables supply?

    I don’t suppose they factored in all the extra electricity demand the government hopes we’ll be adding for transport, heating and cooking? And think of those millions of homes the government is promising.

  3. oldbrew says:

    They could try putting more people on night shifts 😬
    – – –
    ”in 2017 wind, solar, biomass and hydroelectricity produced as much energy as was needed to power the whole of Britain in 1958”

    In daylight hours on a windy day, and no tech problems – possibly.
    = = =
    studies that predict whole systems can run on near-100% renewable power by 2050 may be flawed

    An early contender for understatement of the year.

  4. oldbrew says:

    Making Electricity Markets Competitive Again
    written by Isaac Orr March 5, 2018

    Wind power producers receive a federal subsidy of $24 per megawatt hour (MWh) of power produced, regardless of whether this power is needed to satisfy the current demand for electricity. As a result, wind producers are incentivized to sell their power to the grid even when prices are negative (up to -$23 per MWh).

    In these circumstances, coal-fired generators must choose between paying customers to take the additional power generated or scaling back generation. Either way, subsidized renewable generators profit at the expense of coal and nuclear plants, which have high fixed costs but can generate low-cost electricity when they produce a steady, constant output of electricity.

    In other words renewables force up the price of electricity to the consumer.

  5. Richard111 says:

    I assume Britain used much less energy in 1958 than it does today.
    Is the rate of energy consumption over time linear or logarithmic?

  6. oldbrew says:

    Richard – assuming energy means electricity here…

    Electricity used to be more expensive relative to income AFAIK.
    Also there were fewer plugs in homes and probably fewer appliances too e.g. no computers, freezers.
    OTOH efficiency of appliances must have improved a lot e.g. lighting, fridges.

    So pros and cons.

  7. JB says:

    Did any of these blokes consider the encroaching cold spell of the coming solar minimum and the same kind of events as took its toll on the wind generator in Antarctica? I’ll bet the survival rate for arctic weather conditions is unknown. All this week we’ve been having winds typical of Fall weather and mostly overcast skies.

  8. ivan says:

    A variety of models predict the role renewables will play in 2050, but some may be over-optimistic
    I would think that ALL are wildly over-optimistic for the simple reason they all make assumptions that can’t be verified and I very much doubt that any of those producing the mathematical models consulted with electrical and civil or any other engineers.

    All of the models are nothing more than marketing hype produced by wonks wanting to feed at the public subsidies trough – remove the subsidies and a totally different picture appears with renewables dropping off the bottom of the chart.

  9. Saighdear says:

    Hmm, all this guff! – put it another way, too, One can run a car DOWN the hill for free too – but how to get it back up again. The longer the the further you get, but the longer the hill, by necessity the slower you WILL go. Even SailBoats have engines to get the job done. I watch Gridwatch regularly and am surrounded by the stupid blighters! – how often do we see them STATIONARY when we NEED them !

  10. stpaulchuck says:

    every time I see those stupid windmills I get the urge to go find a large cache of primacord and go chop them down. What a blight!

    If you wanted to be off grid out in Montana or Australia then okay. Get some solar and some wind up and running and invest in a good battery bank with perhaps a nice little 3kva lp gas generator. That could work. But these butt ugly wind farms, known in the UK as subsidy farms, just have to be stopped and chopped down (legally).

  11. oldbrew says:

    BBC: Family want answers over death in snow on wind farm

    The family of a security guard who died after becoming trapped in heavy snow on a remote wind farm are demanding answers about his death.

    Ronnie Alexander, 74, was working at Afton wind farm in Ayrshire when he became stranded in severe weather.
    . . .
    The tragedy came less than a year after the death of a Portuguese worker at another Ayrshire wind farm.

    Antonio Joao Da Silva Linares, 37, died following an accident inside a turbine at Kilgallioch wind farm in March 2017.
    – – –
    Mobile phone service is patchy at best in some of these remote hilly areas.

  12. Phoenix44 says:

    It will all be wrong – not because it’s wind or Climate Change but because forecasts and planning always will be.

    We can never have enough information to plan in this way.

    If we want certain outcomes, then use simple incentives and let markets and people find their own ways to the outcomes. That has been shown to work pretty well, time after time after time.

    But then of course we wouldn’t need all those bureaucrats and MPs having committees all the time.

  13. oldbrew says:

    Babcock Ranch aims to be America’s greenest city — and an inspiration

    Development near Fort Myers, Florida is being built for sustainability from the ground up.

    With more than 340,000 solar panels in place, Babcock Ranch aims to be the first town in the U.S. powered solely by solar energy.
    . . .
    At the moment, the town taps energy from the grid when there’s not enough sunlight. But Kitson says battery storage facilities are in development to bridge these gaps. “This is something we are proving that can happen and once we’re able to continue building our storage capability here — gosh, that’s the holy grail of renewable energy,” he says.

    They’ll need a lot of batterie$$$.

  14. p.g.sharrow says:

    Unlimited wealth makes anything possible if you are willing to waste it to make a point…pg

    [reply] indeed – but whose wealth?

  15. Rednose says:

    “100 per cent renewable energy systems may be flawed as they do not sufficiently account for the reliability of the supply”

    Well darn. Who would have thunk it.
    Those a boffin types at Imperial really are clever.

  16. Saighdear says:

    @ oldbrew RE: Babcock Ranch, and others, ….I wish then these fowk would START the way they mean to go on and use Renewables Power (, etc ) to “grow” the development, and NOT be a parasite on the rest of us. Hmmm Yes ! that’s it PARASITES – the Green Blob !!

  17. p.g.sharrow says:

    Yes the “Greenblob” Watermelons, socialists that do their good works with other peoples money.

    while it lasts…pg

  18. Adam Gallon says: Vastly less in houses in the 1950s. Remembering my childhood home of the 1960s, there was a single plug socket & a ceiling light in each room. One TV, one radio, one record player. I had my electric trainset, mind you. Gas cooker, gas fire in the front room, coal fire in back room & coal-fired boiler in kitchen for hot water. Coal changed to coke, when Mansfield went smokeless.

  19. Gamecock says:

    ”in 2017 wind, solar, biomass and hydroelectricity produced as much energy as was needed to power the whole of Britain in 1958”

    So they are running 60 years behind. Dang, that’s worse than fusion, which is only 30 years out. And has been, since 1958.

  20. Gamecock says:

    Babcock Ranch, where virtue signalling is more important than life itself.

  21. ntesdorf says:

    Whenever I see Solar Power mentioned in the U.K. context, I laugh quietly. If Britain was 30 degrees closer to the equator it might be worth deploying.

  22. oldbrew says:

    ITV REPORT 12 March 2018
    Wind farm blades eroding after few years at sea

    Erosion repairs to the turbines could cost millions of pounds as the owners are forced to carry out emergency repairs to 140 of the turbines.

    Critics of the so-called ‘green energy’ say it raises questions about whether wind power makes economic sense.

    Subsidies can never make ‘economic sense’ if they go on indefinitely.