Drowning in the Big Green Pond.

This is another guest article by Graeme, one of our regular contributing authors. It deals with the innate limiting factors of renewable energy sources, and though such considerations can be quite technical, it describes them in clear everyday language for the benefit of anyone who wishes to gain an understanding of the salient issues without first studying for a degree in electrical engineering – which I think covers most of us.

What does come across to me is how delicate a balance must be maintained to deliver a steady supply of electricity, and increasingly the intermittency of renewables is destabilising that equilibrium.



Most of the Greens calling for more renewable energy capacity believe that somewhere there is a big pond of electricity, and so long as you feed in enough power to keep the level in the pond above zero, then it will keep flowing from that hole in the wall. That, they assume, will keep them warm in winter along with that smug glow of self-satisfaction at “saving the World”.

Any debate is stifled by their belief that carbon dioxide causes the Earth to warm, and also that renewable energy is the only way to reduce emissions. Thus they swiftly move to abusing anybody questioning their beliefs as evil deniers. There is no problem, they claim, in moving to 100% renewables for the electricity grid, thus exposing their ignorance. The concepts of reliability, base load and adaptability are foreign to their thinking, and they take for granted an inherent robustness that no experience can upset. Rational debate is avoided.

What is this Electricity Grid of which they are so ignorant? It is the result of 150 years of technical development with the aim of supplying a continuous supply of electricity to millions of customers. Over the years of successful operation it has become a reliable and necessary part of modern life. Not only does the right amount of electricity flow at the right voltage, the right amperage, and the right phase angle every second of every hour of every day of every year, but it is so reliable that various signals have been ‘grafted‘ onto it. Does your electric clock keep time, does  your DVD player display the same time, do the street lights come on as it gets dark? Does your electric hot water service know when it can use cheaper overnight electricity to heat your morning wash? Say thank you to the grid regulators.

The misunderstood phrase ‘base load’ merely means the amount of electricity that MUST be available at any time of the day. It varies from day to night, from season to season but it has to be there at any time or there will be a blackout. Too little and the lights go out, too much electricity and the lights don’t work, nor do your clocks, TV, DVD, computer, refrigerator, washing machine or your microwave oven. To supply this the authorities use huge machines in various power stations all synchronized to a common degree.

As people turn off the entertainment and head for bed, some of the machines are set to deliver less power. They don’t stop, the generators don’t slow but continue to run at the same speed (3000 rpm. or 50 cycles usually outside of the USA). This is the rolling backup, ready to start supplying power at short notice, and this group comprises the coal, oil, nuclear and closed cycle gas turbines.  They aren’t stopped and the boilers allowed to cool because it takes up to 3 days to ‘bring them back on-line’. A matter that comes into consideration when a complete unit is taken off-line for maintenance, hence the usual scheduling of that in parts of the year with lower demand.

The second ‘trick’ available is the reverse. These generators start (and stop) quite quickly. Open cycle gas turbines can be operating within minutes, as can diesel generators. Hydroelectricity operates within 30 seconds. Intelligent anticipation eliminates any stoppage in supply. Hydroelectricity has the additional benefit in many cases of being able to use excess electricity to ‘pump water back up hill’ for re-use. The only large-scale method of storing electricity.

It isn’t anywhere near as efficient as we would like, but 75% saving of what would be thrown away is very useful, as is the overall smoothing of demand and supply. It is very hard to run a grid without some percentage of hydro being available, and some lucky countries in Europe run with very high percentages (Norway and Iceland). Its balancing abilities are seen in Sweden, Switzerland and France where high percentages of nuclear power are used. Nuclear is cheapest when run almost all the time and the least able to accommodate fluctuations in demand. Hydro is the perfect foil. The same would apply to those countries running coal-fired plants except they rarely have the necessary amounts of hydro to rely on, hence the use of short-term generators.

Supply must always equal demand at all times, so there are constant adjustments. Into this finely tuned process the Greens have introduced a variable amount at a variable time. Neither wind turbines nor solar are predictable a week ahead, let alone by the season, nor even what will be delivered each year. The flexibility built into the running of the grid has accommodated small amounts; after all it has been designed to be flexible. But success has rendered the Greens arrogant. More and more they cry; some on the lunatic edge even claiming that 100% renewables are possible. When someone says that, you can recognize someone with very little knowledge and very dangerous.

The problem is that the grid regulators no longer control the supply. The wind farms (and solar versions) are free to dump as much power as they can, whenever they like. Not only does this put the grid under stress, but the costs of the necessary adjustments are loaded onto the conventional generators. And as a further mistake, the increased cost of the renewables is disguised by separate subsidies, so the price received for their output depends less on what it is sold for, and more on the capacity of the customer to pay the increased bills.

I repeat, the grid has to be balanced at all times, supply equalling demand, so when the wind blows the dumped power has to be used somehow. Some goes into pumped storage, but that is not always available, so the selling price is reduced to stimulate usage of the excess supply.

The Greens see this as a great victory, “look” they say, “wind causes the wholesale price to drop. Wind is cheap.”  A Rolls Royce would be cheap if the price was subsidized and the running costs charged to all other car types.

While they retain their influence with politicians and public servants the Greens will continue to push and push for wind and solar. Why? I am not sure, but obviously not for any rational reason. More and more evidence piles up showing wind farms are a very inefficient and costly way of cutting carbon dioxide emissions. Germany has a lot of wind capacity available, giving low amounts of usable electricity, rising costs AND rising emissions. And while that rise in emissions is partially due to the closure of nuclear plants, it started before any were closed.

Denmark is the poster girl of the wind farm lovers but hasn’t shut down a coal-fired station since 1992. It does have lots of very efficient combined heat and power plants, which recover the waste heat and use it for heating houses and de-icing roads with circulating hot water. But every time the wind blows those plants suffer, they have to stop generating electricity to make room for wind power but have to go on using fuel as the hot water is still needed. Even shutting down those 600 odd plants isn’t enough to accommodate the burst of wind energy, so it is exported.

To where? To any available hydro plants, and as it happens Denmark is blest with two neighbours with substantial pumped storage capacity.  That was fine as a political solution, Denmark sold excess wind energy to Norway at a low price, and when the wind stopped bought it back at a much higher price. The Norwegians are descendants of Vikings and know how to loot and pillage, so Denmark has electricity even more expensive than in Germany.

All that pumped storage in Norway and Sweden was fine while only Denmark was throwing money away, but Germany joined the delusion. Sweden also went berserk and decided that it too would join in. Suddenly there was an oversupply of wind and not enough pumped storage to go around. Most politicians have trouble understanding the law of supply and demand, so would have been surprised at what happened.

The price you could sell excess wind energy dropped – to screams of delight from gullible greens – and the amount offered by the hydro firms plummeted into negative levels. Yes, wind is cheap, but not so when you have to pay people to use it. With reduced income but the same costs, wind farms became less profitable. So there are reports of turbines no longer supplying in Germany and Denmark, but for some reason the Greens never mention that.

The first effect from that excess is that wind drives out the more expensive variable sources, gas turbines, hydro, pumped storage out of the market, as has happened in Germany. Thus one and two year old gas-fired plants have gone out of service, and are being sold to countries outside the EU. Siemens no longer offers their very efficient, and low emissions, plants in Germany, indeed is moving some to Turkey. But it leaves the cheaper but less flexible coal-fired plants, which then have to run less efficiently because of the interruptions from wind supply.

With the disruption comes increased cost, lower profit and no incentive to upgrade or replace older plants. Indeed older plants are being forced by Government decree to continue operating as part-time backup reserves. So you get 24 hours of emissions – and higher ones than the newer plants give – to provide a few hours supply when the wind fails to blow or the sun to shine.

Meanwhile Germany’s neighbours became annoyed with the disruption to their grids, coal-fired for Poland and nuclear based in the Czech Republic. Both countries decided that what their people wanted was a stable electricity supply at a reasonable price, rather than blackouts and a much higher price, so both countries have installed phase shifting transformers at their borders to block sudden surges in electricity.

This leaves even less customers for german wind farms, so they are pressuring the german government to install hundreds of kilometres of high tension lines to bring the joy of blackout to Bavaria and southern Europe. It means destroying huge areas of forests but this is excused as “saving them”.

For all the self-delusion of the Greens, this is the case; wind (and solar) do not work all the time. Unfortunately incompetent governments with no ability to look ahead, have seized the “opportunity” to license more wind farms, and exacerbate the problem. No coal or gas-fired, nor nuclear plant will be able to operate profitably under the extra burden. Expect there to be spin and waffle about imaginary lower emissions, and excuses for the inevitable rising electricity bills. Explanations for blackouts will be convoluted and ignore the obvious causes.

The next stage of delusion will be talk of storage from batteries which haven’t been invented yet, for the Greens are most unlikely to have any experience in industrial or large commercial enterprises, and their views are shaped by their household supply and the regular announcements of “breakthroughs” that fill any space left after the actual news. Exhortations to go renewables at any cost to “save the Earth” are enough to prevent them ever doing an elementary costing exercise, and their lack of practical knowledge will cause speculative – even lunatic – schemes for storing electricity to be considered as a sure solution.

The recent announcement of lithium battery packs for homes has sent a frisson of excitement through green ranks. Not one seems to have asked how many packs will I need? How long will the wind not supply? Look at the record of the last 7 winter years in the UK; weeks without wind. Where would you put 20 or 30 of these packs on your property? And don’t forget the inverter(s) and the necessary control system. And do you have the money spare for this? The cost is $US10,000, £6,500 or €9,000 PER PACK. At least the believers mark themselves as natural prey for those selling perpetual motion machines.

But two-thirds of electricity doesn’t go to households, it goes to industry and commerce. The cost of electricity will climb and climb, along with the number of blackouts, until even those insulated from reality and thinking they are safe in the public service will realize that something must be done. Expect announcements of new schemes – and that is the right word – to supply “renewables” from vast projects at vast cost. Electricity at 4 or 6 times the current rate will be accepted as “a small price to pay”, but those who will have to pay will not be asked for their approval.

By the time that happens, any industry will be shut down or relocated elsewhere to countries that want employment and an improved  economy. The higher cost will be born by retailers e.g. supermarkets, who will pass them on to the customers. Expect unemployment to climb further, while income and company taxes bring in less. Eventually the politicians will find that they have a choice of being hung from a lamppost or getting rid of a lot of public servants. Guess what they will choose.  The Green Goose will be cooked.

©Graeme No.3

Related articles:

The sun is setting on solar power, the money’s gone and nobody’s asking any questions.

It’s an ill wind.

Examples will have to be made : Germany.

Click for a list of all articles by Graeme No.3

Click for a list of other articles.


22 Responses to “Drowning in the Big Green Pond.”
  1. Retired Dave says:

    A succinct and easily understood analysis Graeme. Thank you – but it is amazing how otherwise intelligent people still cling to the idea that a bit of fairy dust will produce stunning results with so called renewables. Even some people I know with a science or engineering background seem to have had their head turned by the prospect of “clean” energy. As you say there is hardly anything right with the whole strategy, even from environmental point of view.

    The only light at the end of tunnel*** in the UK is the recent announcement that subsidies will be slashed – perhaps reality is beginning to crowd-in a bit.

    *** My wife always found at work that the light at the end of the tunnel was in reality just some bast**d with a torch bringing her more work!


    • Old Rooster says:

      No need for concern. We’ll all be fine once the replicators come online and we can produce Dilithium (Dt) crystals for our household power electro-plasma systems. We won’t need money or jobs or have to put out the garbage…


  2. Blackswan says:

    Thank you Graeme – a great explanation of all that’s wrong with the entire Renewables concept.

    The situation in the UK is now so dire that Industry is being paid to switch-off and stand down in peak winter periods …..

    “Network operator National Grid yesterday announced plans to balance the UK’s electricity supply and facilitate more renewable energy generation. As part of the move, it intends to pay some companies to use less power at times when demand is high.”


    Other Industries are planning their own stand-downs to curb escalating costs …..

    “Staff at key industrial plants are having to sit in the cold doing nothing as firms shut off power to avoid crippling energy bills.

    Heavy industries such as steel manufacturing face a complex price-setting regime which means, for example, that boiling a kettle during periods of peak demand can cost up to £27.

    Some are now trying to protect themselves by shutting down during high-demand winter periods.”


    So much for the universal installation of Smart Meters, ostensibly to allow consumers to choose when they would use cheaper off-peak power. Rubbish! Those meters also allow Grid operators to control what households will use and when, thereby keeping a dwindling energy supply limping along to supply essential services.

    Graeme, your predictions are already a reality in 2015. Great article.


    • John McKerral says:

      Transformers don’t alter the phase of AC electricity, at least they didn’t when I went to school. Transformers are used to step up or down voltage. The phase of the output of the generators within the countries would need to be changed, all at once to achieve that.
      You didn’t consider reactive and resistive line losses when mentioning transmission of wind power from north Germany to Bavaria. They would be huge. Converting to DC electricity would get rid of the reactive losses but not resistive. That is usually taken care of by having the voltage very high thereby reducing the current transmitted to achieve the same power transfer with lower resistive losses. Large scale high voltage DC transmission is used, for this purpose, I believe.
      It is a good article and I enjoyed reading it.


      • Graeme No.3 says:

        Thank you, but the 2 countries have definitely installed phase shifting transformers. See https://chiefio.wordpress.com/2015/05/22/poland-dealing-with-wind-and-germany-with-coal/ for details.
        Re getting wind power to Bavaria: it has some opposition, partly from those who don’t want power pylons in their backyard (literally) and some old fashioned environmentalists who don’t want the Black Forest destroyed. There is also some opposition from Bavaria, where the politicians can’t see any advantage in bringing in expensive & unreliable electricity which would be unnecessary if the local nuclear plant had it life extended.


    • Graeme No.3 says:

      I am not much of a seer, but I am accustomed to looking ahead a bit. Anybody following the blogs can see trouble coming, if it is not already here. http://notrickszone.com/ & Energy Matters ( http://euanmearns.com/ ) are particularly good sources of information on these matters.
      The problem is that most politicians only look a week ahead or, at best, to the next election. The idea of worrying about what will happen once they are gone from office strikes them as bizarre, yet the decisions on future sources of energy have to be made years ahead of delivery. The UK is now starting to suffer the consequences of the 2008 Climate Change Act. I think that David Cameron is at last giving the matter some thought and realises that he must do something. Whether another grand scheme like the Swansea tidal barrier is ever built is questionable.
      Germany is running into real trouble with their system teetering on the verge of collapse. With both major parties in coalition there is no way they can avoid blame when the blackouts start.

      What most “greens” assume will happen, i.e. everyone with their own PV solar + batteries is ridiculous, even if you assume industry can go elsewhere. Diesel generators are far less costly than either wind or solar, so if batteries become cheap then the average person will settle for a diesel + batteries solution, so emissions will rise.


      • diogenese2 says:

        “A week is a long time in politics” attr. Harold Wilson

        Graeme you touch upon a question that has irritated me since I first turned my attention to the Global Warming Narrative. Why should politicians concern themselves with issues that had no consequence until long after their careers, or even their lives, have expired?
        Don’t say “for posterity” ffs, name one who ever has had that concern! Everything that you have explained above was known, and exposed, by engineers from the start, but for them to be ignored or silenced.To find any form of answer involves delving into the history of the narrative, beyond Rio 1992. The only conclusion is that the real issue was population, third world development and the depletion of resources – all much more pressing than global temperature. The CAGW narrative is, in fact, a proxy or, if you like, a euphemism enabling the World Leaders to discuss the issues without facing or confronting the core conflict of interest.
        Thus “renewables” emerged as an (impossible) solution to the mirage of emission free economic growth. What went wrong was that resources did not deplete and massive fossil fuelled economic growth occurred in the third world. The annexe one nations (some of them anyway) pretended to pursue the renewables path, long enough to expose their limitations and are now abandoning the failed strategy, in the face of the 3rd world demand for crippling Danegeld. This process will fulminate in December in Paris.
        But the underlying drivers are still there and need a different response, which will not be “green”. This explains the current hysteria of collective of death eaters and carpetbaggers who have milked the process for so long.
        I think what will emerge is a fragile façade screening an empty anarchy.


      • Graeme No.3 says:


        A sort of offspring of the Club of Rome? A very interesting point you make about politicians being absorbed in their own careers, but I think you might be under-rating their vanity. Most like to leave a “legacy” or “monument” behind; witness Obama, although it might be that he is quite gullible and believes the AGW nonsense.
        On a smaller stage the ex-Premier of South Australia spent furiously on various projects including a footbridge about 50 metres from an existing road bridge with more room for pedestrians and a hospital, now classed as ‘the world’s third most expensive building. In time honoured(?) fashion he departed when the money ran out, leaving his disliked successor to lose the next election (unfortunately he won it).


  3. Old Rooster says:

    How disgraceful! Allowing facts to undermine sound public policy😉😃😄😀‼️

    One of the most curious things about the post WWII period of history is how it came to pass that the green hued pseudo-intellectuals gained so much influence over policy that interferes with the provision of the infrastructure, designed, built and operated by engineers and real scientists, upon which modern society derives its standard of living. That this influence, based as it is on fantasy, implies a reduced standard of living for most except the pseuds, remains in the political ascendency is troubling. That anything still works at all is because they don’t actually run anything as that would be beyond them, but they insist on controlling those who can provide with ever increasing handicaps. Could it be that only by crashing our civilisation can we save it from these lunatics?

    BTW I’m not sure if there’s enough Lithium on the planet to equip every household in California with those battery packs so what will the rest of us use?


    • Graeme No.3 says:

      Yes, it has always amused (or infuriated) me that those who know least are the most confident in their approach to technical problems. My father was an engineer and he said that at least once a year he had to remind someone that water ran down hill. The obvious is often forgotten in their excitement.
      As I pointed out in the article these petty Robespierres will suffer too, however much they think they are safe.

      Lithium is actually in good supply. I believe that only 30-40% of production in the Atacama desert in Chile is sold and the rest pumped back underground. But there are other batteries that can be used, or even flywheels, but as I pointed out in my reply above (12.28 a.m.) they may not be used to store “renewables” anyway.


  4. dadodeaf says:

    A really useful set of points by Alex Epstein

    A short expose that succinctly illustrates that modern industry is nothing to be ashamed of and that humans have as much right to make their environment well suited for themselves as any other organism on the planet.

    A great neutralizer to the green guilt so many world and religious leaders are trying to put us under these days.


  5. karabar says:

    As a retired Professional Engineer I have worked in the energy industry for fifty years. Much of that time has been in power generation. I whole-heartedly endorse Graeme’s summary of the situation. Just this weekend the gormless leader of the Labour Party here in Australia is attempting to get endorsement for a scheme to enforce 50% so-called “renewables” on an un suspecting population. Someone asked me the other day what this would mean. I said “Blackouts, and plenty of them. Base load is, as Graeme states, two thirds of demand. That demand is there day and night, winter and summer. Anyone with half an eye could see that the policy this idiot proposes will result in a lot of people freezing in the dark. Often.


  6. hillbilly33 says:

    Great article Graeme. If only the MSM, ABC etc., would use articles like this to promote serious informed debate instead of only allowing partisan biased nonsense, there might be some chance of rational fact-based decisions in many areas.

    The Australian Labor Party Party begins its annual conference today with leader Bill Shorten to announce an emphasis on climate policy for the next election. Shorten declared the other day that he “believes in climate change”, Well Whoop de Doo! Another disciple for the CAGW Church!

    Is there anyone in the world who doesn’t know that climate changes, has done so since the world began and will continue to do so until it ends?, So what precisely does Shorten mean when he says he “believes” in it and how did that “belief” come about?

    This 2009 article by Dr.Vincent Grey provides one of the best explanations I have seen.

    http://nzclimatescience.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=483&Itemid=1. ,


  7. Tom Stacy says:

    Thanks, Graeme. I’d just like to point out that the term base load refers to the lowest amount of load on the system over night. Put another way, it’s the lowest load on the system from day to day. Of course “load” is a synonym for “electricity demand.” Generators that operate 24/7 for days, weeks or months at a time would be considered to be contributing to that portion of the load “curve”. The resources designed to operate up to that much include nuclear, coal, combined cycle gas turbines and some hydro. I have provided a graphic representation on page 8 in the following report: http://instituteforenergyresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/ier_lcoe_2015.pdf

    Since you are interested in the details, be sure to read the section of that report nailing down one of wind energy’s imposed costs beginning on page 26 and continuing through page 32.


    • Graeme No.3 says:

      Tom, as you say the minimum amount every second of every day of the year. AGW believers are prone to picking that low point and claiming “wind supplies (insert impressive % here) of demand” whereas all it is doing is destabilising the system. If only turbines supplied when it is most needed.
      Thank you for the link which I will need to read carefully. A quick comment is that in Australia the peak demand comes in summer when wind is least reliable, and we use mostly coal.


  8. nofixedaddress says:

    With the advent of ‘smart’ meters I cannot see why business and individuals that identify as ‘green’ should be allowed to have electricity generated by the burning of coal or gas.

    Naturally nuclear generated electricity is also off their usage.

    They should only be allowed to use wind and solar.


    • Rastech says:

      The problem is, nobody should be having ‘Smart’ meters. They are a chronic National Security vulnerability, and frankly, those behind their introduction should be put against a wall and shot (yes, the vulnerability is that serious).

      The same goes for ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) type devices (even wifi capable baby monitors have already been used to set up and launch hacking attacks).

      There are worse things out there than STUXNET, and a Nation’s infrastructure is wide open to attack with these devices.

      Same goes for driverless cars. Would you like to be in one, when it is hacked and turned into a wheeled guided missile?

      Our electric supplier has already tried to get a Smart meter put in here, and I phoned them up and said under no circumstances will I allow such a dangerous device on my property. Had a long talk with the lady I called, and she too, has refused to have one installed.

      There is only one possible answer if asked to have these put in, and it’s “Not just No! But HELL NO!”


  9. jccarlton says:

    Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:
    Electricity is a balancing act on a tightrope. The source have to balance against the load. Dance around a little too much and the whole thing falls down.


  10. jim says:

    Reblogged this on pdx transport.


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