Jan 132015
 January 13, 2015  Posted by at 8:26 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,

DPC Market Street from Montgomery Street, San Francisco, after the earthquake 1906

Filed under Be Careful What You Wish For, once again here’s our friend Euan Mearns, this time on how well-intentioned green initiatives may bankrupt and eviscerate entire nations. Euan’s site is Energy Matters.

Euan Mearns: I last looked into the details and consequences of Scottish energy policy in the pre-referendum post Scotch on the ROCs. The expansion of Scottish renewables is progressing at breakneck speed and the purpose of this post is to update on where we are and where we are heading whether anyone likes it or not (Figure 1). Objections to wind power normally come from rural dwelling country folks whose lives are impacted by the construction of wind turbine power stations around them. My objections tend to be rooted more in the raison d’être for renewables (CO2 reduction), their cost, grid reliability and gross environmental impact. One issue I want to draw attention to is the vast electricity surplus that Scotland will produce on windy days in the years ahead. That surplus has to be paid for. Where will it go and how will it be used?

Figure 1 The rapidly changing face of electricity generation in Scotland. Wind power seems destined to grow from virtually nothing in 2010 to 15.8 GW come 2020. Maximum power demand in Scotland is 6 GW (red line).

This post was prompted by a couple of emails in the wake of my recent post on WWF Masters of Spin that brought my attention to two short reports prepared by Professor (emeritus) Jack Ponton that describe how operational and consented wind farms will already take Scotland beyond its 2020 target. The small pdfs can be downloaded here and here and the two key charts are reproduced below.

Figure 2 The status of operational, consented and pending wind farms in Scotland as of August 2014.

Figure 3 The status of operational, consented and pending wind farms in Scotland as of October 2014.

Figure 2 shows how in August 2014 operational and consented wind farms already had the capacity to meet the Scottish Government target of 100% electricity from renewables by 2020. Subsequent to that there has been a new round of wind power stations consented that takes us way beyond the target (Figure 3). So what is there to worry about?

Figure 1 shows the status of Scottish electricity generating capacity in 2010, 2015 and 2020 (it’s reproduced below to ease inspection). There has been an astonishing transformation.


The status in 2010, that doesn’t seem that long ago, shows two nuclear, two coal and one gas fired power station, a suite of hydro electric power stations and barely any wind turbine power stations. The red line shows approximate peak demand in Scotland of 6 GW and with 8.4 GW despatchable power, Scotland’s electricity needs were safe and secure


By 2015 a major transformation has already taken place. Cockenzie coal fired power station has been closed. But we still have 6752 GW of dispatchable power, comfortably in excess of peak demand but susceptible to a nuclear outage. Peterhead gas now has a standby role with reduced capacity. Part of that power station may also be developed for carbon capture and storage (CCS). But the transformation is the expansion of wind to 7.1 GW, most of which is onshore. Flexible dispatchable power (coal+gas+hydro) totals 4.7 GW. Hence, when the wind blows hard we still have power to switch off and of course we have about 3.3 GW of interconnection with England. In 2010 we had 8.6 GW of generating capacity and today we have 13.9 GW generating capacity, that’s up 62%. The system is still safe and secure and expensive, testified by the fact that my lights are still on.


The 2020 configuration assumes that all the 8.68 GW already consented wind is built (Figure 3). The future of the Longannet coal fired power plant is currently being discussed by its owners and the Scottish Government. Given the massive over capacity that we already have, it seems likely it will close down. This is probably Scotland’s cheapest electricity supply.

The two nuclear plants should still be operational. We will still have 4.4 GW of dispatchable power, 1.6 GW below the safe threshold. But 15.8 GW of wind operating above 9% capacity will cover that for most of the time, any shortfalls should be met by importing dispatchable power from England, but that will depend on how the capacity margin in England evolves. The reality will be that 2.07 GW of nuclear power will provide the stable system base load 24/7/365. When one of these plants is off line for scheduled or unscheduled maintenance we will be more heavily dependent upon imports. Unless of course Longannet coal is kept on permanent standby.

The problem therefore in 2020 is not so much risk of blackouts but what will happen to the vast surplus of power we will produce when the wind blows hard as it has been doing in recent days. In the UK as a whole, peak demand is always around 6 pm on a week day in winter and minimum demand is always at night at the weekend in Summer (Figure 4). The minimum is about 38% of peak, in Scotland, roughly 2.3 GW. Night time summer demand for electricity, therefore, may be almost met by our two nuclear power stations.

Figure 4 The pattern of UK electricity demand. Peak demand is always during a week day in winter at around 6 pm. Minimum demand is always at night during the weekend in Summer.

At this point we need to remind ourselves about how the renewable merit order and subsidy system works. In short, the producers get paid their elevated guaranteed price regardless of whether or not there is demand for the power. According to Prof. Ponton’s calculation we are on schedule to produce 6.1 TWh annual surplus of wind power [17.7 TWh operational+25 TWh consented -36.6 TWh total annual demand =6.1 TWh wind surplus]. To this needs to be added approximately 16 TWh of nuclear and hydro giving us a total annual surplus of 22 TWh. How is this surplus going to be used?


Plans are progressing to increase the interconnector capacity to England to 6 GW which is an interesting number since this is the same as Scotland’s peak demand. Part of “The Plan” is evidently for Scotland to export its surpluses. The snag is that when the wind blows hard it is often blowing hard in England and Europe too. At those times spot power prices are rock bottom and there is high chance that neighbouring countries will be gagging on surplus wind power at the same time. When the wind blows hard Scotland may be producing a 10 GW surplus that has nowhere to go.


The Scottish Government often talks fondly of the hydrogen economy where surplus renewable electricity may be used to make hydrogen, normally by the electrolysis of water. The trouble with this, which is conveniently ignored, is that in making the hydrogen about 30% of the renewable energy input is lost, with a further 30% lost on energy recovery when the hydrogen is combusted or used in a fuel cell (estimates vary according to whether or not waste heat is recovered and used). Very quickly, 50% of the expensive subsidised and paid for wind power is lost. This is a short cut to bankrupting the country.

Pumped hydro storage is a more feasible and scalable option and the Coire Glas scheme that has been approved but awaiting a final investment decision presents an ideal case study. In my post The Coire Glas pumped storage scheme – a massive but puny beast, I drew attention to how impotent Coire Glas would be in providing backup power to the UK. Let’s skin the cat another way at the Scottish scale.

Coire Glas will have storage capacity of 30 GWh. How many times would it have to be filled and emptied to store the 22 TWh surplus that Scotland is shaping up to produce?

22 TWh annual surplus / 30 GWh storage capacity = 733 cycles

With 50 hours generating capacity it is going to take about 1 week at optimum conditions to fill and then empty this massive beast. And so we are talking roughly 14 of these beasts (733 cycles / 52 weeks = 14.1 Coire Glas schemes required) to cope with the annual Scottish electricity surplus. This may sound feasible, but Coire Glas alone creates hydrology problems on the Lochs on the Great Glen that will act as the lower pumping reservoir. It is simply doubtful that Scotland will have 14 sites on the scale of Coire Glas that can each be filled and emptied 52 times each year without totally wrecking the hydrology of the lochs and river systems that are involved. If there is a concrete plan that shows how wind can be stored and delivered via pumped hydro storage then I’d like to see it.


Another option for consuming this surplus is to reconfigure the nation’s heating requirements away from natural gas to electric heating. Norway for example uses cheap hydro electric power as its main source of domestic and industrial heat. It’s just a pity that wind is currently one of the most expensive forms of electrical power that we have. Overproduction of expensive energy is quite simply a bad idea.


  • In 2010 Scotland had a self contained reliable diversified electricity supply system that created a dispatchable surplus that was exported to England.
  • Come 2020 the Scottish system will be dominated by non-dispatchable wind power.
  • When the wind does not blow Scotland will become an energy parasite dependent upon imports of dispatchable power from England, assuming that England has that dispatchable capacity to spare.
  • When the wind blows hard, Scotland will generate a vast wind power surplus that will have low / no value and that no one will want / be able to use. The only way to make this plan remotely sensible is to deploy large scale pumped hydro storage. A detailed feasible plan for which, as far as I am aware, is lacking.
  • The uncontrolled expansion of wind power that has effectively already caused a glut of non-dispatchable renewable electricity must surely undermine future development and deployment of marine renewables, some of which may have made more sense than wind.
  • If you are objecting to wind turbine power stations being erected on your hill or glen, you should make clear in your objection that the wind power being generated is surplus to Scotland’s requirement. Some of it may be used at home, some of it will be exported and much of it may simply be wasted. It seems likely that Scotland’s beautiful landscape is being wrecked in pursuit of an ideological, empty dream.

Home Forums Too Much Of A Good Thing: Scotland Gags On Wind Power

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    DPC Market Street from Montgomery Street, San Francisco, after the earthquake 1906 Filed under Be Careful What You Wish For, once again here’s our fri
    [See the full post at: Too Much Of A Good Thing: Scotland Gags On Wind Power]


    I think you’ve brushed over the electroysis option a wee bit quick Euan.


    Hi Euan

    Isn’t this a case for time priced electricity and strong demand management for the consumer? I think if I was a business or a householder, I could be persuaded to avoid peak usage times or at least reduce usage if the price were comparatively very high. This might be an actual practical use for a mobile app, you could use them to switch your appliances on or off based on current price.

    I think 24 hour constant priced electricity is a historical luxury we have got used to. A maket for local distributed storage could be created as well if price differences were there.

    I am not really a market solutions person, but why make the energy providers to all the hard work of supply management?

    Mark Janes

    Given the excess generating capacity that wind will provide, couldn’t most or all of the existing hydro schemes be re-purposed as pumped storage? They won’t be needed for generation purposes.

    Euan Mearns

    @ skintnick – electrolysis – what am I missing?

    Euan Mearns

    @carbon waste life form – I’d be a major supporter of variable power prices with a display on the wall telling me what the current price was. But for some reason in the UK they are not able to role out something like this that seems so simple.

    Euan Mearns

    @ Mark Janes – its not so simple. You need a bottom reservoir to pump water out of. Some of our hydro schemes do empty into large lochs but when you pump you lower the water level and reduce river flow and vice versa – when you produce the rivers flood. This happens at the moment so its all a matter of scale and what the river systems can handle. One existing hydro scheme on Loch Lomond (Sloy) is being converted to pump and this will double its capacity.


    From a disgruntled reader:

    Could I ask you to please help me with unsubscribing me from this newsletter?

    I have been enjoying Raul’s and other’s posts for quite a while, but this nonsens you are now regularly publishing for your “friend” Euan Mearns just doesn’t make any sense. No way will I see one more ridiculous fossil fuel promoting posts of his in my mailbox.


    Thanks Euan

    I also think that instantaneous pricing would not be difficult to implement and would be amenable to a gradual roll-out. Customers would probably need a networked meter which could have privacy issues, in theory.

    Variable pricing might reduce or negate the need for feed in tariffs, and would at least allow renewables to be selected on an equal footing. FIT tariffs have always looked to be a fudge to me, I’d rather see the externalities of FFs, nuclear or hydro factored in instead as appropriate.

    I reckon the reason that variable pricing is not introduced is political. We feel entitled to cheap energy on tap at our convenience.

    ’s disgruntled reader
    I must admit that I am a wind energy supporter in principle and wish that Euan were wrong about the problems with dispatchability and pricing in Scotland at the 2020 mix level. I feel that he is right though, which is why I support demand side management.

    Dr. Diablo

    I find it hard to see how producing more energy can be a problem. In a way, yes, it’s expensive. But that’s measured as if it’s conventional. You could think of it as producing its base power as expensive, but producing the extra gale-force power as a freebate. Looked at this way, what you need are systems that absorb and/or utilize massive amounts of intermittent power. This is hardly unusual. The old windmill era, c.1600-1800 in non-stable wind areas (ie, England, not Netherlands) would yes, sit around and not do any work until there was wind. Then you’d hustle to grind your wheat, saw your boards, pound your rags all at once in long shifts as weather permitted. Then go idle again. That’s life in the green, ecological, earth-centered world. Welcome to party. But that’s a GOOD thing, not a bad thing. Unless you really WANT to continue burning the last remaining coal reserves and risking nuclear emissions just for your technological convenience.

    I don’t think we want that, so changing our habits, the very way we think about and do work is one of those compromises. Used to be all the logs we cut and waited for the rivers to thaw. All the wheat was stored and waiting for the mills half the season, in transport, for canals to thaw and fill, or water to flow after summer dry or winter freeze. This ain’t unusual, folks. It just costs some money. In extra storage, elevators, that in fact create resilience, not the 3-day supply chain everyone frets about.

    So yes, it’ll take time, and it’ll take money, and more even will take change. You could make power dead-free in wind areas during surplus hours. That should cause the localities to take advantage of the power, for instance adding electric baseboard heat, or intermittent industrial work, compressed-air storage, aluminium smelters, I don’t know. …But they would. This is best idea, as one of the obstacles wind power is that basically the local people have to look at and deal with them, but get screwed concerning power. So if they have all the trouble, but no price-benefit, why WOULDN’T they oppose projects? Whereas with power, they could become a renaissance craftsman area.

    You could of course go centralized, big-scale too and pump water, melt salt, or split water, but those are large, expensive, centralized projects ripe for more boondoggles. Still, once you’ve paid, you’d be a fool not to, especially as the alternative is to melt down the UK grid with oversupply. Pumping lochs is only one option, and it may be a bad one. Free power could mean freezing ice, heating water, lifting train cars up a slope, filling a tidal estuary, or who knows?

    In essence, Scotland bought a lot of future electricity up-front, with an open contract concerning supply. Since you already bought the oversupply, the only rational thing to do is figure out how to capitalize on it.

    Free power is a benefit, never a liability. Not everything that happens is a problem. Even on doomer sites.


    Yup, if you want more of anything, just subsidize it.

    Leviathan certainly knows better how to spend precious capital than all the world’s participants in all the world’s markets. Next up, free refrigerators for Eskimo’s.


    Has anyone asked about tapping the trillions of tons of mass moved each day on the planet by the predictable and consistent tides? Twice a day at different times along the length of coasts?

    And try handing it over to the private sector. If it’s profitable, someone will build it, provided they aren’t strangled by regulations.

    Oh, I forgot,,,a camel is a horse designed by a central planning committee. Guess the answer is to pump water into the deserts so we may grow more corn to make ethanol, then burn it, using the power generated to pump more water,,,,,,,reversing the function of the windmills to use them as fans to keep the desert cool?

    WTF, absurdity is in, after all. Why not turbo charge it?


    What I don’t appreciate from this writer is that green energy is solely looked at by its economic cost, yet fossil fuels are viewed solely from its overt costs, not all of the externalized costs to society. Does the deaths from emphysema, mercury-laced water, radiation poisoning, exploding coal sludge ponds have a cost? Or do we just assume that’s another can to be kicked down the road until our species breathes its last.

    I’m all for understanding the true costs of green power, both its carbon footprint as well as its expense to society. But Euan would prefer to ignore the true cost of fossil fuels to our world. When do we get Stoneleigh back? We need Nicole’s greater holistic perspective on energy and economics that this one-sided analysis doesn’t employ. Can someone please pick her up from new Zealand?


    Thanks Euan for a fascinating article. However I must agree with some other respondents that the analysis appears to be coloured by a grumpy tone.
    The problem you outline is to be expected in a system driven by renewables. In our remote photovoltaic household electricity system in the SE Queensland mountains, we go from feast to famine according to the weather. Currently in the summer wet season, our supply is marginal, we scrimp on electricity, charge our ebike batteries at mains-supplied neighbours’ and occasionally have to use a petrol motor to charge the batteries. However during the dry spring, we have a surplus of electricity. To use as much as we can, we cut firewood with the electric chainsaw, cook with electricity (instead of using charcoal or gas), etc.. But every sunny day the regulator still switches off the panels once the batteries are full. We have the choice to wring our hands worrying that the capital invested in the panels is wasted, or being grateful for the adequacy we have and thinking of additional ways to embody the surplus power.
    Similarly, in the Scottish situation you outline, at the worst, wind turbines may need to be feathered in times of surplus and their potential output wasted. This will be at an economic cost to someone, but (as has been proposed above already) it also offers the opportunity of low-cost energy, which time of use pricing may be able to facilitate.
    This is just how it is with renewable energy. If you want a high proportion of your supply to be renewable most of the time, you will probably have times when you can’t use it all.

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