back to article Most new 2009 EU powerplant was wind oops, gas

Brussels bureaucrats have issued a statement trumpeting the "fact" that renewable energy sources - particularly wind - accounted for the majority of new power station capacity installed in the EU during 2009. However, the truth is that European dependence on fossil gas worsened seriously last year. Under the headline " …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    Short-term thinking doesn't favour renewables

    The title is kind of obvious by itself, but the way the deregulated energy market has gone (thank you Tories of the 80s and 90s, along with everyone else who loves total deregulation), it's all less about generation and more about the trading floor. As a result, electricity companies are quite happy to sell you power at the market rate ("We're not even making anything on it!") knowing that since you're paying up front, they'll enjoy playing with your cash in advance of having to spend it themselves. Thus, as long as the electrons keep coming, a utility company can quite easily be like some kind of financial services operation with the only risk being that they can't cover their commitments when the time comes to pay up (and which actually happened to a company I bought power from once).

    Now, that's the retail end of the business. But with the punters now paying whatever the market rate is ("It's wholesale, so you're getting it at the rate we pay!"), there's no incentive to keep the supply inexpensive or stable. If gas prices skyrocket, all people get to hear is, "We're not overcharging, that's just what we have to pay ourselves!" Punters think they're on the inside, not paying a mark-up, when the mark-up is now factored into the cost price of the stuff needed to push those electrons around.

    So, given this sad state of affairs, try and imagine an actual power generating company actually thinking further than the next financial report, short of the regulator pointing a sharp stick at them. Sure, the generators keep putting lots of new capacity online - why wouldn't they when they can pass all the costs on to the consumer and have the consumer thinking that they're getting "a great deal"?

    So, yes, you need subsidies to encourage other stuff. Because with everybody but the consumers making huge profits from finite resources, there won't be a change in behaviour until those resources are depleted. I don't see why there has to be a "Boo! Subsidies!" attitude - the public should expect the government to intervene if they're getting poor treatment from a bunch of corporations with a perpetual short-term interest in fleecing consumers.

    (Booing and hissing at "state intervention" is a great way either to pander to corporations who actually don't need that kind of cheerleading for "business as usual", or to look ignorant supposedly in the name of "small government" and "fiscal prudence".)

    1. Mme.Mynkoff

      Thinking doesn't help renewables

      There. I fixed it for you.

  2. TheBrumReaper

    Not quite...

    Quoting wind on max capacity is misleading. But "European dependence on gas worsens still further" - that doesn't follow from what you quote. 20 TWh/yr Wind + 5.6 TWh/yr Solar compared with 28 TWH/yr gas is close to a 50-50 mix - better than currently, so it will shift the average towards more renewables. But if it increases or reduces the dependency on gas entirely depends on how much old gas generation went offline over the same time period (and its efficiency) - maybe more, maybe less than 20 TWh/yr?

    1. Sampler

      Apart from

      In the article gas being 28TWH/h not yr as you put it...

  3. Clinton

    Not so bad

    "'Renewables account for 62% of the new electricity generation capacity installed in the EU in 2009' ... we see that in fact far more energy will be generated by new gas-fired equipment (28 Terawatt-hours each year) than by new wind (20 TWh/yr) or solar (5.6 TWh/yr)."

    If your numbers are correct then I wouldn't say that "farm more" energy is gas-fired. Your numbers show two renewables compared to gas being at 47% of the total. Not the numbers reported by the EU by any means, but not exactly "far more" either.

  4. Rogerborg

    +1 Insightful

    Ecomentals do so love to bleat about the (potential) generating power of wind, photovoltaic and unicorn burps[*], but ask the question: "OK, so with all this renewable capacity online, how much is fossil use decreasing?" and it all suddenly goes quiet.

    If you can't rely on it - and you can't - then you need to keep the steam plants hot, all the time. Fossil. Use. Doesn't. Drop.

    Congratulations, hippies: we're burning fossil fuels in order to power the creation of energy sources that will never replace fossil (and nuke) plants.

    [*] Note the omission of geothermal, tide, wave and (to a lesser extent) solar thermal, which are a smidge more reliable or at least predictable. But wind and PV are a fucking crock, pardon my Brussels.

    1. DaWolf

      simple isn't true

      having extra electricity flowing into the grid does indeed mean you can turn off some plants, and run others at lower capacity factors - which means less gas/coal is used, a LOT less in fact.

      I do wonder, when I read so many comments from people that obviously don't understand the science - why don't you educate yourselves, THEN post?

      1. lglethal Silver badge

        Sorry it is true...

        If you add extra capacity on the line but not at a consistent rate (like wind power) you have to keep the other plants on in case you suddenly lose your wind power. Additionally, it takes about 2 days to turn off and restart a coal or gas plant so unless you can guarantee 2 days of continual supplies of wind then you cant turn that plant off.

        The perfect example of this is Earth Day in Australia. For 1 hour of the day as a minimum, everyone turns off all power, air con, etc to cut their energy use. (Its a guesture nothing more!) The irony is that, its the Hydroelectric schemes which are shut down for the hour because hydro can be turned on and off again quickly. You cant turn off the coal/gas plants like that...

        So you should check the facts before accusing someone else of not being educated...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          No, you should check the facts.

          Go and read about the hierarchy of generation capacity and responsiveness There's already a summary in this thread. Read about "spinning reserve" - how you run a station in such a way that it uses relatively little fuel but can come up to full capacity quite quickly just by turning a few (electronic) knobs.

          "If you add extra capacity on the line but not at a consistent rate (like wind power) you have to keep the other plants on in case you suddenly lose your wind power. "

          No you don't. Proper use of the hierarchy manages that.

          "it takes about 2 days to turn off and restart a coal or gas plant so unless you can guarantee 2 days of continual supplies of wind then you cant turn that plant off."

          You're utterly clueless aren't you.

          1. Dale Richards

            Re: No, you should check the facts

            "You're utterly clueless aren't you."

            Regardless of whether or not the OP is "utterly clueless", could you be more specific on what's actually wrong with his claim? I'm not taking sides here - I'm just interested.

            1. DaWolf

              @Dale Richards

              "Regardless of whether or not the OP is "utterly clueless", could you be more specific on what's actually wrong with his claim? I'm not taking sides here - I'm just interested."

              It doesn't take a couple of days to turn on a coal fired power plant - it's generally given as taking about 3 hours to go from zero to full capacity (sorry, I haven't got a link to hand, but I have studied this in depth). Or to put it more simply - if it takes a couple of days to turn coal on and off, how come we already turn coal on anf off every single day as our consumption varies from ~25GW to ~50GW in each day?

              Wind varies too, of course, but you can predict wind pretty accurately if you're only looking 3 hours away, so you already know if those plants need to come on. You could happily run a full wind/coal mix with no other energy inputs. In addition, you don't run coal fired power stations at capacity anyway (have a look at the variance in the uk's power consumption if you want more info).

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    A reminder that "gas" can be renewable

    And at present the biggest aerobic digester is in Germany. The technology is scalable, controllable and very well understood. In the UK there are provisions to sell gas (IE Methane) into the national grid in the same way electricity is sold (if the provisions are *activated* in the relevant legislation).

    Getting in to bed with Dobby Putin is likely to end in tears.

  6. carup008

    Nuclear anyone?

    We need to learn from the french experience...wheather we like it or not, the only short term reasonable alternative to fossil fuel, as a reliable supply of energy, is nuclear fission.

    1. AlanP

      Nuclear - not so reliable

      During the last hot dry summer I can remember it was reported that France had serious electricity supply problems because their nuclear power stations had to be taken offline because there was insufficient cooling water in their rivers.

      Perhaps not such a reliable supply!

      1. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge


        It was the water temp exiting the cooling systems that was the problem

        Take river water at 35C, add 10C of heat and its too hot for the fish

        if the river temp is 20C and you add the 10C of heat and the fish love it.

        More seriously

        If our alledged governments were in anyway at all serious about reducing CO2 emissions from power stations you could be sure that there would be new nuclear stations going up.

        But its a handy tax raising dodge along with something to hit Mr and Mrs guilty middle class voters with when it comes to elections.

        Flames... because thats where 70% of us end up anyway .. as more bloody CO2 emissions

      2. Alexander 3

        Overheating plants?

        This problem affects all power plants that work by heating water - including all types of fossil fuel sites - not just nuclear.

      3. AndyC

        Hmm, geography not your strong point?

        In the UK all of our nuclear plants are located by the sea or in tidal estuaries, not on rivers. Very reliable, unless global warming dries out the seas of course...

  7. Andrew Bush

    Coal not Gas

    This is a disgusting waste of a non-renewable, yet easily transportable energy source. I'd rather they built coal fired power stations as temporary power sources until more nuclear installations can be commissioned and renewables further exploited where practical.

    We have a heavy investment in transport infrastructure to supply gas direct to homes where it can be used for heating at up to 92% efficiency. To burn gas and turn it into electricity and then have it arrive at homes with less than 60% efficiency is a criminal waste of energy.

    We should be burning coal to generate electricity in the short term, it's bugger all use for anything else!

    1. Alexander 3


      That's the idea behind Combined Heat and Power stations. Either centralised or not, the principle is "Heat fluid. Generate as much power as you can off of it. Then pump the waste into houses/factories as a heat/pressure source". Saves energy twice, as then those secondary sources don't need to run gas-burning boilers..

    2. Nick Carter

      Re: Andrew Bush - Coal not Gas

      You say that gas can be used for heating in the home "at up to 92% efficiency". This may be true for a minority of homes that have upgraded their boilers (perhaps using the 'boiler scrappage' scheme), but most gas heating is appallingly inefficient. Also there's the cost of gas leaks to fix, Carbon Monoxide poisoning due to bad installations, and the high cost of regular gas appliance servicing.

      It would clearly be more efficient to convert all domestic heating (gas and oil) to electric with an updated method of off-peak storage (like storage heaters but with something more advanced like a central buried molten salt heat store where a home has got a ground floor).

      Combined with smart grid technology we'd be ready for an increased proportion of renewable generated electricity (eg. Desertec project).

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Waiting For Vlad P. turn off the Gaz.

    Then we can dust off the blueprints and tell the greenies to shut up:

  9. copsewood

    All electricity is subsidised

    Hydroelectricity was subsidised by the families displaced from flooded land losing homes and communities. Nuclear was subsidised by the generators not having to insure against making a whole region radioactive e.g. as with Chernobyl, and by offloading the cost of long-term waste management. Oil, coal and gas is subsidised by generators not having to pay the C02 pollution cost. That's your and my house insurance against extreme weather going up because the actuaries reckon that extreme weather is becoming more frequent, or if you've been flooded recently, they remove flooding cover from the policy and the risk and cost is then yours. Yes it's true, governments in their relatively recent wisdom have imposed a renewables obligation on the electricity supply industry because the first 2% of wind power will cost more per KWh generated than when wind is providing 20-30% of UK electricity demand, due to wind industry tooling up, R+D, training and other investment costs.

    Given that no energy sources come into being without the political will and the subsidy that follows what's new ?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Rewriting This For You

      Should read: "SOVIET Nuclear was subsidised by not spending money for a proper concrete safety hull".

      Check what happened at Harrisburg -essentially nothing because several meters of concrete contained the mess.

      I guess it was the same in Windscale, but that was in a frenzy to get NUKES NOW.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge


        "I guess it was the same in Windscale, but that was in a frenzy to get NUKES NOW."

        Windscale was *never* a nuclear power site. It's reactors were for testing or the production of Plutonium for the UK bomb programme.

        The Windscale fire in IIRC 1957 was a Pu production reactor producing *no* electricity but several MW of heat.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward


          With "NUKES" I meant nuclear weapons. Windscale was under extreme pressure to produce materials for bombs and that made them relax on security.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    "Steam plants hot all the time" is total utter rubbish but lives on...

    "If you can't rely on it - and you can't - then you need to keep the steam plants hot, all the time"

    Utter uttter utter rubbish, usually circulated by anti-renewable bigots. Please don't repost this rubbish.

    In any decent Grid installation, a hierarchy of backup capacity is available to cover planned and unplanned outages. Pumped storage can go from zero to a few hundred MW per installation in seconds. CCGT (combined cycle gas turbines) are a bit slower on the uptake but not much, and the UK has a *lot* of those courtesy of the insane post-privatisation "dash for gas". Beyond those, you can have multi-GW-rated fossil-fueled steam stations which are close to readiness but not actually generating; they use a lot less fuel than when operating in spinning standby than when actively supplying the Grid. If you need more capacity at short notice than you can deliver, you tell your big customers on "interruptible" contracts that they are going to have to switch to their backup supplies for a few hours while a cold fossil-fired station warms up. Etc.

    Get yourself a frigging clue, man.

    You need some of all of these whether your Grid is mostly powered by renewables or mostly powered by classical fuels or by nukes. There's just as much chance of an unexpected loss of capacity from a nuke as their is of unexpected loss of capacity from a fossil powered station, arguably more actually because of the safety first principles.

    So, in summary, rubbish.

    "We should be burning coal to generate electricity in the short term, it's bugger all use for anything else!"

    There's a lot to be said for that, especially when you consider how much gas we've wasted on electricity generation, gas which now can't be used for other applications where only gas made sense. Thanks Maggie.

    1. Gordon is not a Moron

      Well look at the upside

      "Utter uttter utter rubbish, usually circulated by anti-renewable bigots. Please don't repost this rubbish."

      At least they are recyling thier rubbish and not producing any new rubbish.

      Mines the one made from hemp.

  11. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Coal has many uses.

    It's quite a good chemical feedstock (and was used as such for a long time before oil came along).

    It has one characteristic which UK governments find uniquely hostile to handling.


  12. Mips
    Jobs Halo

    Simple solutions

    Carbon fuel is too easy to chose because it is too cheap. "Political will" should comprise a tax regime that penalises carbon based fuels and I do mean all fuel not just transport. This will change the face of Britain. Suddenly renewable energy does not need any kind of support and people will buy the output because it is cheaper, transport will become electric, heating will be renewable.

    The tax take at a rate of 50p per kg would produce about £100bn, and, lets see, we could eliminate VAT, council tax, income tax and more - take your choice.

    One downside our goods would be more expensive, so carbon tax would have to be rebated on exports and imports would have to pay carbon tax. The rules would be complex but could be made to work. if you want to know more just ask.

  13. Gary Moran

    NO, YOU should check the facts.

    Yes intermittent non-dispatchable renewable sources (wind, PV) can generate electrical energy that is consumed by the grid; but gas turbine plants that shadow this capacity (typically open cycle) run less efficiently. So the amount of useful capacity supplied is open to question, if positive it is marginal. Capacity credit (the capacity you can statistically rely on) at significant penetration is just 10%. As such it is patently obvious that wind and PV are economically unsustainable, being inherently incapable of supplying utility scale power and hence parasitically dependent on conventional power plant.

    Translation: a huge pyramid style energy scam at the expense of energy consumers, that provides token assurance that we are doing our bit.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    UK powerplant stats

    You can see the actual generation type breakdown here...

  15. Anonymous Coward

    re "not taking sides, just interested"

    OK, thanks for being interested.

    This subject splits into two areas - the technology (which hopefully most folks can agree on, once the facts are clear) and the economics (which is closer to politics than economics and I'm not intending to address here, though copsewood at 6 Jul 21:01 shows yet another fallacy of "leaving it to the market").

    My earlier AC post at 7 July 00:20 (submitted the day before, at 17:31, after a bad day at the office) provides a somewhat polemic overview of the technology hierarchy of generating capacity and responsiveness, and technology solutions of minimising the short term disruption caused by a short term loss of generating capacity.

    For something more neutral try: or various other places that talk about concepts like "spinning reserve".

    When you start involving the economics of these things (such as the recently mentioned economics of leaving fossil fuel stations mostly doing nothing other than being ready at a few hours notice to provide backup for a sizeable medium term loss e.g. a few GW of wind or a few GW of nuclear going offline for a few days, or Mr Putin cutting our gas off for a few days) the picture is less clear, but what I will say is that reasonable diversity of supply is good, and having much of your supply in any one basket (be it wind or PV or a single nuclear design or whatever) is bad. Also not having sufficient stocks of fossil fuel input (specifically, gas) is bad.

    Cambridge professor David Mackay's work ("Sustainable Energy Without The Hot Air") is freely downloadable and a must-read for anyone who wants to know more:

    All of these things were known to industry engineers and observers twenty odd years or more ago. Sadly our politicians of all shades of blue have chosen to "leave it to the market", and consequently we are headed for a jolly interesting time before too long. Now we are very much in an "if I were you I wouldn't start from here" scenario.

  16. Anonymous Coward

    @ "parasitically dependent on conventional power plant." (Gary Moran)

    So what do you suggest as an alternative, Gary? And how should it be paid for?

    The UK's demand for the last 7 days has varied between a minimum of 22GW (Sunday->Monday) to a daytime peak (for much of the working day) of over 40GW. [1]

    Call the variation 20GW in round numbers. It's not hugely different in winter, iirc.

    So there's 20GW we need to be able to find from somewhere, 20GW that we can have ready by 8:00 and turn off a bit more slowly in the evening. Or some equivalent means of achieving the same result.

    At the weekends the demand only goes up to 34GW or so. Maybe we should have more efficient workplaces, rather than pointlessly faffing about with high efficiency compact fluorescents at home?

    20GW is a hell of a lot of compact fluorescents, smart meters and demand management. Too much to believe in, in fact.

    Surely nuclear doesn't fit, because it too has difficulty matching supply and demand?

    There are a variety of scientific and economic reasons why nuclear power stations can't sensibly follow the daily demand cycle. Some designs simply cannot physically start up and shut down quickly enough. Others can allegedly start up and shut down more quickly, but if they do, the extra thermo-mechanical stresses shorten the lifetime of critical components at the hot end, and the economics suddenly don't look too good. You could repair those components, but it would cost a bomb, so the economics don't look too good.

    Basically, nuclear has to stay online and generating for months, or it makes no sense (unless Joe Public is going to be asked to subsidise it even more).

    As John Smith and others said earlier, coal had a lot going for it, once upon a time.

    Flame: nothing personal, I just like fires. You can use them to make electrickery.


    1. Gary Moran

      So what do you suggest an an alternative

      An alternative to: economically unsustainable, non-dispatchable, intermittent, , unable to generate useful utility scale power, decrepit baseload performance, non-existent peaker plant utility, parasitic on existing thermal plant, need to be curtailed for generating surplus power in the middle of the night and get paid for the privilege, environmental tokens, avian execution devices?

  17. Mike VandeVelde

    battle of the misleading headlines


    "Renewables account for 62% of the new electricity generation capacity installed in the EU in 2009"

    El Reg:

    "far more energy will be generated by new gas-fired equipment"

    EU is factual, if misleading. El Reg statement is exaggerated opinion. How is 28 "far more" than 25.6??

    With a diversity of renewable power sources to draw on, you don't actually need a coal burning power plant running to cover each one. When it's too cloudy for solar then the wind is probably blowing, when the wind isn't blowing here it's probably blowing somewhere nearby. Add in geothermal and tidal, and you actually do start to displace some fossil fuel use. Use Hydro to cover some of the variability (open/close the gates as needed). Power some of the gas plants with biofuel (fermented compost, sewage, wood waste, etc). It's not *entirely* nonsensical, if you think about it.

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