A Big Lull

This post follows on from Wind Blowing Nowhere Again and the sequel A Big Gale. In Blowing Nowhere I presented wind data for Denmark, the UK and Germany for September and October 2015 which was a period marked by calm conditions across much of Northern Europe. I have since acquired wind data for France and Sweden  and this post adds these data to see if extending the geographic range makes any difference to smoothing the wind data.

I also present a chart that normalises the data from the 5 countries to a 10GW capacity per country datum. This downgrades the status of Germany and upgrades the status of Sweden and Denmark that have much smaller wind parks. The UK and France are little changed. This makes little difference to the interpretation with 4 significant lulls where the wind dropped close to zero across the whole of northern Europe. No matter how many turbines are installed or how many inter connectors are built, Europe will always be dependent upon 100% backup from fossil fuels on a regular basis.

Figure 1 Click chart for a very large version that will open in a new browser window. This chart updates the picture shown in Blowing Nowhere with the addition of Sweden and France. The French data are from Gridwatch, the Swedish data were sent to me by Bengt Randers. The numbers 1 to 9 marked periods in Denmark, the UK and Germany when the combined wind output fell below 5000 MW. It is plain to see that adding Sweden and France makes little difference to the big picture.

The power distribution shown in Figure 1 is quite heavily influenced by the size of the wind parks in the various countries, for example Denmark with 4.9 GW and Germany with 41.4 GW installed capacity. This means that Germany dominates the picture. There are a number of options to smooth out this variance in capacity and the simplest one is to imagine that each country had the same size of wind park. I have therefore normalised the outputs for each country to a nominal 10,000 MW using the installed capacities below:

  • Sweden 5,729
  • Denmark 4,890
  • UK 9,136
  • France 9,285
  • Germany 41,360

The normalised data for Sweden is simply (10,000/5,729)*measured. This has the effect of roughly doubling the weight of Denmark and Sweden and quartering the weight of Germany. This changes the detail quite significantly but the big picture hardly at all (Figure 2).

Figure 2 Synthetic, normalised wind data for Sweden, Denmark, UK, France and Germany. This shows what the picture would be if each country had 10 GW installed capacity. The four major regional lulls are numbered.

Normalisation not only downgrades Germany but shows that the wind output for this period was quite pathetic. Similarly so for the UK which matches my perception of a long quiescent period. In contrast, Denmark and Sweden now contribute the lion’s share and were presumably relatively more windy. There are four deep regional lulls (numbered) where the combined output of 50 GW nominal capacity fell well below 5 GW. The lowest combined output was on 3rd October at 2074 MW (4.2% capacity) and the longest calm spell was 18, 19 and 20th of October.

To wrap this up, the weather in Europe has since become more stormy with significant fuss surrounding Abigail, the first named storm. I thought it would be interesting to run a UK chart from 1 September through to present to see the difference between quiescent and stormy weather (Figure 3).

Figure 3 UK metered wind output to 13 November 2015. The marks are at 24 hour intervals. The two month period with high pressure in charge has now given way to more stormy conditions.

On Thursday evening at about 7 o’clock I grabbed a couple of snap shots from Gridwatch and Clive Best. Gridwatch’s metered wind came in at 6.24 GW and it turns out that was the peak of wind over the UK land mass. That is equivalent to  68% load. The chart shows there was nothing exceptional about Abigail, much of the wind was offshore and in NW Scotland. Perhaps the next storm could be called Teacup 😉 A look at constraint payments shows that stormy weather cost UK electricity consumers £6.5 million in the period 8th to 13th November.

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75 Responses to A Big Lull

  1. Willem Post says:


    Thank you for this post.

    Would it be possible to add Spain and Portugal?

    How frequently do such low wind energy production periods occur and how long do they last, and do they occur throughout the year or are they bunched, and do they happen year after year?

    That answer should convince even the most diehard believer/touter of the mantra “the wind blows somewhere”.

    BTW, “It is plane to see that adding Sweden and France makes little difference to the big picture”.

    It should be PLAIN to see.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      At some point the data for Spain and Ireland may become available. But I’d draw attention to this post by Roger


      Abundant data already exists to show that on European scale, lulls are common and continent wide. We are working on summarising all the Gridwatch data and will be able to comment on frequency of low wind in UK at that time.

      • Willem Post says:


        We need to think BIG.

        What if that area of Europe decided to get 50% of ALL of its energy, not just electrical energy, from wind.

        We would need to determine the area on which wind turbines could be placed, onshore and offshore, and determine the harvestable energy for that area.

        The current wind turbine set up would just be tiny samples of what is required, but these samples could be used as a basis for planning.

        How much extra capacity and storage would be needed for peaking, filling-in and balancing?

        CSP with at least 10 h of storage in the Sahara and an HVDC overlay grid covering the entire area would be required (the offshore energy systems require energy even when they are down)

        How much would it cost? How many years to implement?

        A recent Jacobson study proposes 50% wind, 45% solar and 5% tide, wave, geothermal, hydro for ALL of US energy by 2050; no bio, no FF, no nuclear!!!

        My cost estimate for the US is about $23.5 TRILLION. I also offer 2 alternatives WITH nuclear, WITH bio, and they cost $6.3 and $4.1 TRILLION, respectively.

        Here is my article on that proposal. Be patient with the TEC site. It is slow and has software problems. I could send it by email.


        • Willem Post says:

          Addition to above comment:

          The CSP is required to provide energy at all times during the year when local energy generation and storage are insufficient to meet demand.

        • Willem Post says:

          The above should read: My cost estimate of the Jacobson Plan for the US……

          My alternatives to the Jacobson Plan, described in my article, are much less costly.

  2. Olav says:

    Wind lulls happens at the same time. I do not believe so… I do not now exactly how graphs are made but a shorter time frame over wind speed in Ireland , Scotland, Whales, East UK, Dogger Bank, West Denmark and Sweden made at same UTC time will show the time shift in wind speed.
    During a “long” lull then it is true that wind is low all over the area. But I think we should investigate more what happens when a “lull” starts and ends….
    A front coming in from the Atlantic reaches Ireland and NW Scotland first. High wind production in Ireland and interconnector to UK can be used to offload the surplus. Then the front reaches England and as wind slows down in Ireland is the flow in interconnector going the other way. Then the front has passed UK and a similar possibility is there between UK and Denmark.
    Thousands of windmills all over the place collect wind data so prediction on what to expect is being more and more accurate. It is therefore possible to “timely” start and stop fossil fuel plants and they are not just backup.. They can be used on a scheduled basis which lessen the infectivity in running fossil fuel plants in a such way. Aconservative planning in doing so can be used so an “early” or “slow” start can offload its surplus towards interconnectors which is connected to reservoirs.
    I think the “time shift” when “lull” start and ends is a very good possibility to make interconnectors viable and useful. Off cause we need fossil fuel plants as a backup even as much 90% (Interconnectors to reservoirs (Norway and Iceland) may make 90% or less enough).

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Dear Olav, you seem to have a serious problem understanding and coming to terms with facts. This is interesting from the perspective of understanding why certain myths just won’t die. All you had to do at the time was to look at a pressure chart for Europe and observe no isobars anywhere. There are data for thousands of windmills in my charts. UK data is every 5 minutes, French data every 15 minutes, Danish data every 30 (from memory). I have averaged all to 60 minute resolution. Undoing the averaging will make the actual depth of the lulls deeper.

    • Willem Post says:


      In the future, there will be NO, NAD FF plants!!!!

      • Willem Post says:


      • Günter Weber says:


        there are studies with renewables covering 80% of German electricity production which still have a fleet of conventional power plants covering nearly peak demand.
        There is no realistic way to get rid of FF plants (in the average industrial country), but there a a lot of ways to minimize their utilization (running hours).

        • robertok06 says:

          @gunter weber

          “There is no realistic way to get rid of FF plants (in the average industrial country)”

          … ???… and I’ve always thought that France was an industrial country!!!… 🙂

          “but there a a lot of ways to minimize their utilization (running hours)”

          I concur with this, and a REAL example, not a fictitious “study” by some environmental organization, is given here:


          At the time I write this the consumption is 58855 MW, and the technology with the “n” generates 49059 MW (83.4%), while fossil-fuelled power stations contribute with 258 (oil), 1534 (coal), and 6102 (gas) MW respectively (their sum is 7894 MW, or 13.4%), with GHG emissions of… 71 gCO2/kWhe… i.e. better than what fantasyland Germany wishes to do in 2040… or is it 2050?… depends which “study” you look at.


          • Willem Post says:

            Thank you for the French site. I added it to my US Energy Future article

          • Günter Weber says:


            the French nuclear fleet is a relict from a different time.

            It is of course possible to build a few dozens of nuclear power plants in the ‘average industrial country’. Likewise it is possible to build a huge 20 GW/5 TWh hydro storage plant (earth movement compareable to open pit coal mining).

            But is it realistic? Now? In 10 years?

            I do not think so.

          • robertok06 says:

            @gunter weber

            the French nuclear fleet is a relict from a different time.”

            1) Anybody is entitled to OPINIONS, but opinions which go against REALITY should be called DREAMS.

            2) A “relic” which beats hands down anyday, and will keep on doing it for the next 20 years the “new” reminds me the famous phrase of Richard Feynman on technology…

            “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.”

            … and this blog is one of the best places to see the gunters of the world trying to fool Mother Nature.

            3) Try harder, with more RATIONAL, logic, and most of all verifiable AND quantifiable arguments, please.

          • gweberbv says:


            I think we had this discussion already. But let me make one point: If you expect the French nuclear fleet (or the majority of it) to last ONLY for 20 more years, then France is in big, big trouble.

          • Willem Post says:


            Regarding nuclear, I am of the same opinion.

            New nuclear plants, just as new cars, new planes, new computers, etc., are soooooo much better designed, there is no comparison with 30 to 40 year old plants.

            The Jacobson study analyzed for the US to get ALL of its energy from wind 50%, solar 45%, and wave, tide, hydro, geothermal 5%; no FF, no nuclear, no bio. That would require 6.5 million MW of generating systems, a greatly expanded grid, and about $23.5 TRILLION.

            My alternative No. 1 would have less wind and solar, continue existing bio, 55% nuclear, and wave, tide, hydro, geothermal 5%. That would require about 1.6 million MW of generating systems, a moderately expanded grid, and about $6.3 TRILLION.

            My alternative No. 2 would have less wind and solar, continue existing bio, 68% nuclear, and wave, tide, hydro, geothermal 5%. That would require about 0.95 million MW of generating systems, a moderately expanded grid, and about $4.2 TRILLION.


          • robertok06 says:


            “If you expect the French nuclear fleet (or the majority of it) to last ONLY for 20 more years, then France is in big, big trouble.”

            That’s EXACTLYmy point!… I am in trouble because the Segolene Royales of France, the non-habens who have zero knowledge of science and technology, have decided that wind and PV will replace the hyper-efficient nukes… while everybody who got past “Introductory Physics 1” in pre-college knows that that is an impossible task for intermittent sources.
            France will parrot Germany’s Energiewende, and the results will be only marginally better, since the former has more wind and more sun of the latter… not to mention the Alps, Pirenees, and the Massif Central for pumped hydro storage… and yet not enough.

            And, please, let’s not speak about the costs!… my wallet is already acking…

          • gweberbv says:


            at some point the existing French nuclear fleet has to be replaced by something. Because it will not work forever. Replacing it 1 to 1 by new nuclear plants seems unrealistic based on the costs of NPP being build in Europe right now (better to say: during the last decade(s) ). Even refurbishing of the existing plants is very expensive.

            If you take the Hinkley project as a reference, then renewables plus conventional backup are not significantly more expensive than nuclear power. But renewables plus conventional backup are much more predictable with respect to prices. What is the price to refurbish a nuclear power plant in 20 years from now? And what will be the price to exchange a few solar cells? For the latter I can tell you: What you have to pay today minus maybe 30%. But for the former?

        • Euan Mearns says:

          This is a technically honest position to hold that I don’t see very often. But it leaves us with the problem of Electricity companies losing money. The only way they can make money is via public subsidies to both renewables and FF reserve capacity.

          There are reports that 1,000,000 German households have been disconnected from the grid over past 3 years. Do you think that is a price worth paying? And if so, what are the benefits that make this social cost worth while?


          • olav says:

            This link from nordic and baltic grids.

            Norway, Sweden & Denmark is well connected by interconnectors utilizing hydro and wind and some nuclear.. Finland has little hydro and wind beeing more nuclear and fossil dependent. Finland has some interconnectors towards Sweden and Estland has interconnector to Finland. Latvia and Litauen less so using fossil fuels and Nuclear and that is reflected in steady high price..
            I have been following this link almost dayly and prices are lowest in Scandinavia. Finland and Estland is most of time 30..50% more expansive, while Latvia and Litauen is 100% more expansive all the time.
            Having acess to interconnectors removes the monopoly of fossil & nuclear plant which is god for Industry who may pay little taxes on top of the base price. Fossil fuel plants in Denmark has a difficult time in this scenario. It is winter time now so they limit electric production to what the needed heat delivery gives as electric output.
            I think UK has a price level more like Litauen.

            Interconnectors can not fix wide lulls but fussil fuel plants can be used more efficiently and with less “hot standby” mode. Less fuel is burnt so we may have the benefits of fossil fuel plants for some more decades.delaying Wilhelms prediction of Nada fossil fuel plants further out. As times goes on we will be more and more clever with storage solutions while more and more wind and solar comes online. Running hours of fossil fuel plants will be on a downward trend. Yes we will need them as a backup and we must be willing to pay for that serwice. it will cost more than nuclear. But unless breeders becomes viable they will hit a Nada situation too as the “once through uranium fuel cycle” is resource limited.

          • gweberbv says:


            compared to the investment timescales of utilities the Energiewende was a very fast and unprecedented development. And to make things worse the ramp up of renewables came together with a longlasting economic crisis (in Europe) that decreases electricity demand. I agree that most electricity companies are in serious trouble. However, I do not believe that it 20 years from now it makes any difference if RWE or EON have gone bankrupt or not. Investors are losing money, workers are losing jobs. But that is happening day in/day out. (German government is less relaxed than me and recently made a present of around 2 billion euros to the operators of some old lignite-fired plants.)
            And compared to the very strange price war on the oil market, the struggles of some electricity producers in Europe are a very minor issue.

            With regard to the shut off of households, I do not think that this is directly related to the increase in electricity prices.
            In fact the average German electricity bill seems to be as high/low as for an US-based household: http://energytransition.de/files/2015/05/household-power-bills-germany-us.png

            And in the long run, I expect renewables to become relatively cheap. Because most of the installations (or parts of it) will last much longer than 20 years. Most critics tend to ignore the fact, the the high subsidies for renewables are necessary for the installation, but not to cover the running costs.
            However, only time will tell if I am right or wrong in this expectation.

          • Euan Mearns says:

            And to make things worse the ramp up of renewables came together with a longlasting economic crisis (in Europe) that decreases electricity demand.

            Gunter, do you think it possible that the miss allocation of hundreds of billions of €, higher electricity prices, lower reliability, might have contributed to economic malaise?

            I agree that most electricity companies are in serious trouble. However, I do not believe that it 20 years from now it makes any difference if RWE or EON have gone bankrupt or not.

            What are you going to use instead?

            With regard to the shut off of households, I do not think that this is directly related to the increase in electricity prices.

            What is it due to then?

            And in the long run, I expect renewables to become relatively cheap. Because most of the installations (or parts of it) will last much longer than 20 years. Most critics tend to ignore the fact, the the high subsidies for renewables are necessary for the installation, but not to cover the running costs.

            This is a fundamental economic / technical point. But how will renewables fare in a 5% base rate environment with all that up front capital cost, and are you factoring in the grid cost multiples and the balancing cost multiples in claiming they are cheap?

          • gweberbv says:


            let me address your points:

            i) I am 100% sure, that the cost of energy has nothing to do with the European economy crises (if it was due to the price of energy, economies all around the world should be skyrocheting at the moment). You have to blame another German-lead project: the Euro

            ii) Without EON, RWE, whatever someone else will run the plants that are still necessary. And what is necessary is decided by regulators and grid operators. (Side remark: The strong reduction in solar cell prices was partly du to fact that many producers went bankrupt and thus finally got rid of most of the interests payments for their machinery.)

            iii) Households in financial troubles have problems to pay their bills. Be it the mobile phone, the rent or electricity. And in particular the rents (most Germans do not own real estate, so they have to rent it) have risen tremendously throughout Germany in the last years. This puts a lot of households under immense financial pressure (and already lead to some protests).

            iv) I doubt that we will ever see again base rates of 5% (unless a complete restart of the global financial system takes place). See Japan.
            The costs of intermettancy will not go away, of course. But I think it is realistic to assume running costs plus replacement of PV and wind in the order of 5 Eurocents per kWh (todays prices) plus maybe another 5 Eurocents per kWh to compensate for the intermettancy. Plus grid, taxes and everything else. So, German aluminum smelters (and compareable industries) will have to pay 2 to 3 times more than today (in a strongly distorted market due to huge overcapacity) and probably a good portion of them will move to Iceland or whereever. But for 95% of German industry the price will be manageable. And all other customers will not even notice that something has changed.
            (Assuming a scenario where 60% to 80% of German electricity production comes from renewables. If we go for 100%, it will become much, much more expensive.)

          • robertok06 says:


            “But unless breeders becomes viable they will hit a Nada situation too as the “once through uranium fuel cycle” is resource limited.”

            Says who? Where is the limit coming from? There are hundreds of millions of tons of uranium dissolved in the oceans’ waters, no way to use them all in the short time that’s, statistically speaking, left to mankind as we know it to run the planet.

  3. Flocard says:


    In the comments of your previous text I noted a remark by David Mackay (and your answer) about the gain in smoothing achieved by means of the addition of non correlated (correlation coefficient 0, rather than -1 for anticorrelataed) production.

    For those of your readership who can read French I give the address of a work I made which addresses specifically (and exclusively) this question by means of randomly drawing samples based on a limited number uncorrelated wind distributions and adding the results.


    I assumed that typically one could not imagine decorrelation over distances smaller than 500 km so that at best there would at most be seven or eight uncorrelated 25 10^4 km2 zones over Europe and its seas (this parameter can be chosen at will).

    The 7-8 distributions from which to draw were selected at random among those which span the observed extremes of wind load factor distributions from offshore to onshore for small-size regions (Denmark was selected).

    Details on the random technique are given in the appendix (including stability of the result with respect to sampling). They allow anyone to redo the calculation on a spreadsheet. The model could be easily “improved” by allowing for some time correlation in the sampling.

    The final result of this preliminary study is that by drawing random numbers one can fairly well reproduce the observed cumulated european distribution (including Spain) expect for its tails.

    When there is no wind or a very strong wing the probabbility of observing (from the grid data) a very small or vey large european cumulated wind always exceeds that which would have been predicted by a random process. assuming a limited number of completely decorrelated wind production zones. In other terms,

    it is for these extreme situations that the amount of decorrelation is minimal over Europe.


    • Euan Mearns says:

      Hubert, thanks for the link. Your Figure 5 is following the same methodology I posted in response to MacKay. Not sure if you planted the idea in my head subliminally or whether I had the idea myself. You go on to do what I had in mind and that was to construct Power Spectra for small regions and then combine them. I didn’t have time to follow through and since you have already done this will not do so now.

      It is a closed case that geographic spread does not usefully smooth wind at a European scale. I produced a chart over 5 years ago that showed this – sent it to Hugh. You have flogged the horse to death, Roger has done so and I have just done so again. And yet there’s folks who still want to “believe”.

      It doesn’t really matter much what goes on in the middle since it is the wind “nowhere” and wind “everywhere” events that matter. Let us imagine that it was always windy in Turkey when it was calm in Europe. To back up the UK from Turkey would require 30 GW + of HVDC cables that went all the way from the UK to Turkey. The same would apply to all European countries and you end up with 200 GW of HVDC cables and then you need 500 GW of surplus wind turbines in Turkey to back up the 200 GW demand. Its stark raving bonkers to believe in such a system. And add to that Turkey cannot be relied on so we need a similar set of cables to Russia and yet another set to Algeria.

      The alternative is to build 3 Gorges Dam size pumped hydro in Scotland and have 100 GW of cables crossing the N Sea. Or perhaps do both 😉

    • Hubert:

      This graph might be of interest. It plots the correlation coefficient between individual pairings of nine Western European countries (Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Germany, Spain and the UK, total 36 pairs) against distance between the countries measured from midpoint to midpoint using PF Bach’s hourly data for 2013:

      It shows that wind generation in Western Europe remains positively correlated out to a distance of somewhere around ~4,000km, although there aren’t enough points to say exactly how far (the rightmost point is Spain and Finland).

      • Günter Weber says:

        Dear Roger,

        I would love to see a refined analysis of the correlation: When do you really care for the correlation? When you have too much wind or you to have not enough wind. Then you either want to export windpower or you want to import it. And exactly in this situation, a significant positive correlation hurts you.

        So, I propose to restrict the data to cases, where a given country is producing more than 150% or less than 50% of its average wind production.
        I expect that the positive correlation will be even stronger with this condition.

      • Roger

        There was a paper done some time ago with a lot of useful data. This suggested that to get two sites in the UK that were uncorrelated 90% of the time, they had to be 600-800km apart. Essentially that meant the wind fleet could never support itself.


        • Roger Andrews says:

          Donough: Figure 5 of your link shows a graph similar to mine but interprets it as follows:

          The variability of wind is not a fixed property, as different geographic locations will experience different wind conditions at any given time. This relationship is important for reducing the overall variability of the wind power supply; just as the profile of total electricity demand is far smoother than the demand profile of any one household or office, combining the output from different wind power developments acts to smooth the aggregate profile of wind electricity production. The key to this smoothing effect is that the correlation between wind power patterns at different sites decreases with increasing distance between the sites. No two wind sites will experience identical patterns of wind speed over the long term, and this difference in wind characteristics can be exploited to reduce the overall level of variability from a diversified portfolio of wind-generating sites.

          This is nonsense. It’s no wonder people are confused.

  4. Joe Public says:

    Thanks for the further insight.

    Today’s post ended with by far the most significant piece of information:
    ” A look at constraint payments shows that stormy weather cost UK electricity consumers £6.5 million in the period 8th to 13th November.”

  5. cafuccio says:

    Thank you for this (ongoing) study!
    I would also recommand a glimpse to Australia with interesting measures not mentioned here:

  6. clivebest says:


    I think the reason why UK metered wind output never exceeds about 6GW is because the grid cannot handle more power than that. One major bottleneck are the transmission lines from Scotland to England. That is why constraint payments rise with wind velocity.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Clive, does that mean that constrained wind is not metered? I know they are building new inter connectors Scotland-England. Someone could perhaps remind us what the interconnection is at present and what is being built?

      • PhilH says:

        I think there are currently 2 AC links overland across the border, near the east & west coasts, but I still can’t find their capacity.

        The 2.2GW HVDC Western Link undersea between Hunterston & Deeside is under construction and due for completion by the end of 2016. Together with the uprated Beauly-Denny line (completion imminent) connecting Morayshire and points north to the other end of the Forth-Clyde region, I’m assuming that there’ll then be no constrained generation for at least a few years.

        A 2GW HVDC Eastern Link undersea between Peterhead and Northumberland for the early 2020s has also been mooted. Peterhead is also set to be the UK terminus of the HVDC link with Norway in a similar timescale.

      • clivebest says:

        That’s correct constrained wind is not metered, because they are switched out of the grid. This is good news for them because the constraint payments assume the load factor would have been 100% !

        • michael hart says:

          So can a broken windmill receive payments for electricity it couldn’t generate because its “output” is integrated into a larger cluster?

  7. michael hamilton says:

    This, like most of your work, is thorough and interesting, thank you for that.

    Taking a step back, it’s clear that wind power is not going away for at least 20-30 years and on balance, you’d expect the share of power from wind to increase.

    Solutions really range from the retention older power stations on standby to fill the gaps, storage and demand side management (the UK used 40mw of this a couple of weeks ago I believe). In reality it must be a combination of these.

    Connecting the wind resources to Nordic reservoirs could perhaps deliver the only real storage option?

    Wind is a valuable resource that we should exploit, but I share your concerns on it’s current implementation.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      I agree that we have to accept that wind is here to stay for a few decades at least. There are a lot of ideas like linking to Norway that appeal to the public because it is romantic and it appeals to the grid operators because they get to spend billions of public money (guaranteed via subsidies). But is it really in the best interest of the public? Where does the best interests of the public lie?

      I believe the UK should run on nuclear like France. But I do not agree with or approve of the Hinkley deal.

      • gweberbv says:


        without the Hinkley Point project one of the very few suppliers of nuclear reactors might drop out of the market.

      • michael hamilton says:

        Well it apparently won’t be running on coal !

        I am a strong believer that a better integrated energy grid in Europe produces significant overall efficiencies (no longer need 28* reserve margins). If connecting Norway to North Sea wind can help to smooth demand, then I would argue it is absolutely in the public interest.

        For Northern latitude countries, Thermal / Nuclear will always be required in my view, but Hinckley point is not the answer. Already far too expensive, and everyone already knows it will arrive late and over budget.

  8. robertok06 says:

    Hello everybody:

    my two cents on the issue of availability and usefulness of large amounts of intermittent renewables, applied to a large industrialized country, Italy… which has one of the biggest potentials for low-cost pumped hydro, by the way.

    This link points at Italy’s TSO, “Terna”, which keeps tally of electricity production and consumption in Italy:


    “Rapporto mensile” stands for “Monthly report”… so if you click on the most recent one, published yesterday, you get to this:


    Page 5 and 6 summarize the consumption/production/import-export of the month of October and from Jan 1st to Oct 3&st, respectively. I guess there’s no need to translate the headers, should be clear enough even to non italian speakers, right?… if needed I can translate.

    Page 12 shows the contribution of the different sources during the 24h of the day which had the peak power demand of the month… Oct 28th at 6:00 pm… 48.2 GW.
    Please notice that even with close to 20 GWp of PV, in one of the sunniest countries of the continent, the SUM of geothermal (Italy is one of the major player in the world), wind and PV at the time of highest power demand was a ridiculous 3.2% (bar graph on page 13, right, compared to the equivalent day of October for 2014, when the peak power took place at noon).

    Skipping to page 17, you can see the balance of electricity exchange for Italy… the BIGGEST importer of electricity on the whole Continent!… please note the amount of electricity coming from CH and FR, mostly stuff made fissioning uranium… plus some pumped hydro coming from CH which is originally French nuclear pumped up in the reservoirs of the country of William Tell and sold the day after to Italy, which a fat margin…. isn’t that an irrational and illogical thing to do for a country, Italy, which has voted not one, but TWO referenda against nuclear, 1987 and 2011? 🙂

    So far in 2015 the renewables, including hydro, have produced a lot LESS than the corresponding period in 2014… mainly due to the -10.5 TWh deficit of hydro… nice sunny skies may be good for PV but mean little or no rain… how difficult is that to understand?… and yet if anybody tries to explain this to green energy aficionados it is a mission impossible kind of thing… no way.

    Page 30 summarizes the production from the different sources for 2015 and 2014… so you can see which source produced more and which less… take into account the both PV and wind have only marginally increased their installed capacity in the last 12-18 month. New wind farms are heavily opposed by local communities (NIMBY-ism is the 2nd national sport in Italy), and PV’s non-incentivized installations have come practically to a halt at the beginning of this year… only 215 MWp in the first 6 months of 2015 compared to the almost 9 GWp of 2011!…

    To conclude, I remind the reader that Italy’s incentivized PV programs (known as “Conto Energia”), amount to 6.7 BILLION Euros/year until 2034… and all this to generate about 23 TWh/year… which means an average cost of the kWh of 29 Eurocents…. ’nuff said. This contributes to Italy having the 3rd most expensive electricity of the continent, after the “green” powerhouses DK and DE, that is…



  9. garethbeer says:

    To all the ‘demand mgrs’ and the ‘cult of smart meter’ being the panacea to all our grid ills (read mismanagement) – how is shutting down production (in the economy) good for the economy???

    Might as well bring back the 3 day week and encourage a few strikes (between 4:30 – 6:30) to save power – and therefore the planet!

    Wind power – what a joke, what a cult!!!

  10. Davis Swan says:

    It is worth noting that if Germany were really and truly dependent on wind energy even assuming a 25% capacity factor they would have had to backfill 10 GW for 3 days from some storage system, presumably batteries. At $1/Watt-hour (which is significantly less than any utility scale storage deployed to date) that would cost $10 Billion x 72 hours = $720 Billion. Or, alternatively, maintain 100% redundant capacity in coal-fired and natural gas-fired plants that cannot be kept running economically because of wind. Reliability is important unless we are actually willing to do without electricity for 3 days or more.

  11. I have a somewhat different take on your numbers. Let us take a comparison I believe to be fair: 10 GW of nuclear power on the one hand, or alternatively, 30 GW of wind and 10 GW of interconnection. I believe that this comparison favours wind+interconnectors on capital cost. With 90% capacity factor for nuclear and 30% for wind and assuming the interconnectors are used solely for geographic smoothing of wind and to access Scandinavian storage hydro as a virtual battery (ie no net imports), that gives 9 GW average production in both cases.

    How about capacity?

    You earlier presented a graph plotting geographically smoothed wind power generation in GW against the hours of the year.

    I think this graph would have a national low of about 200 MW (the “wind blows nowhere” hour of your graph) and a national high of about 24 GW. Assuming for simplicity that everything above 10 GW has to be curtailed, that gives national curtailment of an eyeballed about 30% of wind power production.

    With geographic smoothing enabled by 10 GW of interconnection, the “wind blows nowhere” number should be I think about 2 GW, and the wind “wind blows everywhere” number around 18 GW.

    This is a lot better than it look at first sight when compared to the 10 GW of nuclear, as the curve for nuclear is not 100% of the time at 10 GW. Due to planned and unplanned outages the one hour “the wind blows nowhere” equivalent number for nuclear I think should be around 6 GW, and for around 80-90% of the hours the two lines (nuclear and geographically smoothed wind) will both be between 7 and 12 GW and within 1 or 2 GW of each other.

    Add in Scandinavian storage hydro and we can largely get rid of the curtailment that would be required in a purely national 30 GW wind case, reducing it by an eyeballed 9 tenths, to maybe less than 3% (ie insignificant), on the one hand, and have always more firm capacity available as with the 10 GW of nuclear.

    One additional remark:

    I presume here that the interconnectors are purely used for geographical smoothing of wind and to access storage hydro. And storage hydro is really a beautiful battery option. It is alread there, so the capital cost is nil, and because the wind energy is not really stored, but rather UK wind would be used to meet normal Norwegian demand and allow water to be saved in the storage hydro plants, the effective efficiency is close to 100%.

    However, the interconnectors could of course also be used not just for wind smoothing, but also for nuclear smoothing (100 GW of nuclear distributed across 10 countries would require something like 40 GW of backup without interconnection, but interconnected could deliver a firm 100 GW with just 20 GW of backup), or for demand smoothing, or for net imports.

    Overall, I would conclude that wind + interconnectors is a pretty attractive option for low carbon electricity.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      I’m afraid I just don’t understand your reasoning. It may be easier if you could explain the following. With ref to my Figures 1 and 2, where do Sweden, Denmark, UK, France and Germany get their electricity from during the 4 day period 18, 19, 20 and 21 October?

      • Let’s take two specific years, 2026 and 2050.

        For 20th October 2026, 19:00 (weather data based on 20th October, early evening peak, 2015)

        30 GW additional wind capacity in the UK

        Additional interconnectors:

        Iceland (1.5 GW), Spain (1.5 GW), Norway (3 GW), France (2 GW), Denmark (1 GW), Belgium (1 GW)

        These would be used as follows:

        With Spain at 19:00 on 20th October 2015 at 11 GW of wind power, I presume a doubling to 22 GW available in the year 2026.

        This would be exported to the UK via the direct interconnector and the additional French interconnectors (giving 3.5 GW of geographic smoothing wind energy imports, no net imports is the assumption, so these would have to be balanced by UK wind exports at another point of time).

        UK wind production should be an eyeballed 0.5 GW.

        The connectors to Norway and Iceland would be used to import 4.5 GW of storage hydro (with those two countries having added a few hydro turbines to their storage hydro plants in the mean time, but no significant hydro water storage volume).

        The Danish and Belgian connectors would not be used, so the total additional production compared to today would be 8 GW.

        This would reduce coal fired and to a lesser degree natural gas fired generation.

        For the rapid nuclear expansion alternative scenario I would also assume 8 GW. Germany with over 10 GW of nuclear was on 20th October 2015 at 19:00 only generating 8 GW from nuclear.

        For 2050 my crystal ball is hazier, but assume the following: 170 GW wind, 70 GW PV, 20 GW gas engines, 20 GW and 5 TWH of storage (batteries, pumped storage), 5 GW of advanced flexible nuclear.

        At 19:00 on 20th October the production picture would be:
        2 GW of domestic wind
        15 GW of wind imports
        15 GW of storage hydro imports
        5 GW of nuclear

        For a strong storm at 3:00 hours I would presume something like the following for the year 2050:

        135 GW of wind
        0 GW of nuclear
        50 GW of interconnector exports
        5 GW of outright curtailment
        30 GW of power to heat (resistance heating of water or bricks, with the heat being stored cheaply and resistance heating being so cheap that 100 or 200 operating hours would be enough for commercial viability given cheap power)
        20 GW going into storage

        For Denmark or Sweden I do not expect huge changes by 2026. At the moment, in Denmark demand would be around 4.5 GW, and that would be met on non windy days by 2 GW domestic thermal and 2.5 GW hydro imports.

        For Germany I expect the following changes by 2026 for 20th October, 19:00:

        Nuclear down by 8 GW
        Lignite down by 4.5 GW

        To balance this:
        Import an extra 3 GW of storage hydro from Norway and an extra 2 GW of Alpine storage hydro, also import 3 GW of Spanish wind
        2 GW of extra pumped storage (was 4 GW at 19:00 on 20th October 2015)
        an extra 2 GW from flexibilised biogas (gas engines, they run continuously now due, by 2026 I expect some biogas to be stored in windy or sunny periods and extra gas engine capacity to be available during wind lulls).
        0.5 GW of actual wind output from 30 GW more wind capacity

        • A C Osborn says:

          You seem to have a very optimistic view of the Future of Wind Energy. Most countries are starting to realise that it is not an option for base load production.
          Add to that the fact that countries like Spain are in Financial difficulties and yet you think that they will add to their current wind generation, when it is much more likely that they will not ven bother maintain what they currently have.

        • robertok06 says:


          “Germany with over 10 GW of nuclear was on 20th October 2015 at 19:00 only generating 8 GW from nuclear.”

          “Only” 8 GW?

          Infinitely better than the 0 GW generated by 39 GWp of useless PV, until proven contrary.

    • CarlH says:

      I really hope that the Norwegian part of Scandinavian hydro can do the magic everyone thinks it can. Certainly, the Swedish part won’t. It looks impressive because Sweden is not very densely populated. But put in relation to UK, Germany, Holland and everyone else who wants to use it, it is less impressive.

      To further complicate things. As we close down our reactors (which we are very busy doing) the Swedish hydro won’t even be able to balance the Swedish demand. We will have to import from our neighbors instead to handle the wind intermittency. Thats at least what the debate goes like here when politicians are asked about how we will manage without nuclear. Of course, the F-word is not used. They’re just imports…

      • Euan Mearns says:

        I really hope

        It shouldn’t come down to hope, but simple logic and engineering design. I agree that Sweden has written itself out of the balancing equation by closing down nukes and from what you say will become a part of the balancing problem.

        Norway has peak demand of the order 15 GW. That effectively sets the upper limit to how much renewables the country can balance. Roger’s post I believe reached the conclusion that in practical terms they could balance perhaps half of that. Its a drop in the ocean. Totally insignificant in the bigger European renewables picture. The UK may get 1.4 GW of connection.

        What is the goal here? To see how much money can be wasted on energy infrastructure that doesn’t work or achieve the zero CO2 fantasy it is being built for?

    • gweberbv says:


      if you consider a single country, you can always grab a few missing GW from your neighbours. This works as long as they have capacity going spare in this very moment.

      In Central Europe there is may 30 GW or more spare capacity, in particular in Germany. Have a look at the data for the last 12 months: http://www.agora-energiewende.de/en/topics/-agothem-/Produkt/produkt/76/Agorameter/
      GER exporting something like 10 GW for most of the time and still the price is below 4 Eurocent per kWh.

      But – as I have learned – the UK perspectice is different. Not so many neighbours/interconnectors. And capacity dropping out of market that might be needed at some point.

      • robertok06 says:

        “GER exporting something like 10 GW for most of the time and still the price is below 4 Eurocent per kWh.”

        The price (spot) on the market is that low because:

        1) The 10-30 deaths/TWh generated by the 230 TWh/year coming from burning lignite and coal are NOT monetarized;
        2) There are an additional 6.6 Eurocent/kWh which are paid SEPARATELY as per Energiewende, thanks in large part to the oximoronic technology known as “photovoltaics”.
        3) A rational country not run on ideology but science and technology should IMMEDIATELY stop 10 GW of deadly lignite and coal, not keep on killing its own population while exporting cheap electricity to neighbouring countries.

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  13. Jonathan Madden says:


    I will be very interested to read your views on the planned phasing out of UK coal power stations, which currently provide about one third of total capacity. So it appears that CCS has been abandoned!

  14. Jonathan Madden says:

    ACO, thank you for clarification. It would seem unlikely at this relatively late stage that any of the existing coal stations will be reprieved by addition of CCS. Even more unlikely that new coal stations will be built incorporating CCS.

    Taxing wind and solar for intermittency may get some of our money back. Load shedding above 6GW total wind input now costs us tens of millions per year.

    As well as the new gas power stations we will need the gas to run them, which is where fracking comes in. I wonder how many Bowland wells might supply a significant proportion of this?

  15. David MacKay says:

    Great graphs! I think I spotted a typo “mimumum” in one of them. Perhaps fix this when adding Portugal and Spain to this magnum opus 🙂 Thanks

  16. http://www.phyast.pitt.edu/~blc/book/chapter9.html

    I largely share Bernard Cohen’s views on technical grounds, I am rather more dubious these days regarding the wisdom of pushing nuclear too far without there being a sufficiently reliable pro-nuclear political consensus.

    What is your alternative to Hinkley Point? I personally think nuclear construction costs would be around 2000 Euros per kW and construction times below 4 years with a reasonable regulatory environment. But Hinkley is supposed to cost 10000 Euros per kW. You know what happened to construction times in Flamanville and Olkiluoto. You know how Germany and Japan simply shut down huge fractions of their nuclear industry, because of an accident that killed nobody.

    How are you going to make the politics / public acceptance side of things work?


    Do you know the Fraunhofer EU long-term scenarios?


    There is a nice graphic on page 79 showing how demand and supply might be matched in calendar week 29 in 2050 (minor quibbles from me, power to heat is missing in that graphic, they do not properly consider the potential of gas engines, DSM ). Figure 68 gives interconnector capacities (around 55 GW for the UK).

    Their newer scenarios include CCS and nuclear:


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