Last week I gave a talk at The Scottish Oil Club in Edinburgh that was well received. The slide deck can be down loaded here. Since then we have been on high blackout alert since the UK weather has turned cold, wet and snowy with little wind at times. And there are 20 nuclear power stations closed in France creating an import shortage. This post summarises my talk using 14 out of 36 slides.

Privatisation of the energy companies led to regulation and political interference. Once run by engineers, energy policy is now dictated by arts graduates. The three figures are Alex Salmond, former leader of the SNP, Baroness Worthington who was the lead author on the UK 2008 climate change act and member of Friends of The Earth and Lord Deben (John Gummer), chairman of the Climate Change Committee that informs energy policy.

We are in an era where energy policy is dictated by treaties and targets, none of which are rooted in science, engineering, physics or economics. It’s all made possible by simply demanding that the public pays. This is a game played by elite bureaucrats at the expense of public well-being, and wrecking energy security. The public have begun to fight back!

Scotland currently leads the World in tennis and in bidding for the highest percent possible of renewable energy production. Erecting solar panels on north facing roofs in one of the darkest countries on Earth epitomises how low the intellectual level of our politicians and academics has sunk. Wind turbines everywhere are despoiling our landscape that was once one of our main assets. David MacKay did us a great service in his final interview before he died earlier this year stating “The idea that renewable energy can power the UK is an appalling delusion” from which I conclude that the fools in Holyrood and Westminster are deluded.

UK and Scottish electricity demand follows three distinct cycles: 1) daily, 2) weekly and 3) annual. Supply must be continuously adjusted to match demand exactly and this is only possible using dispatchable sources that can be switched on and off and up and down. Renewables do not fit this ticket. Peak winter demand is almost three times the summertime low and always occurs around 6 pm on a weekday in winter. That is when we must muster all our generating assets to ensure adequate supply.

Nine renewable myths are listed, those in red have individual slides in the slide deck for those who are interested. These are a product of Green Thinking. Green Thinkers work by deciding first how they want the world to be and then simply make things up creating a pseudoscience that other Green Thinkers rally behind and repeat so often that everyone else believes it must be true. In reality the pillars are salt, and no matter how many of these pillars one erects, it can never produce a robust structure. For example, where is the evidence that large centralised generating plant is bad? The advanced society we enjoy living in was built on the back of large centralised generation – it must surely be good!

The maps show the configuration of Scottish generation in the early 2000s (left) and in 2017 (right). Note that Dounreay breeder reactor actually closed in 1994.

In the early 2000s we had two nuclear reactors at Hunterston and Torness, two coal fired power stations at Cockenzie and Longannet, a gas fired station at Peterhead, a suit of hydroelectric power stations and two interconnectors with England.

Come 2017, both coal stations are closed. The closure of Longannet (2.4 GW) in March this year prompted the call from the Scottish Oil Club since this station was the beating heart of the Scottish grid. 3.6 GW of dispatchable coal has been replaced with 5.67 GW of wind that is distributed along the grid network. We have a new N-S power line (Beauly – Denny) to transport renewable energy from source to market and an additional 2.2 GW HVDC line connecting Hunterston to N Wales.

Stacking the capacities of the assets shown on the maps produces this picture. Peak winter demand in Scotland is of the order 5.5 GW. In the early 2000s we had about 9 GW of dispatchable capacity which was a belt and braces approach to security – which is how it should be. Come 2016, we see that dispatchable capacity has shrunk to about 5.5 GW, still enough to cover peak winter demand. Interconnection has grown and 5.67 GW of wind turbines have been introduced. So where is the problem?

The problem arises when capacity is derated. At 6 pm in winter the Sun has already set and solar therefore has to be totally discounted. Equally, every winter there are spells when there is no wind. This too must be discounted. Add to that the fact that all power stations fail from time to time and we see by making some reasonable assumptions about circumstances that may arise that a shortfall of up to 2 GW generating capacity can easily arise. This creates an import dependency from England which I find gloriously ironic since the government that stands behind the energy policy has a single goal and that is to gain independence from England.

Will England answer when Scotland calls? England too has been subject to the ravages of climate policies and has seen closure of many coal fired stations, especially in the last 18 months and margins there are also wafer thin. At face value there is sufficient capacity to meet peak winter demand of 55 GW, but once again derating presents an alternative picture.

Derating UK capacity using empirical measures creates a 3 GW shortfall. And at the present time with one third of the French nuclear fleet out of action, we are struggling for imports from Europe.

The pro-renewables stance of the Scottish Government is matched by their anti-nuclear position. While there has never been talk of closing our two power stations, there is also no plan to replace them and Hunterston is due to close in 2023. Hinkley C and the Areva EPR have given nuclear bad press. And so I opted for Korean and Japanese designs. Hopefully both countries will relish trade with the UK post-Brexit. I once enquired about a job at a Scottish University to be told there was not much research mileage in an energy plan that consisted of only three new nuclear reactors. Are we in the state we are in because a bunch of misguided, greedy and selfish academics want to play games with our energy and economic wellbeing?

With the pending closure of Longannet, there was interest to monitor the pattern of electricity transfers between Scotland and England. A National Grid link was found and Leo Smith from Gridwatch kindly obliged to monitor it. There will be a post on this shortly. What we see is that the number of hours Scotland imports from England has shot up with the closure of Longannet in March emphasising that SNP energy policy is making Scotland more dependent on England for our energy security and prosperity. Note these are summer months and in winter, like now, that dependency will likely be more pronounced.

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83 Responses to Blackout

  1. Wookey says:

    s/wreckless/reckless/ on last slide

  2. John F. Hultquist says:

    This is all very interesting. I am struck by the setup for this version of “Murphy’s Law” — If something can go wrong, it will; and it will go wrong at the worst possible moment.

    We live in Washington State but not close to the coast. Various agencies conducted a large test of how to handle a major earthquake from the Cascadia Subduction Zone. Much was learned but so far the major public release has been that people need to be prepared to take care of themselves for much longer than previous planning had suggested. They think people should have 3 or 4 weeks of water, food, medicines, and such. Before the time was 3 or 4 days.
    I don’t know what one does about staying warm if your heating depends on electricity or another centralized facility. Keep you auto full of fuel and have an emergency “Grab and Go” Bag might work. [I don’t mean here, for the big quake (there will be no place to go to and no way to get there), but for those in Scotland that could head south.]

    There is this in your report:
    solar panels on north facing roofs
    Is there a photo that would document this? Is there a report on this, and what happened next?

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Don’t have N facing, maybe I should go get some pics. This one is east facing, in the shade adjacent to a gigantic S facing roof that is part of the same building. There are no consequences since those running this show are driven by ideology and not science.

      • gweberbv says:


        how get PV producers their money in Scotland? If it is connected to the amount of electricity produced then there is a big incentive to chose the optimum orientation. So, I would expect that random orientation is not the norm.

        • Euan Mearns says:

          Good question Gunther. I wrote to “DECC” a while back and here is the reply:

          I can confirm that for installations accredited under the Feed-in Tariffs (FITs) scheme, generation is estimated using installed capacity (which is known) and typical load factors for the reference installation in each tariff band. You can find the latest set of assumptions in Table 4 of the Impact Assessment for the Government Response in the 2015 Review of the FITs scheme ( This table covers solar PV, hydro, and wind.

          For AD, we have recently consulted on a set of load factors, which were published in Annex B of the Impact Assessment for the Consulation Document (

          I hope you will find the above useful – please do not hesitate to contact me with any further questions.

          Its not metered and payments are based on installed capacity and expected load. So you could leave the panels in a box and still get paid. Its really quite unsatisfactory.


          • PhilH says:

            I suspect DECC were talking about how they derive their statistics of how much electricity is generated.

            The FiT generation and export payments, certainly for small PV schemes as I can vouch from personal experience, are based only on the actual generation, according to the mandatory generation meter, readings of which have to be submitted quarterly. So if you’ve put your installation in frequent shade, you don’t get paid much, and if it is out of action (or still in its box), you don’t get paid at all.

            Regarding deliberately putting PV panels on E- & W-facing roofs when S-facing is available: it may generate less overall (10-15%), but it spreads generation more evenly through the day, increasing the amount of self-consumption, which may result in better economics of the system overall. As well as exporting less on to the grid at midday when it may not be welcome.

          • Euan Mearns says:

            You’re probably correct about the metering and payment. I in fact received two replies from DECC saying different things.

          • Alex says:

            Total PV production is metered.

            In the UK, there tends not to be an export meter, so they assume that 50% of your production is exported.

            This leads to some perverse incentives – like hooking up an electric heater to run if there’s surplus solar. It would also however encourage battery adoption, which could reduce exports, but you’d still be getting the export tariff.

            Whilst PV production is metered, it’s read in the same way as old fashioned meters, so useless for real time grid management.

      • Joe Public says:

        I seem to recall mentioning on your original post, for the original building to gain building consent, its designers (probably) had to indicate measures ‘taken’ to minimise energy use. E.g. “To install Xm^2 of solar pv”. This ensured Planning Permission was granted. At build, so long as the requisite *area* of panels was installed, no one really bothers. The fact they’re sub-optimally orientated, or shaded by trees etc, becomes irrelevant.

        Their objective was not to generate electricity, but to generate a Planning Approval.

      • jim brough says:

        People have been mesmerised by the dream of free solar energy whilst forgetting that to make the solar cells needs CO2 emissions caused by mining and refining, manufacturing and installation.

        Mr Tesla sells an electric car with no CO2 emissions, conveniently forgetting the CO2 emissions and environmental issues involved in its construction.
        Or the CO2 -free source of the electricity to power the car.

        Some talk about being Carbon neutral or even “carbon negative”.
        That is wishful thinking because civilisation started when we learned to use fire.

      • Iain says:

        An example of north facing solar panels in Coatbridge from google maps (I noticed them while driving past a while back).,-4.0379155,3a,75y,211.02h,95.89t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s3JMD-UIuR-7Vf1lnx3mpOg!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

  3. Kees van der Pool says:

    Hi Euan,

    Ominous reading.
    I’m grateful that as of November 9 most of the ‘green crap’ will be off the table here.

    Stay warm,

    • Euan Mearns says:

      It’s going to be very interesting to see how this plays out on this side of the pond. The BBC has had to report that “climate change is a hoax” according to Mr Trump.

      “Stay warm” – things are shaping up for a cold winter here. Snow on the hills already and hard frosts.

  4. Joe Public says:

    Illuminating; once again shedding light on the risks. Of course, if there are blackouts, blame will be offloaded onto the engineers.

  5. Lars says:

    For the UK as a whole, how about the risk of not having enough natural gas to burn in both the CCGTs and home heating etc.? There are some signs this coming winter could be a lot colder than the latest ones. I have noticed that CCGTs now regularly provide 50% or more of UK power even during the nights as coal plants have been shut down. Your own production is sliding, Norway where you get much of your imported ng from will soon start declining (the present production is unsustainable for much longer) + the Dutch have their own problems and your storage capacity is limited (around 4 billion cbm). LNG imports are expensive and in the future you will be more dependent on Russia via Germany (Nordstream 2). It doesn`t look like a good recipe in an increasingly unstable World.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Lars, yes nat gas supplies are a whole separate ball game. UK has woefully low storage the reason being that we used to have lots of gas stored off shore. And then the plan was to shift to LNG. That plan has actually been quite clever since the idea was that LNG tankers would offload in the UK and the gas passed on via pipe to Europe. That way we get first call.

      Its been a long time since I visited gas. Rune Likvern is the guy most on top of these stats:

      Nat gas security comes into play around February when storage begins to deplete. But I’ve been keeping an eye on Gridwatch and the CCGTs have been going flat out for weeks.

      • Joe Public says:

        ” …. UK has woefully low storage”

        Existing (2016) gas storage facilities = 4.65 BCM ~51.15TWh

        Withdrawal capacity 175.1 MCM/day ~1.926 TWh/DAY Duration up to 67 days (Rough)

        Table 2.2: Proposed additional storage projects (2016) 7.2 mcm / 79.2TWh

        Before the current (2015) pressure issue UK’s Rough offshore gas storage field alone, could store 135.2 BCF (41.1 TWh).

        The March 2015 fall in pressure had the effect of limiting the maximum reservoir volume (space) to between 29 and 32 TWh

        NOTE: Even in the winter, extract from storage makes up only a small proportion of GB’s total supplies. Most is from linepack.

        On the day of peak supply in winter 2015/16, gas storage provided its highest supply of the winter at 98 mcm. 1.078 TWh

        On 4x days in winter 2015/16 demand exceeded 350 mcm. 3.675GWh


        And Ofgem’s “Statutory Security of Supply Report 2016”

        In perspective – GB’s pumped storage capacity is …. ~29GWh.

      • Lars says:

        Euan, thanks. Btw. I think Sweden and Finland are at dire risk of blackouts this winter too if it turns colder than average. Swedish water reservoir levels will probably be at record lows for this time of the year in 2-3 weeks time and they are now importing what they can grab from neighbours during the night (Norway, Germany, Denmark, Baltics, Poland and Russia via Finland, even Belarus via the Baltics seems to contribute). Last winter which was overall very mild they still had a very strained situation during a cold spell in january. I won`t bother you with the details about this but power supply this winter in Europe could be the most interesting at least since 2009/10.

        • Nlys says:

          Norway’s hydro reserves are also at a4-year low and well below average levels for the time of year:

          Interestingly, I see that SSE blamed part of their recent poor profit performance on a 20.5% fall in wind output during the 6 months to the end of September.

          Interesting times!

          • Euan Mearns says:

            I’d say they’re a bit below average. Wonder if that is due to low wind in Denmark or France nuclear outage?

          • Lars says:

            Nlys, at the end of last week 44 Norway`s reservoirs were 8,5 percentage points below median which should not be considered a “dangerous level” yet. In Sweden it was 20 points below which is just 2-3 percentage p. above record low.

            Normally the end of week 45 is seen as crucial for determining whether there could be potential problems the coming winter. The most likely scenario to create problems is of course dry and cold weather with little inflow combined with high consumption.
            So far Norway is still exporting during the day and importing in the night and weekends. If we are to follow what has happened in the past only if reservoir levels are very low around the end of December we will start importing during the day also. The interesting questing is from where if there is high demand for flows going southbound towards France. Could be a good year for struggling German and Danish power companies for instance 🙂

            Euan, no the main reason for the low reservoirs now in both Sweden and Norway (particularly Sweden) is very little precipitation compared to normal.
            Norway precipitation 82,6 Twh normal 102,5
            Inflow 114,8 normal 118,3 week 44.

    • Alex says:

      For this winter, Eggborough coal power station is being maintained on standby.

      But it’s a good point. The Capacity Auction in theory ensures enough capacity, but not in the event of a systematic shock – such as an interruption to gas supply. In this case, the gas power stations will claim Force-Majeure and cut supplies.

      Despite the protests of some, there’s a good argument to have a lot of diesel capacity sitting around, which would be used rarely – hopefully never. It cheap, diesel is easy to store, it can come on line in a short time, and has diverse supply.

      This would need changes to capacity auction rules. At the moment the pressure is on to change the rules to disfavour diesel.

      • Greg Kaan says:

        Could they adapt the CCGTs to dual fuel like some OCGTs are in the US?

      • Lars says:

        Alex, to me it would make more sense if National Grid had kept more of the old coal plants in standby mode with capacity payments instead of demolishing them and replacing with diesel generators. Diesel is terribly expensive compared to coal which is also easy to store in huge quantities and would give a better and more durable supply in case of long term natural gas supply disruptions and extremely cold weather.

        • Alex says:

          Old coal plants are quite difficult to keep off line. I think the main drive shafts need to be supported to stop sagging, and cooling / heating the furnaces reduces their life.

          I can’t quite recall the report details – but I think they take several days to bring back on line.

          Whether it’s best to maintain old coal, or build new diesel, might depend on the age and condition of the coal plant. Probably the best way of deciding is through a capacity auction process – though that is a four year process.

      • Euan Mearns says:

        Capacity reserve is included in the UK stack. I suspect its been used this week.

  6. OpenSourceElectricity says:

    Hmm -and what happens if the three nuclear power stations are offline, similar to belgiums on and off nuclear poer stations? There’s still the need of enough interconnection to provide backup power for such cases. Today France is drawing power via power lines which have been built/expanded to support the distribution of renewable power – and everyone wish some sense is lucky these power lines exist. No matter what was the intention when they were built.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Well we would still have 1.4 GW of gas, 1.1 GW oh hydro, 0.7 GW of pumped and 3.5 GW of interconnection = 6.7 GW. So the main risk here is our 3 nukes being down at the same time as all of England’s nukes are down. I’ll be taking a look at the situation in France next week.

  7. Alex says:

    Euan, do the National Grid’s capacity market – which come into effect from 2019 – take Scotland into account as a separate entity?

    It would seem that the market solution to ensuring capacity for a renewables powered Scotland (a bit of an oxymoron) would be somewhere around 2.5GW of diesel – effectively replacing Longannet’s capacity. This would probably be needed in Scotland to remove the dependency on the interconnector.

    After all, Longannet isn’t needed most of the time – and “most of the time” is good enough for average emissions. But “most of the time” is certainly not good enough for security of supply.

    It would of course send the national press apoplectic with indignation.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      The reason given for Longannet’s closure was that it failed to secure a capacity market contract – being too far away from the market. Peterhead has a circa 1 GW capacity market contract but I dare say it is simply running 24/7 at present. The capacity sites should be over and above normal peak demand.

      2.5 GW of diesel may do the trick. It would depend on the cost of having these standing idle for most of the time.

      • gweberbv says:


        don’t you have a lot of diesel generators standing around in hospitals, server farms, military installations and so on? If one would adapt these emergency generators that are already existing to feed into the grid and not only to supply the local facilities in case of a grid failure, these generators could earn their owners a few bucks while at the same time significantly mitigate the blackout risk and/or the cost of additional backup.

        • Greg Kaan says:

          The problem is having seceding control of these privately owned standby units to the grid operator. Yes, there could be some payments arranged but the units exist to provide power for the facilty, not the grid.

          A demand reduction contract may work, though, allowing the facility to retain control but contributing to the grid stability by virtual load shedding.

        • Alex says:

          That is covered in the capacity auctions as Demand Side Response. The idea is that a hospital etc will turn on its diesel generators and stop drawing from the grid.

          There are lots of start-ups running around trying to sign up all these installations and put in place intelligent energy management, funded by capacity payments.

  8. Leo Smith says:

    Euan. Next time throw it at me BEFORE you send it out so there are less typos in it!

    It is a well known rule that you will fail to spot the same typo three times if its your typo, whereas someone else will spot it in an instant.


    Oh. Apart from that? Sterling (not Stirling) stuff!

    (I’ve used very similar values to put on the Gridwatch dials so you can see at a glance when there’s a tightness in capacity margin.)

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Leo, have you considered the possibility I can’t spell? If the mistakes are in the presentation then that’s a bit strange since my wife read that and she is a very good copy reader.

      • Leo Smith says:

        I spotted several in the one you sent me privately. On reflection they may have been subtle technical terms that your wife might be less familiar with than you are.

        I can spell but my typing….Let’s say when I used to code for a living it was ten minutes typing followed by ten minutes of correcting the syntax errors.

  9. halken says:

    As someone who have worked in the wind energy sector here in DK and industry in general.

    Energy savings are not linear and that is a concept people fail to grasp. Going from a incandescent light to a LED means going from a 40W to a 3W. But the next step from the 3W becomes increasingly expensive and as we only use 3W you may be able to save 5% by the next generation and that is not saving 37W but 0,15W. So while energy savings are high and fine initially, they are not linear in the real world and will not save the day going forward.

    Solar in places like Denmark and northern Europe is a joke as the sun does not shine for half the year. It is a wasteful use of money, but the homeowners here in Denmark has made a killing of it give more to those who already own a home, but paid for by everyone. That is decentral energy generation. Hitting the poor hardest as energy makes up the biggest part of their living expenses.

    Moving demand with IT and prices. Here in DK we have run some tests. While it is possible to run the dishwasher in the night, most things like light and cooking cannot be moved. So it is only 10% or something like it you can move.

    The price of offshore parks seems to come down now to the same levels as onshore. But it is delivered ab park, so in the middle of the sea and to get it to shore, you still need a sub sea interconnect and off-shore transformer platform and some on-sore cable, as the grid close to the sea is often too weak. So add 60-100% on top of the claim, before the electricity from offshore is where it is needed. And then it still delivers as the wind blows so we need a backup and interconnects to have a total cost for it.

    We have reduced our co2 emissions, by feeding woodpellets into the thermal power plants, but that requires a lot of nature to grow all that woodpellets.

    Here in DK we do not have nuclear. Instead of all these expensive and difficult things, we could have decarbonised our electricity generation by creating two large nuclear plants, one or two in Jutland and one in south eastern Denmark and then we could have created clean energy for our own need and exported clean energy to our neighbors. We used to do that when coal was in fashion, as we had the cleanest and most efficient coal plants in the world. Technology that could have been exported to China and India and other places, but the politicians where more busy selling green energy.

    • OpenSourceElectricity says:

      Well Kriegers Flak which was offered for 4,99ct/kWh will get two grid connections, one to danmark and one via another wind park towards germany creating another 400MW interconnector between the countries as a sideeffect.
      Parts can be seen here: and
      Even with the interconnector costs added this does not look like anyrhing near to 60%. Where did you get this number?

      • halken says: (the Danish grid operator) estimates the grid connection to cost 3,5 bDKK/470 m€.

        De samlede støtteomkostninger til at opføre Krigers Flak forventes i alt at udgøre 3,5 mia. kr. for hele støtteperioden fra 2019-2032. De forventede støtteomkostninger ligger ca. 60 pct. under de forventede udgifter på 8,2 mia. kr. for hele støtteperioden som forudsat ved indgåelsen af energiaftalen i 2012. Hertil kommer ilandføringsomkostninger på 3,1 mia. kr.

        “This total subsidies to KF is expected to be 3,5 bDKK/470m€ for the period 2019-32.”
        “Add to this will be grid-connection costing 3,1 bDKK/420m€”

        The subsidies does not include the base/market price the operator get for the electricity produced, so the 890m€ will be put on top of that for a total cost of electricity produced.

        I’d say 3,1 is close to 3,5, so in reality it almost doubles the subsidies and is in the range of 60-100% – but as the grid-connection is paid by the grid-operator that cost is hidden in the total grid-tarif paid by the energy users. The grid tarif for all of Denmark is 4,2 øre/kWh and rises an estimated 0,7 øre (0,1 eurocent) to 4,9 øre/kWh to pay for the grid connection.

        • OpenSourceElectricity says:

          OK, but the original statement was price per kWh/construction costs + 60/100%.
          With 600 MW, >3500 FLh, this would be 27 TWh, with 470 Mio € for this amount of electricity this is 1,7ct/kWh calculated on top of the wholesaleprice, so grid connection adds something like 1,5ct/kWh, and provides a international interconnector as a sideefect (so at almost no cost on the danish side, since grid costs are calculated by me on top of the windpower poroduction costs. So somtething like 6,5ct/kWh all in for new production capacity including grid connection.

          • steve says:

            Well, you lucky Danes and Germans. The Brits have been told that £147/mWh is a good deal for the Dogger Bank windfarm built by Forewind- SSE,RWE,statoil,Statkraft- and chaired by an ex-minister Decchead. At £1=1.2E it was higher. Also inflation linked. The Dutch Borselle is given at 7.27c/kWh. but then you put the job out to tender. What a good idea. We do it with buildings but apparently, no-one at Decc thought about it.

          • halken says:

            – No it was not. My wording was less than clear but does not support your claim.
            – The grid connector only works when the park is not making power, but as the wind only blows 40% if the time it will only be available for interconnect duties 60% of the time, sadly.
            – In own words, the interconnector only add “marginal stability” to the eastern grid. Eg it is close to worthless in that regard.
            -This park (KF) has an interconnector – most do not but still has to pay the subsea cable, offshore transformerstations and onshore connector anyway. So they will have even worse economy than KF.

  10. Jack Ponton says:

    Eaun, well said, but is anyone in government listening? We said exactly what you are saying in a paper which we sent to Fergus Ewing in February 2015 and received an anodyne reply. We had it published as an article in The Scotsman in June 2015, and even the green trolls didn’t bother to comment.

    Alas, it will take actual blackouts to have any effect I’m afraid. Looking at recent Gridwatch with temperatures still mostly above freezing suggests that we are going to get these soon!

    • Euan Mearns says:

      In reality, a more likely scenario is that industrial users with interruptible supply contracts get cut off. But in Scotland there is a risk of a nuke tripping when there’s now wind and supply from England not managing to respond fast enough.

  11. The Dork of Cork says:

    Nuclear is not being built because it produces too much of a surplus.
    Again to repeat energy policy is infact financial policy working under green corporatism covers.

    I suspect the current French shutdown has political and or financial reasons rather then engineering.
    It certainly gives Russian gas tremendous leverage this Winter.
    The French and Russians have always been close.

    Would the current large Australian LNG developments been viable if there was no large scale Jap Nuke shutdown post Quake.
    Who benefits?
    Always ask that question.

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  13. Clive Best says:

    It is very strange how the CEGB national Energy infrastructure and supply got privatised whereas for example road building didn’t. British Rail privatisation proved to be a disaster after two fatal train crashes caused network rail to be brought back under public ownership. The railway network doesn’t make money in the same way that sewers don’t make money. If either fail then the shit hits the fan.

    Exactly the same situation is about to happen with electricity supply.

  14. David Lynch says:

    What is your source for your claim in slide 14 that the embedded carbon in PV panels is more than the energy they will produce? This website gives an energy payback time of 2.5 years under UK typical UK conditions for modern PV panels.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      This is the main source

      Also this:

      Clearly a contentious issue where sides are far apart. Reading your source they claim 25 to 30 year life cycle 🙂 For ERoEI it depends where you set the boundaries. I normally like to set them appropriately wide. One thing that must be taken into account is the energy cost of intermittency. All that storage and backup has to come into the equation.

      • David Lynch says:

        I can’t see the detail in the book you reference as it’s fairly expensive to access. However the Ferroni and Hopkirk paper you reference in your blog post seems to be controversial. The method and the data chosen are taken apart here.

        • Euan Mearns says:

          The method and the data chosen are taken apart here.

          What do you mean?

          • David Lynch says:

            I suggest you read the article but among other things it says:

            the authors have used data that do not appear in the sources they have quoted. They have instead derived the figures by methods unstated. “Well when I checked the cited source I found that no such number is actually reported. One can only find total output numbers and then work back from there, but the authors fail to give their calculation”

            the physics they have used to estimate the output of a panel is wrong “But that conversion is totally wrong. The Shockley-Queisser Limit doesn’t work on thermal energy, it works on the original solar energy.”

            much of their calculation is based on ten year old data when modern panels are much lighter, i.e. embody less energy and are more efficient, so output more energy.

    • halken says:

      It is also claimed wrongly that the same is true for wind turbines. Wind turbines does indeed have their faults and so do solar, but this is not one of them. It is not true as the energy spend to make a turbine is recovered within the first year, 9 months or something typically and design life is 20.25 years. Siemens did a study on it some years back.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Having slept on this. Your source claims energy pay back in 2.5 years and life span of 30 years. This gives an ERoEI of 12. Energy = money. So if this is true, solar PV should be fabulously profitable and not require subsidy. Where I stay, PV produces virtually nothing for 4 months. Now go figure where reality may lie.

      • halken says:

        EM, why do you infer that ERoEI has anything to do with money?
        It is the Total Cost of Energy Produced (including profits to the companies involved) that is interesting.

        • Thinkstoomuch says:

          I said that cost was a poor metric myself.

          Now give me a better carbon cost for transporting the panels from the factory, most likely in China, to the roof in Scotland. Does it go across the US by rail, through the canal, the long way around Africa, …

          Or the carbon cost of the guy who does the installing? How far is he from the install site? The guy that does the inspecting? The guy who does the designing, so the panel doesn’t face north? Or if a ground mount how much for site preparation (most construction equipment burns diesel to start with)? The aluminum for the mounting system would seem easy except where is the machining carbon cost to make it usable to mount a panel to it? For that matter all the other carbon costs associated with the rest of the hardware? The list is seems awfully long and this is just a start at it. It gets worse.

          This is not a world of magic. Somehow or other energy must be expended in all those steps and then a bunch of others I am too ignorant to even know to include. Not expended in any of them and either the energy never gets to the consumer or worse gets there less efficiently in much smaller quantities.

          Unlike the author of your reference article we can’t just ignore them until we find a study *we* like. Most here are trying to deal with reality. Not paper studies.

          Not even limited to EROI for solar, Other energy source advocates here have the same problem to an extent.

          Until you show me a metric that works, costs as flawed as it is the best we have to go by.

          Just my waste of electrons,

          • Dave Ward says:

            “The list is seems awfully long and this is just a start at it. It gets worse”

            Yes, you forgot the inverters required to convert the panels DC output to AC for the grid! They are stuffed full of electronic components, all of which have expensive and eco-unfriendly manufacturing processes. And the electrolytic capacitors they contain are the first thing to fail – typically after 5-7 years…

        • Euan Mearns says:

          Energy = money ± a few economic adjustments. EroEI is the return on energy in the same way that interest is the return on money.

    • Thinkstoomuch says:

      The author of the article talks about boundaries then ignores them. 🙁

      The 2.5 years you mention are for just the solar panels. I did not read the referenced paper as it is somewhat dated.

      But for some hints from the costs perspective. Which is a very flawed metric.

      Panels cost in the US somewhere in the vicinity of $0.50 cents to $1.00 a watt. another $0.43/w for Enphase inverters.

      According to the US DOE Sunshot Berkley lab report. “Median prices fell to $2.7/ Wac ($2.1/ Wdc) in 2015”. (somewhere in one of the blog posts i posted a link to it, not hard to find)

      Like I say costs are a very poor metric for EROI in my silly opinion.

      Minor note as was pointed out to me on this blog. Due to physics you are better off installing about 1.3 watts dc to get 1 watt ac power out. Which I verified by using the PVWATTS calculator.

      So right at the start the 2.5 years becomes 3.3 years just for the panel. It gets much more complicated after that.

      “If it was easy anyone could play and whats the fun in that,” 🙂


      PS I am slowly putting together a dataset for the publicly available from SMA and Poweredge installations for the US. Huge note: The output varies more in CA than the simplistic statement to be wholly accurate. Just in CA, granted a huge state, some zip codes will produce somewhat around 10-20% higher output than others not all are north either. May not sound like much but in a paraphrase of Elizabeth Moon, “It is the little things in a contract than determine whether you make a profit or absorb a loss.”

  15. Depriv says:

    Geez. If those slides are correct then it’ll be a bit hard to accept that grid as compliant with the ‘N-1 Criterion’.

  16. philsharris says:

    We still have fossil fuel, importantly in the form of NG available for import . Which is just as well considering that I have seen 200GW thermal of NG quoted for UK winter day peak. For sure there are going to be constraints on future NG supply, and these constraints will be relevant for future security of electric power, including back-up for both nuclear and intermittent wind. I guess though there is sufficient affordable NG for a while yet. Is this the choice to compare with nuclear? We have to do a lot better than Hinkley if these mighty nuclear items are going to pay for themselves. Some like those proposed in NW England, are needing massive new grid adjustments.

    Sir David Mackay was always right about the need to do arithmetic. Solar electricity in Scotland is a misallocation of resources. However, although I cannot do the arithmetic it seems pretty small beer in the scheme of things? Government has given silly returns on the private capital involved, but I guess there have been even sillier ‘investments’ of capital over the same period. Investment in for example the office HQ for RBS, and as it turned out ‘the public’ covering its loss making activities, springs to mind.

    Oddly perhaps, solar hot water in summer still seems a sensible fuel saver where I am at just over 55″ 36’N.

    Scottish Gov has been very odd about fossil fuel and Salmond was still talking only a very few years ago as if there was a whole extra North Sea out there to be drilled. Its a bit like the coal we cannot reach even to fuel a Longannet replacement.

  17. halken says:

    Steve, in Sweden and now in DK we put the parks out in tender and then the companies can bid and the project with the lowest need for subsidies will be chosen and if none is low enough they can walk away. The Anholt park was build with only one bidder (Dong) and came away with 105 øre/1,05DKK for power delivered ab park in the middle of Skagerrak. On top came transformer and gridconnection. Oh and the grid operator who had transformer had unlimited liability in case of faults on the grid connection, and the first 5000 tons offshore 400MW transformers did have issues.
    We’re still paying for that stupidity.

  18. John ONeill says:

    Any news on the French reactor shutdowns ? From what I can see, EdF claim the pressure vessels are not a threat, whereas Greenpeace’s tame engineer, John Large, says they are. Shades of the Belgian reactor pressure vessel micro cracks.
    If an RPV or a steam generator did spring a leak, aren’t the containment domes designed to be able to hold the release ?

    • Euan Mearns says:

      The Green NGOs and society’s response to them is out of control. So I find it very difficult to judge if there is a real problem or not. I also read somewhere about falsification of documents related to manufacture of the pressure vessels. If true, that’s not so good. Where does the truth lie.

  19. Greg Kaan says:

    A terrific (as usual) summation of the UK situation.
    It is somewhat paralleled down here in South Eastern Australia even though we have ample gas because most of it is locked up in long term export contracts. I expect more blackouts for South Australia as the heats builds in the coming summer. Fortunately for my neighbouring state, heat is less likely to be lethal than cold (as shown by the preceding article by Roger) plus many of the denizens of South Australia have been buying generators in preparation.

    Back in July, I wrote a long letter to our national minister of energy, Josh Frydenberg, on the likelihood of a South Australian generation shortfall in the upcoming months but the response from his office was not encouraging. I had hoped the events of last month would make his department re-evaluate their position but his public statements would indicate that the faith in renewables still persists.

    As with the French reactor shutdowns, the upcoming closure of the 1600 MW Hazelwood power station this autumn will ensure blackouts for South Australia afterwards as the interconnector that is supporting their grid will no then no longer be assured to have excess generation capacity in Victoria to be able to transfer across this.

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  21. ristvan says:

    According to National Grid, the real reserve against a SA type event is effectively zero. The 5% is diesel, load shed, and possibly restarting mothballed obsolete ff fired generation.

    Cold dark weekday evening with no wind, diesel on, contracted load already shed, old coal restarted, no further reserve. Then the slightest trip ( an old supposedly retired coal generator goes off for mechanical reasons, a transmission line trips off from regional overload) and the blackout cascade starts.
    In the great eastern north America blackout of August 2003, the event started with a single generator near Cleveland tripping off for mechanical reasons about 1300 withnthengrid very. Lose to maximum capacitynfrom AC load on a hot day. The grid struggled to compensate and then to contain, slowly failing as the blackout spread east beyond Ohio. The main event started at 1611 and finished at 1614. Three minutes and everywhere from Cleveland to Pittsburg to NYC to Boston to Toronto blacked out. 560 generating units tripped off. 65 million people blacked out for days. Several died. Took 4-5 days to black restart.
    That happens in UK dead winter, many thousands will likely die. And it is much more likely than not to happen, especially now that EU interconnector capacity is probably gone for the winter because of the French nuclear safety inspection situation.

    • It doesn't add up... says:

      The French interconnector has been running in UK export mode for extended periods already. That’s a 4GW swing in supply. Indeed France as a whole has gone from net export to 5-10GW typically, to net import of about 3GW – before the weather turns cold and demand rises (much of France relies on electric heating). At least for now the E-W interconnector to Ireland is down, preventing a further draw on the UK grid when the wind doesn’t blow, and the BritNed is mostly still supplying the UK (though that could change too if there is a Continental shortage – another 2GW swing).

      The bidding war to avoid blackout could get expensive. When Belgium had problems at Doel prices reached €4,000/MWh.

  22. Robert H says:

    Thank you for a very interesting article – and free access

    I work in the NHS which similarly overloaded, semi privatised and permanently about to collapse

    I would just say that wilderness must be kept… completely wild. But there are places where wind generation on shore is okay, and a poll of family and friends do not take against it. I know there are limits to the percentage of interruptible sources and we are past that. But I think it’s unnecessary to assume a given that wind power is ugly always

    Its a pity in blackout territory that so many combi boilers require elecricity to keep the heat on and people have electric heaters as backup. I have storage heaters in a small flat which are very cheap to run as the flat is relatively draft proof… but have the benefit of at least a days backup
    So I can sit in the warm in the dark while the freezer defrosts
    Storage heating is one way to dump excesses in winter… Rather than fancy electic car storage systems

    I find the snactions against Russia interesting given the gas supply situation…

  23. jacobress says:

    “Privatisation of the energy companies led to regulation and political interference. Once run by engineers, energy policy is now dictated by arts graduates.”

    This claim seems somewhat dubious. Electricity is always regulated by politicians. The fashion of the day has changed, and with it the politics. Politicians tend to be lawyers and art or history majors, rarely will you find an engineer in politics.

    • It doesn't add up... says:

      Walter Marshall ran the CEGB for many years. He was very much the engineer, and the politicians had little to no say in what he did to keep the lights on. The politics of energy supply post War were dominated by nuclear considerations, and the mining unions. Of course, the politicians eventually learned that they needed to consult those who really have a proper scientific/engineering understanding when they decided to take on the miners to win. The ground for that battle was very carefully laid by ensuring large coal stocks at power stations, and maximum operability of oil fired power (there was relatively little CCGT at the time).

      Post privatisation, the degree of goldplating of the system under the CEGB was revealed, and the dash for gas began. The real rise of regulation – and prices – didn’t happen until Labour started to meddle.

  24. Keith Smith says:

    In yesterday’s Daily Telegraph there was an article by Emily Gosden where Greg Clark, the Business and Energy Secretary is quoted as saying ‘Fears over intermittent solar and wind power were “overblown” and those who said they would jeopardise Britain’s ability to keep the lights on have been “proved wrong”‘
    Lets hope that this winter, the arrival of the cold weather that has been forecast might actually be able to make him eat his words.
    Somehow I suspect he will, as we know, blame everybody else.

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  28. Peter says:


    I live in Scotland and have just read your post. This is beyond dire and I think your analysis spot on. I think I will go and buy some heaters that will work without electricity. The boiler (gas) in my house requires all sorts of electronic monitors, etc., and I am pretty sure will not work without them. (Another consequence of Green policies, by the way).

    While there is a mention of Murphy’s 1st Law, there is a lesser well known Murphy’s 2nd Law (which, I may have made up): If two things can go wrong, they both will. So I am not optimistic about the situation, given the negative margin in dispatchable supply.

    An interesting question is, if they have to blackout an area/whole country, etc., where do you choose and how quickly can supply be restored?

    I read in a blog some time back that restoring an interruption to the gas supply might take months. But I suspect electricity, if it is tripped to fail safe, can be quickly restored.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Peter, having a wood burner is a good contingency. And then candles and a torch with some spare batteries. Some tins of Baxter’s soup and some tins of Heinz beans.

      Scottish power engineers I’m in contact with are concerned about a nation-wide blackout where both Hunterston and Torness are tripped and cannot be restarted from a nation-wide black start. The nuclear backbone was not designed to exist without a FF core.

  29. Steve says:

    YES – Supply blackout risk used to be highest on a winter weekday around 5.30-6pm , but situation is more complex now. Network blackout risk tends to be highest during storms and so linked to a specific time of day.

    LCOE needs to be treated with great caution – in UK context Load factor assumptions in recent reports (DECC) have been questionable.

    Scotland map – omits biomass (e.g. Steven Croft) and mispells Hunterston

    Nuclear not really “despatchable”, despite claims

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