There’s only one thing that renewable energy advocates like more than plastering hillsides with turbines and that is building transmission lines and inter connectors, deemed necessary to make it all work.
In this short post I want to draw attention to a news item (in Danish) I received courtesy of Hugh Sharman detailing a complaint that the Danes have with their German neighbours. The Germans are blocking electricity exports from Denmark, evidently in contravention of EU free trade rules.
According to latest data from the Energy Watchdog, the inter connector between Denmark and Germany is just available for Danish exports for 14% of the time.
So what’s going on here? If existing inter connectors are not being used, what is the point in planning and building more?
Figure 1 Map of the European high voltage grid courtesy of Energyanalyst showing the inter connections between Denmark, Germany, Norway and Sweden. Figure 2 shows the actual flows for May 2014.
One can but speculate the reasons for the Germans turning down Danish electricity. It seems likely that when it is windy in Denmark it is also windy in northern Germany and they have a surplus to sell at the same time and are therefore not interested in buying from Denmark. German flows into Denmark may not face the same resistance since the Danish grid is open to Norway and Sweden with flexible and dispatchable hydro generation that can be switched down to absorb German wind. This is effectively a manifestation of wind blowing everywhere that has been discussed many times on these pages.
The Danes are not happy and the Energy and Climate Minister Lars Christian has undertaken to take up the matter of the closed border with his German counterpart observing that Denmark is not the only closed electricity border that Germany has with its neighbours. There is also a move to take this up with the EU. I dare say the politicians and bureaucrats are about to learn that the physical world obeys physical laws and not the laws made in Bruxelles.
Saturation with wind power will only get worse as time goes on and cannot be solved by building more inter connectors. In fact, as wind saturation grows, the need for inter connectors between wind producers will decline since all will experience over-supply simultaneously. The only connections that make sense are between wind and hydro producers that can provide limited load balancing service.
Figure 2 The map shows power flows (GWh) for May 2014. There are a large number of interesting observations to make that go beyond the scope of this post. Something to discuss in comments! For example Nuclear France exported 6625 GWh and imported 301 GWh. Norway exported 897 GWh to Denmark and Holland while importing 9 GWh. Map from Energyanalyst.
So why are Europeans planning on building more, lots more inter connectors? The explanation lies in the central plan. There is a presumption in the EU that renewables are beneficial. And there are legally binding targets to be met for renewables penetration and CO2 reduction. Unelected bureaucrats in the UN and EU have seized control of a large and fundamentally important part of the OECD economy. And there probably isn’t a scientist among them.
There is a belief that greater connectivity of the grid is required to enable the ebb and flow of wind and solar between countries. This belief is in fact one of those semi-mythical half truths, partial solutions. The engineers who may have pointed this out work for the grid operators who are naturally keen to see the grid expand regardless of whether it makes sense or not. For so long as the consumer mug is there to foot the bill the grid operators are happy to take their money. The other engineers who may point this out work for universities and NGOs on projects aimed at delivering the central plan. Their livelihoods are dependent on the plan and the more difficult it is to deliver the more money there is to be made. The central planners of the Soviet Union would have been proud. But all this of course amounts to massive mis-allocations of capital. Worse than that, the capital is being spent to hobble one of our most vital resources – dispatchable electricity.