Scotch on the ROCs

“The Scottish Government’s targets are for renewable sources to generate the equivalent of 100 per cent of Scotland’s gross annual electricity consumption by 2020.” What will the consequences be for the Scottish People?

This post models Scottish electricity production and consumption in 2020 and compares this with 2012. It is assumed that Scotland’s two nuclear power stations remain operational in 2020. The reader is asked to always recall that the numbers are based on models and the conclusions therefore carry uncertainty. The consequences of this energy policy may be:

  • A large electricity surplus of about 15 TWh may be produced in 2020, worth about £2.5 billion at 17p / KWh.
  • There are currently many ideas but no certainty about where this surplus might go. It seems possible that a large part may simply be wasted.
  • Assuming that marine renewables remain negligible and hydro output remains unchanged in 2020 then the bulk of the expansion in renewables to meet the target will most likely be met by wind that will require a 5 fold increase relative to 2012.
  • In an independent Scotland the subsidy payments currently made to renewables companies by 63 million UK citizens would fall pro rata on the shoulders of 5.3 million Scottish citizens. This, combined with the 5 fold increase in wind capacity may mean a 25 fold increase in the level of renewable subsidy born by Scottish electricity consumers. Electricity bills may double.

In summary, the Scottish Government energy plan may result in a large electricity surplus that at present has nowhere to go, the number of wind turbines may increase 5 fold and electricity bills may double.

Figure 1 Scottish renewable electricity growth according to Scottish Government data [1]. It has proven difficult to reconcile exactly the Scottish Government data with DECC data and BM reports / Gridwatch. Electricity produced from landfill gas and biofuels are not included in the models presented here. It is clear that the vast majority of the growth in recent years has come form wind. Hydro periodically suffers from low rainfall.

On 18 September this year, Scotland will vote on whether or not it will remain a part of the United Kingdom. The current Scottish majority government with the Scottish National Party (SNP) at the helm has the energy policy detailed above and below. It is well on its way to being implemented at a cost of billions of pounds. While this post is focussed on Scotland, the lessons and implications may apply to any country going down the high renewable route.

The Policy

This parliamentary committee report [2] makes clear the Scottish Government (SNP) electricity energy policy (in section 46):

46. The Scottish Government’s targets are for renewable sources to generate the equivalent of 100 per cent of Scotland’s gross annual electricity consumption by 2020. A target has also been set for renewable sources to provide the equivalent of 11 per cent of Scotland’s heat demand by 2020. Within the electricity generation target, a target has been set for “local and community ownership of 500 MW electricity by 2020”.

It is the first part of this target that is the subject of this post, “to generate 100% of Scotland’s gross annual electricity consumption from renewable sources by 2020” – less than 6 years from now. This policy is nuanced. Not 100% of electricity consumed but the equivalent of 100% of gross annual electricity consumed allowing important wriggle room for other sources to enter the mix.

The Electricity Generation Models

I am not aware of detailed electricity generation statistics for Scotland. I have therefore used the UK power stations capacity data base published by DECC [3] that was last updated to the end of May 2013 and UK generation data from BM reports as recorded by Gridwatch [4] and allocated generation to Scotland on a pro rata basis from the UK statistics. I compare a model for 2012 with a future model for 2020 where 100% of Scotland’s gross electricity consumption comes from the renewable sources of hydroelectric and wind power. This approach is imperfect but should not significantly alter the main conclusions.

The Charts

I have plotted full year generation data for 2012 as downloaded from Gridwatch. The data are recorded with 5 minute resolution resulting in over 150,000 lines of data for a full year which has pushed my Mac and XL to their limits. Click on all charts to get a LARGE version that will open in a new browser window. Save to your HD and open in your graphics viewing application – on a Mac that is Preview. Zoom in for details. I have had to reduce the resolution of these large charts to upload to WordPress.

Scottish Power Generating Assets

In 2012, Scotland had the following power generating assets [3] (Figure 2):

  • Torness nuclear 1185 MW
  • Hunterstone B nuclear 890 MW
  • Longannet coal 2400 MW
  • Peterhead CCGT 1180 MW
  • Hydro suit 1602 MW
  • Wind park 3813 MW
  • Total capacity 11070 MW
  • Peak demand 5900 MW

Thus capacity is greatly in excess of demand and the addition of 3813 MW of wind (and growing fast) has exacerbated the oversupply situation. Scotland has historically been a significant exporter of power to England. In this analysis I have ignored an array of smaller power generators such as biomass (Steven’s croft) and poultry litter (Westfield).

Figure 2 Map (somewhat outdated) of the main generating assets and grid in Scotland and N England. Power stations like Cockenzie and Methil are already closed. [5]

2012 Scottish Electricity Generation Model

The 2012 generating model is shown in Figure 3. Nuclear supply is based on [(Scottish capacity / UK capacity) * UK nuclear generation]. Hydro and wind are prorated in the same way. Demand is prorated with Scotland = 10.34% of UK demand. The difference between demand and the combined nuclear + hydro + wind supply is that which has to be met from other sources (coal and gas) or from imports as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 3 Click chart for large version. In 2012, nuclear+hydro+wind did not produce sufficient power to satisfy demand. The deficit (Figure 3) was largely met from Longannet and Peterhead.

Figure 4 Click chart for large version. This chart shows demand less nuclear+hydro+wind, which is the load met by Longannet and Peterhead. Note how on a few occasions, Scotland was fossil fuel generation free, especially during the windy Christmas holiday season at the end of the year.

Figure 4 shows occasional surpluses which occur mainly on windy nights (see Figure 3). But the pattern is one of fluctuating deficit normally below 2000 MW but occasionally approaching 4000 MW in winter. In 2012 this deficit will have been met mainly from coal and gas capacity that totals 3580 MW, some pumped hydro, smaller generators and imports from England.

If you zoom in on Figure 3 you will see that the pattern of deficit that needed to be balanced in 2012 is dominated by and following demand. With this configuration, the load balancing task has not been much altered with the addition of wind that had an annual total of 17% penetration.

2020 Scottish Electricity Generating Model

Scotland’s two nuclear power stations are not due to close until 2023 and so it is assumed they remain operational in 2020, although the SNP policy is effectively for a nuclear free Scotland once these power stations close.

In the 2020 model, nuclear and hydro generation have been kept the same as in 2012 as has demand (Figure 5). Wind has been scaled up so that wind + hydro (renewables) equals total annual demand. It is assumed that marine renewables will remain negligible in 6 years time. Note that Y-axis scale has been increased to accommodate peak supply that on occasions exceeds 12000 MW. The pattern of surplus and deficit is shown in Figure 6.

Figure 5 Click chart to enlarge. The parameters of this chart are the same as shown in Figure 3 apart from wind has been scaled so that wind+hydro = annualised total demand. It is clear that low carbon energy sources now meet demand for most of the time with large electricity surpluses for most of the time that are plotted in Figure 6. Note that hydro load is simply that copied from 2012. In the new environment with excess wind power hydro may be used to part balance the system and eliminate some of the periodic deficits (Figure 6).

Figure 6 Click chart to enlarge. In 2020, the model shows that Scotland is almost running a continuous electricity surplus. The small deficits may be reduced further by managing hydro production to span lulls and by the addition of more pumped hydro. There does not appear to be an issue with power security, apart from the affordability of this set up. The surpluses on occasions exceed 8000 MW, greatly in excess of the current inter connector capacity between Scotland and England. It seems possible that one of the nuclear power plants (Huntertsone B) might close in 2023 and that will absorb some of this surplus.

In Figure 5 there is a total of 29.7 TWh of wind and 3.0 TWh of hydro to satisfy 32.7 TWh of demand satisfying the call for gross 100% renewables production. Wind generation in 2012 was modelled at 5.7 TWh and the model therefore calls for over a 5 fold uplift in wind capacity in 2020 relative to 2012. If you don’t have a wind farm on your door step yet, you had better watch out.

Figure 5 shows that despite the gigantic uplift in wind capacity there are still numerous spells of electricity deficit that may be managed in part by adjusting hydro load. The remaining deficit may be met by the CCGT at Peterhead and imports from England.  As discussed below, it does not seem likely that Longannet Powerstation can stay open. Peterhead CCGT is about to be “upgraded” to a carbon capture and storage demonstration plant [6]. I don’t really know how this is going to work! Peterhead will presumably need to run 24/7 to warrant the investment in CCS making the surplus even greater.


There are a number of consequences that flow from this modelling exercise that deserve scrutiny.

Where will the surplus go?

The net surplus represents 14.8 TWh of electricity which priced at £0.17 per KWh is worth £2.5 billion. At present the only place for such a surplus to go is England but we do not currently have the connection capacity to export, on occasions, over 8000 MW. A major question is whether or not England would need to or want to import this stochastic power? It must be born in mind that times of surplus wind in Scotland are often times of surplus in England too. England may take some as it suits them but unlikely a significant amount.

Interconnection with other European countries is another option often discussed, especially Norway. This model would involve Norway importing cheap electricity from Scotland on availability and exporting expensive electricity to the continent on demand. There would be little need for Scotland to import from Norway unless this was to satisfy demand in England.

Storage is another option and pumped hydro storage offers good energy efficiency. Scotland does not as yet have significant pumped storage capacity but there are plans to build a new large facility in Coire Glas that would have 30 GWh capacity [7]. The 14.8 TWh surplus is sufficient to fill Coire Glas 493 times. With 600 MW generating capacity, Coire Glas could meet much of the deficit (Figure 4) but with only about 37 deficit events the demand for pumped storage in Scotland is much smaller than the gigantic surplus could fill.

The Scottish Government and Aberdeen local government have long been keen on hydrogen as a means of storing surplus wind power. I too was keen on this idea for a while many years ago until I learned about energy efficiency. If hydrogen is made by electrolysis of water and used in a fuel cell to power a car or bus then there are huge energy losses along the way that I once estimated to be 76% of the energy supplied [8]. In other words, going this route would mean wasting 11.3 TWh of the surplus or £1.9 billion.

Should Scotland fail to find an export market or to develop large scale storage, both of which seem likely, then the only other option will be to spill the electricity or to curtail generation. The landscape will be plastered with turbines, the population sadelled with enormous costs (see below) for little to no benefit.

Landscape impact

Where I stay in Aberdeen I am not immediately affected by the landscape impact of wind farms. But drive out of the city into the counties of Aberdeenshire or Angus and wind farms are everywhere. They are on every mountain ridge and hill top. While some of the future wind capacity may be built offshore, though this is also controversial [9], Scots and the important tourist industry should be prepared for things to get approximately 4 times as bad (factored down from 5) as they were in 2012.

Longannet closure

One casualty of the massive expansion of wind power will have to be Longannet coal fired power station which I imagine will close before 2020. The plan is, after all, to get rid of fossil fuel powered generation even although coal is likely to be the cheapest form of power production for many decades.

Scotch on the ROCs

Renewable Obligation Certificates or ROCs are the consumer paid subsidies to the renewable energy producers. In 2012, Scotland had 44% of UK wind capacity. The ROCs payable were met by the whole UK population of 63 million. With independence it seems likely that 5.3 million Scottish consumers will have to pay the subsidies on electricity generated in Scotland. That would imply a 5.2 fold uplift in the per capita level of subsidy payments on 2012 levels of production (63/5.3*44%). Come 2020, the energy plan calls for a 5 fold uplift in wind capacity and that would hence result in a 25 fold uplift in the per capita subsidy payments in 2020 relative to 2012.

Wikipedia suggests that the cost of a ROC in 2012 was roughly 0.5p per KWh. In essence, an independent Scotland may have to service 25 times as many ROCs as today (many more KWh of renewable power) that needs to be compared with electricity price of about 17p / KWh. Scottish electricity prices could be set to double.

The SNP have said they want the single electricity market to continue along with the single currency and you can see why. I cannot think of a single reason why English consumers would want to pay subsidies to Scottish renewable electricity producers should Scotland elect to go it alone. This seems like a recipe for disaster and the details of this certainly need to be clarified before the vote. I don’t see any way that Scottish domestic and commercial consumers could bear such a burden and one possible unintended consequence of a yes vote might therefore be the abolition of ROCs and the collapse of the energy plan.

[1] Renewable Electricity Statistics for Scotland

[2]  7th Report, 2012 (Session 4): Report on the achievability of the Scottish Government’s renewable energy targets

[3] DUKES 5.11 Electricity: chapter 5, Digest of United Kingdom energy statistics (DUKES)

[4] Gridwatch

[5] DECC map of UK powerstationsmap

[6] Peterhead Carbon Capture and Storage Project

[7] Energy Matters: The Coire Glas pumped storage scheme – a massive but puny beast

[8] The Oil Drum: The energy efficiency of cars

[9] Donald Trump withdraws application for second golf course

Disclaimer: This is a technically complex post where some far reaching conclusions are reached based on extrapolation from UK data into the Scottish domain. If I have made any gross errors then please bring these to may attention in comments and I will endeavour to correct or highlight them.


This entry was posted in Energy, Political commentary and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

61 Responses to Scotch on the ROCs

  1. A C Osborn says:

    This information should be fed to the “No” campaign people so they can ask a few questions about where the Funding will come from.

  2. David Toke says:

    We seem to live in different dimensions, Euan. I worked out things rather differently in the DREUD Report on costs to Scottish electricity consumers in that Scottish consumers could actually save money under some plausible ‘independence’ scenarios. I also understand ENTSOE rules rather differently, as well, since they would require the UK to accept Scottish electricity exports, ironically with lower transmission charges than are levied now on Scottish electricity exports.

    I am interested in schemes to integrate fluctuating renewable energy into the grid, of course – we don’t want to waste any renewable electricity, even though the problem is rather less than the impression given in your description.

    See and also various comments on my green energy blog


    David Toke

    • Euan Mearns says:

      David, I’ll admit the regulatory framework and economics are not my strong points. But given that the objective is to integrate even more high cost wind power + subsidies it is difficult for me to see how you can reach this conclusion:

      Scottish consumers could actually save money under some plausible ‘independence’ scenarios


      we don’t want to waste any renewable electricity, even though the problem is rather less than the impression given in your description

      That is your opinion, but electricity once generated either needs to be used, exported or stored. Exporting and storage adds infrastructure and energy costs (transmission). I believe that Aberdeen City Council are going to find that the H2 to fill their busses is exorbitantly expensive. If it were cheap, we would all be driving fuel cell vehicles already.

      At low levels of wind penetration, the grid can behave as an open system. Surpluses shunted around, generating plant switched on and off. At higher levels of penetration it behaves more like a closed system – no where for surpluses to go but storage. Grid scale pumped hydro is impractical leaving chemical storage that is woefully inefficient. Indeed we live in different dimensions.

      This is an interesting link posted in an earlier thread that shows how a closed renewables grid works. 200% diesel back up or there about, a tonne of batteries and load shifting in the form of a computer that says no, all to keep 25 to 40 folks alive, albeit in an extreme environment.

      I’m quite sure I have got some things wrong in this post. If you were able to be specific and point out the flaws in my data / argument, I’d appreciate it.

      Best Euan

  3. Joe Public says:

    “A large electricity surplus of about 15 TWh may be produced in 2020, worth about £2.5 billion at 17p / KWh.”

    Something is worth only what someone is willing to pay for it.

    A significant proportion Scotland’s excess power will be generated by intermittently unpredictable renewables.

    It’s customers may have no need to buy-in ‘extra’ power at times Scotland has its excess to sell.

    UK consumers already subsidise wind farms to ‘not’ produce at certain times.

    I probably speak for my many compatriots south of the border who’ll state they’ll be buggered if they’ll pay for an independent country to not produce.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      UK consumers already subsidise wind farms to ‘not’ produce at certain times.

      Joe, Drive South of Aberdeen these days towards Perth and I pass about 20 wind farms in the first 45 minutes. Recently, when windy I’ve noticed some turning some idle. And I think I begin to understand why. My 2012 chart shows occasional nuclear + hydro + wind surplus and there has been significant growth in wind since then. And so I suspect we are entering the era of surplus with nowhere to go and financing curtailment. There is a lot of grid expansion and hardening going on, I guess aimed at solving these problems. But as wind penetration increases the problem with a surplus that has nowhere to go will only increase.

      I just had a brilliant idea. We need to build a pan European – pan African HVDC grid so that we can export the surpluses to Africa. We could call the system TemperTec (TM). We could give the worlds most expensive electricity away stimulating African economies. It would be similar to what we do with food now. DeserTec must surely be dead in the water.

  4. David Toke says:

    They (UK) won’t have any choice under ENTSOE rules anyway but to accept the power from Scotland – so it would be much easier for the UK to have a common System Operator so that they could manage cross border electricity flows better

    • Ben Elsworth says:

      The UK wouldn’t want to turn away exports from Scotland – why would we? Bring them on if they’re cheaper than English generation. In the case of wind, when there’s excess there’s excess, marginal running cost = zero, so it will be sold at any price and Scottish exports will for sure continue. Bearing in mind that all of Scotland’s thermal power capacity is scheduled to close by 2023, after that time Scotland may also rely on English imports (they already do occasionally) for extended periods during low wind. Just like with the recent conversation about France, this will be a buy high / sell low scenario for Scotland, which the UK will be more than happy to participate in.

      The big question is whether the UK would continue to pool ROCs with Scotland. If not, then of course a 100% renewables penetration will be very expensive for Scottish consumers relative to power prices today.

      There was an important case at the ECJ which finished a couple of weeks ago. It was brought by a Finnish wind farm against the Swedish government for excluding it from the Swedish renewable energy support scheme. Long story short, it was a very clear and specific ruling by the ECJ in favour of Sweden, and it was very unfavourable for Scotland as it means it is completely clear that there will be no obligation on the UK to accept Scottish ROCs (or other subsidies) after the current scheme ends. There is the possibility of trade between the 2 nations, where Scotland would sell RE certificates to the UK to reduce the cost of compliance with the Energy Directive (assuming the UK stays in the EU). However this would be on a strictly commercial basis – Scotland would have to compete with (for instance) solar from Spain or Greece on price. Perhaps onshore wind can do that, but the problem will be the huge amounts of planned offshore wind which absolutely won’t (let alone all the marine stuff).

      To be clear, I think Scotland can afford this, it’s not ruinous, but it certainly will disadvantage consumers and industry versus their counterparts in the UK.

      • Euan Mearns says:

        Ben, high cost selling at low price is broken capitalism. On various threads here we are kind of zeroing in on the crux of the matter. Complex regulation and subsidies seem to lie at the heart. But what will come out in the wash is the fact we are replacing low cost generation with high cost generation.

  5. A C Osborn says:

    David Toke says: July 23, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    You seem to have forgotten what the first “E” stands for in ENTSOE, it stands for European.
    So maybe the fact that Scotland will not be in the EU and no longer part of the country that agreed to ENTSOE the same rules will not apply.
    There is also the distinct possibilty that England could severe the actual grid power lines between them and Scotland should the unpredictable power threaren their Grid.
    Other countries are already adding controls to either block or dump Germany’s excess Electricity if they do not require it.

  6. Glen Mcmillian says:

    I am off topic but I have a question for you guys who are regulars here.

    How long do you think it will take the average price ( over a year time frame ) of natural gas to double?My own guess is that it will not be more than ten to fifteen years in constant money and I would not be surprised if it is less than ten years.

  7. Anon says:

    I reckon an independent Scotland would see the end of the wind turbine bonanza currently going on throughout Scotland, especially if England (rightfully) decide not to continue to subsidise Scottish turbines. The simple fact is that Scottish consumers could not afford to subsidise all the current turbines in Scotland without massive amounts of fuel poverty which would see the scam end overnight.

    What the SNP has done to Scotland is an absolute disgrace with regards to wind farms. We have sacrificed one of our key assets, an asset that we have always been taught to be proud of since birth. Yet, I have no doubt that this sacrifice of our landscape and environment would have continued under Labour, Tories, Greens, and the Lib Dems.

    I shall be voting for an independent Scotland and when the opportunity comes, I will be voting for the SNP to be removed from power. I am hoping to see the rise of more independents as all the big parties are putting careers and vague promises first before the needs of the people, communities and environment.

  8. Roger Andrews says:

    I think I’ve figured out how Scotland plans to meet its 100% renewables by 2020 goal..

    In 2020 Scotland consumes, say, 40 TWh of electricity.

    In 2020 Scotland generates 40 TWh of electricity from renewables.

    We’ve met our goal! says the government. 100% renewables by 2020!

    Wait a minute, says someone. You consumed only 20 TWh of renewables. You had to export the other 20 TWh because you couldn’t use it. You made up the difference with 20 TWh of thermal electricity, all of which got consumed in Scotland. So you really only made it to 50% renewables.

    Not so, says the government. We know it was 100% because we kept all the renewable electricity. It was the thermal electricity that got exported..

    That’s the way the Danes do it. Ask Hugh Sharman.

    • Glen Mcmillian says:

      Some body some where saves most of the coal and gas needed to generate that odd twenty TWh. That helps keep the price of coal and gas down for everybody.

      It is apparently impossible to find good figures on how much the generation of renewables reduces the price of fossil fuels but here in the US we got over four percent of our juice from wind and solar last year. So far as I can find out that must have reduced our consumption of coal and gas by pretty close to four percent.Inefficiencies may have reduced this saving to only three percent or so. Opinions are all over the map on this matter. Some people insist that we are using MORE coal and gas rather than less because of wind and solar juice being on the grid.

      This certainly must be putting some serious downward pressure on the price of coal and gas.I wonder how much.

      I am willing to venture a guess wind and solar power have reduced our collective national fuel bill more than it has cost us in subsidies on an annual basis for the last year.Going forward the savings will increase as subsidies for given wind and solar farms terminate.

      • Euan Mearns says:

        I am willing to venture a guess wind and solar power have reduced our collective national fuel bill more than it has cost us in subsidies on an annual basis for the last year.

        Keep going Glen! In all controversies, there are often good arguments on both sides. One thing to consider is that you have only 4% from wind and solar. The impact on your electricity supply and landscape is still effectively zero. We are heading for 100% of the most expensive electricity ever invented. And so while coal prices may be pressured downwards – great for those who have it, we are going to close our last remaining coal plant and our electricity prices likely go through the roof.

        The argument you make is a good one, and so there must be some sensible middle ground where some renewables place downwards pressure on prices, do not place grid stability at risk nor wreck the landscape. Much of the debate here is about government targets.

        • Glen Mcmillian says:

          It does seem as if green power has achieved the status of a religion in some European countries and I would not be totally surprised to see things go to the extreme of closing the last coal fired plant in some countries. People are not often rational in crowds or even as individuals.

          But depletion marches right along.

          My perspective is oriented more to the American and third world situations- the opposing ends of the spectrum with western Europe in the middle, rich like America but poor in natural resources like most of the third world.

          We are not so politicized in the energy arena here and there is no chance at all of the green movement closing all or even most of our coal plants.We are after all the country where a gas tax of even a dollar a gallon utterly out of the question. Totally spoiled by low energy prices, we Americans.

          We Yankees will cut back on coal in a truly serious fashion only so long as natural gas is readily available and cheap. My guess is that will not be for more than another three or four years. The people that own the gas are eager to export it and get world prices and will likely get their way.

          People who have never had electricity will be perfectly estatic to have intermittent power. Countries without the wherewithal to pay for imported coal and oil are going to have to be satisfied with whatever intermittent power they can generate with renewables.

          I am a big picture guy. You guys here are engineers and I have great respect for you but you look at problems from a more limited perspective pov than I do- I am farther back and see a forest whereas you are focused on trees.

          I am still waiting for an answer to my question.How long do you guys think it will be before the constant money price of natural gas doubles on the world market, on an annual basis for a years time?

          Keep in mind that oil is now about five times as expensive as it should be according to the estimates of all the conventional experts predictions from just a decade ago.

          How long do you think it will be until the price of coal doubles in nominal money? My guess is that this inflation including inflation will not be much more than ten years in arriving and maybe less even though there is still plenty of coal.

          Beyond that I think the constant money price of coal will double within twenty years.

          Wind and solar farms built today will still be generating power in twenty years and will be refurbished for half or less the cost of scratch construction and generate for another twenty.

          • Roberto says:

            Wind and solar farms built today will still be generating power in twenty years and will be refurbished for half or less the cost of scratch construction and generate for another twenty.”

            I honestly doubt that, but even if they will they will remain intermittent and generate power in unexpected quantities, at unforeseeable times, needing other forms of power generation to come to the rescue.
            Just think of Germany, their pumped hydro storage capacity totals less than 1 hour of winter consumption.. and you know what the Nov to Feb capacity factor of German pv is?… less than 5pc.

      • Roger Andrews says:

        “I am willing to venture a guess wind and solar power have reduced our collective national fuel bill more than it has cost us in subsidies on an annual basis for the last year.”

        I don’t know what they did to the collective national fuel bill, but here’s what they did to electricity bills in states that are heavy into wind power:

        “A newly published paper by the American Wind Energy Association illustrates that electricity prices are rising more than four times the national average in nine of the 11 states with the most wind power consumption. In Texas, the only one of the 11 states with significantly declining electricity prices, deregulation rather than wind power is causing the decline in electricity prices. The findings are a huge blow to advocates of renewable power mandates and wind power subsidies.”

        • Glen Mcmillian says:

          I read that and spent a good bit of time picking thru it.The author cherry picked the hell out of the data and totally ignored the benefits of the renewables in terms of tax base and employment.

          There are as almost as many states without significant wind power where rates went up faster.And the reasons rates have gone up can vary a great deal from one state to another.Wind is not necessarily a significant factor.

          There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.

          You can prove anything with statistics- if you are in charge of picking the statistics yourself.

          I never see the people opposed to climate change science for instance mention the fact that cargo ships are transiting the fabled Northwest Passage this very day.

          I am still waiting for answers to a couple of you diehard anti renewable guys.

          Just how long do you expect gas and coal to remain affordable?

          Are all of you afraid to post an opinion? Or is it that you would have to admit that there is are no viable solutions to our long term energy problems other than renewables and maybe nukes?

          I am not an engineer but I have taken a course in probability theory and I have studied human nature in crowds for half a century.

          The odds are pretty good- or pretty bad as you may choose to express them – that there will be another bad nuclear accident within a decade or so.The odds are very high that any nuke built in a third world country will not be operated safely once the country is in a financial or political bind.

          One more Fukushima if it requires big city to be evacuated will put an end to any possibility of building any new nukes for a decade at the very least in Western Europe and probably here in the US as well.

          Do you guys really believe we are going to be able to get a whole new fleet of nukes permitted and financed and built before we have some truly awful problems with coal and gas supplies?

          Do you think Uncle Sam is going to keep the sea lanes open forever?

          We have some pretty serious problems of our own and we can hardly afford a seven seas blue water navy indefinitely. I don’t see much hope of any European country doing very much to help in this matter.

          We have our own coal and gas here in North America.We don’t really need a huge navy except to keep the oil flowing and it looks to me that the oil we have been importing for so long is drying up pretty fast.I doubt there is going to be a whole lot of oil available for import at any price within two decades because the countries that have it are going to be using it themselves or will have entered into trade contracts with China specifying oil in exchange for manufactured goods rather than cash.

          Fossil fuels do come out of holes in the ground you know. And the population is going to continue to grow for another thirty or forty years most likely even as the third world industrializes and wants more and more energy.

          • Roger Andrews says:

            “I read that and spent a good bit of time picking thru it.The author cherry picked the hell out of the data and totally ignored the benefits of the renewables in terms of tax base and employment. There are as almost as many states without significant wind power where rates went up faster.”

            Well, Glen, give us the benefit of the results of your analysis. Tell us which states these were, how much wind power they generate and how much rates went up there. Then we would be in a better position to judge the objectivity of the Forbes article.

      • Roberto says:

        So far as I can find out that must have reduced our consumption of coal and gas by pretty close to four percent.

        Hi, you guys in the USA are years behind us here in europe. The ‘missing’ fuel saved by PV never ever make enough savings as compared to the incentives paid, not even if you factor in the green certificates our even the value of the Years Of Life Lost.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Roger, if you look at my charts you should realise that the vast surplus we produce in 2020 is in fact equal to our nuclear production. And so, we will consume 100% renewables and export all of our nuclear power. Just that our nuclear output looks more like the Rocky Mountains than the Colorado Plateau.

      • Roger Andrews says:

        Euan: Backup thermal generation is still part of the plan. The 2012 7th Report on the achievability of the Scottish Government’s renewable energy targets in fact calls it a “requirement”:

        “The Committee heard a range of views on the extent to which renewable energy generation leads to a reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions because of the requirement to have thermal generation running at sub-optimal efficiency as a back up to intermittent supply.”

        This backup thermal generation is what you will be exporting, plus some nuclear. But I’d be willing to bet that if a little bit of nuclear is needed to reach the 100% target then it will somehow find its way into the “renewables” category. It is carbon-free generation after all.

        With renewables and a little creative accounting you really can fool all of the people all of the time.

        • Doug Brodie says:

          Further to the deliberations of the Scottish Government’s Energy Committee on the extent to which renewable energy generation leads to a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, it is interesting to note that they take evidence from WWF who are fanatical on wind power (para 119) and National Grid who have a vested interest in trying to maximise the deployment of wind power to increase their transport revenues (para 118).

          In response to the Committee’s unclear question (para 121), National Grid responded with this unclear and unconvincing paper: It claims that wind has only a negligible 0.1% effect on thermal plant efficiency. This is simply not believable, and in fact seems to relate to variations from forecasts rather than the main question of wind power net CO2 savings. Yet Fergus Ewing has cited this paper to me as “proof” that there is negligible loss of wind power CO2 savings due to enforced inefficiencies in supporting fossil fuel plants.

          • Roger Andrews says:

            Might also note that the 10.9 million tons of CO2 the NG estimates was saved by UK wind farms between April 2011 and September 2012 represents 0.006% of total global CO2 emissions over the period.

  9. Pingback: Euan Mearns: Scotch on the ROCs | Tallbloke's Talkshop

  10. Steve Argent says:

    Currently a ROC in England and Wales has parity with a Scottish ROC – so ROCs produced in Scotland can (and are) used to meet ROC requirements for electricity suppliers in England and Wales. It is less clear how CfDs will work if Scotland goes independent, but currently Scottish developments can bid into the GB CfD pot. It is expected that the electricity market will continue to operate across the whole of GB, regardless of scottish independence (much as the all island market operates across Eire and Northern Ireland).

  11. Euan Mearns says:

    Just another perspective. Wind is twice as expensive as coal / gas. I’m not sure how anyone can deduce that renewables may bring down prices. I guess you pile on the C tax and then bingo, renewables look cheap.

    • Ben Elsworth says:

      Hi Euan, renewables clearly aren’t generally cheaper than coal or gas, but when assessing overall impact on electricity costs the counterfactuals are not as obvious as it first seems.

      Wind lobbyists groups have in the past made dramatic claims that wind has brought overall costs down. I don’t actually agree with that, but when I started thinking about the claim I realised the argument had more merit than I first gave it credit for.

      Their point basically comes down to the fact that power prices marginally – i.e. the every generator gets paid whatever it costs the most expensive “in-merit” generator to run. Indulge me with a hypothetical scenario to demonstrate the point:

      There is an idealised system with constant 100 MW of baseload demand and a merit order of 101 1MW perfect fossil generators (that never break or need to be maintained) and in which the 3 most expensive generators have a marginal cost of £51/MWh, £50/MWh and £49/MWh respectively. The power price settles at £50/MWh because that’s what it takes to get the 100th MW unit to keep working – if the price went to £51/MWh, he would lose out to the next guy, so it doesn’t. The nation’s annual wholesale power cost (just for generation) is:

      100 (MW) * 8760 (hours per year) * 50 (£/MWh) = £43,800,000 per year

      Now suppose a new 1MW wind generator (where the wind always blows) comes along with government guaranteed revenue of £100/MWh. The wind plant always runs because of its high tariff and low marginal cost, but now the market power price falls to £49/MWh – because the £50/MWh unit is no longer needed. The annual generation bill is now:

      99 * 8760 * 49 = £42,494,760
      1 * 8760 * 100 = £876,000

      Total = £43,370,760, and the country has saved £429,240 DESPITE the high cost of the subsidy!

      Obviously there are a lot of important differences between this idealised world and the real world, and I’m happy to discuss those if you like, but I’ll let you digest this first. Bear in mind – I don’t agree with the wind lobbyists – my opinion is that the effect is not large enought to offset the cost of the subsidy, but it does partially offset it, and the effect is quite dramatic in Germany.

      • Euan Mearns says:

        Ben i think this is a similar point to that made by Glen (this all sounds very Scottish;-) Low penetration levels of high cost renewables brings the price down. But when the penetration gets high, the price must go up.

        I have previously argued that we are on the back side of Hubbert’s peak and that capitalism was a feature of the front side. Lots of examples of over-production of expensive energy dumping price.

        When the price goes down, what does the renewable producer get paid?

        I’m short of time, supposed to be on holiday from today for a couple of weeks. Will make announcement on Sunday’s blowout. There are issues here worth while thrashing out in a friendly manner!


        • donald says:

          Are you talking about the whole sale price or actual price that consumers pay once you add subsidies in?

          Marginal cost determines wholesale price and wind, for example, has v.low marginal cost and, hence, can reduce the wholesale price alot. See negative prices in the Germany recently.

          • Euan Mearns says:

            Donald, I know what you are saying, but I do not understand it. I believe this in part lies at the heart of the “electricity renewables controversy”. I think most of my commenters here are engineering, natural science types. Thought processes rooted in thermodynamics. I would say that the real world runs on energy and thermodynamics, economics is a derivative of that primary system. Where we are now is that the economics tail is trying to wag the energy dog.

            I’m fascinated by the discussion, but I’m supposed to be on holiday. I hope we can resume with a couple of appropriate posts in a couple of weeks

      • Roberto says:

        “where the wind always blows”

        There’s no place where the wind always blows, as a matter of fact UK onshore turbines generate less than 10 percent of their nominal power for more than 25 percent of the time.


  12. Graham Palmer says:

    Ben, you’re describing the well-known merit-order effect – add additional supply (say bananas) to any market (a wholesale fruit market) and the price will settle at a lower price than it would otherwise have settled. This is usually called competition and a good thing for consumers.

    But we are not really talking about efficient markets here – we are talking about additional supply being forced into a market at a higher penetration than if the market was allowed to operate efficiently. If the new energy sources were able to provide the same role as the legacy producers, resulting in an early retirement of highest-emission generators, that might be a good thing. If the new energy sources can’t provide the same role (i.e – primary frequency regulation, reserve capacity, inertia, dispatchability, etc) then there will be unintended consequences and costs that lie outside the wholesale energy market.

    • donald says:

      Hammy P,

      In GB they do actually operate a merit order though for electricity generation.

      The market might be efficient if taxes/subsidies etc. accurately reflect externalities.

      Also, generators that provide the things you mention, get paid for them….

      Bit of non-comment you’ve got going on there..

      • Graham Palmer says:

        Also, generators that provide the things you mention, get paid for them….

        Not arguing with that – synchronous generators can provide the services at low cost hence these usually represent a very small proportion of operating revenue for baseload (I’m not familiar with the specifics of the GB market), but may be greater for peaking units. In the pre-privatisation days some/most of those services were not even explicitly costed. Take away those units and someone will have to provide them at a cost…

        • donald says:

          I don’t think anyone’s suggesting that we have no base load generation, or peaking generation.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Graham who lives in Australia might not know that Hammy is a Scottish colloquialism of Graham like Bill for William and Sandy for Alexander.

  13. donald says:

    The subsidy won’t all be paid by people in Scotland after independence.

    • donald says:

      Sorry, bit of an unexplained comment there. Assuming the rUK still wants to meet emissions targets, or at least appear to try, they’ll need to get their low carbon energy from somewhere. It’ll be cheaoer for them to by some of it from Scotland than to build its own. rUK would have quite a lot of bargaining power though, so iScotland could well lose out compared to how it would do as part of the UK.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      The subsidy won’t all be paid by people in Scotland after independence.

      Donald I believe you are right. I add caveats to my post that covers an expansive and complex topic. But there is a massive grey zone here.

      1) Would an independent Scotland be part of EU and covered by EU legislation? Scotland may say we want to be and England may say you are not.

      2) What is the real cost of high wind penetration onto the grid? Taking into account storage, transmission lines, back up capacity that stands idle and has to be paid for, subsidies and the initial capex of wind farms that currently survive in a ZIRP environment.

      3) Will English (rUK) consumers really want to pay subsidies to a newly divorced partner.

      I think the five fold uplift in wind turbines from 2012 levels is a sound analysis that will stand if the energy plan is to be met.

      • donald says:

        Hi Euan, thanks for getting back.

        I think we seem to agree, but I don’t really follow the points your making.

        1) I don’t think being in the EU or not is that relevant to who pays subsidies for low carbon generation in Scotland.

        2) it’s quite a lot. There are loads of estimates out there…. again, not sure what your point is?

        3) No but you’d hope they won’t have government that would act against their own interests. Although that’s by no means a given – see, current lot

  14. One of the troubles with politicians is that they rarely know the difference between kW and kWh.

    “He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense.”
    John Myles White

  15. Enough good Scotch whiskey and even if independent, the pain will be dulled.
    Of course, since wind & hydro are vulnerable to climate change, there may be an even greater need for drink long term.

  16. A C Osborn says:

    Euan, as there are a few pro “Independence” posters on this thread I have a question for you all.
    What do you think will happen about all your Passports, which currently show UK citizenship if Scotland gain independence from the UK.?

    • Euan Mearns says:

      AC, what do you think will happen to your passport since England will no longer be part of the UK either but a part of the Former UK.

      • A C Osborn says:

        Euan, the UK will still exist, just reduced. Scottish passports will very likely no longer be legal, and maybe even Driving Licences as well.
        Perhaps they will need re-issuing by the Scottish Independant Government.
        I don’t know the legalities of that situation, does anyone?

        • Euan Mearns says:

          AC there is an enormous list of things that will have to change in Scotland if the vote is yes. I suppose one argument is that all this government administration will create jobs. Perhaps it is true that with current set up too many government jobs are concentrated in small areas.

          My understanding is that with a yes vote there will be two years of negotiation before we cede from the Union. I have not yet seen a Union Jack minus the St Andrews cross. IMO, the referendum should have been set up so that there was 2 votes the second vote after the two years negotiation so that folks know what they are really voting for. £ or no £. EU or no EU. NATO or no NATO. Unified UK grid or not. What is the share of national debt? What status HBOS and RBS? The list goes on.

          Doing this I believe would increase the chance of a yes vote first time around. There is actually very little discussion of this in my circle of friends. That may be due to fact I am chained to a computer;-( But I have some very good, smart and wealthy friends who are voting YES.

    • Ted says:

      An independent Scotland would issue it’s own passports of course like any other independent country. Though at the moment I’m inclined towards a no vote . The SNP’s lunatic policies on energy are one of the factors persuading me. It’s not even the case that I could count on an post independent SNP having it’s policies moderated in coalition as the lib dems and labour have also been greenwashed.

  17. Glen Mcmillian says:

    I can’t get this reply in the spot it should be so it goes here.It is copied from the reply section of the Forbe article mentioned above.


    JimR 4 months ago
    If you use EIA data that clearly shows wind generation by state, and electricity rates by state, your accusations that wind energy and electricity rate increase are proven wrong. For ten states with 0 wind energy (largely in the southeast) the rate increases from 2007 to 2012 can be calculated as AL= 17%, AR=16.7%, CT=-0.1%, FL=3%, GA=2%, KY=37%, LA=28%, MS=23%, NC=25%, VA=27%. These are the percent increase for these states. These states also have electrciticy prices ranging from 10-20c/kWh, higher than the average, except for LA(9.5c/kWh).
    Now for the states with the highest wind penetrations; TX=28.8%, CA=6%, IL=12%, OR=14%, OK=22%, MN=38%, ND=0.008%, KS=28%. Also, Michigan saw a 12% decrease in electricity rates from 2008-2012. I’m sorry, but I fail to see any relationship between wind penetration and electricity rate increases.
    Also, Denmark typically operates it’s system with 50% wind energy penetration and Ireland has hit peak generation of 130% of energy from wind. If wind energy was as bad for electric systems/economies/environments as anti=wind lobbyists say that it is, do you really think it would be the largest growing energy generation sources across the globe.

    If you want more information on any of this please reach out to me. I have lots of real data and information and would love to ease your mind.


    The thing that set me off in knowing the Forbes article is badly cherry picked data is having acquaintances and relatives in different parts of the country who complain about their electricity bills going up along with other bills of course.

    I live in Virginia myself and while I use less I am paying more.

    • Roberto says:

      , Denmark typically operates it’s system with 50% wind energy penetration”

      Yes, they send all of it to Norwegian and Swedish pumped hydro, because they can’t use it, too much, too little, never the right amount, and in the end they have the most expensive kWh in europe, 30 EUro, 42 c$!


  18. Glen Mcmillian says:

    Incidentally I am still waiting for ANY of you guys to say how long you think natural gas in particular will be affordable and how long you think it will take to convince the public to go for a new generation of nukes.

    ( I am both pronuclear and pro wind and solar myself because as a practical matter I believe we are going to be in very serious trouble due to fossil fuel depletion and resource nationalism well before either renewables or nukes can be built at the necessary scale to allow business as usual to proceed in the face of uncertain supplies and exorbitant prices of coal and gas.)

    • A C Osborn says:

      I don’t know why you think the Public needs convincing to build Nukes, it is purely a Political situation.
      The current uncertainty around building them is all down to the “Created” uncertainty in the power generation market caused by Wind and Solar Subsidies.
      Anyone building new generation is going to want the same market terms so as not to be at a major disadvantage.
      Level the playing field and see how much Wind & Solar Power gets built and how much conventional and nukes get built.

      As to how long gas will stay cheap depends on just how much gas can be found and whether or not Japan are successful with Clathrates.

      • Glen Mcmillian says:

        MR OSBORN SIR,

        At risk of getting banned I must say that this is about the dumbest comment I have ever seen on this site and in the running for any site.

        To begin with politics IS all about what the public believes and wants- or thinks it wants at least. You must have been living under a rock if you have never heard of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima.You must have been in a coma if you have never heard of weapons proliferation and improperly stored spent fuel contaminating the environment for thousands of years.

        Incidentally I am a nuclear advocate. I used to live very near to a couple of nukes and I have worked in a bunch of them.I want to see more built.

        But speaking as a long term observer of politics I can say with absolute certainty that the public is pretty much set against building them to the extent that it isn’t going to happen any time soon.

        One quarter of the people in a democracy can generally put a stop to anything getting built. The antinuclear advocates have that many twice over. One more serious accident at a nuke and there won’t be any new ones permitted in the US or western Europe for a decade at least.

        • Euan Mearns says:

          Finger hovering over the ban button 😉 Personally I don’t know about the permitting of nukes. Or public opinion. But I do suspect that the situation will be country specific. I agree with AC that I don’t perceive a strong anti nuke sentiment among UK public. But half of our coalition government is anti nuke and in charge of energy. I suspect the crap deal on Hinkley Point was conjured up to undermine the future of nuclear.

          AC, re clathrates, try feeding your family on blaeberries that you yourself hand pick.

          Price of gas. Glen, I said it already, which gas do you mean? In 2012 gas in Japan was about 8* the price of gas in USA. I’m still waiting for rigs to migrate back to drilling gas in the USA – but it never happens. From memory, there are about 200 rigs drilling gas and if US can self support at that level, it is going to be a long time before scarcity rears its head again.

          • Glen Mcmillian says:

            I suppose the meaning of ” long time ” depends on the perspective of the person using the term. Gas may hold at or near current prices for a decade or even longer but I follow the peak oil movement news and in my opinion there is a high probability that tight gas and oil production is not going to prove to be sustainable at anything like current prices over the long term.

            If you are following the peak oil scene these days you know that if it weren’t for American tight oil the world would be in a pretty tight spot for oil already. The price of it has increased five times in a little over a decade.

            Gas will soon be used as a substitute fuel for highway trucks and even for personal vehicles to some extent as the price of oil increases further. The lesser developed portions of the world are developing fast and most countries that are developing are going to have to import oil and gas and coal too.The price ratchet just doesn’t seem to have a button on it that will allow it to loosen up. It is only going to get tighter as time goes by.

            It is my understanding that gas production is currently mostly sustained in the US since a hell of a lot of gas is produced from wells that also produce a lot of petroleum liquids that are a closer substitute for crude oil.

            There is a very powerful movement afoot in this country to allow the wide open export of gas which would of course make it possible to drill for it at a substantially higher pace since the world price is about three times on average our domestic price. So I do recognize that production might actually increase at least in the US for a good while yet.

            But depletion never sleeps and a growing world economy and growing prosperity mean accelerating demand in a world that has been cherry picked for a century already.

            The only thing that kept me from working the North Slope was a hot young wife who said if I left to expect to come back to an empty house.Production is down there eighty percent.I was a big Reagan and Thatcher fan back in those days- you are buying back oil at five times what you sold your North Sea oil for.

            Now as to nukes I do not really know what the situation is in the UK but I read the world news in general and American news in detail and follow this sort of thing closer than most people. I may be wrong but my personal estimation of the near term possibility of permitting and building a substantial number of new nukes in western countries is very low. It doesn’t take very many truly committed activists to put a stop to any new construction of nukes in any given country since the public is so easily swayed by fear of them.

            This situation involving permitting new nukes will change pretty fast if there is not another bad nuclear accident in the meantime once shortages of coal and gas become common- and shortages are apt in my opinion to become common for more reasons than just depletion alone.

            Again in my opinion this change of public sentiment is coming barring another major nuclear accident but not very soon- it cannot be expected to come about in less than a decade or so. After that there is still the antinuclear rearguard and the problems of siting and financing and sufficient skilled labor and manufacturing capacity of the materials needed to be dealt with.

            Considering that it takes a good while to build a nuke after ground is finally broken I doubt we can expect much new nuclear power to actually be on the grid in less than twenty years.

            Maybe I am wrong but I think we are going to be in very deep doo doo a long time before that in terms of gas and maybe even coal. We are going most definitely going to be in the deep doo doo a whole lot quicker than that in terms of oil.

            Intermittent and expensive they undoubtedly are but we are going to need renewables in a very bad way before too much longer as I see things.

            It might help to understand my point if we consider renewables as security assets equivalent in value to warships and armored regiments. We hope we don’t actually have to make use of sailors and soldiers but they must be there just in case.

            We are going to use renewables to partially offset the risks of depletion of fossil fuels which is a certainty compared to the risk of war.

        • A C Osborn says:

          Glen, your response to the Fukushima incident is typical of the brainwashed masses.
          Death Toll from Earthquake and Tsunami = 15000+
          Cost of Tsunami = about 25 trillion yen ($300 billion).
          Death toll from Fukushima incident = 0
          But everyone remembers the Fukushima incident, I wonder why that is, it couldn’t have anything to do with the over the top and extended publicity could it?

          • Glen Mcmillian says:

            I have walked away from an automobile crash that utterly destroyed the automobile and I know of many instances of this happening since it is a favorite topic of conservation among people who have been involved in car crashes.

            I have also been on the scene at crashes that were relatively minor in terms of the force of the crash itself that killed as many as four people.

            Now if you do not get my point I think that says more than enough on my part.

            I don’t want to get banned from this forum since I seem to be the only person posting in it that isn’t preaching to the choir.

            As I have said before I am a nuclear advocate.

            I am also a realist when it comes to politics and due to my cultural and intellectual background unwilling to misrepresent the facts as I see them.

            I just don’t go along to get along pro or con on any issue because in the end my personal reputation as a realist is more important to me than winning or losing a political or economic fight.

    • A C Osborn says:

      All the Public wants is Affordable and Reliable Electricity.

    • Glen: Thank you for posting some real data in response to my earlier request. I suspect JimR is right – the Forbes data are cherry-picked. He’s also probably right when he says that there’s no detectable relationship between wind penetration and prices in the US. With a comparatively low level of penetration and a lot of extraneous variables we wouldn’t expect to detect one.

      There is, however, good evidence to suggest that renewable energy (mostly wind) makes electricity more expensive in Europe:

Comments are closed.