The balancing capacity issue: A ticking time-bomb under the UK’s Energiewende

Since 2006 I have claimed that the perfect dispatchable unit for balancing purposes has not yet been invented. P-F Bach [0]

Guest post by Hugh Sharman, extended bio at the end of this post.

1.    Thumbnail summary

The UK Government’s ambitious renewable electricity targets are likely to be met. Unfortunately, the effort and financial subsidies that have done so much to cause huge quantities of wind power to be built has not been matched by the serious effort nor finance needed to deliver commensurate quantities of balancing power to keep the electricity system stable and the “lights on” for when the wind does not blow.

The 30 GW of combined cycle gas turbines (CCGTs) that were listed by DECC as operational as of May 2013[1], even generating plant that was delivered as recently as 2010, are proving unequal to the task of balancing wind power because this task requires greater flexibility, faster start-up and stopping times and relative robustness to frequent starts and stops. These attributes are physically beyond their capability.

The case of Ireland, where wind penetration reached 18% in 2013 and where CCGTs also deliver nearly all the balancing power, demonstrates that these are performing badly, having a fleet efficiency of roughly 40%, compared with its name-plate rating of or over 55% and which in any case suffers accelerated heat rate deterioration when units are ramped up & down. This low and deteriorating fleet efficiency is accompanied by abnormally high rates of wear and tear[2]. The case of Irish CCGTs is a sort of “canary in the coalmine” warning of things to come in UK.

The complete absence of suitable generating plant that is needed to deliver stable balancing power to the stochastically operating renewables will extend the electricity supply crisis by another decade, at the least and cost many £billions of further investment that are not presently recognised by the UK’s policy makers. During the six years remaining before 2020, the quality of supply will worsen. The fact that no proper financial provision has been made for balancing so much stochastically available electricity will also drive up the price of power to the general public.

2.    UK’s renewable electricity targets for 2020 are likely to be met [3]

Renewable electricity generated in the UK during 2013 amounted to 52 TWh, roughly 14% of all electricity generated (and 16% of energy consumed). Of this 27 TWh, or roughly 7% was generated from wind power.[4]

Whether or not one approves of the UK Government’s energy policy, in any case an inheritance of the UK Climate Change Act of 2008[5] and of the EU Renewables Directive[6], one thing is clear. The financial support for “low-carbon” but stochastically available generation has unleashed massive spending for this type of power. But this policy has disincentivized investment into the fossil-fired dispatchable capacity that can deliver secure supplies in cold, windless weather.

Table A  Notes: a) Load factors derived from DECC, Digest of United Kingdom Energy Statistics (2013), Table 6.5, use the conservative unchanged configuration data where possible. b) For reasons of concision, Geothermal and Wave data have been removed from the table, though their minor contributions are recorded in the totals.

The foregoing table A was compiled by the Renewable Energy Foundation from UK government data held in the Renewable Energy Planning Database, together with technology load factors reported elsewhere in government data. It shows that, if all the consented capacity is built, then the Government’s “renewables” targets for 2020 will be comfortably over-achieved. According to earlier estimates, if renewable electricity is to form 30% of electricity consumed then 15% of all energy consumed in the UK in that year will be from renewable resources. It helps to view this data graphically (Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1

Figure 2

Thus by 2020, if all consented capacity in 2014 is commissioned, about which one can still retain some scepticism, there will be 53 GW of renewable capacity of which only 6 GW, mostly biomass-fired boilers, like Drax, could be said to be dispatchable in any way. Wind power will constitute 39 GW. This renewables capacity, if built, will deliver an expected 157 TWh in 2020[8] (Figure 2).

This will constitute 42% of the 370 TWh of electricity that were generated in 2012[9]. If demand stays roughly stable until 2020, after five straight years of demand falling, 42% of electricity will be generated from renewable resources. This is far more than the target of 30% of electricity consumed required by the EU Directive and the Climate Change legislation and the inter-connected EU agreements and “commitments”.

An initial reaction to this data is that the present Coalition and whoever wins the election in May 2015, can relax the apparently relentless drive to encourage the building of even more new and expensive renewable capacity because what is already listed will comfortably deliver all its targets by 2020. It may therefore be rational to expect a slow-down in the rate of new developments. Similar slow-downs in the previously frantic growth of renewable electricity are already occurring in Spain and Germany.

But there is a stronger reason to re-appraise the whole programme. This is because if so much wind and PV capacity actually gets built, the rest of the electricity and especially generating infrastructure is quite unfit for balancing the stochastic generating capacity that looks like being on-line in just over five years from the date of this document which is mid-2014.

The basic physics of maintaining the stability of an island grid have not changed one iota during these past years. Whatever “smart grid” enthusiasts insist that their technology “will change everything”, in the absence of storage[10], generating capacity delivered into the grid must always be balanced by the demand drawn from it, from second to second. Electricity storage is still in its infancy, with a few “demonstration” plants being built at the scale of less than 10 MW.

It is relatively simple to balance the UK grid, in 2014, while roughly only 10% of its generation is supplied stochastically. Demand is still pretty much predictable and as long as the system still has ample reserves of dispatchable thermal generation. The task of balancing the system will become exponentially more difficult as stochastic inputs to the system grow beyond this. This is because GB’s incumbent, fossil-fuel-fired generating capacity was never designed for performing this task.

3.    How wind balancing is performed in 2014

Figure 3

Figure 3 shows that demand for this randomly chosen but still “low-wind” month, varies roughly between 40 GW during the working day and 25 GW valley demand between midnight and about 5 AM. Nuclear power ran continuously at close to capacity[11]. A large part of the coal capacity is turned down or off at night, responding to lower demand (and lower prices) but is kept hot to restart the next day.

Nearly all the rest of the variable demand and generation is managed by starting and stopping CCGTs or by turning these up and down. When wind output is low (figure 4), the daily pattern of operation of the CCGTs allows both the transmission system operator (the TSO is National Grid, referred to hereafter as Grid) can plan and dispatch capacity with little need for more “hot” or “spinning” reserves than is needed to keep the system stable if the largest generator in the system, Sizewell B, suddenly fails.

Figure 4

Figure 5 The operating profile of the CCGTs involved in daily balancing changed when the wind blew harder earlier in September 2013.

All the CCGTs that supplied the “top” 4 – 6 GW of daytime power must be ready to ramp up and down at very short notice or are required to be frequently started and stopped.

Neither oil[12] nor open cycle gas turbines (OCGTs) were operated during the month indicating that, despite the difficult and expensive operating conditions for the CCGTs, it was still more “profitable” to keep the CCGTs in operation for daily balancing.

The operation of the grid became more stressed in the much windier month of December 2013 (Figure 6).

Figure 6 The peak output of the CCGT fleet during the week, from Sunday the 15th thro’ 22nd December, “daylight” CCGT load was 17 GW but on a windy Wednesday was only 14 GW. The lower peaks during the latter part of the week probably reflect the proximity of the pending Christmas holiday. The daytime variation was in the range 3 – 6 GW.

Figure 7 OCGTs delivered 0.01% of all power during the month, illustrating that no matter how uncomfortable it is for the CCGTs to operate in these conditions, they are still bidding into an energy market that makes these more attractive to operate than OCGTs.

The grid-connected wind fleet in GB at the end of 2013, was roughly 8 GW[13].

By 2020, if (say) 40% of all power is to be generated from renewable resources and 88% of this is planned to be wind, the grid-connected wind fleet will grow from 8.4 GW (June 2014) to 39 GW, by a factor of 4.9.

4.    The system in 2020

By 2020, only 5 years from now, it is most unlikely that any new inter-connectors will have been built and commissioned. Due to the combination of the Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD) and the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) it is likely that dispatchable capacity will have shrunk considerably. Of 21 GW of surviving coal capacity at the end of 2013, only Ratcliffe power station in Nottinghamshire, owned by EON, is believed to be fully IED compliant beyond 2023.

All IED-non-compliant generation from the beginning of 2016 must either retrofit new technology to existing plants to ensure they comply with the new pollution limits or agree to a so-called Limited Life Derogation (LLD). This means that from the start on 2016 the LLD plant can only operate for a maximum of 17,500 hours from 1st January 2016 until the end of 2023[14], or an average of only 2,500 hours per year.

As was the case with the LCPD, it seems highly likely that those generators with older non-compliant plant that will be expensive to upgrade, and taking into account the rising tax on CO2 emissions, will run their equipment through their 17,500 hours as fast as possible rather than upgrade these, causing a sharp reduction of dispatchable capacity towards 2020.

The IED also applies to CCGTs, affected by NOx emissions as well as coal-fired units.

Accordingly it is entirely reasonable to expect quite large scale closures of some older coal and CCGT capacity by 2020, spurred not least by the gradually increasing tax on CO2 emissions. If Labour wins the 2015 election, it has promised to ensure more stringent environmental restrictions on older plant than might be expected if the Conservatives form the new Government.

As regards nuclear, all the Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors (AGRs) are on “life-support” beyond 2016 when most were scheduled to close. EdF, their owner, is working hard to extend their lives. Hopefully, only Dungeness B will be fully de-commissioned by 2020. However, all these plant life extensions will require extensive periods off-line so that the necessary safety-related improvements can be made.

Figure 8

As figure 8 illustrates, the output of the UK nuclear fleet has been highly erratic for the past few years, so it is reasonable to expect an average nuclear fleet output to be 2 GW lower than the 8 GW average achieved through most of 2014.

For the purpose of taking a view on the balancing of power in 2020, I have selected to extrapolate the conditions of December 2013 to 2020.


In the following calculations, the following assumptions were made:

  • Demand patterns and aggregate demand remains the same as in 2013[15]
  • Inter-connections, remain as per 2013 but always export 3 GW to France and Netherlands whenever the wind exceeds 10 GW[16].
  • No exchange between Ireland and GB during high wind conditions because wind correlation between GB and Ireland is so strong
  • Pumped hydro and hydro will remain as 2013[17]
  • Coal (and biomass) output will be 7,500 MW less than 2013
  • Wind capacity will be 4 times greater than during 2013[18]
  • CCGT “will be retained” in the system at whatever level is required to meet peak annual loads

System operation in 2020

Figure 9 

Figure 10 It is instructive to see this situation at a higher resolution for the week 15th thro’ 22nd December.

On the sixth night, because of lower demand, fossil-fired generation is briefly turned off completely[19] and the whole of GB is powered by wind and nuclear, despite strong exports to France and The Netherlands.

CCGTs are supplying virtually all the power needed to balance between generation and demand.

Figure 11 How wind power and CCGT output interact during this period of high wind.

Figure 12

It is abundantly clear that with this quantity of wind power in the system, even with 7,500 MW of coal closed down, and wind power taking priority for dispatch, that by 2020, no CCGTs at all will be operating in any way resembling base-load (Figures 9 and 10). Yet, during periods of low wind, there will have to be at least 30 GW of CCGT (or other dispatchable) capacity beyond nuclear, if only “to keep the lights on”.

It is also clear that any more wind power than the 32 GW simulated in these calculations would threaten the base-load status of the diminished nuclear fleet.

However, this type of operating regime, with constant starts, stops and hard ramping will rapidly destroy GB’s large, incumbent, and elderly CCGT fleet.

The unsuitability of the Frame-type CCGT for multiple starts stops and hard ramping

Figure 13 Source: Author, compiled from DECC Table DUKES 5.1 (2013)

Figure 14  Source:

This is because the start-up cycle of the typical, incumbent CCGT is so long relative to the average time that it will be operating at full, optimum load (Figure 14).

Synchronisation does not begin until roughly a half an hour after the start button is pressed. The Frame-type turbine does not reach full output for seventy five minutes.

During the whole, 100 minute plus long, start-up operation, full load and optimum efficiency will, in many cases, last just a few hours before the 40 minute shut-down process begins, during which time, once again, the CCGT will be operating with greatly sub-optimal efficiency, causing disproportionate fuel costs and high specific emissions.

Furthermore, in addition to the high fuel and emission costs, which can average £10,000 – £13,000[20] in fuel and emissions, each new start is costly in wear, tear and shortened component life, estimated by a notable industry consultant as £10,000 – 12,000 per start[21].

Every time a power plant is turned on and off, the gas turbine, HRSG or boiler, steam lines, steam turbines, and auxiliary components go through unavoidably large thermal and pressure stresses, which cause damage and incur additional future costs. Frequent starts and stops and high ramping and up and down will shorten the periods between serious and costly outages caused by failures in the major components in the steam and gas generating equipment.

This damage is made worse by fatigue and creep-fatigue interaction damage. These cycling-related costs and damages are strongly correlated to start-up, shutdown, and rapid load following. It is therefore necessary to estimate and compare them to similar combined cycle plants with longer histories, where there is more data for start/stop and load following costs, the so-called cycling costs[22].

In summary, these costs fall into the following main categories

  • Increases in maintenance, operation (excluding fixed costs), and overhaul capital expenditures
  • Increased time-averaged replacement energy and capacity cost due to increased equivalent forced outage rates (EFOR)
  • Increase in the cost of heat rate changes due to low load and variable load operation
  • Increase in the cost of start-up fuel, auxiliary power, chemicals, and extra manpower for start-ups
  • Cost of long-term heat rate increases (i.e., efficiency loss)

All the UK’s CCGTs are, to a greater or lesser extent vulnerable to these issues which deteriorate as the plant’s running hours increase.

5.    How they manage balancing elsewhere


Figure 15 The case of Denmark is most instructive, as always. Denmark’s wind power generated during 2013 was 34% of all power generated in Denmark and the equivalent of 33% of power consumed in Denmark. Denmark was a net importer of power during 2013.

Figure 15 illustrates how, whenever the wind blows strongly, a high proportion of Danish wind power is not actually consumed in country but instead floods into neighbouring systems (Norway, Sweden and Germany) through inter-connectors, the aggregated capacity of which have the same capacity as Denmark’s peak load. This is 5.8 GW and will grow to more than 7 GW by 2020, if current plans are fulfilled[24].


A similar phenomenon can be observed in Germany where stochastic renewables in 2014 constitute roughly only 15% of all electricity generated.

Figure 16  Germany, power generation, demand and net power flows[25] June 16 – 22, 2014

Most of the time, peak PV output (especially) coincides with up to 10 GW of exports that are flooding into its eight inter-connected, neighbouring systems. Indeed, Germany has been a net exporter of electricity ever since the rapid build-up of PV started in 2009.

The abrupt slowdown in the rate of growth of its stochastic generating infrastructure that is taking place during 2014, is due almost as much to the objections of its neighbours, whose much smaller transmission systems are under pressure from loop-flows generated from Germany, as due to the unacceptably rising costs being imposed on German consumers by the “renewable energy law”[26].

The inter-connector balancing capacity that is available to Denmark and Germany, will simply not be available to the UK, by 2020, the year that (possibly, if improbably) up to 40% of the UK’s generation will come from stochastic renewables, its inter-connections with France and the Netherlands will be no more than now, 3GW and altogether, with Ireland, 4 GW[27].


The two foregoing cases demonstrate the central importance of having high inter-connections with neighbouring electricity systems in order to achieve high levels of integration, in the absence of large levels of pumped hydro and/or other storage, as demonstrated in the cases of Spain and Portugal.

All these cases, though interesting, are not relevant to the focus of this paper which is how the UK will raise wind penetration from 7% in 2013 to almost 40% by 2020.

The Republic of Ireland (ROI) generated 18% of its electricity from wind turbines during 2013[28] and its policy is to generate 40% of its electricity from wind by 2020. These targets are comparable with the UK’s.

Whether this is realistic is another matter. It remains a firm policy intention with bilateral political support in the Irish Parliament.

The Irish system and its experience with wind power integration is especially relevant because of the striking similarity between the two island systems.

The following table, which compares the dispatchable generating of the two island systems, is instructive despite being almost three years out of date.

Figure 17 Source: Eirgrid & DUKES Table 5.11 (2010) compiled by the author

Both islands have tiny inter-connector capacity with their neighbours. Only CCGTs have been built since the early 1990s and coal capacity is in decline.

Overwhelmingly, CCGTs provide the lion’s share of wind balancing.

Figure 18

The author has calculated the specific fuel emissions of the CCGT fleet during 2012, before the E-W inter-connector was commissioned and found that the fleet efficiency of ROI’s CCGTs and therefore their specific fuel and emissions costs are substantially lower than nameplate rating of more than 55% (lower heating value).

Figure 19

Figure 20

Figure 21

These calculations demonstrate very clearly that even at only 16% annual wind penetration, the average fleet efficiency of the CCGTs is substantially less than nameplate rating, being under 40%, causing high specific fuel costs and CO2 emissions.

Furthermore, the anecdotal evidence of serious plant failures is strong. Documentary evidence is scarce because this data is closely held and regarded as commercially sensitive.

6.    Conclusions

The complete unsuitability of CCGTs for the only remaining task they will have in the UK, as so much more wind power becomes installed, is not yet publicly recognised, although there can be no doubt that the generators understand this well enough. The absence of a willingness to invest in new CCGTs is not just because of the uncertainties of the Electricity Market Reform but is driven by the realisation that CCGTs cannot operate profitably in the market being created by so much wind power having priority on the system.

The high likelihood of a pending, forced write-down of the 30 GW of the UK’s CCGT capacity, with a replacement value in excess of £20 billion that must be spent by 2020 in order to “keep the lights on” when the wind is not blowing, needs the most urgent public recognition.

Technical solutions that are better suited to high wind penetration are being developed but do not yet exist[29]. However, the need for the early replacement of most of the incumbent 30 GW CCGT fleet will produce another financial shock in the market for which neither UK policy makers nor the public are properly prepared.


[1] DECC, DUKES Table 5.11, May 2013

[2] The heat rate of the UK fleet in recent years has been rising and the efficiency falling to well under 50% (LCV), DECC DUKES 5.10, 2013



[5] The vote in favour of the motion was overwhelming, quote “The House having divided: Ayes 463, Noes 3”, unquote

[6] Main driver of UK policy on renewables is the EU Renewables Directive of 2009, which requires that 15% of Final Energy Consumption in the UK should come from renewable sources in 2020. The UK govt. expects that that about half this quantity will come from electricity, entailing that about 30% of final electricity consumption will be renewable

[8] Consented capacity will generate about 110 TWh. If all capacity in the planning system is also consented, this will add a further 46.6 TWh

[9] A bold assumption, given the faster economic growth that has been delivered recently?

[10] UK has 2.8 GW/25 GWh of pumped storage which is located in Wales and Scotland, with 600 MW additional pumped storage that SSE is developing at Loch Ness. This is trivial in relation to the average 1,000 GWh generated and consumed every day but of course, is useful capacity for helping to stabilize the system.

[11] Dungeness B was unexpectedly forced to close down due to a failure half way through the month, illustrating a normal hazard to be expected in an ancient electricity system, nearing the end of its design life.

[12] All the oil-fired power stations are now decommissioned

[13] “Embedded” wind power which is not monitored by Grid is roughly 2 GW. This type of the wind power is most unlikely to grow.


[15] In Denmark and Germany, where renewable penetration is much higher than in UK, changes in the pattern of use of power intended to exploit changes in the amount of renewables produced, have been negligible.

[16] Neither the new Channel Tunnel inter-connector nor the proposed Norway inter-connector are assumed to have been commissioned before 2020.

[17] It is possible but improbable that the 0.6 GW pumped hydro at Loch Ness will be commissioned by 2020.

[18] 32 GW, a more conservative assumption than the 39 GW foreseen in REF’s paper

[19] For the purpose of this paper, issues of grid stability, inertia and ROCOF (rate of change of frequency) are conveniently ignored. They must be addressed of course but will not be dealt with this paper

[20] Private communication, generation industry source. Gas priced at £7.50/GJ

[21] Private communication, generation industry source and

[22] In Ireland, where wind penetration reached 17% by 2013, there is a wealth of closely held data about the maintenance costs of CCGTs stressed by balancing wind power

[23] Data compiled from by the author

[24] In other words, the inter-connected capacity of the UK would have to be 60 GW to achieve the same flexibility as the Danish system





[29] Private communication with a retired but still active director of the Danish power sector with unique experience at the top of both power generation and power system operations.

Related posts

Electricity supply and demand for beginners
How Much Windpower can the UK grid handle?
The changing face of UK electricity supply
Parasitic wind killing its host
Brave Green World and the Cost of Electricity
The Coire Glas pumped storage scheme – a massive but puny beast
Blackout Britain?

Hugh Martyn Sharman

Hugh Sharman is the owner/director of Incoteco (Denmark) ApS, a Danish energy developer and consulting engineer since 1986.

He graduated in civil engineering from Imperial College, London, in 1962.

During his career formative years, until the early 1970s, he specialized in innovative offshore construction with the French group, GEM-Hersent. This work was mainly connected with on oil and gas projects in the Persian Gulf, USA, France and the UK.

He has been involved in energy engineering and developments since the 1970s.

During the mid-1970s, his UK-based energy company, Conservation Tools and Technology, pioneered the popular use of renewable energy and the parallel need for much greater fuel efficiency in UK. Between 1977 and 1986, he was Area Representative in the Caribbean for advancing the power generation activities of Gothenburg-based Swedish Shipyards and Mitsui Engineering-owned BWSC AS. During this time, he was responsible for power station development and sales in Venezuela, Barbados, Puerto Rico, Bahamas and Bermuda, using the world’s then most efficient and fuel-flexible equipment available at the time, being low-speed, 2-stroke, marine-type engines.

He founded Incoteco (Denmark) in 1986 and has since undertaken power station and energy related work, focusing on technically innovative environmental and energy processes. His clients have included TRW Inc., Rolls Royce, Scottish Hydro, Renewable Energy Foundation, Ormat Inc, VRB Power, Danish Energy Agency, Mission Energy, Qatar Petroleum, Norsk Hydro, ECA International, Elsam, Kinder Morgan CO2, Mott Macdonald, Eos Energy Storage, among many others.

In 2004, while performing a study for the Danish Energy Agency on the use of transport hydrogen, generated from “excess” Danish wind energy, to improve the economy and overall efficiency of Danish wind energy, he became convinced that distributed electricity would change energy paradigms such as is becoming clear in 2014.

Since 2008, Hugh has been closely involved with early stage commercial development of several, advanced electrical storage technologies for Canadian, US and Chinese companies. Electricity storage processes will be necessary to address the more efficient integration of increasing quantities of stochastic renewable energy in Europe and elsewhere. He continues to consult to and for this industry and actively monitors global progress towards robust, low cost electricity storage technologies.

At present, he is pursuing the same objective by leading the development of a novel, high efficiency, high-flexibility, thermal generating cycle, for two globally famous equipment manufacturers. When commercialized, hopefully in 2014, this will address the urgent need for the more fuel efficient and flexible integration of large quantities of wind energy into the UK and Irish electricity systems.

He has written many technical and policy articles for energy magazines and has made presentations on energy policy, for, among others Qatar Petroleum, OPEC and The Economist Magazine. He remains the editor of the energy blog . Such papers are available on request.

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

30 Responses to The balancing capacity issue: A ticking time-bomb under the UK’s Energiewende

  1. clivebest says:

    An excellent report !

    Based on your Irish results, the increase in CO2 emissions due to CCGT balancing of Wind averages about 25% of the net savings of CO2 emissions by Wind. I would estimate that doubling wind capacity would increase that figure to about 50% of CO2 savings, and fuel costs would increase by the same percentage.

    In the extreme case of 100% stochastic wind capacity then there would be zero effective reduction of CO2 emissions and fuel costs would be the same as for a 100% fossil fuel grid.

  2. Willem Post says:

    A great study that covers all the bases.

    Absent energy storage, the electrical system overall cost, $/kWh, of integrating wind and solar energy will increase as the percent penetration increases, due to various system inefficiencies.

    Germany has a total of about 12,000 MW of interconnections with foreign grids, which will soon (2015?) become the limiting factor for getting rid of excess wind and solar energy, especially during windy and sunny periods.

    Germany’s domestic grid lacks sufficient capacity to move around the energy within Germany, a capacity that should have been built about 10 years ago, but was held up due to NIMBY and cost.

    Also, amateur RE aficionados, easily believed by politicians, were mindlessly spouting smart grid, demand and supply management, storage, etc., would come to the rescue, which did not happen.

    For life cycle costing of wind and solar energy one needs to factor in at least TWO categories of integration costs ( “grid adequacy” to gather, transmit and distribute energy and “generating capacity adequacy” to balance RE and supply energy not supplied by RE), both of which are significant at greater wind and solar percent penetrations.

    Germany is seriously short of both, made inadequate investments, has to increasingly use foreign grids for balancing and getting rid of excess energy, selling the RE at minimal or zero wholesale prices after generating it at a cost of about 20 eurocent/kWh, especially on windy and sunny days.

    France, the Netherlands, etc., smile while they consume the low cost German energy. Denmark has been in the same pickle for years, and it will get worse as it increases wind energy generation.

    Because Germany is increasing the capacity, MW, of flexible coal plants, and decreasing the use of Russian gas-fired CCGTs, its CO2 emissions will likely increase as all nuclear plants will go off line by 2022, even with increased RE build-outs, per EEG-2.

  3. Euan Mearns says:

    Hugh, thanks for comprehensive overview. The other points I know you are familiar with are:

    1) Infrastructure multiplication. We don’t get rid of the FF generators and we create equal capacity of RE alongside + interconnectors + storage
    2) The FF generators are going out of business – as per the Green business plan. The solution – “Capacity Markets?” – simply adding costs for consumers paying for the balancing reserves.
    3) The renewables plan has locked us into a FF future until grid scale storage is developed, which I doubt it ever will be.

    If Clive is correct, and I suspect he is in large part correct, then the current model will not save us gas or CO2. And yet you and I know that the availability of FF to Europe and especially the UK is in decline. Since some of my readers seem unpersuaded by this here is my UK primary energy chart one more time. And so something has to be done.

    It is beginning to appear that we have gone so far with the wind / FF model that we may have passed the point on no return. This is exemplified in Scotland with the construction of the 400 kV, 2.5GW, £600 million Beauly – Denny line. I am left wondering how the stochastic electricity on that line will be balanced since we only have one CCGT at Peterhead (less than 1 GW) that is destined to have CCS attached.

  4. It is true we will need to upgrade the grid balancing system, not just with improved gas turbines, but also with extra storage (pumped hydro, CAES, cryogenic storage, flow batteries etc etc) DSM/smart grids (to delay peaks) and supergrid interconnectors for imports and exports .Some of this will take time and will be costly, although a Pugwash study suggested that, with a large wind component in the energy mix,by 2050 the UK could be earning £15bn pa from exporting its net surplus wind electricity Moreover, the costs may not be as high as some suggest. The IEA says that the first 5-10% of variable renewables pose no technical or economic challenges, and even for higher levels of up to 45% penetration, it says would cost only 10% to 15% more than the status quo, for additional flexible generating capacity. But that is using today’s technology and assumes a moderate carbon price of 30 USD per tonne. In the future, wind and PV are expected to have lower costs. Combined with increasing prices of CO2, the IEA says ‘the extra system costs of such high shares of variable renewable energy could be brought down to zero’.,47513,en.html
    None of that means there isn’t an urgent need to address the issue. The UK capacity payment system tries to do that, offering an incentive for those who can provide balancing services.

  5. clivebest says:

    The total output from all the UK’s 10,000 wind turbines right now (3 pm) is just 100MW ! Coal has had to be increased to 10GW and Gas is running at 15GW with Nuclear stable at 8GW.

    • Willem Post says:


      …..and demand and supply management, and storage is nowhere near on the horizon.

      The investments for utility-scale implementation would be enormous and would take decades, one of the reasons Germany and Denmark took the easy way out by using foreign grids as crutches.

  6. Willem Post says:


    Reread Hugh’s article and see my above comment and article.

    “…we will need to upgrade the grid balancing system, not just with improved gas turbines, but also with extra storage (pumped hydro, CAES, cryogenic storage, flow batteries etc etc) DSM/smart grids (to delay peaks) and supergrid interconnectors for imports and exports. Some of this will take time and will be costly”

    Rich Germany, after 15 years of ENERGIEWENDE has found it too costly, having too much NIMBY, etc., thus far. How will much poorer England, etc., deal with it?

    “The IEA says that the first 5-10% of variable renewables pose no technical or economic challenges”

    This is not true in Germany, and would be not true in Denmark, except for the Scandinavian hydro plants “coming to the rescue”. Texas had problems at 5%, until they made multi-billion dollar, “socialized” investments in grid capacity sufficiency.

    Denmark and Germany are definitely not “making money” by excessively producing and exporting energy on windy and sunny days. That situation will get worse, for more hours of the year, as variable RE generation increases.

    The UK will have some magic trick? Carbon tax coming to the rescue?

    The UK, with decreasing domestic fuel production for energy production, will need to import more low-cost Russian gas and coal. That will be much less expensive than building out variable renewables, especially offshore wind, in the long run.

  7. Roger Andrews says:

    An excellent and exhaustive summary. However, I have a question regarding assumption number 7 in the “System in 2020” scenario:

    “CCGT will be retained in the system at whatever level is required to meet peak annual loads”

    Will it?

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Don’t know if this helps explain what is going on. It doesn’t help me understand much.

      Britain is a world leader in energy security – leading in the EU and ahead of every other G7 country.

      Only conclusion I can reach is that the Wacky Baccy has been passed around DECC / Whitehall. G7 member Canada is one of few OECD members with net energy exports. And the US situation is actually much better than the UK. And in terms of electricity security, France is light years ahead of everyone else. Germany and Japan both have current account surpluses that allow them to import energy without risking economic implosion (Japan used to at least). Leaving Italy in a worse energy security situation to the UK.

      • Willem Post says:


        …. and the EU Brussels bureaucrats, with help of NATO and the US State Department neo-cons, are having fun trying to limit the reliable supply of low-cost Russian gas by hindering the construction start of South Stream, which also would supply Italy.

      • Roger Andrews says:


        The Energy Market Reform Act you linked to, and in particular what comes out of the December 2014 “capacity auction”, will determine what happens to the UK energy sector in coming years. Someone – and someone who knows more about it than I do – should write a post on it.

        The ERM is a massively complicated piece of legislation, but in an attempt to educate myself I skimmed through its main provisions, and to cut a long story short the only thing it changes is that “unabated gas” plants (i.e. no CCS) are now an acceptable part of the generation mix. But even if bids for constructing a lot of them are received in December there will still be two problems. First they don’t fit in with the govt’s decarbonization plans, so there will be a disinclination to build a large number (the govt hasn’t said what kind of a generation mix it’s looking for but insists that all new gas plants be built “carbon capture ready”). Second, none of the plants will come on line for several years, and the lights could still go out in the meantime.

        Otherwise the ERM is the same-old-same-old. Here are a few illustrative quotes from the 2011 EMR White Paper ( along with some comments:

        “Security of supply is threatened as existing plant closes: over the next decade we will lose around a quarter (around 20 GW) of our existing generation capacity as old or more polluting plant close.”

        Obvious solution? Do whatever it takes to keep them open. But that would conflict with the EU Large Plant Directive and the govt’s long-term decarbonization goals:

        “We must decarbonise electricity generation: it is vital that we take action now to transform the UK permanently into a low-carbon economy and meet our 15 per cent renewable energy target by 2020 and our 80 per cent carbon reduction target by 2050.”

        Why is it “vital”? The EMR doesn’t say.

        “(T)he future electricity system will also contain more intermittent generation (such as wind) and inflexible generation (such as nuclear). This raises additional challenges in terms of meeting demand at all times, for example when the wind does not blow.”

        How is demand to be met when the wind doesn’t blow? “By encouraging peaking plants and non-generation approaches such as (demand side response) and storage”, with the peaking plants having “negligible” emissions because they “only run for short periods of time”.

        Seems to me you’d better hope that a lot of new CCGTs come out of the December auction. But if they do we have another problem. Where’s the gas going to come from? Russia?

    • Roger Andrews says:

      I see the question of excessive ramping wearing out CCGTs as an important but subsidiary issue. The main question is whether there will be enough CCGTs, worn out or not, to meet demand on cold winter nights when the wind doesn’t blow. Ofgem swears there will be, but the following quotes from its 2014 Capacity Assessment are less than encouraging:

      “National Grid projects that the supply side outlook will deteriorate until the mid-decade in all (Future Energy Scenarios). It assumes that around 5GW of conventional plant will shut down permanently in the next two winters and an additional 1GW of gas plant will mothball in the same period ………. This is a worse supply outlook than last year’s FES.”

      My guess is that the loss of this 6GW of dispatchable capacity will drive the UK’s reserve margin into negative territory, but I don’t have any firm numbers (does anyone?)

      Ofgem sees a turn-around within a year or two, but I suspect this may be wishful thinking:

      “The supply outlook is expected to improve after the middle of the decade. National Grid assumes that 1GW of new gas plant will come online in 2016/17 and some mothballed gas plant will return to the market in the later years of the analysis, as the economics for gas generation improve.”

  8. Pingback: Balancing the Grid – A lesson on the Precautionary Principle | windfarmaction

  9. A C Osborn says:

    And today we have the Governments plan to keep the lights on.
    They are not satisfied with Subdisies for Solar, Wind Land Allocation, Wind Building, Wind Generation, Wind Non Generation, Industry Swithover now we have subsidies for Non Gas Generation, but being made available at the drop of a hat for 53Gw of Standby Generation.
    Which according to Hugh we do not even have, we would currently fall short by about 23Gw.
    The Lunatics are runing this asylum.

  10. Willem Post says:

    They are not lunatics. They full well what they are up to and how ineffective it is. It is all about chasing after subsidies to the max., using “fighting GW” as their excuse, somewhat similar to the Spaniards using the cross to get to the gold in the 1500s.

    Here is what is going on in Vermont, which has the audacity to pretend it is a global leader in RE.

    Mark Whitworth: Vermont’s Rumsfeld Strategy

    In his 2004 book “Against All Enemies,” President George W. Bush’s counter-terrorism advisor Richard Clarke described a meeting with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that took place shortly after the 9/11 attacks. Rumsfeld complained that there were no decent targets for bombing in Afghanistan, so the United States should consider bombing Iraq, which, he said, had better targets.

    Mr. Clarke observed that Rumsfeld’s strategy of bombing Iraq in response to the 9/11 attacks “would be like our invading Mexico after the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor.”

    Vermont’s approach to combating climate change might have been designed by Donald Rumsfeld. We are bombing the wrong targets.

    According to the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, the top three sources of greenhouse gas emissions are transportation, heating, and agriculture. Together, they account for 88 percent of the state’s emissions. The carbon footprint of our electricity consumption is puny, accounting for only 5 percent of our emissions.

    Why is it that we obsess about electricity’s 5 percent? It’s because electricity has better targets.

    “Better targets” means there’s more big money for utilities, developers, and equipment manufacturers in large-scale electricity generation and transmission projects than there is in working on our heating or transportation footprints. These corporate interests have lobbied hard to persuade Vermonters that electricity’s 5 percent is more important than the other 95 percent of our carbon footprint. Elected officials and the state’s biggest “environmental” groups have fallen in line to help whip the public into such a frenzy that many accept that destroying our mountains by building industrial power plants on them will reverse climate change and prevent another Tropical Storm Irene.

    The Big Green Alliance of Green Mountain Power, politicians, and “environmentalists” tell us that if we bomb enough of the wrong targets, we will achieve our objectives. But, the primary objective of GMP is not reduction of carbon emissions; it is increased sales, profits, and perpetuation of their business model. The apparent objective of politicians is to avoid the tough truths about the way we live by telling us we can plug all of our wastefulness into a different electrical outlet–an outlet that’s powered by unreliable electricity from ridgeline wind turbines. The objectives of our so-called environmental groups? The composition of their boards of directors might give a clue.

    Here’s the sales pitch. Let us (the utilities and energy developers) put 500-foot tall turbines and massive solar fields wherever we want–on sensitive ridgelines, in wetlands, and on prime agricultural soils. We’ll string transmission lines all over the place. We will encroach upon whatever neighbors happen to be in the way. Don’t worry, it probably won’t be you. In exchange, you can step up your electricity consumption, power your car, and heat your home guilt-free, using “clean” electricity.

    What? You don’t have an electric car? That’s not surprising. Electric vehicles are too expensive, take too long to charge, and get very few miles per charge. Cold weather degrades their performance. The most enthusiastic promoters of EVs are scaling their sales forecasts back. Way back. Automakers are preparing to leapfrog electric vehicles with fuel cell vehicles. Anybody want a second-hand EV charging station? How ’bout a Betamax? Hardly been used.

    What about electric heat? GMP is pushing ductless air-source heat pumps. Such a heat pump can heat an individual room by operating like an air conditioner in reverse. Here’s what the U. S. Department of Energy says about air-source heat pumps:

    They do not generally perform well during extended periods of sub-freezing temperatures. In regions with sub-freezing winter temperatures, it may not be cost-effective to meet all your heating needs with a standard air-source heat pump.

    For many of us, a pellet boiler may be a far better solution: they cost less to operate, can heat entire houses (not just rooms), and can provide domestic hot water (as can solar hot water systems). Converting oil and propane users to pellets would provide economic as well as environmental benefits to Vermonters.

    So, should we continue to bomb the wrong targets by continuing to build massive wind and solar facilities in anticipation of widespread adoption of EVs and heat pumps?

    Absolutely not.

    Even if electric transportation and heating technologies were to become suitable for use in Vermont, it would take an additional 10 to 15 years for them to penetrate the market to the point where they’d factor into our energy planning. By then, the Sheffield, Lowell, and Georgia Mountain turbines will have reached the ends of their lives and will have been torn down. They won’t be replaced because better, cheaper, less harmful energy alternatives will be available. The turbine sites will have been permanently damaged and we will wonder why we were in such a hurry to destroy our mountains for a few years of intermittent, very expensive electricity.

    Our state government’s obsession with electricity guarantees that our progress toward reducing carbon emissions will be meager, at best. Furthermore, government’s blind support of utility-scale “renewables” assures that our progress, meager as it will be, will also be expensive, destructive, divisive, and slow.

    High electricity prices and the corrosive drip-drip-drip of bad news will continue to undermine public confidence in the state’s energy policies: curtailments, a $10M synchronous condenser, disappointing electricity production, double-counting RECs, shoddy treatment of neighbors, noise violations, adverse health impacts, permits to kill endangered species, poor siting choices, storm water runoff catastrophes, forest fragmentation, degradation of wetlands and ag soils, rewards for poor business decisions, a revolving door between government and the energy industry, and on and on and on.

    So, the next time you hear someone promoting emissions reduction through a large-scale, high-impact power project–a politician, a utility spokesman, an energy developer, or someone who claims to represent “the public interest” –remember that electricity accounts for a tiny portion of our carbon footprint.

    Think about what we could accomplish if we were really serious about carbon reduction. Then remember all the great times we had bombing the wrong targets with Don Rumsfeld.

    Mark Whitworth is executive director for Energize Vermont.

  11. A C Osborn says:

    I am an AGW Denialist, I believe we should be pumping as much CO2 in to the atmosphere as possible to assist Greening. So I don’t want to restrict usage, just go for Efficiency improvements.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      AC, it’s interesting to know where you stand. My own climate scepticism is primarily rooted in distrust of the bad science and likely corrupt nature of the climate science community. When it comes to planetary impacts of deforestation, CO2 emissions, 7 billion people etc, I’m furious that no serious effort has been made to assess these.

      As for impacts of CO2 I’m cautious. Climate sensitivity may range from 0 to 1.5˚C (IMO) and towards the upper range we may be rewarded in being cautious. I still don’t fully understand the enhanced greenhouse effect. I believe I am smarter and better educated than those who simply spout CO2 is a GHG, the planet is going to get warmer. I’ve read many of Clive’s posts on this, but still don’t understand the so called science. The main IR absorption lines are already saturated. The sponge is full.

      I’m interested to know why you are a denialist. Do you think (have evidence) that the science is total bunk. Or do you believe the benefits of some warming and greening outweigh the risks?

      • A C Osborn says:

        Euan, how old are you, I am 67, I have lived through this supposed “Extreme” “Warmest Ever” weather 2 or 3 times before. And the cold of course.
        I did not believe the Hockey stick because it tried to change the History that I was taught and I had seen for myself.
        I was a Quality Engineer, what they are doing has no Quality what so ever.
        Have you looked at the Steve Goddard, WUWT, SunshineHours and Paul Homewood’s latest analysis of the US and Global Temperature data.
        They are Fraudulant, they have cooled the past and warmed the present, they are lying.
        There is sufficient evidence that this is related to UN Agenda 21 and Control of the Masses through Taxation.

        • Kit P says:

          Quality data is very important as is evaluating the magnitude of the problem. When looking at the environment, the natural world has huge variability. A simple example is cleaning up a spill. You need a good quality data plan. We are obligated to clean up the mess but not nature. If the spill is arsenic, you only have to clean up to the naturally occurring level.

          When it comes to man’s role in climate change, that role is smaller than the confidence interval for the data. I look at the data and conclude we do not know. Journalists look at the data and then state the debated is over. Since the current climate is within the natural variability of an interglacial warm period, I would say that the climate has not changed at all.

          There is a recognized order for evaluating problems. Industrial safety is a bigger problem, the radiation safety, followed by protecting the environment. I know that a small oil spill will not have an environment impact because naturally occurring bacteria eat oil. While some states have reasonable regulations, the state my power plant was had a zero limit. As a result, our industrial safety risk and radiation safety risk was significantly increased to mitigate an insignificant environmental risk. We did the work safely and I was able to impress upon people of wiping up small oil spills.

          So building a few wind farms may make sense compared to transporting natural gas or coal long distances makes some sense, wind to reduce ghg is bad policy.

        • Euan Mearns says:

          AC, I’m 57. Just began to follow the climate debate in 2007, the year of the first great melt back in the Arctic. I actually joined the debate as a warmist but quite quickly changed sides upon reading a few papers. That event summarises the situation nicely. Warmists “things are much worse than we thought”. Reality “the warmists models were wrong”.

          I don’t have time to follow all that goes on WUWT, BH etc. My main interest is energy and if it weren’t for the fact that climate policy is central to energy policy I wouldn’t care so much about the former – let a bunch of academics fight it out over the decades.

          But I agree that something is incredibly badly broken with academia and politics at present on this matter. So many individuals who seem incapable of distinguishing right from wrong.

          The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.

          Bertrand Russell

  12. A C Osborn says:

    I have been following the Climate Blogs since I retired about 10 years ago and the evidence keeps mounting that the IPCC is wrong.
    As to Kit P point about priorities, at the moment they are totally screwed up.
    The Industrialised Western and Southern Nations are thowing away Billions (if not Trillions) on a non existent problem and totally ignoring the real issues.
    People Starving, people without Clean Water, people without Electicity, people without a clean method of heating/cooling/cooking.
    Add to that the fact that we are not adequately controlling deseases like Malaria plusthe world is doing it’s best to ignore the Ebola outbreak in Africa which has already claimed 300+ lives and spread to at least 3 other areas.
    While all this is going the USA is spending $500M on a Satellite to monitor CO2, the “Greenhouse” gas, yes it is a greenhouse gas they use it all the time in Greenhouses to promote plant growth.
    The Hypocrisy of it all totally sickens me.

  13. Kit P says:

    I have been working the issue so long that I have research in binders from microfiche. It is interesting to see how the executive summary of EPA/DOE changes with POTUS. Under Clinton, there was no mention nuclear. AGW is the perfect political issue. If you fail, nothing bad will happen. I am an expert on solutions.
    1. Ration energy use in California.
    2. Treat animal waste in anaerobic digesters, very good for other environmental reasons.
    3. Build nukes in China (go Bush!)

  14. TinyCO2 says:

    Arrived here from a link in the Telegraph. Was hoping for an answer as to what was the RIGHT answer to balancing wind if gas was wrong. It turns out were screwed 🙁

    I can’t work out why so many people are blind to these issues. I suppose they’re like people who turn to alternative medicine in hope of a miracle cure. There are no miracles only hard choices.

    One point. We do everyone a disfavour by using ‘when the lights go out’ as a shorthand for power failure. It seems almost jolly and doesn’t reflect our critical reliance on electricity. I’m sure some think vaguely that they’ll carry on, just use their laptop on its battery or go home early and read a book. I was first prompted to think about electricity security’s role in our lives when power shortages were mooted in the event of a pandemic back in the middle of the last decade. I was staggered by how many things become intolerable once power is unavailable. We’re not the same country as the one that weathered the power cuts of the 70s. The elderly would be particularly affected. Most care homes are not on secure grids and were advised to get generators. Do we think they complied and if they did, would they be able to use them?

    More recently I experienced at first hand how essential electricity is to the elderly in their own homes and I’m grateful I never had to cope without it for long during my parents most critical months. It would have been the ultimate betrayal since my father was a power station man his whole working life… and much of his personal time too.

    I don’t know what other phrase we could use to impress upon people how important it is not to play power politics with electricity but we should try.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      We do everyone a disfavour by using ‘when the lights go out’ as a shorthand for power failure. It seems almost jolly and doesn’t reflect our critical reliance on electricity.

      It will actually be a failure of policy, placing environmental protection at the very top of the agenda whilst paying little attention to the needs, comfort and welfare of the population. I’ve actually been quite shocked at the utterances of some senior managers in companies like the national Grid who are quite jolly in proclaiming blackouts are just around the corner. It seems like we need to experience it first, then count the cost, then act – and wait for 10 years for the remedy to be built.

      • TinyCO2 says:

        I can understand the temptation to think ‘that’ll teach ‘em’ but it won’t be our current crop of politicians who will suffer most. My fear is that any blackouts will come in the midst of some other crisis and the politicians will claim unforeseen circumstances. The public will whine and want heads to roll. People at the national grid need to be absolutely sure they won’t be the ones taking the fall.

Comments are closed.