The Wind in Spain Blows …..

Those Europeans with long memories will recall that September and October was marked by fine weather with many long windless spells. I began following this story summarising wind data from the UK, Germany and Denmark. I then added France and Sweden in A Big Lull and in the comments to that post David MacKay said:

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

Well I fixed the typo and gave an overview of Spanish generation last week in Red Eléctrica de España. Now I add Spain to the Northern European stack to see if it helps smooth pan-European output.

Before proceeding I need to say that Roger is wondering why I am pursuing this since in his original post, Wind Blowing Nowhere, he showed that pan-European lulls were common throughout 2013. Hubert Flocard has also performed extensive analysis on this subject. Laying myths to rest is not easy.

Figure 1 Wind output from 22.9 GW of turbines in Spain, September and October 2015. The numbers 1 to 9 mark regional lulls in N Europe.

A good starting point is to look at the wind output for September and October (Figure 1). The numbers mark the lulls from my original post where I stacked Denmark, the UK and Germany. Its plain to see that the majority of these were also low-wind periods in Spain too. One exception is lull 4 and perhaps 8 and 9 where it was blowing a little in Spain but nowhere near enough to make up for windless conditions elsewhere. Lulls 1, 3, 5, 6 and 7 in northern Europe were all pretty calm in Iberia too.

Figure 2 Stacked wind production for Sweden, Denmark, UK, France, Germany and Spain.

Adding Spain to the stack confirms what we always suspected and now already know. Lulls 1, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7 were all pretty calm in Spain too and having geographically spread turbines makes little to no difference in smoothing wind power. We can see in lulls 4, 8 and 9 that Spain helps to smooth out the stack a little, creating one of these mythical half truths that will no doubt continue to be repeated “geographic spread does help smooth wind output”. One just needs to build hundreds of GW of inter connectors to provide this partial assistance every now and then. The reality is this. On many occasions it is flat calm across most of Europe and 100% back-up from other dispatchable sources is required.

Figure 3 Normalised stack of wind output. Each country is normalised to a nominal 10 GW.

The size of the wind parks vary substantially between these countries and in my last post I normalised the production data to a common datum of 10 GW capacity in each country. I have now added Spain to that chart (Figure 3). Normalisation does make a material difference to the picture, reducing the dominance of Germany and elevating the prominence of Sweden and Denmark. We now have just 4 prominent lulls. It can be seen that adding Spain makes no difference during lulls 1, 2 and 3 but that it does make a small difference in lull 4. The conclusion is unchanged. On a regular basis the whole of Europe is becalmed. Not only under Arctic high pressure in mid-winter, but also when high pressure is in charge during September and October. Near 100% back-up is required and inter-connectors will not solve the wind intermittency problem.

To wrap this up, one observation to arise from my Red Eléctrica de España post is that the operation of solar thermal generation is exposed to cloud cover. With solar PV mounted on thousands of roofs across a country there is always some generation, even on cloudy days. But if it’s cloudy over the concentrating solar power plant (CSP), generation falls to zero. One may imagine (or wish) that when it is cloudy it may also be windy and that loss of solar thermal would be compensated by wind. Figure 4 explores this question.

Figure 4 Solar thermal production periodically disappears when the plant is occluded by cloud. On many but not all of the occasions that this happens, wind compensates.

The blue arrows mark low solar days that were fairly windy and wind would make up for any deficiency in solar. There is a tendency for wind and solar to be negatively correlated as one might expect. But the red arrows mark low solar days that were also relatively calm. There are days when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine in Spain. Once again, near 100% back-up is required for 22.9 GW of wind and 2 GW of CSP.


Pan-European lulls in the wind stretching from Spain in the South to Sweden in the North, Britain to the West and Germany in the East are commonplace. The combined wind capacity of these six countries is 97.9 GW. On occasions the output from this gigantic resource falls below 3 GW, a load of 2.9%. At present and for the foreseeable future the only way to mitigate for wind variability is back-up from other dispatchable power sources. Building inter connectors may provide a marginal partial solution for some of the time but cannot provide a reliable solution at the pan-European scale.

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90 Responses to The Wind in Spain Blows …..

  1. fantastic analysis, first time that I’ve seen any factual proof that the great interconnection will not solve the wind problem.

  2. Thanks for this update, I find your blog an excellent source of information about what is really happening without the obfuscation one finds in the conventional media.

    I am uncomfortable with some of the terminology. “On occasions the output from this gigantic resource falls below 3 GW, a load of 2.9%. ”

    I know you mean.

    “Of the 97.9 GW installed power capacity, sometimes only 2.9% can be utilized to supply energy, because there is either not enough wind or not enough sunshine.”

    The term “load” does not seem to me to be the appropriate term in this sentence because “load” refers to demand rather than supply. Can we call gigawatts “output”? Would not installed power better be described as the capacity to output energy?

    Any engineer who reads what you have written can see what you mean. But most readers are intelligent lay people who can easily be confused by imprecise terminology.

    I see your views and your blog as having the potential to educate the public regarding the technical issues that constrain policy options available in the power sector. And for that the happen more precision is needed in using the terminology.

    Regular reference to the difference between energy and power would help casual visitors.

    This is like backstory in a novel, which has to be slipped into the story to help the reader without offending those whose can remember who Lord Voldemort is.

    • Leo Smith says:

      probably he meant to say load factor but the more usual term is ‘capacity factor’ – how much of the nameplate capacity your plant is actually generating, for whatever reason..

  3. Dave Rutledge says:

    Hi Euan,

    I think you are getting at the heart of Europe’s problem with high residential electricity prices.


  4. edmh says:

    Thank you Euan. You make the point about capacity factors very clearly.

    Not only are Renewables subject to the vagaries of the weather but they also cost shed loads of money when compared to conventional gas fired power when their overall capacity factors are included in the calculation, nearly 30 times in capital costs and 4 to 14 times as much for running costs even including the cost of fuel. Just run the numbers.

    For analysis of Renewable Energy performance and capacity factors quoted by Renewable Energy industry sources across Europe and see:

    These capital and running cost comparisons strip out all the positive profitability effects of government regulation and subsidies that are being applied to Renewable Energy, those being the only things that still make Renewables a viable business proposition.

    Accounting for the capacity factors, (the actual electrical output as compared to the Nameplate capacity of European Renewable installations is about 18% overall), as they are reported by the Renewable Industry, and combined with comparative costings from the US government Energy Information Administration, the overall capital cost of all European Renewable Energy installations (Solar and Wind Power) averages out at about €29billion / Gigawatt.

    This amounts to at least 29 times the cost of a conventional gas-fired installation at about €1billion / Gigawatt.

    That overall capital value accounting for the capacity factor applicable to Renewables at €29billion / Gigawatt is derived from the combination of:

    Onshore Windpower ~€14.2 billion/GW
    Offshore Windpower ~€41.4 billion/GW
    On Grid Solar Power ~€48.5 billion/GW

    According to Renewable Energy supporting sources by 2014 European Union countries had invested approximately €1 trillion, €1,000,000,000,000, in large scale Renewable Energy installations. This may well be an underestimate.

    But this expenditure has provided a nameplate electrical generating capacity of about 216 Gigawatts, nominally about ~22% of the total European generation needs of some 1000 Gigawatts.

    But the actual measured output by 2014 reported by the Renewable Energy Industry sources has been equivalent to 38 Gigawatts or ~3.8% of Europe’s electricity requirement.

    Accordingly the whole 1000 Gigawatt fleet of European electricity generation installations could have been replaced with dispatchable, lower capital cost Gas-fired installations for the €1trillion of capital costs already expended on Renewable Energy in Europe.

    However Renewable Energy production is dependent on the seasons, local weather conditions and the rotation of the earth, day and night. The Renewable Energy contribution to the electricity supply grid is inevitably erratic, intermittent and non-dispatchable.

    Renewable Energy is therefore much less useful than dispatchable sources of electricity, which can be engaged whenever necessary to match demand and maintain grid stability. Already the UK grid has had empty drastic last ditch measures like demanding the manufacturing industries close down and the use of diesel generation back (STOR) to maintain the grid

    So that 3.8% Renewable Energy contribution to the grid is often not available when needed and obversely its mandatory use and feed-in obligations can cause major grid disruption if the Renewable Energy contribution is suddenly over abundant.

    The Renewable Energy industry could not exist without the Government mandated subsidies and the preferential tariffs on which it depends. Therefore it never be a truly viable business proposition

    Viewed from the point of view of the engineering viability of a nation’s electrical grid, Renewable Energy would never be part of the generating mix without its Government mandate and Government sponsored market interference.

    The burden of these additional Renewable costs is both imposed on consumers via the increase in their utility bills and the cost hugely damages the viability of European industries, as has already been seen with the closure of plants.

    So the Green thinking especially in the UK in its enthusiasm to save the world from an indefinable but probably minimal threat in the distant future, will destroy Western civilisation long before the world fails from excessive overheating from CO2 emissions.




    Cost comparisons are have been clearly made by the US EIA

    US EIA electricity_generation.pdf 2015 Table 1


      Bloomberg New Energy Finance:
      “Among the country-level findings of the BNEF study are that onshore wind is now fully cost-competitive with both gas-fired and coal-fired generation, once carbon costs are taken into account, in the UK and Germany. In the UK, onshore wind comes in on average at $85 per MWh in the second half of 2015, compared to $115 for combined-cycle gas and $115 for coal-fired power”

      Look at this figure:

      “Discrepancy between observed prices for wind power generators (power price weighted by wind power generation)
      and average (time-weighted) wholesale electricity market price for West Denmark from 2002 to 2014”

      The variability of wind gives a price discount of between 4 and 12% in Denmark. This is a proxy for the magnitude of the integration costs.

      • Euan Mearns says:

        This begins to play like a stuck record. Denmark is a tiny country attached to a vast hydro resource to the N. It quite simply cannot be thrown up as an example that other countries may follow. Those who perpetually try to do so are either wilfully trying to deceive or are ignorant – take your pick.

        The intermittency of renewables creates balancing costs that at the moment are born by the FF generators, one reason why their costs are escalating, along with loss of market share due to the merit order. So talking about levelised costs on a playing field tilted by 45˚ is a joke. And then there are the extra grid / transmission costs. All this conveniently forgotten about by those striving to make renewables appear cost competitive.

        In the UK it seems that renewables generators will now be required to provide dispatchable power and at that point we will have true cost discovery.

        • Willem Post says:


          Balancing costs:


          Ireland’s Power System: Ireland had an island grid with a minor connection with the UK grid until October 2012. Eirgrid, the operator of the grid, publishes ¼-hour data regarding CO2 emissions, wind energy production, fuel consumption and energy generation. Drs. Udo and Wheatley made several analyses, based on 2012 and earlier Irish grid operations data, that show clear evidence of the effectiveness of CO2 emission reduction decreasing with increasing annual wind energy percentages.

          The Wheatley study of the Irish grid shows: Wind energy CO2 reduction effectiveness = (CO2 intensity, metric ton/MWh, with wind)/(CO2 intensity with no wind) = (0.279, @ 17% wind)/(0.53, @ no wind) = 0.526, based on ¼-hour, operating data of each generator on the Irish grid, as collected by SEMO.

          If 17% wind energy, ideal world wind energy promoters typically claim a 17% reduction in CO2, i.e., 83% is left over.

          If 17% wind energy, real world performance data of the Irish grid shows a 0.526 x 17% = 8.94% reduction, i.e., 91.06% is left over.

          What applied to the Irish grid would apply to the New England grid as well, unless the balancing is done with hydro, a la Denmark.

          Europe is facing the same problem, but it is stuck with mostly gas turbine balancing, as it does not have nearly enough hydro capacity for balancing.

          Fuel and CO2 Reductions Less Than Claimed: If we assume, at zero wind energy, the gas turbines produce 100 kWh of electricity requiring 100 x 3413/0.5 = 682,600 Btu of gas (at an average efficiency of 0.50), then 682600 x 117/1000000 = 79.864 lb CO2 are emitted.

          According to wind proponents, at 17% wind energy, 83 kWh is produced requiring 83 x 3413/0.50 = 566,558 Btu of gas, which emits 566558 x 117/1000000 = 66.287 lb CO2, for an ideal world emission reduction of 13.577 lb CO2.

          In the real world, the CO2 reduction is 13.577 x 0.526 = 7.144 lb CO2, for a remaining emission of 79.864 – 7.144 = 72.723 lb CO2, which would be emitted by 621,560 Btu of gas; 621560 x (117/1000000) = 72.723 lb CO2.

          To produce 83 kWh with 621,560 Btu of gas, the turbine efficiency would need to be 83 x 3413/621560 = 0.4558, for a turbine efficiency reduction of 100 x (1 – 0.4558/0.50) = 8.85%.

          Below is a summary:

          Ideal World………………..Btu……….CO2, lb…..Turbine Eff.
          No Wind gas gen……..682,600….79.864…………..0.5000
          17% Wind gas gen…..566,558…..66.287…………..0.5000

          Real World
          17% Wind gas gen…..621,560….72.723…………..0.4558

          Actually, Ireland’s turbines produce much more than 100 kWh in a year, but whatever they produce is at a reduced efficiency, courtesy of integrating variable wind energy.

          For example, in 2013, natural gas was 2098 ktoe/4382 ktoe = 48% of the energy for electricity generation; see SEIA report. This likely included 2098 – 2098/1.0855 = 171 ktoe for balancing wind energy, which had a CO2 emission of about 171 x 39653 million x 117/million = 791.4 million lb. This was at least 791.4 million lb of CO2 emission reduction that did not take place, because of less efficient operation of the balancing gas turbines.

          The cost of the gas, at $10/million Btu, was about 171 x 39653 million x $10/million = $67.6 million; it is likely there were other costs, such as increased wear and tear. This was at least $67.6 million of gas cost reduction that did not take place, because of less efficient operation of the balancing gas turbines.

          In 2013, the fuel cost of wind energy balancing was 5,872,100,000 kWh of wind energy/$67.6 million = 1.152 c/kWh, which would become greater as more wind turbine systems are added.

          It must be a real downer for the Irish people, after making the investments to build out wind turbine systems and despoiling the visuals of much of their country, to find out the reductions of CO2 emissions and of imported gas costs, at 17% wind energy, are about 52.6% of what was promised*, and, as more wind turbine systems are added, that percentage would decrease even more!!

          *Not included are the embedded CO2 emissions for build-outs of flexible generation adequacy, grid system adequacy, and storage system adequacy to accommodate the variable wind (and solar) energy, plus all or part of their O&M CO2 emissions during their operating lives; in case of storage adequacy, all of O&M CO2 emissions, because high wind and solar energy percentages on the grid could not exist without storage adequacy.

          NOTE: Gas turbine plant efficiencies are less at part load outputs. If gas turbines plants have to perform peaking, filling-in and balancing, due to variable, intermittent wind and solar energy on the grid, they generally operate at varying and lower outputs and with more start/stops. Such operation is less efficient than at steady and higher outputs and with fewer start/stops, just as with a car. Operation is unstable below 40%, hence the practical limit is about 50%, which limits the ramping range from 50% to 100%. Here is an example:
          Simple Cycle………100%……….38%……….40%……..26%
          Combined Cycle….100%……….55%……….40%…….47%

          Australia’s Power System: The Wheatley report states, with 4.5% wind energy on the grid, CO2 reductions were about 3.5%, which means the effectiveness was about 3.5/4.5 = 78% in 2014. The Wheatley report states, if wind energy were 9%, it would be about 70%. By extrapolation, if wind energy were 13.5%, it would be about 62%, and at 18%, it would be about 54%, i.e., the more wind energy, the less its effectiveness reducing CO2 emissions and fuel consumption. This would be similar to the effectiveness of 52.6% at 17% wind energy of Ireland’s power system. The laws of physics apply to Ireland, Australia, etc.

          • Interesting that you link to Wartsila without mentioning gas engines. They are an obvious solution for low operating hours, high ramp rates, frequent starts.

            Somehow, nobody is worried about car engines sitting idle for 99% of the time (back of the envelope, 40 million cars times 100 kW per car in Germany equals 4000 GW or 50 times electrical peak demand, of course the average car engine has a lifetime of two or three thousand hours, or three months of continuous running, while the average nuclear plant can run for 40 years near continuously)

        • Willem Post says:


          “The intermittency of renewables creates balancing costs that at the moment are born by the FF generators, one reason why their costs are escalating, along with loss of market share due to the merit order.”

          In Ireland, in 2013, the fuel cost of wind energy balancing was 5,872,100,000 kWh of wind energy/$67.6 million = 1.152 c/kWh, which would become greater as more wind turbine systems are added.


        • If the UK simply added lots of wind turbines overnight (to achieve 39% of overall generation), and nothing else changed, the average market value of wind would certainly go down by a lot more than 14%.

          Denmark uses a number of flexibility measures to maintain the value of wind energy, such as:

          CHP plants were flexibilised (no electricity production when electricity prices drop)

          Power to heat instead of curtailment for low prices

          Conventional power plants were flexibilised (higher part load efficiencies, faster start-up, faster ramp rates)

          Of course, the most important flexibility measure was interconnection.

          These measures cannot be translated 1;1 to the UK situation, but a lot can indeed be learnt from the Danish experience.

        • Olav says:

          Looks like there is a solution for that here. The Faroes Island is considering it for a method to provide electricity and heat during wind lulls.

          Looks like a possible game changer for me.. Even a nuclear power plant cold find it useful as they need electricity from outside to get started again.

          • Willem Post says:

            Nuclear plants can start just fine with auxiliary diesels-generators, if needed.

          • Olav says:

            I was thinking about the Fukishima. Batteries dead after some time and generators were dead due to flooding. I know diesels does the job fine today.

            Then we have gas peakers. When peak demand is over they slow down and some heat can be stored making next startup easier.
   is scalable to any size being useful where geography does not allow for pumped hydro
            Maybe a wind park could have it to lower the intermittency. It can utilize low temperatures so having it close to head demanding user is the best.

      • Willem Post says:


        1) The BNEF report, released just before Paris, is aimed towards INVESTORS in RE. It is to get them, and keep them “on board”, so outfits, such as Bloomberg, can arrange the financing. To quote from such a report on this site is beyond rational.

        2) Almost all US nuclear power plants have life extensions to 60 years. One, thus far, is applying for 80 years.

        3) For a given wind energy percent on a grid, there would be varying energy quantities that need to filled-in and balanced.

        As these variations take place, CCGTs are operating at about 75% of rated, so they can ramp up 25% and down 25%. CCGT units are started and stopped, or in synchronous mode, as needed.

        BTW, forget about Denmark; it is a special case.

        The presence of wind energy production for a given period, would entail additional operations by CCGTs, that would not be needed, if no wind energy.

        That difference (fuel, CO2, wear and tear, etc.,) should be charged to wind energy, as a minimum.

        Grid build-outs to accommodate wind to the grid (such as the $7 billion to bring Panhandle, Texas, wind energy to population centers), should be charged to wind energy.

        If fossil fuel units are eventually phased out, balancing will have to be done with CSP with at least 10 h of storage for continuous operation, unless lower cost battery systems are invented; that cost should be charged to wind energy.

        By loading weather-dependent, wind energy in that manner (see my write up about Ireland in this article, nuclear would become much more competitive.

        The wind energy folks would be fighting it tooth and nail.

        • Bloomberg New Energy Finance view on the true cost of renewables and UK energy policy:

          Their New Energy Outlook is extremely thorough and well researched. I do not see much of an ideological slant there. This is a credible forecast based on a lot of expert manhours.

          • Willem Post says:


            You are obviously not an energy systems analyst, if you do not see the BNEF slant, which is towards existing and potential investors in RE.

            Regarding wind and solar, many costs that should be attributed to wind energy are not, because they are socialized, like the $7 billion in grid expansion in Texas to bring wind energy from the Panhandle 1000 miles east to population centers. That $7 billion should be have been charged to wind energy.

            The extra cost of peaking, filling-in and balancing, due to wind energy, are socialized, but should have been charged to wind energy.

            Fully loaded wind energy, at most 25 year life, would be much more expensive than nuclear, at 60 to 80 year life.

        • BasG says:

          “Almost all US nuclear power plants have life extensions to 60 years…”

          Your suggestion that av. NPP life would be 60years, doesn’t fit with reality.
          Substantial part of US NPP’s were closed prematurely for a variety of reasons (leakages, economics, etc).

      • Leo Smith says:

        wind is now fully cost-competitive with both gas-fired and coal-fired generation, once carbon costs are taken into account.

        What carbon costs would those be then? The ones artificially imposed by green policies to make wind look cheap?

  5. Willem Post says:

    I hope this article, plus the related, prior ones are widely read in Paris.

    I do not see the purpose of normalizing 10 GW for each COUNTRY.

    The wind turbines are where they are, per local government policies.

    If Germans are foolish and rich enough to have many wind turbines in their near-windless country, so be it.

    If lulls are more pronounced by not normalizing, it merely shows the folly of uncoordinated policies of the various countries.

    On hind sight, it would have been much smarter to place the wind turbines where is the most wind.

    If that means moving elswhere most of the population of Ireland and Scotland and having an HVDC overlay grid for all of Europe to distribute the energy, so be it. I am kidding.


    Look at figures S2, S3, S4 and S8 (European electricity 2030).

    S4 indicates how much curtailment is reduced by interconnection (by about 90%).

    S8 gives the duration curve for residual load. Variable renewables in 2030 in Europe reduce residual load from 235 to 195 GW. Another 30 GW is only required for less than 100 hours per year and is therefore ideally met with gas engines.

    Smoothing with interconnectors does not turn wind into baseload with 90% capacity factor (and accounting for unplanned unavailabilities 80%+ can be relied on capacity as for the French nuclear generating park), but it massively reduces the need for curtailment and makes the job of backing up easier. Capacity that is rarely needed is not expensive. Engines are cheap.

  7. clivebest says:


    Interesting results. These prompted me to look at how well Energiewende is currently doing in Germany. These are the figures for the total energy generated and actually used in Germany so far in 2015 in units of TWh.

    Wind 72.56
    Solar 35.86
    Total: 108.42
    – exported(excess Wind & Solar): 40.77
    Net Used (Wind+Solar): 67.65

    Nuclear: 79.06
    Lignite: 127.95
    Coal: 95.32
    Gas: 27.19

    During 2015 there has been more energy consumed in Germany by Nuclear Power than by by both Wind and Solar combined. I wonder when the German government will be forced to either reverse the nuclear phase out, or else abandon EU carbon emission targets.

    • PhilH says:

      I think this assumption that all of Germany’s exported power is unwanted, unusable ‘free’ wind & solar is a bit of an urban myth. As this article:
      shows, Germany earns more from its power exports than it pays for its power imports and earns more per exported kWh than it pays per imported kWh, which all helps pay for their power system.

      And this site:
      shows that most of the net exports are in the winter, when solar will be playing a minimal role. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the time resolution to deduce the time-correlation of wind and net exports.

      Another recent article, which I can’t re-find to cite, showed a good correlation between exports and price, ie most of its exports were from firing up its FF stations to meet foreign demand.

      • clivebest says:

        If what you say was true then it would mean that money is more important to Germany than curbing its CO2 emissions.

        • gweberbv says:


          the average German likes very much to feel green, but he/she does not give a shit about CO2 emissions. The fact that Germany is running a large number of the ‘dirtiest’ plants in Central Europe is more or less unknown to the general public.

          This year Germany will export more electricity than France (most of it being generated from burning coal and lignite).

      • Phil

        I wholeheartedly agree that German exports are not worthless.

        One question: look at your graph and tell me if these figures come close to covering the cost of the German FiT just of solar exported? Add in wind? Biomass? In other words is there a payback?

        • PhilH says:

          Excellent question – wish I’d thought of it.

          Very roughly, for 2014: the graph shows a total net profit of EUR1.7G; their 35+GW of PV would have generated 35TWh; their 35+GW of wind would have generated 75TWh; total 110TWh.

          So that’s a ratio of 5 eurocents for each kWh of PV generation (note that I’m not saying the two things are linked), or 1.5 eurocents for each kWh of PV and wind generation (ditto).

          I don’t know what the average cost per kWh of the German FiT scheme is, but I’d guess those amounts would make a useful contribution towards it, but not come close to paying for it all. Of course the profits go into the pockets of the energy companies, whereas the FiT scheme is paid for by the domestic consumers.

          • gweberbv says:


            for the existing fleet of PV plants the average cost per kWh should be something like 20 eurocents per kWh. Maybe a little bit more.

          • Willem post says:

            The average cost of energies ends energy is about 18 Eurocentric/kWh.

            It is sold by utilities at less than 5c/kWh wholesale, but very often at much less than that during windy and sunny days, when it needs to be exported.

          • Günter Weber says:


            in general one can say that Germany tends to be an electricity importer when wholesale price goes above 60 Euros per MWh. This does not happen too often, even when renewables generation is very low.

            So it is not only the renewables production that ‘needs to be exportet’.

        • clivebest says:

          There is a pretty good correlation between German exports and large wind output. I suspect this is usually when actual wind powewr exceeds the forecasted value. Conventional output balances forecasted power and the excess gets exported. Forecasted power is probably always conservative to be on the safe side

          The end result is that somewhere between 30-40% of renewables gets exported.

      • Phil

        More data below showing the breakdown per country. It seems your back of the envelope is the same as theirs.

        The export price seems to be linked more to wholesale price. And this makes sense as export electricity is a wholesale commodity. Certainly it is very low compared to the retail price. This suggests that as the payback is generated based on retail prices + subsidy, it does not seem possible. Der Spiegel reported in 2013 that the FiT cost would be say 6 cents/kWh. So this suggest that the FiT could be covered by export.

        However this is perhaps an illusion. The FiT gets charged after the wholesale price. So the utilities are selling this electricity abroad and then claiming the FiT. Essentially I think the Germans are paying for this electricity to be exported.

        It is a mess.

      • Willem post says:

        That Fraunhoffer article is nonsense.

        German energiewende energy has an average subsidized COST of about 18 eurocent per kWh.
        If energy surpluses take place during windy periods, then that is expensive energy being exported for 2 to 5 ckWh, or whatever.

        The wholesale market is an entirely different animal.

  8. gbsr says:

    It would be nice to add PV-solar+battery installations, popular in Germany nowadays (due to the 30% investment subsidy which is expected to decrease to zero in 2020 as the falling battery costs will make it economical anyway).

    As that will become mainstream in coming decade here.

    Solar thermal’s small price decreases, will make it even less competitive in coming years. So including that niche technology is not relevant.

  9. Jacob says:

    This study by J.P. Morgan seems plausible to me.

    It’s conclusion: reducing CO2 emissions from electricity by 80% using wind and solar is possible (in Germany), using only currently available technology (no storage, no CCS). It requires installing 3 times the solar and wind capacity they currently have, and maintaining 100% dispatchable backup – 50% gas, 50% coal. Some of the time excessive wind power will be curtailed.

    The total cost of electricity under this scenario would be ~ 2 times the current cost, they claim. This seems to be the dubious part in this study.

    Does this seem plausible to you ? Is it possible to get 80% of electricity from wind and sun (regardless of cost) ?

    • clivebest says:

      No – because they currently produce (2015) 25% of total electrical energy from wind and solar, but they can actually use just 16%. If they spend a vast amount of money upgrading the grid then they might reach 25% usage.

      Therefore if they double wind and solar capacity then they would reach 50% energy production from wind and gas. However they would also need to install a further 12GW capacity of coal or gas stations to replace the existing nuclear. In no way will this reduce CO2 emissions by 80%.

      • Jacob says:

        They did a very simple graph: they multiplied the current wind and solar production by 3. They put it on a graph with the demand (consumption). When wind and solar is above demand – it is curtailed (discarded), When it is below demand it is supplemented by FF. They claim that the supplemental FF production, in total is no more than 20% of total annual consumption. They did the calculation for a winter month and a summer month.
        I couldn’t find an obvious error in this.
        The only problem, as far as I understand, is that you can’t turn on and off fossil fuel plants every few hours following the intermittent supply of solar and wind, to fill exactly the gaps they create.

    • Its conclusion: reducing CO2 emissions from electricity by 80% using wind and solar is possible (in Germany), using only currently available technology (no storage, no CCS). It requires installing 3 times the solar and wind capacity they currently have, and maintaining 100% dispatchable backup – 50% gas, 50% coal. Some of the time excessive wind power will be curtailed.

      It’s possible in UK too. In fact it’s the only potentially feasible way of integrating large amounts of intermittent renewable energy with the grid, as I have shown in previous posts:

      The problem is that the system would be hugely inefficient, with the FF plants working at very low overall capacity factors and having to jump through hoops to balance wild swings in wind generation – with no guarantees they can always jump high enough – and very high levels of wind power curtailment. Costs would be up there in proportion.

      • Jacob says:

        The J.P.Morgan study said they will need 100% FF capacity backup, but it will be employed for only 20% of demand (annually).

        They calculated that the costs for electricity, under such a scheme, would be only about twice current costs in Germany. This is the part that sounds dubious to me.

        • Seems about right under their assumptions. With additional flexibility options and their assumed learning curve for renewables, there would be little cost difference left (within the margin of uncertainty so to say).

          • Jacob says:

            The J.P. Morgan study stated that they did not add in the cost of transmissions upgrades, or the cost of FF acting as backup, at low capacity factors (therefore high cost).
            On the other hand – “the learning curve” – i.e. the drop in renewable installation prices – is pure speculation. We might well be on the flat (mature) part of this curve, and nobody knows if prices will really drop in the future. They might also rise.

        • gweberbv says:


          running the existing fleet of FF plants as a backup is quite cheap. In particular if you do not care too much if investors of recently build plants will ever see their money coming back. But after a few decades these plants will fall apart and need to be replaced (not only refurbished). Then the real backup costs will materialize.
          On the other hand in a few decades, a large part of the renewables fleet will already have been dropped out of their feed-in tariff periods. From that point society only has to cover the running cots fro them. And these are quite low (something like 2 eurocents/kWh in todays prices).
          So, I would assume that both trends will compensate each other. But running the FF backup will be much more expensive than today, for sure.

          • A C Osborn says:

            Sorry, but what Renewables do you expect to still be working “in a few decades”?

          • Jacob says:

            Of course. Wind turbines wear out too, and will need to be replaced too. The probably last about half as long as conventional FF plants.

          • gweberbv says:

            As long as no water enters a PV cell and its surface is cleaned from time to time, it can basicly work forever. Only the efficiency will slowly decrease. The inverter you need to replace every 10 years on average.

            Example: I see no reason why this solar park should not be selling electricty for something like 20 to 30 eurocents per kWh (in todays prices) in 30 years from now:
            Maybe the nameplate capacity has shrinked to 250 MW by then.

            For wind generators the situation is more complicated. But for sure they will not completely fall apart after 20 years.

          • gweberbv says:

            P.S. Should read 20 to 30 Euros per MWh.

          • robertok06 says:


            “As long as no water enters a PV cell and its surface is cleaned from time to time, it can basicly work forever. ”

            I think that you don’t see it because you do not look for it. How about these?… found it in 3 nanoseconds…

            “32 Residential PV have been surveyed for 6 years.
            And each had trouble(s) on modules or system!”

            “Fraction of PV modules with the BPD(s) malfunction as a result of circuit check:
            Total 1,272 modules – With burned marks 37 (3%)”


            … but of course this happens in Japan, in Germany everything works just fine, right? 🙂

            As an alternative, you can read this:

            “8 Conclusions
            PV modules may degrade or fail in many ways. ”


            … in particular Table 8.1, with percentage of failures of all kinds.

          • robertok06 says:


            “P.S. Should read 20 to 30 Euros per MWh.”

            No. Should read 200 to 300 Euros/MWh… i.e. the original 20 to 30 Eurocents/kWh which you have mentioned.

            Please explain how can something which is brand new today and is such that…

            “The solar park has the ability to sell electricity at a price of EUR105/MWh.”

            .. cost LESS once it has lost at least 15-20% of its performance?


          • Günter Weber says:


            there is a quite simple answer to your question: Out of that 105 Euro/MWh probably 75 Euros are for paying back the investment costs (plus a certain profit margin) over the next 20 years. Only something like 20 to 30 Euro/MWh is needed to keep the installation running.
            In that respect PV can be compared to hydro plants: Huge investment costs, tiny operating costs.

            If the great French socialist leader Hollande would decide tomorrow to seize this plant to tell the investors ‘f… off’, it could produce already now for 30 Euro/MWh.

          • Günter Weber says:


            concerning the failure rate of PV installations:

            1. Residential roof-top PV installations are not representative for the PV fleet. The 300 MW French PV plant has a higher capacity than small-scale PV installations on ‘single-familiy houses’ in Germany over more than 5 years. So, one has to look for professional operators of PV plants who have a strong incentive to take care for their installations (monitoring/cleaning/inspections/etc.).

            2. A PV plant is not a nuclear power plant that has to go off-grid in the very moment a single screw turns out to be loose. So, the failure rate might be interesting for quality control by the manufacturer, but for the operator the important question is how much does the output of the plant degrade over time.

  10. Bernard Durand says:

    Clive, 70 000 onshore wind turbines means approximately in Germany 1 turbine for 5 km2 of land ! Nowhere would it be possible to live without seeing a circle of giant windmills overhanging the lanscape !

  11. Bernard Durand says:

    Euan, in a special issue on COP 21 of the french journal ” Le Monde” the “miracle” of the Danish Island of Samso is celebrated as an example of a 100 % renewable achievment! Gussing in Austria is also often celebrated in the french media as another example.
    As Roger and you did for El Hierro, a post on these two cases would be useful to tell the truth , if you could find the real data. I was unable to find them !

  12. Paolo Martini says:

    Is Italy going to change this picture in any way?

    • robertok06 says:

      No way. Italy has installed 19 GWp of PV in a very short time, in the frenzy of the “Conto Energia”… with the result of having each kWh generated by PV costing 29 cEuro on average… until 2033 or so.
      Wind is lacking in Italy and even in Italian waters, so the only thing that could increase with modest additional costs is bio-energy, but that also has physical limits it cannot exceed, way below what needs to be done as per green-dogma.

      Just to give a glimpse at what’s going on in Italy now… after the 9.5 GWp of PV installed in 2011 at the height of the Conto Energia, 2015 has seen only 244 MWp installed in the first 10 months of the year… which means that at this rate it would take several centuries to replace the 150 TWh/year generated by FF power stations.

  13. robertok06 says:

    The latest one in the saga of the due DeLucchi-Jacobson:

    I’ll try to get a full copy… for the moment the supplemental information file (pdf) seems to be dowloadable for free, and full of info and data.


    • gweberbv says:

      Really low cost storage is simply not burning FF in times when renewable generation is high.

      • robertok06 says:

        No way!… FF power stations have to stay ON to be ready to kick-in when, 10′ later, or 30′, or whatever… the wind is going down.

        Do you follow a bit what’s written on this excellent blog or not?

        Euan and Roger have dispelled this urban legend of the intermittent renewables as fuel-savers how many times now?

        As the penetration of wind and solar increases their effectiveness at replacing and reducing FF decreases… at some point it is completely 100% useless, and all one does in keeping the process is to fill the pockets of the “investors” (or, how they are called these days of COP21… “earth/mankind rescuers”) in these two technologies.

  14. RDG says:

    The big wind turbines are unreliable. The civil engineering cost is high.

    Conclusion: Whether its nuclear or renewables, its a bunch of worthless JUNK financed by other peoples money.

    • Mkelley says:

      Those things are not only unreliable, they are very expensive to fix:

      –ST. CLOUD, Minn. — A $2.3 million federal stimulus project at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in St. Cloud is giving green energy initiatives a bad name.

      A 600-kilowatt wind turbine — some 245 foot tall — stands on the wintry VA grounds, frozen in time and temperature, essentially inoperable for the past 1 1/2 years. No one is working to fix it, though many attempts were made to repair the turbine, once billed as a model green energy project.–


  15. Euan Mearns says:

    Andrew asked about the spectrum of load factors. I made this chart but did not include it because of uncertainty over the metered wind capacities. I feel the loads in Sweden and Denmark look suspiciously high. Or is it really windier there?

    The capacities used are:

    Sweden 5729 MW
    Denmark 4890 MW
    UK 9136 MW
    France 9285 MW
    Germany 41360 MW
    Spain 22845 MW

    Any comments?

    • CarlH says:

      It is probably correct. The autumn months are typically very windy in Scandinavia. Had you done the same for june/july the outcome would probably be different.

    • Denmark is relatively small compared to the other countries. The shape of the curve is therefore a little closer to that of an individual wind turbine. Or, in other words, it also contains the most values close to zero.

      There is a very clear geographic smoothing effect, which you see both in the hours at zero or near zero output, and in the hours above 50%. If you added the curve for all countries combined you would see that the hours above 50% would be entirely eliminated (I can read that off your figure 2, which has a maximum of about 40 GW out of 97.9 GW of capacity).

      What you and many commenters here get hung up about is the minimum, which is not zero, but still only 3% of capacity and therefore 10% of average capacity (wind capacity factor of about 30%).

      But things look somewhat different if you consider TWh of curtailment and TWh of required back-up, where the smoothing has a very large impact.

      • Willem Post says:


        A 97.9 GW wind energy system that is constrained, mostly by the weather, to 3% of rated and 40% of rated, that needs to be supported by OTHER generators 24/7/365, for peaking, filling-in and balancing, and needs extensive grid build-outs.

        If that same capacity consisted of nuclear, it would NOT be constrained by the weather, and would have, on average, an output of 88 MW (the US CF = 0.90), and would need minimal support from other generators, and would need minimal grid build-outs, as France has proven for about 30 years.

        France has the lowest electric rates of any advanced country in the world.

        • I like nuclear, I also think the ideal carbon tax/price currently is 0. 80% of the cost of nuclear is due to regulatory issues, which is the reason for the “forgetting by doing” learning curve of nuclear.

          But, Bloombgerg New Energy Finance helpfully point out that the subsidy package for Hinckley (2.7 GW of nuclear power) would currently buy 30 GW of wind, which even with a capacity factor 3 times lower, would give more than three times as much output. At that price, nuclear is no longer a good deal.

          Existing depreciated capacity is very competitive, and will not easily be forced off-line. Both Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Agora Energiewende are quite clear about that in their publications and reports. Agora Energiewende gives a marginal cost of less than 2 cents for fully depreciated lignite power plants in Germany, which is why these plants easily outcompete new combined cycle natural gas plants (in Germany and via interconnectors also in the Netherlands and even the UK).

          The fight against too much early retirement of capacity is much more easily won and arguable than attempts to get new nuclear or coal capacity to be built in Europe.

        • Grant says:

          I know the mix of electricity generating things in France is generally totally different to the UK and the comparison of the pages production is possibly skewed by what is and is not metered in each datasource compared to total production …. but …

          France, even allowing for it’s role as a provider of nuclear sourced output for it neighbours, seems to have a 50% greater electricity consumption than the UK for what is, so far as I can tell, an almost identical size of population.

          Why is that?

          Different industrial mix?

          Huge losses on the grid?

          Or simply greater profligacy of use based in lower costs?

    • Willem Post says:

      What is the composite annual CF for these 6 nations?
      All of them have some exposure to Atlantic winds.
      Inland countries, as inland Germany, etc., have poor winds.

  16. RDG says:

    Bottom line: All the coal plants in the US/UK are shutting down and there is nothing to replace them. This isn’t about climate change…its about decades of false accounting and massive fraud and peak oil and overpopulation…bankruptcy. It was either price of oil = >$200US a barrel or electricity 5x the current price. Price of oil > 200 destroys the aviation industry in a second and the entire sham of an economy collapses. So they are running the electricity generators into the ground to subsidize whats left and wave their hands frantically about cheap renewables replacing the coal fired plants. Then the thugs hold a gun to the Saudis head to flood with the world with $50 oil while the sauds go into massive debt. Its obviously not going to work. The price of electricity is going to skyrocket. The Ev’s are for the 10 percenters.

    The SMR’s are a farce…the wind turbines are a farce.

    Apparently there is no solution.

  17. The Dork of Cork . says:

    Its not a energy crisis , its a production / consumption crisis.
    Look , 20 billion 104 million euros of tax collected in Ireland was not repent in the state.
    This is over half of total tax take.
    This tax typically adds to half of the price of goods via directly (VAT) or indirectly (tax on wages etc)

    If you just look at the brewing industry you will observe how strange the supply chain has become.
    Beer is a high volume , high weight game of distribution.
    Historically it was a local industry , never transnational or even national.
    This is not the case today.
    Why is this ?
    Something is wrong with the demand signal.
    Something very very wrong.

    If you observe the Irish energy balance figures in detail you will see major differences between pre and post Maastricht energy balances.
    In particular the amount of energy required for distribution (transport) relative to TFC.
    The Irish economy went into major crisis between 2005-08.
    At this point transport exceeded 40% of total TFC , reaching a peak of 43 % in 2007.
    Irish energy balance is again pushed beyond 40% of TFC ,( increased aviation , private car and road freight)

    The crisis is artificial and is a result of extreme usury.

  18. The Dork of Cork . says:

    Irish fuel consumption road freight
    1990 : 346 ktoe.
    I happen to remember 1990 , the pubs were full , no shortage of beer or tokens to buy the stuff.
    2007 : 1,145 ktoe (peak euro demand) , much of these inputs went into construction but more basic supply distribution patterns changed.
    Most notably the discontinuation of rail beer transport in 2005.
    2013 : 581ktoe (trough)
    2014 : 621ktoe (Irish recovery ?)
    Not really.
    A increase in GDP yes ,but not recovery (the pubs remain empty)
    What we are seeing is a increase in euro waste production
    From a finance perspective a increase in transport friction aids financial concentration as the goods cannot get to market effectively.

    OK , I am Irish and am using the beer thingy to illustrate the problem.
    But if the monetary system was working effectively the pubs nearest the brewery would be extremely busy places.
    But they are not.
    The waste present in the current euro supply chain is epic.

  19. The Dork of Cork . says:

    Irish private car energy consumption.
    1990 : 926 ktoe. (this was after a 2 year private car boom in 89 and 90 so Irish energy consumption in this sector as sub 900 ktoe for much of the 80s depression.)
    2008 : 2,131 ktoe (peak)
    It began to decline in 2009 and 2010.
    2010 : 2039 ktoe (trough)
    In late 2010 we had a bailout of the consumer war economy so energy waste again began to increase from this time period.
    2011 : 2,073
    2012 : 2,088
    2013 :2,113
    2014 : 2,122
    A major increase in car purchases was seen in 2015 so Irish energy consumption in this sector will spike to 2,200ktoe~ , well past its 2008 peak.

    Austerity can be defined as basic rationing to make living space for the war or consumer war economy.
    In today’s consumer war economy cars have simply replaced tank production / consumption.

    Ireland is the extreme end of liberal (usury ) economics but much of this will be replicated in other euro conduit jurisdictions in good time.
    In many respects the Spanish economy is very much alike.
    The euro car boom of 2015 has further eroded basic living standards in Europe.
    Its a simple question of who gets to eats the energy pies,
    Humans or cars.
    In euroland cars are the first citizens.

  20. The Dork of Cork . says:

    This from a Reuters article from early this year.
    The Brazilian automobile sales crash .

    Now today we observe a 4.5 % contraction of its GDP. (Waste output)
    The cars bankrupt us , create a breakdown of the production / consumption system (the industrial system) and yet we ask why ???????????

    Only social credit theory explains the current phenomena.
    The need for ever increasing numbers of capital goods is a deep characteristic of modern finance capitalism.

  21. The Dork of Cork . says:

    Social credit theory is different from Marxist theory as it rejects the labour theory of value amongst other things

    Wages add to companies cost just as energy , rent , debt on capex etc.

    It must recover these costs through sales.
    In a capitalist economy this is typically done via increased wages.

    Rising wages however drive globalization (the escape from costs). , but this adds further to capex and distribution costs.
    Leading to a eventual implosion of demand as the demand signal is false.

    Only a increase in non wage income ( the national dividend which does not add to production costs ) can create a viable equilibrium.

  22. It is less than a half truth, that geographic spread helps to smoothen the wind power output. It can be proven that the smoothing- assumption is false: Wind power generation is a stochastic process. Clearly the “variability” of the power-curve is described by the standard deviation and / or variance. The question is indeed: Does the variance of a stochastic process decrease if you add power generation capacities?

    If you add a wind power generation Y in an area B to an existing wind power generation X in an area A the statistical variance of the wind power sum Z = X + Y is computed as follows:

    var (Z) = var(X) + var(Y) + 2 cov(X,Y),

    By definition the variance var(Y) is a positive value. As there is no negative correlation between wind power generations in offer, the term cov(X,Y) is also positive. Therefore it is proven, that the variability of the sum is always increasing when production capacities are added. The smoothing hypothesis is proven to be false! Even if the power generation is uncorrelated (the term cov(X,Y) is zero then) the variance is increasing.

    Therefore the following conclusion holds: Every increase in production capacities in any area increases the variability.

    The smoothing myth is constructed in the following way: Given two correlated generations X and Y (here we can assume that they are “closer” together) the variance of the sum X+Y is greater as if they were uncorrelated (and very far away from each other- far away here means the distance between Spain and Finnland). Due to the correlation the standard deviations add if they are close together, if uncorrelated the variances are added. The standard deviation of the total production is less than the standard deviation of a highly correlated generation. Nevertheless the standard deviation is increasing! This is the myth!

    This effect is not in contradiction to the fact that the smoothing hypothesis is wrong, because the smoothing myth assumes the production capacity being a given quantity.

    One can find a discussion of the smoothing hypothesis (in german language) here:

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