WWF Spins Again

On January 3rd WWF issued a press release purporting to show how 2014 was a “massive year” for wind power in Scotland. Euan Mearns put this claim firmly into perspective here. Then two days later, on January 5th, WWF issued another report summarizing the results of a consultant study which purports to show how Scotland could generate 92% of its electricity requirements from renewables by 2030 without the need for any fossil fuel or nuclear backup. Here we will look briefly into the question of whether this proposal is in any way feasible.

WFF’s press release was, as usual, uncritically received by the press. Here’s what the Scotsman had to say:

SCOTLAND’S electricity system could be powered almost entirely by renewable energy by 2030, according to a report by an environmental charity.

WWF Scotland’s report uses independent analysis by an engineering and energy consultancy to test the Scottish Government’s policy to decarbonise the country’s electricity supply over the next 15 years. It found that an electricity system based on “proven renewables and increased energy efficiency” is a credible way of meeting the target. Lead author of the report for consultancy DNV GL, Paul Gardner, said: “Our technical analysis shows that a system with an extremely high proportion of renewable electricity generation located in Scotland can be secure and stable. There is no technical reason requiring conventional fossil and nuclear generation in Scotland.”

However, one key assumption wasn’t mentioned:

With the transmission capacity to the rest of GB currently existing or planned, there is little or no need for conventional generating capacity in Scotland to maintain security of supply, even in periods of low renewables production.

That’s right. WWF’s plan will work only if power can be imported from elsewhere in GB when the wind doesn’t blow in Scotland.

So what the Scotsman should have said was:

WWF Scotland’s report … found that an electricity system based on “proven renewables and increased energy efficiency” is a credible way of meeting the target only if power can be imported in sufficiently large quantities from elsewhere in Great Britain during periods when renewables generation is unable to meet demand in Scotland. Since the future availability of surplus power from elsewhere in Great Britain is subject to considerable uncertainty WWF’s system cannot be relied on to deliver the stable and secure power that Scotland needs.

To set the stage we will briefly review the situation regarding electricity generation and consumption in Scotland using the data contained in the annual generation statistics published by the UK government and the annual renewables generation statistics published by the Scottish government. The chart below summarizes these data. Since 2004 wind generation and electricity exports have increased substantially, conventional generation has gradually decreased and consumption has been reasonably constant except for the step-down after the 2008 recession. But conventional generation still supplied over two-thirds of Scotland’s electricity in 2013, and over three-quarters if hydro is included:

Generation by type, consumption and exports, Scotland 2004-2013

Now on to WWF’s vision for a secure renewable future. It’s what WWF calls its “Low Climate Risk” scenario, a title which implies that by generating 92% of its electricity from renewables in 2030 Scotland can save the world from climate change all by itself. Here are the details, reproduced from the WWF report, Note, incidentally, that the scenario doesn’t include any more rooftop solar, showing that even WWF doesn’t hold out much hope for Solar Scotland:

WWF’s 2030 “Low Climate Risk” scenario

According to DUKES Scotland presently has 12,099MW of installed capacity, 4,270MW of which is non-dispatchable wind and 7,829MW dispatchable coal, gas, nuclear and hydro. This much dispatchable capacity should be capable of meeting Scotland’s ~6,000MW peak winter demand when the wind isn’t blowing provided there are no major plant outages.

WWF’s 2030 generation mix, however, eliminates the coal and nuclear and most of the gas and cuts dispatchable capacity to only 3,340MW. A simple calculation shows that at ~6,000MW peak demand this will result in deficits of up to ~2,660MW during low-wind periods even when all the dispatchable capacity is running flat out. How does WWF propose to eliminate these deficits?

First by aggressive but “perfectly feasible” demand management:

…. the scenarios show that a perfectly feasible demand reduction of 1% annually will allow Scotland to hit the 2030 target well within the current renewables pipeline, even allowing for the electrification of heat and transport.

And second, by importing power “safely and securely” from somewhere else:

Where there is any shortfall between demand and supply, this can safely and securely be met by imports from the rest of Great Britain or Europe through interconnection.

Although WWF doesn’t think the need to import power will arise very often because the Scottish wind can be relied on to blow during most winter peak periods:

Maintaining system security during periods of high electricity demand and low renewable production is critical, even though this will be a relatively infrequent occurrence as high demand for electricity in winter often coincides with high wind output.

But the deficits won’t be limited just to high-demand periods. There are times when even Scotland is blessed with a prolonged period of fine weather during which wind output drops down close to zero and stays there. I discussed in an earlier post how the Island of Eigg ran out of renewable energy during such a period in the summer of 2010. A similar period of fine weather in the summer of 2030 could result in Scotland having to import power for more than just a few hours.

There are also problems with WWF’s dispatchable power assumptions. The existing 1,500MW of hydro, for example, is capable of delivering power at full output only for a few hours, and there are questions as to whether an additional 1,000MW of hydro could even be installed in Scotland. The 340MW of gas has CCS attached, and CCS is still unproven technology on the commercial scale. And WWF’s proposed addition of 360MW of biomass makes no sense at all if the goal is to reduce carbon emissions in the short-term . Biomass when burned emits about as much CO2 as coal. (There’s also the question of where the biomass will come from. It’s unlikely to be Scotland and there are limits as to how much virgin North American forest we can cut down.)

I could go on listing problems with the WWF proposal but I think I’ve gone far enough. I will just conclude by saying that it’s unwise to underestimate the influence that NGOs like WWF have on politicians and the public.  If it wasn’t for Friends of the Earth and their “Big Ask” campaign the UK probably wouldn’t have the Climate Change Act of 2008.

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68 Responses to WWF Spins Again

  1. Hugh Sharman says:

    Quite right Roger! The right place for this article is in the Scottish papers that published this garbage. Properly attributed, this might boost the readership of this blog. Get on with it, Euan!

  2. Graeme No.3 says:


    I would wonder how they are going to get 0.8 capacity factor from burning gas or biomass? Presumably combined heat and power but with carbon capture; which would on current figures take a third of the energy.

    Nor do I think that the CF figures for wind are going to remain constant for one year after another. They haven’t in the past, and a drop to 0.26 might be more than the inter-connectors can handle.

    Lastly, how do they propose to pay for this? Loads of cash from south of the border?

  3. Joe Clarkson says:

    I have trouble understanding the rationale for this post. Everyone can agree that there are issues with the intermittent nature of wind and solar. But how serious are they really? I live on an island with a very high penetration of renewables, but the utility manages quite well even though wind and hydro available sometimes exceed night time loads. The utility then simply curtails wind farms. When there is no wind, fossil fuels fill the gap, but when the wind blows a huge amount of fuel is saved. So we should not be prepared to automatically dismiss wind power because the wind is not constant.

    And what are the alternatives? Fossil fuels are a finite source of energy and increase the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere. Do we want to rely on them forever? Nuclear? I will take nuclear power more seriously when there is some evidence that the mounting stock of radioactive waste will be properly cared for. There are also severe side effects of nuclear power, such as the difficulty of keeping weapons production facilities and power production facilities entirely separate. Can we trust the Non-Proliferation Treaty to be 100% effective?

    Fossil fuels are a fantastic source of energy, but to build a whole civilization on a one-shot pulse of that energy, with no plan for succession, is the height of foolishness. To base one’s appraisal of an energy supply only on current cost is also foolish. As the fossil fuel age winds down, relative costs of fossil fuels will trend toward higher and higher equilibrium values.

    So what if the WWF is gung-ho for wind power? If you have a better plan, let’s hear it!

    • Euan Mearns says:

      If you have a better plan, let’s hear it!

      Energy Matters’ 2050 pathway for the UK

      Joe, this is a good comment. The “battle” is in fact already lost in Scotland as my post on Monday will show. I do not understand how deployment of nuclear power in the UK might lead to international nuclear proliferation.

      The point of the post is to highlight the dishonesty OR lack of competence of a charity that appears to have undue influence in government and where the distorted information gets regurgitated uncritically by the press – incidentally, I don’t blame the press, it is the source of the propaganda that is at fault.

      Scotland a few years ago was energy independent. We had a self contained electricity system that could be relied upon and exported significant quantities of power to England. The SNP have turned Scotland into an energy parasite, that will soon be 100% reliant on power and renewable subsidy payments from England to keep our lights on.

      Which island?

      • Joe Clarkson says:

        So it looks like your plan is to go with 60-70% nuclear. I guess that will work for a while, maybe longer with fast breeder reactors (should they ever get built). I think that the economics of full life cycle costs of nuclear vs massive renewables is open to dispute.

        I live on Hawaii Island. Small isolated grid with lots of renewables. Check it out.

        • Euan Mearns says:

          Well the DECC 2050 calculator gives cost estimates too. My pathway is one of the lowest cost ever published. Roger has been doing a series on Island energy systems and I’m sure will be interested in this one. Nice to have geothermal! Not so nice to have large parts of your country covered with turbines – especially if you are a country dweller.

        • Roberto says:

          ‘So it looks like your plan is to go with 60-70% nuclear. I guess that will work for a while,’

          What… a couple of centuries are not enough for you?


          • Joe Clarkson says:

            Exactly! Two centuries is just about the short length of time it took us to get into this mess.

            Every time I look at the exponential growth curves of population, fossil fuel consumption, or CO2 concentration I wonder, “What were we thinking?” And my next thought is, “This can’t end well.”

          • Niels Colding says:

            Including subsidy a wind power operator sells the electricity for no less than 20 c (but sometimes we have to pay money to get rid of excess electricity from the wind) – industrial plants in Europe pay 8 c/kwh incl. taxes.

            Excuse me Euan, but I am very interested in knowing why I cannot compare money and energy directly (where does the logic halt?) so let me bore you a little with an allegoric tale:
            10,000 years ago the king met a man who had a shining yellow piece of metal in his hand. The king had never seen anything like it and asked the man what is was. “It is gold”, he replied. “I like the color but I don’t know what to use it for, it is very soft “, the man said. “I also like the color”, the king said, “and I am looking for a gift to my wife, the queen, maybe my artist can make a beautiful necklace to her from that piece of gold. I would like to buy that piece of what you call gold. I would gladly give you a little house, 100 kg of wheat, 2 kg of cotton, a goat, a rabbit and 6 chicken!” “I think it is a reasonable price”, the man said and gave the king the piece of gold. The king could give the man the wheat, the cotton, the goat, the rabbit and the 6 chicken immediately but he had to pay a worker for building the house which was part of the deal. The clay and straw was free because the worker could dig it up and harvest it without paying anything for it, but the worker himself had to be paid for his work that took 6 days. For one day’s work he got 2 kg of wheat and a chicken, so when he had finished his job he had earned 12 kg of wheat and 6 chicken. But the king also had to pay his artist who made the necklace to the queen. The artist knew that he was the best artist in town and he claimed the value of one goat each day he worked to make the necklace – however he did not want to have all these goats – 12 of them because he worked 12 days to finish the necklace, so instead he asked the king to give him a small piece of the gold lump. The king agreed. The king began to calculate how much he had given for the necklace to his wife: To the man who sold him the piece of gold: 100 kg of wheat, 2 kg og cotton, 1 goat, 1 rabbit and 6 chicken. To the house builder 12 kg of wheat and 6 chicken. To the artist …….a piece of gold?! The king was in doubt for some time, but then he figured out that the piece of gold which the artist got for his work was worth 12 goats. Money was invented and measured the value of the ‘frozen’ energy from Nature and Agriculture.

    • I live on an island with a very high penetration of renewables, but the utility manages quite well even though wind and hydro available sometimes exceed night time loads. The utility then simply curtails wind farms. When there is no wind, fossil fuels fill the gap, but when the wind blows a huge amount of fuel is saved. So we should not be prepared to automatically dismiss wind power because the wind is not constant.

      I looked into this question about a year ago in this post


      and concluded that the UK can add as much wind power as it likes provided it keeps enough fossil fuel backup to fill demand when the wind isn’t blowing. But the more wind you add the more inefficient the system becomes, until eventually the wind farms and the fossil fuel plants are both operating down around a 10% load factor and up to 90% of the wind power gets curtailed.

      It’s also questionable whether such a system will save a “huge” amount of fuel. A lot of fuel is wasted when fossil plants have to be ramped rapidly up and down to balance large amounts of fluctuating wind power, like driving a car in stop-and-go traffic. We also have to consider the “embedded” CO2 emitted in constructing and installing the wind turbines, which isn’t insignificant.

      • Joe Clarkson says:

        A lot of fuel is wasted when fossil plants have to be ramped rapidly up and down to balance large amounts of fluctuating wind power, like driving a car in stop-and-go traffic.

        This belief is widely held and mostly wrong. Most grids have large numbers of generating facilities. They are not all ramped up and down simultaneously as demand varies, rather they are activated individually and each one quickly ramps up to its most efficient operating load. The fuel consumption at a generating facility that is off line is almost nil.

        I used to be the operations manager at a local combined cycle power plant. To this day, the two combustion turbines are both in operation only during the evening peak. At night they are both off-line. The grid operator almost never operates both units at partial load.

        • Euan Mearns says:

          Joe (and other commenters) sometimes comments are being sent to moderation and I don’t know why. Glitch of the system and the way it works.

          With current wind loads in the UK balancing power is not really having to ramp much more than needed to service the diurnal demand cycle (Hugh may disagree with this). And so I can agree when you say “mostly wrong”. The biggest problem our gas generators have is losing market share whilst being required to provide valuable balancing services for free.

          • Joe Clarkson says:

            Just for your info. Every time I hit the Post Comment button I get an error message informing me I have made a duplicate comment.

          • Joe Clarkson says:

            losing market share whilst being required to provide valuable balancing services for free

            I am unfamiliar with power purchase agreements in the UK, but here in the US most producers are paid for capacity and energy separately. The contract under which my plant operated paid enough for capacity that the construction loan would be serviced even if the plant never generated a kWh. It is probable that most of those “balancing” gas plants are being paid for being available even if they are not producing power at the time. This should mostly compensate for loss of market share.

            On the other hand, there are also “peakers”, plants that only get paid when they operate (perhaps only a few hours a month), but get huge rates for their energy when they do operate because they are in operation at times of maximum demand. This may be the only viable business for an inefficient old simple-cycle gas turbine plant.

        • A C Osborn says:

          Joe Clarkson says: January 9, 2015 at 5:34 pm

          What you fail to understand is what your Island has is not scaleable, Euan/Roger have already written a post on this.
          How you expect Renewables to cater for any substantial portion of supplying 60Million people I don’t know.
          The other point you don’t seem to want to talk about is that the actual electricity they produce is much, much more expensive than from FF and Nuclear.
          That money would be far better spent at the moment on Research for real replacements for FF, like Molten Salt Reactors etc, as the money for theRenwable’s Back-up has already been spent many years ago.

          • Joe Clarkson says:


            You are probably right that renewables are not scalable. I have a certain affection for them, having worked with them all my life, but I agree that the prospect of totally revamping the world energy system to run off renewables is not going to happen.

            The trouble is that we could say that about any other energy system too, including nuclear. We are very deep into the “Energy Trap” that Tom Murphy described so well on his Do The Math blog. The transition to another, non-fossil, energy system of any kind should have started decades ago.

            I realize that Roger and Euan think that renewables are an unwelcome diversion from the nuclear technology that they believe is the answer to our energy predicament. I don’t think either of them are going to happen. Too much sacrifice would have to be made by too many people to come up with the surplus resources needed to build out either technology on the scale required. Nuclear and renewables both produce electricity. Think of the huge investment it would take just to re-vamp our transportation system to be all-electric. The resources just aren’t available.

            My take on the situation is that our modern high-tech civilization is nearing the end of its run. When things fall apart, I simply prefer to have a bunch of broken down and abandoned wind turbines littering the landscape to broken down and abandoned nuclear plants.

          • Euan Mearns says:

            Too much sacrifice would have to be made by too many people to come up with the surplus resources needed to build out either technology on the scale required. Nuclear and renewables both produce electricity. Think of the huge investment it would take just to re-vamp our transportation system to be all-electric.

          • Niels Colding says:

            Most people (in Denmark 99,999 %) are convinced that renewables are endowed with a positive energy balance of, say 30. But the truth is that these estimations are based on Life Cycle Assessments: new materials minus recycled materials = a minor difference which they ask the windmill to compensate 30 times (and ok, they can do that) – see Livscyklus analyse.
            A more truthful (but coarse) calculation of the energy balance of a windmill can be deducted from the total price of the windmill:
            Take this price and see how many kwh you can get for this amount under industrial conditions – i.e the same conditions under which the windmill was built. It gets much more difficult to make a refined calculation where you also take into account all expenses for insurance, maintenance (approx. 20 % of the wind mill price) and integration in the grid, too much electricity to little electricity (auxiliary power plants must do the work). Furthermore you have to distinguish between coal (electricity) and diesel (transportation). But if you can do the maths I am quite convinced that windmills are an energetic zink. And use more fossils than they displace!

        • Ramping does consume more fuel and produce more CO2. No on-again-off-again system can possibly be as efficient as one that keeps going at a constant rate.

          From our friend Willem Post: For example: If a gas turbine rapidly cycles from 60% down to 40% and back up to 60%, 5 minutes down at 15 MW/min, 5 minutes up at 15 MW/min, its roundtrip fuel consumption and CO2 emissions are about 20% greater than if it had operated at 100% for the same 10 minutes.


          And the type of ramping I’m talking about is what you get when you’re trying to balance the huge wind power fluctuations that will occur on a grid where wind generation dominates.

          • Joe Clarkson says:

            Of course ramping uses more fuel per unit output than operation at peak efficiency. I only dispute that ramping is a reason for avoiding intermittent generation from wind and solar.

            Your chart proves that larger point. Notice that on days one through seven about 30 GW of peaking plants are off line, burning no fuel at all. A few peaking plants are used to load-follow during that time. Since the changes are happening over a period of a few hours, many of those plants are operating at full load while they are operating. Only a few are providing frequency regulation and varying their output constantly.

            On day nine the wind power drops to just a few GW. About 25 GW of peaking plants come on line. As before, the vast majority of those are operating at base load, their most efficient point of operation. Only a few are providing frequency regulation and operating under continuously varying output.

            Even without intermittent renewable generation a power grid is subject to a lot of intermittent and variable loading. There are huge diurnal swings and sharp spikes when large industrial loads come on or off line. Power plants come on and off line all the time to follow those load changes. That’s business as usual for a grid operator.

            Adding geographically widespread intermittent generation means that the changes in output are slow enough to be accommodated by the grid. I don’t see why a grid as big as the one in the UK would have a problem. I doubt that you have suffered any outages from all those renewables, but you have saved a lot of fuel.

          • Joe, I guess I’m going to have to defer to your superior judgment on ramping, but that’s a secondary consideration. The main problem is that a system that uses a comparatively small amount of load-following capacity to balance the enormous amount of wind capacity needed to ensure a high percentage of wind generation is going to be grossly inefficient.

            but you have saved a lot of fuel.

            I don’t think anyone knows for sure how much fuel renewables have saved in Scotland, the UK or anywhere else for that matter, but if you have some numbers feel free to present them.

      • Willem Post says:


        Here is an NREL report of integrating renewables to the electrical system on two islands in Hawaii.

        Not a word about pasts costs and subsidies to get to the present stage, and the future costs and subsidies to make it work with more RE.

        Hawaii has the highest electricity cost/kWh in the US.

        • Willem. Thanks, a very interesting study. My immediate reactions:

          * Two stand-alone island grids that can’t airily claim that they can always import power from somewhere else when things get tight, as WWF Scotland does.

          * Computer models, which always perform better than real life, showing that 20% renewables penetration can be achieved, but not without some residual risk and with a lot of hoops having to be jumped through to get there.

          * But only 20% renewables penetration? That’s hardly worth the effort. How about 80% renewables by 2050? How is that to be done?

          Joe Clarkson, any comments?

          • Joe Clarkson says:

            The paper that Willem Post linked to is a great primer on the issues that intermittent renewables pose for grids. Please Roger, read it carefully.

            Hawaii offers the best and worst of all worlds for grid integration of renewable energy, with Oahu and Maui as examples of the worst, and Hawaii Island an example of the best.

            Oahu and Maui are small islands with little geographic separation of renewable generation. Any changes in wind or sun affect all solar and wind generators virtually simultaneously. This means that they have to have a lot of spinning reserve, especially since they have no other baseload or dispatchable renewables.

            Hawaii Island is much bigger, so its wind plants have a modicum of separation, but they are also subject to simultaneous changes in output. But the Big Island also has plenty of geothermal and biomass (large eucalyptus plantations), so it has baseload renewables and potential dispatchable renewable power from biomass. We have actually lost a good bit of biomass energy production since the end of the sugar plantation era. The local utility on the Big Island is actually planning to go to 92% renewable in the next 15 years. That is very ambitious. I’m not holding my breath.

            Hawaii’s grids are small. While the renewable resources here are great and the economics are favorable, the small grid sizes present special difficulties for integration of renewables. If Hawaii tied the Oahu, Maui and Hawaii grids together with submarine cables and went ahead with large scale geothermal, the state as a whole could easily go to majority renewable energy. But there is a lot of political opposition to big geothermal, so it probably won’t happen.

            Large US and European grids offer much less problem for integrating large amounts of intermittent power. Whatever can be done in Hawaii should be easy to do in Europe, especially since Europe is so far ahead of North America in energy conservation (1/2 the energy per unit of GDP as in the US and Canada).

          • Joe: I would like to be able to read Willem’s article carefully, but the pressure of having to write two or three reasonably well-informed posts a week on subjects ranging from peak oil to flash-frozen mammoths, from isotopes in benthic core to species extinction, from climate models to solar load factors and from OPEC to Milankovitch cycles, makes it impossible for Euan and I to study everything in the detail we would like to. We rely on commenters with specialized knowledge, such as yourself, to add detail or point out where we might have gone wrong.

            Having said that, Hawaii is a good case for studying the role of intermittent renewables because they must stand or fall on their own merits. They can’t be “balanced” by interconnector imports and exports. I’ve already written a couple of posts on islands that are trying to go to 100% renewables that you might care to check out. It’s never as easy as the planners assume.



            Incidentally, do you know what’s happening with Hawaii Electric’s RFP for 60-200MW of energy storage? I can’t find any information on the web.

  4. Euan Mearns says:

    “Pathways to Power”

    by The World Wildlife Fund

    They’re not planning to use the ballot box. 1 Green MP in Westminster. Bright Green Lib Dems likely to be annihilated at next election. And Salmond lost his referendum by a large margin. The policies have their origins in the unelected EU Commission and in the UK 2008 climate change act where I suspect the majority of MPs did not understand the implications of what they were voting on.

  5. Leo Smith says:

    Of course a fully independent Scotland would have resulted in:

    – Any surplus of Scottish renewable energy being exported well below cost to a fair UK market price.
    – Any shortfall being met by imports at full tight market prices. Times of low wind are times of high prices..
    – The burden of renewable subsidies falling entirely on the Scottish consumer whose prices would have risen to Danish or German levels, whilst the rest of Britain’s prices would fall as they performed an gridectomy on Scotland.

  6. Joe Public says:

    The Scotsman’s inaccuracy began with their opening statement.

    “according to a report by an environmental charity.”

    With WWF receiving >£50m pa directly from governments, plus £millions more as ‘benefit in kind’, it is a fake-charity, propagating governmental propaganda.

    • Plenty of shady ‘charities’ out there e.g. The Global Warming Policy Foundation

      • Euan Mearns says:

        What is shady about GWPF? They are completely frank and straight about what they stand for and what they do. You might not agree with them but that does not make them shady. Setting yourself as a charity to preserve global wild life, taking money from pensioners and then interfering in state energy policy, sticking out reports that distort reality and result in pensioners electricity prices going up is way beyond shady.

      • Joe Public says:

        Remind me, Kit, just how much government funding has GWPF received?

      • To reply to both of you, the GWPF is a ‘charity’ that misrepresents science to punt a political agenda of environmental degradation. I have no idea whether they take money from the Government, but I do know that the people they represent (i.e. the hydrocarbon industry) are strong lobbyists in Parliament, even more so that than evil nasty pensioner-funded WWF.

  7. Euan Mearns says:

    I just want to add a few comments around the 2030 table:

    CCS – is not an energy source, its is an energy sink.
    Hydro – the 1.5 GW of hydro was built in the post-war years. They had to stop building owing to push back from the public – so many valleys with great big concrete plugs in them. Its highly unlikely the current hydro suite can be expanded.
    Wind – we already have 7.1GW operational with another 8.7GW consented – we are going into major wind overshoot – subject of Monday’s post
    Solar PV – as I’ve pointed out many times, a waste of time, money and energy in a country where the sun never shines
    Biomass – if this is intended to be N American hard wood forests then the WWF should hang their heads in shame

    With peak Scottish demand currently around 6 GW, population growing and the possibility of much colder climate in the decades ahead, power consumption could actually grow. Hydro can only run for several hours at a time, and is dependent upon rainfall patterns. There is probably less than 1 GW reliable dispatchable capacity in this 2030 utopian folly, that would make Scotland dependent upon 5 GW of imports from England or elsewhere assuming that the laws of thermodynamics remain intact and it is discovered that cheap grid-scale storage is impossible.

    The sense of this whole wind enterprise hinges on cheap grid-scale storage. But it all seems a bit of a waste of time discussing this. Within a couple of years we are going to have 15.8GW of wind power in a country where peak demand is 6 GW and minimum demand is likely less than 3 GW. We are going to be gagging on the world’s most expensive worthless electricity.

    Storms forecast today and over the weekend, I’ll be interested to see how the system copes and may go out to see if the power stations are spinning or feathered.

    • “CCS – is not an energy source, its is an energy sink.”

      A power station with CCS is a net consumer of energy? if so, then I’d agree that it would not be a source of energy. Otherwise I think you’re overstating the power requirements ever-so-slightly.

      • Euan Mearns says:

        Kit, you work on CCS and going forward you’ll find your interests are best served through being straight and honest. I’ve already see in press CCS being reported as an energy source which as you know full well is bollocks. It is an energy sink. A way of adding costs to our electricity supplies. A way of consuming even faster, Europe’s fast dwindling indigenous fossil fuels.

        • Joe Public says:

          CCS – and a way of salving consciences.

          • Willem Post says:

            ….a feel-good way, based on ignorance/misconception, of salving bad consciences.

            Mankind full well knows ii is a pox on the environment and on the other fauna and flora.

            The environmental movement serves as a useless atonement for bad behavior.

        • Not only is CCS an energy sink (it takes up to a third of the electricity produced by the plant to run it) but the world’s flagship CCS project sells the CO2 it captures to an oil company for secondary oil recovery:


        • If you mean that the process of capturing, transporting and storing CO2 is a net consumer of energy then yes, I agree. In the same way that FGD and scrubbing, consume energy. But the power station produces a net output of energy, does it not? I don’t see how you can disagree with this.

          I don’t know which press sources you’re talking about but CCS can be a shorthand for ‘Power gen with CCS’. I also have no control over how the press report things. If they get the facts wrong then that does not mean that the technology is flawed.

          • Euan Mearns says:

            We do not find the general standard of your comments to be contributing in a positive way to the discussion and your comments from now on will be subject to moderation. You can still post, but only your polite, on topic and informative comments will be published.

          • Euan Mearns says:

            Kit, if you are surprised by this, you shouldn’t be. By trying to put these inane words in my mouth you are driving the conversation nowhere.

            A power station with CCS is a net consumer of energy?

            The Garrad Hassan table lists CCS (carbon capture and storage) as an energy source, with a capacity factor of 0.8. This is plane WRONG. You don’t seem to be able to understand this simple fact and I therefore doubt you have anything to contribute to a debate about energy.

  8. Joe Public says:

    The consultants WWF carefully selected – DNV GL – are not exactly neutral.

    In fact, a cynic/realist would suspect the report is simply a commercial puff-piece to promote DNV GL’s business.


  9. jacobress says:

    It needs to be said that wind farms are turned off when the wind is too STRONG. That probably happens in Scotland quite frequently.

  10. Euan Mearns says:

    Roger, this is interesting. Plans to expand cross border connectivity Scotland – England to 6 GW!


    Here’s the Scottish Government reasoning:

    • Helps realise the potential of renewable energy resources and facilitates the generation of power and heat from clean, low carbon sources.
    • Expands opportunities for communities and businesses by promoting environmental quality and good connectivity.
    • Supports strong, sustainable growth for the benefit of all parts of Scotland.
    • Helps to reduce Scotland’s carbon footprint and facilitates adaptation to climate change.

    Its just total BS. How can this expand opportunities for communities and businesses? And I thought the whole point was to prevent climate change so that we didn’t have to adapt to it.

    No mention of the need for Scotland to import 6 GW when the wind doesn’t blow.

    • Euan: Scotland isn’t pursuing an engineered plan to expand opportunities for communities and businesses etc. etc. and support strong sustainable growth for the benefit of all parts of Scotland etc. etc. It’s being led around by the nose by the NGOs, as is the rest of the UK, but the politicians aren’t smart enough to have figured that out yet.

      We can scream BS until we’re blue in the face, but ultimately the only solution is political.

  11. John Weber says:

    It would be elegant if wind and solar energy capturing devices could actually maintain a modicum of the wonderfully rich lifestyles many of us live. I believe this is a false dream and that BAU (business as usual) is not sustainable or “green” nor really desirable for the future of the earth or even our species.

    I have researched the energy requirements and the CO2 emissions for just the rebar and concrete used for the base of a 2.5 megawatt wind energy capturing device (wind turbine). Notice also all the equipment needed throughout the process of making and installing; these in themselves have an input of energy the materials. There are charts and pictures. It is sobering.
    See charts and data at: http://sunweber.blogspot.com/2014/11/prove-this-wrong.html

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Having lived off the grid for 30 years, ten of which was without electricity, I would like to have lights.


      Interesting stuff John, I’m hoping Roger may have a detailed look at this. I’ve been making the point for some while that The CO2 emissions associated with renewbale devices are in the atmosphere today against the promise / hope that they produce some electricity in 20 years time. For solar in Scotland, I think it is likely the ERoEI is below 1 and that deploying these is simply a way of dumping masses of CO2 in the atmosphere now.

      Did a calculation with Luis de Sousa years ago now on how many wind turbines would be needed to replace our FF system. We assumed a 50% reduction in per capita energy consumption by 2100 via energy efficiency savings. Came up with 2,700,000 5 MW offshore turbines. Alternatively 5400 1 GW nukes.

      • Took a quick look:

        12,000 tons of CO2/hour = 288,000 tons/day = 105 million tons/year from construction of wind turbine bases.

        Global CO2 emissions 2014 = 44 billion tons (projected)

        105 million/44 billion = 0.24%

  12. Bill S says:

    I was deliberating the folly of these WWF reports and, though I don’t write much anymore, thought it deserved a considered response, since they were full of nonsense. Thank you for putting in the effort to develop a good one! (This comment written using on site solar and hydro power, by the way!)

  13. Niels Colding says:

    I very often follow discussions on peak oil items and in my opinion I think that something is quite slowly by steadily going terribly wrong. How much oil is left and is it easy to get out of the ground … a lot of confusion.
    I would be very glad if you and others would consider and discuss the following theory:
    In most part of mankind’s existence we were totally dependent on the fruits of Nature which I consider to be an Energy System which keeps us all alive . With the evolution of Agriculture this did not change very much. But there was a very important difference: We could accumulate food and other products from Agriculture which I consider to be an Energy System derived from Nature – I would call this ‘secondary’ energy system Energy System Agriculture. The start of Agriculture – I think – was a long journey with error and trials and ups and downs. However, as time passed Agriculture gave us a broad variety of many different goods. And now not all people had to toil in the fields. Some people were (partly) released to do other things – to specialize. But one thing was certain: They were all totally dependent on what Agriculture gave them. Wheat, cotton, meat – you mention it – all originated from Energy System Nature + Agriculture. I imagine that in the very beginning of Agriculture those people thus released from working in the fields were paid with the products of Agriculture and barter was the predominant way of exchanging goods and work – I must underline that payment must have been in form of goods from Nature and especially Agriculture. And this form of payment persisted in thousands of years (taxes and tithe) but gradually the supply og different articles got so immense that you had to ‘invent’ a measure of different products. This invention/development/evolution was money. In that time people would know that you could for instance exchange 20 kg of wheat for one goat or 2 kg of cotton + 6 kg of rice for a week’s work digging a new well (or something like that). Therefore money must have represented a measure of the energy of that time as all goods came from the Energy Systems Agriculture + Nature. The use of fossils (in machines) did not change that: The machines could produce articles in much bigger quantities but still – every article came out with a price tag on it that was nothing else than a measure of the activated energy in Energy System Fossils. With your salary you could buy articles but all articles had their origin in energy systems: Energy System Nature + Agriculture + Fossils.
    Money is nothing but at measure of energy! The world production of oil goes up (and it apparently does) but still it seems that there is an energy problem. I see it in the following manner: If you have to spend more money to get the oil out of the ground then read it as follows: You have to spend more energy to get the oil out of the ground. That extra money/energy must be taken from the world community and the effect is in fact less energy although the production is rising. We therefore have to distinguish between net energy production and gross energy production where the net energy of course is what really matters. With less net energy at our disposal the world energy will shrink – in the last approximately 150 years the net energy at our disposal grew (and you could borrow money being sure that the net energy, i.e. amount of money, would expand in future (inflation) – but now it is all different – net energy shrinks and so does the amount of money at your disposal (deflation).

    I base the following estimation of the efficiency of windmills on the above theory that money is nothing but a measure of energy and take Anholt Vindmøllepark as an example. This wind mill park cost 1,6 billion $ to build (10 billion DKK). All industrial products owe their lives to the electricity from coal fired power plants. With taxes the industry in Europe must pay (approximately) 0,08 $ (0,50 DKK) per kwh. Expenses in kwh = 20 billion. The wind mill park has a nom. effect of 400 megawatt and let us assume that it has an expected life time of 25 years. The actual production is approximately 50 % of capacity. Its total production in kwh will be: (200000 kwh x 24 hours x 365 days x 24 years) i.e. approx. 45 billion kwh. The wind mill park will be able to produce 45 billion khw but the expenses to build the park was 20 billion kwh – i.e. it can pay itself back 2½ times. In this calculation I have not included service, maintenance, insurance and expenses to integrate the volatile electricity from wind mills. All in all – wind mills cannot pay back their own expenses and do not reduce emission of carbon dioxide as they were born in a coal fired industrial environment.

    • Euan Mearns says:

      Niels, this is pretty well my view of the world. We are still subsidised by cheap coal, but a certain faction of our society wants to cut off that life blood.

      The way you do the ERoEI analysis here is similar to how Charles Hall does it using money as a proxy for energy. Its imperfect, but a reasonable starting point. The way I’d do the math is as follows assuming a 35% capacity factor and 25 years:

      400 MW * 24 hours * 365 days * 25 years * 0.35 load = 30.7 million MWh = 30.7 billion KWh

      The problem here is that many published studies places the ERoEI of wind at around 20, not 2.5. The energy inputs do not cost 8 cents per KWh. Some more thinking required 😉 One issue is that ALL the financing costs of wind are up front. This was not designed to exist in our capitalist system that is built around cheap coal.

      I have this hunch, along with many others, that the drag of all this renewable energy is suppressing economic growth – there are many folks out there who see that as a good thing.

      I got to go walk my dogs. Would you care to do the same sums for solar PV with a load factor of 10% (0.1).

      • Niels Colding says:

        Yes, that is true – I have seen even up to an eroei of 75 for the efficiency of wind mills – and in a way I had to believe that in some years after I began to focus my interest on energy matters. However, I could not fit that in to the fact that wind mill always need heavy subventions to have a life. But then I saw a very early description from Risø (at that time The Danish Research Institute for Wind power – now Copenhagen University): In this survey they listed up all materials that were used to build a wind mill and all the materials they could expect to recycle when the wind mill was decommissioned. There was some difference between the amount of new materials for the wind mill and the recycled materials (of course you cannot recycle it all). And it is this minor difference they ask the wind mill to make up for – and no doubt a wind mill can do that and even more – today these figures are still based on Life Cycle Assessments – nothing else!
        I am just an interested amateur but I would be very glad to hear where the flaw is in my arguments that money simply is a measure for energy.
        I cannot make the same estimations for a solar system because I haven’t got the figures but let me try with the nuclear plant they are now building in Finland. The new nuclear power plant unit is located on the west end of the Island of Olkiluoto, beside the OL1 and OL2 units. The net electrical output of the plant unit is ca. 1 600 MW.
        I think that the plant will cost approx. 10 billion dollars = and I still assume that the industry price of 1 kwh in Europe is about 0,08 dollars and for those 10 billion dollars you could buy (or the value is equivalent to) 125 billion kwh.
        The life expectancy for the plant is 60 years, it has a nom. effect of 1600 MW. Let us assume that it runs with 70% of full capacity, that is approx. 1100 MW day and night all the year round in 60 years. Divide that number with 120 billion kwh and you have an eroie of a little less than 7. I happen to think that this is by far not good enough but still much better than wind mills.

        • Euan Mearns says:

          Niels, did you ever follow The Oil Drum?


          Best ERoEI authors there are Charles Hall, David Murphy, Nate Hagens and I wrote a few. There was also a series of posts called The False Fire Brigade, that might be interesting.

          Yes, money is a marker for energy, but relating the one to the other is extremely complex.

          • Niels Colding says:

            It was Nate Hagens who said “Money is nothing but a claim on energy” just before The Oil Drum died. His blog is, alas, also dead.

        • Roberto says:

          The EPR reactors are designed for a 92% capacity factor, 12.5 TWh/year.


      • Willem Post says:

        Niels and Euan,

        Niels, the net energy approach is a good way of looking at it; similar to diminishing returns. One can foresee so much energy being spent to ultimately DELIVER energy to the user, that there is nothing left, like a river drying in the desert.

        Euan, if 8 c/kWh is not the value to use, what should be the value?

        RE is damaging economies, because it substitutes low net energy systems for high net energy systems (which are low in cost, because we inherited them, and we are rapidly using up our inheritance!!), which leads to higher energy prices, which would be even higher without subsidies, which lowers household spendable incomes on OTHER goods and services.

        Even rich Germany could not afford its RE build outs, without its cheap coal and nuclear energy to do the build-outs, and run the rest of the economy.

        As RE increases and the rest of the energy decreases (somewhat less due to inefficiencies), RE will be an increasingly greater headwind, as is already apparent in slower economic growth in Germany. RE is like applying the brakes while trying to maintain speed.

        Here are some articles to enlighten:


        • Willem Post says:

          I forgot to add this URL which displays som astounding numbers for 2015.

        • Euan Mearns says:

          Euan, if 8 c/kWh is not the value to use, what should be the value?

          Don’t know, but 8 c includes profit, 60% energy losses in generating plant and the like. Much of the input energy to make a turbine will be coal in a blast furnace, and diesel to mine and transport the raw materials etc.

          Niels, what does the wind power operator sell the electricity for, including the subsidy?

        • Paul says:

          Your claim that RE damages economies is unsupportable. You might find someone who says they can make/sell/export more product if electricity prices were cheaper (ditto, labour prices, taxes, environmental controls, food prices, land prices, in fact any prices) but to show damage you have to find a way in your calculations to back out all economic activity from RE and add in all the activity you expect would have taken place without RE (the opportunity cost of RE). That is an entirely speculative calculation and although you and I would be likely to get whatever (different) answers we wanted to get, the calculation would be worthless.

          • Willem Post says:


            The purpose of my calculations, based on German government sources, is to show the historical investment cost ENERGIEWENDE-1 and the projected investment cost of ENERGIEWENDE-2.

            These costs usually are in scattered sources, but by pulling them together, I came up with costs much greater than generally reported by various RE sites and others.

            Regarding RE energy costs, they are well documented.
            The legacy RE cost is about 21 eurocent/kWh, it is about 35 eurocent/kWh for solar.

            That legacy cost is sloooooowly decreasing as new RE capacity is added that receive lesser feed-in tariffs.

            In 2014, the RE energy was sold by utilities on the wholesale market for an average of about 3.5 eurocent/kWh, the difference times the quantity of RE, about $22.4 billion euro, was charged mostly to household electric bills.

            Historically, it has been the case more efficient activities are introduced to an economy, which is generally regarded as a positive, because, all things being equal, on average, raise living standards; some people’s living standards are raised more than others.

            Whenever one introduces less efficient activities into an economy, it is regarded as a negative, a.k.a., damage, which, all things being equal, on average, lower living standards, per Economics 101.

          • Paul says:

            Willem Post:

            Whenever one introduces less efficient activities into an economy, it is regarded as a negative, a.k.a., damage

            Once installed, RE produces power more cheaply than conventional generation so an installed RE is not “less efficient” (although we could argue about what efficiency means). And building RE is just like building racing cars or racetracks, cruise ships or rockets to take tourists to space, little furry plastic animals or plastic toys, an olympic stadium or exercise machines. If you think building a racing car is not “economically damaging”, when its sole purpose is to be driven round a track for an hour while people shout at it, then how can building a solar panel be damaging? At what point does it become damaging? When the sun shines on it?

  14. Dave Bradley says:

    Pumped Hydro is a great way to buffer times of low renewable generation and/or high demand with electricity stored from times when there was lots of renewable electricity supply and relatively low demand. Presumably Scotland has hills and is not a desert, so there is not lack of water. And for coastal cliffs, seawater can be used for the water, and presumably that won’t deplete…

    A 100 acre pond (~40 hectares) containing water pumped up 800 feet (244 meters) can store close to 4 GW-hr and be able to go from 0 to 400 MW at a moments notice based on other existing pumped hydro facilities. They would be around 80% efficient, though perhaps some Scottish ingenuity can up that a bit.

    And that’s how you can accomplish putting high levels of renewables in the Scottish grid without the need for fossil fuel or nuke generation. The question is whether they want to employ soon to be out of work workers who used to work on the oil and gas biz related activities and instead build up about 15 of these. And these can also become money makers becuase England would also end up using these (it is windier in Scotland, right). Also, pumped hydro is a great way to buffer tidal, which varies but in an ultra predictable manner.and the jobs putting new transmission lines and substations would also be a good thing. Too bad the factories to make the wire and substation components and pumps/generators probably no longer exist in Scotland…..

  15. Willem Post says:


    Various sources say efficiency between 70 and 80 percent. Page 1.2


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