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Former National Grid Director Says Britain Should Impose Limits On New Wind And Solar Farms To Avoid Blackouts

August 25, 2019

By Paul Homewood

This story appeared in the Telegraph the other day:

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They confirm my suspicions that lack of inertia was the critical factor in the blackouts, compounded by the automatic switch off of local embedded solar and wind power.

Their finding that the rapid loss of frequency was “five times greater than historic slumps” is particularly damning.

The National Grid’s response, that this was a “rare and unusual event, that has happened only three times in thirty years”, is both highly complacent and disingenuous. It implies:

a) It will remain a very rare event, so we must not worry our little minds about it.

b) If the same set of circumstances had happened in the past, before wind and solar power became so significant, the outcome would have been the same.

There is no evidence that either is true.

54 Comments
  1. Tony Budd permalink
    August 25, 2019 11:19 am

    This is why I think that no solar- or wind-power should be connected to the grid. Instead it should all go to producing hydrogen fuel, whenever it’s available and at whatever level. That could then be used to power clean hydrogen-gas power stations, available to meet peak demand, etc. Totally green!

    • August 25, 2019 1:28 pm

      And how much more would that hydrogen cost than natural gas?

      • paul petley permalink
        August 25, 2019 3:35 pm

        I think you are being a bit unkind there Paul. Yes it would unquestionably be more expensive but it would also improve the nation’s energy security. As you know there have been times of acute gas shortage in the UK and we are importing an ever increasing amount. Domestic H2 production from renewable energy sources for injection into the gas grid is not just about economics.

      • August 25, 2019 5:57 pm

        Electrolysis is essentially a very small scale operation, as well as expensive.

        Even the CCC only see it as a niche option.

        This is what they say in their Net Zero Plan:

        Electrolysis is expected to be higher cost than gas reforming, but could be zero-carbon. Costreductions in electrolysers can reduce costs, but the cost of electricity will remain the mostimportant factor. The cost of electricity would have to be less than £10/MWh for electrolysis to be the same cost as we expect for gas reforming with CCS in the UK, or energy consumption from electrolysis would have to reduce significantly. While there is some opportunity to utilise some ‘surplus’ electricity (e.g. from renewables generating at times oflow demand) for hydrogen production, our modelling shows that the quantity is likely to besmall in comparison to the potential scale of hydrogen demand. Producing hydrogen in bulkfrom electrolysis would be much more expensive and would entail extremely challenging build rates for zero-carbon electricity generation capacity.

        https://www.theccc.org.uk/publication/net-zero-technical-report/

        They reckon on electrolysis providing 44 TWh per year, compared to 226 Twh from steam reforming, even on the most optimistic scenarios

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        August 25, 2019 4:29 pm

        An easier answer to improving gas security of supply is to get fracking. In practice our risk comes principally from the lack of storage to meet demand peaks.Although we import little from the Netherlands and Belgium we are still a long way from making full use of our LNG terminals, with domestic and Norwegian supply dominating – indeed Norway is effectively the source for those continental imports in the main. The global LNG market is now much more competitive and fungible (once upon a time ships were dedicated to routes and had loading connections that were likely incompatible with other ports).

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      August 25, 2019 4:33 pm

      So we start with wind costing say £150/MWh, and convert it to hydrogen at 50% efficiency and use that to produce electricity at 50% efficiency, giving a cost of £600/MWh?

      • Steve permalink
        August 25, 2019 6:45 pm

        Gummer’s committee reckon hydrogen will cost under £46/MWh by reforming and that electrolysis will be double that. They do say that in order to cost us the same as reforming it would need electricity at £10/MWh. Page 59 of the technical report. This seems odd considering that they estimate gas plus CCD at £60. The cost of the future wind turbines is going to be £50/MWh so perhaps electrolysis is going to be more efficient too. Fingers crossed.

      • August 25, 2019 10:14 pm

        The CCC’s cost of £46/MWh is the cost of producing hydrogen itself, not the electricity from it. They express it as per MWh for consistency. It is equivalent to the “wholesale price of natural gas”.

        As for electrolysis, obviously electricity prices won’t drop to £10/MWh, unless you regard the surplus wind and solar power as free. Unfortunately for that argument, all costings of wind and solar power assume that ALL THE OUTPUT will be sold. If some is wasted (as it inevitably will) the unit cost of the saleable supply will rise drastically.

        In other words, you can’t have it both ways.

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        August 25, 2019 7:46 pm

        There is no evidence that wind costs are going to fall to that sort of level. Gummer’s committee’s estimates are full of Hopium and unwarranted assumptions. It’s politics, not engineering. Gummer will likely be dead when he gets found out.

      • steve permalink
        August 26, 2019 8:27 am

        Euan Mearns calculated £100/MWh for generation by reformed hydrogen after including the cost of methane, heating, CCS ( using government costs) and generation. He was responding to the Scottish government report on a hydrogen economy. The person responsible for this is now the CEO of Gummer’s committee (£320k pa) having risen to his technical expertise via HMRC and as a Treasury wonk.The committee may not have read this-
        http://euanmearns.com/the-hydrogen-economy-more-green-mythology/

      • steve permalink
        August 26, 2019 8:52 am

        The £100 figure is for heat and the conclusion is that nuclear + heat pumps would cost £46 though lower cost nuclear than HP would allow the expense of converting every home to heat pumps and ‘eco house’ insulation and ventilation to be avoided. The use of hydrogen for transport is another matter where battery against fuel cell is debated competitively.

      • August 26, 2019 10:36 am

        One of the main reasons why the CCC’s plans need hydrogen heating is that reliance on heat pumps in winter would put far too big a load on the grid

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        August 26, 2019 10:52 am

        I think you misconstrued Euan’s use of the government figure for the cost of CCS. He did it to set a floor and concentrate the debate elsewhere. If you read the comments you will find that practical costs are double that estimate. That’s before adding in the cost of a whole new industry to bury supercritical CO2 at offshore sites which would be as big as North Sea oil, but produce nothing.

    • HotScot permalink
      August 25, 2019 8:23 pm

      Spend tens of millions/billions to install inefficient, expensive, subsidy reliant, land hungry, CO2 intensive wind turbines to go through an energy intensive program to produce a small amount of a fuel simply because it induces combustion with no emissions?

      Have you really thought this through?

      Why not just burn the coal/gas/Oil directly and provide it as cheap electricity without the interim measures to produce a tiny amount of fuel at vast cost with vast emissions?

      This is simply insane green thinking. Attempt to cover up the fact that green energy is more energy intensive, less efficient, more resource hungry and far more expensive than the problem you are attempting to eradicate.

      How about wind turbines covering half of Russia simply to meet the 2% rise in demand for electricity by 2050? That’s roughly, the entire United States of America covered coast to coast in wind turbines.

      Nor does that even address our existing demand for electricity.

      the question is, are fossil fuels the most efficient means of energy production humanity has?

      The answer is, yes. Burn it, deliver the product. Anything else is just inefficient greenwash.

  2. Robert Fairless permalink
    August 25, 2019 11:46 am

    Nearly all politicians have been infected with the false religion associated with climate change and global warming, so called. Of course they first must be endowed with a measure of stupidity and a profound lack of common sense. Our mistake is to elect the fools in the first place. The result of our bad choice is to impoverish every household in the country and to create immeasurable costs on our economy.

    • Gerry, England permalink
      August 26, 2019 8:38 pm

      The difficulty is that we are presented with an array of ignorant morons at every election.

  3. August 25, 2019 12:35 pm

    Reblogged this on Climate- Science.press.

  4. Douglas Brodie permalink
    August 25, 2019 12:37 pm

    I have written to Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom suggesting that the recent power failure could prove a blessing in disguise if it gives non-ideological justification for calling time on our futile and damaging decarbonisation efforts.

    Unfortunately she seems to be a climate change extremist, for example saying during her bid to succeed Theresa May that she would declare a “climate emergency” (since enacted by our angst-written parliamentarians).

    I also pointed out that the world is currently 85% dependent on fossil fuels to meet its ever-increasing demand for energy with the balance made up of difficult to expand hydro (7%), nuclear (4%) and low-energy density renewables (4%) which include eco-unfriendly biofuels and biomass (felled forests). Hence it shouldn’t take the general public long to twig that the called-for global “net zero emissions” targets which Mrs Leadsom seems to support are utterly unachievable short of shutting down the entire world economy.

    For details see https://edmhdotme.wordpress.com/the-case-against-net-zero-co2-emissions/.

    • August 25, 2019 8:10 pm

      Politicians hide behind the fact they will be out of office before the worst of the problems they have created by bad energy policy really hit home.

      • HotScot permalink
        August 25, 2019 8:28 pm

        oldbrew

        100%!

        As exhibited by Theresa May saddling the taxpayer with a £1tn pledge to ‘fix’ climate in the UK. Like everything else that woman touched, it too will prove an abject failure.

        The rest are the same other than perhaps UKIP who had a solid AGW sceptical position, written into their manifesto.

      • Douglas Brodie permalink
        August 25, 2019 9:25 pm

        It seems to me that reality is rapidly closing in on our politicians. It has not yet dawned on them that their man-made global warming crusade was condemned to irrelevance by the UN IPCC itself when it issued its 1.5º Special Report last October. This is because it totally lost the plot as a direct result of its own flawed climate pseudo-science in calling for mind-bogglingly impossible global emissions cuts within farcically impossible timescales, namely that “global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) need to fall by about 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050.” So far the complicit mainstream media and establishment chattering classes have simply ignored the show-stopping implications of these targets.

    • Gerry, England permalink
      August 26, 2019 8:45 pm

      She was quoted in the press as saying it had nothing to do with too much wind which we need more of as we are committed to zero carbon by 2050. So waste of time there.

  5. Ian Phillips permalink
    August 25, 2019 12:41 pm

    The first thing needed is for the engineers to stop using the term “loss of frequency”, which no one who doesn’t have at least A Level physics will understand. The simplest thing to grasp is the lack of power back-up, when the wind and sun fail, due to the forced closing of FF generation, by our government meekly subserving a, politically correct, Climate change energy policy conjured up by CO2, extinction liberal-left obsessives.
    That 97% of scientists agree with the CO2 alarmism is by a monstrous manipulation of genuine research by Aussie Cook and his team. This was finally exposed by the analysis later carried out by economist David Friedman who found that only 1.6% of the papers actually concluded that man made CO2 is responsible for even 50% of global warming. Cook’s invented a principle he called “implicit endorsement without quantification” to pull in the mass of papers who said that CO2 made no more than a tiny contribution to warming.
    We need a U-turn in energy policy, and with the introduction of Thorium based nuclear, already in use in several countries but never mentioned here in the UK. For the time being we must retain sufficient FF backup diesel generators until our representatives wake up from their fake science guilt trance.

    • Stuart Brown permalink
      August 25, 2019 2:38 pm

      ‘Thorium based nuclear, already in use in several countries but never mentioned here in the UK’

      Umm – where? India uses a bit in MOX fuel for traditional PWRs, I think, but that’s about it. Lots of paper designs and a few experiments up to the 80s. Not one commercial thorium based reactor connected anywhere yet. Unless you know different?

      The UK had the experimental Dragon reactor in the 70s, which ran on a thorium/LEU mix. Long gone.

      I agree with you that we need to ensure we keep enough thermal generators though my choice would be fracked gas rather than diesel!

      • Adam Gallon permalink
        August 26, 2019 9:18 am

        Name a single country where there’s commercial Thorium operating.

    • HotScot permalink
      August 25, 2019 8:35 pm

      Ian Phillips

      The first thing needed is for the engineers to stop using the term “loss of frequency”, which no one who doesn’t have at least A Level physics will understand.

      Thank you Ian.

      I’m a layman and ingest as much science as I possibly can but there comes a limit and sceptical science over steps the boundary relentlessly.

      Alarmist arguments are framed politically for very good reason, no one needs a qualification to hold a political opinion.

      90% of the world have no idea about science, yet sceptics are convinced that science is the solution to convincing them AGW is bunk.

      How is it possible to present a scientific argument to the scientifically illiterate and hope to win the argument?

      • Chaswarnertoo permalink
        August 26, 2019 7:52 am

        One in 50 has A level Physics. 98 % don’t. Time it was made compulsory? Or if you don’t have at least that, shut up?

      • It doesn't add up... permalink
        August 26, 2019 10:21 am

        I recall a handful of excellent TV journalists who were scientists or engineers by training who found ways to explain science very well, and who knew how to probe on scientific issues. These days, TV doesn’t employ such people. Rational science is excluded from the airwaves. Newspapers are no better, preferring predictions of apocalypse. Were he alive today, I’m sure Charles Mackay would add a chapter or two to his book, Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.

        Read it for free at Project Gutenberg.

        https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/24518

        The opening of the chapter titled Modern Prophecies describes our present condition.

  6. Jason permalink
    August 25, 2019 12:52 pm

    Belgium has gone much further than the UK in all kinds of green loopiness and I hear from friends there that rolling power cuts are starting to become a pretty regular feature of their lives during some periods.

    • A C Osborn permalink
      August 25, 2019 3:27 pm

      It will only get worse as the rest of Europe prevent big surges in either direction to protect their own Grids.
      Gemany has been dumping excess wind & solar and then buying French Nuclear for years.
      As Ian Mearns and Andrew Rogers have shown when one part of Europe has Excess or Insufficient Wind or Solar so do all the other European regions.

      • Nordisch-geo-climber permalink
        August 26, 2019 9:40 am

        Euan Mearns, and Roger Andrews RIP. Thank God for them, and Paul Homewood.

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      August 25, 2019 4:36 pm

      The fun is we get to import them via the NEMO interconnector.

      • dave permalink
        August 26, 2019 8:59 am

        I rather enjoyed the winters of 1946/47 and 1962/1963. Enid Blyton stories often had the children cut off by monstrous snow drifts in a cottage but staying plucky.

        It will all come again!.Schadenfreude is a dish best eaten cold, by the light of a candle stub

        Meanwhile, the following measure of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation has stubbornly stayed somewhat positive:

        https://oceanview.pfeg.noaa.gov/erddap/tabledap/cciea_OC_PDO.htmlTable?time,PDO

        As this condition is often regarded as equivalent to El Nino – but on a broader scale – it might explain why indices such as those of UAH continue to show the Northern Hemisphere as “warmer” than the Southern.

  7. August 25, 2019 2:40 pm

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.

  8. August 25, 2019 5:27 pm

    Use the power from wind and solar to drive sets of large vacuum-enclosed flywheels with governors to maintain frequency. The flywheels then drive a generator that is connected to the grid. It’s not a new idea . . . https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grid_energy_storage#Flywheel

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      August 25, 2019 11:42 pm

      That’s the sort of solution they use on small islands where they are trying to use renewables to reduce reliance on diesel. Indeed, as you say – not new. But practical experience still limits renewables penetration and the overall system costs are prohibitive. Here’s a little peek at some reality:

      http://euanmearns.com/an-update-on-the-king-island-renewable-energy-integration-project/

    • August 26, 2019 7:25 am

      Work out the numbers as to how big a flywheel needs to be to give the same inertia as even a small 100MW steam turbine (about 500MWs). Then look at how much power is needed to keep it spinning. And there is a big difference between inertia and generation.
      The fact that there aren’t any significant ones in operation tells you how ineffective or expensive they would be.

  9. August 25, 2019 7:05 pm

    Most people aren’t grasping the significance of the very low inertia, which Paul mentions in the head post. Inertia is effectively only supplied by large high speed thermal plant. If the inertia is low, when a generation loss occurs, there is a rapid change in frequency. This means the rest of the grid can’t step up with an increase in generation by increasing their output. The drop also make it more likely that the load shedding will occur as the grid protection activates. Even that may not be enough as South Australia proved.
    Windfarm proponents talk about providing synthetic inertia at great cost. It isn’t inertia, it is droop, which is a totally different factor. And it will be a lot less efficient than keeping big steamers on.

    • Stuart Brown permalink
      August 25, 2019 8:08 pm

      Chris, can you point me to somewhere that discusses this in more depth? I get that inertia is good, but we’re talking about machines turning at 3000rpm (in the UK and most places outside the US) and things going wrong when they drop to just 2930 rpm (48.8Hz). That’s only 4% of the speed or 8% of the energy in the rotating masses, give or take small change.

      Batteries, wind turbines, solar, flywheels turning at 100,000 rpm or even interconnectors to France are all behind a bunch of electronics that could, in principle, supply electricity at any voltage, frequency or phase angle you like right down to a standstill.

      So it’s a subject I’d like to understand better! TIA

      • In the Real World permalink
        August 25, 2019 9:43 pm

        http://www.kiwithinker.com/2017/04/electric-power-system-stability/
        If this link works , it might give you an insight into how frequency stability is essential for the grid .

      • August 26, 2019 7:08 am

        The stuff that comes out of asynchronous generators like wind and solar is not true AC. It is synthetic, created by very fast switching of power diodes. It has a lot of harmonics associated with it, most of which are filtered out if kept within a tight range. The switching is controlled by an input AC signal from the grid. If that is distorted, the power generated is even more distorted.
        A lot of the stuff that consumes power on the grid, like electric motors which are reputedly half the load, need the frequency to be tightly controlled. As the frequency changes, the voltage and current change. So does the phase angle between the two. That will increase the losses. Once it starts, especially without enough inertia, it very rapidly will spiral down to a blackout.

      • Stuart Brown permalink
        August 26, 2019 8:28 pm

        In the Real World – Thanks, I’d seen the Kiwithinker blog and found it a very good description of the engineering. Well worth a read again.

        Chris – yep, understand all that, thanks. I’m still hoping to understand why electronics – properly designed – can’t substitute for real inertia to the limits of the energy available. I don’t see why an inverter has to cut out at 48Hz or whatever, and some of the problem in the UK the other day seems to have been exacerbated by ‘behind the meter’ generation cutting out as the frequency dropped below pre-set limits. Motors connected to the grid also supply inertia, maybe there are not so many now that aren’t hiding behind electronics that prevent them doing that. Or maybe there isn’t so much heavy industry in the UK any more…

        Anyway, part of my point was that real inertia, in GJ not GW, connected to the grid can only help to the degree that it holds the frequency above a narrow limit. Synthetic inertia ought to be at least as effective, and yet it seems not to be, for reasons I don’t get. But thanks for replying.

  10. Coeur de Lion permalink
    August 25, 2019 7:48 pm

    Off thread I know but I’ve noticed that our windmills are producing EIGHT PER CENT of our electricity demand- preferentially to the grid of course – at very low demand level. IS THIS A RECORD ?

    • August 25, 2019 8:22 pm

      It’s what happens when it’s not windy.

    • Stuart Brown permalink
      August 25, 2019 8:23 pm

      Nah. Settlement period 22 today, Demand 26.5 GW. Wind 699MW. Yup Megawatts. 2.6%. Not even any use on a hot summer Sunday.

  11. GeoffB permalink
    August 25, 2019 8:06 pm

    60 million people depend on a reliable electricity supply. Is it a good idea to invest in windmills for this. NO!

  12. mikewaite permalink
    August 25, 2019 9:42 pm

    Up on Stockport Hill , near the Town Hall, there were, until recently. the remains of a wind powered spinning mill of the late 18th cent . Probably the world’s first , last and only such mill. Quckly converted to steam power as the natural deficiencies of wind power became apparent.
    But wait you say. India and China had large silk and cotton spinning industries until rudely disrupted by the British. Did those countries, ignorant of the potential of coal and steam, experiment with wind power, other than for water pumps, in regions lacking water power in the centuries preceeding the Industrial Revolution?
    Have not seen much. or indeed anything, in the archaeology blog sites about this.

  13. Wellers permalink
    August 25, 2019 9:42 pm

    Colin Gibson is at odds with the hopeless buffoon now in charge, an aptly named Mr Slye. This is from a newspaper article in May of this year, featured on Paul’s blog:

    Fintan Slye, the director of National Grid ESO, said he believed Britain’s electricity system could be run with zero carbon as soon as 2025.

    He said: “Zero-carbon operation of the electricity system by 2025 means a fundamental change to how our system was designed to operate – integrating newer technologies right across the system – from large-scale offshore wind to domestic-scale solar panels to increased demand-side participation, using new smart digital systems to manage and control the system in real-time.”

    Greg Clark, the business secretary, hailed the achievement. He said the UK is “on a path to become the first major economy to legislate for net-zero emissions” in the wake of the report.

    God help us! Just look at the complete disaster unfolding in Australia as they shut down conventional power.

    • August 26, 2019 10:05 am

      “increased demand-side participation, using new smart digital systems to manage and control the system in real-time.”

      Code for cutting demand when supply falls short?

    • Nial permalink
      August 26, 2019 10:09 am

      Wellers, the National Grid will get amassive amount of work connecting ruinables from all over the country to the previously stable grid.

      The guy running it isn’t going to complain, unfortunately.

  14. August 25, 2019 11:21 pm

    Reblogged this on ajmarciniak.

  15. It doesn't add up... permalink
    August 25, 2019 11:31 pm

    I have looked back at four other events from April through July. In April, it seems the French Interconnector was lost quite suddenly (just how suddenly only the Grid know) when it was supplying 1GW. Frequency dropped to 49.611Hz and it took about 90 seconds to restore back to the normal operating range. There was about 9.7GW of CCGT online at the time, and perceived demand was 27.3GW: peak RoCoF was 0.097Hz/sec from 1 second data.

    The Grid have yet to publish any 1 second data beyond April, despite having done so for every other month since the beginning of 2014. That means it is impossible to know the actual RoCoF for the more recent events, although the August 9th event was 0.16Hz/sec. RoCoF that produced load shedding trips… In the events where the frequency got close to the 49.5Hz statutory minimum over May, June and July involving a trip of the NEMO interconnector to Belgium and a couple of power stations, there was always plenty of CCGT operational to provide the initial inertia response (and to help ramp up output to make good the loss). Yet we regularly see CCGT operating at below 5GW overnight and during low demand weekend days. They have been extraordinarily lucky that the supply losses haven’t occurred at such times.

    As a first order approximation we can say that the frequency nadir deviation is proportional to the ratio between the size of the loss and the amount of inertia on the grid.

    I think that Capell Aris and Colin Gibson are correct. We do not have the systems in place to handle major trips at high levels of renewables and interconnector reliance, which will therefore have to be curtailed.

  16. Tony Budd permalink
    August 26, 2019 3:10 pm

    My original comment about taking wind and solar off the grid and using them for electrolytic hydrogen production wasn’t meant to be economically viable – just a tongue-in-cheek suggestion for removing these disastrously unreliable power sources from the grid and using them for something less susceptible to large and sudden variations in power output. Obviously the numbers wouldn’t add up, but then wind and solar don’t anyway. And producing nice clean hydrogen would satisfy the green lobby, no matter what the cost.

  17. Dibnah permalink
    September 3, 2019 12:03 pm

    If we want a reliable cost-effective grid then we cannot rely on gas (see minimal gas reserves during the “Beast from the East”), we cannot rely on interconnections and we cannot rely on renewables. Nuclear can be relied on, but the construction period is long. Logically, a reliable, cost-effective grid can only be achieved in the short/medium term by more coal stations, thus providing inertia by traditional means.

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