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Coal keeps lights on at COP26 as low wind strikes again

November 3, 2021

By Paul Homewood



The UK’s failing renewable strategy is a national embarrassment. Critically low wind power, for nearly the whole of yesterday, resulted in extremely high prices, with the two remaining coal units at Drax offering to saving the day at £4,000/MWh, nearly 100 times the wholesale price normal before the current crisis started, with many other fossil fuel generators also riding to the rescue at staggering prices.

Indeed, yesterday, 3 November, saw a new record for the total daily cost of balancing the GB electricity grid. The previous record of £38 million, twenty times the current daily average, was smashed by a margin of £6 million, with the new record standing at £44.7m.

The causes are easy to identify from the Balancing Mechanism Reporting Service’s own chart of the Transmission System fuel mix. Wind power, the dark blue bars, was extremely low for most of the day, with a minimum of only 1 GW, under 5% of its capacity.

Minimum wind generation coincided neatly with peak demand, and as a result system prices reached stunning levels, with a maximum of just over £4,000 a megawatt hour, nearly 100 times the wholesale price normal before the current crisis started, as can be seen in this BMRS chart:

These prices brought coal and gas back on to the system to save the day, but emergency measures are expensive, and the cost to consumers and the wider economy was little short of horrifying.

When these remaining fossil fuel generators are no longer on the system the costs of securing supply will rise still further. In fact, batteries and hydrogen storage on the scale required are very unlikely to be built in the time required, and have severe environmental downsides that mean they may never be built at all. And even if actually built, the costs of balancing the system with these technologies will make yesterday’s record look like a bargain. Grid balancing expenditures in the UK are already ten times their pre-wind and solar levels; in the future they will rise still further, consuming a significant fraction of national wealth.

The UK climate strategy is all but entirely committed to renewables and it isn’t working. With the best will in the world, and however much they care about climate change, neither individual households nor the wider economy can stand these costs. Needless to say, such problems are in fact well understood in other parts of the world, which is why neither China nor India is following us down the wind and solar route. The costs are economically destabilising.

Fortunately, there is an alternative; unwind the renewables failure, and put the UK firmly back on an engineerable Gas to Nuclear strategy, as described by Dr Capell Aris and the present author in their paper, Realism or Utopianism? A proposal for the reform of the Net Zero Policy

  1. Colin R Brooks AKA Dung permalink
    November 3, 2021 3:33 pm

    I can not believe that there are no MPs with the intelligence to see what is coming, if they exist then the government is aware of the dangers and perfectly happy for us all to suffer. Once the coal capacity goes then there is no way back, why does the Tory party accept this? Are they all cowards and afraid to speak up?

    • George Lawson permalink
      November 3, 2021 6:16 pm

      “Are they all cowards and afraid to speak up” Yes they are cowards and are afraid to put their heads above the parapet. They are too afraid to risk their ill-earned salaries.

    • bobn permalink
      November 3, 2021 10:41 pm

      Steve Baker is now anti net zero. I think one or 2 other Tories (David Davis) are waking up. They are all luke warmers at best but starting to see netzero is suicide.

  2. Jack Broughton permalink
    November 3, 2021 3:35 pm

    Surely, the luvvies at COP 26 would refuse to use fossil-generated power apart from in their luxury yachts and jets.

  3. John Peter permalink
    November 3, 2021 3:35 pm

    How do you get this through Mrs Johnson to Mr Johnson. Looks like the only channel.

  4. November 3, 2021 3:38 pm

    There are 1 or 2, e.g. Sammy Wilson and Owen Patterson, but the vast majority are signed up paid for members of the green blob.

  5. November 3, 2021 3:44 pm

    Our politicos are now getting warnings-a-plenty about their green policies costs in all ways.
    They have made and are making huge mistakes as they continue along this disastrous course, almost as severely costly as a war, and all self inflicted and so on us, who have not voted for the raft of measures entailed by zero carbon and all the rest of it.

    Could they possibly U turn: of course they could, enormously helped by recent findings in Canada, Denmark and Israel exonerating CO2 as the main cause of global warming.
    Instead, the sun, water vapour/clouds influenced by cosmic rays are the controllers of Earth’s Aatmosphere’s temperatures.
    Ref. Gerald Ratzer et al, World Climate Declaration.

  6. David Calder permalink
    November 3, 2021 6:36 pm

    I have opted for self preservation: solid fuel heating and a petrol inverter generator now fitted and tested. I’d rather not have spent the money that way but better this than regretting it later. Next up: Gold and Silver investments to in some way weather the net zero financial storm too!

    It seems to me rock bottom is only ever going to be the point of inflexion.

  7. November 3, 2021 6:37 pm

    Ae some of our MPs getting “bungs” from some billionaire (incredibly) favouring decarbonisation etc.?

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      November 3, 2021 7:56 pm

      I’m beginning to think that it’s no accident that the former Spad/adviser and climate activist, Mrs Johnson has got control of government green policy. Is she alone?

  8. Vernon E permalink
    November 3, 2021 7:09 pm

    Interesting that CCGT units are providing half the power needed. Currently these are all fuelled by natural gas but there is, without doubt, a critical shortage of gas approaching. Throughout the 1970s our town gas was produced by steam reforming of light liquid hydrocarbons (naphtha) which is still reasonably priced (between $10 and $ 20 per million BTU) and can be easilty stored. It takes only minor adjustments to change gas turbines to liquid fuel (think aero engines). Let’s start doing it as back-up.

    • Graeme No.3 permalink
      November 3, 2021 8:20 pm

      Quick, cheap and reliable solution to a self induced problem. The BBC will demand the government not do it.
      Another help might be building more CCGT units, but these would need guaranteed access to the grid, not being forced to be uneconomic backup for heavily subsidised wind farmers.

    • Mikehig permalink
      November 4, 2021 9:50 am

      Vernon; that’s a neat idea as it addresses the gas shortage problem and allows for easier storage.
      However I wonder if it is really that easy to switch over from gas? Has this been done here or anywhere with similar machinery to the UK?
      Presumably the whole burner system would have to be replaced and what about the turbines themselves?
      Naptha (or even jet fuel) will have different combustion characteristics to methane. I’ve read on another thread that these turbines are very sensitive to fuel composition – blending even a minor amount of hydrogen into the gas would have serious consequences, for example.
      If it is practical, it would make a lot of sense to adapt some plants to dual-fuel capability.

      • Vernon Evenson permalink
        November 4, 2021 3:49 pm

        Mikehig: in my dealings it was always recognised that gas turbines are very robust and flexible machines. I only remember one proposal that was rejected viz to run some desert pump sation g/t drivers on crude oil but the blades can’t tolerate vanadium. Otherwise any clean fuel will do. Why the reference to hydrogen? We may not be on the same page.

      • Mikehig permalink
        November 4, 2021 8:44 pm

        Vernon: I suspect you may be talking about a different beast to the type of turbine used in our power stations.
        I mentioned hydrogen because a study by the HSE highlighted the sensitivity of CCGT machines to fuel composition which led to my suggestion that switching to naptha may not be straightforward.
        Here’s what the HSE had to say:
        “A combustion system particularly sensitive to variations in gas composition is the lean premixed gas turbine. Gas is mixed with high pressure and temperature air and the resultant expanding flames impinge on the turbine blades. Unwanted spontaneous ignition before reaching the burner and flashback of the flame into the burner can both have potentially disastrous effects on the integrity of the machine. At the other extreme, flame blowout is equally unwanted, and even partial flame lift can result in undesirable acoustic instability. A particular concern regarding ignition is the presence
        of hydrogen; since this gas ignites easily, there is concern that even small quantities of hydrogen in natural gas would be catastrophic for turbine behaviour.”
        Hence my question of whether this sort of fuel switch has been implemented successfully on the sort of machines we have in our power stations.

  9. iggie permalink
    November 3, 2021 11:04 pm

    ‘More than 100 world leaders have promised to end and reverse deforestation by 2030, in the COP26 climate summit’s first major deal.’
    How will this affect Drax and their use of biomass?

    • November 3, 2021 11:20 pm

      And how much deforestation was caused by the biofuel debacle (forest clearence for biofuel crops) , all of course in the name of ‘saving the planet (but sod the people)’?

  10. stillneedstobeconvinced permalink
    November 3, 2021 11:06 pm

    A long time lurker finally incensed to post here…

    Parking the renewable subsidies conundrum – can I verify it anyone has done a proper analysis of the true energy costs of wind turbines ?

    From back of a fag packet calculations I have made, the energy cost of putting up a biggish wind turbine would indicate that it would take around 8 years to repay that energy debt – and that assumes a decent input rate – unlikely during most average years – concrete foundations are not good for the environment. The lifetime of these turbines is around 15 years – so it seems to me that these sums just don’t work.

    My maths may of course be entirely wrong – hence my question around whether this has been accurately analysed.

    As an aside, whilst fully understanding (and agreeing – to a point) the viewpoints of some people on this forum, in order to be taken seriously, I do feel that some of the more sensitive posts could be viewed as vitriolic and used as ammunition against the many learned people here ?

    • Mikehig permalink
      November 4, 2021 10:01 am

      Agree 100% with your last para.
      There have been a few crude and inappropriate remarks posted recently that do this site no credit and could easily undermine its credibility.

    • November 4, 2021 1:22 pm

      An inspection and analysis of the wind energy companies’ accounts has been done (can’t remember where I saw it), and it found that the true costs hugely outstripped their stated (bid?) energy price. Without the subsidies, no one would ‘invest’ in them.

    • John Cullen permalink
      November 4, 2021 2:36 pm

      Hello Stillneedstobeconvinced,

      Professor Gordon Hughes, formerly of Edinburgh University, has undertaken a forensic accountancy analysis of some 350 windfarms based upon their audited accounts. Thus his work records the actual costs incurred rather than the unrealistic prices bid in the various auctions. His findings are alarming. For example, I quote Hughes’s 5 conclusions here as follows:-

      “1. Stop pretending! The projections of the costs of achieving Net Zero put out by government bodies and many others rely on cost estimates that are just wishful thinking. They have no basis in actual experience and a realistic appraisal of trends in costs. As a very broad brush calculation the cost of meeting the Net Zero target by 2050 is much more likely to be 10+% of annual GDP than the claimed 1-2% of GDP.

      2. Accelerating arbitrary targets is very expensive. If the Government persists with the goal of building 30 GW of extra offshore wind capacity by 2030 the costs discussed here are likely to be significant under-estimates. This will be reinforced by the adoption of similar targets elsewhere in NW Europe. The offshore wind sector does not have the capacity to build new projects at a rate of 3 to 4 times the last decade. Any familiarity with the history of offshore oil & gas and other energy projects tells us that the consequence will be a gold rush. It is plausible to assume that capex and opex costs will rise by a minimum of 20% and probably closer to 50% above the already high costs that we observe in the audited accounts.

      3. Bailouts of wind farms and financial institutions are inevitable. The Government is creating a situation in which it will have no option other than to bail out failed and failing projects simply to ensure continuity of electricity supply. There will be a game of pass the parcel over how the losses will be distributed but ultimately they will fall largely on taxpayers and energy customers. Any business investor outside the renewable energy sector should plan on the basis that electricity prices in 2030 will be 3-4 times in real terms what they are today.

      4. Remember that not everyone has the same priorities. The UK and the EU are very minor bit players in what happens about climate change. The outcome will depend on choices made in China, the US and India. Focusing on China and India, they are only interested in options that are consistent with both economic growth and other environmental goals. Offshore wind is expensive and of limited interest in most of Asia.

      5. As a rich country, the UK can afford Net Zero by 2050 at the aggregate level. However, it will mean allocating the proceeds of 10 or 15 years of economic growth to that single goal. Past experience shows that the UK’s political system cannot handle the structural and redistributive consequences of following that path. A strategy that acknowledges the real economic costs and difficulties of trying to make the transition too quickly is much more likely to be accepted and implemented.”

      Start from here and follow the links to Hughes’s analyses of the Danish and UK windfarms:-

      Financial costs are not the only problem. I will post shortly with further very bad news for windfarms based upon current technology.


    • John Cullen permalink
      November 4, 2021 2:54 pm

      Hello Stillneedtobeconvinced,

      Professor Mike Kelly of Cambridge University has analysed various electricity generation systems in terms of their energy return on energy invested, commonly known by the acronyms EROEI or EROI. His analysis shows the superiority of fossil fuel, nuclear and traditional hydro systems, especially when allowance is made for the back-up energy storage systems required by the current renewable generation systems.

      This is the link (rather long I’m afraid!) to Kelly’s paper:-
      See figure 2 in particular.

      I will quote from the abstract to Kelly’s paper. “An examination of successful and failed introductions of technology over the last 200 years generates several lessons that should be kept in mind as we proceed to 80% decarbonize the world economy by 2050. I will argue that all the actions taken together until now to reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide will not achieve a serious reduction, and in some cases, they will actually make matters worse. In practice, the scale and the different specific engineering challenges of the decarbonization project are without precedent in human history. This means that any new technology introductions need to be able to meet the huge implied capabilities. An altogether more sophisticated public debate is urgently needed on appropriate actions that (i) considers the full range of threats to humanity, and (ii) weighs more carefully both the upsides and downsides of taking any action, and of not taking that action.”

      We in the West are entering frightening times, I am afraid.


      • stillneedstobeconvinced permalink
        November 4, 2021 3:59 pm

        Thank for you this article link, I will read with interest. This is the kind of stuff that needs to be publicised more as an alternative viewpoint to projects to spawn another batch of wind turbines on hillsides or at sea.

        As it happens, I live in the Channel Islands where we have some of the largest tides in the world, so people are going on about tidal energy. I have to point out to these people, that along with our big tides, we get “proper” gales in the cooler months, and the sea doesn’t tend to respect anything embedded in it for long …!

      • November 4, 2021 4:47 pm

        Publish it where though? All the MSM are fully paid up disciples of the church of climate change.

    • John Cullen permalink
      November 6, 2021 9:34 am

      Hello Stillneedtobeconvinced,

      Did you see my first post above? It was held in moderation so you may have missed it. And the work of Hughes to which I referred is of fundamental importance in understanding the horrendous mess we in the West (and especially the UK) are getting into.


      • stillneedstobeconvinced permalink
        November 7, 2021 9:43 am

        Hi John – I did indeed, and am mulling over the information.

        In the eyes of the climate change promoters, money doesn’t matter – it’s always someone else to pay (unless they are naïve enough to not want to fund their own old age). Similarly Finance organisations are only interested how to make more money, so there is no such thing as “green” finance – it’s just a money printing machine.

        As I see it, the issue is with the media & political bandwagon – there needs to be a way to subvert that bandwagon, so I’m mulling over what could be the best approach in doing so (hence my question focused on the pure energy input to output rates as a potential method)

        Pure scientific facts should still outweigh opinion shouldn’t they ?! (and I know that the answer is no currently …)

  11. John Cullen permalink
    November 7, 2021 9:58 pm

    Hello Stillneedtobeconvinced,

    Yes, until recently, facts in matters scientific have trumped opinions since the Enlightenment.
    However, with the arrival of post-normal science (PNS) the highly successful old order has been overturned. To understand this phenomenon it may help to read parts of prof. Mike Hulme’s book “Why We Disagree About Climate Change”, Cambridge, 2009, where PNS is discussed near pages 76 to 82. At that time Hulme was Professor of Climate Change at the University of East Anglia.

    See also pages 340 to 341 where Hulme writes, “If climate change is not a problem that can be solved – either through elegant solutions or through clumsy ones – we need to find other ways of categorising it. In order to get a better vantage point I suggest we change our position and examine climate change as an idea of the imagination rather than as a problem to be solved. By approaching climate change as an idea to be mobilised to fulfil a variety of tasks, perhaps we can see what climate change can do for us rather than what we seek to do, despairingly, for (or to) climate.”

    It seems to me that the quote above is Hulme’s invitation to adopt PNS rather than the traditional scientific method – and, unfortunately, we are living with the consequences.


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