50% RE in the UK – the Ugly Facts

50% RE in the UK – the Ugly Facts

National Grid has reported, that for the first time, over 50% of UK electricity came from renewable electricity (RE) on 7th June. Is this a cause for celebration or not? With biomass generators being subsidised to the tune of £43/MWh and offshore wind producers to the tune of £89/MWh (source Drax), this effectively doubles generation costs. I imagine that the RE generators will be breaking out the Champagne. While if you are a hard-pressed, energy poor pensioner, you are probably wishing you’d bought another blanket. The celebratory way the BBC has broken this news you’d think they were in the employ of the fat cat renewables generators and not the British public. This must change!

I begin with Roger Harrabin’s report from the BBC  and follow with a detailed analysis of UK generation on 7 th June together with my opinions on these events. The BBC…

Renewable sources of energy have generated more electricity than coal and gas in the UK for the first time.

National Grid reported that, on Wednesday lunchtime, power from wind, solar, hydro and wood pellet burning supplied 50.7% of UK energy.

Add in nuclear, and by 2pm low carbon sources were producing 72.1% of electricity in the UK.

Wednesday lunchtime was perfect for renewables – sunny and windy at the same time.

Records for wind power are being set across Northern Europe.

The National Grid, the body that owns and manages the power supply around the UK, said in a tweet: “For the first time ever this lunchtime wind, nuclear and solar were all generating more than both gas and coal combined.”

On Tuesday, a tenth of the UK’s power was coming from offshore wind farms – a newcomer on the energy scene whose costs have plummeted far faster than expected.

So much power was being generated by wind turbines, in fact, that prices fell to a tenth of their normal level.

Environmentalists will salute this new record as a milestone towards the low carbon economy.

Critics of renewable energy sources will point to the disruption renewables cause to the established energy system.

At the time of Wednesday’s record, 1% of demand was met by storage; this will have to increase hugely as the UK moves towards a low-carbon electricity system.

From this reporting it is plain to see that Roger Harrabin and the BBC are delighted with this milestone “achievement” for renewable energy in the UK to the point where they appear biased. Let me continue with a look at the data from the excellent Gridwatch.

Figure 1 UK power supply on 7th June 2017 as recorded by BM reports and reported by Gridwatch. Wind power as reported is only for large HV connected windfarms. Smaller windfarms are embedded into the LV grid and not recorded. Based on National Grid data from 2015, the large windfarms = 73% of total wind and the wind figure is adjusted accordingly. Similarly, solar is not monitored by BM reports and Gridwatch report model solar output from the university of Sheffield instead. Using these numbers, I calculate peak wind+solar+hydro+biomass = 50.9% of total demand at 13:10. National Grid report 50.7% from which I conclude we are on solid ground from the data stand point. Not reported by National Grid or the BBC is the fact that the renewables contribution had fallen to 21% by midnight after the Sun had set and the wind began to settle down. We cannot now, and will unlikely ever be able to, depend upon RE.

Figure 2 Same data as Figure 1 converted to % of supply. The solar bulge at midday (13:00 in BST) combined with high winds across the country gave rise to the 51% record.

Figure 3 Looking at power supply across 24 hours we see that biomass (5%)+hydr0(1%)+wind(25%)+solar(7%) come in at a combined total of 38% – on a very windy and sunny day.

Costs and prices

So what do I see in these data? Harrabin and the BBC see this:

So much power was being generated by wind turbines, in fact, that prices fell to a tenth of their normal level.

Spot prices may well have plummeted temporarily in the face of gross over supply (which in itself is irresponsible) but the costs to the consumer remain the same. For RE, consumers have to pay price+subsidy and while spot price may temporarily plummet it is normally prevailing market price of ~ £45 / MWh + subsidy for RE. The subsidies are huge. Drax reports they are getting £43 / MWh for biomass production while offshore wind producers are getting £89 / MWh. These subsidies effectively double the wholesale cost of electricity production that WE the bill payer (and BBC license fee payer) have to pay. The BBC have completely lost their sense of objectivity, credibility and responsibility on this matter, celebrating higher electricity bills in the UK!

Energy Security and Reliability

The other aspect of extreme bias is that the BBC and others only ever report RE records, omitting to report the far more numerous occasions when RE contributes virtually nothing. The data from 7th June show coal power production  of 1%. And yet the UK still has 10GW of coal fired capacity that we rely on to keep the lights on in winter when the sun has set, the wind doesn’t blow and the mercury plunges towards -5˚C. On June 7th these generators earned nothing, vital to our survival, they were racking up giant losses instead. There can only be one outcome here, and that is faced with adverse market conditions (created by the government) all the coal generators opt to close down. But since they are essential to keep the lights on in winter this cannot happen, hence they too will be paid subsidies to stand idle (Tory socialism) or they are nationalised (Labour socialism). Either way the public are going to pay even higher electricity bills or taxes.

The BBC

The quality of reporting by the BBC on energy and environmental issues is risible. Funded by the British public through the license fee, they should be there to represent the best interests of the British public. Instead they choose to pander to the demonstrably unpopular and minority interests of the Green lobby and fat cat RE generators who fleece the poor to line their own coffers.

Complaints to the BBC:

Good luck with complaining, the complaints interface appears to be impregnable to me.

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