China’s coal and Germany’s renewables

Two recent articles here. The first is long, click the article if you want to see the full paper. Enjoy.
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Is China’s Use Of Coal Really Declining?
David Campbell
Global Warming Policy Forum, 16 May 2016

… there has been no departure from China’s policy of expansion of coal-fired generation capacity, and the rate of installation continues at the astronomical rates. China was responsible for 80% of the entire world’s increase in coal consumption this century and now consumes as much coal as the rest of the world combined. Coal-fired capacity has increased by 10% since 2013, and in 2015 approval was given for 155 new coal plants which themselves will have a capacity more than twice Germany’s entire capacity.

Though currently under-utilised, it is of course anticipated that this capacity will come on stream, part of the current Five Year Plan that proposes to pursue growth rates of 6.5% which, though a reduction on the previous 10% rate, is double or treble the best western rates. Such slowing down in consumption and installation is not evidence of peak coal but of the Chinese authorities trying to tailor growth in coal to the current slowdown in Chinese growth overall. This is not an absolute slowing down but a marginal slowing down in an overall absolute increase. To understand the position, one has to put these developments in the context of China’s energy mix, in which there is indeed planned to be a shift to renewables.

Chinese power generation is overwhelmingly dominated by fossil fuels, which accounts for 90% of capacity, coal itself accounting for 67%. Renewables account for the remainder, with this 10% being dominated by the 8% of hydro. Nuclear is 1%, solar and wind 1%. It is obvious from these facts that the great growth in solar is possible only because the growth starts from a very small base, though such is the absolute size of the Chinese economy that this tiny fraction of its capacity is very large by comparison to other countries’ solar industries. Even leaving aside the question of how much the Chinese renewables industry is directed towards export, it is equally obvious that even the current great growth in solar can have only a small marginal impact on the Chinese energy mix. It is justifiable to claim that China plans to raise the share of renewables in the energy mix to 20% by 2030, of which solar will provide a small fraction, and to cap coal at less than 62.5%. But it is preposterous to claim that this represents a movement from coal to solar that has any real significance for global emissions.

In brief, the planned shift in the energy mix cannot possibly represent peak coal because it is part of a plan to absolutely increase coal-fired generation. Yet again, the concept of carbon intensity is causing dreadful confusion. Even if this shift (and the installation of new fossil fuel plant) lowers carbon intensity, this will be brought about, not in reversal of, but in the course of continued growth in Chinese power generation and therefore of coal-fired generation. There is simply no possibility, other an unforeseen economic catastrophe or a technological miracle, that Chinese coal consumption will not grow by absolute amounts that are astronomical by western standards, and to a concomitant rise in emissions….

China’s strategic target, restated in its statement to the UNFCCC Secretariat of its Independent Nationally Determined Contribution, is to create ‘a moderately prosperous society’. Under the current Five Year Plan, this is to involve doubling 2010 gdp and per capita income by 2020, which will be made possible by a concomitant increase in power generation, with 2010 energy consumption expected to double by 2030. Even accepting that the share of renewables in the energy mix will double and that of coal decrease by 5%, elementary arithmetic shows that coal-fired generation will itself almost absolutely double. Let us give overall power generation the value of 100, of which 90 is fossil fuels (67 coal) and 10 is renewables, and then add another 100, of which 20 is renewables and therefore 80 is fossil fuel (62.5 coal). The shift to renewables has but the smallest impact on an absolute growth of fossil fuels to 170 and coal to 129.5….

It remains only to add that nothing has been said here about the position of India, which in 2014 overtook the US as the world’s second largest coal consumer.

Dr David Campbell is Professor of Law at Lancaster University Law School
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Germany’s Volatile Power Grid Spinning Dangerously Out Of Control …Prices Go Negative 25 Times In 2015! 
Pierre Gosselin
No Tricks Zone, 21 May 2016

The more volatile supply wind and solar energy that comes online in Germany, the more insane the market prices become. Too often the wind blows and the sun shines when power is unneeded, or they are simply AWOL when demand is high like in the wintertime.

ntz

Germany’s wildly fluctuating wind and solar energy are creating grid and market havoc. Source: Agora.

Earlier this month Germany saw a spate of both sunny, windy days, thus leading to huge power grid surges during the Ascension holiday weekend, a time when many factories were running close to idled (see chart above).

Despite billions annually in subsidies, wind and sun still puny

And for a few minutes last Pentecost Monday afternoon – a holiday that saw very low national electricity demand – wind and solar provided almost enough power to cover all of the country’s electricity needs, reported Die Welt here. Leading Greens cheered, and proclaimed that coal and nuclear had not been needed for a time. But they cheered “too early” writes Die Welt’s business journalist Daniel Wetzel, pointing out that market and technical conditions became dangerously precarious and that in total “electricity represents only 21% of Germany’s total energy need.”

While Germany’s installed solar and wind energy may be able to get fairly close to fulfilling total electricity demand for a few minutes in rare instances that weather and demand conditions are just right, their share of total primary energy is still depressingly measly. Die Welt puts it all in true perspective:

“Despite billions in subsidies, ‘renewable energies’ wind and sun covered only 3.7% of Germany’s primary energy needs last year.”

Negative wholesale prices becoming rampant

Another debilitating feature of the weather-dependent renewable energies are the havoc they create on the electricity exchanges. Last week’s power grid overloading by wind and sun led to deep negative wholesale prices.

Spiegel here writes that the wholesale power price plummeted to -130 euros per megawatt (see blue curve in the right chart)! Literally, foreign consumers were being paid to take the power. (The black curve shows total German demand).

Moreover the phenomenon of negative wholesale prices (i.e. excessive power feeding uncontrollably into the grid) occurred a record 25 times in 2015, Spiegel writes. That was 4 times more often than in 2011.

Among the highest electricity prices in the world

With wholesale electricity prices dipping into negative territory, one might think that power must be very cheap for the consumer. Unfortunately this is not the case. At negative prices power companies lose money, and so are then forced to pass along these extra costs along to the end consumers. German consumers are paying close to €0.30 for each kilowatt-hour they consume – among the highest in the world.

The situation has gotten so alarming that leading politicians of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU conservative party are now demanding an end to subsidies for new wind and solar installations.

Denmark slams brakes on wind projects

Not only Germany is struggling with wildly fluctuating grid and market conditions, which are leading to massive costs and pain for consumers, but so is Denmark. Die Welt writes:

“The situation has also led wind energy leader Denmark to a rethinking. Press reports say that Energy Minister Lars Christian Lilleholt has stopped the planned construction of five large offshore wind farms in order to protect consumers from large cost increases.”

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