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Cold Reality
Renewables Threaten Europe's Energy Security This Winter

Europe is crossing its fingers for a mild winter this year. In addition to the continent’s struggles securing a steady supply of Russian natural gas—a source that is looking very shaky, given that half of Gazprom’s supplies transit Ukraine, and Moscow and Kiev aren’t exactly seeing eye to eye right now—Europe is now facing the possibility that it won’t be able to heat its homes because of the rise of renewables. Bloomberg reports:

A growing share of renewable energy is pushing out conventional sources of power, reducing the “electricity system’s margin to meet peak demand in specific conditions such as cold, dark and windless days,” [Cap Gemini SA said in its European Energy Markets Observatory report]. […]

“If we have a very cold winter, we could find ourselves in a very tense situation,” Colette Lewiner, Cap Gemini’s global energy and utilities researcher, said by phone.

Typically, fossil fuels and nuclear reactors provide what is called baseload energy, that is, a steady, dependable power output that can be counted on day in and day out. Renewables like wind and solar energy can’t replace that kind of supply, because they can only produce power when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining. These green resources instead serve to help supply peak demand, during the times of day when people are generally gluttons for electricity.

The problem is, as government subsidy regimes have increased renewables’ market share (in some cases quite dramatically, and at considerable cost), baseload generators can no longer afford to stick around, and have to shut up shop. We’re seeing that in Europe, where sluggish economic growth is already making it difficult for a lot of these power plants to find buyers for their supply.

Greens will undoubtedly cheer this as a victory, but may be doing so in cold, dark homes this winter if temperatures drop low enough. Renewable energy sources have a number of hurdles to vault before they can start seriously supplanting fossil fuels in the kind of green revolution many environmentalists dream of, and we may be witnessing one such limit in the coming months.

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  • rheddles

    My heart bleeds.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Ha Ha, now they’re praying for “Global Warming” this winter, they just can’t make up their minds. Since the Sun is going through a period of historically low sun spot activity, they are unlikely to have a mild warmer winter. Muwahahaha

  • Gene

    Here’s a chance for the politicians and voters who thought these policies were wise to make sacrifices for the sake of their fellow citizens. C’mon Greens, put your money (and your cold asses) where your mouths are!

  • Fat_Man

    Two months from today. Berlin will get 7:42 of sunshine, if the weather is fair. The sun will be 14.3° above the horizon at noon. They better hope the Russians don’t cut off the gas.

  • Cecelia O’brien

    hydroelectricity could supply that base without the accompanying greenhouse gasses and the Norwegians have proposed doing just that. They have the capacity to supply base to the UK, other Scandi’s and perhaps the Netherlands. Interesting idea. Much better than Russian natural gas.

    • John WB

      Not really an interesting idea. Even if there were areas of land in the UK large enough suitable for flooding for Hydro power the green Taliban would stop it, as they have already done for even small proposals. Not sure exactly where you’re going to get suitable sites for Hydro in the Netherlands, which is one of the flattest countries in the world.

      • f1b0nacc1

        While I don’t share the poster above (Ms O’Brien’s) enthusiasm for hydro (your point about the enviros opposition to hydro plants is well-taken), I believe she is suggesting that the Norwegians could create enough capacity to supply the UK’s base needs, and possibly those of the Netherlands as well.
        From what I know about the region, the numbers add up IF the Norwegians pretty much dammed every possible hydro source, and the UK and the Netherlands experienced a slight decline in overall consumption, while moderately increasing some of their efforts on tidal power. That is a pretty big IF, however, as (as you correctly point out), the Greens would certainly oppose that scale of hydro construction (one of the most environmentally unfriendly forms of power we know about), and the cost of such construction would be astronomical. Finally, even if this were undertaken fairly soon (unlikely), construction of such scale would take quite a while to come online, which would in turn create even more potential difficulties.
        So while the numbers just barely add up, they really don’t make a whole lot of sense in the real world.

        • Andrew Allison

          Given that, unlike solar and wind, hydro-electricity is suitable for base loads and that Norway probably knows more about hydro power than anybody (http://www.statkraft.com/energy-sources/hydropower/), I don’t think we should dismiss the idea out of hand. You are, of course, correct about the infrastructure issue (which also applies to switching from Russian gas to LNG). Tidal power also worth thinking about. Although the output fluctuates, it does so very predictably, so conventional sources could be used as needed rather than full-time. There are significant environmental issues involved, the question being the trade-off between them and fossil fuel (http://www.aie.org.au/AIE/Documents/FS10_TIDAL_ENERGY.pdf).

  • Boritz

    There is a reason these energy sources are called renewable. When they don’t actually get renewed during the winter pray for the cat population.

  • Wondering Why

    Europe has spent $635 billion (500 billion euro) in the last 10 years on renewable energy schemes and they are on the verge of freezing this winter. Your Obama has been steering your Nation down the same path for the last few years. If a Democrat wins the next Presidential election, American’s better hope Global Warming speeds up rather quickly or you are going to freeze too.

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