Not as bad as reported

It was interesting to read this in a story from the BBC on a report by the Green Alliance:

The report ... also shows that 6.29% of the electricity used in Wales comes from renewable sources – lower than the UK average of 7.45% and way behind Scotland's 22.45%.

BBC, 30 August 2012

The report itself is available from this page, and is all a bit too glossy for my liking. However there is a separate document which shows how they did their calculations, and this is the relevant table from it:


Both Wales and Scotland export electricity; but GA have done the maths in such a way that a proportion of electricity generated in Wales and Scotland from renewables is accounted as being used in England and Northern Ireland.

They start with net electricity generated, and rightly make a percentage allowance for transmission and distribution losses (on average 7.5%). So far so good. But they then indulge in some mathematical sleight of hand by compounding this with the electricity Wales and Scotland export. The effect is to reduce the percentage figure from renewables for exporters of electricity like Wales and Scotland, but increase it for importers of electricity like England and Northern Ireland.

Therefore Wales' electricity generation from renewables gets reduced by 31.1% instead of 7.5% (it's slightly less, but the UK average figure will do), Scotland's gets reduced by 27.6% instead of 7.5%, England's gets reduced by only 2.6% instead of 7.5% and NI's actually increases by 21.7% instead of reducing by 7.5%.

This is not exactly wrong, for electricity is electricity no matter how it has been generated. But it masks the overall picture, which is that England and NI are consuming electricity that has been disproportionately generated from renewable sources in Wales and Scotland, making their renewable figures look better at our expense.

It would be clearer to say that Wales' 1,621 GWh/yr should be reduced by only 7.5% for transmission and distribution losses to 1,499 GWh/yr, i.e. that the electricity we generate from renewables accounts for 8.45% of the electricity we consume rather than 6.29%. The equivalent figure for Scotland would be 28.67% instead of 22.45%. But for NI the figure would be 8.34% instead of 10.98%, and for England it would be 4.87% instead of 5.12%.

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Glyndo said...

"This is not exactly wrong, for electricity is electricity no matter how it has been generated."

Exactly what I said when someone once told me they were buying "Green" electricity.

MH said...

Although electricity is electricity in physical terms, Glyndo, it's quite straightforward to make a distinction in financial terms on the basis of who puts what into the grid and who takes what from it.

Anonymous said...

Forgive me MH but i've been looking for a measured answer for a while about renewable energy, and I can't find an honest answer that doesn't have an agenda.

When people say 'renewable energy is the reason energy bills are going up' is that true? Or false? Or is it a flawed statement in any way?

MH said...

I think everyone who has looked into the issue of climate change and how we produce energy has an "agenda", Anon. It's hard not to have one if you believe that global warming will have dire consequences which we can at least slow down if we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. But that doesn't preclude me or anyone else from giving you an honest answer.

In short, renewable energy is responsible for some of the increase in electricity prices, but only a small part of it. The vast majority of the price increases of recent years has been in the cost of fuel, especially gas. First, because gas accounts for about 50% of Wales' electricity generation (40% of the UK's electricity generation), and second, because we are increasingly having to import the gas we use both in the form of LPG from the Middle East by tanker to Milford Haven, or by pipeline from Norway.

As luck would have it, only yesterday the IPPR published a report (download it here) which said that:

"... between 2004 and 2010 Government support for renewables added just £30 to the average energy bill while rises in the wholesale cost of gas added £290."

I hope that puts the price of renewable energy into perspective. There's an article in the Western Mail, here. I'd also point you to this comment I made in answer to a similar question a couple of weeks ago, and to the links at the end.

Welsh not British said...

A very poor article (not yours, the BBCs). I ran the numbers a few months back.

Not that they say that Wales is just below the UK average and that Scotland is way above the UK average. That alone should be an alarm bell that this article is skewed.

1. A few facts, Wales only uses 2/3 of the energy it generates.
2. England uses 108% of the energy it generates.
3. Wales produces twice as much energy from renewables per person as England does.

If we were to get rid of that 1/3 that we produce (the 1/3) stolen by England then our renewables percentage would shoot up. If they really want to point fingers they should point them at England. They are the ones not pulling their weight when it comes to THEIR targets.

MH said...

I'd fully agree that England is not pulling its weight towards meeting targets for renewable energy, if it wasn't for Scotland and Wales the UK as a whole would have no hope of meeting its commitments. One of the interesting consequences of Scotland becoming independent will be that the English will then have to pull their finger out, as you said in your post (which I have to admit I hadn't read before, but is very good).

However I don't think it's quite fair to call the energy we export to England "stolen". Although it's true that we're not getting very much benefit from it, people in England aren't getting very much benefit from what little renewable energy is generated in England either. We could learn a lot from the way things are done in Denmark, where about a third of windfarms are owned by individual shareholders rather than by large energy companies, and where there is a requirement that a minimum of 20% of any development is owned by the local community. See the video at the bottom of this post.

Put perhaps things are looking up. The new Pen y Cymoedd windfarm will have "a community fund that will provide guaranteed funding support for regeneration of more than £55million over the next 25 years" according to this page of their website. We could argue about whether this is enough, but it's something.

Anonymous said...

MH- thanks for your reply to my question on energy bills and renewables.

Thanks to the IPPR I now have to ammunition to use against people who link renewables to fuel poverty.

In my opinion there must be more of an emphasis by Plaid Cymru on seeking community funds from the wind sector. I support wind energy and like the fact we have relatively alot of it. But because of that I think we can afford to turn down some applications and say look there are conditions on this, there has to be a relatively large community fund, and also perhaps a revenue stream for the Welsh Government.

If I can ask you another question MH do you think this is a policy that could be pursued through intervening in the renewables market by the Welsh Government, if it eventually had the powers to do so?

MH said...

I think you've touched on the critical point when you said we could "afford to turn down some applications", Anon. From an EnglandandWales perspective, the "country" isn't generating enough electricity and is facing a crisis as the nuclear plants it has are reaching the end of their working lives. Therefore the UK Government will entertain and be likely to approve just about any proposal for a new power plant, anywhere.

But from our perspective, as we already produce far more electricity than we need, we should be able to be more selective about what sort of generation we think is good and bad from the point of view of how it produces electricity, where it is sited, and the effects on wildlife and the environment. But because energy isn't devolved to Wales in the way that it is to Scotland and NI, we cannot set out the sort of strategic plan for energy that any other country would be able to do.

I think South Hook is a perfect example of the sort of development we don't need. From a strategic point of view, what is the point of putting a power station there, when Pembroke is just the other side of the Haven? The the electricity were needed (which it isn't) wouldn't it have been better to just make Pembroke a bit bigger. You achieve the same thing with far less impact on the environment. And once again this is being portrayed as a CHP scheme; but I doubt if any thought has been given to a user for the waste heat and that, just as with Pembroke, it will be pumped out into the Haven to upset the ecological balance even more.

I'm not sure how the WG could intervene in the renewables market. One thought would be to introduce a minimum level of community ownership as a planning condition, in much the same way as housing developments need to have a certain percentage of affordable units. Another thought might be to set up a fund or local funds through which people in Wales could invest relatively small sums to buy a stake in renewable developments. No power scheme would be built unless it was forecast to made money, and the real problem as I see it is to keep the money in Wales rather than see it go into pockets elsewhere.

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