2021’s Renewables Debacle In Review: Fickle Wind & Sun Face Bitter Accusations

Just when the ‘transition’ to an all wind and sun powered future was supposed to be in the bag, thoroughly calm weather dashed all hopes.

$Trillions in subsidies have been thrown at wind and solar power outfits, with no end to the largess in sight.

All the while, the rent seekers and propagandists have been telling us that wind and solar will soon, not only displace, but entirely replace, our “ageing” coal-fired power plants, knock gas-fired plants out of the ballpark and crush nuclear power plants before they even enter the contest. Such was the hype, anyway.

Then came 2021.

Massive month-long wind droughts left wind power acolytes red-faced across Europe and forced both the German and British governments to go begging, cap in hand, to the owners and operators of those “ageing” coal-fired power plants if they would mind, ever so much, firing up their plants in order to prevent mass blackouts across Germany and the UK. Embarrassing, to be sure.

In this roundup of the year that was, Sonal Patel of Powermag appears to have some trouble pinpointing the culprits of the various power delivery debacles he details. For those who don’t know, Powermag is a wind and solar propaganda outlet, where you’ll struggle to find an unkind word said about the unreliables.

In order to help Sonal get to the heart of the matter, STT has added interpretations and additions which appear in the square brackets.

2021: A Dark Year for Electricity Security, Reliability
Sonal Patel
30 December 2021

While 2021 kicked off short on optimism given chaos from the COVID-19 pandemic, the year was characterized by an extraordinary series of critical energy crises. Power blackouts, brownouts, interconnection mismatches, severe fuel shortages, and near-misses affected nearly every region in the world. Here’s a brief look back at some of the events that characterized 2021.

January 2021

The year began as Mexico sought answers after the failure of two transmission lines in the northeast on Dec. 28, 2020, resulted in a nationwide imbalance of supply and demand, and ultimately disconnected 8.7 GW of generation capacity. The event blacked out one-third of the country. State power utility Comisión Federal de Electricidad blamed the incident on a brush fire that damaged a 400-kV transmission line and “an excess of intermittent generation,” which led to the instability of the national transmission network. These findings were mostly confirmed by a six-member independent panel, which released their investigation report in July.

China continued its most extensive energy rationing in a decade as several regions fielded higher than expected demand during the coldest winter recorded since 1966. Provinces across China reported grappling with crippling power shortages prompted by a surge in power demand from a stunning ramp up in industrial activity, an especially harsh winter, and tight coal supplies that were exacerbated by a ban on Australian coal.

Japan, meanwhile, faced electricity supply challenges stemming from limited liquefied natural gas (LNG) availability, which resulted in a debilitating surge in wholesale prices. A cold snap and heightened demand in China and South Korea exacerbated regional pressure on LNG supplies. Adding to power supply concerns was an equipment malfunction at the 1-GW Matsushima coal power plant and a 15% loss of solar PV due to snowfall. The crisis forced at least one transmission operator, Tepco Power Grid, to urge commercial users with captive power plants to help it provide power. 

In Europe,  the interconnected grid was split into two as the northwest and southeast regions grappled with a frequency imbalance [the natural consequence of reliance upon intermittent wind and solar]. According to the European Network of Transmission System Operators (ENTSO-E), a group whose members comprise regional transmission operators, the incident was prompted by outages of several transmission network elements “in a very short time.” [In other words, a total collapse in wind power output Due to the low frequency in the northwest area, contracted interruptible services in France and Italy (in total about 1.7 GW) were disconnected in order to reduce the frequency deviation. To reduce the high frequency in the southeast area, automatic and manual countermeasures were activated, including the reduction of generation output, such as the automatic disconnection of a 975-MW generator in Turkey.

February 2021

Prompting perhaps the most sobering U.S. reliability crisis in recent decades, Winter Storm Uri caused 4,124 outages, derates, and failures at 1,045 generators—a combined 193,818 MW—scattered across Texas and parts of the southcentral U.S. for four consecutive days, from Feb. 15 to 19. To avoid a system collapse, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) ordered a total of 20 GW of rolling blackouts, representing the largest manually controlled load shedding event in U.S. history. ERCOT generator losses averaged 34 GW, which is equivalent to nearly half of its all-time winter peak load. The Southwest Power Pool (SPP) and the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) in the Eastern Interconnection also faced challenges. SPP averaged 20 GW of generation losses, prompting unprecedented rolling blackouts in Nebraska and Iowa, and MISO averaged 14.5 GW. The power losses during the freeze caused numerous deaths. In a November report, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the North American Electric Reliability Corp. found 44.2% of generator incidents were caused by freezing issues [wind turbines were frozen solid and solar panels rendered useless under blankets of snow and ice], 31.4% by fuel issues, 21% by mechanical and electrical issues, and 2% by transmission system issues.

March 2021

Ghana suffered a nationwide power outage on March 7 after a technical fault occurred on major transmission lines between Prestea and Obuasi, grid operator GRIDCo reported. GRIDCo also blamed natural gas supply issues and system maintenance on related incidents.

April 2021

Facing intense scrutiny after the winter debacle, Texas grid operator ERCOT on April 13 urged Texans to conserve power as grid conditions tightened, owing to “a combination of high generation outages typical in April and higher-than-forecasted demand from a stalled cold front over Texas.” About 32,000 MW of ERCOT’s total resource of 88,156 MW was in outages, a spokesperson warned. The figure was substantially more than the 11.9 GW of generation capacity that was forecast to be in outages in the grid operator’s spring seasonal assessment of resource adequacy. [Texas is the USA’s wind and solar capital].

May 2021

Several cities in Taiwan, including its capital Taipei, endured rolling blackouts after a trip at the 4.3-GW coal-fired Hsinta Power Plant in the southern city of Kaohsiung. State-run power company Taipower pointed to insufficient electricity supply, which was exacerbated by reduced hydropower output. The region was stricken by drought. The power supply shortages prompted another power cut days later, during a heatwave, after a spike in demand.

China faced another power crunch. Industrial users in Guangdong were urged to stop production at certain times to alleviate strain on the power system arising from a combination of hot weather and high factory use.

The North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC), an entity tasked with monitoring the reliability of the North American bulk power system, on May 26 issued a grim outlook for the summer. It cautioned that “above-normal” heat events pose “elevated risks” for energy emergencies in Texas, New England, the MISO, and parts of the West. In California, risks are even more pronounced, owing to its reliance on imports to offset falling solar PV output in the late afternoon. While grid operators in these regions have resources to meet normal peak summer demand, during abnormally hot events, they could see soaring demand from temperature-dependent loads, such as air-conditioning and refrigeration, or a reduction to power supplies stemming from “lower-than-capacity resource output or increased outages,” the entity said. “I want to be clear, this is not a call against the transition [to intermittent wind and solar], but rather, a plea for attention to the pace of change in the challenges created for system operators,” NERC’s head said. “I know that operators and planners are working very, very hard to preserve reliability, but they’re continually asked to do so and manage your grid under more and more challenging conditions.” [In other words, whenever peak demand coincides with sunset and/or calm weather, Californians can expect more mass blackouts and load shedding].

June 2021

California, stricken by repeated heat events, the prospect of worsening drought, incremental resource delays, and the “unforeseen” loss of 300 MW in thermal resources, on June 29 began bracing for an energy crisis. The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) declared a “significant event,” similar to one it was forced to implement during periods of rotating blackouts on Aug. 14 and 15, 2020.

Utilities across the U.S. Pacific Northwest braced for exceptional stress on the grid as record-breaking temperatures in late June continued to fester across the region, and at least one utility—Avista Corp.—began rolling outages as a measure to alleviate strain on the electric system. [Again, the crisis was all self-inflicted thanks to an overreliance on unreliable wind and solar.]

July 2021

A heatwave prompted New York City to issue a rare emergency call for energy conservation in early July.

South Korea on July 18 warned that its electricity reserve margin—the difference between the supply capacity and demand—had fallen close to 10%. The country braced for shortages if temperatures surged over the summer. Experts blamed the country’s changing power profile [ie more intermittent wind and solar] and reduced use of its nuclear fleet. Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power said its nuclear fleet’s capacity factor had remained between 60% and 75% since 2018.

August 2021

The U.S. West faced a severe drought that severely reduced hydropower capacity, officials warned. The iconic 2-GW Hoover Dam and 1.3-GW Glen Canyon Dam hydropower plants operated at substantially reduced capacity, paralyzed by enduring drought conditions across the West, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) revealed. Drought concerns prompted the USBR on Aug. 16 to declare the first-ever federal water shortage at Lake Mead. The situation had implications for Los Angeles and other parts of Southern California, Arizona, and Nevada, which take the bulk of the allocated firm energy that the plant produces.

Drought is also a major concern for Brazil. The country’s government warned citizens on Aug. 31 that record drought was deeply hampering its hydropower generation, forcing it to import power from neighboring countries and ramping up fossil fuel use. Officials said scarce rainfall in the October to April rainy season in the south-central region had reduced hydropower levels in the Paraná river basin to critical levels. While Brazil has reduced its reliance on hydropower since its 2001 crisis, its 57 dams still account for more than half of the country’s hydropower.

In a rare occurrence, New Zealand on Aug. 9 struggled with tight supplies as a cold snap strained its grid, and national grid operator Transpower grappled with how to assess its wind resource [it should try asking a sailor or kite flyer about wind resources and their fickle nature]. The grid operator ultimately ordered distribution companies to reduce power consumption in response to an unplanned outage of Genesis’ Tokaanu hydropower station on the Tongariro River. A government investigation released in November found that Transpower’s actions relied on forecasting that showed a reserve deficit of up to 31 MW “largely driven by a drop in wind offers and an increase in demand.” However, the government said “forced disconnection of household electricity was entirely avoidable.” [Indeed, had the Kiwis not spent billions on unreliable wind power, the problem would have been entirely avoided]

September 2021

China’s tightening coal supplies, more stringent energy intensity and environmental restrictions, and soaring industrial power demand triggered yet another widespread power crisis. Blackouts and brownouts reportedly afflicted numerous provincial jurisdictions across the economic powerhouse, most prominently in Guangdong in the south, and Heilongjiang, Jilin, and Liaoning in the northeast.

A major energy crisis began brewing in Europe, where natural gas supplies had been projected to lag behind demand. In Ireland, considerable anxiety had been building around the prospect of blackouts. Retirements of aging plants, ongoing outages at existing plants, new intermittent generation additions [ie thousands of heavily subsidised wind turbines delivering power in a sporadic and chaotic fashion], and increasing electricity demand posed a precarious environment. On Sept. 9, Ireland warned of a power shortfall owing to low wind on both sides of the Irish Sea.

In the UK, where coal plants have all been shuttered but winter reserves are slim, power prices began to soar when Ireland cut exports. The situation grew dire in the UK after a fire took out a cable that transmits power to the UK from France. On Sept. 15, analysts warned that energy prices were breaking records daily. Gas and coal reserves began to fall well below normal weeks, even before the heating season had begun, while limited gas supplies from Russia, diminished North Sea production, and competition with Asia for LNG compounded the crisis. [September was also the beginning of Europe’s Big Calm, when wind power output collapsed across all of Western Europe]

October 2021

Europe’s energy crisis ramped up as a cold winter depleted gas reserves and a spell of still days reduced wind power supply to the grid. [No, wind power output to the grid was not merely ‘reduced’, it thoroughly collapsed – starting at the end of September, and remained pathetic through much of October and into early November.] Natural gas prices rose to record levels, pushing wholesale power prices up 200% over the first nine months of the year. The hard-hit UK considered lending money to energy-intensive industries to help them pay power bills. In Spain, where power prices had tripled since December 2020, the government announced emergency measures to cap prices. France and Italy moved to help their low-income citizens pay bills.

November 2021

Germany on Nov. 18 suspended the process of certifying Russia’s Nord Stream 2, intensifying Europe’s energy crises. Construction of Nord Stream 2 by Russian state-owned company Gazprom began in 2018 and was completed in September. The pipeline is expected to deliver 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year from Russia to Europe. Though several European countries want to transition to non-carbon sources of energy, the European Union currently gets about 40% of its imported natural gas from Russia. [Sure, the Germans may well want to transition to wind and solar. However, the massive wind drought that struck Germany and much of Western Europe during September through to November 2021 revealed that peculiar desire to be nothing more than a delusional pipe dream; the Germans have, instead, returned to using their coal-fired plants – aka Carboniferous sources of energy.]

NERC issued another grim outlook for the winter. The entity warned that much of the central U.S.—a region that stretches from the Great Lakes into southern Texas—may face critical power deficiencies during extreme winter weather conditions over the next three months. Natural gas supply disruptions and low hydropower conditions could also imperil power reliability in New England and the West, it said. [Of greater concern should be the total collapses in wind and solar output that accompany frigid, calm conditions, for more information contact Texas about its experience last February.]

December 2021

France on Dec. 30 announced it risks power shortages if temperatures plunge or it faces low wind in January because more than a quarter of its 56 nuclear plants are not operating. Reports suggested these plants were in outage, owing to pandemic-related postponements of maintenance schedules. [Funnily enough though, after months of watching wind power output barely register across Europe, the French President announced a wholesale reversal of their anti-nuclear power plant policy, no doubt driven by the need to ensure that they will never suffer embarrassing power shortages like their British and German neighbours. Macron made it crystal clear that France would invest heavily in their existing nuclear power plants and build 14 next-generation nuclear plantsadding to the 56 plants currently operating and providing the French with over 70% of their power needs, at a cost roughly half that being paid by their wind and solar ‘powered’ German neighbours.]

One thought on “2021’s Renewables Debacle In Review: Fickle Wind & Sun Face Bitter Accusations

  1. In only a few years time the whole world will be running on renewables namely wind and solar, then who will be laughing if they can make it work ROFLOLOLOL.

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