Archive for January 20th, 2014

In the hot and cold weather (and there could be plenty of that one the way), coal kept the power going

Last week was a very hot week but not an unusual week for January. We usually see a week like that at some stage during January in each year. Something else that we also see regularly is that, regardless of the weather, coal-fired electricity continuously proves itself to be the most reliable form of mains power that we have. Without it, all of those electrical devices (such as air conditioning, fans, and heaters) which we rely on to help keep us alive during inhospitable weather, would be useless.

Figures supplied by the Australian Energy Market Operator show that between 11.30am and 4pm on Wednesday, as demand hit a daily peak of 33029 megawatts nationally, wind’s share of supply fell as low as 0.3 per cent.
The capacity factor (the amount of electricity produced compared with maximum rated capacity of the wind farm) fell as low as 4 per cent in Victoria and 2 per cent in South Australia.

In addition, graphs supplied by AEMO yesterday showed that throughout the week, demand for electricity and the capacity factor of wind generation had tended to move in opposite directions.

(h/t The Australian)

As Andrew Bolt points out on his blog, one of the big problems with wind power is that on very hot days there is often very little wind. I would add that the other type of hot day tends to come with very strong winds (creating dangerous fire conditions) and on those days, instead of providing more electricity, the wind is too strong for the wind turbines and they have to be allowed to spin freely with their ability to generate power disabled, as when they spin too fast, they are at very high risk of overloading.

Regardless of the wind, you would think that on a hot and sunny day there would be plenty of solar power to go around, especially with the proliferation of roof-top solar panels…no, that’s a bust as well.

More than $2 billion of subsidised investment in over 2 million rooftop solar systems contributed less than 5 per cent of peak power demand in ­Victoria and South Australia during the worst of this week’s heatwave.

(h/t Australian Financial Review)

Wind power and solar power are quite expensive when compared with coal power, and yet despite their cost they are also unreliable and unable to maintain base load power or peak demand power, and it is through the ability of coal power to cheaply and quickly adapt to changing demands for power and changing network conditions (two coal stations were offline for some hours last week at the peak of the heat due to a cable fault and a steam leak, and the remaining stations were able to pick up the slack) that the power was able to stay on.

Incidentally, it amused me to some extent that, on Friday morning while pretty much all of south-eastern Australia sweltered, two places which had been very hot during the day recorded the coldest overnight temperatures in any part of the country except Western Australia where a couple places were a little bit colder.
Goulburn was the coldest, getting down to 6.9°C (5.8° below average) after reaching 37.6°C on Thursday (9.7°C abover average) and then reaching 37.4°C on Friday (9.5°C above average). Braidwood was the next coldest, getting down to 7.5°C (4.6° below average) after reaching 36.0°C on Thursday (9.1°C above average) and then reaching 38.3°C on Friday (11.4°C above average). It is quite amazing how a place can be very hot during the day and then go on to be the coldest place in central and eastern Australia that night.

Speaking of cold weather, this is no surprise to anyone who has been following research in to how the Sun affects our climate, but it’s nice to see it getting some press coverage. Solar activity of late has been minimal and the usual 11-year sunspot cycle has failed to bring a year of great activity. There is plenty of research which shows that Earth tends to be hotter when there is a lot of solar activity than when there is little solar activity. Of late, however, the Sun has shown such a small amount of activity that there is genuine concern that we could be headed for a mini ice age similar to the one experienced in the mid 1600s.

The Sun’s activity is at its lowest for 100 years, scientists have warned.
They say the conditions are eerily similar to those before the Maunder Minimum, a time in 1645 when a mini ice age hit, Freezing London’s River Thames.
‘Whatever measure you use, solar peaks are coming down,’ Richard Harrison of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire told the BBC.
‘I’ve been a solar physicist for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this.’
He says the phenomenon could lead to colder winters similar to those during the Maunder Minimum.
Mike Lockwood University of Reading says that the lower temperatures could affect the global jetstream, causing weather systems to collapse.
‘We estimate within 40 years there a 10-20% probability we will be back in Maunder Minimum territory,’ he said.
The Maunder Minimum (also known as the prolonged sunspot minimum) is the name used for the period starting in about 1645 and continuing to about 1715 when sunspots became exceedingly rare, as noted by solar observers of the time.

(h/t Daily Mail)

While the chances of a mini ice-age are low, the chances of a prolonged period of mild cooling are much higher. This could also go some way to explaining why global temperatures have not increased for approximately 17 years and have shown a slight cooling trend over the last 5-10 years.

As I said earlier, this is not new news by any means, it’s just new research confirming much older news. Obviously we will have to wait and see what actually happens, but given the historical connection between solar activity and the climate, and the current lack of warming matching a lack of solar activity, it is certainly not unreasonable to be keeping a close eye (or properly shielded telescope) on the Sun.


1 comment January 20th, 2014 at 08:10am


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