No James, we Irish are not complete gobshites

Or if we are, it is not for the reasons James thinks! James Corbett has a post today on his blog asking “Are we Irish complete gobshites?“. The post is lamenting the fact that we are not building wind farms to reduce our dependence on oil imports.

I would answer James in the comment section on his blog but

  1. the answer is complex and
  2. he has deployed a CAPTCHA on his blog which means commenting there is a pain 😛

I have talked about this in several of my talks about reducing ITs carbon footprint.

There are >2gW of outstanding applications for windfarms to come onto the electrical grid in Ireland. To put that in context, we typically use around 4.5gW of power in Ireland (fluctuating day/night and summer/winter, obviously). However, these applications are being held at bay by eirgrid, the grid management company.

Why are they holding these applications at bay? Are they rabidly anti-green? Maybe they are pro climate-change? No, the reason Eirgrid don’t want any more wind power on the grid is because it de-stabilises the network.

Consider the following scenario. It is 2am. Electricity demand across the country is at its lowest. There is a 40mph wind blowing across the country. Wind energy at this point can be supplying up to 30% of the country’s demand.

What happens now if the wind picks up to 50mph? The wind farms shut down to protect their mechanisms and suddenly Eirgrid are left scrambling trying to bring gas turbine stations online to meet the sudden fall-off of 30% of their supply. Gas turbine stations can take up to an hour to reach full generation capacity.

The more windfarms Eirgrid take onto the network, the greater a problem this becomes. Unless there was some kind of ready counter-balance to the instability of wind farms…

16 thoughts on “No James, we Irish are not complete gobshites”

  1. Great post Tom and an eye opener for me. I love learning through blogging conversations like this. One of the reasons I was most disappointed at missing Barcamp Galway was not being able to catch your talk 😦

    But tell me, how are other countries managing to get around this problem? Or are they? Do they have ways to counter-balance the instability of the wind?

  2. BTW, sorry about the the CAPTCHAs, you’ll be glad to hear I’m moving away from TypePad (after 4 years) and on to WordPress. So I’ll be picking your brains for how you manage to avoid the kind of spam nightmare I had on TypePad.

  3. James, that’s fantastic news about moving to WordPress. You will love it. I have no problem helping any way I can by email, phone, blog conversations, feel free to ping me any time.

    On the other countries question – Ireland is unique in two respects, one we get quite a bit of wind and two we have a small population (and so require relatively little power compared to the amount of wind we get).

  4. I’ve heard the instability argument in several circles and continue to wonder if Irish wind turbines are less intelligent when encountering high wind velocities. I’ve watched propeller engineers make blades and over the years, I’ve flown aircraft with different kinds of props. The most complex use constant speed props. Regardless of the relative wind speed or the actual aircraft velocity, the prop turns at a constant rate. I’ve flown these aircraft between 35 knots and 190 knots, adjusting the pitch of the prop to keep a constant RPM. Surely the same technology exists in stationery applications of wind turbine propellers. Being a pilot with fixed speed prop time probably disqualifies me from being an expert in a fixed propeller installation in wind turbines, but I think the point should be raised in the instance of Irish wind power.

  5. The two possible solutions to the grid stability problem caused by adding renewables are called (1) demand side management and (2) energy storage by either pumped hydro or CAES. I am acutely involved in efforts to try to solve the problem. Please visit my blog at to find out more.

    I worked in the wind energy business in the late 1970s. It was the first company I invetsed money in and I lost every penny. You could design a turbine wind blade to witstand a 120mph wind but it would be very expensive and it would be inefficient at lower and much more common speeds.

    I would also like to say that I am in regular contact with Eirgrid the Irish Transmission System Operator (TSO). They are very good technically and are very open to discussion on ways to solve the problem. They are unstinting in their efforts to communicate with me about ways to deal with this issue. I am planning to start an EDM business in Ireland over the next twelve months.

    I am incredibly passionate about the topic of renewable energy in the Irish context. If anyone wants to meet me to talk about it please contact me via contact details on my blog

  6. Surely it’s simply an engineering problem that could easily be solved by some decent engineers – and if we can’t find anyone here to solve it there must be others round the world that have encountered same and that could advise.

    It’d be nice if we could demonstrate some initiative in the infrastructure arena rather than always playing catch up!

  7. Is it not possible to put a buffer between the wind farms and the main grid? i.e. something that can store up an hours worth of power that will give the gas turbines a chance to come online if the wind farm needs to shut down?

  8. This stability looks to be a red herring, instability of supply is the inverse of instability of demand, and the instability of demand has been solved. Everyone’s power does not shutdown when someone plugs in a light that pushes the grid over the output capacity limit. Neither should the loss of a supply source.

  9. Demand and supply must be nearly matched on an electricity grid. If they are not then grid instability occurs. If demand exceeds supply the grid frequency drops and/or the voltage drops (this is called a brown out). If supply exceeds demand then the frequency and voltage rise.

    The electricity generation industry has typically controlled supply because of the relative inflexibility of demand. It is not possible to have inflexible demand and inflexible supply and still have a stable grid.

    Have a look at the two flash videos on the home page of to get an idea for how the market is used to stabilise the grid in real time.

  10. The instability issue is often over-stated. Weather is much more localised, even in a small country the size of Ireland, and the wind doesn’t start and stop everywhere at once. Consider what happens when one of the turbines in Moneypoint has a problem and suddenly has to shut down? That happens too, but nobody worries about the instability caused by this.

    Yes, as renewables form a larger percentage of the grid, demand side management, smart metering etc., will all come into play. So will the interconnector between the UK and Ireland. Between both islands, there is always an even broader mix on wind and calm.

    Another technology which will help is Plurion Flow Batteries and other flow batteries. These use an electrolyte that never degrades, and the round trip efficiency is currently 70% but expected to rise. The technology is being piloted on some wind farms at present.

    Lets not forget that with peak oil coming down the track, the alternative being mooted is often nuclear. On a grid the size of Ireland, shutting one of those down suddenly, whenever the need arises, would be a serious cause of instability!

  11. The instability issue is not overstated. It is THE problem preventing us from bringing more renewables on line. The Green Party want us to achieve 30% renewable energy by 2020. Imagine for a moment that that the electricity component of that was all coming from wind. If Ireland’s consumption was the same as today Our demand would be varying from about 2.5 GW to 5 GW from night to day. Our renewable production would be varying from 0 GW to 4.5GW as a random function of time. How can anyone call that stable? Grid stability is a huge issue if we want renewables.

    There are ways of dealing with it such as EDM, Storage and Interconnect. All are expensive and technically challenging.

    The important point I want to make is that it is THE problem with wind and wave renewables.

  12. High tech battery banks can buffer energy flux. That is proven in UPS used by and all the more remarkable when absent in Irish wind farms. It should not be major undertaking to feed CIX some backup power with local turbines connected to smart capacitors linked to surge-ready batteries. This would be innovative and a European case study worth documenting for true carbon emissions reduction.

  13. Batteries and UPSs are not an economic grid energy storage. The CIX UPS system worked out at €1,200 per kWh. In other words it costs $1,200 to store €0.10 worth of electricity. In very large configurations this could be reduced to maybe €500 per kWh. Assuming that the value of a storage cycle was half the value of generating the power in the first place it would take 10,000 cycles for payback. Assuming no operating costs, zero cost of finance and two cycles per day it would take 13.7 years to break even. Unfortunately the lead acid batteries would be at end of life after ten years.

    To learn more about energy storage possibilities please visit

    Pumped hydro and CAES are the two most cost effective solutions but they are still very expensive.

    The solution to our weather based renewable penetration problem is to implement a demand side bidding based, energy demand management programme. This will turn the national grid into a kind of real time market place for electricity. Everyone can bid to sell ectricity and everyone can decide to buy electricity when it is cheap enough. The price is bid up and down in real time to match demand and supply.

    So, for example, we program our water heater to set the water temperature in our staorage tank based on the price of electricity. If electricity is cheap we set the temp high. If electricity is dear we set the temp low. Our water heater now becomes a low cost energy storage device.

    The Cork Internet eXchange CIX can use electricity when it is cheap and when it is expensive enough CIX could start its diesel generator and curtail load and even sell surplus energy to the grid.

  14. Can we not sell it to another country when our demand is low? or pump water up to a reservoir to release through a turbine later?

  15. I would argue that Ireland is unique in one other critically important aspect – it’s an island, not (currently) connected to the European transmission grid system.

    Denmark, for example, has a number of interconnectors to the Nordic grid and the German grid.

    Details here:

    These interconnectors have a capacity equal to about 1/3rd of the Danish generating capacity, i.e. far in excess of the installed wind generation capacity (2003 figures) So, when it’s not windy (or too windy) they can open the taps and import Norwegian hydro power, or German nuclear. They don’t need to maintain an expensive spinning reserve just to cover fluctuations in the weather.

  16. I just thought saw an interesting post on the Sustainable Energy blog in relation to this issue –

    “A new study published by Stanford University Press has shown that large-scale wind-farm grid interlinking helps to balance out local power fluctuations and gives a stability of power nearly as good as that provided by other generation methods.

    The finding would suggest that there would be no great need for battery or other storage methods, as the varying winds conditions over larger areas would balance out the power generated to the grid.

    The power fluctuation of wind has long been an argument against its wider use in national grids. This study however would suggest the opposite and may hopefully open some doors to wider use of this excellent clean power source in the halls of power throughout the world.”

    Good news I hope.

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