A capacity of 3.5 nuclear power plants produced at sea by wind energy

The Ventilus project is a future 380 kV high-voltage power line with a capacity of 6 GW that will connect the Belgian coast with the rest of the country and will also serve as a (second) interconnection with the UK. There is quite some protest against it. It was planned as an overhead power line, but people living along the trajectory want the cables below ground. To my surprise, the Green party wants them above ground and demands a quick approval of the project by the Flemish Government. This is how Jeremie Vaneeckhout (the Flemish green party co-chairman) explains the urgency of the project (transcription translated from Dutch, my emphasis)

Ventilus is not only the project that can ensure that a capacity of 3.5 nuclear power plants produced at sea by wind energy, that we get that on land. It is also the guarantee that the vehicle fleet can be made electric, can be electrified, and that our grid will not fail, that all West Flemish companies can certainly remain on the grid.

The first time that I heard this, it didn’t make much sense to me. Our largest nuclear reactors have a capacity of 1 GW, but offshore wind currently has a capacity of 2.2 GW, so he is likely talking about a future capacity (but then (much) less than the 8 GW that the Minister of the North Sea envisioned). Where does this 3.5 GW number comes from? My guess was that it is the future capacity of offshore wind by the time that Ventilus will come into use. I found dates between 2027 and 2030, but Belgian offshore wind should already exceed 3.5 GW by then.

There also were others that started to use that the Ventilus-is-3.5-nuclear-reactors claim around the same time relating to Ventilus. The chairman of the Flemish socialist party said the following in an interview on Flemish television news one week earlier (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

Ventilus, that is a cable that has to go from sea to land and which, to be clear, can generate 3.5 nuclear power stations in wind energy.

That is completely nonsensical. To be really clear, that power cable will not “generate” any electricity whatsoever and certainly not the output of 3.5 nuclear reactors. It will just transmit the electricity that is produced by those offshore windmills that will have a capacity of 3.5 GW (which is less than half of what 3.5 nuclear reactors would produce).
Also, the cable doesn’t start in the sea as suggested. The cable will come onshore and will continue as a land cable going to a high voltage station further inland that converts the electricity to 380 V and it is this station that will connect to the Ventilus power lines. Basically, the Ventilus cables doesn’t go from the sea to the shore, but from the coast into the country.

That is not a one-off either. A week later, on the same day that the chairman of the Greens brought his message, this is what the socialist chairman said in an interview in the Flemish newspaper “De Morgen” criticizing the parties that could not agree on the project (translated from Dutch, my emphasis):

In the Flemish government, these three parties are unable to reach a decision on Ventilus, a high-voltage line that is intended to transfer three and a half nuclear power stations in capacity from sea to land.

He now got his act together about the power lines transferring electricity and that it is about capacity, not about output. That is surely some progress.

Reading a bit more about the topic, I think that the 3.5 GW has to do with the plan to expand the offshore wind capacity. Our Government agreed at the end of last year on an expansion of the second windmill zone in the Belgian North Sea from 3.15 GW to 3.5 GW. This capacity would be connected to an energy-island that will bring the output to the shore. This energy-island is an artificial island that can handle up to 3.5 GW of offshore wind power and that is where I think the 3.5 number comes from.

So in the end, it is just another variation on the x-GW-intermittent-power-equals-x-GW-nuclear as we seen a couple in the recent past. Like the 1 GW of solar & wind equals 1 large nuclear power reactor uttered by our Minister of Energy or the 8 GW of offshore wind corresponds to 8 nuclear reactors from the Minister of the (Belgian) North Sea.

It is of course trivially true that 1 GW of wind capacity equals the capacity of 1 large nuclear reactor, but that is just meaningless. Although their capacity is the same, their output is vastly different. Not only in quantity (the capacity factor of offshore wind is below 40%, that of nuclear can hop above 90%), but also in quality (offshore wind has an intermittent output, that of nuclear is continuous).

So, the “a capacity of 3.5 nuclear power plants produced at sea by wind energy” claim may be mistakenly understood as offshore wind being able to single-handed replace almost the entire soon to be decommissioned nuclear power reactors (about 4 GW), which is obviously not the case by any stretch of the imagination.

via Trust, yet verify


September 18, 2022 at 12:56PM

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