“Hard Things are Hard” – Part Three – Challenging the Hon. Catherine McKenna on #PoweringPastCoal at #COP23

Opinion- Contributed by Michelle Stirling © Nov 2017

Part Three

Minister McKenna ostensibly went to COP23 to defend Canada’s ‘slow start’ in meeting emissions targets. [1]  Certainly, Bonn was an odd place to try and initiate a #PoweringPastCoal campaign as Germany is a vast consumer of coal, oil and natural gas – one of the largest importers of these in the world according to the World Nuclear Association’s country profile.

world nuke on german power

Of course, that is not the place to try and garner support for a coal phase-out, as reported by Spencer Fernando, Germany won’t budge.[2] Fernando reports that: “As noted by Mining.com, “Germany, in turn, which for years has been seen as a world leader in the fight against carbon emissions and pollution, still gets 40% of its energy from coal, a larger share than most other European countries, data from Eurostat show. The reality is so despite the Angela Merkel’s administration has invested billions in renewable energy and it means that Germany will miss its goal of cutting 40% of its greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Currently, official figures show that number is likely to fall to little more than 30%.”

Germany is generally seen as the great ‘green’ empire, but what’s behind that ‘clean’ front? Wind and solar are VAST consumers of all fossil fuel products in their development, installation and operation.

If they are to be operated on an existing power grid, wind and solar require 24/7 conventional power generation back-up because they are intermittent – wind is at the mercy of Mother Nature’s whims and solar works only by day, and only if not too cloudy, rainy or snowy.  Wind and solar radically surge and dip in energy output – meaning spinning reserves must be ‘at the ready’ to take over when the wind drops off or surges, or night falls – which means fossil fuels (typically natural gas) are being used all the time!

Vaclav Smil points out in his book “Energy Myths and Realities” that solar insolation is deceptive and thus solar is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution. “The sun-drenched tropics, for example, turn out to be not that sunny….. Coastal Nigeria, Brazilian Amazon receive less radiation than Georgia or Kansas; …all densely populated regions of South East Asian from China’s southernmost provinces to Sumatra and Kalimantan, have annual insolation comparable to that of northern France and southern England – locales that are not usually perceived as “sun-drenched.””

Germany has added some 90 Gigawatts, combined, of wind and solar. This barely dents their peak power demand and they’ve had to add more coal plants to ensure reliable power! Many German industries have suffered severe damage from power intermittencies – some have opted to build their own power generation plants, meaning the burden of cost of the massive infrastructure falls back onto consumers.

And Germany still runs on conventional power – principally coal.

wood mackenzie how much does 90GW wind solar reduce winter peak


The above graph shows the lack of wind and solar during peak demand in Germany in January 2017; the graph below shows the actual sources of electrical power generation during that same month. Brown and hard coal make up the bulk of power generation.

jan 2017 german electricity production fraunhofer to match image of peak demand

Source: Live and historical updates at: https://www.energy-charts.de/power.htm (check ‘all sources’ to see a graph similar to that above; select by date in left navigation bar)

As more wind and solar is added to the grid, typically above 10% capacity, whatever complementary benefit is lost, and carbon dioxide emissions often go UP! Further, if a country is lucky enough to have hydro for back-up, it is possible to negligently empty hydro reserves while trying to create a “100% renewable” scenario of wind and hydro – leading to economic catastrophe such as that of Tasmania. [1] [2] Or worse…Venezuela.[3]  Why so? Hydro is also highly dependent on Mother Nature.  A dry year combined with dedicated back up of intermittent wind can draw down reserves to dangerous lows.

It is curious timing that just prior to COP23, the Minister met with a Canadian company on her UK trip, which has a billion euros invested in renewables.  That makes us think that #PoweringPastCoal is more about green crony capitalists pushing an agenda on poor developing nations.

While certainly, the collapse of the renewables subsidies in the EU and UK are going to really hurt those investors…and ultimately hurt Canadians and probably various banks world-wide, it is obvious that such subsidies and proliferation of wind/solar are unsustainable anywhere.

Many public groups have reached similar conclusions.  We urge the public and policy-makers to review this information.

Not only are “hard things hard to do,” Minister McKenna, they should be preceded by the simpler thing – a full cost-benefit analysis and feasibility study. Without it, #PoweringPastCoal is a recipe for global chaos and economic disaster.

To review this three part series:

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3


Additional resources:


[1] https://stopthesethings.com/2016/04/03/tasmanias-lret-inflicted-power-crisis-its-308-mw-of-wind-power-capacity-deemed-utterly-worthless/

[2] http://www.wattclarity.com.au/2016/03/some-thoughts-on-the-shaky-state-of-tassie-electricity-supply/

[3] “Yet power generation, and especially generation that relies on renewables, requires diversification; Venezuela has failed to design its electrical infrastructure in a way that accounts for the natural unpredictability of energy sources like hydro, solar, and wind. After the last bad El Niño drought, in 2010, the government did almost nothing to revamp. It commissioned a small number of diesel-fuelled power plants, which were slow to reach completion, and one new natural-gas plant, which can—but doesn’t—churn out four per cent of the country’s electricity.” …” When any single source of fuel accounts for even a third of the power flowing into a grid, the security of that system is difficult to guarantee. At nearly seventy per cent hydro, Venezuela is running a catastrophically uniform system.”


[1] https://globalnews.ca/news/3854395/mckenna-heads-to-germany-to-defend-canadas-slow-start-on-emissions-targets/

[2] https://www.spencerfernando.com/2017/11/17/fail-host-nation-climate-conference-refuses-join-mckennas-anti-coal-crusade/

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1 Comment

  1. Ron Harvey

    Thank you so very much for clear-headed thinking about the realities of energy production. Electricity is THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT product of a nation. To destabilize that commodity is national and economic suicide.

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