7 Terms to avoid if you need to discuss renewables

Do you find yourself discussing about Renewable Generation Technologies often?

This post can help you avoid incorrect expressions!

You might well agree that renewables are changing rapidly. Technology has not only become more competitive, but has also solved many issues or challenges that simply are not applicable today.

So, the language we use for evolving technology has to evolve too, right?

Image by Daino_16 on freeimages

Image by Daino_16 on freeimages

1. Expensive

There certainly are some expensive renewable technologies, and certainly expensive renewable projects.

But in general, the competitiveness of renewables has become very clear. Saying “renewables are expensive” is not recommended (unless you intend to show not being up-to-date in the energy sector).

In many regions renewables are the the cheapest source of energy. (There are many references to show this, let me link to the recent WEF report)

2. Unpredictable

There was a time when there were no prediction tools and sofware available. Nowadays, there are tools to predict renewable output with high-accuracy, from day ahead to, for example, minute ahead cloud tracking for solar plants.

Yes, renewables remain variable -in resource-, maybe not perfectly predictable, but certainly not unpredictable.*

3. Non-manageable & 4. Non-flexible

There also was a time when there was no need to manage renewable output. All the produced power was sold at a Feed-in-Tariff with no requirement for flexibility.

However, with the “coming of age” of renewables, these technologies have to deliver according to Power Purchase Agreements, and with more stringent Grid Codes.

They are also participating in ancillary services, for example in Spain (Acciona was the first company to provide these services), where manageable renewables are allowed to participate in system adjustments.

There might be some places where renewables are not managed, but this doesn’t mean they are non-manageable. In fact, with actual converter technologies, the possibility to respond can be faster and more flexible than with conventional generators.

5. Intermittent

As mentioned above, “variable”, “manageable” and “flexible” are more correct terms than “intermittent”, a term which also relates to unreliability and unpredictability.*

Renewables are variable, but this variability can be managed and brings value to the network.

6. Inefficient

In the past, renewable energy technologies, not only where not competitive, but they were not efficient. Once, the energy return on energy invested (ERoEI) for these technologies was below 1. Meaning there was more energy required to manufacture, for example, the wind turbine, than the energy it produced once installed. Not anymore.

(Of course, you well know that it will still be true if we install renewable systems where there is no resource, such as no-wind spots or locations with low solar radiation.)

7. Baseload  

Baseload can be considered an obsolete “pre-energy transition concept”, as I explained here. Using baseload in oposition to renewables should be avoided. This is a consequence of the tradition of drawing the constant-output generation (such as nuclear) at the base of the demand curve. (A solution could be to draw renewables at the bottom, as they are becoming the biggest chunk of the curve.)

In fact, do you think the demand curve is likely to be flattened to a stable “baseload”, or rather become more flexible? (More on this here.)

In summary, precise terminology has to adapt to a rapidly evolving reality. You might remember what Wittgenstein once said:

The limits of my language are the limits of my world.”
‒Ludwig Wittgenstein

You wouldn’t want to limit your world to an old pre-energy-transition world, and be left behind, would you?

*Quite surprisingly, an article in ABB Conversations used both these terms not long ago, despite ABB being a supplier of top-notch renewable prediction tools and control systems! Even my colleagues and I make mistakes, sometimes… 😉

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