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Decarbonization of Electricity Production

Decarbonization of Electricity Production

What problems have been experienced with the integration of intermittent renewables in the electric grid? How easy is it to find a quick solution? What can we learn from the experience of the Energiewende in Germany? What is the problem to be tackled? This Uncomfortable Knowledge Hub (UKH) series consists of one teaser video and one video lecture reflecting on the experience done in Germany and in Spain with alternative intermittent sources of electricity. One longer publication resource is also available at the end of this webpage.

What is uncomfortable knowledge?

Uncomfortable knowledge is a concept introduced by Steve Rayner*. As Rayner puts it: “to make sense of the complexity of the world so that they can act, individuals and institutions need to develop simplified, self-consistent versions of that world”. The chosen, self-consistent narratives and explanations necessarily leave out some relevant aspects of the issue in order to remain simple and useful. In this situation “knowledge which is in tension or outright contradiction with those versions must be expunged. This is uncomfortable knowledge which is excluded from policy debates, especially when dealing with ‘wicked problems’”.

*Steve Rayner, 2012. Uncomfortable knowledge: the social construction of ignorance in science and environmental policy discourses. Economy and Society 41(1): 107-125.

What is quantitative storytelling?

Quantitative storytelling (QST), the systematic approach used to present material on the Uncomfortable Knowledge Hub, does not claim to present the “truth” about a given issue, nor that all the numbers used in the story are uncontested. When dealing with wicked issues, all numbers can always be calculated in a different way and narratives are always contested. QST simply presents alternative stories useful to check the quality of existing narratives and to enrich the diversity of insights about a given issue.


Electricity is not behaving as a “normal good” in the market: Electricity is special (1 min 46 sec)

Electricity is not behaving as a “normal good” in the market: Electricity is special. The problem with producing and selling electricity is the same as the problem of producing and selling ice creams. Unless you have an effective storage system (a fridge for the ice creams), the matching of demand and supply can prove problematic.

Intermittent alternative sources of electricity: Batteries not included (15 min 18 sec)

Because of the special nature of electricity as energy form, kWh of electricity that are produced must match both in space and time kWh of electricity that are consumed. This entails that it is not true that all kWh of electricity are “the same” independently of the time and place of production. Intermittent sources of electricity are “problematic” sources of energy and they need storage capacity in order to meet current expectations.


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