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Monday, August 20, 2012

Renewables, The Joy

I have had to spend over $500 to even out the power supply at SuperDoc's. Renewables blew the grid voltage. I put a monitor on it and just watched the incoming voltage flicker. It's so bad now that it is going to blow out his AC unit if he's not careful. The thing has begun tripping and going offline due to the fluctuations.

Germany is now coping with the same thing, and so far industries are largely coping by taking over their own generation, which will inevitably increase the use of fossil fuels.

The move to gas in Germany did not occur, because of high costs and inability to recover the investment due to the priority of wind/solar in purchases. So Germany is burning more coal instead.

In the US CO2 emissions are steadily dropping. We might want to think all of this over before following in Germany's path. NG is now cheap and it emits less CO2 than coal. If you believe that CO2 is harmful to the environment, the fact that US CO2 emissions are back to early 1990s levels (when we were in a recession) is highly significant and positive.

The extreme variability of wind makes it a very useless combo with any fossil-fuel combos. If you are compensating with hydro, you can do it without too much problem, but that isn't possible in most places. It's also a very bad mix with nuclear power.

As soon as you push the grid to the failure point for industrial operations, companies that stay will have to go to their own generation, and that pushes up fossil fuel usage.

To understand just how much of a climate disaster on-grid wind power is, see the BPA wind page.

I made you guys a graph from the data. This is January of this year. Note the fascinating erraticism of the orange wind curve. The best part of it is that it is fractal - if you look at a shorter time frame (they publish five minute samples) the curve remains as loopy.

This is their current seven day rolling chart:


What's going to be nasty is when there's a dry year and they have to reduce output from Bonneville. That's when you'll really see them struggle with power-balancing.

You've got a good point about the fractal nature of wind generation output. I hadn't thought about that. That's actually a much bigger problem than the day-to-day fluctuations. You can bring a gas turbine up and down on a daily schedule, if need be, but you can't do it from minute to minute. That means that you can't ever run wind turbines at the maximum available wind power--you always have to dial it back by a safety margin so that you can maintain constant output when the wind dies down a bit.

I think the market for backup generation is going to explode in the next 10 years or so, and it's likely that the "backup" solutions are going to end up as primary equipment.

Thanks for putting this report together. For each unit of wind or solar capacity added, you need to add near that capacity in traditional fuels for when wind and solar is off line. This is doubling the capacity the cost of which is not allocated to wind and solar. Which means wind and solar are a hoax, cost-wise.

From the article especially note that the officials say they need the coal plants to “underpin” the growth in wind and solar. In this regard, to achieve their goals of double cost wind and solar, they are doing the right thing.

Germany’s ideological energy central planning is a central planning failure. Until you realize that this is what they want. Morons all.

Thanks for the links. I needed some facts and figure to shove down the throats of the few people who will still talk to me.


I work for one of the largest utilities in the US. We have a good generation mix of gas, coal, nuclear and hydro. What we don't have, and don't plan to acquire, is renewables. Sure, we pay it lip service and have a few token projects here and there to placate the government and the greens, but no major investments are planned. Why? Well, it is more expensive and it is unreliable. In essence, the usual suspects (schmucks) are asking us to pay more for for a crappy product. Voltage and frequency dips are a minor inconvenience for residential users (you might have to reset your DVR), but can shut down large industrial users for days. They get really, really pissed when that happens.

As for cheap natural gas, most utilities are reluctant to go all gas. We have idled coal plants, but we don't want to shutter them permanently, despite what Barry wants. There is well founded concern that cheap nat gas is transitory. We are simultaneously 1) using it for baseload generation, 2) starting to use it as a transportation fuel, 3) using it as the primary petrochemical feedstock (it has largely displaced naptha in the US) and 4) starting to export it. My fear is Barry will push all utilities to switch to nat gas, just in time for a price spike. The guy does have a reverse Midas touch, after all.

Pushing everyone to gas would likely cause the price spike. But, for some reason, government does not understand that part of economics.
We gave up on wind power years ago because it was unreliable. The wind hasn't changed in all that time, why do we expect it to behave now?
Thanks for the charts MOM. They do show, better than any written explanation, why wind and solar will never be a major source of electricity. If someone makes a big breakthough in storage of wind and solar energy, then they might become players. Until then we should go with the old reliables.
Advances in wind energy storage are the key to making it plausible. A couple of options include huge flywheels that can store the energy when it is not needed or convert it to battery storage.

Energy storage is what will determine how well renewables work. And of course, the cost of the energy storage devices has to be factored in as well.
Long time power engineer here. If you are seeing voltage variations at SuperDoc's house, its highly unlikely that windmill's can be blamed. Chances are there's a utility capacitor bank within a mile or two that's switching in an out, and its causing low and medium level spikes on the lines. These kinds of aberrations eat away the material in the chips on anything that has a circuit board. It could also be something as simple as bad connections in the transformer thats on the pole outside the home. A few years ago, I put a recording voltmeter on a church that noticed flickering lights, and recorded over one hundred incidences where the line voltage was in excess of 140 volts in a 24 hour period. The utility company did something on the pole and that was that.

Its easy to spend $500 in this arena, but the best way to mitigate flicker is to install a double conversion UPS system.
It's at his clinic.

They installed solar panels with some funky feed-in deal on the poles, and since then it's gotten worse.

Now the power shoots up and down on clear sunny days in the spring. There is also a school nearby, and I think from the timing the reason why the lights went out most sunny Friday afternoons while school was in session this spring/early summer was that they turned the lights off, the voltage shot up, and all the solar panels dropped out in unison.

It was truly awesome. There were wild surges and drops. Also twice some of the power regulation equipment blew, and when I write "blew", I mean you could hear it explode. One time it was so loud the employees fled the building.

A lot of people don't understand that grid-tied solar has its problems once you get too much of it online.

The power was bad. Now it's truly horrendous. The power company tried to do some stuff to regulate the lines, and they made it better for the most part. But I don't think it will work well when school goes back in session.

Alessandro - flywheels generally can cover 15 minutes or so. You need to cover days.

The batteries are very expensive, and generally will give you 4-8 hours. At least the ones I've checked were.

Grid-tied solar is becoming more and more of a problem in places where a lot has been installed. Unless you stagger the cut-in and cut-out points, there's a horrendous hammer effect.

How can you be so hateful as to call that BPA curve "erratic"? It is merely celebrating its Diversity, and it continues to do so all the way down to the lowest levels of the data. You must be some type of rasicts barstad!
It's all the fault of the State of Oregon mandating "renewable" power. And along with that, subsidizing it.

(I'd rather have my tax money and PGE add-on charges spent on encouraging nuclear power - not because I give a tinker's damn for CO2 emissions, but because it's the overall best power source out there for base generation, all things considered.)
Mark - I'm laughing. Hard.

I acknowledge my abysmal failure to embrace the diversity of that curve. I must be reeducated. At a camp. I am sure Canada can spare a few of their diversity police to redirect my thinking.

Since I am female, I claim the right to be called a rasicts rhymes-with-witch.
In May-July of last year, there was a lot of wind AND a lot of water in the Pacific Northwest, leaving Bonneville Power Administration with a dilemma. BPA told the wind operators they didn't need the windpower because they had the waterpower and didn't want to cut dam operations too much for environmental reasons...the wind operators sued and FERC ruled that BPA had to pay the windmill people for NOT generating power.


David - that's the incident that led to me following BPA news with some dedication.

They were required to keep the flow up by EPA, but the wind power coalition sued to get them to pay for the power they couldn't accept.
When Michigan built nuclear plants in the late 1960's they built a pump storage facility and ran these plants all night. The excess energy was used to pump water up from lake michigan at night and then tapped during the day. With the eventual closing of these nuclear plants they are building windmills and expanding the pump storage facility. The capacity is 16 billion gallons of water and that will be expanded.
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