Microgrids and “Clean” Energy

by Planning Engineer and Rud Istvan

Microgrids and “clean” energy are intertwined in the minds of many. There is a common belief that microgrids will facilitate “clean” energy and that “clean” energy will better support microgrids.

Some express hopes that improvements in technology will allow “clean resources” and microgrids to jointly make the existing grid structure obsolete.

This posting makes the case that it is more appropriate to perceive “clean” energy technology and the advancement of microgrids as competitors. They both have their individual greatest widespread chance of success when coupled with the bulk grid, versus working in tandem. While there may be some cases where there is synergy between the advancement of “clean energy” and microgrids, the more common occurrence is that their conflicting goals will be at odds with each other.

What exactly is a Microgrid?

The definition and expectations for microgrids can vary. Basically a microgrid is an electric system that can operate independently (for a limited or extended time period) in isolation from the bulk grid. Examples can vary from single off-grid residences to campuses/cities/regions which are tied to the grid but capable of disconnecting and being self-sustaining as well.

The Lesson of Sandy

In 2012 “Hurricane” Sandy resulted in extensive and extended power outages in the Northeast. Standing out during that period were systems which had the ability to disconnect from the outaged grid and provide energy from their local resources. These microgrids proved to be of great value in many cases. Princeton’s microgrid provided service for the day and half it took to restore the grid. Their microgrid was enabled by a large gas turbine cogeneration plant supplemented by a solar panel field which provides around 5.5% of their need.

In general power outages result from local distribution outages not losses to the bulk grid. Large storms do take out large swathes of local distribution resulting in wide area outage. Such storms also take out some transmission, but usually much less as these are typically larger more resilient facilities. In addition the bulk system usually has sufficient redundancy so that the loss of these facilities does not automatically translate into user outages. In storms where portions of the bulk grid are lost, they generally are ready for service in advance of the distribution subsystems they serve.

Microgrids are not immune from distribution outages. Undoubtedly, some areas with microgrid capability were not able to operate post Sandy due to local problems. A region served by independent microgrid system built upon wind turbines and solar panels would likely have many areas out for significant periods following Sandy type winds. Achieving very high levels of reliability following storms will require extreme costs or both bulk interconnections in addition to microgrid capability. Although some media reports post-Sandy have suggested that, do not think that complete grid independence can generally work to enhance reliability and resiliency. If you want the best bang for your buck providing microgrids to enhance storm recovery efforts, you will connect to the grid and use cheap fossil fuel back-up generators.

An analogy to help understand some of the fuzzy thinking

Comparing the functionality between microgrids and larger bulk systems can be seen as similar to comparing cars and trucks. While cars and trucks both do many of the same things and can have similar features, they have different specialties. Trucks are generally better at hauling heavier weights and towing and may have better off road capabilities. Cars are primarily for carrying passengers and typically offer more comfort and better fuel economy. Now you might have an old car that could be replaced by a new truck which has better fuel mileage, more nimble handling and greater passenger space. Similarly some cars may have higher towing capacity and be more rugged than some trucks. In the end you can make a truck behave like a car in multiple ways but it will cost a lot more and/or it will behave less like a truck. You can’t make a truck that is green, affordable, comfortable, roomy, nimble, fuel efficient, easily braked, crashworthy and carry’s a high payload with plenty of torque. But as you give up on some of the other characteristics and focus on what’s important in a particular application, a truck can have any one (and maybe more) of those special characteristics.

Hypothetical expensive microgrids can outperform existing bulk grids for any specified purpose (ignoring cost). Promoting the potential value of microgrids based on such comparisons is irresponsible. This post will use well warranted generalities at times in discussing microgrids and bulk power systems, despite that in most all cases with improved technology and significant costs any of these individual limiting generalities could be surmounted and prove an exception.

Microgrids do not have super powers above what is available to the bulk grid despite what some media sources might imply. Natural gas does not become a cleaner fuel just because it powers a microgrid. Economics and improvement that do not work for the bulk grid will likely not work for microgrids either. Technology that can be paired with microgrids can generally be paired with bulk grids. Microgrids can do many things, but a microgrid that is affordable, clean, reliable, grid independent, secure and allows the integration of renewables is a pipe dream at this time.

Independent microgrids

The supposed advantages of grid independence are largely illusory. The grid provides low cost back up and provides for economy exchanges. By covering greater areas and including more resources the bulk grid allows for economies of scale, diversity of resource mix, greater load stability as well as enjoys the benefits that come from the diversity within the broader region of demand. Bulk systems provide essential reliability services and needed operating characteristics at lower costs.

In terms of “clean” generation very few areas have a sufficient diversity of resources with which to provide area loads. There may be a few idyllic areas where the local power supply can be complemented by hydro, wind and solar but most cities with their large load centers are for too dense to rely only upon the meager local resources available and construction options there may be limited for conventional technology as well.

The business cases for microgrids

  • Microgrids can be justified where the cost and consequences of outages are extreme. In such cases the microgrid operates in synch with the grid and independently during emergency conditions to provide a high level of reliability. Hospital campuses and universities are often microgrids for this reason, as Princeton was justified pre-Sandy.
  • Some areas have strong security concerns coupled with reliability concerns. A specially designed microgrid can provide insulation from cyber and other service attacks, as it is easier to protect a smaller more controlled system. Note-this is not compatible with an open system providing vast information sharing between loads and resources.
  • Microgrids can be justified for remote areas where grid service is not available (or unreliable, as in remote northern Canada villages). The value of the microgrid is that it “pools” loads and resources reducing the needed resources and allowing more efficient operation.
  • A well designed microgrid can shield or insulate a system from power quality disturbances to protect sensitive loads (most wafer fabrication facilities are served from microgrids for this reason).
  • Lastly enabling renewable energy is often listed as a reason for developing microgrids. The next section will look into that assertion further.

The business case for pairing microgrids and renewables

We frequently see assertions that microgrids are more flexible and will help support renewable energy. The DOE in describing the potential benefit of microgrids states lists this benefit: “Enhances integration of distributed and renewable energy resources” but we could find no elaboration in the source as to how. The traditional grids and microgrids can integrate distributed and renewable resources, as well as incorporate new technology associated with renewables. Despite seeming assertions it not clear how or why microgrids might have a leg up on the traditional grid.

Looking for special abilities that microgrids might have to support renewables we turned to a white paper by SIEMANS titled The business case for microgrids. They identify various values that microgrids might support including “Sustainability” noting that, “A growing number of organizations place a higher value on renewable energy generation and are committing to long-term targets, regardless of expected time to recoup the investment.” In terms of what might drive consumers to consider a microgrid solution they note “Altruism” and state:

Organizations with a strong commitment to green energy and a vision of a sustainable future are likely to invest in renewable power generation and microgrid solutions. These groups may harbor concerns that the main grid faces reliability risks or are concerned about the environmental impact of fossil fuel generation. They will choose to reduce their own consumption and dependence on the main grid at almost any cost.

Although such pairings greatly serve SIEMENS business interests, “Altruism” does not technically make a “business case”. Renewables and microgrids present all sorts of problems for SEIMENS to help solve. The different drivers for microgrids don’t necessarily support the same types of microgrid systems.

When a grid is not available and “clean” energy sources are, obviously microgrids present a huge opportunity. If microgrids are paired with efforts at greater efficiency, diversity and having load near generation that may provide significant benefits, but these benefits could likely accrue with conventional grids as well. We welcome comments below describing any unique special synergies which might exist between microgrids and “clean” resources that we have missed. The best description of the business case might be that renewables may be advanced by microgrids because some who are making large investments in a microgrid for various other reasons might also value green energy and may also want to install renewables as well as purchase a lot expensive technology that will make it easier for renewables to work with that system. But for now it appears that when microgrids and renewables are jointly touted it is because of parroting, pandering, puffery and/or promotion of particular selfish interests.


Children will ask “can we do this?” PE used to annoy his children with the answer “We can do almost anything we want, but we can’t do everything.” They came to learn that response meant that something “unthinkable” would likely have to be given up to indulge the extravagance. There is no bargain to be found by pushing jointly for both more microgrids and the greater integration of “clean” resources. Having both will require huge sacrifices. If society’s utmost desire is a “clean”, highly reliable grid, resilient, secure grid – we likely can build that at some enormous cost. However, if cost is a factor impacting electric supply then tradeoffs will have to be made from among competing goals and technologies. For example, do you want high level protection and limited access to prevent cyber-attacks, or do you want everyone connected to share real time system information and control functions for load shaping? There are many tradeoffs: level of reliability, resiliency, CO2 emission levels, protection from magnetic pulses and solar flares, aesthetics, autonomy, economy, flexibility, risk…

If your over-arching goal is for the wide penetration of “clean” renewable technologies then generically advancing micro grids will not serve to advance that goal. In most cases the bulk grid will provide for the most economic and reliable integration of large amounts of renewables. The best way to provide the reliability of microgrids is to use low fixed cost, high variable cost fossil fuel gensets. Placing a premium on the integration of intermittent resources as a part of efforts to develop microgrids is a pairing that generally will not work and will likely only serve to retard the advance and acceptance of both technologies.

JC note:  As with all guest posts, keep your comments relevant and civil.

142 responses to “Microgrids and “Clean” Energy

  1. A human powered bicycle sounds a lot like a microgrid powered by nenewable energy.

    • Sounds like electricity powered by steak (medium rare).

    • It’s not easy to find one. They’re very efficient, say if you have to keep your sump pump running in a power outage.

      The best you can find is a stationary bike rack with generator; you supply the bike.

      The generators today are amazing, though. If you short them out, you can’t turn them, so low are the internal losses.

      • In the 1980’s I worked in a Biomechanics lab at a major university. We had an instrumented bicycle that measured, among other things, the rider’s instantaneous power output in Watts. I recall a cyclist visiting the lab whose legs looked like tree trunks. The grad student conducting the tests was amazed to discover that this guy had an output greater than one horsepower (746 Watts). If I recall correctly, a typical person in good condition can sustain an output of 100-200 Watts. So in order to generate one kWh (kilowatt hour) of energy, a typical person would need to pedal a bike continuously for roughly 5 hours while developing 200 Watts, or 10 hours at 100 Watts. The average cost of a kWh of electricity in the US is about 10 cents. So if you were pedaling a bike to generate power to sell at a competitive price, you would be working for about 1 or 2 cents per hour.

      • A regular bike commuter probably is comfortable with 200w.
        It’s not many pennies an hour but it keeps the basement from flooding.

        A battery lets you charge when a sump pump is off and so lets you keep up pretty easily, even with bathroom breaks.

      • moshannon,

        Another way to look at that is that you can buy a day’s work for about 12cents. (1kWH)

    • Was looking for a different article I remembered but found this on pedal power. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/dec/03/cycling-energy-slavery

    • David Springer

      What qualifications or credentials related to the subject matter do the authors of this article hold?

      • Springer, PE is a Caltech EE who spent his whole life figuring out this stuff for one of the world’s largest electric utilities. Me, apparently (but not only) a stalker object for you. You can look me up on Linked In to find more. But not any important parts you would need to know to keep stalking.

      • Rud – Quick bio correction. I have a Masters of Electrical Engineering from University of Southern California, not Caltech. I’ve worked in generation and transmission for over 30 years for different sized utilities, participated and held leadership roles in various research groups and reliability organizations.

        David – I don’t think this post needs “credentials” to back it up. The words stand on their own. In a lot of debates there are two perspectives. That’s not really the case here. I don’t think anyone with any knowledge in the field would challenge what we are saying here. (Which is that the characteristics of Microgrids have been exaggerated and spoken of in ways to create misimpressions). As said above, it’s just pandering, parroting and puffery. I don’t know (but I welcome) any rebuttals to the assertions here. Find a source that gives backing to the “claims” that Microgrids in any significant way better facilitate “clean” energy than the traditional grid.

      • David Springer


        Are quotations from anonymous blog authors considered reliable citations for things like peer reviewed papers, a masters thesis, or even ordinary class homework?

        I’m sorry dude if you were all that much you would be an anonymous author riding on Curry’s coattails. Let’s keep it real, eh?

      • David Springer

        Since you care, my BSEE is from The Ohio State University. In terms of Power Engineering when I got my degree I believe they were in the top 5 nationally.

        Is there anything said in this piece that is questionable? The case for pairing microgrids and renewables has been made by many without credentials, knowledge or experience but more importantly without explaining the mechanisms of why they would pair well together. If you don’t answer this question, I probably will not engage with you any further, “What parts of this article do you doubt and why?”

        I am not offering these blog posts as references to be cited for homework, peer reviewed papers, master’s thesis or public testimony. I offer these pieces as provoking thought and spurring discussion. Some one could build upon the ideas and suggestions I’ve offered and with a little work and ingenuity and submit homework, write a paper, develop a Masters Thesis or bolster their public testimony. Don’t take my word for it. Ask those who tout Microgrids and renewables to explain the mechanisms that provide benefits and how they make up for all the benefits lost by the grid.

        I don’t think correlation is causation, but some of the things that no one else was saying when I made some of my early posts, are being said more widely now. Getting ideas out improves the dialogue.

      • David,
        Just trying to wrap around this statement of yours.

        “I’m sorry dude if you were all that much you would be an anonymous author riding on Curry’s coattails. Let’s keep it real, eh?”

        I’ll plead guilty to riding Judith’s coat tails. Her blog and her audience accepted me and have largely been very receptive, welcoming and kind and certainly over-complimentary at times. I can just say that I was invited and I have not remained through artifice.

        “If you were all that much” is the funny part. There are a lot of people with a good education and a lot of experience in the utility industry. No claims to be “special” there. I think most people similarly credentialed and experience would say much the same things I do. However, there are not a lot of people clamoring to hear the voice of experience from the utility community. The public is not so aware of what we do, or that interested generally, so as far as the group of people who are “that much” I’ve got a pretty good gig here.

        Utilities are very conservative with public statements. They go through PR people and sometimes attorneys and an individual utility on its own generally has nothing to gain by speaking truthfully about the issues I cover. From a utility perspective it’s far better to say “solar” doesn’t work for us here” than to say, “solar hardly works for anyone anywhere”. In the end it helps the PR to be positive and add a little fluff about hope for future technology improvements. No big rewards for being negative at all. I’ve seen plenty of examples where a utility rep says something pretty innocuous and the local press plays it up like they are an enemy of the people. I try to put the common knowledge honestly into plain words. The reticence to share has changes some since I started blogging. The potential impacts of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan are forcing more honesty from the utility industry.

        My knowledge, expertise and experience provide me a good job and sufficient rewards that I do not need any enhanced benefits from blogging. I don’t think there are many to be had anyway. I view this as a public good, helping the dialogue.

        Lastly my name is not Bob Smith, or Ed Jones. Some names make people far more public than other names. I see there are many David Springer’s listed on Google. Past experience showed that typing my name into Google brought up a lot of specific personal information on me and photos including children. I would like to encourage the dialogue but no personal motivation to get me past that hurdle at this time.

      • Rud, an MSEE from USC is a lot more impressive than a degree from Cal Tech with respect to Electric Power Systems engineering. A bachelors from Ohio State ain’t bad either, very few people have contributed as much to the electric industry as B. G. Lamme – though Lamme’s tenure at Ohio State was in the 1880’s.

        Springer, as someone who has taken a few power systems courses at Cal (though haven’t worked for any utility), it is obvious that PE has had a lot of experience in electric utilities and thus highly qualified on the subject matter. It’s been my experience that most of the renewable energy advocates have very little idea, let alone experience, of what it takes to keep a power grid running.

        Speaking of grids, the whole point of having a large interconnected grid was to provide both a diversity of generation and a diversity of load. One of the earliest examples of micro grids were associated with electric railways (streetcars, elevated, subway and interurban) and these suffered from expensive power due to the poor load factor of the generating plant. By the 1920’s, most of these railways gave up on generating their own power as it was cheaper to buy it from the local utility.

      • Planning Enginneer,

        Thank you for your excellent response to David Springer. I really appreciate your involvement in blogging here at CE. You provide policy relevant information that is rarely explained as you do. And I recognise you are doing that for the benefit of educating people, not for any personal reward – and even perhaps at some risk o yourself. So thank you enormously for your contributions. I hope you can continue to provide posts and comments on threads.

      • I second what Peter said. Valuable are your posts and comments, PE.

  2. The cost of energy is a vital consideration. It was cheap
    energy that powered the Industrial Revolution, that
    unleashed productivity, put an end to famine in the west
    and doubled human life span.

    • Perhaps you misunderstand. Making power more expensive and less available seems to be a goal of renewable advocates (or at least is viewed as a benefit).

      • Is that the myth that bleeding capitalist economies
        of wealth (and adaptability) will lead to better land
        use and a cleaner world?

      • You two opposites? I read the first two posts as the same opinion. Strange how words get read differently by people. My read: beth (cheap energy is vital driver); PA (renewable goal is not cheap energy). Hmmm.

      • It was explained for serfs just today by a profitless, revenue-pure, advertisement-free ABC. (The ABC utterly dwarfs all other Australian media. It’s our 800 pound posh inner-urban gorilla with green fur.)

        Australian Labor’s new plan for 11,000 more whirlygigs has a starting cost of $65 billion. (No need for a finished cost, because who finishes, right?)

        Said the ABC journalist: “That’s a capital cost, certainly not a cost for consumers.”

        Sadly, ABC journalists are certainly a cost for consumers, and certainly a capital cost.

      • beththeserf wrote, “Is that the myth that bleeding capitalist economies
        of wealth (and adaptability) will lead to better land
        use and a cleaner world?”

        Is “bleeding” an adjective modifying “capitalist economies of wealth” or a verb saying that we should bleed capitalist economies of their wealth?

      • rovingbroker, ‘bleeding’ as in verb bleeding economies
        of wealth through spending $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
        on white elephant$ and silly taxe$.

    • Beth’s point is of major importance. People want different things from the electric supply but low cost is of critical importance to so many. It’s incredibly challenging to collectively weigh trade offs between economy and reliability? Add in additional goals and it is quite complex. I’m afraid we get distracted by all we “can” do and sometimes don’t weigh los cost enough. “Good enough” cheap service powered our nation through periods of remarkable economic expansion. Low energy can spur and enable growth and high energy prices can cripple economies.

      • It is the first thing taught in an economics course – supply and demand.

        Energy is part of the cost of everything. If you increase the cost of energy you increase the cost of production.

        Making goods and services cost more for no reason (there is no benefit to paying more for energy) reduces demand.

        So if energy prices go up and businesses have more energy expense the options are:
        Make goods cheaper (shoddier) – which tends to reduce demand.
        Reduce staff to meet lower production needs.

        What higher energy cost does is to reduce the standard of living (because people can’t buy as much) and cost jobs. Higher energy costs are like a tax on goods and services. And we tax tobacco to discourage its use so people are aware of supply and demand.

        Trying to reduce US employment, standard of living, and competitiveness seems to be a goal of renewable energy.

      • But how much of an increase in costs are we talking about? How much will that increase decrease profits? Isn’t that the important? Because it’s not the absolute cost that matters but the relative increase. Presumably the increase will get distributed across customers, employees, and shareholders so that not one party takes too large a hit

      • And look at this info for a “high” energy cost state:


        North Carolina’s average residential rate was 10.26 cents. That consumes 4.4% of customers’ disposable income, Moody’s says. States that take a larger share, after Hawaii, are South Carolina, 5.5% of disposable income; Alabama, 5.4%; Mississippi, 5.4%; Georgia, 4.9%: Tennessee, 4.7%, and Texas, 4.6%.

        So even with residential consumers a high number is only 5.5% of disposable income. And so a utility rate increase of 25% (over inflation) over several years wouldn’t raise the percentage of disposable income consumed very much.

      • Joseph
        “But how much of an increase in costs are we talking about?”

        If you want a case study then research the German model. Consumers there are paying near 3x the utility costs that U.S. citizens pay. They derive about 25% of there electricity from renewables that are heavily subsidized.

        “So even with residential consumers a high number is only 5.5% of disposable income. And so a utility rate increase of 25% (over inflation) over several years wouldn’t raise the percentage of disposable income consumed very much.”

        There’s no reasonable analysis for an alternative based grid that demonstrates a utility rate increase topping out at 25%. The best cost analysis isn’t going to come from ivy league advocacy groups. Again, real world case studies are available, Germany. If anyone isn’t aware of the actual costs of an alternative grid buildout then it attests to the monolithic group think domination on left leaning media. It’s criminal this information isn’t disseminated to the public.

        Regardless, assuming a fantasy 25% cost increase for an average utility bill. For the poor and middle class just getting by from paycheck to paycheck, this is a big cost. It can be crippling for some in fact. It takes a really insensitive person to state that a 25% increase on a utility bill, or 5% of disposable income is no big deal. For some a 25% increase in utility could represent much more than 5% of disposable income.

      • David Springer

        “People want different things from the electric supply but low cost is of critical importance to so many.”

        Not really. Availability is by far the most critical. A refrigerator for instance uses very little electricity but it’s a health-critical item and must have a constant supply of electricity.

        Only 17% of households in the world have a refrigerator. Food (pun intended) for thought.

      • David Springer

        Health care costs for my family are 500% of our electric bill and there’s no preexisting conditions or anything like that driving up costs. Not a cadillac plan or anything like that either. Thousands of dollars in deductables for major problems, $44 copay for doctor visits, etc. I can easily do things to drive down the household electrical consumption but since it’s not a big cost item it isn’t a big concern. What I can’t easily do is drive down the cost of health insurance or avoid illness and accident.

      • David Springer

        My cable TV/internet and cell phone bill is twice the electric bill.

        There is very little perspective evident in the author’s concerns and not much better in the commentary. It’s a bit on the senseless side and more than a little obsessive. Both sides of the debate are guilty of it. Blogs attract it like flies to shiit. This is entertainment. Serious, productive endeavors in science and engineering don’t happen on blogs fercrisakes.

      • David Springer – I agree with you that electricity is an incredible value and that most of us could and would pay far more for it if need be (while making some cuts in response to price). But not everybody is like you and your neighbors. You reference only 17% of households with refrigerators and mention availability as the prime factor. Cost and availability are inextricably linked. The higher the price the less the availability, the lower the price the more universal the availability. Not everyone has internet, cable TV, cellular phone service or a medical plan and many that do have a tough juggling act among the parts.

        But more importantly the cost of electricity says a lot about the ability to support businesses and jobs. Price of electricity is critical to locating production facilities and that becomes of critical importance to many. Business are not altruistic in that they do mind paying a premium for power.

      • Sprung, “My cable TV/internet and cell phone bill is twice the electric bill.”

        Good for you. The “basic” portion of your cable and cellphone bills are less or at least are less in most areas. Being able to access local weather warnings or call 911 are considered “essential” services. If you want more, you pay for it. That is your option.

        If you increase the base electric rate you increased the cost of all goods and services that use electric by about 4 times the rate increase. That means the about 80% of people that make less than “average” are dis-proportionally impacted.

    • As Bill Clinton nearly said ‘its the cheap energy, stupid.’


  3. Pingback: Microgrids and “Clean” Energy | Enjeux énergies et environnement

  4. I suspect that there is some threshold in the size of a microgrid, below which you have diesel powered generators and above which gas turbines make sense.

    • Are we not back to the basic problem that renewables are inherently unreliable, being highly dependent on nature.

      Therefore, before we can move much further forward surely better battery technology is needed, otherwise we might just as well rely on predictable and generally lower cost, conventional power.


      • TonyB,

        There is a fundamental flaw. A physical constraint. Renewables + storage are not sustainable. They cannot produce sufficient energy through their life to support modern society and reproduce themselves. This post explains this clearly: http://bravenewclimate.com/2014/08/22/catch-22-of-energy-storage/

        Comments by John Morgan and CyrilR are very informative too.

      • David L. Hagen

        I endorse Peter’s point that societal need for minimum EROI upwards of 7 is critically important.
        PS Peter Thermal energy storage may be more energy/cost effective for solar thermal.

  5. “PSE&G restored power long enough for Princeton to restart its gas turbine, a natural gas-fed, fighter jet-style engine that can produce enough heat and electricity for 12,000 people.”

    So they can only start their microgrid if the big grid is up?


    • Good catch sunshinehours1. Based on the reference it looks like they do lack what is called “blackstart” capability or the ability to start up on their own. Some sources can’t blackstart because they need some auxiliary generation to start up or they need a pre-established waveform for commutation. Additional diesel gensets potentially can fix a blackstart problem. It is a somewhat rare case that a storm knocks you out, but you have a window of grid power bit to start you up and only then can you carry yourself. I wonder if in non-storm conditions Princeton could have known to disconnect from the grid and maintained their ability to provide power. I suppose so, otherwise why would they put it in.

      More on Blackstart – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_start

  6. Here’s a gem by Amory Lovins:


    This graph is interesting:

    He doesn’t have much to say about the composition of that big wide brown band of “cogeneration”. I wonder what percentage of that is diesel?

    • “natural gas that fuels most cogeneration” (article); would be nice if they had shown gas and then other cogen separately. Total energy is produced – cogen appears to involve lots of GOOD engineering efficiency tactics to utilize the produce energy (often cited as otherwise wasted) – e.g., heat generated by lights to heat space, etc.

      • “natural gas that fuels most cogeneration” (article);

        I missed that phrase (I read this article back when it came out). I have to wonder how, exactly is a microgrid defined? I don’t want my flub to overshadow some of Lovins’ dubious points, such as (with my emphasis) in this paragraph:

        Besides being cost-competitive and rapidly scalable, why does micropower matter? First, as explained below, its operation releases little or no carbon.[1] Second, micropower enables individuals, communities, building owners, and factory operators to generate electricity, displacing dependence on centralized, inefficient, dirty generators. This democratizes energy choices, promotes competition, speeds learning and innovation, and can further accelerate deployment—because “vernacular” technologies accessible to many diverse market actors, even if individually small, tend to deploy faster in sum than a few big units requiring specialized institutions, complex approvals, intricate logistics, and hence long lead times.

        I think people like Lovins are in denial about the benefits of economies of scale.

      • Moreover, the natural gas that fuels most cogeneration is only about half as carbon-intensive as the coal-fired power-only generation it often displaces.[3]

        That statement looks suspicous to me. Gas requires pipeline infrastructure. I suspect it is mostly diesel. That note is not a source, but just blather:

        [3] However, this comparison ignores the unknown degree of methane leakage from both the gas and the coal systems, the export of displaced coal that is then burned abroad, and cogeneration’s potential displacement of some carbon-free generation.

      • PA @July 30, 2015 1:08pm, it’s not clear what those pie charts represents. Is it microgrid cogeneration or total electricity generation, US or world?

        I may not of looked hard enough, but I couldn’t find those two charts at: http://www.c2es.org/

      • Jim2, Thanks for that link. To clarify, cogeneration means combined heat and power (CHP).

    • In a lot of places it is a ‘spark ignited’ diesel. That is, a diesel genset that runs on natural gas. Cat sells a lot of them. Very common grid backup in south Florida for supermarkets (refrigeration) and gas stations (pumps) as part of the newly required ‘hurricane proofing’. My building has one for elevators, common area lighting, and water supply. Took three days to restore grid access after Wilma; there were areas of the city that took 6 weeks.

      • I can’t imagine that they’re as efficient or clean as gas turbines, although I’d expect them to be better than using diesel fuel.

      • True. But they are much cheaper than microturbines, and easier to service. Lots of diesel mechanics. Not so many jet engine mechanics.

      • David Springer

        Engine mechanics pop up as fast as demand for them. Manufacturers provide step by step pictorial instructions in service manuals. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to follow clear instructions. Mostly it takes the proper tools.

      • Figure 5: Existing Cogeneration Capacity by Application[25]

      • Figure 6: Existing Cogeneration Sites by System Type[26]

      • Figure 7: Existing Cogeneration Capacity by System Type[27]

      • Figure 8: Existing Cogeneration Capacity by Fuel Type[28]

      • Jim2’s first pie chart shows that microgrids are for industrial and commercail use and not people living off the grid.

    • Curious George

      I wonder why Nuclear is not shown as a band while everything else is. What would Edward Tufte say?

  7. The design of efficient systems for splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen would seem to be the key technology for long term clean energy. Hydrogen is the likely long term source of energy for humanity imo.

    • Rob,

      I’d suggest nuclear is likely to be the long term primary energy source. It will supply electricity and hydrogen. Transport fuels will be synthetic gasolene/petrol, diesel, jet fuel similar to what we use now but without impurities, so they will be clean. The fuels will be produced from sea water and hydrogen. Electricity will provide an ever increasing proportion of total energy consumed.

      • Peter

        I disagree that nuclear plants (fission) will again become popular even if I believe that they are a good source of energy. If/when fusion power plants become available they will but not for transport. If there were a better, efficient means of separation of the hydrogen that could be done locally, it would be an outstanding fuel.

      • Rob,

        Yes we disagree. I don’t understand what your are basing your beliefs on. Unclear fuel is effectively unlimited and the only known energy source that can power our ever growing per capita energy demand for thousands of years. Renewables cannot. They are not sustainable.

        There are massive technical problems with hydrogen as a fuel. The costs and practicalities seem to preclude it being a realistic option in the foreseeable future (storage, distribution, etc.),

      • Rob,

        Have you followed the reports of the research into production of transport fuels from sea water. US Navy and Audi both estimate about $3-$6 per gallon using current technology. But that is based on producing hydrogen by electrolysis. If the hydrogen is produced by high temperature nuclear reactors (like the HTR), the cost of the fuel could be halved. Then there will be cost reductions as poduction ramps up and competition and innovation improve processes and reduce costs. Then we have unlimited electricity and unlimited transport fuels. And no need to replace all our transport systems and and fuel distribution and storage systems.

    • Hydrogen has so far been very impractical:


      Even Joe Romm thinks it’s over hyped. He wrote a book entitled, The Hype About Hydrogen

      • agreed- but the long term issue is production and transport of the hydrogen efficiently

      • The “production and transport of the hydrogen efficiently” is propably best done by converting it into some kind of liquid hydrocarbon. You ought to watch Nate Lewis’s videos:

        He wants to convert sunlight into hydrocarbon fuels. He’s a great lecturer and his videos are particularly good at explaining the scale of energy. I wish this guy was better known in the climate discussion. I’d like to see him do a guest post for Climate Etc.

      • Mike- I am familiar with Nate Lewis’s work and his trying to make hydrogen’s use more practical. Use of the technology is practical but not cost effective today. It still involved the use of nuclear power for production. It seems like the game changer would be a low energy means of separation of hydrogen from water, but I have not even tried to research the topic

    • Curious George

      I favor a cold fusion ;-)

  8. Is it all just a word game? Mortars and pestels are microgrids harnessing human energy, not much different from slave labor or waterfall-driven gristmills — microgrids (balancing captive supply and demand resources to maintain stable service within a defined boundary). However, a gristmill driven by a diesel generator — that is of the utmost evil and catastrophic consequences for humanity and the Earth itself will be the result… oceans will begin to boil. (Dr. Hansen)

  9. Planning Engineer and Rud Istvan,

    Thank you for another excellent post.

    Judith, thank you to for posting these posts by PE and Rud. They are excellent sources for bookmarking and referring to on other sites.

  10. Curious George

    Please correct a typo – SIEMENS has been spelled SIEMANS once.

    • Yup. We try for perfection, but alas are human. I am fluent in German, used to live in Muenchen (Siemens HQ) and still missed one of three. Mea culpa.
      Well, at least we give an apology, unlike Mann…

      • David Springer

        Muenchen (been there, done that) is hoighty-toighty for city known as Munich to everyone else.

      • Springer, you obviously are not fluent in German.

      • My God, David Springer!


        I’ve been seeing these comments of yours re: Rud, and I just don’t understand why you have such a problem with him. Could you please list a few errors or mistaken claims he has made, so I can understand the basis for this enmity you seem to have?

        If you can’t provide something substantial, could you please get off the guy’s back?

      • David Springer

        desabla – nope I’m not getting off the guy’s back. He said that people who believe and promote the idea that the universe was created by an intelligent agency of some sort are not reliable participants in scientific discussions. I find that deeply offensive. If he apologizes and retracts I’ll reconsider being offensive in return.

      • David Springer


        No I’m not fluent in German. That’s why I’m reading and writing on a blog where the lingua franca is english. Munich is the english name of the city and many english speaker don’t know its German name. I didn’t know its German name until the first time I visited the city. For those people I made a note that Munchen is commonly known as Munich in the english speaking world. Use of the German name in the english speaking world is in my experience usually by assh0les trying to look impressive which is a category that fits you like a glove.

    • I’m the creative speller. Apologies as I should do better. But on the other hand, while I am careful with facts and characterization, I am not trying to tell the final perfect truth, but rather throw out ideas for consideration and refinement. I like this discussion forum because frequently posters will say what I intended better than I did, or alternatively give me a broader perspective,

  11. I would think that two opposing themes about microgrids would be economies of scale for big power plants vs. less transmission loss for microgrids.

    • Restating what I said below, hopefully more clearly. Grids don’t cause losses. The more transmission conductors and paths (all else equal)-the less losses. Having generation distant from load causes losses. A microgrids limits your flexibility so that you can’t have generation distant from load. You could through choice, willpower or regulation force load and generation to be more balanced in proximity with a traditional grid. We don’t because the interchange across distance so often provides significant benefits (often time “environmental” benefits-not just economic).

      At the lowest level a home tied to the grid but providing all it’s own generation causes no losses. A step up two connected cities each in balance won’t cause a lot of losses if they each balance load and generation. But if you want to use excess wind in another area, backup another area because they had an unplanned outage, run more efficient units in one place and back off less efficient units in another – you will get more losses with a big grid, but those options are closed with independent microgrids.

    • Somewhat related, I posted tis on Ed Hawkins’ recent post on WUWT:

      “Ed Hawkins,

      The EIA’s LCOE allowance for transmission cost for renewables seems to low to me. I suspect it is an allowance for the cost of connecting to the existing grid, not the full cost of the additional investments required to manage the intermittent generation. This OECD/NEA report “System effects in low-carbon electricity systems” gives the system costs for onshore wind, for 30% penetration, as about US$30/MWh (i.e. add 50% to the wind LCOE) for the UK (see Figure ES2): https://www.oecd-nea.org/ndd/reports/2012/system-effects-exec-sum.pdf

      Can you comment on what seems to me to be a very significant understatement of the system costs that should be attributed to renewable energy when they become a significant component of total electricity generation?”

  12. Playing Devil’s Advocate: I believe the focus on microgrids is because they theoretically remove the 15% to 30% which is lost due to long distance transmission (power plant to regional grid, regional grid to neighborhood grid). Numbers above are pure guesswork – PE would probably know the more accurate numbers.
    The problem, however, is that this “magical” savings is offset by loss of scale. Outside of possibly solar PV (because solar PV is so ridiculously expensive to start with), the one thing which I have never seen is that micro-power generation is cheaper than large scale.

    • EIA estimates transmission and distribution losses at 6% (link follows). That’s the average. If you have a particular transaction shipping power hundreds of miles it may have a higher value. I remember numbers for shipping power across an intermediate transmission system of being around 7%.

      Keep in mind that adding transmission lines can only lower total losses. Losses occur when power exchange is going from one region to a distant region. So if for example you had a bunch of microgrids operating without a transmission system (and therefore no transmission losses), but you then interconnected them with transmission for reliability purposes – the net losses would not increase (unless one area shipped power to another area.

      Power is only shipped from one area to another when their is an economic reason to do it. Some would say if its excess wind in one region displacing coal in another – the losses are worthwhile. Perhaps some would not like the losses from displacing higher cost peaking gas with lower cost coal. Sometimes the economic signals are lined up with environmental considerations and sometimes not. But as you observe ticketstopper such benefits are offset by the benefits of scale but also the important fact that often (maybe typically) the losses serve to benefit the more environmentally sound generation choice.


      • Pardon the typos-I’m rushing out. But I might add those who argue microgrids are good because they reduce losses – probably have not thought about the benefits that go along with the losses in many cases or perhaps as Rud might say – “they are just Blowing Smoke”.

  13. If and when the bulk grid becomes too expensive and/or unreliable, a microgrid then makes sense. Heavy burdens placed on the grid push us in this direction.

  14. Beta Blocker

    The advocates of the renewables don’t give much credence to the arguments aplanningengineer and Rud Istvan are making in this article; nor do any of the politicians who support the renewables give them much credence. In the US Northeast and in the state of California, the politicians who manage their state’s energy policies, and the voters who elect those politicians, are all convinced there should be a renewable energy future for their respective regions.

    It would be a highly useful experiment in determining just what methods are or are not technically and economically practical in adopting the renewables if the US Northeast and the state of California were to adopt a renewables-only approach to managing the green transformation of their respective electric grids. As the course of the experiment progresses, microgrids may or may not prove useful in supporting wide adoption of the renewables, depending upon what balance each region chooses to strike among energy cost, energy supply availability, and energy supply reliability.

    With Governor Brown’s recent Executive Order instructing all of California’s state agencies to take climate change issues into account when making public policy decisions, doing infrastructure planning, and making regulatory decisions, a golden opportunity is arising in the Golden State for advocates of the renewables to force California to adopt a renewables-only approach to building new or replacement power generation capacity.

    If they play their cards right, advocates of the renewables in California might be afforded the privilege of directing the state’s energy policy in ways that prevent new or replacement fossil-fuel generation capacity from being installed anywhere in California except for purposes of emergency backup in the event of a natural disaster. Thus can this grand experiment in renewable energy transition strategy be enabled in the Golden State.

    • Curious George

      California already had to resort to creative accounting to create a “budget surplus”. Of course, that was only the first step on a long road ..

    • Excellent suggestion. The experiment is ‘half happening’ in California. Was More than half happening in the UK until the last recent election. Germany, more complicated. New England is ‘small’ and very well grid tied. All the stupidities of Massachusets, Vermont, and Rhode Island (in that order, together) could not by themselves ever crash the eastern grid. Now, untrimmed trees on a hot (saggy) summer day on the main transmission line in Ohio–been there, done that. Blacked out the East Coast for ~24 hours.

    • This is a grand opportunity to reward political friends and it has nothing to do with “climate-change”. The only thing that will change is the location of the change as it changes from one pocket to another. This is the tail wagging the dog, but the dog is ok with it. We’re augering in.

  15. stevefitzpatrick

    I have a microgrid; it is a 6.5 KW (8 KW peak) gasoline powered generator that I can back-feed to my house in Florida. In case of an extended outage (more than ~1 -2 hours), I disconnect from the grid, and back-feed 240 VAC to my house. To accommodate the limited power I disconnect the central air and water heater, and connect the water heater to 120 VAC (dropping power draw from 5 KW to ~1.25 KW when heating water). I then mount a few cheap 6000 BTU window AC units (about 600 watts each) in the bedrooms and my office, and use power judiciously….. I went 3 days without grid power after the last hurricane in relative comfort, though I did have to stock up on 40 gallons of gas before the hurricane hit. My microgrid was relatively expensive (about $1200), but it sure beats going without power.

    • I feel your pain. Fl got hit with five hurricanes in 2 years. My FLL building effectively lost 5 units when a ‘tornado’ ripped between our two towers, trashing 150 mph ‘cat 5’ hurricane proof glass set in half cm thick aluminum frames in six inch comcrete. Our building’s NG ‘diesels’ did not save our refrigerator’s day. Stinky mess.
      At the Wisconsin farm, we have to use a diesel backup for yhe milking parlor. In summer, we lose power thanks to Tstorms. In winter, thanks to,ice storms. The only thing we are sure of, will lose power for hours to days, several times a year. Remote. Same considerations driving northern Canada microgrids in the lead post.

  16. Schneider Electric, a 170 year old company and world leader in energy systems has a better description of current microgrid technology and integration.

  17. Thanks Planning Engineer and Rud

    “There is no bargain to be found by pushing jointly for both more microgrids and the greater integration of “clean” resources. Having both will require huge sacrifices.”

    The current stable of technologies are only useful for niche markets. Whether it’s micro grid or supplementing the national grid, such as the way Germany has implemented it’s alternative solutions; the costs are massive, economically crippling.

    Having said that there will come a time when micro grids make the most sense once a cost effective and scalable solution reveals itself. It makes sense if for no other reason then national security; whether from attack from enemies or mega natural disasters; a robust micro grid system is the best national security solution if it’s cheap.

    My current favorite fantasy solution would be for Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works fusion small scale reactor to be real. I imagine the odds are tiny for this to become reality, but each unit supposedly would provide enough power for a city with a population of 100k. Very scalable.

    • JT, well aware of Skunkwork’s high beta modular fusion possibilty. Essay Going Nuclear (David Springer, come stalk). Hope it works out, and suspect there is Navy funding nehind it like my company got for energy storage in re Marines and rail guns. Likely, since has gone ‘dark’. Still very speculative. I do think something will eventually emerge on the electricity front. Wont help as much on the liquid fuels transportation front.

      • There’s a lot of info missing from the Skunk Works story. If they’re as close as they claim to developing fusion then it obviously would represent a paradigm shift for global economics. Because of what’s at stake one would think massive resources, both money and intellect would be funneled into a cooperative effort with Lockheed. For all I know, maybe this is indeed happening, like as you state with Navy funding and perhaps other sources. Nothing else has been described since their original announcement that I can find. Right now it’s just an intriguing tease.

      • JT, my little energy storage materials company lived through something similar, on a much smaller scale. Ever tried to get into ONR NSWCCD? Trust me, you will fly right over Carderrock when usually going into Reagan Airport in DC from the north… And armed guards plus antitank traps will stop you if you happen to stumble upon the sole entrance to that ‘secret’ Navy research facility without prior permission. Been there, done that.

      • David Springer

        ristvan | July 28, 2015 at 9:35 pm | Reply

        “JT, well aware of Skunkwork’s high beta modular fusion possibilty. Essay Going Nuclear (David Springer, come stalk).”

        Thanks for the invitation, assh0le.

  18. When I see parking lot lights powered by solar panels mounted atop the poles, I imagine a high wind carrying hail and wonder …

  19. New York’s next great thing is “Reforming the Energy Vision”. The stated goal of REV is to create a cleaner, more affordable, more modern and more efficient energy system in New York, through the increased development of distributed energy resources, like rooftop solar, micro-grids, energy efficiency, and battery storage.

    My impression of micro-grids is that they are simply a new incarnation of cogeneration. Thirty years or so ago the solution to all the purported ills of the electrical sector was cogeneration. In 1981 New York State mandated that the utility companies buy electricity from cogeneration facilities at six cents per kilowatt-hour. It turned out that the fuel cost projections were wrong so utility companies could generate power for less than that and after eviscerating the utilities the law was repealed in 1992. I am concerned that if a micro-grid is essentially cogeneration that the odds of REV succeeding are low because a micro grid is more complicated (cogeneration only had to serve one load entity whereas a micro grid has more load entities), less likely to be maintained well (the New York experience is that the majority of the cogeneration facilities no longer operate in no small part because of a lack of maintenance), and unless the micro-grid is fossil fired relies on less proven technology.

  20. We are already getting a little advanced ” micro-grid” PR here in California. Whenever I read the micro-grid propaganda my BS detector starts ringing. I’m not a skeptic anymore – I’m a cynic. The MG is a Trojan Horse full of phonygreenies™ that are planning to eat some of the big power company’s ( PG&E) cake. First there will be promises of cost-competitve, green energy under “local control”. That’s the bait. The switch will be high-priced energy delivered by companies or NGOs led by political friends of Governor Jerry “moonbeam” Brown and the democractic party. Of course, the Public Utilities Commision will protect us, right? Not. They are all political appointees of the governor and the chair is a former sustainable energy advisor to the governor. PG&E doesn’t worry too much because they make money regardless. The rest of us will get stiffed. California will be an experiment. Watch the data dribble in, and pay attention to the results. It will be coded in MS(ycophant)M speak, but you can read between the lines.

    • Beta Blocker

      Justin, someone has to be first in Going Microgrids, Going Renewables in a big way. California is the logical place to try it. As Rud Istvan has pointed out, the experiment is already half happening in California, so it is simply a matter of pushing their experiment to Full Speed Ahead.

      If a decade from now, the cost of electricity in California is 2 to 4 cents a kilowatt-hour, as the advocates of the renewables say that it will be, then California’s voters will have been pathfinders for the rest of us in seeing what works and what doesn’t. On the other hand, if the cost of electricity in California doubles or triples over what it is today, California is a rich state and can afford the added financial burdens.

      The key point here is that whether The Great California Experiment goes south or whether it doesn’t, those who are considering following California’s path will have a number of real-world lessons-learned to draw upon in deciding what works and what doesn’t when Going Microgrids, Going Renewables in a big way.

      At any rate, the majority of Californians say they are on board with going renewable, and California has more than enough financial resources to cover the risk that it doesn’t all work out in the way the advocates of the renewables say it will work out. Much profit can be made in giving the customers what they say they want; and there is no shame in doing an honest and professional job of helping California’s citizens make The Great California Experiment a reality. It’s their money; it’s their choice.

      With his recent Executive Order instructing all of California’s state agencies to take climate change issues into account when making public policy decisions, when doing infrastructure planning, and when making regulatory decisions, Governor Brown has given advocates of the renewables a golden opportunity to have it their way in the Golden State. They would be exceptionally foolish not to exploit the Governor’s executive order for all its worth.

      Meanwhile, in direct contrast with the public policy decision California is making, a different kind of public policy decision has been made in the US Southeast to pay a near-term premium in the form of higher capital costs for their nuclear plants in trade for a reliable supply of electricity at stable long-term prices.

      Twenty years from now, there ought to be clear evidence as to which public policy decision — California’s or the US Southeast’s — best served the long term interests of their respective citizens.

  21. I wish the politicians in New York had been reading the excellent posts by Planning Engineer and Rud Istavan, albeit the chance that they would have incorporated any of their cautionary tales is remote. Meanwhile, they are pushing ahead with their plan to revolutionize the electric sector.

    On July 28, the New York State Department of Public Service released a proposal to revise the economic interests of utilities with the State’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) proceeding (http://documents.dps.ny.gov/public/MatterManagement/CaseMaster.aspx?MatterCaseNo=14-m-0101&submit=Search+by+Case+Number document – 7/28/15 White Paper on Ratemaking and Utility Business Models). The summary in this document outlines the “plan”.

    The Framework Order recognized that utilities must retain their universal service obligations to maintain a delivery system that provides reliable, resilient power at just and reasonable rates. The Commission was also clear that the changes contemplated in REV must ensure that the State be able to achieve or exceed its goals to protect the environment through increased use of energy efficiency and renewable energy, coupled with market enabling measures that integrate those resources in a manner that achieves both economic and environmental sustainability. New York’s State Energy Plan corroborated this statement, establishing that New York will achieve, by 2030, a 40% reduction in greenhouse gases and 50% of electricity from renewable sources. As recognized in the plan, reforming ratemaking approaches so utility interests are appropriately aligned with achieving these targets is essential.

    The Commission found that significant technological innovation in software and hardware systems that improve the intelligence and flexibility of the delivery system, and similar advances that have significantly reduced the cost and increased the value of DERs, present the opportunity to fundamentally improve how utilities meet their service obligations. The Commission stated that business-as-usual is no longer a viable option for meeting its statutory responsibilities to New Yorkers.

    Utilities now have the ability to capture the value of third-party supplied customer-sited resources and a smarter grid to improve the reliability, resiliency, and value of the system. When enabled by adequate information and pricing, DERs can drive greater system efficiencies, facilitate the integration of variable renewable resources both in front of and behind the meter, and reduce the overall energy bill for the benefit of all New York customers.

  22. From the article:

    New research into Industrial Ethernet Switches reveals a wide host of vulnerabilities that leave critical infrastructure facilities open to attackers. Many of the vulnerabilities reveal fundamental weaknesses: Widespread use of default passwords, hardcoded encryption keys, a lack of proper authentication for firmware updates, a lack of encrypted connections, and more. Combined with a lack of network monitoring, researchers say the situation showcases “a massive lack of security awareness in the industrial control systems community.”


  23. Craig Loehle

    Another conflict in this discussion is that many renewables (windmills) are far from any consumer such that regional transmission is needed to get the power to anyone. No way to use them in a microgrid even if you could solve the storage problem.

    • David Springer


    • The grid-level cost for onshore wind adds about 50% to the LCOE of wind at 30% wind energy proportion of total electricity generation. Almost no one realises that. See Table ES-2 here: https://www.oecd-nea.org/ndd/reports/2012/system-effects-exec-sum.pdf

      Furthermore, the effectiveness of wind at reducing emissions is so low that the CO2 abatement cost is around double the economists estimates of CO2 abatement cost when around 20% of electricity supplied by wind. The effectiveness declines as the proportion of energy generated by wind increases. I can provide references on this if interested.

      • Peter Lang,

        Thanks for the link to the NEA report. Interesting reading.

        I would like to see the references on the low effectiveness of wind in reducing CO2 emissions.

    • Mark Silbert,

      Thank you for asking. Below is a copy of a comment from another blog, followed by some references:

      “Some excellent analyses are beginning to emerge that quantify the emissions avoided by wind generation. Here are some figures for CO2 abatement effectiveness* versus proportion of electricity generated by wind (penetration):

      Ireland, 2011, 53% effective at 17% penetration (Wheatley, 2012, 2013)

      ERCOT, 2007-2009, 80% effective at 4.7% penetration (Kaffine et al., 2013)

      Australia NEM, 2014, 78% effective at 4.5% penetration (Wheatley, 2015)
      Australia NEM projected, 70% effective at 9% penetration
      Australia NEM linear projection to 15% penetration = 60% effective

      The main reason that effectiveness is less than 100% is that wind generation displaces the lower rather than the higher emissions intensity generators; e.g. wind displaces gas in preference to coal.

      Modelling by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland indicates that the additional emissions caused by ramping and cycling of the back up generators is a small contributor.

      * CO2 abatement effectiveness = % emissions avoided / % of electricity supplied ”

      Wheatley’s papers can be downloaded from here (see the links in the text)
      (go to ‘older entries’ to see the short article and charts from Wheatley 2012)

      Kaffine et al. 2013, “Emissions Savings from Wind Power Generation in Texas”. Kaffine, Daniel T; McBee, Brannin J; Lieskovsky, Jozef. The Energy Journal 34.1 (2013): 155-175.

      Peter Lang, 2015 “Wind turbines’ CO2 savings and abatement cost” https://judithcurry.com/2015/04/27/wind-turbines-co2-savings-and-abatement-cost/

      Peter Lang, 2015, (shorter explanation of the policy relevance): “What’s the cost of CO2 emissions abatement with wind turbines?”

  24. Pingback: Batteries of the Future | al fin next level

  25. I posted this over at Energy Matters, you won’t find the BBC or MSM reporting this stuff.
    Snow on Mauna Kea Hawaii
    Snow in South Africa
    80Cm of Snow in Chile
    Hail in Dakota
    Heavy Snow and very cold in Argentina
    Frost in the USA and Europe
    Cold causing extra cases of Pnuemonia in Peru
    Very Cold in North Vietnam
    Snow in Papua & Indonesia
    Cold in Japan
    Snow in Bolivia, 75,000 cattle at risk
    Heaviest Snowfall in Peru in years kills 171,850 Alpaca.
    Snow in California.
    Record cold in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Indiana and Michigan, records broken by as much as 10 degrees F not by 10ths of a degree like the hot temps.
    Heavy snowfall in Vorkuta, Russia
    Shanghai – Lowest temperature in 145 years

    • You missed the snow in Australia – it extended right up to Queensland (semi tropical).

      • Peter Lang | said:”You missed the snow in Australia”

        Peter, I was on the reef off Cooktown; for two weeks with the flue, snotty as a kid – few days ago came to the mainland, looking for garlic, honey and lemon.

        On the reef, in the tropics, now is cold, windy AND fish are not biting… WE WANT GLOBAL WARMING!!! You Warmist, better produce one, soon, OR: all the loot money returned, with modest interest on the money!!!!

      • Stefanthe denier,

        Thank you for tat comment. I hadn’t previously realised that you are another wise Aussie trying to bring sanity to the 1% of the world’s population that seem to be concerned about catastrophic climate change, or any other catastrophe that can help them to push their agenda for global government by the Loony Left and Comrades.

      • Peter Lang
        They renamed it ”climate change” because they know that ”global warming”’ is a lie – so: when they say climate change, they are not even wrong, because: from summer climate is gone into winter climate in OZ, soon will get into summer climate again b] where is wet climate, changes into dry climate for couple of months – even in desert climate get wet by occasionally rain – can be improved into better climate IF Bob Brown and Flannery didn’t impose ” water embargo on Australian environment” no dam has being built for 30years, on the driest continent – to save stormwater and improve the climate; reason they lie that CO2 regulates the climate…?!

        Is it better climate in Simpson desert, where is much ”less CO2” than in Sydney? Even earthworms refuse to live in the desert, because is bad climate, without water – Warmist have less knowledge about climate than an earthworm! I don’t know what’s the IQ of an earthworm, but comparing with the Warmist’ followers… THE WORMS ARE SMART!

  26. Why California’s Solar Power Could Soon Be Curtailed

    Cal-ISO ran a simulation about what might happen when renewable energy is producing more than 33 percent of the states’ power, a moment that is projected to happen in 2024. In that case, the state will be overproducing electricity about 822 hours in a year, or about 10 percent of the time

    Sounds like the California “microgrid” is going to increasingly rely on interconnects (eg like Denmark). Adjoining utilities need to think carefully about the extent to which it is to their benefit to import grid destabilization from Cal.

    Giant in the Country

    • This seems to have been obvious to PlanningEngineer et. al. (the people with grid power experience) from the get-go. The duck curve and so forth got a lot of discussion.

      People with more academic than practical experience were the reality deniers.

      For an asset that is entirely fixed up front cost, when you can only use 2/3rds of its output, that output is 50% more expensive.

      But it is California and they have money to burn. They must because they keep burning it. If I was a border state, they would have to sell their excess power to me for almost free. Why pay for power that is by definition being generated at the wrong time?

    • The first article in Brent’s post mentions THE major failing of solar power for the grid – the peak demand occurs about the time, if not slightly after, the sun goes down. The sad part is that I remember a senior level engineer from PG&E pointing this out to the solar advocates present in a 1976 seminar at UCB.

  27. Wouldn’t relatively-small, easily-refueled, modular nuclear generators, sited below ground near point of use and augmented with rooftop solar in warm climes, enable ‘mini-grids’ to power sub-communities and small towns without extensive transmission lines?

    • Certainly that could be done. Submarines operate on nuclear power without transmission lines. But it comes at a cost. Each independently operated microgrid has to have enough actual and reserve capability available to serve their peak loads during outages and maintenance. Submarines go into port and are fixed when not operating. Cities can’t be shut down like that. The cost and trouble of transmission lines is outweighed by the extra costs of ensuring each microgrid community has the capacity it needs to get it across a wide variety of situations.

      Reserves speaks to loon term backup and real time spinning reserves as well. Systems need to be prepared to lose their single biggest unit and replace it near instantaneous. If you only have two big units you need a third as backup at all times. If one is out for maintenance you still need two and a backup so long term you must put in 4 even though two is all that’s needed. If you have a bunch of networks interconnected they can share the reserves. So small systems could easily require capacity that 40 to 80% above max (more if you are talking intermittents), while the bulk system only needs 10 to 20% excess capacity.

      If the price of nuclear generation drops considerably while the cost of transmission continues to climb – we may find a scenario in the future where it pays to have extra generation and less transmission.

      • The math speaks for itself. Facts vs Fantasy. Facts win.

      • When global warming causes the inevitable sea level rise, the US Navy will be able to float nuclear power plants wherever they are a needed. It will be Waterworld with power, an endless party. We’ll be able to buy 100W incandescent lightbulbs again and throw those mercury darkbulbs away. Wait. We can’t throw those away. Well, we will have to store them, but we’ll be able to read indoors again.

    • Philo Farnsworth actually developed a nuclear generator the size of a pot bellied stove that from my recollection was in the 20 KW range. If the anti-nukers hadn’t had so much influence lots of people could be running off the grid today.

      I’m not sure the idea to put cities on pontoons and drag them into port to fix them like a submarine is completely without merit – it would permanently end sea level rise concerns.

      Current copper prices are kind of crazy. Putting in transmission lines today has to be quite expensive. Since 2002 30% of commodities action has come from investors (instead of consumers) and the churn has kept prices high. Eventually we will have room temperature superconductor and that will trivialize transmission cost.

      • My understanding is that Farnsworth made a passable neutron source (fusor) but not something that was a net source of energy. The neutrons emitted by the fusor present a shielding and activation problem, although neutrons from D-D reactions are a lot easier to deal with than neutrons from D-T reactions.

        I don’t expect fusion (or even fission) reactors to be useful for microgrids, the characteristics of both are better suited to large grids.

      • erikemagnuson nobody made anything about fusion! From ”fusion” will NEVER

      • I worked at the ITT facility that made the GOES instruments for a while and the lore about Farnsworth was pretty rich. The Federal government as the story goes came in and confiscated some of his prototype equipment. You have remember the 40s/50s mindset – they tested prototypes of Orion (an ship powered by nuclear detonation) with conventional explosives, had hundreds if not thousands of soldiers observing nuclear blasts from front row seats, they built and tested the NERVA reactor, they were prototyping nuclear airplane engines. If not for the test ban treaty we might have had nuclear rockets and nuclear airplanes

        The soup kettle thorium reactor was originally a design study for an aircraft reactor.

        And Kodak had an unlicensed nuclear reactor in their basement.

        It isn’t beyond the range of possibility that he put together something similar. And when the 60s arrived all this stuff would get confiscated. Given that he worked on the Fusor in 1964 (which would have been right after the Test Ban treaty and confiscation of his equipment), I tend to believe there is something to the story. Sometimes timing is just too coincidental.

        Philo was a pretty smart guy and invented the vidicon tube (image dissector). He held some crucial video patents..

      • PA, re copper prices:

        AFIK, modern high-voltage overhead transmission lines are aluminum alloy. Copper is too heavy and expensive.

        (A superconductor material strung overhead would have to conduct at some pretty high temperatures.)

  28. erikemagnuson (the comment above posted itself, before I finished it. here:
    Nobody made anything about fusion! From ”fusion” will NEVER be one kilowatt of electricity produced! It’s a scam: https://globalwarmingdenier.wordpress.com/fusion-for-electricity/

    • You are half right. The Tokamak ala ITER will never be a viable fusion reactor (at least in our lifetime) for a laundry list of reasons. Among other things the scavenging cassette has some almost impossible metallurgical requirements and tossing away hundreds of tons of radioactive brittle stainless steel periodically is pretty expensive.

      • PA
        When I say ”never” it means: not in 10y, not in 10 million years one kilowatt of electricity will be produced from fusion!!!

        I would be very much interested in your opinion, ”after” you read the link I gave you just above. Please read every sentence, and use your most critical eye..

      • I understand part of the problem. RS does not interface with reality well and produces articles that are target for someone with good reasoning skills (it is like shotgun practice at point blank range.)

        There are two issues:
        1. Cold fusion.
        2. Hot fusion.

        SRI and some other groups are still toying with cold fusion. If there was nothing there they would have dropped it.

        Hot Fusion. Fusion is going to create some radioactivity and neutron emission. It is unavoidable. That makes it a little challenging. Some of the electrostatic confinement approaches have the best odds. While electrostatic forces are 1/1000th as strong as the nuclear force they are 10**38 times stronger than gravity.

        Practical fusion is going to take clever engineering and better materials science.

        That they can fuse atoms a couple of different ways means it is a matter of time and technology. If you can do it at all eventually you will be able to do it on a commercial scale.

        Either that or physics knowledge will improve and they will be able to milk energy out of the zero point field.

        But I wouldn’t expect any of this to happen in the next 50 years (possible exception of some inefficient cold fusion). Nobody even has usable prototypes. The 22nd century looks promising. If we actually develop hot fusion it will be because someone got lucky, physics knowledge drastically improved, or someone wants to run a starship.

    • Stefan,

      I was replying to PA’s comment about Farnsworth – my understanding was that he was working on fusors and not some other form of nuclear energy.

      There are three approaches of getting energy out of the nucleus of an atom, fusion, fission and radioactive decay. The only current means for a controllable energy source from nuclear energy is fission, fusion is still a ways out and controllable radioactive decay is at best way, way out there.

      The best reactor design I’ve seen for a “microgrid” was AECL’s “Slowpoke”, which ran with a neutron flux about 10X to 100X lower than a typical power reactor. This has a couple of advantages, one is that decay heat will be relatively easyt to take care of, the other is Xenon poisoning will be less of a problem.

  29. erikemagnuson
    As you are already saying; decay is not fusion! #2: from ”fusion” will never be one kilowatt of electricity produced, NEVER! Because: the earth doesn’t have a metal or alloy that can sustain the heat under pressure, not now, will not be one in 10 million years = it’s a 100% scam! They are only lying the politicians for funds and grants… cold fusion, my foot

    Reason after asking twice our friend PA, he doesn’t want to read my post – because he doesn’t want the truth to be known and is talking rubbish…
    Please, you read the whole post and tell me what you’ll think after:


  30. Microgrids go way back. Edison’s little electric generating plant did it! (Steam driven factories, too)
    Readers might find a “column” by my friend John Bartlit, who worked at Los Alamos National Lab, “enlightening” about the rise and fall of technologies and the ingenuity of the human race and industries in adapting to changes.


  31. Pingback: Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #191 | Watts Up With That?