Renewables and grid reliability

by Planning Engineer

The costs of major grid outages are staggering and recovery from such outages is challenging; therefore the North American grids are planned and operated to ensure high levels of reliability.

Despite changing conditions and various threats, it is widely expected that that current levels of reliability will be maintained or improved upon. The grid is impacted by multiple electro-mechanical effects that planners have learned to model and plan for over time and through experience. The rapid deployment of any new technology will present both modelling and operational challenges to maintaining high levels of grid reliability.

With the increased focus on reducing fossil fuel generation the question frequently comes up as to, “How much solar and wind can be integrated with the grid without unduly impacting system reliability?” The increase in renewables relative to conventional generation is often referred to as “penetration”. The US grids have sufficient robustness such that small penetration levels do not pose excessive risk, however high levels of penetration raise serious reliability concerns. This post will argue that there is not a single answer and that the answers are not easy, therefore estimates will involve considerable uncertainty. Casual readers may want to read the “Key Points” and then skip to the “Conclusions” or specific topics of interest. Those seeking a more optimistic assessment may want to read Volume 4 of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Renewables Electricity Futures Report.

Key Points

  • There has been a high value placed on having an extremely reliable bulk grid as the costs and consequences of bulk grid outages are severe
  • The bulk grid supports and is supported by conventional rotating generators (Coal, natural gas, hydro, nuclear, biomass) which provide “Essential Reliability Services” (ERSs)
  • Wind and solar provide increased reliability risks because they are new changing technologies, they are intermittent and they do not as readily provide ERSs
  • Current high levels of reliability depend upon experience gained over time through the gradual adoption of new technologies
  • Wind and solar can be made to provide approximations of ERSs, but that requires significant increased costs and reduced generation output
  • Because of the complexity of impacting factors and the high level of reliability maintained for the US grids, systemic degradation of the reliability of the grid is hard to detect and measure
  • The amount of renewable penetration that can be accommodated will vary from area to area and power system to power system – There is not a single answer
    • Because conventional resources produce an abundance of ERSs, accommodation of low levels of renewables may be accomplished with negligible risks
    • Because current renewables do not provide adequate ERSs high penetration levels provide significant risks
    • Between the above two levels there is a gap of (wicked?) uncertainty.
  • For assessing grid reliability, the maximum penetration of wind and solar during times of stress is the key number not the “average” contribution of wind and solar
  • Increased penetration of such asynchronous resources, all else equal, will likely adversely impact bulk grid reliability
  • As the penetration level of asynchronous generation increases this will either increase cost, limit operational flexibility, degrade reliability or most likely result in a combination of all three factors

The above statements have the following important caveats

  • In some situations renewable resources may have some practical benefits and better support reliability in some limited applications For example:
    • Air quality standards often prohibit the location of new generation resources in congested areas. If renewable resources are allowed to be located close to load centers –the system may see benefits
    • Electronic emulation of ERSs in some cases will not be as good as actual synchronous machines, but with proper controls it may also be better in some cases
  • Given time the reliability risk associated with new technology can be reduced as more experience is gained so that penetration levels can be increased

What is Meant by Bulk Grid Reliability and Why is it So Hard to Measure?

Bulk Grid Reliability applies to the high voltage backbone system that supports bulk generation and the load serving distribution systems. Bulk reliability is concerned with preventing voltage collapse, instability, cascading outages and uncontrolled separation. Events of this sort make national and international news when they occur on modern grids and are called blackouts. They are widespread unplanned, unintentional loss of load. There is a fundamental difference between these events and brownouts. The term brownouts sometimes refer to periods of low voltage and these can damage equipment and disrupt service. When load is deliberately shed (outages occurs by design in a controlled manner) this is also sometimes referred to as a brownout, blackout or as rotating blackouts. This situation can result from poor reliability, but is actually employed as a reliability measure to protect the bulk grid from a major outage. Avoiding needed load curtailments (in order to avoid adverse public relations and the economic burdens imposed by such curtailments) is a reliability risk itself. The impacts of uncontrolled outages are far more severe than controlled or contained area loss of load.

The Northeast Blackout of 2003 is an example of a bulk system blackout. It impacted 55 Million people in the US and Canada, causing an estimated $6 billion in damage, shutting down major cities, interrupting industrial processes, leaving many businesses, residences and industries without power for days, some for nearly a week and contributing to at least 11 deaths.

Grid Reliability is very different from distribution reliability, which is more concerned with individual consumer outages (or even city wide blackouts in some cases) that occur due to localized distribution networks. Distribution outage data is not directly related to grid reliability and cannot serve as a measure of grid reliability, although it is not uncommon to see articles touting the strength of the German grid based on measures of distribution reliability. Assessing grid strength based on measures of distribution performance is as inappropriate as would be assessing the foundational strength of a bridge based upon the crash performance of its guardrails.

Major power outages (blackouts) are costly infrequent events and are hopefully are becoming rarer and more infrequent on modern grids. Unless caused by major natural disasters they are typically associated with multiple things going wrong. In a complex, 24 hours a day system over the course of time it is inevitable however that at times multiple things might go wrong, however power systems should be sufficiently robust that such confluences of events do not lead to major disturbances. There is not a clear easy answer as to what is “robust enough”.

As noted major grid outages are rare. If the reliability of the system is significantly reduced, we may not see additional major outages for years anyway. Moderate sized utilities may spend tens of millions of dollars to reduce risks related to major outages that might have less than a 50/50 chance of occurring in a 50 year time span. The results of such valuations of reliability are not readily observed in any available performance measures. The industry is struggling to develop such measures. The best thing we have going for us beyond our models is the experience with current technologies. If the current level of reliability were to be greatly reduced it could be a while before the impacts become obvious. But over time consequences will emerge. If bulk system reliability is allowed to degrade it will be challenging to turn it around and return to today’s high levels.

Planners have confidence that at low levels of penetration the existing conventional synchronous rotating machines will likely provide sufficient robustness in most cases. At very high levels of penetration from intermittent renewables the system will disproportionately lack contributions from synchronous machines which support the grids stable and reliable operation. The “uncertainty range” is large. Generally the more synchronous rotating machines with inertial mass the better. Planners desire a large amount of margin (as it can be eaten up by unusual and unanticipated events).

Conventional Rotating Generators Support the Grid in Ways That Solar and Wind Do Not

Conventional generation has characteristics that support the stability and operation of the grid. They have inertial mass and spin in synchronism with the wave forms powering the system while readily providing voltage and frequency support. The grid was built upon and depends on the characteristics associated with large rotating machines. For additional, more detailed information on this topic see the following posts: “Transmission Planning: wind and solar”, “More renewables? Watch out for the Duck Curve”, and “All megawatts are not equal”.

The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) recently issued an announcement stating that “New generation resources must provide adequate levels of frequency support, ramping capability and voltage control to maintain the reliability of the bulk power system during its ongoing transformation”. This NERC Report provides more detail as do these basic introductory videos on load ramping, voltage and frequency. They describe the collective desirable characteristics of generation known as essential reliability services (ERSs).

Modern wind resources do not economically spin in synchronism with the grid so they are electrically decoupled from the system. Solar generation does not involve rotating machinery. Solar and wind do not inherently provide ERSs. In addition wind and solar are intermittent resources. This dramatically increases the number of potential operating scenarios to be studies and increases the chances that unanticipated scenarios might cause problems.

An additional emerging area of concern centers on protecting the system from faults. When faults occur on the system it is essential that that the impacted parts of the system be quickly disconnected and isolated from the grid. Extended faults can cause significant damage and lead to system collapse. When a fault occurs, conventional generators contribute an inrush of “fault current” (short circuit current). The protective devices (relays) sense parameters associated with fault current and know how and when to operate to properly isolate the fault. Closer relays respond more quickly and more distant relays operate more slowly in order to serve as backup in case of failure. This approach minimizes outraged elements while providing redundancy for relay failures. When inverter-based generation (wind and solar) replaces traditional synchronous generation the fault current contribution is approximately cut in half. Fault currents will vary significantly depending on whether there is low or high renewable penetration at any given time. With higher than expected fault currents, distant relays may trip too soon. With lower than expected fault current all relays may not operate quickly enough. Accommodating higher and varying penetration levels will require comprehensive studies, system-wide relay coordination efforts, large capital improvement projects and labor intensive testing and engineering in order to implement the new relay schemes.

Can Wind and Solar Provide ERSs?

Wind and solar through electronic emulation can be made to operate more like conventional generation, but it generally comes at significant additional costs. For example a wind or solar facility can have the capability of providing an extra boost of energy to the bulk system when it is needed. However to do that, for all other hours you have to “waste” a portion of the output to serve as backup reserve. The economics of building a facility and only using 90% of its output so that 10% can be kept to support the grid during limited times of system stress may be challenging, but that will become more feasible if costs drop relative to other resources.

Wind and solar may have special advantages in some cases. For example, if wind and solar can be located near load centers where regulations do not allow fossil fuel generators. Also electronic emulation may allow the artificial response of generation resources to be more supportive in some cases. Synchronous generators sometimes over-react to system disturbances. So a simulated response may be better in some cases. It will be challenging determining what those responses should be so that they work well across a myriad of scenarios. At this time the limited benefits and emulation capabilities associated with asynchronous generation have potential but these resources should not be viewed as equivalent to synchronous resources or fully worthy competitors just yet.

New Technology imposes risks – We don’t know what we don’t know

Conventional technology also benefits from considerable experience gained over the years. Power systems are the largest most complex machines in the history of the world. There are many electro-mechanical interactions that can adversely impact the system. To ensure their reliable operation various models on components of their performance that span differing time frames and differing conditions are employed. The models and modelling techniques have been developed and refined over long time periods as new technology is employed, sporadically at first, and then expanded as the technology proves itself and becomes more widely adopted. Policies to increase wind and solar may lead to unprecedented changes for the bulk power system. No one can say with any certainty that our existing models and study approaches are sufficient to guarantee that new problems associated with new technology (and the interaction of such technology with conventional technology) will not emerge.

For example series compensators were put into long transmission lines to enable long distance transfers of power without having excessive voltage drops. As modelled they worked well and no problems were anticipated. In practice it was discovered that they could produce catastrophic results from sub synchronous resonance (SSR) between the interconnected generators. (Rough translation – noise from generators is shared and compounded below the normal 60 Hz frequency, such that the generators start to oscillate, shake and possibly break.) This phenomenon was outside the normal study arena at the time. Solutions were found and today series compensators are widely used for their benefits.

Another risk that was observed before it was detected by models was fault induced delayed voltage recovery (FIDVR). The problem emerges when there is a large amount of induction motors located far from var producing resources. Unlike a lightbulb which helpfully reduces its demand for current when voltage is low, induction motors demand more current and vars when voltages drop. (Rough translation- a local area sees stress from air conditioners which suck extra current and vars during a voltage drop, and the problem is compounded because there are not enough local generators to support the system during the disturbance.) Load models were not accurate enough to pick up this problem as it emerged. (It’s easier to model large generators than a host of different load elements.) Luckily FIDVR problems did not hit the entire US at once. Some systems (hot urban areas with restrictions on new generation within the air quality management zones) discovered the problem as they studied real world performance issues and tried to “reconcile that with modelled performance.

Rapid changes in generation resources employing a variety of new technologies will create uncertainty. When new technology is introduced across a wide area at a fast pace at levels never seen before, it definitely will heighten the risk that major outages will occur before the problems are identified and fixed. With new technology problems may emerge outside of our existing study areas. In addition our existing modeling methods will be challenged. A model of a 1000 MW coal plant will likely be more accurate than the aggregate of the many models simulating a vast array of solar panels from different production runs, with different technological tweaks and possibly different user settings employed. It’s naïve at best to presume that rapid sweeping changes do not impose special risks.

Experience is Crucial

The 2013 Super Bowl held in the New Orleans Superdome was delayed due to a 22 minute partial power outage. No power supplier wants that kind of publicity. Watching the game, I felt sure that the problem was not the result of scrimping on costs or the use of older equipment or technology. Turned out the system had been recently upgraded and a few months before the game there were still concerns that there was a “chance of failure”. So they spent an extra $1 Million on upgrades. New relay equipment was installed to “ensure” continuous power supply in case one supply line failed. They switched from a system that worked in practice to one that was theoretically better on paper. But for the uprates, I believe there would not have been any outage related impacts upon the game. There has been some dispute over how those relays were set and why they did not operate correctly, but it is clear that before the event on paper the new system looked great. Mathematical models can only go so far with ensuring that any technology will work. Real world experience cannot easily be replaced with modeling.

Planning and Operating the future system with increased renewables is problematic especially assuming rapid changes

There are multiple electromechanical forces operating in vastly differing time frames and interactions among these can adversely impact the grid. As noted above in the example of sub synchronous resonance, studying the system at one level might not inform you of problems at other focal points. The reliability of the grid depends upon both modelling and experience.

Current load models of the system are lacking compared to models for generators. For large generators it is fairly easy to get good models of their behavior because the units are large, are made by a limited number of manufacturers and the units can be tested. Load elements are much more diverse and vary more hour to hour and seasonally, contain too many elements to be modelled individually and test can’t be run on system wide loads. The greater integration of renewables will introduce more uncertainty in to the generator side of the equation as it will be harder to get good modelling information for dispersed resources and for resource blocks containing multiple varying components. Today simulations can be done using “good” generation data and sensitivities changing load models. Performing simulations and making system assessments that account for unknowns in both load and generation may exponentially increase study challenges.

Planners perform scenario outages of the system under stressed conditions with various outages modelled. When the system response is inadequate the planning standards require that system improvements (reinforcements) be made. I will share a planning secret. We don’t really think that the specific outage and the specific conditions which were identified in the study will actually occur and the system will be “saved” by that particular fix. We have learned over time that planning that way results in a system that is sufficiently robust so that system operators can sufficiently recover when unanticipated events happen across variety of circumstances. Planners will model the new technology as best they can, but if adoption of new technology is rapid, they will not have the needed experience behind them to justify confidence in the models. Because of the larger potential for unanticipated actual configurations, system operators will be functioning under conditions of greater risk and uncertainty trying to ensure reliability across a widening set of operational parameters.

What options are available to maintain high levels of reliability?

Given that new technology introduces greater uncertainty as to modelling, scenario analysis and performance, what can be done to maintain system reliability? One answer is to invest more heavily in the system to better support system reliability. This can be accomplished through requiring extra generation to be on-line, adding stronger transmission ties, employing more sophisticated electronic protection devices and adding a variety of specialized power system equipment such as synchronous condensers and static and dynamic VAR devices. Beefing up the bulk system could easily double transmission costs.

Another answer is to limit the operational flexibility of the system. For example when the operation of intermittent resources creates a dispatch scenario that appears problematic or goes beyond what can comfortably be compared to modelled scenarios, the system operators may choose to curtail (or force the operation of) certain generation. The generation likely to be curtailed in such situations will likely be the lower incremental cost intermittent renewable generation. The generation forced to run will likely be the higher incremental cost conventional generation. The operators may also cut transfers from one area to another to limit risks. For example regional wind transfers may have to be cut when they would otherwise provide the most value. The cost impacts of maintaining reliability in this manner will be large as well. Additionally operators may find the system will react better to small disturbances if they are willing to cut consumer load to help keep the system strong. This approach can make the bulk backbone system more reliable but will have serious consequences. The US grid will function more as a third world grid with increased small scale outages, costly resource inefficiencies and the inability for renewables to operate as needed achieve their planned economics and production goals.

Problems with Picking a Target Penetration Level for Wind and Solar

Often renewable targets are set without any regard for bulk reliability concerns. When such concerns are recognized they often not well understood. Targets typically refer to average values of generation provided by different resource types. For system reliability the average does not matter. It’s the penetration level at specific operating states. If a target is set at 20% of energy needs to be met by renewables, at times renewables will make up less of the system load and so at other times must make up a larger percentage. Depending on the renewable resource mix system operation may require very high penetration levels at some times in order to achieve much lower average targets.

Occasionally you will read about some “system” where renewables served a large portion of the load. This typically occurs when load demand is low and conditions are good for wind and/or solar generation. Renewable enthusiasts often gush over such reports, but this is likely not a good situation from the perspective of grid reliability. Such periods create a tension between maximizing the economics of renewable resources and the reliability needs of the transmission system.

The achievable penetration level will vary from system to system depending on factors such as the characteristics of available synchronous generation, the characteristics of the load, specialized transmission elements and the distance between existing generators and load centers. It will also vary from time to time within a given system in response to the differing generation dispatch mixes and load levels. Historically the greatest reliability concerns have occurred during peak periods. Large base load coal plants were dependably on line during off-peak periods and supported the system with ERSs, such that the system was usually very robust at those times. The unfolding future will spread the risk across more hours and scenarios and it may be that the greatest risks will occur at lower load levels. As suggested above it will be challenging to model and assess low lower load levels with questionable models and uncertainty across a host of potential dispatch options. The question from these studies is not really how much of the generation can be asynchronous (wind and solar), but rather the flip side of that question – how much synchronous generation with inertial capability and other ERS parameters, needs to be on line.

When discussing achievable penetration levels – keep in mind that the overall power system is the major frame of reference. We often hear about the high penetration levels that occurred in Germany – but Germany is not an independent bulk power system. Germany is part of an international interconnected grid that includes vast hydro resources as well as considerable coal. These conventional units provide ERSs for the grid that would be lacking if the entire grid had the same penetration level of renewables as Germany.

Similarly renewable enthusiasts often crow about some “load” being served reliably with 100% renewables. One thing you can count on is that they are not referring to an independent reliable system serving a high proportion of its load by wind and solar power. In some of these cases rotating hydro may make up a large portion of the generation. Often it’s just “accounting” to credit some sub-load with all the renewables from a system. It may be that they are referring only to residential load being served by renewables when that load is dwarfed by the commercial and industrial. Or as noted above it may be that the system is just a small part of a larger system such that the overall penetration level is low. It is often all of the above but it could also be an accident waiting to happen. Despite headlines, no large regional “system” today can reliably operate with extreme levels of asynchronous renewable penetration.

What is Happening Today?

The performance characteristics of major grids are decreasing. As noted it’s hard to measure and quantify the results but there are indicators. Frequency response is an indicator of how well a system can recover from a disturbance. The chart below, available in this NERC report, shows how the frequency response to a 2,750 MW generation trip in Texas has decreased and is projected to decrease as ERCOT continues to increase the penetration of renewable resources.
Slide1The figure below from the NERC Essential Reliability Services Task Force concept paper illustrates future potential gaps associated with reliability.


Are there alternatives to the bulk grid?

The bulk grid provides significant benefits. Bulk grids connect sub-systems making them stronger and more stable. They allow backup service which enables electric service during maintenance periods and emergencies. Additionally bulk grids support markets, arbitrage and the efficient use of resources.

Micro-grids can have high levels of reliability but replacing the bulk grid system with micro-grids would be extremely costly and thus infeasible for most applications. Microgrids may provide acceptable benefits for dense areas with a high availability of resources, but much of the population could not be reliability and economically served from microgrids at this time. As noted in this posting microgrids likely will not facilitate the expansion of solar and wind.


Solar and wind raise reliability concerns because: they employ significant new technologies, they do not as readily provide ERS’s, they impose modelling challenges, the transition is expected to be rapid and they operate intermittently. Each factor by itself would present a challenge; however in combination the interaction of all the factors greatly complicates the task of ensuring high levels of reliability.

Maybe it’s worth giving up our existing high levels of reliability to achieve other societal goals. But if so the action should be undertaken with the understanding that reliability risks will be increasing, not in denial of such risks. As we work towards accommodating greater penetration of renewables, there is not a single answer for appropriate penetration levels. Risks will vary based on the characteristics of the individual integrated power systems. Until we have more experience with the newer technologies as they develop and reach maturity, estimating the “safe” level of penetration presents challenges and any definitive statements should be suspect.

The bulk grid has been able to adapt to new technology and will continue to do so. The major concern is with the rapid forced expansion of solar and wind technology. The proposed changes are unprecedented in terms of both scope and speed. If the growth of these resources were driven by the economics and their demonstrated performance characteristics, the bulk system would better adapt and maintain traditional reliability levels while these resources were gradually integrated over time within the system. But with unprecedented change the options are to increase transmission system costs greatly, limit operational flexibility or see reliability degrade. The most likely scenario is that we will see a combination of increased transmission costs, limited operational flexibility and degraded system reliability.

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



316 responses to “Renewables and grid reliability

  1. Pingback: Renewables and grid reliability | Enjeux énergies et environnement

  2. So the argument is that solar and wind raise reliability concerns because: they employ significant new technologies, they do not as readily provide ERS’s, they impose modelling challenges, the transition is expected to be rapid and they operate intermittently.

    Well, let’s just sit on our hands and not innovate because life is difficult.

    Or we can listen to the head of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering and faculty chair of the Industrial Performance Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

    • I appreciate the referenced article. It goes beyond simply calling for renewable targets, ignoring the challenges and expecting the details to be worked out with no major grappling of the issues. The authors have concluded that the rapid deployment is essential to the low-carbon transition. I offer no guidance in that area. But I think we are in consensus in recognizing that there are challenges, costs and tradeoffs. I suspect that the authors of that piece would find fault with those who promote and promise easy no to low cost solutions.

    • The solution which has been used for other power situations is to require by law that large wind or solar operators interface to the grid though motor generator sets. A requirement for sufficient on site storage to support a constant (or at least controllable) output level for some period – say 2-3 hours would make renewable energy little or no threat to grid and move the costs of adaptation to where they should be – at the site of the problem.

      The actual requirement for onsite storage is probably situation dependent. Large renewable operators should be required by law (if they aren’t already) to produce a “Grid Environment Impact Statement” that specifies the various potential harms the renewable source presents to the grid and outlines how the renewable operator is going to mitigate them.

    • “Large renewable operators should be required by law (if they aren’t already) to produce a “Grid Environment Impact Statement” that specifies the various potential harms the renewable source presents to the grid and outlines how the renewable operator is going to mitigate them.”

      That’s a great idea — maybe do the same for old-nuclear: require the old-nuclear industry to say where they propose to permanently site their waste.

      Also, let’s cut-off the 50 year old subsidy to old-nuclear which is preventing new nuclear from emerging:

      • Curious George

        Are there any technical problems with a Yucca Mountain site?

      • Yucca has more-on problems.

      • Also, let’s cut-off the 50 year old subsidy to old-nuclear which is preventing new nuclear from emerging:

        Silly argument.–Anderson_Nuclear_Industries_Indemnity_Act

        The CBO prices the subsidy at $800,000 per reactor-year. If we cut off ALL the subsidy for renewables for a single year, money that is currently just flushed down the drain on dead-end technologies bought from China, that would fund the entire Price-Anderson program subsidy since its inception.

        Most of the P-A act is just a mutual insurance program between the reactor operators.

      • P-A has never cost the US taxpayer anything. It is the public assumption of risk as is common in many industries, from banking to maritime.

      • ybutt,

        I think you might like this song, “One Note Samba” by Jobim.

      • Geez ybutt, let it go already, one trick pony! Yes we know you dont like nuclear and Anderson act! Thanks.

        And your other comment (the 1st one on this thread) shows that you need to do some more studying before flapping your mouth again about how renewables are going to power a modern economy.
        Here are some key words for you to study:
        – EROEI
        – grid stability
        – capacity factor
        – intermittency

        Good luck!

    • Trouble with solar and wind is that they are clunky old technologies destroying the cred and gobbling the resources for future innovations which don’t suck.

    • David Springer

      Grid disruption causes massive health, safety, and economic harm. City sewers and water supply, home heating and cooling, refrigeration and essential health services, pumps at gas stations, streetlights, natural gas distribution… all go tits up when the electricity goes off.

      Note how the ballyhooed “precautionary principle” goes out the environmentalist whacko window when it comes to considering problems caused by intermittant electrical generation. If grandma and grandpa can’t take the heat or cold then it’s just time for them shuffle off the mortal coil for the good of the young and healthy.

    • David Springer

      Grid disruption causes massive health, safety, and economic harm. City sewers and water supplies, home heating and cooling, refrigeration and essential health services, pumps at gas stations, streetlights, natural gas distribution… all go tits up when the electricity goes off.

      Note how the ballyhooed “precautionary principle” goes out the environmentalist whacko window when it comes to considering problems caused by intermittant electrical generation. If grandma and grandpa can’t take the heat or cold then it’s just time for them shuffle off the mortal coil for the good of the young and healthy.

  3. Very well presented argument. For an analysis of solar power for baseload applications please see our article “Going Solar-System Requirements For 100% U.S. Solar Generated Utility Baseload Electricity” at: and note the key Concepts section in lieu of an abstract.

  4. > The proposed changes are unprecedented in terms of both scope and speed.

    I’ve heard that “unprecedented” line of argument before, but where?

  5. In the UK grid is mainly OK, the problem is that very soon we may not have enough energy to feed into it.

    • The great US/Canada blackout of 2003 came on a hot August afternoon with the grid near capacity. A single generating unit in Cleveland tripped off about 1300 due to a mechanical problem. The ensuing cascade of events shut down a third of North America by 1630. In the end, 256 power plants automatically tripped off line. Parts of NYC and Toronto did not get power back for 5 days. Even if the UK grid itself is OK, the whole thing can collapse automatically absent sufficient spinning reserve capacity as relays trip generation off to protect it from overload.
      PE makes the simple point that renewables lack ERS, so all the things that have to be considered in setting up these protections get much more complicated and uncertain.

      • “PE makes the simple point that renewables lack ERS…”

        ERS also contributes to instability in the “overload” situation you describe – I suspect that a large part of the problem experienced was oscillating synchronising power between rotating generators. This is why operators like plenty of spinning reserve – not to prevent load shedding, but to prevent (localised) frequency changes. Such frequency changes are deadly to grids – power flows between generators skyrocket, changing the load on other generators and the whole thing easily cascades into catastrophic failure of the entire grid.

      • kneel63 – The inertia provided by conventional technology is of great value for stability. The problem is oscillations between areas and this is minimized by well distributed well connected inertial loads. Just as you might posit a situation where wearing a seatbelt put a passenger in more harm, you might do the same by showing a case where less conventional technology at some point was better, but it’s an exceptional situation.

  6. Increased “penetration” is essentially a purposeful shrinking or slowing of America’s economic pie (i.e., we are knowingly taking actions that will have a depressing consequential effect on the GDP), which is always thye inevitable result of allocating scarce resources to projects at less than the maximum net present value. We’re essentially sacrificing future returns on the Leftists’ altar of political correctness. Future wealth is squandered today much like a farmer going on vacation just when the grapes are ripe and ready to pick and simply letting the crop rot on the vine.

      • And other Bastions of wild-eyed Liberal Socialists from Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Iowa.

      • Texas reached its wind power goal 15 years early and is dropping wind subsidies. That means wind will have to stand on its own legs.

      • Explain why “Texas has more installed wind capacity (15,635 megawatts) than any other state and is home to nearly 10,000 turbines,” and, “got 9 percent of its electricity from wind in 2014?”

        That’s probably because that’s where the wind is and because the land is cheap. Why are they being built? “Recent events confirm that big money interests in the US and Europe have discovered the enormously generous tax breaks and subsidies that are now available in the US for producing electricity with wind turbines. These organizations are moving aggressively to build wind farms and to seek more subsidies.” ~Glenn Schleede, “Big money” discovers the huge tax breaks and subsidies for wind energy while taxpayers and electric customers pick up the tab,” April 14, 2005

      • Captain — There are so many vocal Denizens here at CE that frame Renewable Energy in terms of Cultism, Worshiping Gaia, Socialism, Liberalism, and Obama (and I could add much more).

        Here is a chance to explain Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Iowa under their expert context.

      • Wagathon — and Big Money onlyrepresents Liberals?

        Also, even with Federal incentives, there is a little thing called “State Electricity Regulation” which is certainly controlled by Republican Conservatives in Texas, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.

      • The global warming bubble was built mostly behind the scenes and out of the public eye. The building of a consensus amounted to nothing more that a concerted plan by Europe, the UN, Western academia and companies like Enron and Lehman Brothers. They met over cheese fondues to work out plans on how best to fleece America as a means to keep the bubble of Euro-communism from going bust. And then the worst thing that could happen did happen: George Bush defeated the EU, UN and Leftist/liberal Utopian presidential hopeful, Al Gore. That is when the war against Bush and reason and the common man exploded like a mushroom cloud. The ‘big money’ referred to above includes billionaires, corporate raiders, financiers, business magnates, hedge fund operators and political insiders like, T. Boone Pickens.

      • Stephen, Wind energy in plains states up to roughly 20% never was an issue. The guaranteed price was, but not as big an issue as the guaranteed solar buy back rates and overly optimistic costs comparisons. Remember most of this started with the “necessarily more expensive” nonsense and the “subsidies” battle. Oil “subsidies” impact transportation fuels that impact every aspect of the economy while alternate energies have a much lower impact on just electric rates.

        Also butt ugly wind turbines on fairly pristine mountain landscapes tend to aggravate conservationist minded folks like myself. Heck, if you can’t make it look good why bother?

      • Wagathon If a poll was taken in Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska on concern over Global Warming — it would probably be something like .000000001%.

        Are you familiar with the Tea Party movement in the South (Georgia, Florida, South Carolina) pushing for increased solar?

        Your generic labeling just doesn’t fly.

      • And how do you explain Texas?
        … And other Bastions of wild-eyed Liberal Socialists from Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Iowa.

        I suspect that plentiful fracked natural gas for backup has a lot to do with it. I wonder where they’d be without fracking?

      • No one can be unaware of the fact that global warming is a Left vs. right issue and therefore more political than scientific.

      • I am not sure what needs explained. People act in their own motivated self interest, liberal or conservative. If the government is giving handouts it makes sense to seek them out. In this way it is possible for something that is an economic cost to society to be an economic benefit to skilled rent seekers.

      • Warren Buffet loves wind and I don’t think he even has a sailboat.

      • Segrest,

        Would you agree you are a denier?

      • Stephen

        Just ask an actual investor such as Warren Buffet why he invests in wind energy:

        “I will do anything that is basically covered by the law to reduce Berkshire’s tax rate. For example, on wind energy, we get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That’s the only reason to build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit.”

      • Wind turbines are good for the purveyors of natural gas and open cycle gas turbines.

        Of course the loss of nuclear coupled with the loss of coal is going to put us on a trajectory of a ‘natural gas’ only plus wind turbine generating model.

        See Germany and dependence on imported Russian Natural Gas…what happens if there is a pipeline disruption in mid-winter?

    • The wild-eyed greenies are imposing enormous opportunity costs on the next generation. It gives “penetration” a whole new meaning.

    • Segrest asked:

      Wagathon — And how do you explain Texas?

      Perhaps Segrest would like to answer this: — And how do you explain France?

      France has had 75% to 80% of its electricity supplied by nuclear for the past 30 years of more, and virtually none by wind and solar. And it’s exporting huge amounts of reliable baseload power to all it’s neighbours bringing stability and reliability to the whole European grid.

    • I would agree with this… the progressive liberals of the Obama ilk think shrinking the pie and weakening the nation in foreign policy areas is just fine so long as government continues to grow and grow and grow imposing more and more and more controls and regulations.

  7. The article is about the theory of renewable penetration.. However we have the actual experience of Germany to see what happens when you attempt to massively increase renewables (wind in this case.) What happened was a record growth in coal plants because of the intermittency factor.

    Solar might yet be able to solve this problem with energy storage devices like the Tesla Wall. Wind is much less likely to succeed.

    An even better answer is the use of Thorium nuclear reactors to power the electrical grid. Scalable energy, cheaper and safer than coal for 10000 years is just around the corner. That is where the subsidy dollars should go.

    Attempting to rely on wind and solar is just a way to shrink economic growth and impoverish the country.

      • The bottom line of this EPRI paper:

        “Results are only valid under the CPUC input assumptions provided”

        “Analysis does not specifically consider how levels of storage deployment affect cost effectiveness or impact society”

        “This project does not consider technical feasibility of energy storage projects, nor does it validate the cost and performance assumptions used in the analyses”

        I am not sure what is left after those disclaimers.

      • David L. Hagen

        Hire some innovative engineers with a challenging goal to provide the storage needed at a cost effective price!

      • In the US you would need to out-pay the subsidized solar industry, which is keeping 150,000+ folks occupied producing less than 1% of the nation’s power. I guess you could super-subsidize the storage industry since it is an enabling technology for the already subsidized wind and solar technologies.

        Opportunity costs. Paid by taxpayers. And consumers of food, transportation, heating and cooling, and folks who used to work in industries which are no longer subsidized.

      • It’s an interesting idea that battery technology is where it is because we don’t have sufficient brainpower working on it. I’ve always wanted to do a piece examining the first portable PCs to our modern ones as to how the individual components have developed. Speed of processing, memory, screen display for example have shown incredible gains compared to the capabilities of the batteries. Imagine if battery life had increased just a tenth of what memory capabilities have. How tiny would they be and how long they might last. Progress has been comparatively dismal. I think if you look in terms of charge time it’s not just that the batteries have improved but also that energy demands of the other components have decreased.

        So the questions arise: Are the engineers working on the batteries of lower capabilities? Are the companies not incentivizing developments in that area as much as in others? Is there some sort of conspiracy? Or is just that the energy storage problem one of a different sort? As with electric cars, jet packs and now large scale storage – energy density may just be a tougher problem and although you can mandate, legislate, incentivize, mobilize you still are not going to see an open road for battery development the same as we saw for silicon chips and electronic components.

      • In fairness, I would say energy density has been a tougher nut. For a generation the primary enabler of component density seemed to this outsider to largely be an issue of refining optical and “printing” technologies. Evolution mostly, to get where we are today.

        I suspect that energy storage will require some real jumps in knowledge, or may just be a nut we cannot crack any time soon.

  8. The most likely grid to blackout is the UK. At least Scotland. Renewable penetration over 10%, weak interconnections to the continent, almost no reserve capacity. Even with the emergency measures put in place, reserves are less than 5% this winter, and will be worse next year with two more coal stations closing.
    Surely the UK grid engineers know the risks, but it does not seem to get much MSM attention.

    • Rud

      The UK MSM DO regularly write about the stupidity of closing down grown up power stations in favour of renewables as they are aware that putting any faith in solar at our latitude is a Mugs game. Wind gets a better press as there is a big switch to offshore generation. The BBC however remain enthusiastic about all things renewable, except burning waste.

      However there is no doubt we are running very close to the edge on power generation and only need a protracted period in winter when a high pressure system sits over the UK and the resultant cloud and stagnant air mean no renewable power generation.

      Our south western grid co has refused to accept any more renewables until they have had time to digest the current crop which have been inflated by companies trying to get them up and running before the subsidy rug was pulled out from under them.

      If we think renewables are a good idea our island status should mean a concentration on wind/wave/ thermal gradient power generation from the ocean but that hasn’t happened

      With the slashing of subsidies I suspect we have seen the beginning of the end for large solar farms. Off shore wind probably still has legs to it until the costs of maintenance start to sink in.

      In the absence of new coal fired power stations we are in urgent need of new nuclear power stations, but they are stalled due to financing and the green anti nuclear lobby.


      • Been trying to follow UK from a distance. It looks to me like there is not enough time to build nuclear, let alone Hinckley Point. Fastest cheapest solution would be CCGT, if you had the gas. But if you are importing LNG, you don’t, at least not inexpensive gas. My undertanding is two proposed new UK CCGT are also having trouble getting financed because of the inefficiencies and extra costs imposed by existing wind. Germany’s newish Irsching CCGT is even going to be shut down this year because they requested but did not receive subsidies for the standby wind problems forced upon it. Madness.
        Hope you have invested in a decent backup generator. Probably going to need it.

      • richardswarthout


        Been reading “Blowing Smoke”. It is not optimistic regarding the availability of future fossil fuel reserves and I gotta think that the power companies are tuned in. Are there any insights, regarding the USA, on what they’re thinking?


      • Rud

        The mad scheme to convert drax from coal to American sourced wood pellets has run into trouble with the EU.

        Not that th EU believe its mad but that it may be getting an Unfair subsidy. Not that it’s any of their business. Another reason to leave the EU


      • RS, until about 2 years ago I went to a lot of energy conferences of various sorts. The oil companies don’t mind so much, because there is still maybe a hundred years worth post peak to be produced at ridiculously high prices. And shale gas has postponed that peak many decades, especially if northern China developed as expected. Coal was never an issue because we have a nuclear alternative.
        But, privately and behind the scenes, they are worried formthe long run. As just one example, Exxon put $600 million into a JV with Craig Ventner’s newest company, Synthetic Genomics. Idea is to either GMO or synthesize from scratch more productive cyanobacteria, one of three ways to ‘photosynthesize’ synthetic oil in the future.

      • richardswarthout

        Thank you Rud. Have a great 2016.

      • David Springer

        re; Synthetic Genomics and Exxon – I’ve been following that since 2009 when they made a joint announcement. It was originally $600M then scaled back to $300M. Also, it’s “up to $300M not a commitment for the full amount. No one knows how much of the $300M Exxon actually ponied up because it was based on milestones achieved and Venter didn’t achieve much. In 2013 the larger scale part of the project with greenhouse test beds screening extant algae strains was shut down for lack of success. The conclusion was it was going to take heavy duty genetic modification not just a tweak or two. The project is still going on but it’s in the laboratory not in the field.

    • David L. Hagen

      India’s Blackouts
      In 2012 India blackouts leave 700 million without power
      A year after India’s biggest power blackout: Why it happened & the lessons learnt

      Unlike in the West, the frequency of India’s grid for long has fluctuated well beyond its ‘ideal’ limit of 50 Hertz. The incentives facing power stations and state power utilities has meant that stations would often continue generating power well beyond the point at which there was demand for it. For their part, utilities continued to draw large amounts of power from the system more than it was prudent to do so. The result?

      Sharp spikes and drops in frequency and a resulting damage to power equipment. To fix the problem, grid operators evolved a mechanism of carrot and stick. . . .
      But in the context of a weakened transmission system, a large amount of surplus power available from the west for the north meant huge flows of power over key transmission lines, far exceeding their capacity. . . .
      And this is where the money comes in as well. If Maharashtra and other western states are supplying their surplus power to the grid at a time when there is excess demand, they are earning extra-high tariffs for doing so. Therefore there is little incentive for them to reduce generation and lose revenue. . . .
      “Many experts had pointed out that the frequency of the grid should not be the only focus, but practically that advice was ignored till now.” . . .
      The costs of any failure will now be much higher than they were last year. India’s biggest blackout continues to make its presence felt long after the lights came back on.

      India’s blackout revealed:
      1) Perverse economic incentives
      2) Key transmission weaknesses were not recognized.
      3) Poor planning amplified the weakness.

      These are all important for the US.

      Coal Shortages Increase Blackouts

      “Coal supplies at some of our plants have been affected due to rains in coal-mining regions,”

      The lesson for the US is that premature shutdown of coal fired power will strongly increase the danger of grid failure.

    • Rud Istvan,

      But this 255 GW, 6,400 GWh pumped hydro storage project is going to save Scotland: :)

  9. Thank you for the essay. California ought to provide another teaching example, as we have an unusually high renewable portfolio standard.

    • MM, the only thing saving California at present is that it imports hydro from the PacNW and coal power from 4Corners. And without about a GWH of storage, CPUC already said back in 2013 there would be significant blackout risks by 2016-2017. Eagle Crest pumped hydro is still being blocked by California environmentalists over the 10 miles of transmission lines needed to connect the abandoned open pit iron mines (upper and lower reservoirs) to an existing transmission line corridor. I suspect California will be a teaching example.

  10. Maybe it’s worth giving up our existing high levels of reliability to achieve other societal goals.
    That is ok for California, but Not for Texas.

  11. I ran across this piece by the manager of Austin Energy – the departing manager. I wonder how many publicly owned utilities face this issue? From the article:

    This newly elected City Council is “naive” about utility issues and vulnerable to outside influences.

    Austin Energy General Manager Larry Weis is leaving his position to run Seattle’s utility.
    And the base utility rates for residential customers should be increased.

    These frank assessments of Austin Energy all came from the utility’s general manager, Larry Weis, who in his final weeks on the job spoke with the American-Statesman about the challenges of running this country’s seventh-largest public utility, in terms of customers served. Weis, who earns $315,000 as the city’s highest-paid employee, is leaving Austin Energy later this month to run Seattle’s electric utility.

    Much of the interview focused on the role the Austin City Council and city manager play in setting policy for the utility. That makes the job inherently political, with near-constant public debates with a wide range of stakeholders, from environmental and low-income ratepayer advocates to large power users, such as tech companies and hospital groups. And from time to time the Texas Legislature also gets involved with ominous threats to deregulate Austin Energy.

    How to get $85 if you’re an Austin Energy customer
    Coming in 2016: A debate over new electricity rates from Austin Energy
    Austin Energy manager Larry Weis tapped to lead Seattle utility
    Austin Energy scrutiny likely to continue, even with Legislature gone
    His advice for his replacement? “You can’t come here and just do anything you want,” said Weis, 61, who took the reins of Austin Energy in 2010. “You’ve got to play ball with the rest of the city. There are a lot of problems in getting things done that way.”

    • Very interesting – the city is using the utility as a cash cow and charging the customers high rates to pay for it. Sure sounds like a tax to me! From the article:

      “For instance, one of the biggest hot-button issues facing Austin Energy is its “general fund transfers.” Last year the utility transferred $154 million to City Hall. About $105 million of that was transferred to the general fund, which helps pay for police, parks and other city departments. The remaining $50 million helps pay for other city programs and administrative costs.

      Weis said it is “well-known” that the amount the utility pays for shared services is “inappropriate.”

      “Austin Energy is paying for 45 percent of mayor and council costs when we use 9 percent,” Weis said…

      …Critics, especially large power users, have argued that Austin Energy is being treated as a giant piggy bank for the rest of the city, rather than giving utility ratepayers the best deal. The belief is that if the money Austin Energy sends to City Hall were decreased, rates would decrease. Of course, that also has major implications for the rest of the city’s budget and how city residents pay for those services.”

      • A regressive tax…liberals love regressive taxes…high utility rates, sales taxes, gas taxes…

      • Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.

        Ronald Reagan

  12. Planning Engineer and Rud — Sometimes I balk at not what both of you are saying, but the context.

    I have a question. But before I ask it, let’s review my Socialistic, Liberal, Cultist, Gaia views: I believe that Renewable Energy decisions should be made by Engineers using state-of-the-art system planning engineering and economics (e.g., ELCC) — and not Politicians. Using this “Process”, on an currently inflexible System, if the Renewable penetration is 1% or less — so be it. But flexible systems that have say a shiny fleet of combined cycle units, highly integrated with access to Canadian hydro, and off shore wind which lines up nicely with a peaking load curve — the penetration level can be very significant and still have high reliability.

    OK, now my “Big Picture Context Question“: Being from the South, I’m not all that familiar with wind (land & off-shore). I am much more familiar with solar — which currently has a U.S. penetration level of about one-half of 1%.

    Question: In a big picture context of a broad U.S. discussion, at what approximate penetration level does solar start to impact long-duration reliability? (note: you’ve historically said short duration outages are not so much of a concern when I’ve raised the high SAIDI metric in Germany).

    If we double U.S. solar (a pretty lofty accomplishment) to ~1%, does this cross over to the reliability concern threshold? What about increasing solar 10x to ~5%?

    In your and Rud’s opinion, what is the approximate U.S. threshold that we should be using to put the discussion of Renewables in context of penetration levels?

    • Stephen – Speaking for myself, I’ll let Rud answer on his own. The third paragraph of the section titled “Problems with Picking a Target Penetration Level for Wind and Solar” describes the difficulties in answering such a question as yours as penetration levels get higher. Me I’m not that worried below 5%. It will create some work, cause some problems and cost some money but not likely inordinate amounts and not something I’d bother policy makers with, if that were as far as they seemed to be pushing things. But at higher levels I have strong concerns.

      I’ll go out on a limb and share a story and a quote of mine that showed up in the press not too long ago.The quote was roughly “Five percent solar is not a big deal, 10% probably ok, at 15% to 20% it’s different…”

      Anyway I kind of forgot about that, but some time after that I was talking with my planners about implementing criteria for studies around various penetration levels (and we are in the infancy here). One engineer said, “We’re not worried below 5%”. I asked, “How do you know that and why do you say that?” Well they came back with my quote. I backtracked a little and explained that I was talking to the public. At 5% penetration level I don’t think the public needs to worry about it or that it should swing policy decision. But I do think my planners need to worry about it! The context is that we worry about a lot of things and we can handle a lot of problems. This won’t be the first case where something needs special attention, incurs extra costs or causes some problems for the system. The costs and burdens are not of the magnitude at low penetration levels that I would second guess or seek to warn policy makers. Policy imposes costs on us all the time. It’s doable at that level. But as the numbers get higher it is a beast of an entirely different sort. The costs, risks, problems are such that they should be part of the public policy dialogue.

      I don’t really know about 10% As studies and experience develope I may be much more worried by 10% than I am now, or I may conclude we’ve got more margin and 10% doesn’t bother me so much. Of course as more is expected of renewables (such as ERs emulation) the more likely I will be comfortable with higher numbers. To the extent that renewables are given a pass with the expectation that they should be able to produce megawatts as cheaply as possible with others taking responsibility for the burdens they impose, the more higher penetration levels will be problematic.

      • Curious George

        aplanningengineer, I don’t understand what a “penetration level” is. Let’s imagine that a wind supplies 100% of power for one hour a day. Is that a 100% penetration level, or a 4% penetration level? Planners should be highly worried about this situation. Maybe we need two numbers, for an average and a peak.

      • It is the instantaneous value that matters for reliability. But there is some sloppiness of language and I’ll plead guilty as well.

      • CG, penetration is generally taken to mean the proportion of generation, not the proportion of installed nameplate capacities. So, in your example, 4%. Your point about average versus peak is still very valid, and “penetratiion” does not speak to it at all. Another reason PE worries so much about grid reliability since problems usually emerge near peak loads. Straws breaking camel backs, and all that. Regards.

      • Planning Engineer,

        I was looking for papers that discussed this subject (and commented in Renewables V – Grid Stability As Wind Power Penetration Increases). How much wind energy will be curtailed on the 2020 Irish power system?
        E.V. Mc Garriglea, J.P. Deane, P.G. Leahy, Renewable Energy (2013):

        It has been estimated that the SNSP limit will be between 60 and 75% in 2020, with recommendations that a SNSP of 75% could be technically achieved. The issues resulting in the 75% ceiling for SNSP are associated with frequency response to disturbances and transient stability on the power system. It has been suggested that the possible curtailment of wind power or HVDC interconnector imports may be most economic solution to stability issues at certain times

        where SNSP, system non-synchronous penetration =
        SNSP = (wind generation + HVDC imports) / (system demand + HVDC exports)

        This is instantaneous – as you commented, of course instantaneous is the only value that matters to the grid.

        This SNSP limit imposes a significantly lower average penetration value. (This might not be obvious to people unfamiliar with the subject).

        However, this value, even though theoretical is a lot higher than you suggest is cause for some concern.
        Do you know where this difference comes from?

      • Science of Doom,
        My nice long answer to you disappeared. Here’s a re-stab that might differ some if it shows up twice.

        Your referenced article has a lot of good stuff in it. It is chock-full of reasons why wind and its modelling impose risk. My long post talks a lot about reliability and the challenges of very high levels. It’s easy to give up margin in a highly reliable system and ignore the impact. If a hurricane is coming, I wouldn’t worry if traffic overloaded a bridge. In tough times recommended maintenance is delayed. Carefully and skillfully applied such actions usually have no practical effects but to some extent they do impose risk and reduce reliability. Someone might be comfortable with the potential reliability levels obtainable with higher levels of penetration but it is not going to be the same reliability level we value now and have spent considerable resources to achieve. When you are trying to achieve reliability levels in that approach 100% each fractional percentage increase comes at a much higher cost. It’s hard to see the good you do from such measures. Similarly you can fritter away a fractional percentage of your improvements and likely not observe consequences in the near to midterm and possibly long term.
        Besides that here’s some other questionable things likely supporting their numbers. They say “might” be lifted to 75%. I’d guess that assumes that all or most of the intermittent resources are using best available technology and providing ERS. Virtually no one is approaching such behavior and expecting existing resources to be retrofit would be wildly optimistic. They likely have assumed a huge amount of spinning reserve on line to back the wind (because it is the one day everywhere is blowing). In such conditions the machines providing the spinning reserve can provide inertial mass and ERS and the system could be stable, but that is not an economic practice that can work over time. Perhaps if it’s one hour a year it makes sense (considering politics and all that) to crank up a ton of CTs to back up wind. But if you are trying to count on diversity from your intermittent resources (so that it has the oft touted capacity benefits) you won’t want to greatly increase spinning reserves as a regular practice to provide inertia and ERS. Also I don’t know what special equipment they have added to the transmission system or if conventional generation is not allowed to dispatch economically, but must be prioritized ignoring economics in order to support the wind on the grid. Lastly they must have an overabundance of faith in their models to trust that level of penetrationr.

        In the end I think they are doing everything they can to stack the deck to get such numbers. Maybe when models have been improved, maybe when intermittent all use best technology, maybe in limited times with a lot of backup- we can be more comfortable with limited periods of high penetration. I don’t think I am similarly stacking the deck on the low side. I could be taking an approach like “we need every rivet all the time in the Golden Gate Bridge” and some might. I am willing to have such resources impose some burdens and create some hardships that we should surmount.

      • Planning Engineer,

        Thanks for your reply. I believe I understand your points. My paraphrase:

        Until we have some practical experience over some decent period we won’t have much idea.
        Even then, as an example, if we have 5 years where the SNSP hits the 55%- 60% region 30 times and the grid doesn’t collapse it doesn’t mean the 31st time it won’t. Grid stability is not a very tractable problem, due to all the reasons you have well articulated.

      • These guys believe that solar PV is coming at a high penetration regardless of merit and foresee a need for lots of backup gas generation and/or new storage options. I don’t think they address the bulk reliability problem directly, but if their proposed (expensive) solutions on the distribution side were implemented, presumably they would also take care of much of the issues PE raises:

    • SS, there are two dimensions to your question, and they interact.
      First dimension is technical. And grid dependent. For example, Ontario can have more wind because it has so much more hydro that can be flexed to make up wind intermittency. Texas doesn’t.
      Second dimension is cost. In Ontario, the hydro backup cost is minimal. In theory, it is always possible to add backup capacity anywhere you need it. For example, the new 500 MW GE Flex500 CCGT operates 61% efficient at 100% base load, and can still operate 58% efficient at 40% of capacity, or 200MW output. It cannot operate at all below 40%. So that flexibility can back up 300MW of wind (or solar). Take a rough 30% wind capacity factor. That 300MW wind farm only produces 90MW over the year. So the GE CCGT in this thought example is at 40% output (90/500) about 18% of the time, guaranteed. Which means the capital is underutilized and that its electricity will cost more than if that 300MW of wind were not there.

      We worked out the approximate LCOE between coal, CCGT, and wind for the actual ERCOT grid, which is about 10% wind penetration. Previous guest post True Cost of Wind. The LCOE for CCGT was about $53/MWh. For wind it was over $140, nearly 3x.
      So higher penetration means higher cost. Germany and Denmark are other examples we gave in that post.
      As a purely practical matter, I think renewables penetrations above 10% are unwise economically even if technically possible. And without proper grid planning, I think penetrations above 10% are also unnecessarily risky.
      UK is at 10%, and it appears they have not properly engineered the grid. Insufficient interconnect to the continent, needed north south transmission not built yet due to NIMBY (same story in Germany, btw). There was last year a blackout in Scotland and a major brownout in England. Even with all the emergency measures put in place for this winter, reserve ‘capacity’ (which includes payments for industrial curtailment if necessary) is less than 5%. The normal ‘minimum’ is 8%, and most reliable grids operate with maybe 10-12%. See also my comments upthread.
      There are no hard and fast lines, as PE points out. But 10% seems like a reasonable ‘line in the sand’.

    • richardswarthout


      You start by saying “I believe that Renewable Energy decisions should be made by Engineers using state-of-the-art system planning engineering and economics (e.g., ELCC) — and not Politicians.”

      However you then ask “In your and Rud’s opinion, what is the approximate U.S. threshold that we should be using to put the discussion of Renewables in context of penetration levels.”

      Shouldn’t the first step be to examine the output of the ELCC? And won’t that output depend on many variables? So, using the ELCC, a proper mix of generating power is determined. If solar does not come up, why add it? If it comes up, at whatever penetration, examine the risks to the grid.

      Are you not putting the cart before the horse?


      • richardswarthout — Perhaps I was unclear in my use of e.g., ELCC. I mentioned this only in the context of using state-of-the-art engineering methods. ELCC is a relatively new analytical methodology that many Utilities do no use (yet). That’s all I meant by this.

        My question to Planning Engineer and Rud was not a specific question but a general one. As Rud, Planning Engineer, and I have stated, penetration levels are highly dependent on the make-up of a specific grid. New England is certainly much different than say, Mississippi.

        My question to Planning Engineer and Rud was a question to put our discussion (especially for the U.S.) here at CE into context.

        Planning Engineer and Rud are telling us (that in their opinion) we need to be concerned when U.S. penetration levels start to approach 5% to 10% (unless a clear cut smoking gun occurs before these levels are put in service).

    • SS, above reply was general, and if anything wind oriented. Just noticed you asked specifically about solar. Some observations, in part a summary of our Solar Grid Parity post, and in part some additional research just completed.
      CSP makes no sense anywhere, and I note that Abengoa is in the early stages of the Spanish bankruptcy process.
      PV, especially CdTe from First Solar (FS) is starting to make sense in some places at grid scale. FS says utility scale can come in as low as $0.08/kWh LCOE given high insolation (>22% capacity factor), their now >14% efficiency, and cheap desert land. I think their calculation is reasonable; the newest grid scale project (Desert Sunlight, 550MW) came in at $4.18/W with a guaranteed >20 year life with surprisingly little PV efficiency fade over time. So higher penetration does not present undue economic burdens.
      The US area where these conditions are met generally is SoCal, Arizona, southern Nevada, New Mexico, and West Texas. ONLY. Another positive factor is that in that region, peak loads are summer daytime (air conditioning), so PV even naturally ‘load follows’ a bit. And, extended cloud/rain there is primarily an ‘off peak’ winter phenomenon. And, PV is more predictable than wind so the requisite backup CCGT is both quantitatively less and qualitatively more predictable.
      So in that region (only), I don’t think penetration significantly higher than 10% would be a big problem either economically or in terms of grid reliability. How high the penetration could go still depends on local grid details.

      • SS, hope this provides sufficient context, of the sort you sought.

      • I think PV can be useful for “peak shaving” in big box retail, commercial, industrial/warehouse and neighborhood/community residential settings. This is typically an end-of-node, use-on-site approach. I’m less confident in plans for PV baseload or bulk power.

        Because of variable pricing based on peak demand, peak shaving can produce a higher rate of return on solar investment by avoiding those utility charges. In addition, if you have a lot of roof space you might want to “overbuild” your PV to be able to provide electricity to nearby businesses or residences. But doing so requires a lot of regulatory/legal adjustments (you in effect become a power company) and it has taken states/municipalities years to rewrite the rules. Even something as simple as running a connection to the business across the street can be tripped up by right-of-way issues with the local utility. There are a lot of moving parts in this complex system and I’ve only touched on a few of them. But the bottom line is that you can’t just impose a renewable goal and expect all problems to be taken care of.

        As Kermit the Frog so aptly put it, “It’s not easy being green.”

      • Rud, the summertime peak load in California occurs about 7PM, which is when most PV has fallen off-line. This is the essence of the “solar duck” problem as discussed by the Cal-ISO.

        I wonder if a good part of the incentive for Elon Musk’s Tesla company to get into the home battery business was to provide a way for Elon Musk’s Solar City company to stay in business. If the PowerWall batteries could get the Solar City customers from drawing on the grid from the time that the PV generation stopped to say 9PM, then the Solar City could say that they are handling the “solar duck” problem.

    • Stephen,

      I appreciate your passion and willingness to swim against the tide here. Having said that from your above words:” I believe that Renewable Energy decisions should be made by Engineers using state-of-the-art system planning engineering and economics (e.g., ELCC) — and not Politicians.”

      Do you think that that is what is occurring?

      To be fair, my impression is that the renewable decisions are being made proactively by ‘politician’s’, and not at this time (yet?) for practical applicability reasons. Having said that, I’m not against ‘seeding’ of the process based on the understanding that alternatives are a necessary due to the limited (presumed) life of FF, but nuclear is not as involved as it likely should be in the scheme of things.

      Will await your response, but not intending to put the spotlight on you wished to offer my commentary only out of fairness.


      • “I believe that Renewable Energy decisions should be made by Engineers using state-of-the-art system planning engineering and economics (e.g., ELCC) — and not Politicians.”

        Segrest says that but he continually advocates for the opposite. He advocates for renewables despite the integration issues, poor reliability, and their high cost. That is not engineering, that’s advocacy for a cultist’s belief and political intervention to support what he advocates for – despite what he says.

      • Danny Thomas


        I’m sorry, but I do not read Stephen the same way as you. I see Stephen as a pragmatist who supports renewables (prefer the term alternatives) as a portion of the solution which should be considered in the conversation. In that I’m not ‘all in’ on ANY single energy source (believing that more sources are better than single sources………and inclusive of nuclear, natgas, et al). My impression is that Stephen has a similar perspective and holds the belief that incorporation with appropriate engineering is sound. That Stephen is willing to ‘take the heat’ for taking a stance counter to the tendency is admirable IMO. AK is another example with whom I agree yet he is willing to go counter to the prevailing winds. And I accept the angst which goes with this conversation due to my ‘belief’ that having a larger base from which to draw is better than a more narrow base, allowing for technological advances which will lead to their incorporation.

        I’m sorry if this disturbs you, but it’s my view. I strongly support your view that nuclear is key to meet energy needs yet not to the point of exclusivity which you seem to prefer.

        You may have noticed that earlier I asked Stephen if he ‘believed’ that the current level of renewable incorporation was driven by other than politics (as I do not). I’m awaiting his response. but it’s late and I expect none in the near term.

      • Danny,

        You have not been following Segrest’s comments long enough to recognise he is a committed Green advocating for renewables, no matter what the cost of consequences; on previous threads he has advocated for some of the most ridiculous schemes. He frequently mixes it with a pile of abuse, which I have now adopted as the way I will respond to him. He frequently accuses others of “black-whit bla bla bla”, “arm waving”, “strawman arguments” which are actually what he does.

        Try to pin him down to debate the most important issues and you’ll get every conceivable means of dodging, weaving, avoiding the point or question, disinformation, misquotes, misrepresentations, and all the other tactics of deniers and the intellectually dishonest.

      • Danny Thomas


        I will wait a few minutes before further response, but yes I have seen yours and Stephen’s interactions.

        I cannot contribute on an engineering level in a meaningful way, but I can on a political scale and have asked Stephen for his impression w/r/t the political support (not market support) of renewables (which you may have seen earlier in the conversation). I’ll wait and let him speak for himself in that regard.

        Each of you may have differing impressions of ‘the most important issues’ and may be capable of a valuable discussion once those are better defined. I, for one, look forward to that discussion.

      • Danny,

        Each of you may have differing impressions of ‘the most important issues’ and may be capable of a valuable discussion once those are better defined.

        I’ve tried that very many times. He refuses to engage. He dodges and weaves and avoids the debate, as I’ve stated.

      • Danny,

        Each of you may have differing impressions of ‘the most important issues’ and may be capable of a valuable discussion once those are better defined. I, for one, look forward to that discussion.

        I’ve posted here: one of the comments I’ve tried to discuss with Stephen Segrest. He does not want to engage seriously.

        I’ve posted many authoritative links showing that a large proportion of nuclear is the least cost way to achieve the requirements of the electricity system if achieving large CO2 emissions reductions is a requirement.

      • Danny Thomas


        That portion is between you and Stephen and is up to you to work out. I hope you both do as each have something to offer, but the type of communication is as important as the message. Maybe compromise would be a choice to consider, but that’s up to you guys.

        I appreciate the interaction. I agree that if indeed CO2 is the major concern that nuclear MUST be a large part of the solution if only until an agreeable alternative is developed.

      • Danny — I was in System Planning for ~25 years for 2 major electric utilities in the Southeast U.S. I’ve testified before numerous PSCs and before Congress.

        Yes, I believe for the most part in the U.S. (where California is the exception, not the norm) that current decisions in implementing Renewables have been based on highly defensible engineering and economics.

        A key point in this belief is the current (typical) very low penetration levels where for example solar’s penetration in the U.S. is about one-half of 1%. Here in the South when Utilities are implementing solar, they are saying (with their PSCs concurrence) that solar is beating the cost of options like simple cycle combustion turbines (with expected very low capacity factors) in meeting new incremental peaking load requirements.

        To believe these decisions are currently being made in some smoke filled room by Special Interests, with no documentation, is an inconceivable conspiracy theory. Inconceivable in that if this was occurring en mass, Industrial Customers especially would be intervening like crazy (and dragging folks to Court).

        The next part of my beliefs are taking Dr. Curry’s views in a constructive light — rather than just conflict all the time over something. As an engineer and non-climate scientist, I believe Dr. Curry’s position on TCR makes current sense over more CAGW scenarios on Sensitivity.

        If one accepts Dr. Curry’s position on TCR, there are at least 7 areas of “low regrets” policies that the World could implement:

        Now in “ranking” these options I believe Renewable Energy (but always utilizing a “Process” of sound engineering economics) would be prioritized way down on the list. My top action (which Dr. Curry writes favorably about) is “Fast Mitigation” (methane, smog, HFCs, black carbon). Next I like the French proposal to increase carbon levels in soils by 0.4% per year (which I currently do research with folks like ORNL and USDA on). Next would be increased R&D funding in emerging technologies.

        As Dr. Curry has stated, to buy-into the need to immediately implement huge quantities of new nuclear power — one has to accept the CAGW scenarios.

        Dr. Curry views on this are at a blog post entitled “The new climate deniers” and a specific quote by Dr. Curry is at:

        I’ve got better things to do than be baited into an unending fight with Mr. Lang. He should take on Dr. Curry with his fight.

  13. Just in case anyone hasn’t seen Bjorn Lomborg’s latest video on Germany’s Energiewende:

    Their wind and solar electricity was only 15% in 2014! Whenever you hear figures for “renewables like wind and solar”, what you are actually hearing are the figures for wind and solar larded with the figures for hydro and biomass, which are nothing like wind and solar. For one thing, they are both dispatchable. Biomass basically means burning stuff, which means it has a very dubious value in reducing CO2. For hydro, the supply is limited as shown in this chart for Germany:×485.png

  14. Jacobson is expanding his claims vs original 2009 effort.
    Comments/analysis from planningengineer would be welcome.

    Can the world convert to total renewable energy by 2050?

    Mark Jacobson to James Hansen: Nukes Are Not Needed to Solve World’s Climate Crisis

    • I am not PE, but Jacobson is nuts. Impossible.
      The sun does not always shine, the wind does not always blow, and there is not enough hydro to make up the difference.
      There isn’t even enough additional NPP biomass in the entire world to make up half of its present petroleum consumption IF the KiOR process worked, which it does not. The calculation is in essay Bugs, Roots, and Biofuels.

    • No special expertise to answer that question. I’ve never forecast beyond 30 years and never with a lot of confidence for the later years, so I will pass on that.

    • I have a similar education and background to PE, except my experience is all in power generation. It is foolish to try to predict what the power system will look like in 50 years. However, I am closer to Rud in believing that this author is nuts.

      After Paris there were some articles from the left that finally and mercifully acknowledged the limitations of renewable energy. Unlike the political science of climate change, there is no political consensus possible that can repeal the laws of physics.

    • Curious George

      Prof. Mark Jacobson works with our old friend Prof. Paul Ehrlich. That should guarantee a sustained reliability of predictions.

    • PE, Rud,
      Thanks for your comments. When Jacobson’s study first came out in 2009 I looked it over, and concluded there was an awful lot of “blue sky”, and that it was very high level and glossing over and weak in the very sort of detail that planningengineer so ably addresses.
      I haven’t scrutinized Jacobson’s more recent efforts however the problem is that many including the political elite are accepting these claims at face value as realistic (cost and technical viability)
      That’s why Jacobson’s claims really need a careful audit, as to what is actually realistic.
      As I recall, Al Gore issued a challenge to accelerate conversion to renewables, and I think Jacobson’s study was in response to that, at least I interpreted it that way : )
      Rud, regarding Kior: I didn’t think their approach was going to work as apparently claimed. I strongly suspected that their front end which they referred to as analogous to fluid cat cracking was not going to achieve much if any “catalytic enhancement”. Basically I thought they were just operating as a “fast pyrolysis” reactor.
      I never like it when the glossy literature apparently over claims what may be technically realistic. I didn’t see enough product quality data released by Kior to confirm my suspicions.
      However, there is another outfit, a joint venture of Ensyn and UOP working on the same type of ideas ideas. Enysn’s contribution is in fast pyrolysis. UOP is a very experienced HC processing licensor
      Their website is here

      The Ensyn-UOP approach was more incremental in first trying to develop applications for using the Bio-Oil in applications with less technically demanding requirements than those of conventional transportation fuels.
      EG Fuel for Industrial Burners

      They also were working on an approach to incrementally co-process BIO-Oil (I think up to 5%(last I saw) in existing refinery cat cracker feed) which is a smarter and less technically challenging approach to commercialization than KIOR adopted.
      However they are concurrently working as a “development project” on hydroprocessing neat BIO-OIL to transportation fuels as noted in their FAQ below.
      So I wouldn’t necessarily conclude that what KIOR attempted and failed at, could not eventually be achieved.
      I think KIOR bit off more than they could chew, and probably Jacobson has done the same. Sometimes an incremental approach is better one. So I commend planningengineer’s approach in looking at penetration levels for renewables as a valid and sensible approach.

      What are the attributes of the transportation fuel Envergent is developing? Is this another way of making ethanol and biodiesel?
      The transportation fuel that we will offer is not ethanol or biodiesel. Envergent is developing two pathways to renewable transportation fuels. One using existing refinery infrastructure to coprocess RTP green fuel. The second is upgrading of RTP green fuel directly to transportation fuels. The green transportation fuels produced by upgrading will be fungible with their fossil counterparts. These fuels will be known as green gasoline, green diesel and green jet fuel. They will be molecularly identical to their fossil counterparts, whereas ethanol and biodiesel are not molecularly identical to gasoline or diesel. Being molecularly identical allows them to fit seamlessly into the existing refining and distribution infrastructure; they are fungible, avoiding any mixing and separation issues

    • @dougbadgero @PE

      I understand the reluctance regarding long term planning. In a way it’s sort of a no win situation. Despite the difficulties, when one is looking at long life new facilities such as a new nuke (40-60years), one has to have some rationale planning procedures and scenarios.
      The type of issues we need to take a position on: EG Rud has mentioned question should we invest in Gen3 nukes now, or keep burning coal now and wait for Gen4

      • Brentns1, I think Gen 3 now or Gen4 research/pilots now and Gen 4 later is one of the crucial energy policy questions that is not being addressed properly. Multibillions are being thrown at almost certainly guaranteed not to work fusion (US example, NIF), very little on gen 4 fission. Covered the issues in essay Going Nuclear.

  15. Why the report on Ontario’s electricity fiasco should be required reading in Paris
    This week, Ontario’s Auditor-General released her annual report. The big bombshell is that the province’s electricity system is broken, and the government broke it. Power in Ontario is a never-ending story of costs that have spiralled out of control, prices that have risen far faster than inflation, producers paid to produce more power than the market wants, others paid to not produce, some consumers paid to not consume, and yet more subsidies doled out to generate enough surplus power to light up all of Manitoba.
    Ontarians have paid $37-billion more than they should have for electricity over the past eight years, according to Auditor Bonnie Lysyk – with a projected $133-billion more overcharging to come in the next 18 years.

    Trudeau to make Ontario energy fiasco national

    Alberta, feds to copy Ontario energy plan

    Legendary Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens is suing Ontario for $700 million over wind power

    Ontario Liberals politically motivated in converting plant to biomass fuel, says PC leader
    Liberal government converted Thunder Bay power plant to pricey biomass fuel to protect area MPPs, Conservatives say

  16. Question for aplanningengineer:

    In your opinion, what would happen if a Carrington Event would take place? Do designers take this possibility into account?

    nb: Carrington event: The Solar Storm of 1859 — known as the Carrington Event — was a powerful geomagnetic solar storm during solar cycle 10 (1855-1867). A solar coronal mass ejection hit Earth’s magnetosphere and induced one of the largest geomagnetic storms on record.

    • pochas94-there has been strong attention to geomagnetic disturbances (GMD solar disturbances) and electromagnetic pulses (EMP – man made). The. main risks from GMD is that it will run transformers and put them out of commission for a long time. Mitigating efforts include maintaining spare transformers, adding resistive elements to reduce pulse currents and early warning to shut down the grid to limit damage. We do risk assume to from GMD. Nerc has has addressed with documents such as this:

      The orientation of transmission lines and the latitude impact the risk level. Solar disturbances go off in all directions and so the first question is what levels ar on target for us with what probability. The second question is how much damage corresponds to what level. Research and study is on gong and opinions vary. My understanding is that based on recent strike magnitudes and their impacts -things might not be as bad as previously thought. That is to say that the original speculations as to what another Carrington magnitude event might do, have become more moderate.

      I brought up EMP earlier. The risk from this type event n particular gets more attention from certain right wing circles. Some don’t distinguish between EMP and GMD . Everyone has their favorite potential disasters. I tend not to highly fearful of the extreme disaster scenarios of the right or left. Remeber Y2K. Hard to disprove “could happens”. Maybe it will be an asteroid. From a precautionary principle approach I don’t know how worthy extreme measures for GMD are. But reasonable steps to address major concerns seem worthwhile.

      • This may be a dumb question, but why wouldn’t the use of series capacitors in the transmission line block the the GMD induced DC flow that damages the transformers? Don’t think it would help with EMP.

        On the subject of series capacitors, I remember one of my professors talking about how SCE found out about sub-synchronous resonances. He claimed they broke two turbine generator shafts before realizing that the torsional resonant frequency coincided with the sub-synchronous resonance of the line with series capacitors.

    • Can’t speak for PE, but here is my opinion:

      CMEs are monitored as they approach earth, i.e. We will know it is coming. CMEs damage the grid by inducing low frequency currents into iron core inductors, transformers, etc. When this nearly DC current is superimposed on the 60hz grid frequency it forces these iron core inductors into the non- linear region resulting in high currents that cause damage. The solution is to deenergize the grid during the CME.

      PE may have some insight into the possibility of shielding from CME, which would allow the grid to remain energized, but I don’t believe that is possible.

      • Except for not being certain that with current capabilities we will know with certainty it’s coming in a timely fashion allowing for grid shutdown (but maybe Doug is correct), I agree with Doug. If we do not have such capabilities at this time, I expect they are on his horizon.

      • i would not say that we can shield from pulses, but impedance elements can reduce the impact of pulses.

      • 1. dougbadgero: “CMEs are monitored as they approach earth, i.e. We will know it is coming.”

        2. aplanning engineer: “If we do not have such capabilities at this time, I expect they are on his horizon.”

        Can anyone predict now, or in the foreseeable future, Carrington-type events (geomagnetic disturbances) from our pulsar-centered Sun?

        If they could do that, there would be no reason to give public research funds to the “97%-consensus scientists” who refuse to
        _ a.) Publicly deny or
        _ b.) Publicly admit
        the precise measurements and observations that show the Sun is the creator and sustainer of every atom, life and planet in the solar system.

    • To more directly answer your question. I would expect we could get a major blackout in North America. More significant transformer damage in Canada less moving southward. Replacing transformers would create problems. Limited manufactures and long lead times. For the rest of the globe the latitudes would be the same, but the more long north south lines the bigger the risk. For east west lins and shorter connections less. You can google Carrington event and find a lot more sensational stuff.

      • Would tripping circuit breakers protecting the transformers stop the problem? Naively, if a high core temperature can be detected in time, I believe it would. I am definitely not looking for sensational stuff, I am looking for reassurance. Is this a false alarm scenario that needs debunking?

      • pochas94

        This alarm scenario can be debunked by publicly addressing the precise measurements and observations that indicate the core of the Sun is the pulsar remanent of a supernova that made our elements and birthed the solar system five billion years (5 Ga) ago.

      • If you wait till the pulse hits, the protective equipment can not operate in time. The problem is GMD creates a very fast powerful wave.

      • Thanks, aplanningengineer, for your candor. How great is the danger that an unexpected, solar EMP might be mistaken for a sneak nuclear attack and trigger a series of retaliatory launches of nuclear weapons?

  17. This just in!!! From the article:

    Instances of volcanic eruptions are their highest for 300 years and scientists fear a major one that could kill millions and devastate the planet is a real possibility.

    Experts at the European Science Foundation said volcanoes – especially super-volcanoes like the one at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, which has a caldera measuring 34 by 45 miles (55 by 72 km) – pose more threat to Earth and the survival of humans than asteroids, earthquakes, nuclear war and global warming.

    There are few real contingency plans in place to deal with the ticking time bomb, which they conclude is likely to go off within the next 80 years.

  18. Planning Engineer,

    Thank you for another of your excellent posts. Very well written and clearly explained. You are an excellent communicator.

    From the section “What options are available to maintain high levels of reliability?

    Beefing up the bulk system could easily double transmission costs.

    To put a number on it, if “double transmission costs” applies to total network costs, then this would mean a 50% increase in electricity prices in Australia. (Network costs comprise 51% of the average residential electricity prices in the Australia – see Figure 10, p18: ; the 51% is cpmprised of 9% for transmission and 42% for distribution). What penetration of weather-dependent renewables might be likely to require a “Beefing up the bulk system [that would] double transmission costs”? (Wind energy penetration in Australia in 2014 was 4.5%).

    • Peter I don’t have a good number and there are so many factors. I suspect the costs take a big discontinuity at some point between 10 and 50, but Its a swag. From memory the studies EIPC did that had high wind in the US doubling costs just from the interconnections to move power from the sources to loads without considering the underlying system would need beefing up or special ERS needs.

  19. Planning Engineer,

    You said: “Germany is part of an international interconnected grid..

    Does it have a synchronous connection to other countries?

    My understanding is that the connections from Ireland – UK and from UK – France were non-synchronous (i.e. HVDC) so don’t provide any stability.

  20. Rud and Planning Engineer — Thanks for your context comments.

    In the next year, I hope we can “up our game” here at CE discussing electricity. Its not just red state (conservative) vs. blue state (liberal) as many here want to make it. As Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Iowa illustrate — many times it might not even be about AGW.

    It’s complicated. Hopefully we all can learn from each other in the coming year. I personally think a “target rich” area of understanding is evolving U.S. electricity markets. ERCOT especially appears to be an interesting place — just as much (if not more) than California.

    • Why do you keep bringing your political opinions into it? It’s about the cheapest way to meet objectives, and one of the key objectives is reliability of supply, not how much ideologically-driven weather-dependent renewables Green activists can get politicians to force into the grid. Clearly, the cheapest way to make large reductions to the emissions intensity of electricity is with a high proportion of nuclear. Renewables cannot do that. France has been demonstrating what can be achieved for 30 years – reliability, cheap, low emissions electricity (0.042 t/MWh in 2014). France’s large exports to all neighbours demonstrates the high proportion of nuclear is supplying reliable power that meets objectives and does what the market wants. Why deny reality?

      • Danny Thomas


        From PE’s offering: “Maybe it’s worth giving up our existing high levels of reliability to achieve other societal goals. But if so the action should be undertaken with the understanding that reliability risks will be increasing, not in denial of such risks. As we work towards accommodating greater penetration of renewables, there is not a single answer for appropriate penetration levels. Risks will vary based on the characteristics of the individual integrated power systems. Until we have more experience with the newer technologies as they develop and reach maturity, estimating the “safe” level of penetration presents challenges and any definitive statements should be suspect.”

      • Yes, Danny,

        I am read the whole post. I suggest you should reread the who post and interpret the bit you cherry picked in the context of all he’s saying. The undeniable fact is that renewables cannot make much contribution to reducing global GHG emissions. Nuclear can, as demonstrated by France and other countries. All. the countries with a high proportion of nuclear have lower electricity prices and lower GHG emissions intensity of electricity than countries with a high proportion of electricity.

        Deniers deny the relevant facts.

      • Danny Thomas

        Whoa Peter,

        What exactly do you think I was trying to say?

        The most pertinent portion of the citation from PE (IMO) was this excerpt: ““Maybe it’s worth giving up our existing high levels of reliability to achieve other societal goals. But if so the action should be undertaken with the understanding that reliability risks will be increasing, not in denial of such risks. As we work towards accommodating greater penetration of renewables, there is not a single answer for appropriate penetration levels.”

        I did not select this portion out of concern for being accused of ‘cherry picking’ so I offered the entire para.

        I am a proponent of nuclear (presuming the ‘true goal’ is reduction of CO2 while providing consistent power). That you seem to read in to my comment (ironically offered in support of YOUR position on nuclear) says more about your seeming desire to want to pick a fight where there is no fight to be had.

        I am additionally a proponent of renewable (better said as alternative) as it is my concern that there is a need for replacement technology due to the inevitable.

        Pick a fight with that if you must, but you’ll chose to do so with one who is more of an ally than an antagonist (w/r/t nuclear). Please reread the original offering and consider that your skin is excessively thin when the term ‘denier’ is used in the communication.

      • It wasn’t clear to me what point you were trying to make. I didn’t interpret it the way you intended.

      • Danny Thomas


        Likely poor writing on my part. I assure you that I’m a proponent of nuclear. In Texas, where I live, nuclear has been a major contribution to the availability of power for the southern portion, has been problem free, and economically viable. Having said that, the renewable (again, prefer alternative) portion of the Texas’ portfolio is not to be ignored. Yes, it’s only available due to subsidy and to a minor level I’m okay with the ‘seeding’ of the technology due to this. Incorporation on a large scale is well above my pay grade on the engineering scale, but it’s seemingly being done to the level at which it currently exists.

        Apologies if I created a misunderstanding.

      • Danny,

        the renewable (again, prefer alternative) portion of the Texas’ portfolio is not to be ignored.

        My time horizons may be different to yours. My concern is, if we want to slow CO2 concentration growth to 2050 and 2100, emissions have to be reduced globally, not just in the rich countries. The world has to have technologies that are economically viable for all countries eventually, and available as soon as possible for the largest emitters. As other countries develop they will implement these technologies instead of fossil fuels. Also the technologies must be able to replace most fossil fuels. There is good evidence that renewables cannot do much, but nuclear can do most of it and perhaps all eventually. Furthermore, building renewables is delaying progress. The more renewables capacity we build the more fossil fuel back up we need and the longer we delay building nuclear – because it will be decades before the renewables and fossil fuel back up will be replaced.

      • Danny Thomas


        I agree with about 90% of your offering. The caveat being that we need to compromise with that which is ‘doable’. By this, I mean there needs to be a give and take. The impression I’m left with via PE’s offering is that some level up to about 10% in our current renewables (wind and solar) is doable in incorporation in to our current state of technology of the grid w/o compromising it’s ability. So in order to meet the needs of all (left and right politically) that we (collectively) should accept that the absolute best tool available is nuclear to meet CO2 reduction (presuming that is the greatest concern if only as a bridge) until ‘alternative’ energy sources are available at the scale necessary to meet the energy requirements of all societies (rich and developing). In that way, you and I are well aligned.

        In order to reach that goal, I am willing (and frankly intrigued) to accept a given level of renewable (under current technological restraints) energy sources even if subsidized (as subsidies often lead to advances). Where we disagree is that investment in renewables (read that as alternative) delays progress. Failure in the area of renewables should lead to improvement and a lack of failure is, well, a lack of failure to the extent of grid capability.

        I am all for ramping up the nuclear side of things, but leaving alternatives off the table is not what I perceive as the best course of action. And I do not see that as what PE (or Rud) is suggesting over the long term. Something, sometime will come along in the way of innovation IMO.

        So even if the current state of ‘renewables’ will only provide some 10% of the needs then that is some 10% which therefore becomes less contentious. I’m all for that as contentiousness is what we need far less.

      • Danny,

        I agree with about 90% of your offering. The caveat being that we need to compromise with that which is ‘doable’. By this, I mean there needs to be a give and take. The impression I’m left with via PE’s offering is that some level up to about 10% in our current renewables (wind and solar) is doable in incorporation in to our current state of technology of the grid w/o compromising it’s ability. So in order to meet the needs of all (left and right politically) that we (collectively) should accept that the absolute best tool available is nuclear to meet CO2 reduction (presuming that is the greatest concern if only as a bridge) until ‘alternative’ energy sources are available at the scale necessary to meet the energy requirements of all societies (rich and developing). In that way, you and I are well aligned.

        I don’t agree on this. My reason are:

        1. Start with the requirements, not the politics.

        2. Leave the politics out of it. That’s no way to find the right engineering solution – which is what Segrest says he wants.

        3. We’ve had 50 years of delay by focusing on trying to satisfy the anti-nukes and the socialist ideologues for totally irrational reasons. They will never be satisfied. They don’t give a damn about the requirements, they just want to satisfy their ideological beliefs, such as: renewables are good because they are renewables and distributed energy is good because it gives power to the people and takes it awy from the evil big corporations.

        4. You say we should compromise on doing that which is “doable”. I don’t understand what you mean. Do you mean compromise and do something that does not achieve the requirements or compromise on something that does achieve the requirements? Do you want to achieve the requirements or spin wheels indefinitely? Building renewables is not a solution, it’s a delay.

        5. 5% renewables has a cost. 10% renewables has a cost. No amount will satisfy the renewable advocates. They don’t care about cost or the consequences for humanity. But the main cost is the delay caused by implementing renewables instead of nuclear. It’s decades. We delay getting restarted on the accelerating growth rate that nuclear was demonstrating in the 1960s-1980s. We are spinning our wheels. Just like not investing and thus not getting the benefits of compounding.

        So in order to meet the needs of all (left and right politically) that we (collectively) should accept that the absolute best tool available is nuclear to meet CO2 reduction (presuming that is the greatest concern if only as a bridge) until ‘alternative’ energy sources are available at the scale necessary to meet the energy requirements of all societies (rich and developing).

        This comment reveals massive fundsmental misunderstandings:

        6. Renewables cannot do the job. That is the point. And building them is delaying progress.

        7. ‘Alternatives’, as you call them, will never be able to supplies the world’s energy needs. However, nuclear can, indefinitely.

      • Danny Thomas


        To address your points bullet, by bullet.

        1.) Yes, but there needs to be understanding as to what the requirements are. For example and completely off topic, consider what advances in technology occurred due to the moon landing: One never knows what advances might occur tangentially due to a particular goal. The ‘politics’ of being the first on the moon lead to what?

        2.) Leave the politics out of it. Yes. I wish. But that’s not feasible. Politics is already ingrained so dealing with the cards we’re dealt…………
        I’ll leave it to PE to discuss the reality of integration but as I understand it there is room for some percentage of renewables. Presuming a give and take scenario (missing too much in today’s world) then ‘giving’ say some 10% in order to ‘get’ greater focus on nuclear is a trade of with which I’m willing to live.

        3.) Not at all suggesting WE give in w/r/t nuclear. As part of the trade off in acceptance of the say 10% of renewable integration WE then insist on a greater integration of the proven capability of nuclear. Think we’re on the same page with the desire for greater nuclear, with the only question being how much to allow in renewable (again, I’ll state alternative) integration. Give and take. Try it, we might like it. I don’t wish to satisfy the ‘anti nuke’s as you put it. I suggest a trade off with a goal of finding out that which satisfies the supposed desire to reduce CO2 emissions. (In other words, the anti nukes can put up or shut up………..STP information: ” STP’s two reactors can generate 2,700 megawatts of electricity, providing clean energy to two million Texas homes. The plant’s reactors went online in August 1988 and June 1989 and are the sixth and fourth youngest of the 104 operating reactors nationwide.” Link: (Note: the source is NPR, no less).

        4). Doable. I’m referring to some level of give an take. Yes, it’s a foreign concept in today’s world but allowing for some level of renewables foregoing the efficiencies in order to gain a greater level of penetration of that which (IMO) provides for the ‘greater good’ is acceptable.

        5). Yes, renewables have a cost. As does the disposal of radioactive fuel sources. Those costs are political as well as physical in nature and trade offs might just lead to progress.

        6) Renewables can, and do do the job. They currently are, with subsidies, as provided in the charts from Stephen Segrest. The percentage of capability is the question. Market forces will determine penetration presuming technology incorporates capability. This is an unknown (but capabilities exist +/- 10% according to PE) which will self adjust.

        7) Alternatives, are an unknown. Current technology indicates the level of integration, but development of future unknowns are unknown. You can suggest that they will not or cannot ‘supply the worlds energy needs’ and based on current I could agree to a percentage. However, neither you nor I can know what the future may hold and the seeding of the technology is something I’m willing to invest in. That future may be in improved alternative nuclear (salt?) technology, solar, geothermal, or who knows? I’m not okay with betting against improvements in future unknowns. Heck, 20 years ago I’d not have bet you and I could have this conversation on something called a blog on the internet.

        Further to your following comment and how we agree (I think), leveling the playing field with nuclear (presuming CO2 is the true concern) must be taken in to consideration. I don’t wish to remove renewable subsidies as that may seed some unknown improvement, but barriers to entry in the nuclear consideration should also be lessened. In this we agree. Differing approaches towards the same goal is okay, IMO. We’ll get there, Peter. You and I, a couple of lawn chairs and the appropriate beverages could work things out. I only hope the same goes with you and Stephen. Truly, my best regards.

        I don’t think I miss your point about incentivising renewables has delayed anything at all. I think that I just do not agree to the level that you do. It’s okay that we agree to disagree on this point as it’s a minor part of this discussion in that I’m willing to accept a small percentage (say 10% penetration) in order to gain a higher percentage of nuclear and natgas. It appears that you are unwilling to accept any percentage of renewables (alternatives) and on that we’ll just have to disagree.

      • Quick responses to you “point by point replies”

        1. Not a rational argument and not a justification for wasting money on ideologically based pet schemes without evidence that it can solve the problems and meet requirements. That argument could be used, and often is, to support any crazy scheme.

        2. True, we can’t leave the politics out of it. But what informed people should try to do is to educate others that the politics is being driven by the irrational beliefs of the public which has been caused by 50 years of scaremongering by anti-nukes. Just because grid can accept a small % of renewables without excessive cost or excessive increase in risk doesn’t mean it is rational to do so. I don’t agree with your interpretation of what PC said. So, can we please stick to making our own arguments instead of trying to cherry-pick bits of PE’s post, out of context, and putting your own interpretation on what it means.

        3. You can’t “insist” on anything like you suggested. The politics of ideology doesn’t work like that. Nuclear proponents have been trying to make progress against the anti-nukes for 50 years. It doesn’t work. There is no give and take. It’s all one way. We need to stick to rational justifications. Start by recognising the requirements then arguing for the best and cheapest way to achieve them. You still do not understand the important point that “allowing 10%” renewables means many decades of delay before you can reduce GHG emission from electricity by 50% or 80%. I’ll make another attempt to explain this very important point in a separate comment.

        4. Answered above

        5. Cost of radioactive waste disposal is a red herring. It’s already included in the cost of nuclear, but the cost of managing the waste of all other technologies is not included in the cost of electricity from those technologies. Furthermore, the cost of permanent management of nuclear waste is trivial, it’s about $1/MWh or about 1% of the cost of electricity.

        6. Renewables cannot do the job. The job is to reduce the emissions intensity of electricity by 90% (e.g. same as France). Non-hydro renewables cannot make any significant contribution to that at a cost that could ever be viable. As the penetration of renewables increases, the CO2 abatement effectiveness decreases – e.g. CO2 abatement effectiveness is down to about 50% at 20% penetration. That does not apply to nuclear because nuclear does not require fossil fuel back up to fill in for the times of no sun or wind.

        7. “I don’t wish to remove renewable subsidies as that may seed some unknown improvement,” Well, that’s where much of the public sits too. What I am trying to do is to get people past that – i.e. to start thinking rationally, not emotionally.

        Last paragraph. You are willing to accept 10% renewables because you do not understand that it causes many decades of delay to reducing GHG emissions. Furthermore, 10% now, q5% next year, and do on indefinitely. Meanwhile, genuine progress to achieve the objectives is delayed indefinitely – a continuation of the last 30 years of stalled progress.

      • Danny Thomas


        Thank you. Referring back to the points.

        1) Additional questions formed in my mind reading your response. Do you not think that the ‘moon race’ was a bit irrational at the time as it was done for prestige and political purpose of showing technological superiority?, and for fun:

        In hindsight, I think the decision was quite rational.

        And as a follow up should an improved alternative energy source (fusion?) come about as a result of research in to ‘alternatives’ (not specifically wind and solar, but what the heck?) might that then prove the worth of the concept?

        2). It is rational to work with your opposition to provide them with that which they need in order to gain that which you need. Compromise is not a bad word even though it seems to be becoming a lost art. This is stated w/o ‘cherry picking’ anything from any one and is the point when it was stated to play the cards we’re dealt. The current renewables will not just go away with any change in administration so they will either prove themselves out over time or be removed/replaced as is justified politically or economically and the end of their useful life.

        3). It appears that you perceive that needs don’t change over time. Using your 50 year time frame, until relatively recently (Paris a few short days ago) there was no commitment internationally to deal with CO2.

        4) Addressed above.

        5). You’ve commented on the economic cost of nuclear waste disposal and ignore the political cost of same.

        6). Again, you’ve narrowly defined ‘the job’ w/o agreement to that definition. Since you and I disagree on that definition we cannot move forward.

        7). Refer back to #1 above.

        Final para. I am fine with the level of grid penetration that the engineers deem acceptable. I do not define the percentage any more than I do with current grid integration of any energy sources. I do not chose which sources are used, the accountants and engineers do.

        Appreciate the discussion. It’s interesting that I tell you that I support nuclear but am willing to accept a minor investment in alternatives with the hope that innovation will occur and for political benefit. Yet it seems that in your responses your rationality is that only nuclear is acceptable and no further consideration is allowed. You’ve indicated your perception that I’ve not been rational in my comments communicating with you and yet your presentation is single item focused which from my perspective is less than optimal. You apparently wish to not only have my support (freely offered) for nuclear but you also wish me to deny all alternatives. Is it rational to insist on a 100% win when communicating with an ally?

        So I put it to you again, yes I’m willing to accept some give and take in order to gain that which I desire and leave it to you to chose otherwise.

      • Danny,

        Appreciate the discussion. It’s interesting that I tell you that I support nuclear but am willing to accept a minor investment in alternatives with the hope that innovation will occur and for political benefit. Yet it seems that in your responses your rationality is that only nuclear is acceptable and no further consideration is allowed. You’ve indicated your perception that I’ve not been rational in my comments communicating with you and yet your presentation is single item focused which from my perspective is less than optimal.

        I appreciate the discussion too, and welcome all support for rationally based discussions.

        Just to clarify, I am not arguing for or against any technology if the facts show it can or is likely to be able to meet the requirements of the electricity system at least cost. However, there is no evidence that renewables can, whereas there is solid evidence that nuclear can.

        You haven’t made a case that weather dependent renewables can meet the objectives of the electricity system or be financially viable in doing so. It’s not constructive to keep repeating your beliefs and opinions if you can’t support them. There is no basis for any target like 10% or any other percentage. If renewables can do the job at least cost, then their proportion should be as high as necessary to meet requirements at least cost. However, the evidence suggests that any amount of weather-dependent renewables is heading in the wrong direction – higher cost, greater risk of serious failures.

        Furthermore, if we follow what you are advocating we delay progress by decades. The world has taken 25 years to get to about 3% of electricity generated by weather-dependent renewables. Nuclear got to 18% in 25 years, then progress got stopped by irrational paranoia.

        There is no valid case to support your argument to have a target of 10% renewables or any other percentage, and more than there is a valid argument that a country should have any particular proportions of ethnic or religious groups.

      • Peter,

        Well two gentlemen are capable of reasonable disagreement and I think that’s the point we’ve reached on the minutiae and that’s okay. We do agree on the bigger picture that nuclear is a need. The disagreement lies on the smaller portion (what was your number, 3% penetration) which is basically negligible. I do and will continue to read your offerings as I find that you do your homework and I’m impressed by your willingness to show your work and I learn from it. One final point to clarify is that the 10% (or thereabouts) is not my goal, but is only my understanding of that which PE indicates does not really cause grid issues. Somehow it seems your perception is that there is some level of penetration desired by me and this is not the case. It’s only that I support continued research in to alternative energy sources. Please clarify that thought in your mind as I have no goal in mine other than stated above.

      • Danny,

        I’ve been thinking about your arguments overnight. I’d make these main points:

        1. Renewable cannot supply much of the world’s ever-growing energy needs. There are many reasons for this and many different lines of evidence demonstrate it. Here’s one critical technical constraint: Therefore, renewables cannot make much contribution to reducing global GHG emissions.

        2. I agree that research should continue into all potentially viable energy technologies. But it should be roughly in proportion to the likely return for the investment. There should be no subsidies for production – therefore all the incentives for renewables should be stopped.

        3. There is no evidence that renewables can make much of a contribution to global energy supply. Therefore, the research should be less on renewables and more on technologies that have a high probability of providing a large proportion of global energy as energy demand continues to grow exponentially forever ( as it has been doing since man first learnt to control fire and domesticate animals to carry them and pull ploughs.

        4. I said I’d try to explain better why incentivising renewables is delaying genuine progress. I’ll explained this in a separate comment here: .

      • Danny,

        In order to reach that goal, I am willing (and frankly intrigued) to accept a given level of renewable (under current technological restraints) energy sources even if subsidized (as subsidies often lead to advances). Where we disagree is that investment in renewables (read that as alternative) delays progress. Failure in the area of renewables should lead to improvement and a lack of failure is, well, a lack of failure to the extent of grid capability.
        I am all for ramping up the nuclear side of things, but leaving alternatives off the table is not what I perceive as the best course of action.

        I am not arguing to ban renewables or to “leave it off the table”. I am saying level the playing field. Stop incentivising renewables and remove the impediments to nuclear. The incentives for renewables are massive and the impediments to nuclear are massive. These are not technical incentives and impediments. They are political and regulatory. If we removed the incentives for renewables there’d be no renewables. if we removed the impediments to nuclear it would replace fossil fuels over time.

        You seem to have not understood my point that incentivising and building renewables is delaying progress to cut global GHG emissions and causing massive opportunity cost.

      • Danny Thomas


        Not sure how I missed this early note from you but responding now.

        I do indeed grasp your “point that incentivising and building renewables is delaying progress to cut global GHG emissions and causing massive opportunity cost.”

        What I’m trying to suggest is we’re not that far apart in that we agree that an approach to allow additional nuclear is reasonable (presuming GHG’s are truly the issue) but I’m not against the separate and distinct goal of incentivising research for alternative energy sources and it appears that you are.

      • Danny,

        You’ve repeated that several times now. But clearly, you do not understand that having a target to get a country or the world to 10% weather dependent renewables is delaying progress by many decades. You clearly have not understood that.

        Furthermore, it will be hugely expensive, damage GDP growth and therefore keep people in poverty longer. I’ve already addressed this several times. You have not refuted any of it; you simply keep repeating your unsupported beliefs.

      • “Doable. I’m referring to some level of give an take. Yes, it’s a foreign concept in today’s world but allowing for some level of renewables foregoing the efficiencies in order to gain a greater level of penetration of that which (IMO) provides for the ‘greater good’ is acceptable.”

        It’s “doable” to require that 5% of your trip from Australia to France be conducted by kayak. It could even be described as a “give and take” with those who insist that you swim and walk the whole way. But to the person who needs to get from Australia to France it’s flat out loony tunes. And that’s the point- we need a good understanding of what’s nuts and what’s not nuts. Based on that you move forward regardless of how “doable” the nuts idea is. If a properly designed nuclear plant provides 110% of the power you need 24/7/365, what’s the purpose of erecting dozens of windmills to spin pointlessly at some arbitrary percentage of capacity?
        Your best argument is to keep studying whether wind and solar are nuts. No offense to PE or the other engineers, but theirs can be a very logical rather than aspirational train of thought. For instance, a perfectly good engineer would tell you that a rotary dial phone tied to a land line is “all you need,” more practical given the existing infrastructure, and more reliable and secure than wireless. A more aspirational engineer will give you the iPhone because they know you want one.

      • Jeffensails850,

        Thank you with your comment. The first 2/3rds is very well expressed. Thank you for putting it so clearly. I had to think for a while what the last 1/3 means:

        Your best argument is to keep studying whether wind and solar are nuts. No offense to PE or the other engineers, but theirs can be a very logical rather than aspirational train of thought. For instance, a perfectly good engineer would tell you that a rotary dial phone tied to a land line is “all you need,” more practical given the existing infrastructure, and more reliable and secure than wireless. A more aspirational engineer will give you the iPhone because they know you want one.

        Now I agree with that too, but possibly for a different reason. I see the “aspirational engineer” as actually being the entrepreneurs. They recognise there is a market for renewables and money to be made from investing in them and providing products that people WANT, not NEED. It doesn’t matter at all to the entrepreneur that the market is a result of 50 years of scaremongering by eco-religious NGOs, anti-nukes and gullible public and the illogical belief that “renewables” are sustainable because they are called “renewables”. They are not renewable, of course. Only the fuel is renewable. It also doesn’t matter to the aspirrational engineer that renewables are doing more harm to the environment than nuclear, causing more fatailites per TWh of electricity supplied and the massive subsidies for them is reducing GDP growth and therefore will keep billions of people in poverty longer than would otherwise be the case. Lastly, renewables (including back-up or storage) are much less effective at reducing emissions than nuclear. There is an important role for the aspirational engineer. That is not where the problem is. The problem is with policies that incentivise renewables; and with the irrational people who support and advocate for the policies that use public finances to subsidise and regulations to incentivise renewables.

      • Danny Thomas


        Agreed. We do need to decide what’s nuts (sometimes nuts lead to a tree:, and what’s aspirational. This is the kind of thinking I’m suggesting. Sometimes that which is right in front of us (wind and solar) may not be the final result.

      • Well.

        Renewable energy appears to be a scheme designed to profit rich investors at the expense of rate payers and tax payers. This isn’t desirable.

        Discussing penetration goals is sort of silly.

        We should end renewable subsidies and requirements for renewable penetration, all of them, immediately. To be completely fair we could allow a parity per kw-H subsidy with other energy sources but that is about 1/25 the current subsidy.

        Ending subsidies and sustainable energy targets would make renewables market priced. If the market price is higher than the cost of renewable energy we will get more renewables.

        If we let the market determine the amount of renewables we will probably get the correct amount.

      • Agreed!

      • PA & Peter,

        Pretty much the main reason why I do not concur with the choice to remove subsidies (at this time) for alternative energy development goals are examples such as these: (Wind)

        and (Solar)

        So maybe we could be discussing more targeted subsidies as opposed to grid scale.


      • No offense taken at the aspirational/logical description. Here’s my take and I’m open to other considerations. Unlike a lot of goods, products and services an economic and reliable supply of electricity is a necessity and their are not competitors. So customers are in this together and utilities have to be responsive to their wants. The challenge is defining the wants of a diverse group of customers with limited options. The future likely will provide us more flexibility – but historically the cost of offering different service options has been prohibitive.

        Take a simple question – would your average customer rather see on less 20 minute outage a year, or not have their bill go up by 5%? (Not talking system blackouts). Different customers would have very different answers. But if the system is beefed up, everyone pays and if not everyone has more outages. Surveys show people would pay more for greener energy, practice shows that’s not the case.

        Anyway I don’t have the hubris to say people should want what I think they should want. I am glad to be part of providing support to people who find that economic affordable energy enhances their lives through their own choices. Personally pushing people to disrupt their lives to do laundry at odd hours and shift to maximize electric consumption strikes me the wrong way. If we can give people who want them those options and not unduly overcharge the non-participants that’s fine and good. Collectively if the general push is to tax people a little to do good (for example supporting solar) I’m ok with that. But my personal take is to primarily consider what we do for widows on pensions, struggling farmers, supporting business that will provide jobs and things like that.

        I like that the concept of “doable” gained some traction. If the general zeitgeist is to go in a direction I may not personally endorse I would distinguish between pie in the sky as well as efforts that will be clearly innefictive and not approximate intentions (Germany’s efforts to short term reduce CO2 through aggressive solar) and efforts which might be subprime but are at least “doable”.

      • +1

      • Some excellent points raised. A couple of clarifications to my point.
        I think the thing to keep in mind is that, even though “everyone wants an iPhone” it would have been a terrible idea to try to mandate and subsidize 30% iPhone penetration in 1980. The technology had promise, it was worth it to continue to work on it even though deployment was silly, and the existence of a perfectly good infrastructure of landlines would be no reason to junk the idea.
        The other reason I like the iPhone analogy- the app developers in my office tell me that the LEAST used application on the iPhone is… the phone. The replaced the land line phone and, in the process, changed the way people communicate.
        In 50 years solar and wind might – might – be the thing that powers the world and it might – might – be because nobody needs or wants a grid. But that needs to be worked out in labs, like the iPhone was, rather than in today’s electric company. The best argument wind and solar proponents have, IMO, is that we should think about how they will replace nuclear after nuke plants that open today reach the end of their lifespan.

      • Danny Thomas


        Yes! You’ve stated it much better than I.

      • jeffensails850,

        The best argument wind and solar proponents have, IMO, is that we should think about how they will replace nuclear after nuke plants that open today reach the end of their lifespan.

        The probability is that nuclear will be replaced by improved version of fission nuclear and eventually fusion.

        The reason is that renewables cannot supply a large component of energy, whereas nuclear has proven it can, and it can do so for thousands of years. The fuel for fission is effectively unlimited, and then there’s fusion. Furthermore, unlimited transport fuels can be produced from seawater using electricity.

        “The Catch 22 of energy storage” explains why it is highly unlikely renewables will ever be able to supply a large proportion of global energy.

  21. O/T but I need to get this off my chest. Gavin Schmidt might be one of the least self-aware climate alarmists getting around, and that’s saying something. Here he is trying to explain why he can’t possibly communicate climate alarmism in a convincing way to change the minds of skeptics in Texas.

    Spoiler alert – it’s cos he’s a liberal Jewish aetheist from New York.

    Shorter Gavin: It’s not my fault I can’t convince any of those stupid right-wing red-neck evangelical end-of-days nutjobs in Texas to be believe in climate alarmism. They just won’t listen to me.

    I honesty don’t think Gavin Schmidt realises what a horrible personality he has.

  22. Here I provide an outline in brief of the relevant points and argument explaining: 1) the main requirements an energy system has to meet, and 2) why nuclear power is superior to renewables at meeting all these main requirements.

    1 Energy supply requirements

    The most important requirements for energy supply are:

    1. Energy security – refers to the long term; it is especially relevant for extended periods of economic and trade disputes or military disruptions that could threaten energy supply, e.g. 1970’s oil crises [1], world wars, Russia cuts off gas supplies to Europe.

    2. Reliability of supply – over periods of minutes, hours, days, weeks – e.g. NE USA and Canada 1965 and 2003[2])

    3. Low cost energy – energy is a fundamental input to everything humans have; if we increase the cost of energy we retard the rate of improvement of human well-being.

    Policies must deliver the above three essential requirements. Lower priority requirements are:

    4. Health and safety

    5. Environmentally benign

    1.1 Why health and safety and environmental impacts are lower priority requirements than energy security, reliability and cost

    This ranking of the criteria is what consumers demonstrate in their choices. They’d prefer to have dirty energy than no energy. It’s that simple. Furthermore, electricity is orders of magnitude safer and healthier than burning dung for cooking and heating inside a hut. The choice is clear. The order of the criteria is demonstrated all over the world and has been for thousands of years – any energy is better than no energy.

    2 Nuclear better than renewables

    Nuclear power is better than renewable energy in all the important criteria. Renewable energy cannot be justified, on a rational basis, to be a major component of the electricity system. Here are some reasons why:

    1. Nuclear power has proven it can supply over 75% of the electricity in a large modern industrial economy – France has been doing so for over 30 years.

    2. Nuclear power is substantially cheaper than renewables (at medium to high penetration)

    3. Nuclear power is the safest way to generate electricity; it causes the least fatalities per unit of electricity supplied.

    4. Nuclear power has less environmental impact than renewables.

    5. ERoEI of Gen 3 nuclear is ~75 whereas renewables are around 1 to 9. An ERoEI of around 7 to 14 is needed to support modern society. Only Nuclear, fossil fuels and hydro meet that requirement.

    6. Material requirements per unit of electricity supplied through life for nuclear power are about 1/10th those of renewables

    7. Land area required for nuclear power is very much less than renewables per unit of electricity supplied through life

    8. Nuclear power requires less expensive transmission (shorter distances and smaller transmission capacity in total because the transmission system capacity needs to be sufficient for maximum output but intermittent renewables average around 10% to 40% capacity factor whereas nuclear averages around 80% to 90%).

    9. Nuclear fuel is effectively unlimited.

    10. Nuclear fuel requires a minimal amount of space for storage. Many years of nuclear fuel supply can be stored in a warehouse. This has two major benefits:

    • Energy security – it means that countries can store many years of fuel at little cost, so it gives independence from fuel imports. This gives energy security from economic disruptions or military conflicts.

    • Reduced transport – nuclear fuel requires 20,000 to 2 million times less ships, railways, trains, port facilities, pipelines etc. per unit of energy transported. This reduces, by 4 to 6 orders of magnitude, shipping costs, the quantities of oil used for the transport, and the environmental impacts of the shipping and the fuel used for transport.

    There is no rational justification for renewable energy to be mandated and favoured by legislation and regulations.

    • Peter, I remember the cost and difficulty of a hot shower in Paris 45 years ago. Now it’s no big deal. If you haven’t got the local fossil fuels and can’t terraform to make a Norway or a Paraguay, 4 decades of French nukes should point to an obvious solution.

      Of course, one needs to be interested in useful measures rather than trillion dollar fetishes.

    • Peter, a minor quibble about your point 2.1, on France having a 75% nuclear generation. As with Germany, France has several neighboring countries to share load and generation. My understanding that the French have implemented some load following, but there’s a limit due to Xenon poisoning. Otherwise I am in agreement with the points you brought up.

      One potential advantage with the molten salt reactors is that load following should be easier as the Xenon would be removed from the fuel in a relatively short time. Similarly, fast reactors would also have the same advantage as the Xenon resonance absorption peak is slightly above thermal.

      • Erikemagnuson,

        Thank you. Yes the French nukes have some limited load following capability. You can see the fluctuations in nuke generation through the day on this real time chart It fluctuates by up to about 5 GW or 10% during the day.

        Yes, France is part of the European grid and imporets and exports electricity. I understand Franc is the world’s largest exporter of electricity. The diffenrence beteween Frnac;s and germany’s electricity exports is that France’s is highly desirable, reliable, cheap, baseload power. Germany’s erattice, unpredictable, weather dependent power surges are a bloody nuisance and costing Europe serious economic damage. many countries are in the process of trying to block Germany’s power surges.

      • Peter,

        You are quite welcome.

        I have a very vague recollection of 30% being the practical load following limit for a non-naval LWR. 10% sounds like a safe value.

        My impression is that most renewable energy advocates fail to understand how much more valuable a dependable source of electric power is compared to an undependable source. Most loads are sensitive to interruption and few users would want to deal with adjusting their routine to adapt to a widely varying supply of power.

        One option for increasing the penetration of renewable energy is to put the onus on the renewable supplier to provide reliable power. If they have a contract to supply 200MW, they will supply no more than 200MW and if they can’t supply the full 200MW, then they are responsible for finding and paying someone who can. Or than can contract supplying a varying amount of power to a customer, but that customer’s demand must follow the generation. There are three load types that might fit the latter case, electrolysis of water for hydrogen production, battery charging and some forms of hot water heating.

      • ericemagnuson

        I have a very vague recollection of 30% being the practical load following limit for a non-naval LWR. 10% sounds like a safe value.

        I understand it depends on the design. The EPR is designed to ramp between 25% and 100% power and can operate stably at 25% of full power. it can ramp at 5% per minute between 50% and 100% power, i.e. at 80 MW/minute.

        The rest of your comment is outside my expertise to comment on.

  23. Oxford University’s Professor Myles Allen speaking on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4,said:

    “You asked is this the new normal, well as I stressed, normal weather, unchanged over generations, is now a thing of the past.” (my bold)

    Dear professor Allen, I suggest your statement is an embarrassment to what it use to be a world class university.
    (extract from the telegraph )

  24. @aplanningengineer…

    Question: How far away from the major grid concentration could a large source of ESRs be while still providing essentially full support? For instance, how much support does Hoover Dam provide to the Los Angeles area grid? (Relative to the same spinning reserve right there.) How about Eagle Crest?

    Seems to me this would be a major factor in planning new spinning reserve, especially always-spinning advanced pumped hydro storage.

    • There is a difference in how well different quantities travel and and what speed. Vars don’t travel that well in any time frame. So Hoover does not contribute much to support voltage in the LA basin. For frequency support I think Hoover Dam is a fine contributor. Locating more inertia at Hoover dam may be good for LA in some conditions and not so much in others. Depends which areas are rocking against which others.

      • Thanks.

        Is there a standard algorithm? Or “rule of thumb”? I’ve done some searching but couldn’t find anything on it; perhaps I’m using the wrong search terms.

      • The problem is not your search skills. It’s very hard to speak in generalities. Even when sort of justified most have an aversion to it, wanting to look at the specific case.

        Years back I worked on the DC tie from Utah to LA and there was one modelling parameter that’s I questioned the setting because of a class I was taking. (It was the firing angle “gamma” for the inverter/rectifiers on the DC tie. Gamma is constant in the steady state and I spoke to our modeler who had blindly set it to constant during the dynamic phase for no good reason other than we held it steady during normal conditions. The physics suggested it would be hard to hold constant during dynamic swings at a very fast time scale and that we should model it as varying then. Whoever made up the models understood, as I did, that the steady state and transient values did not have to be the same. No one could say for sure what was right or wrong.) I needed translators to speak with Germany and spent months trying to resolve the issue to no avail. But running the models with that one little parameter switched (out of a huge set) gave very different answers as to how much power could be imported/exported safely on various paths. Some went up and some went down with the changed modelling.

  25. Planning Engineer,

    Could an unexpected solar EMP be mistaken for a sneak nuclear attack by by another of the ~15 nations with nuclear weapons?

    If so, those parts of civilization that survived the initial solar EMP might be destroyed by retaliatory launches of nuclear weapons.

  26. Sorry outside my ballpark.

  27. There are indications that may be true. When I asked this same question on ResearchGate, my account there was locked.

  28. The nuclear signatures give away any EMP. We would know with seconds.

    Based on the fallout and residual products forensics could likely tell where it was from and which source of raw materials were used.

    • You are right, scotts4sf.
      1. The nuclear signature of an EMP would be recognized immediately.
      2. Fallout and residual products would eventually distinguish the source
      _ a.) The Sun, or
      _ b.) A nuclear attack

      The question is whether government leaders would wait for the results from #2 before launching a counter attack?

  29. Curious George

    Slightly off topic, but beautiful.

    Solar, wind laws generate $7.4 billion.
    By Alex Nussbaum, Bloomberg News

    Rules to promote wind and solar power generated $7.4 billion in environmental and health benefits in 2013, according to a U.S. government study. …

  30. Wind (and solar) are about as useless as they come. Here in Alberta we have a total of 1.463 MW of capacity but these windmills are producing a mere 178 MW.

  31. “Destructive malware shuts down power supply for first time”

    “A ‘suspected’ cyber-attack has succeeded in shutting down the Ukraine’s power grid in what security experts say is the first such case of hackers causing a power outage.

    The Ukrainian energy ministry said it was probing a “suspected” cyber-attack on the power grid, targeting several regional power companies, which the country’s intelligence service blamed on “Russian special services”.
    Laptop with code
    Moscow has not responded to the allegation. Tensions remain between the two nations following the Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014.

    Threat intelligence experts told the Financial Times that it is the first time the cyber security industry had seen a cyber-attack result in the shutdown of power.

    Malicious software, known as malware, has previously been discovered on global power infrastructure networks, but no one has yet linked these infections to an outage.

    The destructive malware used, known as BlackEnergy, points to a Russian origin for the disruption, according to security analysts.

    Ukraine’s energy ministry said that it was setting up a commission to probe the suspected attack. The country’s SBU intelligence service earlier said in a brief statement that it had found malicious software in computer networks of some regional power companies.

    Prykarpattyaoblenergo, a power company in western Ukraine, said that a “large-scale breakdown” had left several districts without power for hours on December 23, which it blamed on “interference”. The area included the regional capital, Ivano-Frankivsk, a city of 1.4m people.”

  32. New pumped hydro schemes are rarely viable if the intention is to power them with weather-dependent renewable energy. Here is a recent proposal for “World’s biggest-ever pumped-storage hydro-scheme, for Scotland?


    • Generating capacity: 255 GW
    • Energy storage capacity: 6,800 GWh
    • Flow rate: 51,000 m3/s [the equivalent of the discharge flow from the Congo River, only surpassed by the Amazon!]
    • 300 m high dam with crest at 650 m elevation
    • Bottom reservoir is the sea
    • 30 km canal, 51,000 m3/s, triangular cross section with 1:1 side slopes, 170 m wide, 85 m deep, velocity 9.8 m/s, head loss 11.1 m (each direction).

    The Preface in David MacKay’s Book “Sustainable Energy – without the hot air , p viii, begins:

    I’m concerned about cutting UK emissions of twaddle – twaddle about
    sustainable energy. Everyone says getting off fossil fuels is important, and
    we’re all encouraged to “make a difference,” but many of the things that
    allegedly make a difference don’t add up.

    Twaddle emissions are high at the moment because people get emotional
    (for example about wind farms or nuclear power) and no-one talks
    about numbers. Or if they do mention numbers, they select them to sound
    big, to make an impression, and to score points in arguments, rather than
    to aid thoughtful discussion.

    The purpose of this comment is to help to “reduce the emissions of twaddle – twaddle about
    sustainable energy

    Comments, Issues, Criticisms:

    The “World’s biggest-ever pumped-storage hydro-scheme, for Scotland?” is not viable. Even if we assume a highly optimistic 15% average capacity factor the LCOE would be >10 times higher than LCOE of nuclear power. However, 15% capacity factor is virtually impossible if using power for pumping from weather dependent renewables. In fact, even if it could buy electricity for free, it would still need to sell it at around 10 times the cost of nuclear to be viable.

    Reasons why the 255 GW Inverness seawater pumped hydro proposal is impractical and not financially viable:

    1. Could never be financially viable – LCOE is ~10x the LCOE of nuclear.

    2. Therefore, it would never get funded.

    3. If built, it couldn’t buy renewable energy cheaply enough and sell at high enough price to pay for the scheme.

    4. Ignoring costs, the capacity factor, if powered by weather-dependent renewables, may be 1% to 15% at best.

    5. Capital cost of a hydro plant (not pumped hydro) 255 GW @ £10/W = £2,550 billion (say £3 trillion for your seawater pumped hydro project) (DECC, ‘Electricity Generation Costs 2013’, p67 ).

    6. Add capital cost of transmission (255 GW x 2000 km x £500/ = £255 billion.

    7. Total overnight capital cost = ~ £3.255 trillion (i.e. ~ £12.5/W).

    8. LCOE = £1,050/MWh (NREL ‘Simple LCOE Calculator’ , inputs: £12.5/W, 40 year life, 10% discount rate, 15% capacity factor, £104/kW.yr FOM, DECC, ‘Electricity Generation Costs 2013’, p67).

    9. Add: buy excess wind and solar power at say £100/MWh (DECC, ‘Electricity Generation Costs 2013’, p34) when available (= £133/MWh after pumping efficiency losses @ 75%); total LCOE = £1,183/MWh.

    10. Why would any rational buyer buy electricity from the scheme at £1,183/MWh instead of from nuclear power at around £93/MWh? (DECC, ‘Electricity Generation Costs 2013’, p33)?

    11. Even if an investor could be persuaded to invest over $3 trillion in your concept, how long would it take to build? 20 years, 30 years? Adding interest during construction would probably double the total capital cost that has to be recovered over the life of the plant.

    12. Environmental issues with pumping sea water into a reservoir at 630 m elevation that then infiltrates into the ground water and pollutes it with salt water (and some sea life that survives) would almost certainly preclude environmental approval.

    13. The purpose of the well is not explained? What is its volume? How many hours of water can it hold at 51,000 m3/s?

    14. The canal would be hugely expensive, prone to disruptions and impractical for many reasons.

    15. What is the land elevation profile along the centre line of the canal? How long would the canal be if it followed the contours? How much cut and fill would be required? Bridges across valleys?

    16. The land surface along the canal route seems to start at 300 m elevation at the well, fall to 267 m at Moy and rise to 350 m at the base of the dam. So the ground surface falls 33m and rises 87 m to the base of the dam . How is this going to be levelled? The cost will be enormous.

    17. How deep does the canal have to be to get the required flow rate in both directions? (e.g. 85 m + 11 m = 96 m deep at each end and 91m in the middle?)

    18. What is the cross section topographic profile at say 100 m intervals along the line of the canal? How much excavation is required for a 91-96 m deep by 170 m wide canal on the side of steep sided valleys?

    19. How will landslides, debris slides and erosion by freak floods be prevented for the life of the project?

    20. What will be the diameter of the pipes, and the steel thickness needed to hold the internal pressure at 300 m static head plus dynamic head? What is the estimated cost of the steel pipes?

    21. How many turbines and penstocks will you need for 255 GW generating capacity? – e.g. 500 turbines at 500 MW each (250 at sea level and 250 at base of dam)? Where would you fit them at the base of the dam? Underground? Cost?.

    22. How large would the two power station be with 250 x 500 MW turbines in each – e.g. 80 times ‘Tumut 3’ (6 x 250 MW turbines) – see photos:

    23. Cost of dam, canal, penstocks, pump-generating station?

    24. How long does it take to change from pumping to generating?

    25. Why would any rational utility buy electricity from the scheme at £1,200/MWh instead of from nuclear at around £93/MWh? (DECC, ‘Electricity Generation Costs 2013’, p33).

    26. Rough guestimate of uncertainty in cost estimate: -50% to +200%

    27. The generating capacity and/or storage capacity is overstated. Either the system is operated with the dam kept near full for maximum head, in which case the generating capacity is ~255 GW but the storage capacity is ~550 GWh, not 6,800 GWh. Or the system is operated to use all the storage in which case one would have to assume that the available head is with reservoir near empty because an operator would have to guarantee 95% reliability for his peaking power. Thus, the gross head for power generation is 300 m, so the generating capacity is ~132 GW and the storage capacity ~5,500 GWh. You should not claim 255 GW generating capacity AND 6,800 GWh energy storage capacity.

    Main Point

    No doubt there will be many errors in this and valid criticism about some details I’ve stated, but the main point is that the scheme is about 10 times too expensive compared with simply buying reliable nuclear power.

    The excellent 2015 ERP report ‘Managing Flexibility Whilst Decarbonising the GB Electricity System, also shows that energy storage is hugely expensive and ineffective. The ERP analysis shows that nuclear power is the cheapest way for GB to meet its 2030 CO2 emissions targets (e.g. Figure 14).

    The ERP analysed the cost to largely decarbonise the GB electricity system by 2030 with a wide variety of technology mixes. The ERP report is co-chaired by Prof John Loughhead FREng, Chief Scientific Advisor to DCEE. ERP members include a broad spectrum of stake holders from electricity industry, academics, government agencies and environmental NGOs. The ERP analysis considers and does sensitivity analyses on important inputs and constraints that are rarely included in analyses intended for informing policy analysts regarding policy for a whole electricity system.

    • Curious George

      These guys are powering an airplane with a steam engine. We don’t yet have a good enough technology for energy storage.

    • I am somewhat more sympathetic to pumped storage.

      When we toss out the useless renewables and replace them with useful controllable grid-friendly nuclear we can use pumped storage for peaking.

      If renewable energy is used to backfill a pumped storage, that is a fairly harmless use of renewable energy that doesn’t have negative impacts on the grid. I can think of worse ways to use renewable energy.

      • PA,

        I am somewhat more sympathetic to pumped storage.
        When we toss out the useless renewables and replace them with useful controllable grid-friendly nuclear we can use pumped storage for peaking.

        That’s why I began my comment with: “New pumped hydro schemes are rarely viable if the intention is to power them with weather-dependent renewable energy.”

        However, the proposed Scottish plant is totally ridiculous and could never work. Even if powered by nuclear the capacity factor would be probably less than 20% (6 hours pumpingfor 4-5 hours generation at full power per day).


        I think this is a case of tossing good money after previously wasted good money.

        You missed the biggest problem with the project. The GB peak energy consumption is about 55 GW.

        Unless they are beaming the other 195 GW up to aliens in space it isn’t clear where that power would go. To even use the 55 GW all other power sources in the island kingdom would have to shut down.

        283 Gigawatt-days is a nice capacity. Other than that the project seems a little sketchy. Perhaps this is an opening salvo for a more modest project? A 10 GW project would probably soak up their excess windmill energy and provide about a 1 month buffer.

        Nature abhors a vacuum. Scotland has renewable energy that they have to find some way to burn. They have to find some way to waste it other than heating load resistors. A smaller project of this type is as good as any.

      • PA,

        You missed the biggest problem with the project. The GB peak energy consumption is about 55 GW.

        You obviously didn’t read the post explaining the proposal, did you?

      • You didn’t mention the 800 KV 250 GW 1000 km line across the English channel.

        In theory the project would be possible with the right pricing agreements – but most of the European power grid would have a single point of failure.

    • PA,

      You still haven’t read it carefully or understood the proposal. You do need to read it before commenting!

    • PA,

      The proposal is for HVDC transmission lines to go from the pumped hydro project to all parts of Europe. As far as Turkey. Up to 3000 km.

      My estimate was based on an average length of 2000 km and all line totaling the capacity of the pumped hydro scheme, i.e 255 GW. However, this is an underestimate. The lines would have to total much higher than 255 GW because the load in some line will have to be much higher than average if all line are going to average 255 GW. Put another way, to deliver 255 GW in total, because most regions will not be taking or delivering full power at the same time, the lines will have to have much higher capacity than they will transmit most of the time.

    • Cool!

  33. Incentivising renewables is delaying progress to substantially reduce GHG emissions from electricity generation. Here’s why:

    Developed countries need to develop the technologies the world can use to generate electricity and reduce GHG emissions (if that is required). Therefore, developed countries need a market in their own country to use the technologies so they can learn by doing and demonstrate they are viable for other markets to use – that is the country that develops them needs to demonstrate them.

    The electricity system in developed countries is mature. Therefore, growth is limited to roughly a little more than GDP growth rate over the long term. Therefore, most new power stations are built to replace existing plants when they become uneconomic, rather than to meet demand growth.

    Economic lives for a selection of technologies are roughly:
    Hydro = 60-100 years
    Nuclear = 30-60 years
    Coal = 50 years
    Gas = 30-40 years
    Wind= 15-25 years
    Solar = 15-25 years
    Nuclear = 30-60 years

    Now consider that a coal plant in a developed country is no longer economically viable. The owner decides to shut it down and replace it with something else. The owner does an options analysis. He takes into account the potential lives of the pants, the amortisation period and the cost after all incentives. With nuclear so heavily disadvantaged by many impediments (amounting to a factor of 4-10 increase to electricity costs) and renewables massively advantaged (by at least a factor of 2), the renewables plus gas back-up option is likely to be selected. You’ve now locked in about a four decade delay until that plant is due to be replaced again. Keep doing that each time a fossil fuel plant is due for replacement and you’ll never make any headway on reducing emissions or in developing low cost, low emissions electricity generation technologies for the world.

    Reminder: nuclear is 100% effective at reducing emissions from the fossil fuelled electricity generation plants it displaces. However, that is not the case for intermittent, fluctuating, weather dependent renewables. The CO2 abatement effectiveness of these renewables technologies decreases as penetration increases – approximately 50% effective at 20% penetration.

  34. Dr. Death Train Hansen says that renewables can’t do it.

  35. Planning Engineer,

    You may be interested in this just posted on ‘Energy Matters’: Technical and Economic Analysis of the European Electricity System with 60% RES – A Review

    Key findings

    1. Regardless of how much variable RES is installed, thermal generation remains necessary in order to ensure system stability and security of supply.

    2. Nuclear power is a necessary part of the thermal generation if CO2 emissions reduction targets are to be met.

    3. New (unspecified) mechanisms will be needed to manage a large amount (40%) of variable RES, to maintain stability and ensure security of supply.

    4. To achieve 60% of Europe’s electricity generation from RES (20% from hydro and biomass and 40% from variable RES (wind and solar PV)), about 500GW capacity in total of thermal (350GW), hydro (120GW) and biomass (30GW) and about 700GW of variable RES capacity will be needed.

    5. 700GW of variable RES will result in large variations in daily variable RES production, by up to 50% of European total demand. Extreme hourly variations in net demand (>70GW/hr) will occur, with frequent upward and downward variations of >20GW/hr and >10GW/hr respectively.

    6. There will need to be an increase in network infrastructure at local (distribution) , national (transmission) and intra-national (inter-connectors) levels.

    7. Demand response mechanisms will need to be developed.

    8. The security of supplies will become a more important issue as synchronous generators are replaced by asynchronous generators.

    9. Island grids (such as Ireland and the UK, connected to Europe by HVDC interconnectors) will have particular difficulties with frequency control.

    10. In order to meet CO2 emissions targets, low carbon conventional generation is needed; increased usage of nuclear power is the best option.

    • Thanks. It’s interesting they are talking about 2050 and the 60% RES includes 20% synchronous machines and only 40% asynchronous resources like wind and solar. With that understanding for my thinking their 60% RES goal for 2050 is a lot less problematic, than for example a goal that seeks to have wind and solar contribute 20% by 2030 or even 10% by 2020. When hydro and synchronous generation is lumped in with renewables it seems to hide the limitations imposed by asynchronous generation.

  36. Danny — In case you missed it, I replied to your question here:

    You should also know that I’ve never said one negative thing about nuclear power ever on CE. If my opinion on nuclear is important (which it isn’t) — I’d pretty much agree with Rud’s writings on this.

    • Danny Thomas

      Got it! Thanks. Working tonite but have saved for later absorption (I do that with a lot of posts).

      If I implied that you were anti nuclear I apologize as I don’t recall prior to this that you’d stated a position. As an involved citizen yours (and everyone’s) position is important IMO.

  37. David L. Hagen

    Save lives with clean stoves
    The Copenhagen Consensus finds that the most important effort in saving lives is providing clean cook stoves.

    Providing 1.4 billion people who currently are cooking with the use of such things as dung, with these improved stoves would save almost 450,000 lives a year and avoid almost 2.5 billion days of illness annually. . . .The World Health Organization issued a report in 2014 saying that indoor air pollution “is the world’s largest single environmental risk.”

    Most of those cooking on “renewable fuels” (aka firewood and dung) do not have electricity.

    • And that would give them more time for training at the mosque.

      • What a horrible comment that shows your “true colors”. This comment is Donald Trumpish that all Muslims are terrorists.

      • Segrest. A typical liberal smear. We need to put our citizens safety and security first. Do you have a clue what’s happening in Europe? Muslims do not fit in to the Western way of life. This isn’t some sort of prejudice. The evidence is there if you just open your eyes. Do you know about the problems with Muslim immigrants in Europe?

      • How you “constantly try” to frame so many things is just wrong. A leading conservative voice of Michael Gerson (who you would label as a “LIBERAL”) talks today of you wrong mindset.

      • Trump is the heart of the Republican party. Get used to it, loser.

        PS: It’s a transparent lie that Trump said or implied or insinuated that all Muslims are terrorists. Didn’t happen. Your credibility is shot, little dude.

      • Segrest – use google to find Muslims/Europe stories. There’s no “framing” necessary. Good grief!!

      • Jim2’s comment on stoves is important in how it lifts the veil of many people here at CE who say they are concerned for the poor.

        In this common sham, people here at CE say they oppose funding for renewable energy projects because it takes away money much better spent on other pressing needs (Copenhagen Consensus, Bjorn Lomborg’s arguments).

        But when it comes to spending more foreign aid on the poor on non renewable energy projects (such as stoves) these same people say we shouldn’t do it — that helping the poor is funding terrorism.

        Its called “crocodile tears” for the poor.

      • Just more liberal smears. Typical of the breed.

      • You are pathetic. If jim2s comment lifts any veil, it’s on him. And his comment is not really about helping the poor. You are dishonest. Try kenny’s blog. You will find many fellow travelers there to pat you on your little backside, when you try to smear CE denizens.

      • Steven,

        I believe most skeptics have said that centralized coal power is less polluting than thousands of cook fires fueled with biomass. You can do a lot more to clean up and make a central power plant more efficient and even add biomass, biowaste and “renewables” when you have a grid to work with. An off grid situation or very high percentage of intermittent is a bit more complicated and will require a few breakthroughs that haven’t broken through to be affordable for the masses.

      • Gerson is a clown:

        “Trump is disqualified for the presidency by his erratic temperament, his ignorance about public affairs and his scary sympathy for authoritarianism. But for me, and I suspect for many, the largest problem is that Trump would make the GOP the party of racial and religious exclusion.

        American political parties are durable constructions. But they have been broken before by powerful, roiling issues such as immigration and racial prejudice. Many Republicans could not vote for Trump but would have a horribly difficult time voting for Clinton. The humane values of Republicanism would need to find a temporary home, which would necessitate the creation of a third party. This might help elect Clinton, but it would preserve something of conservatism, held in trust, in the hope of better days.”

        The fool is just echoing Democrat talking points that will be repeated ad infinitum, with or without Trump. Trump has not advocated racial or religious exclusion. That is just BS. He is talking about stopping illegal immigration, securing the borders and carefully screening immigrants/refugees from countries that are known to be the home bases for radical Islamic terrorism. There I said it. If blond blue eyed atheist Swedes were continually threatening and committing acts of terrorism against us here and all over the world, I am pretty sure he would advocate stopping Swedes from coming in, until we could find some effective way of sorting them out.

        This clown Gerson does not get to disqualify anyone from running for President. The voters get to decide on that. And there are about 2 dozen Republicans, who won’t vote for Trump in the general election. A third party of Gerson defined conservatives is BS. Won’t happen. Trump is on a roll. Watch him.

      • And his comment is not really about helping the poor.

        Well maybe, jim, can help me out and explain what he meant by that.

      • I will help you, yoey. I know you are not very bright. Tim’s comment was tangential to the story about dung and stoves. He used that as a segway to make a sarcastic comment on radical Islamic terrorism. Look up ‘sarcasm”, yoey.

        This is related to what jim is talking about:

      • Thanks, Don, I know it was sarcastic, but I am trying to understand what he said has to do with this

        Most of those cooking on “renewable fuels” (aka firewood and dung) do not have electricity.

        and also whether he thinks aid for cooking stoves is a good thing. Maybe it was it simply a bigoted stereotype pretending to be funny.

      • Joseph – it appears your question concerns helping the poor. I am for helping the poor – selectively.

        I would first help the poor here in the US. And on a related note, I would (if I had the power) arrange immigration and the various H*** visas such that more US citizens can get jobs here in the US – and that they don’t go to foreigners. There would be a lot more that would have to change, like corporate taxes and tax simplification, but the above is where I would focus my effort.

        As to helping the poor overseas, I wouldn’t help the poor in countries that foment ill will against us. Otherwise, I would support focused and effective help of the poor in other countries.

        So, in some cases, I would be for distributing free stoves to the poor.

      • Also, Joseph, I point out that the continual playing of the race card (you implied I was a bigot) is wearing thin because liberals, having no real argument in response to conservative thought, have over-used it.

        You might try addressing reality. I suspect you would experience a feeling of refreshing cleanliness.

      • Captain — Remember, I’ve been extremely pro-active in supporting ABB’s perspective on generation efficiency — such as ultra supercritical coal.

        I do blog a little. Read this blog of mine (that’s gotten 100K hits) where I blasted Obama on his then coal policy (which has now changed) and get back with me if I fit the profile of a classifcal Liberal:

      • You might try addressing reality.

        I still don’t understand the connection considering most people cooking with dung are not radical terrorists (if that is what you meant) Nor do I even think that the most people cooking with wood stoves are Muslim. I don’t even know if most extremists are cooking with dung So what you said made little sense even as sarcasm, So that’s why I brought up stereotyping as an explanation

      • I’m truly sorry you still don’t understand Joseph. I believe what I said was quite clear and on this subject I don’t see any further points needing elaboration.

      • Stephen, never said you were a classic liberal, but you do come across as being somewhat less that conservative and overly confindent. Biofuels for an example were a big mistake because of over confident political marketing. Everyone knows what was supposed to happen, but global markets are extremely complex and that “slightly more expensive” tends to explode.

        Rationally, the US should lead by example from a strong economic position meaning looking for the “necessarily affordable” options that transition to less affluent regions instead of “inspiring” China to build the crap out of everything and start hoarding because of unclear policy signals. No one knows what technologies will win or what the best options are until there is some sort of a winner. That should mean less pounding the drums and more scratching the head.

      • Captain — Lets review my “radical” positions which I’m on the record here at CE: I hate (1) a U.S. carbon tax as a regressive tax and also displacing industries overseas; (2) a Cap & Trade System as just another Wall St. play-toy financial derivative; (3) a federal Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard which would put decision making in the hands of D.C. Politicians rather than our Engineers; (4) my clear cut preference of AGW mitigation effort of “Fast Mitigation” — which excuse me, but is also the first choice of Dr. Curry; (5) I absolutely favor bottom/up incentive driven (tax credits) policies rather than command/control top/bottom policies.

        As to ethanol — do you really want to get me started again on octane requirements, lead, MTBE? Remember, I opposed any “mandate” to go over the ~10% Blend Wall.

        Why don’t you post some links on some ideas on foreign trade? As Jon Huntsman discussed, that IS a very interesting subject.

      • David L. Hagen

        Jim2 – Your comment was uncalled for and has nothing to do with the subject.
        Your ad hominem mischaracterizing castigation of Jim2 above is a serious breach of professional posting. Stop it.
        The issue is never ALL Muslims, but How to deal with radical Islam and apocalyptic Islam who do believe they are following the original authentic Islam. Try actually studying the issues instead mouthing such ill informed rudeness.

      • David L. Hagen. You are smearing me, lying, like Segrest did. I never said anything about ALL Muslims. You did. Now, YOU act professionally.

        However, for a time, the US does need to bar all Muslims from entering the US. This, until we can figure out which can assimilate and which cannot, which will kill us and which will not.

        And if you can figure out how to read English, saying we should temporarily bar all Muslims isn’t the same thing as saying they are all “bad.”

        In the meantime, why don’t you and Segrest take reading lessons.

      • Dr. Hagan — Jim2 said “And that would give them more time for training at the mosque.

        I assume you also think that Michael Gerson (a leading conservative writer and the author of compassionate conservative in the Bush Admin) has a lack of professionalism

      • Stephen, not so much foreign trade as speculation on AGW policy.

        So the 10% ethanol mandate triggered huge swings in corn prices that bled into other grain crops. Doesn’t really matter what was supposed to happen or that most of US corn goes to animal feed blah blah, there is a global commodities market. Mexico even tried hedging corn which help the spike. Palm oil is also now a bigger cash crop because of biofuel demand and that is causing considerable deforestation.

        Now if the goal is to nip the population bomb in the bud WHILE fighting climate change, the plan is right on target.

      • Hagen didn’t say you said ALL MUSLIMS, jim. He had another criticism, which may not be totally unwarranted. Think about it.

        Segrest has a habit of invoking some alleged conservative that we are supposed to take as our guru on some subject or another, which typically would require us to give in to some pandering progressive policy. Gerson and Huntsman are inconsequential non-entities. Has-beens that never really were. Trump is running the show now. Get used to it.

      • Captain — Dr. Curry is certainly not a fan of ethanol and biofuels. At least in some semblance of effort to show objectivity, here is a source that Dr. Curry cites from time to time on biofuels: The Stockholm Environment Institute

        Here is a book review on biofuels from SEI which gives a very different perspective from the sources you cite:

        We will never resolve this food issue pro vs con through blogging. You can probably cite a gazillion sources one way, I can cite reputable sources with a different opinion.

        I’m no expert in world food prices. I am an expert on F-150s, John Deere equipment, shotguns, golden retrievers, and C&W music in the field.

      • None of this has anything to do with my views on energy/policy and it doesn’t seem likely to be that on point for others. I am not comfortable commenting on this or ignoring it. While I do think serious difficult dialogue is needed challenging the impacts of various belief systems, and I often think criticisms may be shut down too soon, (and while I have appreciated many of Jim2’s comments) I thought the mosque comment came across as random, mean-spirited and totally out of place and I hate to see Stephen jumped on for addressing it. I’m sure there is a lot of past bad blood that ratchets up the rancor here so that things get said maybe beyond what people would intend otherwise.

      • stephen, “We will never resolve this food issue pro vs con through blogging. You can probably cite a gazillion sources one way, I can cite reputable sources with a different opinion.”

        Yep, that increases the challenge. However, when the cost of a basic of life doubles it should be pretty easy to imply an impact. There is one group that emphasizes the potential catastrophe justifying “at any cost” and another group more in tune with baser instincts that will in the end “fix” costs.

        For people like Planningengineer, a blackout that might cause a hundred or so lives to be lost and a few billion in damages is one of those pesky realities of his day to day. For Paul Erlich, affordable energy that allows the undesirables to prosper and procreate is his day to day concern. I guess I am in the middle somewhere and don’t find “necessarily more expensive” to be all that comforting.

      • David L. Hagen – I apologize. I misread your comment. And I withdraw my response to you. Thanks for the heads-up, Don.

        PE – while the comment about Muslims spending more time at the mosque (due to being well longer) certainly will be considered mean spirited by some, and apparently you, from my viewpoint it isn’t. I see it as a different emphasis on priorities. I put the US first on the priority list. We need to take care of our poor and jobless first and take (many) other actions to make the US a strong, vibrant country again. From that perspective, I’m compassionate. Once the US is strong and mostly debt free, then we will have the luxury of helping others. But even then, in my view, we should help only those who don’t pose a threat to us. We have to recognize and be willing to say that some people are our enemies. The world isn’t just white, frolicking unicorns and pink, fluffy clouds.

        So, yes, my comment was sarcastic. But hopefully now you can see it wasn’t mean spirited.

      • Captain — On ethanol you stated: “However, when the cost of a basic of life doubles it should be pretty easy to imply an impact.

        When I provide an opinion of Dr. Johnson of SEI (who’s written a book on this), you (and others) will just dismiss it — he can’t be right, he’s a left wing radical hack:

        From Dr. Johnson: “A report leaked from the World Bank in 2008 suggested that biofuels were responsible for 75% of food price increases. Later estimates were 10–15% or lower (see Chapter 4). So a lot of early misinformation has gained a lot of attention.”

        Only your sources are credible. My citations are garbage.

      • Stephen, ” Later estimates were 10–15% or lower (see Chapter 4). So a lot of early misinformation has gained a lot of attention.”

        This really isn’t an either or situation with commodities speculation. Initially there was a 75% to 100% jump followed by a relaxation to around 10%, followed by another jump to around 80%. That is called volatility and you don’t want volatility in basic necessity prices. So while you may want to dismissed my link to the complex interactions, it is pretty easy to check grain price changes with time.

      • btw, the political side of all this is really interesting. The “subsidies” that most greens hate tend to stabilize prices making political and economic decision making a lot easier. For example just expressing a political will to build the Keystone pipeline would knock about 1/3 off domestic crude oil transport and set a fuel cost benchmark that would greatly increase US energy security. Obama could have bucked the environmentalist trend and improved the economy just by saying that was his goal.

        When the cellulose ethanol issue popped up, he could have relaxed the mandate and focused on shale gas from the start instead of having the EPA take years bless fracking. The threat of synfuels would have been another weapon in the transition to some form of real sustainability plus a means of regulating food costs.

        Hindsight is great, but a politician with a little foresight and knowledge of the complex global markets would have been a really nice touch.

      • Captain — And we could go on-and-on in a tennis match type volley.

        I’ll end my thread discussion on a positive note. I agree with you that Keystone XL should have been approved. Two issues: (1) pipelines are much safer than rail; (2) very few people realize just how much the U.S. is still dependent of foreign oil from unfriendly places.

        People most often quote “Net” oil imports rather than “Gross” imports. On a Gross basis, the last I checked this number was still about 50%. The U.S. is importing a lot of heavy oil from places like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Venezuela because a high percentage of U.S. Refineries “guessed wrong” and did not configure for the boom in U.S. oil which is mostly light.

      • Segrest said:
        “Hindsight is great, but a politician with a little foresight and knowledge of the complex global markets would have been a really nice touch.”

        This is a good reason why we need to vastly reduce the government’s role in the energy business.

      • PE, I jumped on the comment of little ss because he used jim2’s comment, which really wasn’t about helping “the poor”, to indict an unnamed swath of CE denizens as hypocrites. That’s self-rigtheous BS. He does it a lot.

      • Stephen, It will likely be a year or so before we can see who wins the match. Since prior to the mandate only 12.5% of the US corn crop went to fairly elastic ethanol production and after the mandate the percentage increased to nearly 40% and ethanol production became inelastic it should be pretty straight forward. However, defenders of the faith sometimes have problems sorting out cause and effect.

        Like for example blaming climate change when blaming climate change policy would be more accurate.

        It isn’t a big deal though, only a few hundred billion here and there and possibly a million or so lives. I believe there is only a 28% or so increase in suicides globally and a few small scale wars. Luckily, Obama is now focused on mental health issues.

      • ” Luckily, Obama is now focused on mental health issues.”

        Do you think he will turn himself in or will the White Coats have to take him in?

      • Captain — Your 40% number on corn is incorrect. The last time I checked the number was ~18% — reflecting the return of Distillers Grains (DDS) high in protein. That’s OK, I forgive you.

      • steven, “reflecting the return of Distillers Grains (DDS) high in protein.”

        Right, that is kind of like a secondary commodity that is magically lumped with a primary in order to justify a pet theory. Percentage of corn crop going to ethanol production is based on real corn not virtual corn. I believe that even distillers grain export have issue with competing with corn :)

    • Dr. Hagan — I absolutely agree with you on stoves.

      Also by-the-way — While I have different opinions that you, I believe you are a person who should be respected in the sense that you are always 100% consistent. You don’t twist Dr. Curry into something she’s not. When you disagree with her, you say so. When you agree, you say so also.

      Many Denizens here at CE don’t do this.

      • Segrest,

        You are just a loony left, ideologically driven twit. Y0u keep telling us what a great engineer you think you are, but destroy it because you clearly driven only by your ideological beliefs – therefore, you are incapable of rational analysis.

      • David L. Hagen

        Stephen Segrest
        Re: “they oppose funding for renewable energy projects because it takes away money much better spent on other pressing needs”
        Please read what Bjorn ACTUALLY recommends – efficient prioritized allocation of scarce resources by benefit to humans.
        He is against INEFFICIENT SUBSIDIES – NOT renewable energy. The Copenhagen Consensus recommend RD&D for renewables to invent cost effective sustainable systems instead of throwing $ at inefficient systems that are NOT and CANNOT be cost effective.
        My comment was neither for/against Curry – rather vs the politically correct “green” “climate change” bandwagon.
        PS Name is Hagen.

    • All fossil fueled stoves emit toxic chemicals that impair respiratory function. The concentration of these chemicals are dependent upon the integrity of the combustion box and the location where combustion products are vented. If vented indoors like a hut or Hogan or yurt then health effects amplified. This situation exists for regions that are cold or tradition demands indoor cooking. If stove vented out of doors then local combustion products concentrations dependent upon wind and weather barometric pressure and the amount entrained Back into the dwelling.

      The best solution is rural electrification for cooking, refrigeration, pumps for water and communication.

      Improved stoves, if they are used at all by a reluctant tribal culture which is a major issue for the under developed world, are a basically feel good activity by the greenie NGOs who do not want to tackle the need for electricity.

  38. Alarmism in spades! From the article:

    The United Nations’ under-secretary-general for the coordination of humanitarian affairs, Stephen O’Brien, said Thursday that El Nino has pushed the planet into “uncharted territory.”

    “The impacts, especially on food security, may last as long as two years,” he said in a U.N. news release. Regions especially affected include Central and South America, the Pacific region and East and southern Africa.

  39. Crude inventories are still high. The WTI price has been hovering around $35 for the last few weeks. If all things that affect oil remain as is, the price will probably go lower in the short term.

    OIL 32.88
    BRENT 33.26
    NAT GAS 2.477
    RBOB GAS 1.1219

    One benefit to the Saudi’s that I haven’t seen anyone talk about is that the lower gasoline prices will probably put a dent in electric car sales. They are also hurting Russia, Iran, and US shale producers – and also hurting themselves. But they have chosen to cut spending and try to find revenue in places other than the oil field.

  40. This is a very calm, sensible, rational, objective destruction of the loony arguments in support of renewables and against nuclear. Anti-nukes recommended to watch it.
    John Kutsch Solar & Wind Incompetence @ TEAC6

    It’s a good laugh too! :)

    • Think it’s bad now. Wait til Hillary puts Mark Ruffalo and Mark Jacobson in charge of energy:

    • I don’t know peter. While I agree we need to move forward wit nuclear, it’s not because we need to save the planet from increased levels of co2. This clown is as idiotic as those he mocks for thinking wind and solar are viable solutions when he suggests that the planet is being destroyed by increased levels of co2, and essentially claims that the oceans are being turned into acidic cauldrens that will destroy all sea life. Nuclear makes sense for economic and energy density reasons, not because we need a non co2 based energy source for our electricity.

      • Barnes,

        Nuclear makes sense for economic and energy density reasons, not because we need a non co2 based energy source for our electricity.

        I agree with you. But many are concerned about CO2. Politics is reality that has to be dealt with. Therefore, my approach is to argue as follows:

        I and many others are not persuaded GHG emissions pose a significant risk; however, I strongly believe the solutions advocated by the CAGW alarmists would do far more damage than any benefit they could deliver.

        Recognising the politics, I am happy to support policies to reduce global (not just local) GHG emissions if and only if, they can be demonstrated by standard policy analysis that they would be economically beneficial irrespective of any climate change arguments.

  41. For Planning Engineer, re the California experience with renewables and their percent contribution (or penetration) into the grid.

    California has recently shown 31 percent combined wind and solar energy into the grid, during the day of course, for several hours. (I wrote about this on my blog, if anyone wants to read that. see link to California Renewables Not Crashing Grid. )

    For those who don’t want to read that, the essentials are that wind energy was 13 percent of the grid total, and solar was 18 percent from approximately 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on 25 December, 2015 (Christmas day). All the data is available at the California Independent System Operator website,

    In addition to the 31 percent wind plus solar, another 8 percent was provided by more stable renewable forms of energy, including geothermal, small hydroelectric, bio-mass, and bio-gas. Another form of renewables, large hydroelectric, contributed another 4 percent.

    The grid, which serves approximately 36 million people and had on that day approximately 30,000 MW output, reacted and operated quite well.

    It is very interesting, indeed instructive, that California’s grid now has very few of the ponderous nuclear power plants that insist on operating at full capacity and will not, for almost any reason, reduce their output to accomodate load swings. With sudden and unexpected closure of two reactors at San Onofre (SONGS) due to multiple steam generator failures, California now has only two remaining reactors, producing 2,100 MW or less than 10 percent of the grid power at the lowest demand at night. Nor does California have coal power, except for a small amount imported from Utah.

    Instead, the flexible California grid is mostly natural gas power, from steam plants, combined cycle plants, and the occasional solo gas turbine peaking power plant.

    California is, indeed, the model for future electrical grids. As coal-fired baseload plants are retired in the next 20 years due to environmental costs and old ag, coal availability wanes, and nuclear plants are closed due to old age and bad economics, the future grids will be supplied by both natural gas and the economic forms of renewables. In the US, the renewables will be wind for the most part, and solar only in the sunniest parts of the far West and Southwest (California, Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Nevada). However, on-shore wind turbines are being built rapidly through the country’s center section from Texas to North Dakota (the great wind corridor), and the first off-shore wind turbines are now under construction.

    The evidence is clear: wind and solar do not crash the grid. Not at 30 percent, and not in California. As the wise-cracking pundits might say, Your Mileage May Vary.

    • Roger,
      You seem to be missing the point of stability concerns. That the system stayed up for that period does not mean it has any inherent stability in transient situations. It is not what happens when things are going well that counts. It is what happens when unexpected things happen that planners have to worry about. Will the protective systems (called relays in power transmission systems) that were set up to handle the range of transients produced with synchronous rotary generators and conventional transmission line equipment.

      An issue in transmission line relaying is that rotating generators have specific and predictable response to large transients that help dampen problems. The solid state inverter systems used with wind and solar systems cannot simulate that response simply because they lack reserve rotating inertia. Transient current levels and phase angles change as they travel along the length of transmission lines. How an inverter operates during a transient may not be distinguishable from a fault as measured at a distant protective relays location causing a false transmission line trip.

      Adapting the present transmission and generation system protection systems to wind and solar energy sources is not going to be easy or quick. There are many unknowns. Assuming our power distribution system is reliable simply because it has not crashed yet is not valid logic. It just hasn’t broke yet.

      You can bet the California system operators were sitting with their fingers crossed that no unexpected trips or heavy load starts (like the California Aquaduct pumps) happened during that heavy wind and solar energy day.

      • @Gary Wescom. aplanningengineer…

        You can bet the California system operators were sitting with their fingers crossed that no unexpected trips or heavy load starts (like the California Aquaduct pumps) happened during that heavy wind and solar energy day.

        I did some quick research on the California Aqueduct system, including such loads as the Edmonston Pumping Plant and the William R. Gianelli pumped storage hydroelectric plant.

        While I wasn’t able to quickly find out much, it strikes me that the entire California Aqueduct system might well offer substantial “low-hanging fruit” in terms of upgrading to provide additional ESRs. One document I found (from around 2008, linked in my 3rd link) suggests that a half-gigawatt pumped storage project (Gianelli) provides no ancillary services of any type.

        I find it alarming that any loads for “California Aquaduct pumps” could be “unexpected”. AFAIK a system like that should be eminently predictable on a time-scale of minutes-hours, and if the resources aren’t in place to predict them the ISO should be asking for them. Loudly.

        Moreover, I’d guess that by upgrading the existing pumping and generating facilities with modern, advanced, always-spinning inertia with much more power/load, the entire system could be used for controlled stabilization on a scale of minutes, perhaps even hours.

        While it would cost money, I’d guess that it could mostly be done without significant environmental impact, which means it could be implemented more quickly than most projects.

        Assuming anybody in California is even interested in providing stabilization, which I admit the mess with Eagle Crest suggests not.

      • AK
        You are actually not to far off on the concept. I was an operator at both the Wind Gap and Wheeler Ridge pumping plants for a couple years so have direct experience with the California Aqueduct pumps. One of the original design points of the aqueduct system was that the multi-megawatt pumps have synchronous motors, not induction motors. As you suggested, this requirement was included so those motors could control their power factor (phase angle of the current they draw) to minimize the current drawn and thus minimize voltage drop on the supplying transmission lines.

        The kind of operation you describe is called “synchronous condenser” and machines have been built to serve that purpose in some systems. The provide some spinning mass but more importantly allow correcting transmission line power factor. The power factor of typical system loads is inductive from household and commercial pumps and motors. By adjusting the field current in the synchronous condenser, it can be made to appear as a capacitive load, canceling the inductive current on the line to reduce voltage drop.

        When considering the California Aqueduct pumps, while they are synchronous motors, they are not appropriate for this kind operation. They are high power pump motors (Wind Gap Pumping Plant has several 35 megawatt pumps plus a couple of about half that power.) The design point is producing tens of thousands of horsepower efficiently. A feature was provided that uses compressed air to pressurize the pump scroll cases to for pump starts. This is necessary to allow the speed of the motors to reach near synchronous speed so that field excitation can be applied to lock rotation to line frequency. That would never happen with 35 megawatts of impeller drag on the motor shaft.

        Attempting to use the pumps, even with water blown out of the scroll cases, is not practical. The design point for a machine built as a synchronous condenser is low, low friction losses. The motor housing is designed to contain a hydrogen or helium atmosphere to minimize windage. The motor windings are configured for minimum windage, not high power and torque. Using one of those pumping plant motors as a synchronous condenser would be like driving a semi-tractor trailer rig to the store for a jug of milk. It would work but would not be practical long term option.

        Also.. Keep in mind that those pumps are very high megawatt loads. When they are run, they are run during off peak hours. That is typically 10 PM to 8 AM. That is not when system peak loads occur.

      • @Gary Wescom…

        Thank you for the response. It helps me to understand how the system is currently set up. I don’t think I understand one thing, however. You said:

        You can bet the California system operators were sitting with their fingers crossed that no unexpected trips or heavy load starts (like the California Aquaduct pumps) happened during that heavy wind and solar energy day.

        I don’t quite understand how that fits with:

        Keep in mind that those pumps are very high megawatt loads. When they are run, they are run during off peak hours. That is typically 10 PM to 8 AM. That is not when system peak loads occur.

        If the loads from these pumps can be timed for “off peak hours” how could they be “unexpected […] heavy load starts”?

        WRT “synchronous condenser” technology, my (admittedly tenuous) understanding from Web research (such as this) is that the advanced technology used in modern pumped hydro storage is set up to provide stabilization like this, with always-spinning inertia and clutches or something to connect (or not) turbines for pumping and generating. I’ll admit that between jargon I don’t understand (in detail) and many market/cost assumptions that seem arbitrary to me, I’m not sure I’m getting the picture right.

        I guess I was thinking of something like installing additional pumps that could serve as dispatchable loads to balance minute-scale fluctuation solar/wind supply. (And perhaps the same for generation, assuming the existing hardware doesn’t already support this.) It could, from my understanding, be designed from scratch to support both functions, and while perhaps not quite as efficient as the big overnight pumps, might be able to pay for itself in additional ESRs. And the efficiency might be better than using batteries, or even pumped storage, to smooth such fluctuations.

      • AK,
        You make some interesting points. As to how large pumps can introduce a significant transient if it is only run at night, that is simply because they constitute large loads. Tripping the Wind Gap pumping plant at night could easily introduce a 100 to 150 megawatt transient on the line at a time when the pumps make up a proportionally larger part of the total load as compared to day time operation.

        I should also mention that starting one of the California Aqueduct pumps is a carefully scheduled event. Keep in mind that I am discussing operation before the drought when the aqueduct was allowed to pump water. Pump starts were scheduled through PG&E and done so that pump starts were done one at a time, a minute or more apart. A pump at one plant was started, then a pump at another plant a minute or more later, and so on until all of the pumps on the system were started. This kept the load buildup more even across the state.

        Remember that these are huge machines. They vertical shafts three stories high and the motor housings, windings, and bearing oil tubs are inspected by simply opening a full sized door and walking in – even with the unit running. Starting one of these monsters is quite an experience.

        The first step in startup is to blow the water out of the pump scroll case The discharge valve (which are large enough to walk through) is closed any time the pump is not running so there an air space is created between the discharge valve and the bottom of the pump impeller. When start time arrives, the main breaker to the pump motor is closed. The motor, shaft, and impeller begin spinning up using amortisseur winding on the outer part of the motor rotor as an induction start. Next we watch a few seconds for the motor to reach near synchronous speed to energize the motor field magnets and lock the motor to line frequency. While this is happening, there is a huge inrush current producing a large momentary voltage drop in large parts of the California power grid. Attempting to start units at two different plants at the same time dropped the voltage enough that one or both of the units would trip from amortisseur winding overheating before synchronous speed can be achieved.

        Once the unit is on line as a synchronous motor, we then begin dumping the air out of the pump scroll case and wait for the pump to prime itself. This is a scary, critical process. Releasing the air too quickly will allow the inrushing water to lift the entire impeller, shaft, and motor rotor assembly up and drop it back down on the vertical thrust bearing (than makes a big bang and shakes the building – not good.) Too slowly and the motor power overheats the water so that priming does not occur and a complete restart is needed. During that priming process, a pump sounds like large boulders are being fed into it. It is louder than a large jet taking off. The first time you are down in the pump gallery during a start, you find your fight/flight reflex tending strongly for the flight side. You get used to it though. Once a pump has primed, its discharge valve can be opened and pumping commenced.

        Shutting down one of these pumps correctly involves shutting the discharge valve and tripping the motor breaker. It is not nearly as exciting as a pump start. Unless… If an unexpected motor trip occurs, the shaft rapidly slows to a stop and begins running backwards as the huge volume of water in the discharge pin stocks begins flowing down hill through the pump. Pumps typically over-speed in reverse in this situation, requiring careful rotor winding inspection before the pump can be run again.

        Anyway, that was a long discussion to try to convey the level of concern transients must be given. Well, and share a little background on the California Aqueduct pumps.

    • Gary Wescom – thank you for your apt on-target reply to Roger Sowell. Although I don’t always comment on supporting posts, I greatly appreciate when others with experience and understanding expand and/or clarify the subject.

      A couple things to add for Roger Sowell. I have never said that 30% will crash the grid. In the article I did not cite numbers and only reluctantly in comments refer to my vague “comfort” levels. EPA and others call for targets with little to no concern for instantaneous penetration levels. Based on the vision of some and the policy directions, dangerous penetration levels must be addressed seriously. That effort has not been done yet in my opinion. I will be cautions in a state of uncertainty. Maybe 30% off peak for California will prove to be a non problem.

      Depending on output patterns 30% at key times might not support that high an average penetration value. Whether 30% is fine or not, there is a range where everyone should be concerned. If you don’t know where it is you should be very concerned. Reread my posting with that understanding.

      In any case your argument is not well grounded. People often grossly exceed the speed limit, drive while heavily impaired, fail to vaccinate their children, avoid needed maintenance, ignore building codes, leave loaded firearms around, forego life and health insurance, ride motorcycles without helmets, violate safety procedures and in many cases do so without any perceive ill-effect sometimes even to good benefit. The fact that my friend might have hit 120 MPH on the interstate last night and later arrived safely at home does not say a lot about what safe speed limits may or may not be. Lots of people will die today who have never died before.

      I will grant you that the fact that the system operators allowed the system to reach that level says something. I think it is very important to know what factors and reasoning went into their decision, how it worked, lessons learned etc. Did they have to especially dispatch some units? Curtail some transfers? ….

      I don’t mean this to sound as mean spirited as it might, but unless I am forgetting something at this late hour the San Diego Blackout of 2011 is the most recent widespread US blackout. As noted blackouts are rare and depend on many factors. I don’t mean to disparage that region relative to others. Just point out that if one less thing had gone wrong that day or criteria been a little tighter, the lights would have stayed on. Probably 364

      I do now that inertia levels are very important for the stability of the western grid. In the 80s I performed stability analysis concerning import levels to the LA basin. After the 2011 San Diego blackout I pulled out one of my old studies. The fault condition identified in that study as the worst was 20plus years later the initiating cause of that blackout, so I doubt the inertia conditions have changed much. A key factor in the nomograms developed to proscribe safe operating conditions was the amount of inertia on line, meaning with less big units on line transfers (system flexibility) was greatly reduced.

      • Hit send key by mistake too soon. Second to last paragraph should continue

        Probably 364 days a year and maybe only 1 day in a decade and possibly a much greater time period – that result would have occurred from those general conditions.

      • Let me rewrite that one

        Probably 364 days a year and maybe all but one day in a decade or possibly a much greater time period would those general conditions lead to such a result. It was likely a most unfortunate rare confluence of events that caused the outage.

      • Let me be clear. I don’t disparage what Planning Engineer wrote. He brings up valid points about grid design. I do note though, as a chemical engineer myself, that infrastructure systems are designed to handle the actual and foreseeable conditions. To do otherwise invites disaster.

        Many times, as Planning Engineer alluded to, the designers learn as we go along, when unforeseen events occur that create a grid blackout. The point is, though, that many, perhaps most, of the utility grids were designed under certain assumptions about generating types – rotating equipment as the most common. One can read, as I have, many reports from IEEE, the electrical engineers’ society in the US, on grid planning, grid design, and the impacts of non-rotating generating sources. The usual concern penetration is 30 percent.

        That is why I posted my comment: California is a working example of 30 percent penetration by non-rotating generation (wind plus solar) and absolutely no problems. Some commented that it was perhaps a lucky day, yet that is not the case. I chose that day only because it was recent and convenient to find the data. There have been many days over the past two years during which the California grid reached or exceeded 30 percent non-rotating energy supplies.

        The California grid is also being prepared for much higher non-rotating supplies, as I wrote in my blog post. The state has a mandated 33 percent renewables by 2020, now only 4 years away (or 5 years, if one allows the full year of 2020 to expire).

        From my blog post, “California policy makers, in their vast “wisdom,” have established a renewables target of 33 percent averaged over a one-year period, to be accomplished by 2020. The California Public Utility Commission has this to say about it (The RPS or Renewable Portfolio Standards) on their website:

        “The RPS program requires investor-owned utilities (IOUs), electric service providers, and community choice aggregators to increase procurement from eligible renewable energy resources to 33% of total procurement by 2020.”

        This has several implications, one of which is that renewable resources are greater during some parts of the year, and less in other parts. (Sun is stronger and shines longer in the summer, wind blows strongest typically in April-May). Therefore, to achieve a 33 percent overall target, on many days in the year, more than 33 percent renewables must be achieved.

        Note, though, that the total renewables in the RPS program includes the smaller renewables in the chart (on my blog post), the 8 percent “Other Ren.” That would mean, for that day, the total renewables reached 39 percent during those few mid-day hours from about 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Therefore, even 39 percent is not enough, for that is not the daily average, merely the hourly average. At mid-day times, renewables will reach approximately 50 percent or even more, for the state’s annual average to achieve 33 percent.”

        What is crucial is that engineers, and planners, such as Planning Engineer, recognize that there already is actual experience in the US with at least one major grid (CAISO) running quite well with non-rotating generation levels that reach and exceed 30 percent. There are many other grids that have far more wind than does California.

        For some actual data from calendar year 2014, source Energy Information Agency (US EIA website), below are the US states with more wind energy than California, as a percent of their annual total electricity consumed. Note that 8 of the states have more than double the wind of California, as a percent of total. Iowa and Kansas have 28 and 21 percent, respectively. That is the annual average, therefore many days will have far more than 28 percent in Iowa.

        State Wind as Pct of Annual Total Energy

        IA (Iowa) 28.68
        KS (Kansas) 21.81
        SD (South Dakota) 21.25
        ID (Idaho) 18.48
        OK (Oklahoma) 17.01
        ND (North Dakota) 17.01
        MN (Minnesota) 17.00
        CO (Colorado) 13.68
        OR (Oregon) 12.57
        TX (Texas) 9.14
        WY (Wyoming) 8.87
        ME (Maine) 8.28
        NM (New Mexico) 7.04
        NE (Nebraska) 6.94
        CA (California) 6.54

        I scour the news in vain for reports of grid failures, blackouts, and general chaos in Iowa, Kansas, and the other states. Perhaps I missed something, and all those grids are failing?

      • An additional reference on wind energy integration into grids, this is from National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), published in 2015:

        “Review and Status of Wind Integration and Transmission in the United States: Key Issues and Lessons Learned (Technical Report NREL/TP-5D00-61911, March 2015 )” (48 pages total).

        From the NREL report:

        “The past 15 years of wind integration experience has demonstrated that flexibility is the key to successfully and efficiently integrating wind energy. Large penetrations of wind energy will necessitate steeper ramp requirements from dispatchable generators and demand-response sources, require lower minimum generation operating levels than are required today, and increase the amount of reserves necessary to maintain reliability levels.

        Thus, a “flexible” electric power system implies one in which the operator has some combination of agile generators that are physically able and equipped to respond quickly to load changes or an operational environment (scheduling interval, demand response, robustness of electric market, proper institutional structures) that allows quick adjustments to be made to load, or both. Understanding and providing this flexibility, especially at high levels of wind penetration, may be the most critical wind integration issue.

        Possessing physical flexibility without the institutional ability to access this flexibility may be insufficient. Conversely, possessing institutional flexibility without physical flexibility will also generally be insufficient.

        To address these operational issues, advanced wind turbine controls can aid the operation of the grid if proper incentives are provided. For example, wind turbines can now provide synthetic inertia, governor response, and regulation service.”

        Note that last sentence: “Wind Turbines can now provide synthetic inertia, governor response, and regulation service.”

        The future is not nuclear, nor coal, but will be natural gas and wind, with a bit of solar where that is economic. The grids can and will handle it, and the electrical engineers not only know this, they are publishing their findings. (The US is running out of coal within 25 years at present consumption rates, and the world will be out within 50 years),

      • Some good points Roger. In some ways I think we might agree significantly on major aspects the situation but are both reacting to misconceptions on different ends of the spectrum. I don’t mean to suggest that at any time there is significant amount of asynchronous generation on the a system, that it likely will lead to disaster. I understand you pointing out that it goes to 30% on occasion. However, I am afraid that when people hear that California can handle 30% on a given occasion it will mean to many that a 30% average is achievable across an entire system. (As Jim2 points out California is not a system by itself). I see a lot of misinformation where puff pieces gush over a large penetration for a subset of a load and suggest we can all handle high levels of renewables. If you want to get a 30% average you are going to need to accommodate much higher levels at times and that will also have to be coincident with such performance by your neighbors as well if it is a regional target. We do need to watch California and others and see how things work as some areas see increased integration of the technology.

        I think we agree it’s complicated. An area with a lot of hydro can have more renewables than an area without. I’m trying to push the mindset that thinks we can’t all have similar targets. i understand you see the pessimistic side of what I say and it may come across that I am too negative. I think I’m a “balancer” – if for the most part people were too worried about wind and solar – I’d be putting more effort into explain why we can accommodate some level easily. But I understand not everyone will judge the situation as one where most people/policy makers are too optimistic, and also maybe not have the same balance point as I do. I do know that EPA did not consult with NERC or ask for any guidance regarding grid stability in formulating the Clean Power Plan. It seems to me that should have been at least a perfunctionary step. So I think the problems need some attention.

        One point I don’t agree with you on is the significance of your not finding outages. I don’t see a strong correlation between smaller outages and blackouts. It’s not my area – but I don’t expect that asynchronous generation would be expected to lead to more distribution level outages. My concern is for the big ones. They are very rare and historically they have been rare. Since the northeast blackout of 2003 there as not been much except the one in San Diego. In 2007 FERC through NERC instituted 83 Reliability standards to greatly improve grid reliability. Since then their numbers and requirements have grown and considerable effort and dollars have been invested to make the system more reliable (I.e not have a major blackout every 10 to 15 years or so). I don’t know if anyone has estimated, but the blackouts that used to occur every decade or so now are not acceptable so all this work is likely supposed to make them closer to one every hundred year type events. So saying nothing has shown up yet, does not really tell us much and it doesn’t give me confidence we can hit the high numbers needed to get a 30% average without giving up what we have invested in.

      • For Planning Engineer, and others of course. Again, I bring up real world experience to show that modern grids – not future grids, but actual operating grids today – are handling more than 30 percent renewables with no problems. The specific instance for this comment is from Texas’ ERCOT, in the recent few weeks December, 2015 during which the ERCOT grid reached or exceeded 40 percent wind energy for almost 24 consecutive hours. This was reported by ERCOT in the Wind Integration Report for 12/20/2015 see link

        The report states maximum wind energy as a percent of grid load was 44.7 percent.

        I also have a blog article on this at

        The reality is that grids with substantial slow-moving baseloads (such as coal), or non-moving baseloads such as nuclear plants, will have great difficulty with wind energy integration. This is, perhaps, why Illinois has so little wind energy – that state has more than 40 percent of the grid powered by nuclear plants (NRC data).

    • Of course, California isn’t an island. Like Germany, it imports electricity from surrounding states. In 2014 renewables generated 44,887 GWh. But Ca imported 94,360 GWh, twice as much as its renewables. Total consumption was 296,843 GWh. So imports represent over 30% of the total.

  42. The UK have an interesting strategy.

    They have to close coal plants at the request of the EU, because they are polluting. So they build wind farms to replace them. But wind farms are intermittent, and need a backup system. And the coal backup has been closed, because it is dirty.

    So what do they do? They dump small diesel generators all over the country, which is known as the Strategic Reserve. And they chose diesel to replace coal because it is – well – dirty…. You really could not make this up.


  43. aplanningengineer,

    Thank you for a very informative post. Should be required reading by all state legislators, especially California.

    To Roger Sewell: California demonstrates that if you are willing to pay 50% above the average national price for electricity, you can do a lot of irrational things. This ratepayer is not impressed.

    • For Mark Strauk, I wonder if you are equally unimpressed by the 6 states with higher average electricity prices than California? Or, do you simply despise California for personal reasons? Alaska, Hawaii, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

      The simple fact is, the national grids must be changed to meet the challenge of no more coal. There is only 20 to 25 years to accomplish this.

      What alternatives to any of the anti-renewable people propose? Nuclear? Exactly how will anyone build 300 or more nuclear power plants in 20 years? And, how would a grid react or respond with nuclear making up 60 percent of the grid? Who, exactly, will purchase the excess power at night, as Italy does for France? Note that Canada is not a candidate, because they are selling their excess power to the US. Mexico is the only other candidate. T

      The fact is, only natural gas and renewables will be replacing coal-fired power plants. The grids are certainly capable of operating safely and reliably, as the NREL report above shows.

      If anyone has any facts to dispute this, please put them forth.

  44. I guess it’s because I’m an electrical engineer, as I find the posts by PE to be very enlightening. I especially like this passage: “New relay equipment was installed to “ensure” continuous power supply in case one supply line failed. They switched from a system that worked in practice to one that was theoretically better on paper. … but it is clear that before the event on paper the new system looked great. Mathematical models can only go so far with ensuring that any technology will work. Real world experience cannot easily be replaced with modeling.”

    And therein lies the rub, in plain English. A model is only as good as your understanding of what it is you are trying to model. In order to build a model, you make certain assumptions about important factors and so on, all the way down to factors you can safely ignore. You need to run the actual system in order to validate the model. Then use the lessons to improve the model.

    This seems to be a lesson that climate model builders either choose to ignore or carefully gloss over when presenting to the public.

  45. Planning Engineer — I talk about the need to present discussions with objective context a lot here at CE.

    In future posts (after reading Denizen comments here at CE), I think context discussion points would be appropriate on:

    (1) Distinctions of Reliability between short and long duration — getting specific in operating characteristics for the majority CE Readers. In discussing this, address the internationally accepted metric of SAIDI, what it means, why Europe (and especially Germany) has a much better SAIDI rating than U.S. utilities. Why this is or is not important to the “context” you are emphasizing.

    (2) The Duck Curve — It is my understand that the California System Operator “coined this term” in a “context” that is not discussed here at CE. The “context” was the need for flexible natural gas combined cycle units. Explain the importance of this flexibility even for Grid Systems with very little Renewables (like the Southeast). Thank you.

    • What is most important for policy – i.e. the most relevant contest here – is the total system cost to achieve requirements. If achieving substantial reduction of CO2 emissions intensity, e.g. 50%, 80%, 90%, by future specified dates (e.g. 2030, 2050, 2100) is a requirement (to add to the other essential requirements) , then that is the main starting point. the main context.

      There is so much evidence to show that weather dependent renewables are ineffective, cannot meet requirements and very expensive, where does one begin?

      1. El Heirro Island’s 100% renewable project. The aim was to supply the island’s electricity with 100% renewable energy. The island has an ideal situation for pumped hydro with a volcano providing a free upper reservoir with 600 m of hydraulic head. It’s built 11.5 MW wind capacity and 11.3 MW pumped hydro capacity. So far it’s a failure.

      Since full operations began the 11.5MW wind farm has run at an average capacity factor of 13.2% and the hydro plant at an average capacity factor of 1.5%.

      Renewables generated 30.7% and diesel 69.3% of electricity.

      2. As an example of the conviction to twaddle by renewable energy advocates look at this amazing article by ScottishScientist: “World’s biggest-ever pumped-storage hydro-scheme, for Scotland?” (and also note his responses to comments): This project could never get off the ground (explained in my comment here: The LCOE is >10 times the LCOE of nuclear. What rational investor would invest in such a scheme and what rational buyer would buy renewable energy at 10 times the cost of nuclear?

      3. The same author advocates solar thermal in the Nabib Desert (Western Africa on the tropic of Capricorn) to power Europe in winter. Again the cost is 10 times the cost of new nuclear in Europe.

      4. One of the common responses is to say these are single technology solutions and not relevant because multi RE technology solutions are cheaper. Nonsense. The excellent ERP 2015 report puts that argument to rest . UK could achieve the same emissions intensity as France – i.e. 42 g/kWh in 2014 – with 32 GW of new nuclear and no new weather dependent renewables. According to the report, the cheapest way for GB to reduce its emissions to meet its 2030 emissions targets is with all or near all new nuclear and no new weather dependent renewables. Pumped Hydro is very expensive and ineffective. The worst option of all is to close existing nuclear if its life can be extended. It’s an excellent report, broadly applicable, with many valuable lessons for policy advisers.

      I am not aware of any valid evidence to demonstrating that adding weather dependent renewables to the system is a cheaper way to reduce emissions than adding nuclear.

    • Stephen,

      I have a hard time reading all the comments as additions are made (I wish I new a way to follow individual sub-threads) so I may have missed some of the lack of context you are seeing.

      1) I will be try to be more careful not to imply that I have distribution related reliability concerns and seek to correct misunderstandings where I see them. I don’t have concerns there and it’s not my area. My expectation is that if you are backed by the grid, increased renewables should not significantly decrease reliability in most cases and they might actually help to improve service reliability. I don’t think they will decrease distribution costs and expect they are likely to increase them somewhat (Florida peaks in the winter, although many systems may not peak in the winter a lot of distribution components do. A lot of the US will need to be built to keep folks warm that cold period just before daylight). I think backup service for residential solar has costs that are often “socialized” and I speak out on that.

      There is a lot of difference in how people compute SAIDI so it is challenging to compare even with sophisticated benchmark studies. But my expectation is that SAIDI will likely improve somewhat along with renewable penetration if you use a common metric. As for the reliability of stand alone renewables without the grid – to me that’s a personal choice and I support anyone who wants to make that decision on their own and live with it. I’d love to read a posting by someone more qualified on benefits and costs, pros and cons of distribution and renewables.

      2 The duck curve. I’ll stand behind this one

      I like what gas generation technology can do and barring a lot of hydro, they are the best answer to the problems of the duck curve and a good addition to the operators tool box. But with abundant CTS it’s still far from an optimal situation that presents serious challenges and concerns. The ramping up and down and correcting “noise” is hard on the units. It’s a fast climb and descent.

      • Planning Engineer — Thanks for the above post. Do you, Rud, or somebody know of a person that could give a perspective of NG combined cycle units and the Duck Curve? — A Guest Writer on CE.

  46. Since someone continues to shaddow every post I make, I will again state that I believe the “big picture” question on AGW is “how much and how quickly” — Sensitivity or TCR. There are two general camps:

    (1) CAGW type of TCR Scenarios that people like Dr. Hansen accept. The top mitigation policy under this view is immediate and massive development of Nuclear Power.

    (2) A TCR opinion that people like Dr. Curry accept. Top mitigation policies under this view are (1) “Fast Mitigation” (black carbon, smog, HFCs, methane) and (2) Energy innovation that would occur through increased R&D. For a Dr. Curry quote on this go to:

    As to my “top personal preference views” — I add a category to Dr. Curry’s which is illustrated by the French proposal to increase carbon levels in soils by .4% per year. I do work with ORNL, the DOE, USDA, and Universities on this. I’ve co-authored peer reviewed scientific papers on this topic and have testified before the U.S. Congress.

    On Renewable Energy — my belief is to just follow sound System Planning methods of engineering and economics. On an inflexible system, if Renewable penetration is less than 1%, then so be it. If on a highly flexible grid system (e.g., lots of natural gas combined cycle units, availability of large amount of hydro, etc.), a higher penetration level will likely occur.

    But in any case, Engineers should be making these decisions, not Politicians.

    • You left out the category, “we need more data!,” before implementing any particular policy motivated by climate dynamics.

    • Segrest says:

      Since someone continues to shaddow every post I make,

      Well, Segrest, I guess that childish and disingenuous statement is referring to me, Peter lanbg. You know the person you repeatedly accuse of “black-white, arm-waving, straw-man bla, bla, bla” as tactics to dodge and weave and avoid dealing with what’s relevant and with the question asked or the comment you are responding to.

      Which, by the way is actually what you’ve done again in this comment.

      You stated:

      In future posts …, I think context discussion points would be appropriate on:

      (1) Distinctions of Reliability between short and long duration — getting specific in operating characteristics for the majority CE Readers. In discussing this, address the internationally accepted metric of SAIDI, what it means, why Europe (and especially Germany) has a much better SAIDI rating than U.S. utilities. Why this is or is not important to the “context” you are emphasizing.

      (2) The Duck Curve …

      I responded (with typos corrected):

      What is most important for policy – i.e. the most relevant context here – is the total system cost to achieve requirements. If achieving substantial reduction of CO2 emissions intensity, e.g. 50%, 80%, 90%, by future specified dates (e.g. 2030, 2050, 2100) is a requirement (to add to the other essential requirements) , then that is the main starting point, the main context.

      You didn’t address this and changed topic to ECS and TCR.

      Since someone continues to shaddow every post I make, I will again state that I believe the “big picture” question on AGW is “how much and how quickly” — Sensitivity or TCR.

      What slithering, slimy, intellectual dishonesty. The response demonstrates several of the 10 Signs of intellectual dishonesty , e.g. Sign #4:

      4. Avoiding/Ignoring the question or “ . . . and let’s not forget about . . .” Anybody who refuses to admit that their argument is weak in an area and, worse still, avoids answering difficult questions in that area is being intellectually dishonest. If they don’t ignore the question, these people are easily recognised from their efforts to change the subject.

      You argue people should put faith in your ideologically Green driven advocacy. You’re making it clear why they should not.

  47. Jim2 I can agree but also disagree with you.

    I would disagree that we need additional data before we take any significant mitigation efforts.

    But I also agree with you for the need for more understanding before costly mitigation efforts are made.

    A key argument for people who support “fast mitigation” is that these efforts (no or low regrets) can give an additional ~20 years to (A) understand climate science better; (B) develop cost effective engineering technology.

  48. Pingback: Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #208 | Watts Up With That?

  49. Renewable Energy Is a ‘Bubble,’ Says Financier
    Per Wimmer on why green energy faces many challenges

    • The report talks about stability concens in Germany. Such reports are hard to come by. Many assume that their failure to hear such reports mans the systems are doing well.

      Excerpt – According to a report issued by the German grid operator (Bundesnetzagentur), the German transmission system experienced severe stability problems in 2011 and 2012 that required operator interventions to maintain system security. Acknowledging that the significant penetration of RE sources contributed to this instability, the report states:
      The situation in the electricity grid in the winter of 2011/2012 was severely strained. … If more electricity from renewable sources is sold than can be transported by the network, this results in added strain on the network via corresponding price signals, as the conventional plants are demoted in the merit order and the additional exports from Germany appear on the single market [the wholesale spot market]. In the opinion of the Bundesnetzagentur, the existing legal framework has scope for measures from the transmission system operators to limit sales to volumes that can actually be transported. Nevertheless, normative clarification would seem to be advised… There are no effective technical measures that could act as a substitute for grid expansion.62

  50. Planning Engineer As you know, I’m an ex mostly Generation guy. Would be interesting to read your perspective on this transmission story:

    • I’m intrigued to know PE’s perspective as well.

      The author of the article is an advocate for distributed renewable energy from a non-profit that advocates for distributed renewable energy, ILSR.

      Given that he and they (as I read their site) are opponents of the power companies and wish to decentralize the grid, this article isn’t very surprising considering the source.

    • Unlike the rules for transmission lines, there is no regional process for cost recovery of non-transmission alternatives. In other words, the builder of a large and distributed solar project that serves the same needs as a regional transmission line has no certain method for recouping their costs, as they would with power lines.

      Wow! Just “Wow!”.

    • From the perspective of “fairness” FERC Order 1000 has some good cost allocation principles: Costs should be allocated roughly commensurate with benefits. No involuntary allocation of costs to non-beneficiaries. Use of benefit to cost threshold ratios.Transparent method for determining benefits and identifying beneficiaries.

      From the perspective of having someone else subsidize your favored aims and goals these may be seen as problematic allocation principles. I don’t like everything about FERCs rulings on costs and who pays what, but in general they are good and could be worse.

      Forgive me if I did not follow the example in the article perfectly or correct me if I mischaracterize – but I struggle with the hypothetical presented there. The idea that if non-transmission improvements save transmission users money -then transmission customers should pay up is not a slam dunk with me. (People benefit others all the time in many ways from the actions of others who don’t get compensation for it. If I help the public schools save money by sending mine to private -should they pay me? Opinions vary there. Should electric utilities subsidize people with gas heat because they save infrastructure while at the same time gas companies subsidize electric heat for saving them infrastructure improvements? ) Further I’m real suspect about how those benefits are estimated, calculated, verified and all that. The Demand side management (DSM) movement of the 90s did not present us with great verifiable evidence that these sort of things work. Renewable fervor is breathing new life in those failed concenpst. Generally growth brings benefits and reduces costs – so while you and I can come up with nifty examples it’s hard in practice to pay people not to use your product such that it saves your customers.

      But apart from all that assuming I was on board and a believer that we could engineer demand to do such wonderful things, I would think that with proper cost allocation where those who benefit pay, the efficiency options should work on their own. Imagine a case where we are building a line to bring wind from region A across region B to region C to benefit the people of C and it’s actually cheaper to have C conserve energy and not use it,. Who should pay for that line – The people of C and possibly the producers in A if they benefit. People B should not pay anything. So who sees the savings from efficiency – the people of C, not B. They can take that benefit and forgo the wind power through efficiency measures. It is a problem if your are counting on the non-impacted people of B support your favored option.

      What’s your take?

      • The graphic wasn’t loading when I read it. The question in that example is “Why are people in Wisconsin and Illinois paying anything?” Make Indiana pay just those costs and the problem resolves itself.

    • Would be great if an economist stepped in here. Basically we socialize a lot of costs and then charge people average rates. Some loads benefit us and some don’t and that share changes over time. When capabilities are bigger than need, growth is a great thing. Others come on and pay that average cost even though they do not cause much of an increase. As the system starts to get loaded the customers that come on board and force the next improvement cost us a lot of money. They too just pay the average costs. But over time as you get more load on that line the average cost goes down and probably improvements that start as above average for the revenue they generate relative to customer benefit can end up below average for most of their life.

      The idea with DSM is you reduce new growth that is causing you to spend money and eliminate or postpone the costly investment. That’s awful hard to do and in the end maybe it’s kind of a shell game because you eventually expand in most cases. Paying people to defer growth means you are not only averaging cost among your customers but among your non-customers where you saw short term savings at one time.

  51. It is hard to read through all this stuff when most of it doesn’t correspond to what is actually going on in the industry.
    With regard to outages and grid reliability distributed generation makes the grid much more reliable. The massive outage a decade ago would not have occurred if the affected large generation sources had been replaced with much smaller distributed generation (that is my uneducated view). Further most of the problem has been greatly reduced by better control systems.

    In some parts of the US renewables are beginning to make up a significant portion of the energy mix. While I am certain they impact the network so far there has been no major outages in the larger scale grid. Renewables tend to be smaller generation sources and to be distributed closer to the user. I have a lot of faith that our engineers will continue to find solutions that increase reliability. As more storage comes on line it significantly improves the reliability issues.

    As for the costs of renewables, there would not be the continuing buildout of renewable generation if it were not cost effective. It has received some startup money but so have all the other generation we have. Wind and solar are cost effective over a ten year plan with or without stimulus funding.

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  53. Planning Engineer — What your take on making all rates TOU? (reflective of cost)

    • I don’t have strong opinions on TOU. It could help achieve lower average costs but it involves a lot of structure to support it’s operation and that raises costs. Maybe more a question of when. Clearly at one time the extra infrastructure was too costly and at some point in the future it will cheap enough that cost is not a factor. It’s a lot of work now. Not everyone has the meters for it and of those that do not everyone has the capability to effectively monitor cost and consumption. It puts segments of the population at risk from severe unforeseen financial hardships if extreme weather causes spikes.

      Since you said “all rates” I would disagree that such rates are more appropriate for energy, not demand/backup rates where applicable. Paying a rate for backup service covers why costs were incurred.

    • That implies a smart grid and that means the consumer and the distribution system are exposed to hacking risk. It’s already happened in Europe. They tripped some big breakers and took down the distribution system for a large number of people. That would mean death to some.

    • Raises a good question that it does not really answer. Why is clean energy expanding now that fossil fuels are cheap?

      One hypothesis is that they are really competitive and you would expect them to be doing better yet if fossil fuels were higher. The other hypothesis is that decisions for “clean” energy really don’t revolve around cost anyway.

      • PE,
        As always, thanks for sharing. Find your contributions to be reasonably balanced and impersonal.

        w/r/t “The other hypothesis is that decisions for “clean” energy really don’t revolve around cost anyway.” seems likely in the current environment but this observers hope is this will lead to continued and future innovations. Seeding the process is something which I’m in agreement with as a use of my tax money if only for the near term.


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  55. Pingback: Is nuclear the cheapest way to decarbonize electricity? – Enjeux énergies et environnement

  56. Pingback: Time to Stop Worshiping the Fickle Ancient Gods of Wind and Sun | al fin next level

  57. I have a sour taste in my mouth with regards to the “grid” and the abuses of those that run the grid, to screw over the consumer. I was worked for a high tech company, with top notch engineers, and no one could figure out the value of “smart meters.” No one. Sure, we heard that in an ideal world, fail-over could be faster, with the main value to reduce the costs to those managing the grid on account of CPUC regulations, but no one could figure out the actual value to the consumer. It was an arbitrage to get more $ from people for nothing.

    I’m working with some of those people right now on a separate venture. They still feel the same way: that it’s a ripoff of the energy consumer to reduce overhead for the utilities.

    So I take with a grain of salt people who spend all their time trying to make arguments one way or the other. You have a lot of time, maybe are even paid to come up with those arguments, but the truth? Who knows. Seems to me the arguments are those that are strong enough to convince the regulators, and have nothing to do with the people that pay the price.