Energy Security and Grid Resilience

by Judith Curry

Diversifying and securing energy supplies nationally and locally.

Since we’ve moved to Nevada and have been integrating into the local community, the most interesting thing we’ve come across is the National Security Forum of Northern Nevada (NSF). It turns out that a large number of people from the CIA, NSA, DOD, military etc. come to the Reno-Tahoe area to retire.  The NSF was started by Ty Cobb, who was a Special Assistant to President Reagan.

Once or twice a month, the NSF has a meeting (at one of the local casino hotels!) with an invited speaker – often from our local community but also frequently from the broader national and international communities.

Of particular relevance to the climate/energy debate is this presentation by Vice Admiral Lee Gunn, retired from the US Navy.  Excerpts from the post meeting write up are provided below:

begin quote:

“There are serious opportunities for those who lead and missed opportunities for those who do not lead the transition to advanced energy sources and grid diversification.” 

 The CNA Military Advisory Board (MAB) has been a leading voice on national security issues since 2007, producing seminal reports climate and energy security. Two of these explore U.S. military needs for advanced, transportable, safer, and secure sources of energy and electricity transmission systems for mission critical operations. Vice Adm Lee Gunn serves as Vice Chair for CNA-MAB and has been instrumental in leading the CNA MAB reports on advanced energy and electric grid modernization. In his NSF presentation, he highlighted many key findings from the CAN-MAB studies and challenged us a Nevadans to lead the way in transitioning to a more energy secure future. 

With the U.S. military transitioning U.S. bases from solely supporting mission readiness to one that conducts military operations directly from the homeland, the demand for stable, uninterruptable electric power sources has increased. Base operations now require electricity that is not vulnerable to natural hazards and malicious attacks. One of our military’s most critical operations is the drone missions conducted from Nellis AFB, outside Las Vegas. Drone operations demand energy supplies that are independent and not at risk from the aging infrastructure underpinning our national electric grid. Our military operators cannot afford to be subject to large scale power outages, as much of the northeast coast experienced in 2006 when a squirrel knocked a tree limb on a power line in Ohio causing lights to go out across the region for days. 

“The national grid was not designed, so much as it just happened.” 

Adm Gunn marveled at the ingenuity of early American engineers who built power lines to light up communities across the country over 100 years ago. He also cautioned us that much of that early infrastructure is still in place and the hodge-podge nature of its expansion leaves the United States with serious vulnerabilities to disruption and attack. The most poignant example of an electric grid infrastructure failure, especially for those of us living in or near the Sierra Nevada, was the collapse of the PG&E tower credited for sparking the Camp Fire in Paradise, California in 2018. That fire claimed 85 lives and reduced the entire town to ash and rubble. With 17 of the last 22 most destructive wildfires in the West caused by electrical grid failures, our aging grid infrastructure has become a major national security risk. The PG&E tower that failed was 99 years old with an original design life of 75 years and there are many more towers around the country that are still operating decades beyond their projected lifetimes.  

Weather – fires, floods, wind, extreme storms – is the major disrupter of electric power in the United States, as witnessed by current flooding in the Central Plains, Bomb Cyclone storms in Midwest a few weeks ago, and Atmospheric River winter storms in California and Nevada this winter. Droughts are also a major contributor to electric power disruptions. A prime example of this being decreased water levels in Lake Powell available to feed hydroelectric generation at the Hover Dam. Ample water supplies, from rivers and other sources, are also needed to cool coal and nuclearpowered electricity generating plants.  

Renewable energy resources such as wind and solar that do not depend on water supplies are well-suited to augment power generation during times of drought. Texas is the state with largest investment in wind energy with massive wind farms in the Panhandle in the north and on the coast in the south. These two sources of wind energy balance electricity generation diurnally for the State’s independent electrical grid. The scarcity of electricity from fossil fuel and nuclear power during the intense drought a few years ago, was compensated for entirely by wind generation, making Texas resilient to the electricity outages that plagued California and other western states. 

Natural hazards are far from the only source of electric grid vulnerability. Malicious attacks, both physical and cyber, are increasing in number and sophistication. During the 3-year study period of the 2015 CNA-MAB Report “National Security and Assured U.S. Electrical Power,” there were 357 physical attacks on the U.S. grid infrastructure. One of the highest profile cases was the attack on the Metcalf Power Station south of San Francisco in which 17 rifle shots were fired disabling several transformers and knocking power out to Silicon Valley for half a day. Due to a lack of U.S. suppliers for replacement transformers, which cost over $1m each, the Metcalf power station remained off-line for nearly a year. Even today, transformers are not manufactured in the U.S. Almost all our transformers are produced in South Korean, where manufacturers are overloaded with orders from China and other countries. 

During this same time period, there were 14 successful cyberattacks on our grid. These attacks resulted in hackers either denying service to customers or taking control of elements of the grid infrastructure. More worrisome  were hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of cyberattack “probes”that also occurred during this time in which hackers tested for vulnerable access points or grid weaknesses. What can we do to protect against these attacks and build more resilience in electricity supplies across the country? CNA-MAB’s succinct answer,  

“We need smart grids.” 

The smart grid solution relies on distributing energy generation to areas closer to the consumer. Smaller generating stations that can take advantage of the advanced energy resources locallysolar arrays, wind farms, geothermal plants and even small modular nuclear reactorscan feed power to smart grid systems equipped with artificial intelligence algorithms to anticipate and respond to power demands and potential disruptions, in real-time. Innovative technologies such as nana-tubes, which allow electricity to be stored and released from directly from nano-fibers, have the potential to make smart grids more practical.

Advanced energy innovations are no longer in the realm of science fiction. The Department of Defense (DoD) is leading the country, and the world, in moving these research concepts to field operations. The MAB has adopted and supports an “all of the above” approach – solar, wind, geothermal, hydroelectric, nuclear, biofuels, etc. – to reaching the goal of emission-free or reducedemission power generation, as a national security imperative for the country. Adm Gunn explained among the options for achieving this goal, nuclear power has many advantages, especially small modular reactors. The U.S. Army is testing small modular reactors for use in supporting forward deployments in operating theaters. Generating power in place would alleviate the risks posed by logistics resupply convoys carrying diesel fuels. Illustrating this point, Adm Gunn reminded us that one in eight resupply convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan resulted in a soldier being killed or severely wounded. 

The Marines also learned about the benefits of solar energy from Moms and Pops across America who sent roll-out solar panels to troops deployed in Afghanistan. The solar panels were used to charge cell phones and batteries for other communication gear and equipment. Replacing heavy batteries loads with light-weight solar panels reduced the soldiers’ packs (typically about 110 lbs for a week’s deployment) by 30lbs. Less weight made for more agile movement and fewer casualties. 

Closer to home the military relies heavily on renewable energy resources to provide uninterruptable power for mission critical operations. One of the leading examples of this is the three large utility-scale solar arrays at Nellis AFB that power drone and operations conducted from Creech and Nellis. The Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake, California also operates a 180-megawatt geothermal generating plant that provides power for most of the Navy’s weapons and armaments research. 

In closing, the Adm Gunn summarized the changing energy landscape that MAB has been reporting on for several years. Factors driving these changes include increases in global population and higher demands for energy by a growing middle class, increased electrification of transportation, new technologies for fracking and fossil fuel extraction, and the growing market for renewables. The world’s population, now at 7.7 billion people, is expected to reach 9.4 billion by 2050 and nearly 11 billion by the end of the century. Most of the growth (around 1.5 billion) will be in India and Africa, driving a projected 40% increased demand for energy by 2050. Even if fossil fuels can meet this demand, the environmental and economic costs of extraction and burning fossil fuels may be prohibitive.

As developing countries leap-frog combustion engine technologies in favor of electric vehicles (EVs), the cost of EVs is projected to decrease significantly. This will push more EVs to market in all countries around the world, changing how energy resources are managed.

Today, energy security in the U.S. depends on fossil fuels and much of our foreign policy is driven by our dependence on oil producing nations including Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Despite the current political unrest in Venezuela the U.S. remains the largest buyer of Venezuelan oil. This is driven by geography and economics. Because of Venezuela’s close proximity to oil refineries on the Gulf coast we can purchase crude oil from them and sell refined products to others at a profit. Production of fossil fuels is driven by price, globally. And the U.S. does not (and will not) control that price.

Energy independence for the United States will only be realized when/if we control the price of our energy sources. Advanced energy development has the potential to move the U.S. from being energy self-sufficient (our current state) to being energy independent by allowing the U.S. to control energy generation costs at home. Although achievable, this goal will take time. Adm Gunn explained that given the small percentage of renewables in the global energy market, compared to fossil fuels, means the U.S. will need to accelerate advanced energy development if it wants to achieve energy independence.

 “It would be far better for the United States economy and security if we led the charge for renewable energy research, manufacturing and deployment.”

Is leading renewable energy development really economically advantageous for the United States? The MAB pondered and explored this concept in their studies. Employing solar energy technologies originally pioneered in the U.S., China now sells solar panels to U.S. consumers at lower cost as similar systems produced in the U.S. MAB studies indicate that this short-term gain in cost savings comes at a longer-term to our national economy. Succinctly stated in the CNA-MAB 2017 Report, Advanced Energy and National Security,

“As new energy options emerge to meet global demand, nations that lead stand to gain; should the U.S. sit on the sidelines, it does so at considerable risk to our national security.”

That said, Adm Gunn explained how the U.S. can regain global leadership in advanced energy. Recognizing that hydroelectric and geothermal energy sources are limited in their development by the availability of natural resources and the cost of large-scale infrastructures. Nuclear power is also stalled in the United States, even as Russian and China are building and selling over 80 new nuclear reactors. The intermittency of solar and wind renewables continues to be a challenge – one the U.S. is well positioned to address.

Reminding us that energy is security, Adm Gunn closed his presentation by noting that energy security choices that the country makes now can enhance our national security and benefit military operations.

Fielding questions on a range of topics, Adm Gunn started by addressing the issue of grid vulnerability from electromagnetic pulses (EMP) caused naturally by solar bursts or intentionally by nuclear weapons. First the bad news. None of the U.S. electric grid, except for very few isolated elements dedicated to military operations, are hardened against large-scale EMPs (solar or man-made). This became evident late in the 19th century when a large solar burst electrified the telegraph lines killing several telegraph operators across the country. Potential high-altitude nuclear weapon detonations by adversarial nations, including Russia and North Korea, also pose a significant risk to the grid. If used, these weapons would also trigger severe retaliation from the U.S. providing a substantial deterrent. On a positive note, the MAB reported that deployment of more distributed energy grids provides resilience to some EMP events by allowing energy to be restored locally much faster than the national grid could be restored.

Adm Gunn addressed several questions related to the deployment of EVs at scale, including how states can compensate for losses in highway funds from lower fuel tax revenues. At present, EVs are only 1-1.5% of vehicle traffic on U.S. highways, therefore fuel tax losses are still small. As the number of EVs increases, states will need to find other ways to recoup expenses through other forms of “use-taxes.” In response to questions about EV recycling, Adm Gunn cited Germany as an example. A recent German law mandates 100% recycling of all automobile vehicles and parts. German car manufactures met the challenge and are now deploying advanced manufacturing technologies to reduce waste and increase component recycling.

The topic of lithium availability, especially from mines in Nevada, was also a popular topic. Adm Gunn acknowledged Nevada’s role as as a major world supplier; however, he also explained that Bolivia and Argentina are expanding their lithium mining efforts. China is now forging new partnerships with these countries to obtain lithium from producers outside the United States, reducing the demand for lithium from Nevada. Expanding U.S. research on batteries that use alternatives to lithium, including more abundant rare earth elements, could help protect the U.S. against a possible lithium trade war in the future.

 CNA-MAB Report “National Security and Assured U.S. Electrical Power,” (November 2015) is available for download at:

CNA-MAB Report “Advanced Energy and U.S. National Security,” (June 2017) is available for download at:

Biosketch. Vice Admiral Lee F. Gunn, USN (Ret.), Vice Chairman, CNA’s Military Advisory Board, served for 35 years in the U.S. Navy. His last active duty assignment was Inspector General of the Department of the Navy where he was responsible for the Department’s overall inspection program and its assessments of readiness, training, and quality of service. Serving in the Surface Navy in a variety of theaters, Gunn rose through the cruiser/destroyer force to command the Frigate USS Barbey, then commanded the Navy’s anti-submarine warfare tactical and technical evaluation Destroyer squadron, DESRON 31. He later commanded Amphibious Group Three. As Commander of PHIBGRU THREE, he served as the Combined Naval Forces Commander and Deputy Task Force Commander of Combined Task Force United Shield, which conducted the withdrawal of U.N. peacekeeping forces from Somalia. Adm Gunn holds a Bachelors degree in Experimental and Physiological Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles and a Master of Science in Operations Research from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

Link to Adm Gunn’s PowerPoint Presentation

Link to Energy Security in Nevada Whitepaper

end quote.

JC reflections: Energy security is a huge deal, it is hard to argue that this is not a more important near-term priority than emissions reductions to prevent future climate change.  The smart way to approach this whole issue is climate-informed energy security.

Energy security actually provides a better argument for wind and solar power in a diverse energy portfolio than reducing CO2 emissions, since wind and solar don’t depend on water resources (unlike hydro plus nuclear and fossil fuel generation that require water for cooling).  Wind and solar power are sensitive to different types of bad weather (e.g. icing, snowfall, clouds, too much or too little wind).

Thinking that projected climate change should determine energy policy, without careful consideration to energy security, reliability, economy and broader environmental impacts, has the potential to increase societal vulnerability to whatever weather/climate extremes might throw at us and reduce overall well being.

235 responses to “Energy Security and Grid Resilience

  1. We had a very personal experience with energy security last summer. Our community (Alonsa Manitoba) was hit by an F4 tornado that took out power lines for tens of kilometres. You don’t appreciate how completely dependant you are on that electric line until you lose it. We had personal solar back up that allowed us to keep our own computers and modem running. The local radio tower that brings us our internet has a propane generator so there was a signal to connect to. We used a gas generator to keep our fridge and freezer cold. Neighbour helped neighbour and we pulled through until the linesmen got our power back up. Because we live in a very rural area, our community suffers black outs semi regularly so we were all prepared for an extended black out with various ways of coping. I shudder to think what would have happened if this had hit a big city. And if it were to hit a large swath of the continent there would be death and mayhem in very short order.

  2. Thanks Dr Curry.

    I hope you are enjoying the great west.

    Solar and wind work here but do kill lots of birds. Incl golden and bald eagles.

    Hydro is maxed and should reduce as rivers such as the Klamath are returned to run unvexed to the sea and help salmon recover. San Juaquin river is reduced to sewage treatment re flows and SF bay delta is starved for fresh water from the mountains.

    Nuclear is impossible in the west unless gen IV works out. In the middle term, fusion such as LLNL ignition facility and small scale work at Lockheed waiting to become successful to free up grid operations.

    Rely on science not green superstitions to work our way out of these grid power shortages. Fires and droughts history should inform the search for solutions. Major droughts here from 900 AD to 1200 AD caused collapse of civilizations and we should word for future energy and desalination options.

    Thanks for all you do to keep the debates rationale and fair.

  3. Beta Blocker

    At this point, the only realistic planning assumption we can make is that if it all falls in the pot, we will get through it somehow.

  4. Weather – fires, floods, wind, extreme storms – is the major disrupter of electric power in the United States,

    That will get much worse as more and more windmills, solar panels and ethanol replace Fossil fuels and Nuclear energy. The foot prints of the land needed to convert energy to electricity to power everything is spreading to unprotectable magnitudes at unbearable cost with horrific damage to our economy and ability to depend on ourselves. The windmills and solar panels and wire to string it together and the means to grow crops to make ethanol come from far away countries.

  5. “One of the highest profile cases was the attack on the Metcalf Power Station south of San Francisco in which 17 rifle shots were fired disabling several transformers and knocking power out to Silicon Valley for half a day. Due to a lack of U.S. suppliers for replacement transformers, which cost over $1m each, the Metcalf power station remained off-line for nearly a year. Even today, transformers are not manufactured in the U.S. Almost all our transformers are produced in South Korean, where manufacturers are overloaded with orders from China and other countries.”

    “…off-line for nearly a year.”


    “….transformer are not manufactured in the U.S.”

    Doubly unbelievable.

    • Mostly as a result of green energy alarmism and stuff that only works part of the time and never at more than a very low percent of capacity with diminishing reliable backup. You cannot manufacture 24/7 on intermittent, very expensive power.

  6. Innovative technologies such as nana-tubes, which allow electricity to be stored and released from directly from nano-fibers, have the potential to make smart grids more practical.

    From this, perhaps hastily worded, quote, I’m guessing he means carbon nano-tube flywheels. This is clearly not an established technology, although, that doesn’t mean there isn’t astounding potential. I suppose the admiral could mean some other carbon fiber technology that’s somehow escaped the breathless renewable energy press. I get a little bit of a sense of renewables evangelism.

  7. Judith, while I appreciate your opinion on this matter, I believe you and Adm. Gunn are wrong for a number of reasons. Reliable and cost effective energy does not include solar and wind in a realistic portfolio. For every MW of nameplate solar or wind energy, our nation will require a MW of fast reacting fossil fuel (natural gas or propane and propane typically isn’t piped) electricity to back it up. Since this is the case and since natural gas fired turbines are more costly than coal, there is no real savings. Also, when one looks at the cost/longevity of the solar or wind project. Solar needs to be replaced at 20 to 25 years and at that time would only have an output of about 25% of its nameplate rating, that means there is no real return on investment as solar also requires the NG backup, and between the two, the costs cannot be justified, unless you are willing to pay much higher, as in multiples, for your electricity. Wind has a similar problem. Wind generation turbines, their towers, blades and foundations have a usable service life of around 30 years. The best warranties on these units are 25-30 years. The reason is because of all the stress load induced fracturing to all of the major components I listed. Yes, even the foundations will have significant fracturing due to load stresses. Wind must also be backed up MW for MW of nameplate rating by natural gas fired turbines.

    Why is natural gas the only backup electric generation suitable for solar and wind? Natural gas generation is the only generation which can be quickly ramped up or down in response to electric demand. When the sun goes down, when clouds impair solar’s energy density or when the wind stops blowing, we need an electric source which can be ramped up at next to a moment’s notice, or ramped down just as quickly when the sun or wind are able to produce adequate electricity.

    Some then tout grid scale backup, as if such a thing exists. Some tout future battery technology, which doesn’t yet exist, that is unless everyone is willing to install 3 or 4 Tesla Wall 2 batteries in their home, at around 10K each, and in 10 years those batteries will have a maximum of 75% of their original energy density, and a warranty that just expired, prompting the home owner to install another 3 or 4 Tesla Wall 2 type batteries. Let’s do the quick math on batteries or a single family dwelling. $30K to $40K every 10 years PLUS replacing half of the solar panels every 10 years of 1/4 every 5 because at about 10 years the energy density will be reduced by about 50%. That means on a properly designed system, one would want to properly optimize the system by installing 3x to 4x the actual need, spaced out over spans of 5 to 7 years, so they would still have all the electricity they need as the solar panels degrade with age. Yes that means installing a full solar array that supplies all the electricity needed, then 10 years later doing the same thing while keeping the original, then 10 years later installing a 3rd array. Then every 10 years replacing the oldest solar panel array.

    Then there are those who tout using pumped water storage for grid scale backup. A physicist addresses the numbers here:

    The point is, solar and wind are not, and likely will never be, the solution if one seeks reliable electricity. Furthermore all of the above is based on everyone still using fossil fueled vehicles rather than EVs. No one either encouraging or making demands to switch to all EVs has even began calculating how much more electricity our electric grid would require to charge all those EVs and I sincerely suspect the majority of our grid is woefully inadequate to handle all that new load.

    Finally, the article mentions EMP. The electric energy generation, transmission and distribution industry could protect all its equipment IF you were willing to pay the cost associated with burying ALL transmission lines, all distribution lines and covering and cooling the respective substations with EMP hardened enclosures. That of course does NOT remove the vulnerability created by each home, building or fixture (think street light or lights on signs) as they would also need to be hardened.

    In essence, what I am saying is yes, we CAN make all these pie in the sky utopian changes to our existing electric systems, as long as you are willing to pay for it. When you see the price tag in the US alone, I’m certain you will balk in a hurry. Imagine seniors living on a fixed income having to pay 10x, 20x or more on their electric bills, just because some folks have noble ideals. The poorest among us certainly couldn’t afford it and I suspect you wouldn’t be willing if you had any idea how much it would cost.

    Answer this for me. If electric generation ,transmission and distribution companies could generate lower cost electricity and sell it to their customers for roughly the same price as they are now, why have electric utilities resisted solar and wind technology? Why is it taking government mandates, subsidies and guaranteed return on investment via rate hikes to get electric utilities to build solar and wind? Why wouldn’t they already be embracing this if it was in their best interests, their shareholders’ best interests and their customers’ best interests? Why are they being compelled if they would benefit?

    I genuinely believe that if and when new technologies come along that will actually benefit society by reduced energy costs and still be reliable, electric utilities will jump all over it, not requiring mandates, subsidies or guaranteed ROI via rate hikes.

    Statism… ideas so good they must be forced upon society.

    • I messed up a couple numbers. 10 years on a 3/3 solar system was wrong. It should be 7 years. Also, not included on a 4/4 system the added panels and replaced old panels would be on a 5 year install and then subsequent rotation as they ended their lifespan.

    • Seems to me the renewable energy fad actually (and counter-intuitively) subverts energy independence. The intermittent nature of renewable energy inevitably drives net costs higher because reliable cost effective resources must be run less, inevitably driving their costs higher and/or removing the resource from the energy mix. Coal and nuclear plants are being driven out of business because inferior resources are being illogically given financial preference and not subject to market forces that would ordinarily place a low (or negative) value on energy produced by these unreliable resources.
      If the objective is affordable energy independence, then renewable energy should be valued at its true price which is generally inconsequential. This is not to say renewable energy has no value, it just is not anywhere near the irrational prices (including subsidies) being politically contrived to essentially line the pockets of the elite.

      ‘I don’t think I expected coal fired power to make up such a large percentage of the overall, proving that when huge amounts of power are required on a stable and reliable basis, that can only come from the one source.’ Anton Lang.

    • Peter Davies

      Hi ksreferee,

      Some of your assumptions are not correct, or maybe more accurately, they are no longer correct. The big one that isn’t true is that every MW of wind or solar needs another MW of gas turbine back up.

      Taking some figures from my post here on the Texas ERCOT grid from Let’s ignore back-up for failing units of back-up in the raw figures, and just mentally add 10% at the end. Note that Texas uses twice as much electricity per capita as anywhere else in the USA – lots of air conditioning and oil production and refining are big users too.

      ERCOT supplies about 90% of the total Texas load as some outlying parts were better served by other state grids. The ERCOT demand averages 40 GW and the annual peak hour is around 72 GW. For a fully renewable system (including wind, solar, transmission links and storage), you would need around 80 GW of solar and 75 GW of wind power, total 155 GW. Clearly to have 155 GW of gas turbine back up would be a very expensive mistake for a system with peak demand of only 72 GW.

      OK, how about 72 GW of back up for 72 GW of peak demand? Well that’s too high as well. It turns out that ERCOT peak hour demand is caused by high air conditioning loads on – you guessed it – clear, sunny days on which solar power generation is also guaranteed. Once the sun goes down you get a peak net demand (demand minus all solar) which is lower by about 8 GW, so 64 GW of backup.

      But the 64 GW is still for the same days on which solar generation is guaranteed, so add a few hours of average load of storage. Now the net peak demand comes down still further.

      The perfect correlation between peak demand and solar is a characteristic only of places with heavy air conditioning loads – but that includes a lot of the USA.

      Expand the storage to 6 or 7 hours of average load and another effect kicks in. Because you can pre-charge the storage from back up generation, it can then help with peak hour demand. You only now need to back-up capacity for the AVERAGE demand in the 24 hours prior to the end of the peak hours, not the peak hour itself. So instead of back up for the 72 GW peak hour, you need only something like 50 GW for the peak day. (For purists, the statement ignores storage losses of around 15%, but it’s the point that matters, not the exact numerical answer).

      Add the air conditioning and storage effects together and the model was showing no more than 30 GW back up requirement for a 40 GW average and a 72 GW peak hour. At first I didn’t believe it, and added another 10 GW of back up in case the result required perfect prediction of the future demand and renewable generation, as was used in the model for simplicity.

      However, with hindsight 30 GW of back up for is quite likely to be right because of the two effects above. Needless to say, 30 GW is only 20% of 155 GW. A back up capacity of 25% of the total renewable capacity may be more reasonable,

      You say back up is too expensive to be viable. Wind and solar power generation costs are mainly due to capital costs (no fuel costs), but gas turbine generation costs are mostly fuel. Just crudely using Lazard’s V12 mid point capital costs, gas peakers are $850/kW, onshore wind $1,350/kW and solar $1,100/kW. Taking proportion of 30 units of gas peakers capacity, 75 units of wind and 80 of solar, the renewables capital costs are 189,250 units. Back up gas peaker capital costs are 25,500 units, or 14% of the renewables capital costs.

      It isn’t as simple as that sum, because 20% of the renewables capacity is over-generation to cover storage losses and wastage (storage full at times of surplus). Maybe the renewables costs should be reduced to 151,400 (80%) which makes back up costs 17% of the renewables capital costs. However, the real point is that, if you start to work it out properly, back up gas generation costs add a little to the raw renewables capital costs, but aren’t a large enough fraction to blow the economics of renewables out of the water.

      In short, one unit of back up capacity per unit of renewable capacity is a nice simple rule, but is TOO simple. It grossly overestimates the required back up capacity in a real system – you can always do very much better than that.

      And lastly a comment on storage and EVs. The Texas ERCOT model had 300 GWh of storage. But 100% penetration of EVs with 300 mile range would require 900 GWh of EV storage. Thus V2G (vehicle to grid) capability to supply EV power back to the grid would provide enough storage to perform smoothing over less than a day provided one third of the car owners were connected at any point. Nissan is suggesting providing free power for travel and no battery warranty downgrade for any EV participating in V2G as an incentive. So the 300 GWh of storage might come with no capital costs – just some GWh of free electricity. Because Texas demand is so high, EV charging would add only another 10% to total demand, and would be a very flexible load. In most normal US states EV charging would probably add a flexible load of 20% to current demand. UK figures are nearer 30% additional load.

      • Try a case such as five cold days in a row in mid January, cloudy, very little wind, light snowfall once in a while over Texas from Dallas to Amarillo. Natural gas is no longer used for heating because Texans turned into Californians.

      • Curious George

        “Wind and solar power generation costs are mainly due to capital costs.” No maintenance required? Why are there so many jobs in the “renewables” industry?

      • Curious George. They recently built out several solar panel farms in the rural area I drive through to get to my parents’ house. Acres of the things mounted about 3-4 feet off the ground over what was once corn and soybean fields. With grass and shrubs starting to grow under them.
        My first thought was- how are they going to cut the grass under those? My second thought was: It’s a good thing nobody on the planet is hungry and we can turn our cropland into intermittent electricity.

      • Peter Davies

        The three years of demand from 2010 to 2012 inclusive required only 30 GW of back up. More years would likely have given a higher figure. The largest winter peak hour demand seems to have been 66 GW on Weds 18 Jan 2018.
        See .

        The “average over the 24 peak hours” still applies, which is going to be somewhat less than 66 GW. Further, if such a high winter peak occurs only every few years, then it would be cheaper to contract with industry and commerce (which were 50% of the load on 18 Jan 2018) that they will cut their demand to the bone one every few years when it happens, rather than keep gas turbine backup which would not otherwise be needed.

        Either way, somewhat less than 66 GW of back up is considerably less than the 155 GW which the “one unit of backup for each unit of wind and solar” rule would wrongly come up with.

      • Peter Davies

        @Curious George
        Taking the Lazard’s V12 costs for onshore wind, the mid capital cost is $1,350/kW, which, at 6% cost of capital over 20 years, would give total repayments of $2,292. Mid point for maintenance is $32 per kw-year, or $640 over 20 years. So the maintenance cost is half the cost of capital approximately, which is a little higher than I expected. Strictly “mainly capital costs” for wind is correct. But also see the last paragraph below.

        For utility solar the mid point capital cost is $1,100/kw at 6% over 25 years is a total of $2,094 repayments. Mid point for maintenance is $10.50/kw-year, so $263 over 25 years – 13% of the capital cost – in line with my expectation.

        Since the annual maintenance for gas peaker or CCGT back up is comparable to that for solar, the additional cost of capital + maintenance of back up compared with wind is reduced by adding in maintenance for both, because the wind maintenance is quite high, so it improves my case that back up costs are very cheap. For gas backup vs solar the ratio is not changed much by adding in maintenance for both.

      • I discussed capacity in my earlier comment. The easiest way to understand the extra generation needed to account for the intermittency of renewables is to examine available capacity.

        Capacity contribution is a percentage of nameplate for each generation type. ERCOT uses 15% for onshore wind, 58% for coastal wind, 74% for solar, and 100% for dispatchable power plants, e.g. coal, nuclear, biomass, nat gas, etc.

      • Peter Davies

        “Capacity contribution is a percentage of nameplate for each generation type. ERCOT uses 15% for onshore wind, 58% for coastal wind, 74% for solar, and 100% for dispatchable power plants, e.g. coal, nuclear, biomass, nat gas, etc.”

        The ERCOT statement that 74% of added solar capacity is saying that more solar allows dispatchable back up (coal, gas biomass) to be reduced. It provides little support for the rule “one unit of backup for each unit of wind or solar installed” touted above. Further, it does not support the arguments in your previous post that renewables (including solar) cause huge problems with intermittency. Insteady 74% says ERCOT thinks there are significant capacity (and therefore financial) benefits in adding solar.

        However, the figure of 74% ERCOT capacity contribution for solar has to be understood correctly. It is only a statement about MARGINAL added capacity. The first 11-12 GW of solar will indeed reduce the need for dispatchable back up by 8 GW. However, the 20th GW of solar won’t reduce the need for dispatchable back-up at all!

        The reason is very simple. The summer peak is due to building air conditioning, which is why 12 GW of additional solar helps to meet it. But, on the same peak days, the evening demand is only 8 GW lower than the daytime demand peak. More solar capacity reduces daytime net demand (demand minus solar) still further, but can do nothing at all to meet evening peak demand after sunset.

        The situation changes with grid battery storage. 8 GW/32 GWh (4 hours) of storage would allow 8 GW of evening peak demand to be satisfied indirectly from solar, reducing the need for dispatchable generation by a further 8 GW.

        This all supports the case that there are no simple, generally applicable rules for the relationship between renewables and back up. There is no escaping the need for system simulations of new grid configurations using a data derived from actual historical demand and renewables generation.

      • I agree, the effective load carrying capacity of solar decreases as penetration increases. Renewable capacity contribution also is location specific. The numbers I quoted are for ERCOT summer demand given the existing conditions. They do not apply to other locations. For example, PJM uses something near 10% for wind I believe.

      • Peter Davies


        The limits for solar and wind appear at higher penetrations that generally supposed. The ERCOT model indicates that 60 GW of wind and 31 GW of solar (both at capacity factors around 32.5%) plus 50 GWh of battery storage would give 70% renewables grid penetration with 5% of grid average load (= 7% of the actual renewables generation) wasted.

        Figures without any storage are 68% renewables grid penetration with wastage 7% – but with no analysis of ramp rates. 50 GWh of storage is 75 minutes at average load and avoids any ramp rate problems or grid stability problems.

  8. Dr. Curry:
    I have been an admirer of yours for several years, but in this instance it’s clear you have been given considerable misinformation. You are an expert in your field, and I am an expert in mine, and most of what you have been told is clearly wrong.
    My new book, “Energy: The Source of Prosperity” will be available by September and I will send you a copy.
    I read the Admiral’s bio and there isn’t much in it about the grid and how it operates. I didn’t see any engineering background.
    Here is what he said that’s correct:
    1. A solar storm or EMP has the potential to shutdown the grid by destroying power transformers. It could take over a year to replace these transformers.
    2. Much of the grid is old, and that’s correct. But that doesn’t mean it’s outdated. Distributed generation and microgrids are not going to solve the problems of storm damage and power interruptions.
    3. Cyber attacks are a threat, and a lot more needs to be done to protect against them. But a smart grid isn’t a solution. It’s a catch word that means nothing, and has mostly been in reference to the distribution system using smart meters.

    His other references to wind and solar are flat out wrong if he says they are more reliable and less expensive than using natural gas, nuclear or coal.
    Donn Dearor

  9. There is a lot more to stable grid operation than just being able to recharge a few stand-alone batteries, like the first anecdote was used to illustrate.
    As no doubt Planning Engineer will point out, factors like droop and inertia are what makes the grid stable. The new unreliable renewables do not provide these. Once a power supply is dominated by the asynchronous generation, then there will be large scale disruption. And it will be drowned out by us old dinosaurs going “I told you so”

  10. Like others with an electrical engineering background I consider this article largely off base. Power must be available 24 hours seven days a week and load and supply must be balanced on a real time basis. Therefore, power is procured as both energy and capacity. The energy market exists to procure energy in both real time and short term markets. The capacity market exists to ensure the long term reliability of electrical system by ensuring generating capability exists in the future. Various transmission organizations manage capacity differently, but all make an attempt to encourage the maintenance of long term reliability.

    A traditional power plant provides energy, capacity, and inertia. Because wind and solar are intermittent and unpredictable in the longer term they produce energy but can be counted on for very little capacity. Inertia is just what the term implies, stored mechanical energy available to maintain grid stability during a transient, e.g. power plant trip, loss of transmission line, etc.

    The absurdity of the current call for a more resilient grid is that this newfound need for resilience exists primarily because of the lack of resilience of wind and solar. Solar and wind produce power based on the vagaries of the weather. Since natural gas power plants are the most resilient, able to change power levels the most quickly on demand, they are the most capable of following the rapidly changing output of wind and solar. Battery storage can be used as synthetic inertia and for some peak load shaving, but it cannot make up for the variations of solar and wind that may occur over periods of days or weeks. Obviously, just adding back the missing inertia costs money in battery installation costs.

    The existence of subsidized wind and solar reduces the utilization of conventional power plants thereby reducing their revenues and earnings. This occurred in Germany many years ago, as solar and wind produced more power they needed to do something to prevent capacity, in the form of conventional power plants, from shutting down and threatening long term reliability. We are now taking similar actions in some areas.

  11. I fully agree with those commenters who have stated that the Admiral is out of his waters with his presentation. I would like to add a couple of points to their comments.

    On one hand there is aging infrastructure that needs to be replaced. Advocates of the smart grid neglect to mention that those components will have to be replaced anyway. This idea that distributed energy in a smart grid can reliably power major cities is misguided simply because renewables are so diffuse that even more transmission will be necessary to get the power where it is needed.

    If we look at probabilities I do not think there is any question that a Carrington EMP event is more likely than a catastrophic climate that can only be averted by banning fossil fuels. Moreover we know what can be done to reduce EMP damage and it is not the magical solution of the next great battery thing. Far better in my opinion would be to develop a national stockpile of transformers for example.

    I recommend that anyone who is interested in researching the story behind the complexities of a transition to renewable energy read two series of posts here on Climate Etc and the Science of Doom blogs. I blog on New York’s energy transition roadmap and provide links to all those posts here

    In my opinion the Admiral would do well to read all those posts too.

  12. There is a fundamental logical error made by these ‘planning engineers’ that is far from universal among ‘planning engineers’. Distorting subsidies result in higher energy costs not technology per se. Solar and wind do not necessarily require redundant dispatchable sources. 100% wind and solar would require backup – but that seems a pointless scenario until technology catches up with aspirations.

    This technology is said to be 8 of 9 on the NASA readiness scale. It seems possible that this will be cheap as chips. The opportunity exists then to supplant more expensive supplies when renewables are available. Airconditioning, offices, shopping centers, schools, etc. Daytime when solar power is almost always available. And putting pressure on the margins of the most inefficient and costly fossil fuel or nuclear sources is not a problem – it is called capitalism and is most of the solution. It seems likely to result in higher spot prices at certain times. Some plants will shut. It will find its own level dependent on supply and demand in an ideally undistorted market – but cheaper sources promote competition and seem more likely to result in lower overall energy costs.

    Your DoD micro-nuclear program – btw – is being called amusingly the ‘Dilithium Project’ – a reference to Star Trek. My feeling is that small modular nuclear devices are far more likely to be a far more disruptive technology than wind or solar.

    Economically rational industry policy would be to eschew operational subsidies of any kind – but to support first of a kind prototype development and let the economic chips fall where they may.

    • Renewable energy prices are a contrivance because market forces are not actually in-play. The use of renewable resources is being mandated by politics. Therein lies the problem. Your assertion of capitalism is simply not correct. More accurately, renewable energy is more like socialism because the government forces the use of the resource.
      The traditional and well proven approach of providing power when needed is being completely bastardized. The grid apparently must now exist to serve the needs of renewable energy (and the elite), not the needs of the people.

      • Irrelevant polemic. Supply without distorting subsidies is a capitalist ideal. If you are going to comment you should at a minimum base it on what was actually said. Read harder.

      • As I noted, being forced to use renewable energy is hardly capitalistic. As I noted, intermittent (unreliable) power can be sold in the marketplace, but it’s value historically was not anywhere near that of reliable power. That is based on my actual experience, having managed the generation of both types of power.
        The mischief occurs when the heavy hand of government forcibly distorts the market, which is exactly what is occurring.

      • If you could show me where I suggested market intervention for mature technology – I would be very surprised. You mistake me for one of your psychological archetypes. A straw man. What I have discussed is economically rational markets – in which wind, solar and other technology can find a place based on supply costs.

        You assume that there are other costs of intermittents that necessarily place an unfair burden on fossil fuel and nuclear energy. I assume that they need to compete in free markets and coddling these dispatchable technologies is misguided and leads to higher consumer costs. If wind and solar can produce cheaper electricity some 30 to 40% of the time – so be it. The supply is worth what they can get for it on the spot market. The rest of the industry must be flexible and adaptable or it is a dinosaur.

        So stop operational subsidies – but allow electricity supply to evolve in free markets. Unless you want to tax wind and solar intermittency externaities? What a can of worms that would be.

      • So stop operational subsidies – but allow electricity supply to evolve in free markets.
        – Who if anyone is suggesting it shouldn’t be allowed ?
        – The bulk of economic criticism is precisely the operational subsidies.

      • Economic rationalism is always lost in the weeds of superficial technology assessments.

      • Robert Ellison, your slander of practicing engineers, combined with you argument by authority, are tiresome and won’t convince anyone. On engineering, you seem to view us as stupid, blind obstructionists who don’t do anything than what we did before – based on your comment. You don’t appreciate that engineers love to solve new problems, not just old problems.

        You dig up a bunch of studies, almost all of which were funded by governments or companies with ideological or profit motives with “alternative energy,” but that means little. Yes, there are lots of cheerleaders for green energy, and most of them are conflicted. And, they rarely address the real issues.

        What you don’t do is answer critiques with anything other than links.

        How about addressing the economic issues of intermittency? How about telling us what a price for energy is good enough, and what level of grid reliability is sufficient? How about addressing the fact that there is no power grid of significant size that relies on large amounts of alternative energy, or the fact that German power costs have rocketed at the same time that they are spending vast sums on power transmission and backup generation, all in favor of wind energy?

        I look at your arguments and conclude that you are like a patient who tries to diagnose himself by reading articles on the Internet. A friend of mine ended up in critical condition doing that recently, and he was very, very intelligent, but not a doctor.

      • Unclear whether or not you advocate the forced use of renewable energy. Let the market make the decision on the energy mix, not the government.

      • Does nothing penetrate the ideologically hidebound skulls of these guys? How did they miss that one of my degrees is in engineering? Or that economic rationalism is the foundation of anything I say?

        I copied and pasted from the magazine of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers the titles of all the articles in a special edition on integrating wind and solar into the mix. The IEEE magazine is closed to n non members – but the individual articles can be found by Googling. It was dismissed as academic grant seeking – obviously without recognizing the source or reading the material. Now it is argument from authority.

        I referenced peak industry and professional bodies, dozen of individuals from private enterprise as well as academic and government sources. What I am proffered in return is personal opinion. I am not slandering the profession – it’s that these guys are dragging down the average.

    • Putting a nuclear reactor on a land battlefield is completely insane. Just what the troops need, lethal radiation puked all over the place from a a reactor used as target practice for the enemy.

      • And DU artillery is not a problem? But I have non doubt that radiation will be considered by someone in the DoD.

      • To be blunt, only an idiot would put a nuclear reactor on a land battlefield. As an advanced reactor developer, that s what I somewhat more politely advised the DoD.

      • We have nuclear reactors on many new war ships. We had nuclear power planed for bombers and were designing them in the 1950’s. We had nuclear reactors on barges, one was used in Panama before we got out of there. Other countries are building those now. Nuclear power on land battlefields is going to happen. We can have it or we can lose a next war to others that do have it. Not having Nuclear reactors supporting our side is what is insane. Everyone else will.

      • In the old days, you would have said, keep using horses, gasoline is too dangerous. Just what the troops need, lethal gasoline puked all over the place from a fuel tank used as target practice for the enemy. That kind of logic has only been used by the sides that lost. Japan quit because we had the better bomb. That has prevented nuclear war, so far, for 74 years. Japan and Germany were both working on getting the bomb first, it might be different of one of them did succeed.

      • Robert Ellison, that you conflate the use of DU on the battlefield with the issues with nuclear reactors indicates an utter lack of quantitative knowledge about radiation and nuclear physics.

      • “Dai Williams, an independent weapons researcher in Britain, says the dust emits alpha radiation—20 times more damaging than the gamma radiation from nuclear weapons. The military insists the dust is harmless because it can’t penetrate the skin. They ignore that it can be inhaled.

        Fast forward to 2003. When the United States reinvaded Iraq, it launched bunker-busting guided bombs, cruise missiles, and TOW anti-tank missiles. It also fired new thermobaric warheads—much stronger explosives with stunningly large blasts. Many of these, says Ritter, contained some type of uranium, whether depleted, undepleted, or slightly enriched.

        Williams says thermobaric weapons explode at extremely high temperatures and “the only material that can do that is uranium.” He adds that while today’s nuclear weapons are nominally subject to international regulations, no existing arms protocol addresses uranium in a non-nuclear context.”

        Something from the EPA/

        “For purposes of disposal, DU is considered a
        low-level waste (LLW) and its disposal is
        subject to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
        (NRC) regulations and appropriate DOE Orders.
        Disposal of DU mixed waste having both a
        radioactive com ponent and a RCRA hazardous
        waste component must be performed in
        compliance with NRC LLW requirements and
        RCRA hazardous waste requirements.”

        I have been accused of replying with links. It appears they don’t read them. Yet they claim to have superior knowledge without providing any sources of this wisdom.

      • The idea that DU is 20 times more of a radiation danger than nuclear weapons is bizarre. Yes, alpha emissions, if they occur inside your body, are very damaging, which is one cause of lung cancer from smoking. Gammas are also quite damaging, but at a lower level per individual event.

        But a toxicologist doesn’t just worry about the toxicity of one molecule (or in this case, one radioactive event) but also the dose received. DU is just plain old uranium, with a reduced concentration of U-235, making it slightly less radioactive than normal uranium. Uranium is not highly radioactive, which is easy to tell by its long half life. Inhale too much fine DU dust and yes, your odds of cancer goes up. The sort of gamma flux produced by a nuclear detonation might kill you in one second, and a lesser flux can still induce cancers at the level of DU or far above. And, a nuclear weapon also releases a large neutron flux, and neutron radiation is also quite dangerous. Plus, the fallout contains a whole variety of radioactive elements.

        So, while DU presents a slight danger on the battlefield, the level of radioactivity is very small compared to that in any reactor. DU in that sense is sort of like Agent Orange – slightly toxic (as an aside, I was in a place that was sprayed with AO, before I was an engineer). If a reactor core is exposed, the radioactive flux from gammas and neutrons is extremely dangerous. If it is atomized and released into the atmosphere, it greatly exceeds the minor (but real) danger of DU. Reactors that have run for awhile contain a complex mix of radioactive elements, ranging from highly radioactive to slightly radioactive.

        The whole field of radioactive danger has been grossly misunderstood by people who fail to take a quantitative look at it. This is partly due to the cold war fears of radiation from nuclear fallout, partly due to scare mongering by anti-nuke activists, partly due to the invisibility of radiation compared to more common toxins, such as table salt.

        Nuclear radiation can be dangerous or not – it all depends on the dose, and the effect per unit dose of the type of radiation. The same is true of table salt.

    • Robert,
      I agree that “100% wind and solar would require backup – but that seems a pointless scenario until technology catches up with aspirations.” Unfortunately the energy innumerate politiicans and activitists have not figured out that technology does not match their aspirations. In New York we have the Governor’s Green New Deal and Democrats in the legislature have the Climate and Community Protection Act that both want the 100% carbon free by 2050 aspiration and they both want far more wind and sun than can be supported without backup. If only they would include nuclear as part of their plan then I might believe they understand but that is not the case.

      • It is painfully obvious to me that neither Roger nor Robert have ever been involved with any operations of a nuclear power plant. Please stop with the insanity, thinking yourselves more capable of managing a generation plant, coordinating a section of a grid as a system operator or any other aspect of supplying reliable, safe and low cost electricity to numerous customers than the well trained and plenty competent electrical engineers employed by electrical utilities all across our great nation.

        It takes an amazing amount of arrogance to think reading a little on the internet can provide someone with the training, knowledge and professional capability to operate, control and protect something as majorly complicated as a portion of an electric grid. So please just stop.

      • “The laws of physics tell you what to do. Relying on the laws of physics is a good bet.”

        Now if only we could train electrical engineers not to waffle on at length without actually saying anything.

    • Solar and wind do not necessarily require redundant dispatchable sources. 100% wind and solar would require backup

      To clarify, do you mean only 100% wind and solar means 100% backup needed ?
      And that with less than 100% wind and solar supply, we need only enough backup to cover the worst case failure of all the wind and solar in the grid combined – which will be <= 100% ?

      • Everything I say is predicated on free markets. There is – as I quite clearly said in my original comment – a market for energy when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing.

        Are you going to restrict entry into a market because wind and solar can’t serve the entire market? By turning the industry into a sheltered workshop? That’s the quickest route to technological stagnation and economic ruin.

      • there is .. a market for energy when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing.
        There could be I suppose. But is there actually? Would the wind and solar installations really survive the loss of any open and disguised subsidies (like forced purchase mandates) they live on ?

        Are you going to restrict entry into a market because wind and solar can’t serve the entire market?
        Has someone actually recommended that ?

    • Mr. Ellison, I’d like to see Admiral Gunn’s timetable for the development of Gen IV reactors in the range of 200-1000mw. The military analysis appears correct that distributed generation on a finer grid scale that currently used would add a lot of protection from prolonged, widespread blacklouts.

  13. I agree with the comments above about the weak factual basis of the Admiral’s presentation. Unlike them, I’ve spent decades looking at these kinds of presentation by officers about matters outside their professional expertise. They tend to be unreliable, filled with false anecdotes and other misinformation (their quotes to famous people are often fake).

    (1) “as much of the northeast coast experienced in 2006 when a squirrel knocked a tree limb on a power line in Ohio causing lights to go out across the region for days.”

    Wow. Oddly, it isn’t listed on the Wikipedia page of major power outages.

    Outages caused by small animals are common, but tend to be brief and local. Such as the only two I see for Ohio in 2006.

    (2) “Droughts are also a major contributor to electric power disruptions. A prime example of this being decreased water levels in Lake Powell available to feed hydroelectric generation at the Hover Dam.”

    He doesn’t give any examples. A quick search did not find any. Perhaps the Admiral confused present problems with possible future ones (it’s also a common mental glitch among climate doomsters).

    (3) “Weather – fires, floods, wind, extreme storms – is the major disrupter of electric power in the United States …”

    That’s a superficial answer. The most common source of outages is in the distribution network. The cause: funding. The distribution grid could be made as reliable as we want – if we pay for it. Bury the lines, build redundant networks, etc. But we won’t pay for it. Adding new sources – most of which rely on long distribution lines – does not necessarily increase reliability – and might not be the most cost-effective measure.

    • Larry Kummer wrote, “Wow. Oddly, it isn’t listed on the Wikipedia page of major power outages.”

      I think that the “squirrel” outage occurred in 2003 and the squirrel’s involvement is often mentioned but is questionable. Better to blame it on an Oak.
      The Northeast blackout of 2003 was a widespread power outage throughout parts of the Northeastern and Midwestern United States and the Canadian province of Ontario on August 14, 2003, beginning just after 4:10 p.m. EDT.
      [ … ]
      The blackout’s primary cause was a software bug in the alarm system at the control room of FirstEnergy, an Akron, Ohio–based company, causing operators to remain unaware of the need to re-distribute load after overloaded transmission lines drooped into foliage. What should have been a manageable local blackout cascaded into collapse of the entire North East Region.

    • Michael Kelly

      My own minor contribution: The admiral mentions the many telegraph operators killed during the Carrington event. There were a number of fires started in telegraph offices due to heavy sparking igniting loose papers. This was apparently due not to the induced currents from the event itself, but as a result of operators increasing their battery power to try to keep the system running by overwhelming the stray signals the magnetic storm was causing.

      I have been unable, however, to find a single mention anywhere of a telegraph operator fatality, or any fatality attributable to the event among any population segment.

      Here’s a very interesting history:

  14. a ‘lithium trade war’… remember back when oil was a big deal?

  15. The smart grid solution relies on distributing energy generation to areas closer to the consumer….

    What does this mean really? That if/when the grid smartly detects
    a match between local supply and local demand, it routes the supply to a smaller local sub-grid rather that the normal, larger, overall one ?

    And is this something that has always happened, or is it a new approach needed to mitigate the unreliable nature of renewables supply ?

    • I think the “smart” grid has much more distributed energy generation so more generation is closer to the consumer. It is not so much that the grid is reacting but it is designed that way. Relative to renewables supply you picked up on the flaw. Energy innumerate proponents of smart grids assume that the distributed energy generation will be wind or solar. If I were planning distributed energy generation for a hospital I would very quickly settle on natural gas so I would be able to afford 24/7 availability. They will just be spreading electric generation out. Not clear that there won’t be unintended consequences with that.

      • Roger and bfjcricklewood,
        A smart grid is a term used when smart meters, also known as Advanced Metering Infrastructure system (AMI), are locally installed at the point of consumption (house, business, etc.) and those meters securely transmit current usage via the actual current meter readings to nearby meters and eventually to a secure node which transmits that information to the electric utility. System operators use this information for real time load balancing and other adjustments they may need to make to the grid, i.e. rerouting certain loads due to an outage in a segment of a transmission or distribution line. Smart meters also allow electric utilities know when there is an outage at each and every specific location that has an outage, in real time, so a lineman and/or substation crew can be dispatched to repair the failure even if a person isn’t home to report the outage.

        One other thing electric utilities use a smart meter (AMI) system for is to be able to charge varying rates based upon real time usage during peak loads or peak load time periods. This happens to be something I dislike about smart meters but none the less, some utilities are using them for this purpose.

        Smart grid does not mean anything else. Again, please stop with the misinformation.

        There are a bunch of electrical engineers on here, many who work for electric generation, transmission and/or distribution systems or utilities like mine which does all three, who would be more than happy to explain some of the basic the ins and outs of how a grid works. Most will likely agree with me that natural gas turbines, and surprisingly more and more need to be built as we add more mandated wind farms to our company’s portfolio. We call them peaking plants even though most of our new ones are merely backup for “green” wind. Furthermore, those new peaking plants are not included in our renewable energy mandates, so we don’t get the subsidies or the guaranteed ROI via guaranteed rate hikes we get with wind or solar. That means the utilities have to somehow convince our regulators to allow rate hikes to pay for this new backup generation to wind.

        There is so much to an electric grid you simply do not know and it concerns me when people attempt to push public policy based on that ignorance, no offense intended. Currently the lowest cost RELIABLE electricity produced is by hydroelectric plants but locations for them are very limited. The next low cost reliable electric generation is from clean coal fired plants. (Yes, plants which utilize good scrubber technology to drastically reduce sulfur dioxide (SOx) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) from polluting the air. SOx and NOx are actual pollutants, CO2 is not.) The next reliable and relatively low cost (depending on how many times the government changes the specifications of the plant during the actual build) electric generation is nuclear. Finally we have the highest cost reliable generation, natural gas turbines.

        Wind and solar aren’t even considered as a means of reliable generation because they aren’t reliable. Electric utilities cannot count on electric production from wind or solar for base load generation because of their intermittent capabilities which are based on the energy densities (or lack of) from either the sun or the wind at any given moment. Plus due to this intermittency and the actual costs of installing and maintaining these solar and wind farms, combined with the backup peaking plants they require, there is no chance for a utility to get a return on investment (ROI) on the initial investment or the continual replacement costs of wind and/or solar. The ONLY reason electric utilities are installing wind or solar is because of mandates, subsidies and guaranteed ROI via rate hikes. That along with good PR by being able to proclaim, “We’re doing something green!”

        I understand people have opinions. I’m simply encouraging you to express your opinion AFTER speaking with a knowledgeable electrical engineer who has 10-20+ years experience working for an electric utility, because they know that the addition of wind or solar to the utility’s portfolio is merely a PR stunt and it makes the section of the grid their utility controls more vulnerable to collapse than just about anything else man can create, short of EMP, which I discussed above by saying we COULD harden for EMP, you just don’t want to have to pay for the cost associated with doing so.

        Thank you for reading this far, if you have. I hope I’ve helped better inform you on the subject. This will be my last post on this particular page by Judith Curry. If the information provided by me and other electrical engineers, either in the industry or retired from it, doesn’t persuade you to reconsider some of your positions, it’s likely nothing will because I believe catastrophic man-made global warming/catastrophic man-made climate change is the source of all these nonsensical mandates, based upon nothing but dogmatic scientology.


      • Ksreferee,
        I agree with your technical definition of the smart grid. It is supposed to describe the grid that uses smart meters to monitor consumption. However the term has been incorrectly expanded to cover more. The quote was “The smart grid solution relies on distributing energy generation to areas closer to the consumer”.

        In the common lexicon the energy inexact have expanded the term and my response was intended to address the distributed energy generation component. I agree with you that is incorrect. Instead of smart grid solution it should read the transformed clean energy solution of the future or some similar buzzword fest. In New York it is the Governor’s reforming the energy vision program.

        I agree with almost everything you say and my disagreements are probably because I am misinterpreting what you meant to say. Thank you for your responses.

  16. Dear Dr. Curry,

    I’m a devoted reader of your blog since years, to which I occasionally contribute. I regret to say that this is by far the most delusional post I’ve read.
    As much as the list of high-ranking military officers appears on the papers you’ve linked, when I read things like this…

    “According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the U.S. generated nearly 20 gigawatts (GW) of solar power in the last year enough to power more than four million homes [20]. ”

    … it becomes immediately clear that they don’t know even the basics of energy systems!!
    How disappointing.
    They are simply re-iterating the usual “green” propaganda.
    One can’t build a reliable energy system based on intermittent renewables, that’s a physical impossibility.
    It suffices to say that the (in)famous Gigafactory of Tesla/Panasonic in Nevada is taking 6 years and 6 billion dollars to be built, and once at full speed will churn out batteries capable of storing 50 GWh, i e. the equivalent of 6.5 MINUTES of electricity consumption in 2018 (4018 TWh). So, you would need 9-10 years of Gigafactory production just to cover 1 hour of lack of sunshine (12 hours at least on average every day of every year). It’s a mission impossible, even for seasoned and experienced soldiers, plain and simple.
    Please, don’t let them drag you into that trap.

    • Peter Davies


      According to Wikipedia, the Gigafactory can be expanded to a capacity of 150 GWh/year of battery pack production. That’s 20 minutes of US average grid power per year.

      While it is dark, on average, for 12 hours per day, everywhere in the world, the electricity consumption during nighttime is less than during daytime, and the evening peak only lasts a few hours. 8 hours of average US load (~500 GW) is around 4,000 GWh – a reasonable quantity of non-daylight storage for a renewable system perhaps. because daytime loads are higher than nighttime . That would be for matching supply and demand only within daily variations – not seasonal storage, for which another, cheaper, mechanism must be used.

      Probably this storage is required in the 2030s, which gives up to 15 years to manufacture it. It would take the Tesla gigafactory 27 years of dedicated production (no EV batteries), but it won’t be on its own.

      Assume 7 further battery pack factories from other suppliers on the scale of the Tesla gigafactory at maximum capacity (150 GWh/year). That is 8 altogether. Assume only 25% of the production goes to grid batteries, with 75% to EVs. Those 8 factories can now produce 300 GWh of grid storage per year (and three times as much EV storage), or 4,000 GWh of grid storage in 13 years. Obviously these factories mostly aren’t built yet, so there’s a few years of lead time before production gets under way..

      13 years from 8 gigafactories to produce enough storage to smooth solar generation into the night by the mid 2030s seems like a feasible proposition to me.

      “Seasonal” storage is different scale of problem and wouldn’t be affordable using lithium ion batteries. Renewable hydrogen from electrolysis is the front runner, except of regions lucky enough to have access to large scale hydro or pumped hydro.

  17. Not exactly the Easter Sunday discussion, but the subject brings memories of a life-time career in power gen. Beware the ‘monkey running loose with a monkey-wrench’, whether its in the engine-hall, the design office, the admin, or in the politico. The biggest and frequent risks originate from that many times. The squirrel, or the cat hanging from the HV bus while the system goes christmas-lights, well, put it to innocent entertainment.
    After decades of upgrading in efficiency and resilience in the face of near continual berating because the ‘big boys’ elsewhere (Enron at the time) were doing wonders while we accumulated costs, well, the wind -and the monkey- change. What took decades to build was undone in months.

  18. David Wojick

    The term “grid” is something of a misnomer. Each generating utility is expected to take care of its customers and the interchange capacities between utilities are typically small compared to their power needs. There are notable exceptions, for example California gets a lot of power from other states. It is true that cascading blackouts can propagate through an entire interconnection region, but electricity not so much.

    So in an important sense there is no grid, just a bunch of independent utilities providing juice to their customers.

    • They [renewables] really don’t become a major problem until about 15 or 20% of capacity. We should probably shoot for 10-20% of national capacity for R & D purposes, diversification of supply (energy security), and to conserve natural gas. Our primary base load should be generated by nuclear, small amount of clean coal, aforementioned wind and solar. We should develop a large capacity for natural gas production, storage, and distribution with large operating range and operate at the low end of that range.

      We should not be putting all our eggs in the natural gas basket. It should be used for some baseload, but relying on it for heat, baseload, and to manage variability is likely dangerous. The climate in north America has been unusually pleasant the past century, reversion toward the mean could be shocking. IIRC, the east coast can only handle an arctic blast for about two weeks (last year they had to import natural gas from Russia, despite sanctions, due to inadequate pipelines from shale plays). The harsh winters we’ve had the past decade may be a small taste of what’s in store. Historical record for north america is short and geological evidence suggests that the climate was much harsher in the past. Natural gas prices will not always be so low, we need to get back to nuclear for baseload. Many people think we have enough easily extractable natural gas for several hundred years, I’m not so confident and don’t think we should rely too heavily on it for baseload. It should probably be reserved for mostly handling variability.

      What makes natural gas valuable also makes it cheap in the short run. Its fluidity and energy density make it relatively easy to extract and transport, that makes it cheap. It burns fast and clean, making ideal dispatchable power for variability. But, now that export is legal and with potential demand shocks from weather and growing global reliance on unpredictable renewables, it won’t likely stay cheap.I don’t think we should rely on NG always being cheap. It will likely rise in price and it will spike the most at the worst possible times.

  19. Chris Scanlon

    This article is full of factual errors and meaningless statements one would expect from a politician (retired Admirals and Generals are some of the worst sort of politicians) selling their simple solutions to difficult problems. 1. I work in this industry and am not aware of nor can I can find a reference to a 2006 blackout in Ohio that disrupted the power supply for days. The idea that a squirrel could cause anything more than a local distribution outage is ridiculous. 2. Metcalf involved >100 rounds, not 17. There was no resulting significant outage, after a short local distribution network outage, the station was restored in ~ one month . 3. “The grid just occurred, it wasn’t planned”. No kidding. The U.S. military “just occurred” it wasn’t planned. Perhaps the Admiral has a crystal ball and can “plan” the next next battle, technology, technological breakthrough etc.. A classic case of central planner mentality that fails in the real world. 4. The fires in California were caused by a series of events, one of them local distribution transformer. When local utilities are required by law to serve every customer, regardless of where they choose to build a home and cannot shut power to the distribution network without feeling the wrath of the state politicians, it is no surprise that bad things happen. When the Admiral, and others conflate local distribution networks with “the Grid (high voltage transmission system) and labels all this as “aging infrastructure’ he is either demonstrating his ignorance or being disingenuous. 5. The very term, “aging infrastructure” is meaningless. The day after commissioning, a transmission line, or an aircraft carrier, is “aging”. Whats the point. The vast majority >90% of outages are severe weather (tornado, hurricanes etc) related and require less time to restore than at any time in the past. Does the Admiral have a plan to address changes to sever weather events? Resiliency, i.e. the ability to manage and respond to events is something the utility industry has been getting better at every year. And why wouldn’t they, when power doesn’t flow, they don’t get paid, unlike retired Admirals who can opine without consequence to anyone who will listen.

  20. Comment received via email:

    Dr. Curry,

    A long time ago when I worked for a living, I set up the Navy’s Information Warfare Center. I learned both sides of “networks”, how to protect them and also their vulnerabilities. I use the term network in the larger sense of any interconnected system.

    A few things to consider. The more interdependent any network or grid is, the more vulnerable it is. Failures, whether caused or accidental, tend to cascade thru an interdependent grid. Renewable energy sources if used to supply a grid are interdependent simply because they are weather and time of day dependent and thus create more failure points to consider and protect because they rely on external supplies when they are not producing power. I would make an exception for geothermal and hydro, but the bottom line is that “green energy” grids create more dependencies and are thus more vulnerable and susceptible to failures.

    Smart grids depend on SCADA [supervisory control and data acquisition systems] to provide the necessary control functions involved in grid monitoring and grid management. If you Google “vulnerability of SCADA systems” you will see that SCADA systems are very vulnerable to information warfare “hacking”. It is not possible to satisfactorily harden these “smart” systems because the hardening process ultimately devolves to a “my information and data techs defending the grid / network are smarter than the threat’s information and data techs attacking it. It ends up being the good few against the bad many. Numbers win every time. As for the “force majure” issue of accidental problems, nature is always more unpredictable that we can prepare for or can afford to prepare for.

    The answer to resilient power requires decentralization of nodes and increased node self reliance. Many smaller self reliant nodes are far preferable to a few large interconnected ones because the impact of failures is much more limited in the case of many smaller nodes. Additionally, many smaller targets are less attractive than are a few larger targets to hackers and state agents. Networking provides improved reliability and capacity in all cases but vulnerability increases with the decrease in independent nodes and the increased dependence on the network / grid for external supply.

    We have energy security today but we are in the process of dismantling it in our less than well thought out pursuit of “green energy”. Besides its intermittent supply nature, it requires miles and miles of more interconnected and dependent power grids. Combined Cycle natural gas power plants utilize a constant dependable fuel source our Nation has in abundance. They allow development of a “many small nodes” electrical power system that can be gridded but can also operate acceptably well locally if the grid fails. The logical follow-on to natural gas would be next gen modular nuclear power plants utilizing Thorium – molten salt for fuel – cooling. Since they do not require an external water source for cooling, they can operate in any region of the country, they are fail-safe in the event of loss of cooling circulation power, and they also allow development of a “many small nodes” resilient electrical power grid. So while we should be utilizing efficient CC natural gas plants and spending R&D developing modular reactors, we are pursuing a less dependable, more vulnerable electric power grid for the U.S.

    An unintended consequence of our misinformed single minded pursuit of renewable power as the answer to climate change is its ultimate negative impact on energy security and resilience.

  21. A comment sent via email from one of the principals of the National Security Forum of Northern Nevada

    Thank you for sharing. I appreciate the dialogue. Your “fact checkers” make some good points. However, I do encourage them to read the original CNA reports to get the full context. CNA Military Advisory Board is staffed by many technical experts that support the analysis. Adm Gunn was not speaking his own opinions, he was representing the work many national security and technical experts who work on or support the Military Advisory Board. Their emphasis is on the national security aspects of the problem, as such, they do not delve into specific technology issues.

    I believe informed debate on this topic is helpful, but I found some of your commenters to be heavily biased by the natural gas market. When criticizing subsidies for renewables they should remember we have been subsidizing the coal and fossil fuel markets for over a century. FYI – the DoD micro-nuclear program is only called the “dilithium project” by the media. SMRs are not new technically, although many improvements have been made over the last several decades. However, implementing them still face many political hurdles. There is a new study forthcoming on this topic by the Atlantic Council.

    • “When criticizing subsidies for renewables they should remember we have been subsidizing the coal and fossil fuel markets for over a century.“

      This quote shows a gross lack of understanding or a deliberate attempt to mislead. Renewable subsidies are dominated by direct payments to producers via the wind PTC and solar investment tax credit. There is no economic equivalent in fossil fuel subsidies. Although the nuclear production tax credit will have environmentalists apoplectic when Vogtle 3 begins generating power I am sure.

      In an country where roughly 40% of the economy is government spending, it is difficult to find any industry not feeding at the government trough. Reasonable people can disagree about tax policy, but there is no realistic comparison between renewable subsidies and fossil fuel subsidies.

    • Some calculations of fossil fuel subsidies are deeply flawed. They include such things as road construction, pollution, AGW externalities, traffic congestion and delays and tax write offs for costs of doing business. Some methods are not so deeply flawed. The US doesn’t rate as a fossil fuel subsidizer. And along with other G20 nations looks to eliminate these counter productive practices entirely.

      Now I am not sure where Google gets it’s description of the Fed Biz Opps announcement of an RFI for small mobilr nuclear reactors. Popular Mechanics suggests the Pentagon. But whatever the case – the project dilithium tag has stuck. Does it lack sufficient gravitas for a military project?

      These micro-pile reactors – and there are dozens in the literature globally – are orders of magnitude smaller than small modular reactors (SMR’s). One of the problems – btw – with the original prototype of micro military reactor in the 1960’s is reported to have been insufficient heat to run a Brayton cycle turbine efficiently. But while there is potential on the battlefield – I presume that problems are technically tractable – implementation in domestic supplies may be limited to niche applications.

      It’s the economy… It is mostly about cost and risk – and very little to do with mainstream politics. General Atomics have built two helium cooled research reactors. Their Energy Multiplier Module (EM2) is a technology evolution designed to a performance specification that included cost, safety, fabrication, installation and operations that give it outstanding potential to change the energy landscape. The fast-neutron reaction first converts fertile material – including nuclear waste, uranium, plutonium and thorium – to fissile material which then splits under neutron bombardment to produce heat and lighter elements. Inert helium moving through and around the core is heated and drives a high efficiency Brayton cycle gas turbine. Helium is then cycled back through the reactor. Helium – rather than water – cooling enables siting flexibility in a footprint that is ten times less than conventional nuclear plants. The small modular design allows network grids to be developed in place of large and expensive grids shuffling energy across whole continents. A huge cost advantage in regions without existing electricity grids. Or indeed in regions with high penetration of wind and solar electricity generation – where grid augmentation is one solution to the wind and solar intermittency problem. Rather than subsidies – what is required of government is to reduce the risk of first of a kind prototype construction.

      “Today, as the nuclear industry faces unprecedented challenges to its future, GA is helping develop the next generation of advanced reactors. GA’s Energy Multiplier Module (EM2) is an advanced small modular reactor (SMR) that addresses four of the most challenging problems facing nuclear energy: economics, safety, waste, and nonproliferation.”

    • we have been subsidizing the coal and fossil fuel markets for over a century
      What is needed now is a simple measure of the comparative political privileges afforded to fossil fuel and renewables, expressed as a percentage.
      eg, Renewables X%, Fossil Y%.
      Are they of a similar order, or is one much larger than the other ?

      Ideally of course we would like all political privileges for energy to be scrapped so we can finally learn the truth about these technologies, stripped of lobbying.

    • I don’t want to comment on the specific complaints, but would note this…
      The United States Navy has several experiences with the urgent need to rapidly replace its energy supply simply to remain functional in its defense (and offense) capability.
      I can see from my office window where a steam-powered iron-clad puttered out to put a violent, abrupt end to the age of sail.
      Then the transition from coal to oil to nuclear. Even their firepower transitioned from gunpowder to jet and rocket fuel.
      In short, this is a branch of the service intimately familiar with forward thinking on energy R&D, energy logistics (supplying power to ships and Marine bases in the middle of nowhere) and how devastating it can be if an opponent gains the upper hand on any new tech.
      They may not get it right all the time, but they have to be thinking about energy all the time.

  22. I have read the document signed by all the top brass linked in the report. It seems to be full of buzzwords but not much else. They don’t seem to have even modelled the grid to investigate fault scenarios. There is no indication in it that the authors actually understand the nuts and bolts (or the electrical equivalent) of how the grid actually works. There is no talk about voltage control or cascading protection for instance. Or how to deal with the issues of asynchronous generation.
    The easiest way to strengthen a grid is by providing alternative paths in the transmission network – Go to N-2 security. That eliminates the risk of critical infrastructure taking out everything downstream. However, there are the risks associated with circulating currents that need to be understood and countered. Embedded generation is good but there can be very high costs associated with that. And the new renewables do not add security. Without the inertia and voltage signals from the old infrastructure, they don’t work at the level needed for stable fault free operation.

  23. Here is one attempt to create a “smart” grid that still relies on diesel to do the heavy lifting:
    The island of El Hierro is another dismal failure
    If the proponents of the new renewables can’t get these grids to work, what hope is there for a complex one? Don’t write position papers or dazzle the gullible with the fancy jargon.. Show us one working and we might be a little less cynical.

  24. “The U.S. government should develop a comprehensive national energy strategy that promotes energy independence and U.S. engagement and leadership in the advanced energy future. Our recent discoveries
    in unconventional oil and gas provide the U.S. with
    newfound access to hydrocarbons, while advanced
    energy affords an even greater range of domestic energy
    options. Policymakers should review and update
    existing legal and regulatory frameworks, embracing
    advanced energy and its contribution to clean, secure
    energy independence. This includes encouraging energy
    efficiency and energy management–key components of
    advanced energy–to reduce overall energy demand.

    The national security challenges and opportunities of the evolving global energy landscape, including advanced energy transition, should be fully integrated into national security and national defense strategies. The U.S. Departments of Defense, Commerce, Homeland Security, Energy, and State, as well as Congress and the Administration, must recognize that the transition to a new global energy posture with advanced energy systems is already occurring, with national security implications that are consequential and wide ranging. Policies should be updated accordingly. The U.S. should identify and leverage global opportunities that will arise during the transition to advanced energy, especially in
    fast-growing India and Africa. The U.S. should use
    energy as a tool of diplomacy to secure our relationships
    with strategically important allies who would benefit
    from advanced energy deployment. The technological
    expertise gained will be invaluable to both emerging and
    advanced economies, and will provide great opportunity
    for U.S. businesses. The transition provides a vehicle for
    advancing stability, democratizing energy access, and
    supporting economic development in energy-hungry
    parts of the world.

    The Department of Defense should identify,
    embrace, and deploy advanced energy
    technologies where they improve the
    effectiveness of military operations. The
    Services, the Combatant Commands, and the Joint
    Staff should continue to explore how advanced energy
    technologies can improve mission outcomes. DOD
    should more fully explore energy logistics risks through
    wargaming and analyses; expand energy performance in
    requirements for future systems; and invest in research,
    development, and deployment of advanced energy
    technologies that offer operational advantages. DOD
    should pursue innovations in advanced energy for its
    installations with equal commitment, looking at all
    alternatives for improving resilience and energy security
    while reducing energy costs, and including partnering
    with surrounding communities.

    The U.S. should take a leadership role in
    the transition to advanced energy. The federal
    government should stimulate investment in the basic
    and applied sciences to spur innovation. It should
    reduce or share the risk of private investment in large scale advanced energy projects, and double-down on investment and research for large-scale energy storage options. It should also spur education and workforce development to support a transition to advanced energy. Finally, the U.S. must design, develop, build, and install advanced energy systems at home. This will maintain our global leadership role in energy innovation and enable us to help set the trajectory of the advanced energy transition.”

    You can find the detail elsewhere unless you simply want to whine in a recalcitrant, curmudgeonly, skeptical way about how they miss the point.

    These are the people to go to rather than stuck in the mud electrical engineers on climate etc whining about why it can’t be done. A transition to 21st century energy is happening – and integrated and much more efficient systems will emerge from the current confusion. And at the most basic level technology and innovation is the driver of economic productivity – without which there can be no security.

    • I have referenced dozens of individuals and peak industry, government and professional actually working on the problem. I assume you haven’t. What makes you imagine I should regard more highly an anonymous blogger with seemingly little to offer but polemics?

  25. Thanks for the information Judith.
    It seems to me the natural arc of technology is the micro-grid. Just like the history of telecommunication from land lands to radio telephones to cell phones the pattern is to decentralized and build in self reliance.
    My suggestions:
    Turn your home into a self-contained micro-grid with “grid agnostic” solar panels powered by Enphase IQ8 micro-inverters.

    Don’t stop there, slash your HVAC energy use by installing ‘smart vents’ that can convert your home to a energy efficient zoned heating and cooling system that uses AI and the cloud to dynamically adjust to your personal schedule and lifestyle.

    Finally, switch to a on-demand hot water system like this and you will save money and never run out of hot water.

    You won’t save the world from climate change but you might save some $$ and freedom from inconvenient grid disruptions.

    • Curious George

      Microgrids are an emerging technology. The Enphase IQ8 micro-inverters are “Not compatible with M-series microinverters at launch. No word yet on pricing, anticipated deliveries to begin Q4”. Hardly a mature technology. I am not sure that the “smart vents” is a technology you could install easily in an existing home. It feels more like an architectural concept. Finally, solar water heating is the oldest solar technology. A hot water tank is probably cheaper and more reliable than a battery with enough capacity to heat water on demand.

    • The problems with microgrids are cost and reliability. The costs are due to the higher thermal efficiency available with large power plants compared to smaller ones. Solar doesn’t solve that, because of the efficiency losses in the storage system.

      If you get down to the home size, the costs are also due to the purchase, installation and maintenance at retail level rather than with the major cost savings of industrial scale – a fact which makes the whole idea of rooftop solar look economically foolish, except in unique cases where power distribution isn’t robust.

      The reliability problem is because you don’t have spares – you have one system that is either up or down. Now, you can grid connect it and get the reliability, but then you need to pay your fair share of the grid stability costs, which home solar systems usually avoid – it’s a hidden subsidy, and a very bad one for our society.

      As the grid gets more complex, you get more backup. You don’t need two of everything, because the odds of all your primaries and enough backups going down at one time are very low. It is true that there is the risk of cascading failure, but that’s about the only added risk.

  26. Like some other electrical engineer commenters, I found the article inaccurate in some critical ways. It seems to treat intermittent sources – wind and solar – as if their economics and grid impact are what we see today, with little penetration, massive subsidies, and bizarre government rules that make it profitable, for example, for Texas wind farms to pay utilities to take their power.

    Other commenters have dealt adequately with the various problems with intermittent energy.

    High altitude nuclear weapon generated EMP (H-EMP) needs more than a passing mention. Too much H-EMP discussion has focused on the damage to the EHV transformers from the E-3 pulse (similar to that from a geomagnetic event), and so far, the electrical industry has only addressed that (and not very well). But, H-EMP is qualitatively different from and more dangerous than natural EMP. H-EMP adds the very high power, wide bandwidth E-1 pulse, which is also threatens all semiconductor devices, from vehicle engine computers, to telecommunications and computing systems, to the SCADA systems that control the grid. It is not clear if we can practically harden our systems adequately against H-EMP – even if we keep the grid up.

    The article seems to focus on DoD’s direct war-fighting needs, and the military has been myopic on this topic. But an H-EMP event that ultimately leads to the death of a large percentage of the population (up to 90% per the congressional commission) makes the military focus somewhat irrelevant. In that environment, even if we cared about military capabilities, its readiness would be poor as its members were concerned about the impact on their families.

  27. I have no time for engineers who claim professional expertise in areas way beyond their professional experience. Integrating intermittent sources into grid supply is a new problem and none of these guys have worked on it.

    These are from the Nov/Dec 2017 edition of IEEE PES magazine. You can find them individually with ‘a little reading on the internet’. Just another small sample of the depth of expertise applied to the problem of integrating wind and solar into grids.

    “It’s Indisputable: Five Facts About Planning and Operating Modern Power Systems

    Maintaining Balance: The Increasing Role of Energy Storage for Renewable Integration

    Uncertainty Forecasting in a Nutshell: Prediction Models Designed to Prevent Significant Errors

    The Power of Small: The Effects of Distributed Energy Resources on System Reliability

    Paving the Way: A Future Without Inertia is Closer Than You Think

    Electricity Markets and Renewables: A Survey of Potential Design Changes and Their Consequences

    Wide-Area Planning of Electric Infrastructure: Assessing Investment Options for Low-Carbon Futures.”

    I have no axe to grind – just a lot of experience with and enthusiasm for technology. Right now renewables are providing most supply in South Australia. Although it is connected to brown coal – the dirtiest of sources – in Victoria. Indeed I’d be surprised if fixing intermittency is possible at costs competitive to SMR. But the technology is progressing in leaps and bounds and can be a significant and cost competitive source of diversified and decentralized supply.

    These other purported problems of ‘droop’ and lack of ‘inertia’ are more neo-Luddite ‘buzzwords’ than show stopping problems.

    The 2016 South Australian ‘system black event’ is a bit of a poster child for instability caused by frequency and voltage variation and loss of synchronous generation with renewables. On the day the system lost 22 pylons on a transmission line in extreme weather. This caused frequency and voltage fluctuations that resulted in winds farms tripping out. The loss of supply resulted in too much demand on the Hazelwood Interconnector and the connection to the east Australian grid tripped out. The wind farms were too sensitive to fluctuations – cured with a software fix. You can read the report on the interweb.

    As for throwing airburst nukes around – that is a show stopper.

    • I tend to agree here ” Integrating intermittent sources into grid supply is a new problem and none of these guys have worked on it.”, but it is they who have to solve it, not the crowd outside.
      ‘We ain’t seen nothing yet’. A recent experience not mentioned above. This refers:'S_GUILTY_AND_WHAT_NEEDS_TO_BE_DONE
      It was a relatively mild winter, but that makes the lightning storms more frequent -climate change matters- :) . Solar panels have sprouted like poisonous mushrooms. The lightning turns night to bright day, -for a micro-second- , but that seems to send a pulse from all the solar panels, where they proliferate, that trips all local RCD’s and its back to candles or kerosene lamp. And there is the ripple/cascade effect back into the system — .

    • Noone doubts there are lots of studies into how to integrate unreliable renewables. (Grants for these are doubtless very easy to get).

      The question is : are they getting anywhere ? Can renewables yet exist on their own merits, without government handouts of one form or another ?

    • Robert, engineers achieve that role by knowing the physics involved in their field, *and* the practices. That’s a lot more useful that looking up a bunch of links on the Internet.

      But frankly, you don’t need to be an engineer to understand the rather simple issues that make intermittent power sources a problem. We are not saying that it is impossible to use those sources, but rather it pushes a trade-off on society: either accept at least double the price for energy that you pay now, or accept blackouts at brownouts at a level that our society cannot handle without enormous impacts on the economy and life style.

      So yes, they can be used. But, if you want to use them for a lot of power generation, then it will be expensive. If you want to use them for all power generation, then it will be extremely expensive *or* you will have huge investments in backup power sources.

      The reasons for these issues were explained in great detail by “a planning engineer” on this blog. But ultimately it comes down to this: energy storage is extremely expensive, and if you instead have backup power generation, then you have to pay the capital costs and some of the maintenance and operational costs of that backup capability. None of that is measured by the LCOE metric that intermittent power backers like to throw around. Little of that cost is currently being experienced because so little intermittent energy is in the grid. However, already there is enough intermittent generation capacity that it is driving some conventional generation out of business, which will reduce grid stability (i.e. the ability to reliably provide power). That is happening because the true costs of maintaining backup supplies are not being assessed on the intermittent generator companies.

      • There is a lot more to engineering than physics. And frankly – repeating the same intermittency memes doesn’t mean a lot.

        It is all demand and supply.

        Engineers are paid to make sure it all works seamlessly to agreed performance standards. If an engineer tells me it can’t be done – I hire a new engineer.

        Energy is purchased in 15 minute blocks on the wholesale spot market. And although I object to politically motivated market distortions – the LCOE of wind and solar makes these sources economically viable when the resource is available. In principle this could make less attractive spot options less viable. This is just competition in free markets – the fundamental driver of efficiency and productivity. Something that is inevitable unless you ban wind and solar – which would be both impractical and irrational.

        Loss of dispatchable supply in principle results in higher margins when wind and solar sources are not available. The alternative scenario is that systems are designed for rare periods of high demand. This translates into higher utilization factors. I’m not aware of any detailed economic modelling – and the landscape is changing so fast that I doubt that that it is even possible. But your doubling of costs is pulled out of your arse on the basis of simplistic skeptical memes.

  28. Robert
    You know nothing except a few buzzwords. Look in the mirror for people being beyond their expertise.
    SA went black because after the 486MW in the wind farms went off, Heywood (not Hazelwood) tripped on high current/ low voltage, then the RoCoF was too great for the cascading protection to work.
    The report wrote” Had the generation deficit not occurred, AEMO’s modelling indicates SA would have remained connected to Victoria and the Black System would have been avoided. AEMO cannot rule out the possibility that later events could have caused a black system, but is not aware of any system damage that would have done this. ” and “The BOM, however, does not suggest a tornado as the cause of the Davenport–Brinkworth 275 kV line outage that occurred after the Black System. It suggests those towers were impacted by a severe downdraft within minutes of the Black System. ” The towers didn’t collapse until later. That is in the AEMO report and they modelled it in 3.5.1. That collapse is why they mandated that wind gets dispatched off to keep GTs and their inertia on.
    As I write this, SA demand is 1243MW of which 1129 is on the grid. They are generating on grid 926MW of which 561MW is GTs. They are importing brown coal power from Victoria to make up the difference.

    • Mixing up the Hazelwood brown coal plant with the Heywood interconnector is a minor brain fade. But your interpretations of the multiple reports is twisted nonsense. It seems to me to be a bizarre hodge podge of post hoc rationalization of your socio-political stance rather than objectively and rationally technical.

      Voltage and frequency fluctuations as transmission capacity was lost in severe weather caused too sensitive wind farms to trip out. Wind farms tripping out did not cause the pylons to collapse if that is what you are saying.

      If reading the reports is too difficult for you – here’s a potted version.

      “On Wednesday September 28, two tornadoes with wind speeds between 190 and 260 kilometres per hour tore through a single-circuit 275-kilovolts transmission line and a double-circuit 275kV transmission line, about 170km apart.

      The damage to these three transmission lines caused them to trip, and a sequence of faults in quick succession resulted in six voltage dips on the SA grid over a two-minute period at about 4:16pm.

      As the number of faults on the transmission network grew, nine wind farms in the mid-north of SA exhibited a sustained reduction in power as a protection feature activated.

      The system black event happened at 4.18 pm. As I said – a software fix for too sensitive wind farms.

      As I write this – demand in SA is 1322 MW – with supply of 675 MW gas, 316 MW wind and 47 MW solar from the west of the state. Although it changes very quickly over a day. The difference between demand and supply is being supplied from Queensland right now. And your point would be what?

  29. Don’t quote ABC Robert. Go to the 273 page AEMO report – it is on the interweb as you noted. Then read all the Appendices which have the detailed timing.

    Your comment about the generation was “Right now renewables are providing most supply in South Australia. “. On both mine and your figures it wasn’t. And the South Australians are paying a very high price for their power. There is a real disconnect between wind/ solar being cheap and the cost of domestic supply. That is what needs addressing.

    • I have read the report – some time ago now. You don’t seem to have – or are not able to objectively assess it.

      As I said it – renewables were most of the supply. Since then the sin set as it does.

      One of the problems for South Australia is the reliance on natural gas and high gas prices.

      Tied to Japanese import prices.

      The LCOE of wind and solar are not materially higher than coal in Australia.

      It is all so simple when you have an ideology aye? No need to think at all.

      • The sun set obviously.

      • Robert I do not know whether it is your incompetence or just arrogance that caused you to write that reponse without checking the facts, but I suspect it is the latter. Unlike you, I actually had the report open and quoted from it. I also understand what was written. That was obviously absent from your response.
        To reiterate. The AEMO determined that the line outages did NOT cause the South Australia blackout. It was solely the wind turbines tripping out because of their incorrect setting that did it. In Table 6, There were only 3 lines OOS before it went black. Davenport Belalire and Davenport Mt Lock up in the north. The wind farms connect into lines south of these lines and the power was flowing south, so the farms should have ridden through the faults. There was also Brinkworth – Templers View outage down closer to Adelaide. Look at Figure 3 – Voltage disturbances 2, 5, & 6 .
        In 3.5.1, AEMO states “To understand SA network capability following the loss of three transmission lines which occurred between 16:17:33 and 16:18:13, and assuming no sustained power reduction by the nine wind farms, AEMO carried out steady-state analyses with the following three lines disconnected:
         Brinkworth–Templers 275 kV line.
         Davenport–Belalie 275 kV line.
         Davenport–Mt Lock 275 kV line.

        Figure 78 in Appendix M.1.1 shows SA network capability with loss of the above three lines, assuming that no sustained power reduction would have occurred (in reality a sustained power reduction of 456 MW was experienced).
        This indicates that the system would likely have remained stable with a temporary overload on the 132 kV line between Waterloo and Waterloo East substations. This overloading would have been relieved by activation of power runback scheme on Waterloo Wind Farm”. “

        You are welcome to express any opinions you like, but you are proven not to get basic facts right, and then resort to namecalling anyone who challenges. That shows you are just an adolescent ranter who thinks a few searches on Google and skim reads of abstracts give them knowledge. Believe it or not, it doesn’t. When you get a real engineering job for a generating or grid operating company, then maybe, your views will be valued. Until then, you are just irrelevant noise.

      • The transmission line loss resulted in frequency fluctuation that caused overly sensitive wind farms to trip out. The wind farm sensitivity was a software fix. For good measure they have added synthetic inertia and are upgrading the Heywood interconnecter.

        I suspect that you have a problem with cognitive dissonance. And this comment seems especially vile and insulting.

  30. What bothers me most about this article is that it shows a shallow understanding of utility planning and operation. Utilities do not just throw up a bunch of wires on poles, close a breaker to connect them to the transmission/distribution system, and hope for the best. Extensive studies and modelling are performed before any major change is made.
    The results of modelling and planning determine where protective circuit breakers are placed and, importantly, what metering and fault detection devices will be used and what their settings will be. Remember, the power lines go where cities, homes, and businesses are built. Utility planners can only estimate where expansion will be needed. It is city/county/state planning and permitting agencies who determine where the expansion will occur.
    Adding new transmission lines to support expanding distribution services involves federal, state, and local agencies planning analysis and approval, a process often taking a decade or more to complete.
    Looking at utility operation from the outside is not very informative. It looks simple. Consider for a moment the US continental system inter-ties that allow power to be transmitted from one part of the continent to another. When the directions power is transmitted through them is examined. It is typically noted that the power is moving one why on the north and the other on the south, one way on the east and the other on the west, with net transmission in a circle. This is not a system flaw. It is merely an artifact of moment by moment, utility system by utility system, power usage.
    Control of power transmission and distribution is a function of which inter ties are connected and what load system generator governors are set to. This is a not trivial balancing act. To provide system stability, most generators are set block loaded at specific output powers as normal power usage changes during the day. Each area has a generator assigned automatic ‘frequency control’, that is to power up and down as area load changes, but each will have a large but limited load follow capability. Introducing significant unpredictable intermittent generation into the system, such as solar and wind, can overwhelm system load following capability. Adding more frequency control generators is not actually practical in most cases as they can interact inappropriate ways such as rapidly swapping load back and forth. Saying there is a way to solve that problem is not the same as solving it.
    So, randomly adding intermittent generations sources throughout the utility distribution system does not improve its reliability. Each local distribution system is dependent upon the reliability of the overall system. While an individual home or business might be able to disconnect from a dead distribution system and operate for a while on its private generation capability, that is not the same as making the local distribution system reliable.

    • G W has touched on an important piece at “–provide system stability,,,,,, but limited load follow capability.” This is a costly aspect, on plant efficiency, service life wastage, increased failure rate, increased planned and unplanned outage,,. Increased costs in design, materials, plus plus; and are conditions which old plant cannot meet. This aspect is little understood outside the plant confines and rarely catered for in the past.

    • “Through the Interconnections Seam Study, NREL joins national lab, university, and industry partners to identify cost-effective options for upgrading the U.S. electric grid to create a more integrated power system that can drive economic growth and increase efficient development and utilization of the nation’s abundant energy resources, including solar, wind, and natural gas.”

      High level strategic analysis doesn’t obviate the need for detailed planning. You may argue – superficially usually – that the US – or global -power mix shouldn’t be a reality that needs to be engineered – but not that it isn’t a reality. The devil is in the details and that’s what they pay engineers for. If an engineer tells me it can’t be done – I hire a new engineer.

    • Quote: ” If an engineer tells me it can’t be done – I hire a new engineer.”
      I heard that before. There are engineers that seemingly do miracles. They leave the results for others to sort out. Its the font of many a big mess.
      Vide the auto emissions scandals.
      My lot included a couple. Costly to build; equally to scrap, without ever giving a cent’s worth of service. Besides the psychological fallout.

      • The first thing I was told in engineering school was that anyone can build a bridge. It takes an engineer to do it at least cost. I want to know how much it is going to cost – not that it can’t be done.

        I have a 1 year old turbo diesel that works remarkably well and gets nearly 40 MPG. I suspect that it’s a dinosaur.

        The NREL study of 80% renewables penetration by 2050 gives an estimate of retail price rises. I suspect that it will be overtaken by technological innovation. Betting against technological innovation is a losers strategy.

      • ” Betting against technological innovation is a losers strategy.” Can’t agree more. But good tech is achieved with dogged hard work, careful studies, and (looking back) the guts to risk it and carry through. No ‘grabit and run’ engineering.

        Re diesels, look the horse in the mouth and don’t believe the brochure ‘glorifications’ (to use that term). There have been claims that eventually were false, or failures, or worse. Re the 1yr turbo-diesel, its a case of an eng study of whether you have the right ‘horse for the course’ first (ie the right machine for your load pattern, – unless you want to impress- ego trips, modern pyramids?).

        My earlier link See That technology was being implemented in 1995, but many were still buying dinosaurs (some unstable 3 legged). Its not just ‘new’, there are savings. Equally implementing a mis-match may eat some of what you get from your eg renewable source. Your engineer will consider that; the seller, not likely.

    • Beware the monkey…..

  31. Nuclear power is also stalled in the United States, even as Russian and China are building and selling over 80 new nuclear reactors.

    That’s where listening to greens gets you.
    A path back to the dark ages, and global irrelevance.

  32. One other aspect that is rarely discussed about wind and solar is that both are fully dependent on fossil fuels from cradle to grave. The machines used to mine the raw materials, transport, manufacture, construct, maintain, and ultimately deconstruct are all powered by fossil fuels, not to mention the back up requirements due to the inherent unreliability of using intermittent energy sources.

    By the way, does anyone have any current info on how well solar plants like Ivanpah and Crescent Dunes are working?

    • Curious George

      Some links are available at

    • How on Earth do you get anything that is reliant on fossil fuels?

      Until it isn’t.

      Hydro btw is an excellent backup for wind. Schedule releases of limited water resources for when the wind isn’t blowing to maximize returns.

      I really don’t want to be an apologist for wind and solar. Practical penetration levels are still very uncertain. And I have a feeling that relying on such hugely variable resources to exclusively power a modern industrial economy could be unwise. The rational objective is rather a diversified, distributed mix of sources with robust grid seams.

      • One point of my comment is that wind and solar are not capable of generating enough power to reproduce themselves – they are entirely reliant on fossil fuels. Ivanpah and Crescent Dunes were designed to overcome the capacity factor problems associated with solar installations, but have so far not met expectations – and that is for a residential application. What size solar farm would we need to power an industrial application?

        As for hydro backing up renewables, that’s great for those areas that can use hydro, but how many is that? And, as for Lazard and LCOE, as others have stated, LCOE leaves out some important factors for wind and solar, like the requirement to have some type of backup to compensate for their intermitency.

      • 5% of US electricity supply is insufficient to make additional solar panels? There is a lot that is absurdly circular in this argument. And repeating it doesn’t make it better.

        Somewhere I have linked to the NREL study on grid seams in progress – check it out and note the partners and the objectives. Relying on ad hoc assertions that hydro power is not available except locally is very weird. The US is importing hydro power from Canada.

        And – again – why do you need additional backup with 5% penetration?

        But as I said ideology doesn’t require a lot of thought.

      • Is that 5% all concentrated in a way that it could be used to power the machinery used to mine the raw materials, transport said materials to the manufacturing facility, power the manufacturing process, etc? How much land area does that 5% consume if you add up all the roof tops, solar farms, etc?. There is nothing circular about this, simply practical questions that don’t get asked, much less addressed. Would you rely on either Ivanpah or Crescent Dunes as the sole power supply for a plant to manufacture just the solar panels needed to create another Crescent Dunes or Ivanpah, and would that make sense economically?

        Yes, the US imports hydro power from Canada to certain northern states much like California imports power from neighboring states, but I don’t think much of that hydro power is much use to states like Florida.

      • “This study aims to quantify the value of strengthening the connections (or seams) between the regions to encourage efficient development and utilization of U.S. energy resources. The study also assesses the degree to which interconnection can facilitate a more reliable, resilient, sustainable, and affordable U.S. electricity system.”

        Largely in accessing the wind resource in the east and solar in the west to supply population centers across the country via the ‘smart grid’. Strengthening the interconnections between regions conceptually allows for better integration of spatial and temporal patterns of supply and demand.

  33. A challenge? I could find some dork.

    “An Alcubierre Warp Drive stretches spacetime in a wave causing the fabric of space ahead of a spacecraft to contract and the space behind it to expand. The ship can ride the wave to accelerate to high speeds and time travel. The Alcubierre drive, also known as the Alcubierre metric or Warp Drive, is a mathematical model of a spacetime exhibiting features reminiscent of the fictional “warp drive” from Star Trek, which can travel “faster than light/”

    Alcubierre’s theory, however, depended on large amounts of a little understood or observed type of “exotic matter” that violates typical physical laws.”

    • Curious George

      “A number of NASA scientists are currently researching the feasibility of warp drive (and EMdrive and a number of other modes of faster than light travel); however, most scientists think that such forms of space travel simply aren’t viable, thanks to the fundamental physics of our universe.” A great scientific heritage of Dr. James Hansen and Dr. Gavin Schmidt.

  34. Note that small scale solar sources are of no use for adding power to the grid during a power outage. The inverters shut off the connections, since they need the grid power to synchronize their output frequency. I wonder how larger scale generators like solar farms overcome that problem – if they can.

  35. Just catching up on this discussion. Good to see the comments from many of the denizens.

    I would like to just touch on one comment:
    “I have no time for engineers who claim professional expertise in areas way beyond their professional experience. Integrating intermittent sources into grid supply is a new problem and none of these guys have worked on it.”

    So who are you going to give your time to?

    A lot of us have worked on the power system and have a very good understanding about what factors support a grid and what factors weaken a grid. While we may have not worked with particular generation technologies, but we have a lot of experience with the properties such technologies present to the power system. To expect new technologies having known properties working in unknown ways to benefit the system would seem to be near magical thinking.

    I have worked with integrating decent amounts of renewable on the grids. We have encountered problems and work arounds both. In general though I would say the new technology has given more problems than we might have anticipated.

    But even accepting the assertion (at a larger scale) that this is a new problem and making the judgement that none of us “Planning Engineers” have worked on it, who do you turn to? Do we trust engineers of the new technology to understand the complexity of the grid? Do we trust them to understand the implications of the new technology? Engineers working on superconductors years ago expected them to transform the grid. Power electronic engineers also expected them to quickly impact the grid in numerous ways and applications. Power electronics are here and they provide benefits in many applications, but the growth is not what was anticipated by early advocates. of course superconductors had some fundamental obstacles that their early enthusiasts did not anticipate. In light of such histories it’s not surprising to see engineers working on renewables to expect the technology to march on and quickly alter the grid in fundamental ways. Maybe they are right, but what justifies faith in them? If you believe the Australian “experiment” demonstrates that a renewable transition will be easy, I have little more to offer you. However I believe if you look carefully at the posts I made paired with what has happened subsequently within western Australia you will see that the understanding of grid fundamentals combined with the properties of asynchronous intermittent renewables as played out in western Australia were consistent with my warnings. If anything I may have not been pessimistic enough in some instances.

    The poster provided a listing of articles. They all were included in a “Buck Rogers” issue of an IEEE publication. The catchy headlines don’t really matter, the meat is what is offered in the articles.

    I looked at the one that appeared the most interesting to me. You can read it here:

    If this article is impressive, I would appreciate hearing your thoughts as to why it is impressive. From the last section titled Closure and Prognostication there is this:

    “More likely, in the near to medium term we will require a managed balance of inertia-providing and non-inertia-providing devices, the choice for each device being made with consideration to the properties of the energy source connected. However in the long-term more holistic system planning
    approach is needed.” (Direct copy – I did not introduce the bad grammar)

    What is this “holistic” system planning approach of the future? The authors don’t know. Maybe a future without inertia is closer than we think. But that does not mean it is close. Renewables have a role to play and I anticipate their continued expansion. But expectations for a rapid transition are not well founded.

    • Buck Rogers in the IEEE? And it was South Australia. The facts behind the black event there have been exhaustively reviewed. A couple of transmission lines were lost in severe weather resulting in voltage and frequency fluctuations that caused too sensitive wind farms to drop out. The demand on the South Australian/Victorian interconnector. The problem with too sensitive wind farms was very quickly solved with a software fix.×2-700×467.jpg

      Barnes tried to tell that this happened after the event – something that is major cognitive dissonance.

      The loss of rotational inertia is far from an insoluble problem of this new – as described by the NREL – technical challenge. It is a challenge that has already emerged – and sticking your heads in the sand pretending that it hasn’t shows a few in the profession and most at climate etc are very out of touch.×409.jpg

      The fix is to add synthetic inertia as hardware, electronically or as battery storage.


      SA has since installed the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery bank. That seems to be making a profit by storing energy at times in the day of high supply and selling it into high demand periods.

      Inertia is very simple physics.

      “With nine Australian wind farms shutting down during September’s South Australian blackout, many pundits and politicians cast blame on renewable energy. However, the Australian Energy Market Operator said the issue lay with errant wind farm control settings, which some operators have already corrected.

      “In fact, most wind and solar farms can do much more than just stick around during trouble. For example, most utility-scale installations—and even some residential rooftop solar systems—are designed to combat voltage sags on power grids. Their electronic inverters can detect brownouts and generate reactive power (AC whose current wave leads its voltage wave) to raise the grid voltage,” IEEE Spectrum said in its report.

      Synthetic inertia is about responding to crashing AC frequency, usually after the loss of a big power plant. When a big generator goes offline, it leaves the grid under-supplied. That will cause the AC frequency to fall.

      Conventional power plants respond naturally and instantly to frequency dips because the momentum of their spinning turbines, synched to the grid, resist deceleration. This slows the frequency drop, buying precious seconds during which power reserves are mobilised to fill the supply gap.”

      The climate etc narrative consensus on wind and solar is complete nonsense. Even before we get into straw men of deep penetration of wind and solar – something that is far from current reality. Much of the profession clearly disagrees and no one here has done anything but proffer personal opinion to the effect that loss of rotational inertia is an intractable problem. There are as well far broader issues at stake here than a skeptic idée fixe. Buck Rogers would be very disappointed.

      • If the sole cause of the SA blackout had been the wind farm protection scheme then the sole fix would have been to change that scheme. In reality, they added synthetic inertia in the form of the Tesla battery and 250Mw of conventional generation.

      • I’m afraid you take many peoples words much farther than they are intended to go and then argue with yourself. You post a lot I would not, and am not, arguing with as if it is a challenge to what I say. There are many of us in the industry well aware of the potential of synthetic inertia. You can google NERC and synthetic inertia and discover this has been on the radar a while and there is ongoing focus on this potential. One day synthetic inertia may be cheap, widely available and function perfectly. But that does not mean that current efforts to integrate high levels of renewables do not impose significant obstacles associated with providing inertia to the grid as renewable penetration increases.

        I would be willing to bet big time that I have never described, characterized of even implied that there were “insoluble” problems. Maybe sometimes I have briefly stated something sounding over definitive, somewhat sloppily thinking it is apparent we are talking in the near to midterm. But I am not anywhere so pessimistic as the extremes which you seem to be fighting. Engineers become engineers because they like solving problems. Given enough money and time all these problems clearly can be solved. The question is the balance between economics, reliability and public responsibility.

        If you disagree with my sober observations that the capabilities of asynchronous renewable are often oversold and their drawbacks are often not given due consideration in today’s environment – I would like to see any evidence to support flaws in my observations.

        In general you don’t seem to ever really criticize what I say but rather the position you build and pretend (or believe) that I occupy. Why is that?
        Many people, perhaps you are one, think it’s wrong to offer any criticism for these technologies because we so badly need them to work. Similarly many of these people believe it it is important to underestimate the costs so these choices will seem palatable. If that’s your concern-I understand your problem with me – but in that case it does me no good to engage with your discombobulation of facts and concerns.

      • A sober lack of balance?

      • Doug
        You also forgot to mention that that have mandated that 5 GTs have to be generating at all times to give the needed inertia. With all these fixes to back up the “cheap” power, that is why South Australia has prohibitive power prices, fuel poverty and industry leaving the state.

      • Sorry Doug, I remembered that incorrectly about the number of GTs. The original directive was: “From 3 October 2016, AEMO amended the secure technical envelope to require that a minimum of three thermal synchronous generating units, each of not less than 100 MW installed capacity, must be on-line at all times.”
        I believe this has been modified since then, but I cannot find the current directive.

      • Doug Last year, the Australian grid operators did a report of the inertia requirements of all the states if they were islanded because they don’t have strong interconnector links. This is because SA blackout highlighted risks of hig renewables in the generation mix. The wanted to set minimum limits so that it could be dispatched or mandated if necessary, just like they had to for SA. Good details on the inertia of all their big units, most 2000-3400MWs. Large hydros are a lot lower.
        For SA, they see the secure operating level of 6000MWS of which the biggest Pelican Island #3, a 160MW steam turbine associated with a CCGT was 1625MWs. That implies they need at least 4 synchronous units running at all times, of which two would be at Pelican Island.
        They also state in the report: “SA has 212 MW of fast raise services and fast lower services57. Out of these, 63 MW is available by the Hornsdale Power Reserve. When a synchronous generating unit is dispatched to provide Fast FCAS it will invariably bring inertia to the power system. However, when Hornsdale Power Reserve is dispatched to provide Fast FCAS it will not add inertia to the power system. For SA, dispatching 212 MW of Fast FCAS would add 13,200 MWs of inertia considering the combined inertia of all Fast FCAS providers in SA.”
        So they know the difference between inertia and droop and how non-synchronous power sources cannot provide the former.

      • Peter Davies


        However, when Hornsdale Power Reserve is dispatched to provide Fast FCAS it will not add inertia to the power system.

        FCAS and inertia both provide an injection of power to help resolve a potential frequency change event. HPR (the Horndale Power Reserve Tesla battery) could be programmed to provide synthetic inertia, even at the same time as FCAS. However, the maximum power insertion is always 100 MW and the maximum power change is 140 MW (e.g. if HPR happened to have been charging at 40 MW prior to the event). That applies to the total of both synthetic inertia and FCAS. Compared with inertia from synchronous generators, HPR can keep this up for 6 minutes by contract (10 MWh), but technically, it can potentially supply for more than an hour depending on the state of charge of the 119 MWh of storage not contracted to providing grid services.

        According to the link , HPR (Horndale Power Reserve) has no incentive to provide synthetic inertia such a service doesn’t exist in the grid regulations. However, HPR responds to a change in frequency in about 0.1 seconds – and that is often too fast to be picked up by the NEM sensors controlling the payments it receives!!

        The HPR target response is to stabilise frequency within the band 50 +/- 1 Hz. The 49 Hz lower bound is the level at which South Australia has to shed load. HPR inserts (or withdraws) power proportional to the deviation from the 50 +/- 0.15 Hz dead band. So it inserts maximum power at 49 Hz system frequency, and inserts minimum power at 49.85 Hz.

        The response could be modified under software control to target keeping frequency within the dead band (50 +/- 0.15 Hz). Or it could be programmed to target a stable frequency of 50 Hz, which would equate to synthetic inertia. To do this it would have to respond to the RoCoF (rate of change of frequency), rather than make a response proportional to the drop in frequency from the dead band.

      • Robert – just catching up on the comments. You have me confused with someone else. I made no comments about Australia – South or otherwise. I am simply skeptical that intermittent sources of energy can play a truly useful role in our energy mix without enormous, out of proportion expense. My opinion is that we are wasting valuable time and resource on wind and solar that would be much better invested in nuclear.

      • Yes sorry – it was chrism69. But there are billions going into SMR development.

        But wind and solar may have some useful niche applications – isolated systems, airconditioning for offices, schools and shopping centres and more. And spinoffs from research are often unexpected and rewarding.

    • Welcome back planning engineer.

      As I recall, W Australia endured a grid failure a few years ago attributed to renewable instability and the lack of coal backups. Plus failure of interconnection to transfer power.

      The subsidy cost by government and cost to consumers are high and reliability decreased.

      The costs and benefits need to be discussed objectively. Magical thinking does no one any good.

      Sunny areas like WA and California and Nevada remain good candidates for experiments but CA imposed 100% renewable mandates which will hurt the grid reliability and increase costs dramatically. Let the experiments continue but don’t falsify the results.

      Your logical and objective analysis is needed desperately n the debate.

      Plus others with that planning and experience w grid operations.


      • I live in the Phoenix, AZ area, where one would expect solar to be excellent. But, it turns out that our peak demand time is 3PM to 8PM, while is offset by about 5 hours from peak solar generation. Also, we have very difficult to predict summer monsoon events – dust storms, derechos, and large rapidly moving areas of cloudiness that stop solar production in areas ranging from a few hundred square miles to almost the entire desert, with time frames ranging from minutes to hours.

        Last weekend, a battery that was installed to provide some shifting of generation exploded, injuring eight firefighters, one critically. The remaining three batteries have been shut down pending investigation. That battery is an expensive installation, but it only provides a few MWh of storage, and it cannot, of course, handle generation interruptions of more than a few hours, for only a few homes. Sadly, those of us in APS’s service area pay for this sort of folly – it backs up rooftop generation, which is by far the most expensive way to generate energy, not to mention being the most dangerous. This is in service of the folly of governments dictating renewable energy investments that serve only to increase the grid cost.

      • Curious George

        A reverse Gore effect: “A national conference on energy storage in Phoenix last week featured multiple APS officials as speakers and offered a tour of the Festival Ranch site.The conference ended the day before the explosion and fire.”

    • Planning Engineer, if you don’t already know, Germany is installing large synchronous condensers, some with added flywheels, to stiffen their grid. Definitely back to the future stuff.

      • Not quite. Generator decoupled from G/T driver as synchronous condensor implemented in 1995 to improve power factor.
        It was already standard tech then.

      • melitamagalithic Yes they were old technology, a lot converted from decommissioned T/G sets. But because of operational problems and the losses, they were almost all replaced out by static capacitor banks. However, the static capacitors can’t add inertia, which is why Germany needs them now. The old technology has to come back. They are totally new build items, not conversions. They are also looking at installation of them in Australia, which will add to the cost of power from the “free” wind and solar.

      • We’ve given some thought, though we could never make the dollars work, to converting old generating plants into synchronous condensers. In fairness I might add that some of the difficulty in making the dollars work for a large central location as it involves complexities around who pays who for what for the capability as you transition the operation from a generation plant to a transmission element that provides general benefits to the grid. A synchronous condenser is basically a generator that doesn’t generate real power (just vars -or reactive power, also known as imaginary power). They would be a good source for voltage support. Converting retired generators into synchronous condensers should be much more economical than building units of similar size from scratch. At the same time we have looked at smaller new builds as well.

      • I believe in Germany’s case, they wanted the condensers out on the grid ends, probably where the windfarms are, not in the core where the old coal fired plant was. They also wanted air cooling, not the water and hydrogen cooling of the existing plant. Build size is advertised as up to 1300MVA. The fact that they are looking at flywheel options indicates that it is inertia as well as reactive power that they look to provide.
        The manufacturers were in Australia at the last Generation Workshop, trying to supply them there as the answer to the instability of the grid. The numbers they gave indicated the generator was only 15% of the inertia of a 500MW unit. so they would need a lot to replace say Liddell.
        As you note, there is a solution to grid issues, just spend a lot more money.

      • I believe the Zion nuclear plant was turned in to a synchronous condenser when it was decommissioned. It was more for VARs than inertia I believe. They needed voltage support at that location (Chicago) on the grid.

      • Peter Davies


        If the generator rotor is only the 15% of the inertia of a 500MW unit, then adding a flywheel around six times the weight of the rotor provides the same inertia as a CCGT and is a cheap addition. You could go higher to get a bigger time constant.

        The more important question is how much such units cost. According to page 5 of
        the cost is between $10-40/kVAR, which is peanuts – generation is order of magnitude $1,000/kW. At the moment much cheaper than a battery. Perhaps someone ought to check the figures elsewhere.

        In other words, adding inertia and VAR support to a mainly renewables grid would just be something you did when you needed too. No need to agonise about it because it costs virtually nothing. JFDI! Batteries are a much better solution though, as they can perform multiple roles.

      • Peter.. It is Rankines I was talking about. CCGTs are smaller and
        GTs have a lot less inertia as the power turbine isn’t coupled to the combustion ones.
        I think the linked proposal costs are wrong, relying on footnote 3 which isn’t given. A 250MVAR condenser (which is about 500MVA generator) for $15M means they are buying off a scrap heap. The costs of building just the foundations to hold such a generator would cost more than their budget. They also don’t include the running costs. At best ,it would be 5% of rating.
        And do you know how heavy generator rotors are? Adding an even bigger flywheel is a massive engineering undertaking.

    • Peter. I don’t care what advertising pamphlets call it (they are touting for work on the back of it) but calling it synthetic doesn’t make it so. The nomenclature is critical to understanding grid and generator behaviour, not just semantics. Look up the textbooks.
      Inertia is a state of being. It can only be supplied by synchronous rotating plant. . What the batteries show in those graphs is droop, the power supplies load change response to a change in frequency. Even Wikipedia will tell you that.
      And for completeness, you should include the batteries response to the power problems on 24th January this year when the batteries shut down even though power price was about $14k/MWh.. Even when the battery was running, it was only exporting 30MW. So much for its touted capacity.
      The more important issue, and one going back to the head post, is how has this renewables made the system made the system more secure than no renewables. If just one of the Northern units had been running instead of being bulldozed down, the loss of the 7 windfarms, 3 transmission lines and Heywood link would have been ridden through. Read the AEMO report. And the power price paid for by SA consumers would have been a lot cheaper.

      • Peter Davies

        Whether you call it inertia, synthetic inertia or super-fast FCAS, the ability for a battery to supply (or withdraw) power within milliseconds to maintain system frequency and voltage is what stabilises a grid. The effect is not particularly different from inertia from synchronous rotating generators.

        Note that the fastest AEMO FCAS tier has to respond in less than 6 seconds, by which time all sorts of things might happen, but the Hornsdale battery with current settings detects and responds to a condition in a few cycles (around 1/10th of a second). You can program the response to be whatever you like up to the capacity of the hardware, but at the moment it supplies power in proportion to the frequency deviation from the dead band of 50 +/- 0.15 Hz. It could be changed to respond to RoCoF (rate of change of frequency) instead, if desired. That is decision for AEMO not Tesla.

        Given the effect is the same, it’s a very artificial distinction to distinguish between rotational inertia available and power supplied in a few cycles by the Hornsdale battery. The only difference is that the first doesn’t require any thinking or planning and the second does.

        In the AEMO report on the 24 Jan incident it was clear that there was no uncontracted load shedding in South Australia – the region with the highest proportion of renewables. In Victoria there was – an aluminium smelter was shut down for a period of time. And throughout, various customer lost power when distribution transformers dropped out – nothing to do with generation or renewables. AEMO blamed the incident on high temperatures causing an increased air conditioning load and the failure of over 600 MW on 24th and 1 GW on 25th of coal generation. Since the Tesla battery has only 100 MW generation capacity it can’t address failure of 1 GW of coal generation, and only has 70 MW (not 30 MW) contracted to grid stability in any case. If the Hornsdale battery capacity is not sufficient, then SA can pay to extend it. You don’t get something for nothing, and if you pay for a 70 MW or 100 MW generator you don’t get 500 MW.

        Coal generation does not like operating in hot temperatures, and cooling water supplies may not be available at the right temperature. That’s why there were so many coal plant failures – and 1 GW of failures of a generation type is a lot – a few generators being offline at the same time. If it had been a loss of 1 GW of renewables everyone would be laying into them with a big stick, but because it was coal power it is “yeah you get that sometimes.”

        You just wouldn’t get that with renewables, and, provided your sensors and weather forecasting are decent, would have plenty of time to respond to a drop in wind speeds. When renewables fail they do so one small unit at a time. Solar power tends to produce less power on hot days because the efficiency goes down with increasing temperature of the panel, but it’s not a huge effect like losing a coal plant unit from a mechanical failure caused by heat. Further, if the panels are rooftop panels combining solar with hot water generation then the water cycling through the panels keeps them cooler and operating at higher efficiency.

        We all accept that renewables have, until now, been more expensive than fossil fuel generation. But they aren’t any more, and with batteries getting cheaper all the time, the cost of firming up renewables to 90% penetration is also coming down, not to mention the fact that new flexible loads, such as EV charging, don’t generally require battery smoothing of variable renewables generation.

        For the 28 Sept 2016 SA failure, as per the AEMO final report, the wind farms all survived a number of LVRT (low voltage ride through) events fine, as they were supposed to do. But AEMO claims it was not made aware there was a counter in a number of wind turbines that would optionally disconnect the turbine if the number of LVRT events exceeded a threshold within a configurable) time limit. Apparently the counter option was not triggered in the simulations AEMO received. The limit appears to have been set to 3 or 6 in various places, but the definition of an LVRT event is also configurable by voltage drop in each turbines, so various wind turbines in different wind farms experienced different numbers of LVRT events. Further one of the current direction measuring devices was connected the wrong way round in one wind farm.

        Sure, if no-one had ever installed any new generation in SA there would have been no islanding and black system event. But neither would there have been if everything was set correctly, so you can put it down to human error. And I would put money on there being no local islanding and black system event if the same faults and the same local grid configuration were part of the ERCOT (Texas) grid.

        There’s no point in blaming a particular type of technology for what turned out to be human error in setting software options.

      • I linked elsewhere to a new monitoring effort where they called it digital inertia. There is a video as well showing the precision of the battery response in the SA context.

      • If as you say, windfarms are cheaper than coal plant, why do they still get the $90/MWh Renewable Energy Certificates? This effectively doubled the price paid for their generation. That cost $4.8M yesterday.;Sel=%5BTp=LC;Cls=C_State;IG=%5BTp=Thing;IId=313;NM=South_Australia%5D%5D;View=%5BTp=LCR;Cls=C_State;NM=AddDivDateBulletin;Use=Aspect%5D;Area=AspectTabs%5D

      • Peter Davies

        Looking at the chart in your link :

        This shows the Hornsdale battery operating for around 3 hours (from the ratio of the width to that of the 24 hour day) at 30 MW finishing at 18:25 on 24th Jan.

        Hornsdale is 100 MW and 129 MWh. The split is :
        Grid stability contract – 70 MW, 10 MWh
        Available for time shifting market operations – 30 MW, 119 MWh

        Three hours of discharge at 30 MW is 90 MWh. Even if the battery was fully charged at the start of the period, it would have no more than 119 MWh available, so it probably just ran out of allocated charge at 18:25. It has to keep 10 MWh in reserve for frequency control operations.

        You get what you pay for!

      • Peter Davies

        The A$90/MWh REC price is just a spot market price. Only a small proportion of RECs are traded on the spot market – presumably most utilities will have long-term contracts with renewable energy providers at a much lower price. The spot market is only for those companies which didn’t bother to ensure they had a guaranteed supply of RECs early on for a given year.

        In other words the fact that the spot market REC price is A$90/MWh does not mean renewables generation gets that much extra as a subsidy. Renewables projects get a lower cost of capital if they have a low revenue risk (and the construction price risk is pretty low nowadays). It would normally be better to contract for a lower but guaranteed REC sale price, and have certainty you are profitable, than to take the risk of spot market prices which can go down as well as up.

        RECs are effectively the market mechanism the Australian government has chosen to ensure its renewable energy targets are met. If more wind and solar capacity is built then RECs will be plentiful relative to the targets, and the REC price (both for long term contracts and on the spot market) should go down. If the rate of building renewables is not sufficient to ensure the targets over the next few years then utilities who don’t have the right number of RECs get penalised.

        But the solution is easy – the utilities who don’t have enough RECs to cover their total generation a few years out can just build renewable generation or contract with some new solar or wind farm projects. That way no-one gets penalised.


        In fact, the market seems to have solved the problem – there’s over 11 GW of renewables projects in progress now, and the forward price of the LGC (large generation) RECs seems to have more than halved – now down to A$39 for the 2020 period. That’s the way the market was always supposed to work.

        The economists say carbon pricing is a more efficient market mechanism, but Australia seems to have rejected that politically. But RECs will do the job.

        Australia has superb solar resources, so you would expect power from solar farms in particular to be cheap. I’m not so familiar with the Australian wind characteristics, though South Australia seems pretty windy.

      • Here is the data from the Torrens Island GTs. It lasted longer, was a lot more reliable and cost less.
        where as the windfarms like MacArthur as usual were useless

  36. Beta Blocker

    My relatives in the San Francisco bay area — ardently anti-nuclear — tell me California doesn’t need Diablo Canyon because wind and solar backed by battery storage and by pumped hydro can do it all.

    Moreover, as their opinion goes, the costs of wind and solar are coming down so rapidly we should have no worries about the future economics of the renewables.

    They quote studies such as those produced by Stanford professor Dr. Mark Jabobson as proof. As further proof, they cite PG&E’s claim that reaching 70% renewable electricity in California by 2030 is easily done and therefore Diablo Canyon isn’t needed.

    My admittedly complicated reply to their unbridled faith in the renewables goes like this:

    At present, no truly realistic cost studies have been produced for highly ambitious wind and solar proposals which cover a large, specifically-identified geographic area, studies which use commonly accepted methods for doing engineering-level cost and schedule estimating.

    As an illustration of what I’m talking about, let’s assume that California and Nevada agree to create an integrated 80% renewable electric grid for their two states. This mostly renewable grid is to be jointly developed and managed by a quasi-public corporation, the California-Nevada Clean Energy Corporation, ‘CalVada CEC’ for short.

    A feasibility design for the CalVada CEC grid is developed to a level of engineering detail which supports a reasonably accurate cost and schedule estimate.

    The questions to be studied are these: What will it take in time and money to build and operate this fully integrated 80% renewable electric grid system for the next fifty years? What particular cost trends in which particular technology areas will have the greatest impacts on the project’s total cost and schedule, both its capital costs and its total lifecycle costs? Using the study’s initial output as a basis for further analysis, what are the impacts of using a series of alternative baseline planning assumptions on the project’s total lifecycle costs?

    The numbers and types of alternative planning assumptions might include the predicted costs and availability of renewable energy technologies, future changes in today’s grid reliability and performance requirements, future changes in today’s regulatory review processes, changes in our current methods of project financing and capital formation, and the inclusion of alternative scenarios for the evolution through time of the region’s overall socio-political and economic dynamic.

    Here are the initial assumptions which are to support the study:

    — Through legislation and agreement, California and Nevada jointly grant CalVada CEC carte blanche authority for overcoming any technical, financial, or regulatory obstacles which might get in the way of building and deploying this 80% renewable power grid.

    — A list of grid reliability and performance requirements equivalent to what is now in force today is applied.

    — The public and private lands needed for locating the solar arrays, the wind farms, and the battery storage facilities are allocated and reserved through a process of eminent domain, with fair prices and rents paid to the land’s current owners.

    — Other wind farms are located off California’s coast wherever they are best placed to maximize wind capacity factors. Using a process of eminent domain, pumped hydro facilities are located wherever they are best placed to support the integrated grid design.

    — A fast track environmental review process for all elements of the renewable energy grid system is applied so that regulatory oversight of CalVada CEC’s energy facility siting, construction, and plant operations is minimized.

    — The governors of California and Nevada are granted authority to modify or reverse any regulatory decision made at any level of state or local government if that decision might impede progress in siting, constructing, and operating the 80% renewables grid.

    The feasibility design for the CalVada CEC grid includes specific engineering details for the particular solar arrays to be used and their proposed locations, the particular wind mills to be used and their proposed locations, the particular battery and pumped storage facilities and their locations, the routes and configurations of the power transmission corridors, and the configurations and locations of the power distribution and control facilities.

    After the feasibility design for the grid is complete, and it is available in enough level of detail to reliably identify what each major phase and sub-phase of the project will cost, and how long each phase and sub-phase will take, then the cost and schedule risks for the entire project as a whole are analyzed in order to determine what range of total costs can be expected, and how long it will take before the 80% figure for both states can finally be achieved.

    A first cut at the CalVada CEC engineering study would produce a baseline feasibility analysis. That first cut analysis could then be expanded as a basis for further studies which might examine the effects of using different assumptions concerning the costs and availability of renewable technologies; different assumptions concerning grid reliability and performance requirements, different assumptions concerning the regulatory review processes; and different assumptions concerning the methods of financing and capital formation.

    The initial data could likewise be used in examining the impacts of different assumptions concerning the sociopolitical dynamics of choosing where the wind farms, the solar farms, and the energy storage facilities are to be located.

    For example, California has roughly ten times the population of Nevada. Is it possible to predict that Californians might eventually come to view Nevada as their renewable energy fiefdom, and to view Nevadans as their renewable energy serfs in harvesting green energy electrons?

    • I think the important point many of us engineer skeptics make – one which is not stated enough – is that with enough money, we can solve all of these problems. The difficulty is primarily economic. The political problems stem from economic and technical ignorance, and a powerful class of advocates who just don’t care.

      A lot of solar zealots ignore or downplay the economic problem. In fact, I’d say the main reason for bad decisions is the lack of concern over economic costs.

      Some green energy proponents tell us that this conversion is good because of all the jobs it will create, which is a bizarre way to take the high costs and make them seem good. Of course, anything that costs will require people to implement, so it creates jobs. Missed is the accounting, in this case, for jobs lost or other harm to workers as a result of the increased cost.

      Most green energy enthusiasts are not very numerically literate, or their quest for the utopian energy solutions leads them to ignore the real economic impacts of their solutions. They have the naive belief that since the fuel for solar and wind is “free,” then the energy must be low cost. And, of course, they have no understanding about grid stability issues.

      Many of the public advocates are sufficiently wealthy that they will not notice the impact of, say, doubling or tripling of residential energy rates, or the economic consequence of greatly increasing costs to industry.

      California has strange demographics, with an opulent coastal class who are largely for “green” energy at any cost. It has many poor who mostly have no voice, and who will be the most impacted by these costs. It has a dwindling middle class, as those people catch the brunt of these costs directly – they pay the taxes and fees and they don’t get subsidies – so they are leaving the state for Nevada, Arizona, and Texas.

      So back to the main point, also stated by “A Planning Engineer” – whose contributions have been outstanding and from whom I have learned a lot. That is: renewable energy can provide all or the vast majority of our power – if we are willing to pay enough, where enough is a huge amount of money.

      There are side issues – environmental impact ironically being the largest. I find the proliferation of huge steel and concrete monoliths bearing propellers to be ugly and a major source of visual pollution. Birds and bats find them fatal. There are environmental costs in the creation and transport of the materials – concrete, the production of which releases lots of CO2; steel and aluminum which require mining and a lot of energy, rare earth based generator magnets, etc. I think these environmental issues mostly show that there is no free lunch in the environment – CO2 reduction has side effects. I don’t consider these fatal to the project, but they are ignored by groups who would raise holy hell if any other industry had the same impact.

  37. Pingback: Energy Policy Reform: Further Notes on Proposed NCFCA Topic – Economic Thinking

  38. While engineering education is very broad – professional engineering competencies are very narrow. Outside of specializations – engineers tend to have strongly held but far less authoritative opinions.

    As I have said – I by no means want to be an apologist for wind and solar. I remain unconvinced of the potential for deep penetration into supply grids without new complementary technology. As a technologist – I remain excited about the potential for incremental advances to reduce cost and increase reliability. Printed solar cells are perhaps one of these advances with the potential to dramatically reduce cost and expand applications.

    But it seems I have challenged consensus Climate etc motivated reasoning on inherent insurmountable technical inadequacies. Nothing good can come of it – we’ll all be rooned.

    With South Australia as the one and only – it seems – poster child for grid instability caused by loss of rotational inertia. Even adding relatively small amounts of battery storage as synthetic inertia in a pinch – and that makes a profit by shifting the diurnal energy supply profile – is claimed to be proof of failure.

  39. That is an interesting reply. First, you seem to have climbed down to a more reasonable stance – one that many of us who have argued against your posts are closer to agreement with. Then, you have again painted us as ignorant (our specialties are too narrow) luddites (we fight progress).

    We have not said that there are insurmountable technical problems. We have pointed out that you have glossed over them, while sharing links mostly from enthusiasts (who happen to also be engineers) who are doing the same thing.

    As PE has said, loss of rotational inertia isn’t fatal. It is, however, an issue that must be accounted for. Obviously, smart electronics driving inverters tied to some storage capabilities can provide the same function – at a cost, of course.

    But, South Africa demonstrates that it is easy to screw up this stuff. Power engineers are conservative for a reason: experience with slow introductions of new technologies minimizes the disruptions that will inevitably happen – inevitably because engineers know that knowledge of the physics, while essential, does not substitute for experience with whatever technology you are using. So if you throw in smart compensation of reactive demand or for lack of inertia, it is likely that you will cause grid crashes at higher frequency than with proven technologies, until the learning curve has allowed the new technologies to be properly constructed and used.

    In other words, theory is great, but experience is important. That means caution and slow adoption is important.

    And, again, while all of this stuff is possible (with some disruptions as it is being learned), the economics are critical. And – note – power companies have a bias to spend more capital than is needed, even on silly things like Arizona Public Service’s lithium batteries, because they are paid a rate of return on that capital, no matter how wise the expenditure. Keep that in mind when you see what power company folks are advocating more alternative energy. It means more money for them, but the rate payers are the ones who suffer for it.

    • I haven’t changed my stance at all. As I have said the loss of rotational inertia – and any need for backup power – is far from much of a problem at currently low penetration levels. But rejecting the technological potential – and that is all I have heard here – is far from economically rational. Or indeed consistent with national security.

      I have presumed that none of you have done any work on integrating renewables into the grid. That presumption is consistent with the lack of balance in comments. Your opinion then and $5 will get you a cup of coffee.

      • I have always played by the rules. In the US there are strict and clear rules for providing transmission access and service. I have overseen many projects integrating large renewable projects into the grid. Often to accolades. People have a right to make sub optimal, uneconomic and even foolish decisions if they want. Grid costs are not always shared in ways that I think are optimal. I share my opinion on such, but again I play by the rules. Your presumptions are at least less than perfect.

      • But then Buck Rogers at the IEEE doesn’t have a clue?

        This is only getting worse for fossil fuels as supply contracts and demand doubles in the next 20 years.

        You start with loss of inertia – as if that is news. Then post hoc opine that everyone knows about synthetic inertia. It would be preferable to see balanced comments up front and some detail about claims including sub-optimal economics.

      • Let me correct your narrative. I did not start with inertia.

        -Judith published a piece looking talking about the future power system.
        -Chrism56, rightly posted that the prognostications in the article are ignoring a lot of important power system considerations – such as inertia.
        -You provide reference to some IEE papers seemingly illustrating the point that these considerations (such as inertia) are basically non-factors and express your disdain for planners.
        -I look at your articles and find that they seem to lack much meat. They don’t in any way suggest that there are now good solutions to the inertia problem. For example far from dismissing problems associated with lack of inertia (despite the title “Paving the way”) the article only expresses that there is some need for “holistic” planning approach in the future. Note (Holistic seems a real sketchy word for engineers to use.) I point out why “planning engineers” may have a better understanding as to how renewable s may interact with the power system than people focusing on the technology.
        -You ignore all that. Take offense at Buck Rogers and tell me Iand others we need a more balanced approach (When what most of us are here doing in this case is trying to add some balance to the original posting).
        -You accuse me of starting with inertia.
        -Claim I am implying the IEE does not have a clue when I am just pointing out they posted some articles that didn’t have a lot of meat, but where just posting on potential developments and hopes in an issue that featured articles less rigorous than usual. Sorry the Buck Rogers characterization roughened your feathers. I thought it was a colorful way to say it was an issue less rigorous than most, with articles more speculative and “hopeful” about the future. But somehow taking offense at that statement casts all my points in a bad light and makes you right. Jumping from me identifying a particular issue of the IEE as “fluff” or “buck Rogers” to me claiming the entire IEE does not have a clue is quite a stretch.

        Your posts have something to say from time to time but in many cases it is mixed with problematic statements and false accusations. You don’t back down from your bullheaded errors. I had forgotten why I was ignoring your posts. Now I remember. I

      • The IEEE PES special edition is far from the only reference provided. Literally dozens of detailed technical, technological and economic analyses. But what was your considered rationale for rejecting the IEEE PES special edition? That’s right – Buck Rogers. LOL. Sorry if my joking about it hits a nerve.

        What I have seen more generally in response to the post is a Climate etc consensus skeptic meme of costs and instability of wind and solar. And apart from a very weird spot price analysis – nothing but an unbalanced, one eyed, cognitively dissonant skeptic narrative. No objective analysis with references to the literature. Almost nothing but buzzwords and personal and usually pejorative opinion. Like this one. Something objectively having negligible substance and thus not worth any substantive response. Really – you ignoring me seems more rhetoric than reality.

  40. There isn’t today’s data up yet, but this is the grid summary for the whole of Australia on wind and solar for April 24th
    The maximum price was $161/MWh in South Australia at 7:45am. Possibly caused by the low South Australian wind output of 2%.
    The estimated wholesale cost of power for the day was $35,490,000 at an average wholesale price of $71/MWh which is 7.1c/kWh of the retail consumer price.
    Wind farms
    1 produced over 50% of their rated capacity.
    51 produced power but less than 20% of their rated capacity.
    29 drew power from the grid.
    The best performing was Sapphire -SAPHWF1 in New South Wales with a maximum of 96% at 0:00am then a minimum of 6% at 1:55pm averaging 55%.
    The worst performing that produced some power, was Capital -CAPTL_WF in New South Wales with a minimum of 0% at 0:00am then a maximum of 20% at 4:25pm averaging 3%.
    The wind farm subsidies were about $2,042,000 for the 22,697MWh generated in the 24 hours.
    100% renewables?
    At 9:40am the wind power dropped to 6.3% of rated capacity. To achieve 100% renewables in this weather, requires an extra 377GW of wind capacity, costing about 756 billion dollars. For these new wind farms to be break even the average price would rise from $71/MWh to about $760/MWh. Subsidies for the whole day on wind would be about $47,000,000.
    Solar farms
    The best performing was Parkes Solar Farm-PARSF1 in New South Wales which started at 6:45am reaching 97% at 9:34am stopped at 5:40pm averaging 28% over 24 hours.
    The worst performing was Ross River Solar Farm, Units 1–RRSF1 in Queensland which started at 5:00pm reaching 5% at 5:15pm stopped at 5:40pm averaging 0% over 24 hours.

    It is available here;Sel=Tp=LC;Cls=C_State;IG=Tp=Thing;IId=173;NM=South_Australia%5D%5D;Area=AspectTabs%5D

  41. RI Ellison above says “professional engineering competencies are very narrow. Outside of specializations – engineers tend to have strongly held but far less authoritative opinions.” Look at the broader picture.
    Aplanningengineer has – very diplomatically – put that in its proper perspective, with ” People have a right to make sub optimal, uneconomic and even foolish decisions if they want.” (— monkeys and magic wands — ).
    Years ago I bought a book at a cheap price from a floating bookshop, ‘Ethics in Engineering’ by Martin and Schinzinger. One of my best buys, it was very informative, especially pg 197 ‘Price fixing in the Electrical Equip ind’ and how one is forced to get what is already decided ‘upstairs’. Don’t expect the engineer to fix or do a ‘Lazarus’ afterwards. Good engineering is the first step, and many times its in connection with an already bad setup.

    Sorry, but after a string of such experiences, it always gets my goat. Beware.

  42. Way down the rabbit hole? You need to understand whats behind the wires and poles costs and wholesale price volatility. Talk about ethics – quite a lot of it was outright fraud with cost plus contracts. Quite a lot of it was the failure to open up new gas supplies. And quite a lot more was a failure to replace now retired brown coal generation.

    Wind and solar seemingly not so much.

  43. With renewable energy the bottom line is that people do not have a choice to buy electricity or not. Normal working people have to buy it. So governments have discovered that they can force people to buy it however expensive it becomes. This gives them free reign to indulge ideological technologies like wind and solar. Their weak intermittent and inefficient / expensive performance is a feature, not a bug.

    • Beta Blocker

      Here in America, power generation is not as profitable a business as is power transmission, distribution, and final delivery to a home or business.

      The role wind and solar will play in the long term economic dynamic of energy production and distribution in the United States is to raise the price of electricity at final delivery to levels which can better support the profit making opportunities available to investors on the power generation side.

      This is what is now happening in Australia. In that country, wind and solar mandates have warped the power generation and distribution marketplace in ways that increase the profits available to smart investors in legacy power generation facilities.

      How long can this go on before the average Australian wakes up and understands just exactly why it is that wind and solar are being pushed so hard by so many nominally diverse energy industry people?

  44. Planning engineer – if you read through the literature on how they propose to give windfarms synthetic inertia, you find it is really just droop and they will charge a lot for it. There does not seem to be any systems actually working. There are only papers saying it is possible..
    The plan is to run the machines off design point so they can increase load if the frequency drops. There is a deadband present to minimize fluctuations. That is droop. Because of the drop in generation needed to give the buffer, the wind farms would want to be paid for it. It is only called inertia to fool those who don’t understand grid operation. The easiest way to differentiate is what happens if the frequency increases.
    As windfarm turbines typically turn at less than 10rpm, even a whole farm operating at near full load would have very little inertia to offer compared to a 500MW two pole coal fired turbine, where you get inertia and droop for free. It is probably why the Danes are installing massive synchronous condensers at large windfarm grid connections
    The condensers are seen as cheaper and more reliable than the proposed software changes

  45. This is sort of a related breaking story. Nuclear energy proponent, Rod Adams, has been tweeting about a new Chinese reactor design that can be easily retrofitted in their coal plants.
    Here’s a tweet with a picture of it.

  46. They seem to imagine that I have a problem with the industry. I have a problem with Climate etc pundits. A very different thing.

    “With industry and academic partners, we are trialing an innovative wide-area monitoring and control system (MCS). The novel system will obtain frequency data at a regional level. Being able to do this at a regional level will provide our control room operators with the accurate, real-time information they need to react much faster to changes to the grid. This will ensure the necessary actions are taken to re-balance the system and allow more informed network decisions, such as determining the most cost-effective mix of frequency response across the transmission network.

    The innovative system will obtain accurate frequency data at a regional level, calculate the required rate and volume of very fast response, then enable the initiation of the required response. The system will then be used to demonstrate the viability of getting rapid response from new renewable technologies, such as wind and solar, and the coordination of fast response across all technologies.”

    It’s a classic engineering problem – and one that must be addressed. In South Australia they made the wind farms less sensitive to frequency fluctuations, installed batteries and beefed up the interconnection to the National Energy Market (NEM). In this rapidly evolving field – batteries are being called digital inertia. The cost of the batteries was some $90M I seem to recall. It makes a profit by shifting supply along the duck curve.

    There are other things we can do with the duck curve in somewhat complementary solar/wind/battery hybrid systems. The devil is of course in the details.

    All this costs immense amounts of money and is orchestrated by shadowy and sinister figures whose aim is to enslave the working man – or woman.

    Even with Australia’s 7% penetration – and not 80% – it doubled SA’s electricity costs.

  47. I find it distressing that there are references to the cliche of US energy independence. Exactly what that’s supposed to mean has never been made clear by the people use it. Even Nixon who was the first to talk about energy independence used the concept to say two different things. In research for my 2013 book on US energy policy I counted about a dozen different different definitions of what policymakers meant when they evoked energy independence, In this case, while it appears we’re not supposed to be totally autarkic (really, no electricity from Canada?), it seems the goal is to have the US control prices instead of (I’m guessing) Saudi Arabia or maybe all of OPEC. So in other words, as exporters of LNG we’re supposed to dictate prices? Ha, ha world, we get the last laugh! Actually, we’d all be better off to drop this idiotic idea of energy independence and accept that there are world markets that we are part of and to the best extent possible let markets–supply and demand–determine prices. As Robert Bryce put it a number of years ago, “energy independence” is a dangerous delusion, when energy market interdependence is a better–indeed inevitable–choice.

  48. Canman, Robert
    This is really interesting news about the new Chinese reactors.

  49. David Wojick

    My latest:
    Batteries cannot make renewables reliable

    At today’s prices it would take $25.2 Billion dollars to make a $150 Million dollar wind farm reliable. Battery backup is therefore impossible.

    Excerpts: “Utilities are starting to experiment with adding batteries to wind and solar projects. These storage projects are feeding the mistaken belief that batteries can cure the intermittency that makes wind and solar unworkable as a reliable source of power. The reality is that these battery projects are trivial in size compared to what would actually be needed to make wind or solar reliable. The cost of battery based reliability would actually be stupendous, far more than we could ever afford. Here are some simple numbers to make the point.

    At utility scale we are talking about megawatts, not kilowatts, so the battery cost is $1.5 million per MWh. By coincidence, $1.5 million per MW is also roughly the cost of a wind farm. Much follows from this. A smallish wind farm might have generating capacity of 100 MW, so costing around $150 million. The cost of the batteries to make this farm a reliable power generator turns out to be much, much greater.

    Suppose we want to store enough juice to back up the wind farm for just one day, when the wind speed is too low to generate any power. Let’s say we simply need 100 MW for 24 hours, or 2,400 MWh. At $1.5 million per MWh that is a whopping $3,600 million or $3.6 billion. In short, the batteries cost 24 times more than the “backed up” wind farm costs.

    This huge cost certainly makes the wind farm unaffordable, but it gets much worse. Under standard conditions a wind farm produces no power around 25% of the time, due to low wind conditions. Low wind periods of up to a week are fairly common, created by stagnant huge high pressure systems. The power battery system has to be big enough to accommodate these long periods of no wind power.

    A week has 168 hours so we need 16,800 MWh of battery storage capacity, at the enormous cost of $25.2 billion, just to make a $150 million wind farm reliable. This would obviously be absurd, which makes the whole idea of battery backup absurd. Even if the cost of batteries were to come way down, say by 90%, the cost would still be wildly prohibitive.

    Batteries simply cannot make renewables reliable. They cost too much.”

    There is more in the article. It took a lot of research to tell this simple story. Many thanks to my sponsors.

    • That is the Climate etc wind and solar grouthink – but it far from the reality of the ideal diversified and distributed energy mix. It is the eggs in the basket problem. The Admiral is right. Too great a concentration on too few resources carries sovereign risk.

      In the case of Canada – using different sources to conserve water resources for when it is needed.

      Batteries for other than digital inertia are problematic for many reasons. Other storage ideas have been mooted. Hydrogen gas production or pumped hydro. The other strategy is to increase resource availability through grid connectivity. A continental scale wind and solar hybrid system connecting the wind resource of the eastern US to the solar resource of the west. Assessing the potential requires sophisticated modelling and not back of the envelop calcs.

      Or increasing the unit power capacity of wind generation. “For this reason, current research programs are oriented to the improvement of power capacity per unit of land area. This translates to the global industrial trend of developing single wind turbines with increased nominal power (up to 5 MW) that feature high-length blades (to increase the swept area) and high-height turbine axis (to reach stronger winds at higher altitudes) [4].

      In parallel, since the beginning of 2000s, industrial research is investing on offshore installations. In locations that are far enough from the coast, wind resources are generally greater than those on land, with the winds being stronger and more regular, allowing a more constant usage rate.”

      Government does have a role in fundamental research and prototype development. Innovation is the key to prosperity and security. But picking winners has never worked.

      • David Wojick

        The super grid is even less practical than batteries, because both night and massive low wind systems are continental in scale. By the way, the wind potential in the East is low. It takes sustained winds of 25-35 mph to generate full power and these are rare in most of the country except around the Rockies, which stick up into the air flow.

        So under this super grid concept we would need enough wind generating capacity, to at least get the entire country through the night, each capacity located in various corners of the country, with enough super transmission for each separate corner to serve the entire country. Then hope the wind is blowing a whole lot in one corner.

        God help us if the sun doesn’t shine in most of the country where the people are, like megalopolis, like today.

        Completely unfeasible is the nicest term I can think of for this scheme. We are talking about basically rebuilding the U.S. electric system from scratch. Seriously? Why? How many trillion dollars would this take? My estimate is between a hundred and a thousand.

      • I remain open to detailed analysis of what is essentially a seam problem. As opposed to reasoning that lacks credible support from detailed technical analysis. The US is not at a point where this matters much. But a failure to plan is a plan to fail.

        Here again is the peculiar all or nothing one dimensional thinking of the Climate etc wind and solar consensus. The problem is far from one dimensional.

        My degrees are in engineering – with a hydrology specialty – and environmental science. The multidisciplinary version providing synergistic solutions to people problems.

        I could say that I doubt that construction of 100% wind and solar systems capable of weathering weather extremes in this century is possible. But you can all ggf’ed. 😂

    • Peter Davies

      The story is indeed simple – but far too simple. It is obvious to everyone working in renewable energy that batteries on their own are too expensive as long term (i.e. weeks) of storage to firm up wind and solar power to create units of base load generation.

      In the absence of abundant hydro or pumped hydro resource, the best solution is to use two tiers of storage. If two independent or complementary sets of renewable generation are used, then grid battery storage is likely to become economical for up to 7 or 8 hours of average load and allow a renewables penetration of up to 90%.

      To get from 90% to 100% renewables penetration, the front runner for the longer duration (“seasonal”) storage is renewable hydrogen, produced from electrolysis of water using surplus renewable power via a “power to gas” process. It can be stored very cheaply indeed in underground salt caverns or depleted oil or gas wells. Then it would be used for back-up in either fuel cells or gas turbine generation modified for use with hydrogen. The cost of the storage (TWh) caverns is very low – the downside is that the round trip efficiency is only around 40-45%. However, as long as such long-duration storage is required only for the last 10% of renewable penetration, and the cost of renewable generation keeps going down, the cost per kWh passed through such storage will be reasonable.

      There will be a 100 MW, €150m “hibridge” pilot of the “power to gas” process required for long-term storage in Germany, jointly between Amprion and OGE (Open Grid Europe), expected to be operational in 2023. This is needed to prove the concept at scale.

      The costs of battery storage quoted document are considerably higher than anyone is expecting to pay currently. The famous South Australia, Horndale wind farm, Tesla battery cost US$50m for a 100 MW/129 MWh battery. That’s US$387/MWh or $500/MW. Don’t be confused by the higher price in Australian dollars for the Tesla battery in some Australian publications.

      BNEF (Bloomberg New Energy Finance) say of battery packs:

      “From the observed historical values, we calculate a learning rate of around 18%. This means that for every doubling of cumulative volume, we observe an 18% reduction in price. Based on this observation, and our battery demand forecast, we expect the price of an average battery pack to be around $94/kWh by 2024 and $62/kWh by 2030. ”

      Note that BNEF is talking about EV battery pack prices, which do not include the cost of grid inverters, nor an enclosure to provide a stable environment. However, the trend now is to provide storage as part of solar farms, thus sharing the cost of inverters. There needs to be a DC to DC converter to connect storage with the solar and inverters, but this is much cheaper than a DC to AC converter as it does not need to produce high-quality output AC waveforms.

      Almost no existing batteries were installed sharing inverters with a solar farm, including the Horndale Tesla battery.

      Thus it isn’t wise to quote average historical prices as if they will be applicable to most future grid battery storage projects.

    • Peter Davies

      My response earlier contained :

      The costs of battery storage quoted document are considerably higher than anyone is expecting to pay currently. The famous South Australia, Hornsdale Power Reserve Tesla battery cost US$50m for a 100 MW/129 MWh battery. That’s US$387/MWh or $500/MW. Don’t be confused by the higher price in Australian dollars for the Tesla battery in some Australian publications.

      After more research, the most credible source of the battery price is a Neoen statutory filing Neoen is the French company which actually owns the battery.

      In the graphic on the price was €56m (Euros). At the 0.84 exchange rate for 1 Dec 2017 this would be US$66.66. Or A$90m (in Australian dollars).

      This makes the Hornsdale battery US $516/kWh or US $666/kW.

  50. Will this work? A pilot plant is being constructed. The South Australian battery provides digital inertia and makes a profit by shifting supply along the duck curve. It shows that the opportunity exists to supply low LCOE wind and solar energy when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine. The applications for these technologies are not limited to wind and solar – but can help other energy sources meet variable demand.

    Or this?

    Or this?

    Or this?

    Or this?

    Bloody Luddites.

    • The sheer number of such big battery schemes gives the appearance of desperation.

      Here’s a couple you missed:

      liquid metal:

      liquid silicon:

      More recently, bankruptcies have thinned out the long-duration ecosystem in the last year and a half. Aquion’s saltwater battery play went under water; Alevo closed down its mysterious operation; LightSail ran out of cash for its compressed air storage; ViZn Energy laid off all but two staff in March to look for new funding for its flow battery.

      • Supercapacitors, carbon-carbon batteries – the list is not exhaustive. These things tend to make a splash and then sink out of sight. How many attempts at a light bulb did Edison make?

        Without a storage breakthrough practical wind and solar potential is limited. At some low penetration – at which point loss of rotational inertia is a technical challenge and not a show stopper. Even if there were a breakthrough – not enough is known of natural extremes to base an entire industrial economy on limited energy storage. In EV’s they talk about range anxiety. But innovation in itself has the potential to generate valuable spin offs. Technical innovation is the foundation of industrial economies and the source of market competitiveness.

      • Peter Davies

        @Robert Ellison
        No breakthrough is necessary. Existing lithium ion battery technologies can take renewable grid penetrations up to 90% plus. Beyond that, renewable hydrogen is the front runner long-duration storage technology (in the absence of adequate hydro or pumped hydro). The key to lithium ion affordability is the exponentially increasing EV and EV battery market which BNEF expects to lead to $94/kWh by 2024 and $62/kWh by 2030.

        Sharing DC to AC inverters with solar farms is a good way of reducing balance of system costs for storage.

      • Peter
        Lithium – yes, what could possibly go wrong?
        Are there any countries producing lithium that UK Defense minister Gavin Williamson hasn’t declared war on, e.g. Russia, China (what could possibly go wrong with those either?? Rule green Britannia!!)

        The key to lithium ion affordability …
        Yes it’s still all in the future, isn’t it?
        Sorry but it all sounds like pie in the sky, a dangerous gamble of a population’s electricity supply on telebanic ecomorality and extravagent wishful thinking.
        What could possibly go wrong with that?

        No breakthrough is necessary
        But curiously everyone is still frantically looking for one.

        I’ll believe a 100% renewable grid when I see it.

      • Peter Davies

        @phil salmon
        Are there any countries producing lithium that UK Defense minister Gavin Williamson hasn’t declared war on?

        Tesla gets some lithium from Silver Peak, Nevada, USA, 200 miles away, and some from Canada.

        “No breakthrough is necessary.” But curiously everyone is still frantically looking for one.

        Current technology could get us to a fully renewable grid. But the market is so large, and there’s so much money to be made by the best battery technology that you would expect everyone to keep looking.

        I’ll believe a 100% renewable grid when I see it.

  51. A few ideas – including the South Australian battery.

    • Note the precision of battery supplied digital inertia at the 2 minute mark.

    • Peter and Robert

      Surely the mining of the materials needed for batteries causes enormous environmental degradation? Production of the various materials involved will have to increase up to a dozen times in the next 20 years in order to meet soaring demand. Much of the resources are under Chinese control and whilst not ‘rare’ are certainly not generally -plentiful.

      how do we square the circle of inefficient solar panels, wind turbines and batteries to store the surplus power, against the cost, availability and environmental damage?


    • Peter Davies


      Here is the Tesla impact statement for 2017 –

      On page 32 the impact statement covers “responsible sourcing” and has links to the Tesla Supplier Code of Conduct, and the Human Rights and Conflict Minerals Policy.

      On page 16 it lists direct and indirect carbon dioxide emissions for 2017.  The two categories applicable to EVs are sales/service/delivery (39,000 metric tons) and facilities (146,000 metric tons), total 185,000 metric tons.  Both sets of figures include both direct and indirect emissions.  Indirect emissions are defined as “Emissions that are a consequence of Tesla activities, but occur at sources owned or controlled by other  entities.”
      In 2017 Tesla delivered 101,000 model S and X vehicles. That is around 1.83 metric tons of emissions per vehicle, including the battery and everything else.  It’s probably overcounting as Tesla make things other than cars.

      Tesla sells solar panels and batteries, but not wind turbines. If everyone takes their responsibilities as seriously as Tesla claim to, and also starts producing impact reports, then there should be far fewer problems with environmental degradation.

      • Robert and Peter

        Thanks for your comments. I understand there are a dozen or so mined materials commonly used for renewable batteries, solar panels and wind turbines. I also understand that to meet the projected demand over the nest 30 years purely for green energy that production of these materials will have to increase between 5 and 10 times. The Chinese have bought up or already own a good percentage of the materials needed and their price is only going to increase especially if better environmental controls are imposed which they often aren’t at present.

        bearing in mind the huge inefficiencies or renewables and that battery technology to store the surplus when there is one will never (?) be feasible on the scale needed it does make we wonder if we are barking up the wrong and very expensive renewables tree?

        I favour tidal/wave technology but then again I live on an island and not in the middle of a large land mass.


      • I have nominated half a dozen metals. None of which are in short or controlled by China – and much of which can be recycled. You need to be specific and not just opinionated.

  52. It is a truism that anything can be done if you throw enough money at it – but only engineers can do it at least cost. The most basic consideration is free markets versus central planning.

    You may imagine any future you like – 100% renewables or show stopping technical problem. None of it is remotely definitive. The point is to do the fundamental R&D – at universities or in private enterprise – with even accelerated tax write offs. And in such a critical and high risk sector as energy – first of a kind public/private partnerships.

    The cost of storage is far too high to contemplate 100% renewables – in any conceivable technology. This may change as technology evolves – the storage breakthrough needed is to make it cost competitive.

    Skeptic groupthink show stoppers are straw men – unrealistic assumptions, cognitive dissonance, little in the way of substantive analysis and ignoring principles of free markets. The other side may be worse.

    It is all supply and demand. Remember that? But it remains unwise to put all of your energy eggs in one basket. What effect would a doubling of US natural gas prices have over the next decade have?

    “The Dallas Federal Reserve recently warned of a “growing likelihood” that the shale industry will be unable to keep up with rising demand, leaving the world vulnerable to geopolitical events that cause prices to spike. Being a shale superpower is useful, but it does not mean that America can control the market.”

    As for the inefficiency of wind and solar? Efficiency is defined as the cost of production per unit. Wind and solar are now the most efficient means of energy production. It is only getting better as demand for energy grows, other sources get more costly and advances in wind, solar and nuclear technology result in cost declines. $10/m2 for solar?

    Here’s a schematic of Australia’s eastern state

    I misspoke earlier. The name plate wind and solar penetration is approaching 20% – at a 10% cost increase for some 7% of generating capacity. The hydro share from the Snowy Mountains and Tasmania is 7%. The hydro schemes have a capacity factor of some 12% due to water resource limitations. The objective of the NEM is big pictur balancing of supply and demand.

    • Wind and solar are not the most efficient, if you include the externalities, specifically what has been discussed at length – energy storage to compensate of the intermittency of those sources.

      Also, the Texas grid has been cited here a bunch – as an example of integrating intermittent sources. But, Texas is climatologically blessed – it has ample sunlight, and ample wind. That is most unusual. That doesn’t mean that the lessons are meaningless, just that applying them in other situations requires caution and adjustment.

      We all agree, I think, that if you throw enough money at it, you can use intermittent sources for all or the vast majority of electrical generation. The issue is how much should we throw at it.

      While the calls for research sound great, we have already dumped tons of money into research and development. It is hard to say what will result ultimately, but I would not bank on a dramatic decrease in storage costs when using batteries, at least not lithium ones. There are some other ideas that are, at this stage, just ideas and experiments – things like flow batteries. We shall see.

      Someone mentioned supercapacitors. They are far more expensive than batteries for the same amount of energy storage. Their advantage, and why they are used in some electric buses, is very low resistance, and the ability do discharge all the way down to zero – or close to it. However, that discharge changes the terminal voltage, requiring power electronics that can adapt to it.

      • “The next step was to determine whether we could make the material electronically active, and we found that we could. We were trying to make a biocompatible material that could be used to link prosthetics directly into the nervous system, and we sent samples to the University of Bristol for testing. They came back to us and said ‘do you realise you’ve got dielectric properties a thousand times better than our best electrolytes?’ At that point, which was at the end of 2016, we changed our focus away from biocompatibles and towards supercapacitors.”

        Throwing $5B at – perhaps we should call them ultracapacitors – was suggested. The new materrial is a crosslinked polymer based on a material used in soft contact lenses. Energy densities of 180 kWhr/kg may be possible – rivaling that of lithium-ion batteries. The Shangai buses had capacitors with a power density of 5kWhr/kg. They charged in 30 second at every 2nd bus stop. The new material is cheap and can be cycled 100’s of 1000’s times. Is this the breakthrough?

        Generally an erroneous assumption about backup at still low penetration, a very brief capacitors for dummies primer and some waffling about Texas.

        There are a number of energy sources with limited capacity factors – including hydro. Their highest marginal returns happen in periods in a day of low supply and high demand.

    • Peter Davies

      Grid battery storage is only sensible for less than a day of renewables smoothing. Beyond that, renewable hydrogen is the front runner for smoothing longer gaps in renewables, which can be up to a few weeks.

      Lazards storage V4 provides a conservative forecast of storage prices over the next few years, but we all know that raw battery cells are going to come down as fast as solar has, because of the exponential growth of EVs. In particular, the sharing of inverters with a solar farm means the storage gets it the higher cost parts for free, or at least at reduced cost. That’s why adding batteries to a solar farm is so cheap. And that’s why solar + storage is now beating new gas peakers, and in some cases existing gas turbine generation.

      Further, taking Texas again, 25% over generation from renewables and 300 GWh (7.5 hours of average load) of grid batteries would be enough to get to 94% renewables penetration. But if Texas went 100% electric vehicles, as it will eventually, that would require something like 900 GWh of storage in the EVs. Either V2G (vehicle to grid) or re-use of old EV batteries would provided grid storage cheap enough. The last 6% requires the renewable hydrogen storage.

      Battery storage will never be cheap enough to do days of smoothing though.

      Yes, getting to 100% renewables in Texas is the easiest. But there’s excellent sunlight in all of the south west of the USA, and excellent wind all through the Great Plains, which is almost exactly down the middle of the USA. Further, the north east has excellent offshore wind, plus it is close to Canada with its huge hydro potential.

      If Texas can do it, then, with HVDC transmission lines, so can the rest of the USA. Although that would make it cost a little more. It might need underground cables following railway tracks to avoid endless planning arguments. Incidentally, the longest Chinese 1 MV HVDC transmission line is 1,500 miles long.

      • You underestimate climate variability that makes deep penetration of wind and solar problematic. The front runner is SMR – happening as we speak. Practically unlimited power for electricity, heat and efficient high temperature hydrogen generation. The latter to be transformed into liquid fuels with today’s technology. It would modular grids possible rather than problematic continent spanning superrids – a major cost advantage in regions with undeveloped grids.

      • Peter Davies

        The statement

        Further, taking Texas again, 25% over generation from renewables and 300 GWh (7.5 hours of average load) of grid batteries would be enough to get to 94% renewables penetration.

        is from a simulation of ERCOT based on actual demand, actual wind generation, and solar generation derived from actual solar insolation data for four 1km x 1km squares for 2010 through 2012, all synchronised for the same hourly periods.

        So the variability of climate data embedded in the statement is what the climate variability happened to be in Texas for those three years – and is not an estimate from me at all.

        With the benefit of a few years of hindsight, the study could be improved, not least by using, more years of real-life data. Doubtless this would result in small change to the grid configuration. But it wouldn’t invalidate the conclusion that a 100% renewable solution for Texas is feasible, because that conclusion is based on real-world data.

        To say I underestimated actual climate variability is thus not a valid criticism of the conclusions of the study.

      • Your confidence that these three years represent the limits of intrinsic climate variability is misplaced.

      • Peter Davies

        On the contrary, I am pretty much certain that it doesn’t. But it doesn’t make a lot of difference to whether a renewables solution would work securely.

        Because, in the event of a gap longer than the few weeks that 18 TWh of seasonal storage from renewable hydrogen would provide, natural gas from existing gas wells could be used to extend the period of back-up generation with suitable reforming. Costs would be negligible, CO2 emissions (because it is, after all, fossil fuel) would be negligible. And the experience of having underestimated could be used to ensure that, next time, the hydrogen reservoir would be made large enough for the 100 year event.

    • The University of Chicago has now joined MIT in producing in-depth examinations of the claims of the supporters of renewables. The result- the costs are much higher than advertised, the emissions reductions are much lower than advertised and, in the case of MIT, there is acknowledgment that deeper penetration of renewables would be exponentially more expensive than the already bad situation.

      If anyone were concerned about AGW this science would be noteworthy.

      Here’s U Chicago:

      • Peter Davies

        From reading the University of Chicago paper, it seems to suffer from the problem that those who implemented RPS first would have paid more for their renewables, and would be further along than those who implemented more recently or not at all.

        In other words their conclusion seems to be just a complicated way of saying that, in the past, renewables were more expensive than fossil fuel generation.

        One aspect of this is that storage is required to get renewables, and particularly solar, to provide the maximum economic advantage, but it was too expensive back then and no-one has installed any significant quantity of it up until now.

        But the real question is – given that the LCOE of new renewables is now lower than new fossil fuel generation, what effect would adopting renewables now have on electricity prices. Various states, PUCs and utilities are already voting with their feet by buying, or steering utilities towards solar plus storage and wind, and generally they are doing it for good economic reasons, whether they have an RPS or not.

        In other words, the study probably doesn’t tell us much that we didn’t know already, and can’t tell us what we need to know now.

      • Peter- the UC study seemed to tackle your argument head on by noting that the costs of dealing with the intermittency – grid improvements, storage, etc – cost much more than advertised and are a bigger share than the solar panels and windmills themselves.
        In other words, they drove a stake into the heart of the “but solar panel costs are coming down!” argument.
        And, of course, MIT notes that a renewable strategy costs four times as much as the (very expensive) high nuclear penetration option.

        In a globally competitive world where the climate glitteratti have already decreed China and India can burn all the coal they want for another decade or three or four, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to pretend western nations are going to opt for the highest cost alternatives to fossil fuels which also, coincidentally, have the least impact on emissions. A climate change solution that doesn’t do anything for climate and is economically ridiculous should be vanishing from the public stage. If the goal is to impact climate change.

        By the by, what causes the warm to ignore science on this subject- motivated reasoning, greedy “big wind,” ignorance? We should look into better science communication.

      • “Overall, the paper’s results underscore the importance of research on policy and technology
        mechanisms to reduce the costs of renewable energy, and imply that mechanisms to facilitate the
        integration of intermittent sources onto the grid, such as advanced storage technologies or time-of-use pricing, could be especially beneficial. While the potential damages from global climate change
        have been widely documented, it is almost self-evident that failing to cost-effectively reduce emissions will ultimately limit the magnitude of these reductions. Further, policies that substantially
        increase the price of electricity tend to have a regressive impact that hits low-income consumers
        hardest, and therefore may be especially unattractive in developing countries that account for a
        large and growing share of global emissions. The most effective climate policy in technologically advanced and innovative nations such as the United States will reduce emissions domestically, but also
        involves developing low-carbon energy systems that are cost-effective enough to promote adoption
        in the rest of the world.”

        I think your argument may be against RPS – and not economically rational technological progress. This is not science btw.

      • I can quote too. The following can be paraphrased as they sure left a lot of the costs out of their estimates when they push for renewables.

        “This means that a comparison of LCOEs between these intermittent
        sources and “baseload” technologies that “always” operate (e.g., natural gas combined cycle plants have capacity factors of 85%) is very misleading with respect to total system costs, because they do not account for the additional costs necessary to supply electricity when they are not operating.
        For example, given current cost structures, the installation of renewables are frequently paired with the construction of natural gas “peaker” plants that can quickly and relatively inexpensively cycle up and down, depending on the the availability of the intermittent resource.
        Second, renewable power plants require ample physical space, are often geographically dispersed, and are frequently located away from population centers, all of which raises transmission costs above those of fossil fuel plants. A literature review of transmission cost estimates for wind power by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) finds a median estimate of about $300 per kW, or about 15% of overall wind capital costs (Mills et al., 2009). This is approximately equivalent to adding 1.5 cents per kWh to the levelized cost of generation for wind.”

        And again, this is now two major university studies saying renewables are much more expensive than advertised (as the preferred option to both fossil and nuclear) and that’s before we try anything more than <10% wind and solar.
        Wind and solar are nifty, they'll be used where they make sense. Anybody wanting a policy that reduces emissions will have to broaden their focus. Or keep pretending that costs don't matter.

      • The problem with using LCOE on renewables is that it doesn’t capture any costs other than that of generation. Because the marginal costs of generation are near zero, intermittent sources are driving more reliable sources of generation out of business. This is made worse by subsidies – in Texas, wind farms pay utilities to take their power at times, which can only happen in a situation of economic madness.

        One needs to include the cost required to maintain grid stability in the cost of intermittent sources to get reasonable numbers – LCOE doesn’t cut it. In Germany, those costs include about a trillion dollars worth of new transmission, and they have learned that they can’t shutter their fossil fuel powered thermal plants.

        I am also skeptical of assertions on dramatic decreases in battery prices. Argument by analogy (Moore’s Law or the drop in solar panel costs) is not convincing. Lithium batteries have been produced in huge numbers for years, which means the economic incentives for reducing their costs are here, and have been here for years. Some economy of scale is possible as volumes increase more, but how much? Some incremental improvements in capacity are likely, but how much? Revolutionary advancements might happen, but we’ve been hearing that for years without them materializing.

        For example, energy densities have less than doubled in 30 years – from NiMH to the best Lithium Ion.

      • The LCOE Climate etc groupthink and personal opinions on future technology? The policy analysis – not science – they seem to depend on rejected RPS and decided that energy innovation was the practical way forward. Given that the developing world is far from on board with escalating energy costs. Time of use pricing is something they also suggested. I quote the ultimate paragraph – but it fails to stimulate a review of assumptions. Cognitive dissonance?

        “The spot market is the mechanism that AEMO uses to match the supply of electricity from power stations with real time consumption by households and businesses. All electricity in the spot market is bought and sold at the spot price.

        The spot price tells generators how much electricity the market needs at any moment in time to keep the physical power system in balance.

        When the spot price is increasing, generators ramp up their output or more expensive generators turn on to sell extra power to the market. For example, a gas peaker or pumped hydro plant may jump in, or a fast-response battery may discharge electricity.”

        Both hydro and SA’s battery jump in to make a profit from prices on the spot market at peak demand periods. This is not a cost – it is optimal use of resources. And is what is proposed a restraint of trade in banning wind and solar in the market?

      • Peter Davies

        The University of Chicago appears to be a deliberate attempt to present the worst possible picture of renewables, when read in some detail.

        They do this by cherry picking ways of averaging data. Then they ask you to mentally add cost of transmission cherry picked another way. Unfortunately this is an invalid thing to do as you will soon see.

        The study is entirely historical. The word “storage” occurs twice in it – once as pumped hydro storage, and once in “mechanisms to facilitate the
        integration of intermittent sources onto the grid, such as advanced storage technologies or time-of use pricing, could be especially beneficial.” However, it is storage which has only recently allowed renewables to compete head-on with gas generation for specific applications such as gas peakers. So the study says nothing about the benefits of renewables plus storage from here on. As I said before, we all know that renewables were expensive earlier on and would increase prices – but one benefit of the RPS approach is to push renewables to mass market volumes at which th prices start coming down. This is why renewables plus (limited) storage can now compete head on with fossil fuel generation.

        The main problem these guys have is that Texas is a huge success story as far as renewables (particularly wind) is concerned, and Texas has 25% of installed US wind power (around 22 GW at present). The costs of new Texas wind are very low (1.5-2 cents/kWh with PTC subsidy, and around 3-3.5 cents/kWh before subsidy. The RPS volume was satisfied year ago, and now wind is being installed purely on the basis of the cheap economics. Further, because wind is not yet the majority source of Texas power (maybe ~20% right now), Texas prices tend to be dictated by natural gas prices, which have tended to drop recently, but are expected to rise if there is ever improved pipeline capacity to export natural gas.

        So some means has to be found of discounting the situation in Texas, or the results of the study won’t prove what the authors wanted. The standard way of ignoring Texas is to average by “unweighted” averages, in which the overall average consists of equal weighting for averages from each state. So Texas figures would only contribute 2% to the total instead of 25% or 10% (Texas generation is 10% of the total US generation) – or 4% contribution of the 26 states which have RPS legislation.

        In the introduction and conclusion, for each conclusion, the authors don’t state whether they have picked a (generation) weighted figure, or one that is averaged by giving state averages equal weighting. So they can chop and change between them to give the impression they want. And they use generous rounding in their favoured direction as well.

        For instance, paragraph 2 of the introduction says

        The latest data from
        the Energy Information Administration’s Annual Energy Outlook (EIA, 2019) suggests that solar and wind plants can produce electricity at about 6 cents per kWh, while a natural gas combined cycle plant produces at roughly 4 cents per kWh.

        What that EIA document actually states is for generation weighted wind and solar the costs are 4.28 and 4.88 cents/kWh, before subsidy and including 0.24 and 0.29 cents/kWh allowance for transmission upgrades. These are the averages over the whole of the USA. To get 6 cents/kWh you have to not only use the unweighted average of state averages, but also round wind up from 5.59 to 6 cents/kWh.

        They have effectively done the reverse for gas generation – used weighted EIA averages, because unweighted conventional (not advanced) straight combined cycle gas should otherwise be rounded up to 5 cents/kWh instead of down to 4 cents/kWh.

        Further, they’ve effectively used weighted averages for the cost of new transmission lines (most of which will have been the Texas CREZ extensions of $7bn), because they give a total for the USA as a whole. This gives the misleading impression that you should add 15% of 6 cents/kWh = 0.9 cents/kWh to get 6.9 cents/kWh. It also completely ignores the fact that there is an allowance for transmission in the EIA figures. Of course the combination of the two is wrong – if you are going to weight transmission costs with a heavy Texas bias, then you should also weight generation costs with a Texas bias based on fraction of generation.

        And lastly, to get the figure of $460/ton of cost of carbon emissions reduction 12 years after RPS passage they have again reverted to unweighted averages. The average over the whole of the USA is $133/ton carbon emissions reduction from their weighted figures. Needless to say the introduction doesn’t say it is quoting a straight average of state averages.

        Nowhere in the introduction do they state which average has been used for each figure – it would probably give the game away if they did. Why am I not surprised that they ALWAYS pick the average which would give the worst impression of renewables without stating which one it is?

        My advice to them would be not to submit this paper to a peer-reviewed journal.

        I would be surprised if most here who read it thoroughly would have missed these problems. Perhaps the authors are hoping that journalists and others read the abstract and introduction then give up on the maths bit and don’t read the rest of the document.

      • Peter Davies


        My previous post included “The average over the whole of the USA is $133/ton carbon emissions reduction from their weighted figures”

        This should have been “The average over the all twelve states WITH AN RPS FOR 12 YEARS OR MORE is $133/ton carbon emissions reduction from their weighted figures.”

  53. When I see the popular consensus behind the economically suicidal climate policies I am reminded of the opening quote in Mel Gibson’s film “Apocalypto”:

    “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within” (W. Durant)


    • Peter Davies

      (Do not worry. Tesla factories now use efficient LED lights).

    • “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within” (W. Durant)

      The western countries are really working on this and the eastern countries are banking on this.

  54. Peter Lang

    Australia has a federal election on 18 May.

    Labor is ahead in the poles and favoured to win. Their policies, if implanted, would do enormous damage to the Australian economy. For example, if their climate policies are implemented, the best-case estimate of the effects of Labor’s climate policy by 2030 is:

    $264 bn GDP loss
    166,500 jobs lost
    3% wages lost
    $110/MWh wholesale electricity price
    $67/tonne carbon price

    “The analysis, released as Bill Shorten [the Labor leader] continues to defy calls to put a price on his signature climate change policy, also suggests that if the Greens were to block or limit the use of international carbon permits under Labor’s plan, the cost to the economy could be as high as $1.2 trillion by 2030.”

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