by Planning Engineer
Five years ago today I started guest blogging on Climate Etc., focusing on energy related issues.
My initial goal was to share some insights in a more formal fashion on energy related issues being discussed in the comments. I didn’t really get the values of blogging until I started. My first posting, Myths and Realities of Renewable Energy, provoked a good bit of commentary. .Discussions led to further postings which led to further discussions and the cycle continued. I discovered that many denizens of this blog have considerable expertise and knowledge as they shared valuable insight. Non-experts asked great probing questions and helped me uncover where explanations need to be tightened as well as offering insights from complimentary perspectives. Putting complicated thoughts into simpler language challenges and aids understanding.
It must be mentioned that one of the biggest challenges in blogging comes from the “noise” in the comments. I define “noise” as criticisms that have nothing to do with what is being said or ignore what is being said. The biggest challenge with “noise” is that coarse insults and stonewalling are often mixed in with legitimate criticisms and challenges. I can’t say that it’s been easy for me, but it has been good for me to better learn how to deal with “noise”.
Criticisms of the form, “If you know so much, why are you blogging here”, occurred fairly frequently. My goal was to make arguments that would stand up to scrutiny, not to issue an appeal for an audience to trust me based on authority or expertise. Questioning motives is a bad argument, because it’s only invoked when someone doesn’t like what is being said. But these critiques motivated me, and I began publishing articles in the trade journals with a coauthor. They built upon many of the topics discussed here at Climate Etc. In particular the last one on the German Miracle was driven by one commentator who kept claiming that my arguments were suspect because Germany had superior grid reliability compared to the United State with high levels of intermittent renewables. His claims were based on a widely held misconception.
While I’m glad blogging pushed me to experience publishing, counter to what many might think, I found blogging preferable to publishing. It’s nice to be in print, with a photo and your name while your writings are being read or scanned by some of your peers. I’m sure it’s more impressive to friends and additionally I’m sure publishing looks far better on a resume than blogging might. But the feedback is nothing like from blogging. Working with an editor cannot be compared to the flood of information that comes with blogging on a popular blog. I don’t know that writing either place makes a noticeable difference anywhere, but I suspect I reached more people who might be impacted through blogging. My experience has made me greatly appreciate Dr. Curry’s perspective that there is a place for blogging, technical journals and academic journals.
This brings up another criticism that relates to the differences between academics and engineers, or scientists and engineers. Engineers are less concerned with observations and theory, focusing more on creating workable real world solutions. Engineers have quite a track record and demonstrated considerable competence in the development of our modern power supply system. Academics frequently have a much narrower and specific focus and consequently are not as aware of the big picture. Some commenters would note that what I was saying conflicted with what professors from distinguished Universities were saying in prestigious journals. Generally I would read the articles and find there was not conflict with what was actually said, but rather the problem lay in the inferences drawn.
Academics often make narrower studies and analysis which are touted by others with much less careful language. For example, I’ve seen pronouncements about how renewable green technology can replace conventional technology. In the simplest case an academic could look at replacing MWHs of conventional technology with MWHs of renewable resources by 20XX. .What’s fine in generalities breaks down when you consider that we need the electricity to be produced when it is needed. At the next level an academic might consider the timing issue. Beyond that the issues increase exponentially with concerns for grid deliverability and grid stability. In considering statements as to what can be done, factors like the following must be considered: 1) What was studied?, 2) What else needs to be studied?, 3) What is being claimed?, 4) What has been demonstrated versus what is theoretical? And 4) What extra costs are or might be associated with the claim? I think blogging can serve as an important role checking on conventional media who too readily make outlandish claims based on misinterpretations of academic studies.
I cautioned against prevalent overly high expectations for green technology based on well accepted understandings of the power systems. Looking back I think my postings hold up well, except for the embarrassing typos. Back then there was not much out there of this type of information, but as time goes by more and more cautions and descriptions of this nature appear. There is a lot more evidence for what I was saying on the table today and some prominent figures are seeing the limitations with existing green solutions. However, in many sectors unbridled enthusiasm remains for 100% renewables.
It can always be argued that change is right around the corner, despite the failure of such predictions in preceding years. Critics can always ask, “If this renewable approach is uneconomic and unworkable why are they spending multi-millions to develop this project?”, regardless of how many similar projects in the past cobbled together financing but failed to produce. Perhaps a piece is needed on the many drivers that push for and enable projects that likely will end up infeasible or uneconomic boondoggles. Some are misled because they are satisfied by a limited understanding of the factors involved and don’t want to see the bigger picture. In addition to such reasons, there is just willful deliberate ignorance where contrary views are promulgated just because people will believe them.
My blogging just kind of tapered off as I’d said most everything I had to say. I appreciate this chance to give my thanks to the denizens of Climate Etc. for their support, comments and perspectives over the years. We had many great discussions that showed the value of blogging. Special names and handles are too numerous to thank individually, but I would like to single out Rud Istvan because I thoroughly enjoyed our collaborative efforts. As most here do, I really appreciate Judith’s efforts to promote dialogue as well as her expertise and commitment.
I retired this year and am playing pickle ball, paddle boarding, doing community theater, riding my one wheel, volunteering and living the good life. I’m contemplating going back and looking at the arguments made in my original postings and the challenges to them and commenting on how subsequent developments have played out. I think that might be valuable because mostly the old arguments just come back in new forms. If any of the denizens want to share observations good or bad as to how that’s gone, I would appreciate it.
Bio Notes: Russ Schussler (Planning Engineer), P.E., Retired Vice President of Transmission Planning at Georgia Transmission Corporations, has spent over 35 years in the electric utility industry. Russ has served in various roles working to ensure the reliability of the grid including serving on the NERC Planning Committee and Chairing the SERC Engineering Committee.
My blogs and co-blogs here can be found by searching Planning Engineer in search bar at Climate Etc. Below are some articles co-written in technical publications which follow up on Climate Etc. discussions.
Drivers & Determinants for Power System Entities, Electric Energy (RMEL), Summer 2016, pp. 30-38, https://issuu.com/hungryeyemedia/docs/rmel_electric_energy_issue_2_2016.
The Role of Fracking in the U.S. Utility: Battle of Gas vs. Coal, Cornerstone Magazine, Autumn 2016, pp. 42-46 (English and Mandarin versions).
Reports of the Electric Grid’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated, POWER Magazine, April 2017, page 68 and http://www.powermag.com/reports-of-the-electric-grids-death-have-been-greatly-exaggerated/?printmode=1.
The Grid End Game, T&D World, June 2017, p. 64 and http://www.tdworld.com/transmission/grid-end-game.
The Myth of the German Renewable Energy ‘Miracle,” T&D World: Grid Optimization, October 23, 2017, http://www.tdworld.com/generation-and-renewables/myth-german-renewable-energy-miracle
Third World Grid, SmartGrid or a Smart Grid? T&D World June 15th 2018 https://www.tdworld.com/smart-grid/third-world-grid-smartgrid-or-smart-grid