by Planning Engineer
The “green” provisions of the poorly named Inflation Reduction Act are sweeping and it appears they may do more harm than good. The philosophy behind the inflation Reduction Act seems to reflect the belief that if you can get the ball rolling, adding additional wind and solar will get easier. However, as Part 1 discussed, the compounding problems associated with increasing the penetration level of wind and solar generation are extreme.
Replacing conventional synchronous generating resources, which have been the foundation of the power system, with asynchronous intermittent resources will degrade the reliability of the grid and contribute to blackout risk. The power system is the largest, most complicated wonderful machine ever made. At any given time, it must deal with multiple problems and remain stable. No resources are perfect; in a large system you will regularly find numerous problems occurring across the system. Generally, a power system can handle multiple problems and continue to provide reliable service. However, when a system lacks supportive generation sources, it becomes much more likely it will not be able function reliably when problems occur.
Just as a pile of dry wood and flammable material can be sparked from many potential sources, or a very unhealthy person could succumb to many different threats, a weakened power system is more vulnerable to many conditions than a robust one. In this post I discussed responsibility for the Texas winter blackout. Many things went wrong that day in Texas. But often many things do go wrong – the real problem was that the Texas market did not provide incentives for standby resources. In Texas there were not enough committed resources to provide for the system load levels and potential contingencies. Texas relied on an energy market designed to favor wind and solar resources and it failed them. However, many analyses of the Texas blackout focused on the proximate conditions (problems of the sort that are common) ignoring or denying the major underlying problem.
We are seeing blackouts and system problems all over the world now, unlike in the past. There is a common factor for most – high penetration of intermittent asynchronous wind and solar generation. This commonality is generally ignored when evaluating the individual outages as vested interests focus on the triggering conditions. There are always going to be potential triggering conditions. No one anywhere will eliminate triggering conditions so absolving green resources of blame because such things exist in the real world only makes sense as theater. When faced with “green” outages, focusing on the proximate triggers serves to protect “green” interests and helps mask the emerging greater problems to come.
The Inflation Reduction Act is promoting a system with less stability, robustness and reliability. Besides describing how these green programs contribute in general to major outages, I will conclude this article by identifying a specific type of outage likely to become more common due to provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act. Before describing how the Act impacts the system, I will take a detour and describe a specific past incident where a system element which was valuable at one penetration level became a system detriment at a higher penetration level.
Penetration Case Review: Heat Pumps
A heat pump is an efficient way to heat or cool. As a refrigerator transfers the heat out of the refrigerator to the coils in the back to cool or freeze your food while making your house warmer, a heat pump can transfer heat between a home or building and the outdoors. In the winter it transfers heat from the outdoors to the interior. In the summer it transfers heat from the house to the outdoors. With a heat pump you don’t “create” heat you merely use a small amount of electricity to efficiently transfer heat in the preferred direction.
Even when the temperature is cold outside a heat pump can extract heat from the outdoors and use it to warm a home or residence. As the temperature drops below 40 degrees. However. heat pumps become less efficient and as temperatures drop below freezing, the home must be heated with a backup method, usually resistance heating. Resistance heating makes the process more expensive and inefficient. It is possible to exchange heat with a source below the ground or a source of water to get around this problem, or alternatively to provide heat from natural gas backup, but these approaches have not worked out as practical means on any significant scale.
Because of their behavior at colder temperatures, heat pumps are not appropriate for all parts of the country. In the north the many hours they would have to run with resistance heat makes them both environmentally irresponsible and too expensive. Natural gas is a better option. They work where it is hot enough some of the year that air conditioners are installed anyway (thus they don’t increase the summer peak) and where it is cold but not too cold at most times. If they run in resistance mode only a few days a year that does not cancel the net benefits, but with longer time periods the benefits are lost.
Encouraging heat pumps was all the rage, when I first started working in the southeastern US. Most entities in the south did not see winter peak loads, so adding heat pump load in the winter was a great thing. It was a win, win, win situation for all involved. The economics work generally the same for all utilities, but I will describe how they worked for distribution cooperatives.
Distribution co-ops pay a demand charge based on their peak load and an energy charge based on their kwh usage. Residential sales are on a kwh usage, so the peak charge must be recovered through the kwh charge imposed on residential customers. The better a Co-ops’ load factor (total kwhs sold/(peak demand*total hours), the lower their rate can be set. Heat pumps did not raise the demand charge, but increased energy sales and allowed the demand charge to be spread out over more energy sales lowering energy costs for all.
Builders were rewarded with free underground distribution if they committed to building all electric homes which relied on heat pumps. Rebates were given for heat pump installations and often those installing heat pumps were rewarded with free water heaters. My company had a big marketing division supporting the work of the distribution cooperatives to support efforts at increasing heat pumps. It worked well, almost perfectly. The only drawback was that on very cold days the heat pumps would switch to resistance heating and this made the customers’ meters spin at high consumption levels, raising heating costs a lot that day. But with incentives and the saving at most times, those costs were not that significant. The overall winter load increased a lot on those days, but it was still below the summer peak at most times. Plus, when it’s cold you can put a little more load on the power lines and fossil fuel generators can provide more power without overheating. So, the heat pumps did not contribute to increasing fixed costs.
Everything was going well as the penetration level of heat pumps increased. But there was a cloud on the horizon. Looking ahead it seemed like that within the decade our winter peak would move to surpass the summer peak. This meant that the winter peak would soon drive the need for improvements and expansions. Unfortunately, what should be technical disagreements are often political problems as well. In a battle of experts, the consultants working for the marketers disputed the trend. The programs continued and everything was great in the short term.
Sooner than expected the winter peak did hit and it hit hard and it hit regularly. On the coldest days when the resistive heating kicked in, peak demand rose sharply and swiftly. The winter “needle shaped” peak drove investment and costs. The mostly residential cooperatives who had invested big in the heat pump programs had to pay rates based on their demand during the new winter peak, greatly raising their average energy costs.
While almost no one wanted to see it coming, once the effects hit, most everyone in the power supply chain wished they had. This was a terrible blow to rural electric cooperatives who had invested big to improve their load factor, only to find they had subsidized a worse winter load factor. Residential customers are not charged for contributing to peak demand (the meters don’t measure that) so for them their contribution to the demand charges has no significant penalty. For customers in this region, it still makes sense to put in heat pumps so the problems continue to grow for some to this day.
The Inflation Reduction Act Enabling Blackout Conditions
The Inflation Reduction Act seeks to decarbonize the grid. In looking at the grid, you should not make one goal a priority but should instead seek to balance competing objectives. See Balance and the Grid for a discussion of how efforts to maximize one objective without due attention to other major goals can result in a worsening condition for all goals. It seems apparent that all the “green” measures in the Inflation Reduction Act were included because independently they all seem capable of reducing carbon. I have not seen any evidence that any consideration was given to system reliability or how these measures might interact to create problems.
The green measures encouraged by the inflation Reduction Act will lead to generic blackouts in many situations as described earlier in this essay and in Part 1. Presented below is a chart from a previous posting, titled “Will California “learn” to avoid Peak Rolling Blackouts?” The projected peak that was causing blackout concerns was only around 10% above the average for the previous year’s included in the chart.
The specific prediction of an outage condition I will make here involves winter peak demand conditions. Winter peaks can be extreme, much more so than summer peaks. As temperatures climb in the summer, air conditioners reach a saturation point. The climb in summer peak demand with each additional increase in temperature typically flattens out. In the winter each additional degree drop can increase demand more than the one before. There are a lot of potential sources of resistive heat that increase demand. In severe cold more and more heating elements come into play and the increase in demand rather than flattening can go up exponentially. Peak winter loads tend to hit just before sunrise. The system sees a rapidly rising peak, often described as needle shaped, which drops as the sun comes up and temperatures warm. Such peaks can easily be 5 to 20% above normal winter peaks in many areas. Thus these conditions have the potential to cause more severe concerns than California sees during extreme summer conditions.
The Act encourages solar at the bulk, distribution and residential levels. Solar will be of no benefit during such a peak, but does serve to push out other resources which might support the system during such conditions. Plus, there is a double whammy. Solar power supply supplied to the grid will not be there and at that same time homes usually supplemented with solar will be putting maximal demands on the grid. (Note -The infrastructure needs to supply a home which only puts a demand on the system a few hours a year concurrent with other uses maximum demand is basically the same as the infrastructure need to support a full requirements home. It is challenging to collect that from such customers. When there are rate challenges and it’s difficult to collect system costs, needed infrastructure often is delayed.) In any case widespread adoption and reliance on solar creates concerns around winter morning peaks.
The Act encourages wind development. Like solar, wind will push other better suited resources out of the supply pool. Wind is generally slower just before sunrise and winter is not generally peak wind season. In any case wind is intermittent and some of the times during cold weather wind is not available. Some say that wind tends to rise up as temperatures get colder and there are ways to keep turbines from freezing,. Nonetheless, we do see freezing problems and a tendency for wind to be there is not a guarantee. Green resources perform much better in theory than practice. At least at sometimes wind power will not likely be a great asset during winter morning peaks demand conditions.
The Act encourages efficiency. This could help to reduce load and thereby make severe outages less likely. But the real problem with peak demand is the difference in demand during the extreme peak period and other more normal high load periods. If efficiency reduces load, you will likely see a reduction in generating resources to serve the load at all high load levels. The risk from peak conditions is more attributable to the delta between the winter peak demand and more common high load levels. This is because regular loads drive generation additions more than extreme conditions. I don’t know that efficiency measures work better during the most extreme winter temperatures than it does at normal winter cold temperatures (probably less so), therefore its mitigating impact may be small to none. Also, there are those who might argue that consistent with Jevon’s Paradox efficiency efforts lead to increased energy consumption. The basic mechanism, behind this counterintuitive theorem, is illustrated by mechanisms observed such as individual consumers with more efficient homes choosing to heat more rooms or increase comfort because you get more for your money in an efficient home.
Solar, wind and efficiency are intended to decrease fossil fuel-based resources. Combustion turbines and hydro are generally the most appropriate resource for limited duration demand surges. The expansion potential of hydro is very limited and this resource can not make up for lost combustion turbines in most areas. Combustion turbines perform relatively well in cold conditions and old mostly useless units traditionally have been called on to get the system through short term peak demand conditions.
To be fair, the Act does encourage energy storage and that should help somewhat with peak demand concerns. Care is needed as batteries do not give their best performance in cold temperatures. But in light of all the other changes that is a huge burden to place on technology at this stage of development.
The chart below shows the US typical resource generation by major energy source. Imagine how this chart will look as fossil fuel is phased out. Hydro only makes up about 6% of the mix and expansion there is limited. Nuclear could replace these resources but it is not great for ramping up and down to follow needle peaks. If wind and solar step up to replace fossil fuels this leave us vulnerable to energy shortages during winter peaks just before daybreak. Battery capability would need to be huge, expansive and probably would not be procured in advance of demonstrated needs.
It is frightening to imagine how to serve a vast winter system demand just before daybreak in the green future. But one more feature of the Clean Air Act helps raise concerns to an even higher level. The Inflation Reduction Act subsidizes heat pumps!
Heat pumps are attractive to the Inflation Reeducation Act for only one reason. They help reduce the demand for gas furnaces. Subsidies will be available in areas where today heat pumps are not considered practical. Today it doesn’t make sense to drive resistance heating with electricity generated from fossil fuels. It’s inefficient and environmentally unsound. However, you can theorize that if all electricity is green, inefficient electric heat is green too. Replacing natural gas heat with heat pumps is not a good idea when one considers their impact on the power system during winter peak conditions.
Under the Act’s subsidy provisions people who live in areas where heat pumps don’t make sense may decide to get them anyway with the subsidy. For example, if you live in a cooler area and you’ve gotten by without air conditioning, now your units can be subsidized and the resistance heat will be there for you in the winter too. Green advocates talk of shaping the load to better use resources, but that evidently can be quickly forgotten when other green objectives emerge. Putting in a bunch of heat pumps and building tremendous infrastructure to support their short-term demands is far from environmentally responsible.
Specific Blackout Prediction
With a lot of help from the Inflation Reduction Act, we will likely see these full set of conditions in many areas:
- Very cold pre-dawn extreme temperatures
- Backup quick start fossil fuel combustion turbines have been largely driven out of the resource mix,
- Nuclear, hydro and battery resources are tapped out
- Solar is absent from the distribution side and not available on the generation side
- Wind may or may not be blowing
- Heat pumps are operating maxed out in resistance mode, along with other resistive heating to drive system load to extreme heights
- As with every power system there will be a few problems on the system
- System will be forced to deliberately shed a lot of load or may go unstable and suffer crippling blackouts
To the extent as claimed by some, climate change is driving more extreme winter peaks in the near term, we may see this situation sooner than later. In any case green measures are driving us there with current historical weather patterns. Being without heat and power in extremely cold conditions is highly problematic for most individuals, businesses and industries.
What can be done to prevent such blackouts? Unfortunately, not much attention seems to have been paid to concerns of this sort. It might be argued we need vast surpluses of wind and storage (those not paying attention may argue we need more solar) to support winter load. The cost and environmental impact of these extra mostly underused resources would be large and prohibitive. This would be true weather the resources were wind, solar, batteries or nuclear. Keeping older already manufactured combustion turbines around for emergency conditions would be a much more reasonable means of mitigating risks. The additional environmental impacts of using something already manufactured and placed in service are small compared to building extensive new resources, no matter how green these resources may be claimed to be.
How do we encourage smart ways to provide emergency capacity? Current energy policies are seeking to direct as much money toward “green” resources and costs away from them. As discussed earlier, in Texas they are moving away from recognizing capacity value consistent with a trend towards energy only markets. I’m a big fan of markets, but they don’t do a good job of protecting against extreme conditions especially when no one has ultimate responsibility (except governmental entities) for ensuring load is served. Some measures would need to be employed to compensate for providing and ensuring combustion turbines are available for emergency conditions. But no one seems to be talking about such measures. The Inflation Reduction Act appears to be a single focus approach to a nuanced problem. Cut CO2 emissions and hope for great innovations. Reliability threats apparently are not on their radar, nor are they an articulated or contemplated concerns. It’s a shame because reduced reliability can wreak havoc on the economy and the environment.
Overall an excellent article. I would like to point out one error. You incorrectly label the heat pumps as ground sourced. A ground source heat pump uses a ground loop either in a vertical well or horizontal trench as a heat exchanger instead of outside air. The ground temperature remains almost constant so they don’t loose capacity like the air based heat pumps. They still may need additional resistive heat if not sized to handle the heat load at low temperatures.
On the air based heat pumps, it is not as much a reduction of efficiency at low temperatures as it is a reduction of capacity. There is simply less heat to extract as air temperature drops. This occurs as demand for heat increases. Heat pumps can be sized so this balance point occurs lower than 40 F, but 35 to 40 F is common.
I knew a man that drilled two wells, in a region that ground water did not migrate, the water was in sand. He ran a heat pump that sourced one well in summer and pumped the warmed water into the other well. He ran the heat pump in winter that sourced the warmed well and pumped the cooled water into the first well.
He has sold his land to developers and moved away.
Yes, I don’t know why I said ground source whe. I mean heat pump. My bad.
Judith fixed the heat pump problem for me. She is the best. Thanks again for pointing it out.
I have used ground souce heat pumps for about 30 years in two different houses. First was horizontal loop and it worked just like PE described. Now I have vertical loops and, importantly, propane backup heat.
It is not exactly correct to assume you don’t need backup heat in the north with ground source. The ground loop does cool off significantly in the depths of winter. I instrumented my ground loop and it will hover just above freezing in coldest parts of winter in Michigan.
I agree with PE on the larger issue. It is frustrating, heat pumps can make sense, but using electric backup heat doesn’t. It is expensive for the homeowner in the north and a disaster for the grid at high penetration anywhere.
Planning engineer – please explain synchronous & asynchronous and why it make a difference in the integration
Hi Joe – synchronous generators all run a synchronous speed and are effectively magnetically coupled to each other across a network and generate both real and reactive power and provide voltage control and inertial support. Wind turbines and solar inverters are asynchronous and are connected to the network but do not spin at synchronous speed. They generate energy when they are driven by their energy source to spin slightly faster than the network frequency. If you think of an induction motor it spins slightly slower than network frequency by an amount depending on the load applied. No synchronous network = no asynchronous generation.
From a piece here n Transmission Planning wind and Solar
Modern power grids are complex machines that require a near instantaneous balancing of various electro-mechanical properties. In the US, traditional generators provide three phase voltage and current sinusoidal waveforms that alternate 60 times per second. Every rotating generator within each of the “Interconnections” shown in the map above must be in synchronism with every other generator within that same Interconnection. While the voltage or current wave forms can lag or lead each other by a little bit, they can’t get us much as a whole cycle (1/60th of a second) behind or ahead of any other generator without causing a major system problem. A major problem would involve serious events which would include generation tripping off line and possibly including a collapse of at least some portion of the grid. Generators in Miami, Ontario, Kansas and New Orleans remain in synchronism around the clock with each other and over the years they don’t deviate in the number of turns by as much as a single1/60th of a second cycle. The power input from generators coupled with load characteristics and disturbance conditions makes it possible (likely) for electromechanical forces to begin oscillating and grow to destructive levels if the system is not carefully designed and operated.
Understanding this phenomenon involves challenging math, engineering and computer modelling that are hard to summarize. If you want to get more into the details you might check out these Lectures (part 2 and part 3) which unfortunately are about as good as any discussion on the topic that I’ve sat through.
The grid is built upon and supported by heavy rotating machinery. Synchronous spinning generators combine with power lines and loads to make up complex electro-mechanical machine that must maintains stability. Stability refers to the ability of the system to stay in synchronism, balance loads and generation and maintain voltages following system disturbances. Intermittent generation (wind/PV solar) does not rotate in synchronism with the grid. As such they do not have performance characteristics that support the grid as well as synchronously rotating generators (hydro, coal, gas, nuclear plants) do. The system must be able to ride out power imbalances caused by faults and outages. Greater penetrations of non-synchronous generators (inverters used for PV Solar and Wind) tend to make the system, all else equal, less stable. Without expensive additional equipment and the wasting of some power output, inverter control delivers power based on the performance of the PV solar or wind resource, not the needs of the grid. Synchronous generators on the other hand can naturally respond to grid conditions and work to support stability. This report by a NERC Task Force provides more detail.
I’m not sure that a lot of folks understand the inertia involved in a turbine supplying power in a fossil fuel plant nor why it is considered synchronous.
Imagine a huge rotating generator that weighs tons around an axis. This is not easy to stop or even slow down. Momentary disruptions won’t have much effect. The steam just keeps flowing. Not so on a windmill. The generators are much smaller an guess what? The wind stops so the generators slow down much quicker.
In addition to what Jim stated…most wind turbines are asynchronous by design so they cannot supply their mechanical energy to the grid. As Jim said, that mechanical energy is immediately available as electrical energy. That is fundamentally what a rotating sychronous generator is always doing, converting ME to electrical energy. This is no different than what inertia is in any other classical physical system model.
Clearly, going from just under 300 to just over 400 parts per million of CO2 added just a little more than adding one molecule of CO2 to Ten Thousand molecules of Atmosphere. That did not cause measurable warming. We just warmed out of the little ice age and this warm time is still the coldest warm time in the past ten thousand years.
The proper thing to do is the take the subsidy funding for the new green energy and divide out a significant amount of money to study history and data and the climate systems and figure out what caused past climate change before there was significant man-made CO2. Study, understand and teach proper climate change science. A huge percent of the people know the green energy changes are more harmful than useful.
China and India and Russia are using more and more coal for power as we use less, overall emissions are increasing and western countries suffer much harm while China and India and Russia bask in huge benefits.
Nature adds orders of magnitude more CO2 to the Atmosphere constantly, than man does and Nature removes orders of magnitude more CO2 from the Atmosphere constantly, than man does. Scientists have very little understanding of how to even guess how small our contributions are by comparison. China and India and Russia are going to continue to add more CO2 emissions, orders of magnitude more than we can ever capture and orders of magnitude more than our reductions.
China and India and Russia just laugh at us for our destruction of our power grids and manufacturing capabilities and all the evil we do to ourselves, only to benefit them.
Please read these two comments (addressed to others) which you should find informative
as well as my third (and latest) climate website at
I first encountered Lord Monckton’s work in London in the 90’s, and it is a great loss to the world that so admirable a shirt maker has since devolved into a climate crank.
Thanks for another interesting essay.
Minor point >”Residential customers are not charged for contributing to peak demand (the meters don’t measure that) ”
Actually (in Texas) the smartmeters do measure peak KW and report it in 15min intervals plus a separate KW reading showing the max peak KW event over the past 30 days. I think over 90% of all meters in ERCOT are zigbee radio smartmeters. The typical response time is less than 20 seconds to do a remote disconnect.
The #1 reason the natural gas distribution network failed was because they lost electrical power. The pumps, dryers and valves lost power in large part because only 10% had the paperwork on file at ERCOT it so they could not verify what priority loads were on the feeders and were dropped from the grid when they started to load shed. (It was the Texas Railroad Commission not ERCOT whose responsibility it was to police the natural gas infrastructure and make sure the paperwork was up to date.)
The deceptively name “Inflation Reduction Act” does allocate many billions of R&D dollars toward a wide array of technologies that will eventually lead us to a more sustainable economy. I will also note that there was a concerted effort to steer the benefits to the lower income groups with income limits and means testing. Due to its ‘Made In The USA’ mandate it will be several years before domestic manufacturing can ramp up so many of those heat pumps and solar panels will be several years till they are deployed.
Check out this 120V AC heat pump water heater!
This is also true in Arizona, at least in Arizona Public Service are of coverage. My rate has charges based on the peak hour of the month, and increased kWh rate during the peak 3 hours of each day (except weekends). Another rate leaves out the peak hour of the month, but has significantly higher kWh rates.
So our meters (read by radio, I presume Zigbee) do measure peaks, on at least an hourly basis.
Yes and the future of metering is likely near limitless as to what they will be able report, track and respond to. I think that may be a great thing – though opinions may be mixed. Did not mean to imply that some areas were already advancing, just describe the situation for coops in this part of the southeast,
…did not mean to imply that some areas were NOT already advancing….
Jack, your last paragraph outlines another reason it will fail – government driven, steering benefits = unsustainable….
Jack – the price on those 15a 120v rheem water heaters range from $1700-$2400 vs $600-$800 for 240v/20a water heaters .
as for those tax credits – remember those pesky supply and demand curves – those credits artificially shift the demand curve to the point that those credits benefit the seller, not the buyer in the form of the being able to command higher sales prices than would be achieved without the credits
Good article, Planning Engineer. I would not call them “emergency situations”, but general reliability requirements, emergencies being but one scenario. As currently configured almost everywhere, solar+batteries on their own would barely get us through a 24-hour period, under the fantasy of 100% renewable energy (the stated goal in many states). Adding batteries to provide for intermittent dysfunction would take up vast swaths of land in addition to panels and windmills, and here on Oahu in Hawaii (pop ~1 million) would cost tens of $billions. So yes, combustion turbines or whatever, preferably nuclear. But those things are not in the planning cycle of any municipality I can find. The default, to be discovered as renewable penetration continues, will be fossil-fuel fired generation. Say that in front of a climate activist and the usual retort is something like, “Tech will save us”. And airplanes will fly on hydrogen, ships will be powered by renewable electricity, long haul trucking will be electric, construction equipment, military, everything will be merrily humming along electrified by sun, wind, geothermal, hydro, and pixie dust.
In the worst case, a municipality achieves a high level of renewable supply, like over 50%. A tornado, hurricane, tropical storm, ice storm, or other weather event doesn’t just shut down solar and wind production, it destroys a good portion of it. If the municipality has been wise enough to maintain its fossil-fuel capability, once the grid is back up, the lights go on. But where are the new windmills and millions of solar panels, now lying in a heap, going to come from and how long before that system can be rebuilt? And since it is an emergency, at what cost? As seen in TX, relying on renewables as an essential source, that are not backed up, is a fools errand.
This series should be compulsory reading for every energy minister / energy regulator. I feel however they are so locked into the current path that the reality of a major system wide blackout will be required to get their attention… unfortunately with all the human and economic impacts.
I think most of them are liberal arts majors, minoring in political activism. I seriously doubt their ability to comprehend the economic harm being inflicted on the average citizen struggling to survive.
The German Economy Minister, responsible for energy, Robert Habeck I believe has a doctorate in philosophy and was a children’s book author.
In summary, politicians and activists are making decisions that were formerly made by engineers.
If you want engineers in the government, Clyde, you can always go to China.
Christian Lindner is FDP, which is more on the side Denizens usually omit to criticize. He did not finish mis master thesis on tax competition and revenue sharing.
His predecessor, Olaf Scholz, studied law, but he too went into politics too early so he got busy. The name should sound familiar.
I’m sorry, I respect your expertise, but I think your thinking is simply old-fashioned on this. I’ve worked in green energy policy as a public policy lawyer for 20 years now and I’ve seen time and again utilities, through their engineers and lawyers as mouthpieces, make similar arguments as you do here, and time and time again events have shown their objections to be wrong.
We are reaching higher and higher levels of variable renewables, battery storage (and other forms of storage), and EVs and distributed renewables like rooftop solar, and we are generally NOT seeing the problems you’re talking about. I live on the Big Island of Hawaii (though my policy work is mostly focused on California) and the Big Island has achieved 70% renewables penetration, including a large amount of solar and wind (and a good chunk of geothermal, which is baseload) and we are still functioning quite well, thank you very much.
CA is now at about 1/3 variable renewables and we’re doing quite well thank you (the blackouts last year were due to a software glitch mostly, not due to renewables or lack of generation).
You state that “green” blackouts are increasingly common around the world. Please cite a single peer-reviewed publication that demonstrates this statement.
A lawyer making energy policy. What could possible go wrong.
Aramis – I am sure you are a good lawyer . Let’s share a little about the big island in Hawaii and understand more than the 70% penetration level. Hawaii Electric operates over 180 mw of Oil Plants on the island. They also buy firm power from others which utilize oil. According to this Adequacy of Supply Report https://puc.hawaii.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Adequacy-of-Supply-HELCO-2022.pdf Hawai‘i Electric Light’s 2021 system peak on the island occurred on November 17, 1 at approximately 6:07 pm and was 193.9 MW-net based on system demand remaining after contribution from distributed generation. Hawai‘i Electric Light’s 2021 total firm generating capability of 259.7 MW-net includes 58 MW from Hamakua Energy LLC (“HEP”) and 24.0 MW from Puna Geothermal Venture (“PGV”). 2 The Hawai‘i Electric Light system had a generating reserve margin of approximately 33.9% over the 2021 system peak net demand based on firm generation resources. 3 This calculation does not include any variable generation sources (hydro, wind, solar) or demand response.
So, if most of your peak load can rely on your oil-based plants, you are buying from others who have oil/biodiesel generation and you end up with other sources that provide capacity in excess of 30% of your actual peak, not counting all the hydro, wind and solar on your system that also supply load you should be functioning quite well as you say. That seems like a bunch of redundancy. Furthermore, adding a bunch of wind and solar on top of that backbone of conventional generation and coming up with “interesting” definitions of penetration also should not degrade your reliability. Such efforts will raise your costs a lot and I suspect if you do a full review of all the environmental costs associated with all the generation resources on the big island you find these well intentioned but misguided efforts have placed you far from the norm compared to the rest of the US in adverse environmental effects on a kwh supplied basis. There is nothing to emulate here or nothing worthwhile about renewables demonstrated.
The 70% number (I find 60% on the Hawaiian Electric Website) seems to be derived by just adding all the potential generation from each renewable resource together and dividing that by the same number plus the resources considered non-renewable) By that definition I am not concerned about the reliability impacts from increasing that number as long as it is done by adding extra generation versus reducing conventional generation. As noted-that’s a costly thing to do. Dividing MWH of total energy from Renewables by total energy is a better measure than total capability. But I was really thinking in terms of Capacity value, not energy value.
Basing penetration claims on overbuilt capacity is misleading at best.
One of the things not often pointed out is that different grids have different load patterns and also different resources. One size does definitely NOT fit all. For instance, my understanding is that snow and even frosts are quite rare on the populated parts of the Big Island and therefore winter peaking loads are significantly less than summer loads. Consequently any discussion of the impact of declining efficiency of heat pumps under cold conditions on the local grid is probably not relevant. I also note that the various generation companies in Hawaii are really struggling at the moment to meet their financial goals due to backup generation costs.
What is worth mentioning is that the necessary planning process under a high R.E. environment is quite different to that required for a traditional grid. In particular, you must include the impact of weather on generation assets and not just on load profiles as is currently done. This requires completely new skill sets / data analysis / planning models than are currently the practice in most planning departments that I am aware of. Certainly, from reading the typical published academic literature, universities are also a long, long way from being capable of commenting intelligently on specific R.E. grids due to both a lack of practical knowledge and lack of access to the required highly specific models.
It’s certainly true that in the past many traditional electrical engineers have doubted that grids can reliably bear a penetration of more than about 25% asynchronous generation and they have been shown to be very wrong in their pessimism. However, there is a big difference between 40% and 90% and an even bigger difference between 90% and 95% in terms of both cost.
Yes the New England ISO recently put out a report that goes into some detail on the lack of modeling software to accurately handle significant penetration. (The term penetration starts to look a bit literal when it is damaging!)
PJM has asked for a two year moritorium on new grid scale solar because they cannot assess the impact. A new study looking at hour by hour renewables generation versus demand finds impossible storage needs. Existing models cannot do hour by hour. In fact it is impossible to predict because weather is chaotic.
We are flying blind into darkness.
My California electricity rates are 50% above the national average. I would not consider that great news or “doing well.”
Aramis, for a lawyer you seem to be unusually impressionable. In your comment at Part i of this article, you promised “a virtuous cycle of ever-decreasing costs.” Write more about the Little Red Riding Hood.
As a lawyer, I’m sure you can afford electricity at just about any price, however …
Excluding rooftop solar, Hawai’i residential consumers pay an average of about 37 cents for a kilowatt-hour of electricity. Taking refrigerators, water heaters, stoves, air conditioning and other uses into account, the average Hawai’i household uses about 18.5 kWh each day, for a monthly bill of about $205.
Average electricity price for residential, commercial, and industry
That’s a lot, between three and four times the average price on the mainland, and by far the highest price of any state. Thankfully, high electricity prices hurt a little less here than on the mainland, because our mild climate means we don’t have heating bills and we can usually get by without air conditioning.
Since that article was written, electricity rates are even higher, and now the price varies by the time of use:
Oahu Maui Lanai Molokai Hawaii Island
September 2022 Off-Peak 49.5 51.8 61.5 58.3 57.2
Mid-Day 30.5 29.4 37.4 33.2 23.6
On-Peak 57.3 53.1 65.4 58.4 63.8
Schedule R 44.5 42.5 52.2 48.5 45.0
August 2022 Off-Peak 47.8 54.0 66.9 66.8 60.4
Mid-Day 28.8 31.6 42.8 41.7 26.8
On-Peak 55.5 55.4 70.8 66.9 67.0
Schedule R 42.7 44.7 57.7 57.0 48.2
July 2022 Off-Peak 46.5 51.9 66.9 66.0 60.2
Mid-Day 27.5 29.5 42.8 40.9 26.6
On-Peak 54.2 53.3 70.8 66.1 66.8
Schedule R 41.5 42.6 57.7 56.2 48.0
Seems like with all that “green” energy, prices would be lower as promised by the Green Energy Extremists. Funny how those rosy predictions never work out. See Europe for an even more dramatic example of the failure of Green Energy Extremist policy. Because of that policy, they don’t have enough locally source fossil fuels!
CA may be at 1/3 renewables in terms of their generation, but not in terms of their usage. They sell their excess renewable capacity to AZ and other states at very cheap rates (pretty much give it away). They buy coal power from AZ and other states at premium rates when they can not meet demand. When you look at them as a state it is one thing, but they do not operate as a state, or they would have more problems than they already have. They already have rolling blackouts at times when the other states that they rely on are using their capacity for their own state, and do not have excess power to sell to CA at exuberant prices. Most states are connected to the grid which includes other states so you have to be careful when stating anything about a particular state that ignores the other participants.
I respect your insight in the area of climate modeling and climate science, but when it comes to more engineering problems like the one the article attempts to address, I think the thoughts are short sighted. There are a few factual errors some have already pointed out on “ground” source heat pumps and peak demand consumption measurement. High renewable penetration has been possible in several countries, no denial that there are challenges, but not show stoppers. There is technology needed to address peak demands. Some of the areas not noted about the inflation reduction act is the support to improve technologies in the area of geothermal and small modular reactors. There are meant to address baseload issues. There are also alternative grid scale storage technologies being looked at other than lithiun based ones and there are a plethora of technologies being developed. Again, in summary, climate change is a “show stopper”, the technologies that address it are not.
Very good article — well done! Further discussion about challenges and opportunities with residential space heating are outlined in this report
Just to make a change I arrive here via a link from a “professional” thread on LinkedIn.
As luck would have it I’ve been blogging about related issues here in the once Great Britain:
“If an emergency power cut is implemented, customers in certain parts of the country would typically be without power for around three hours per day during the emergency.”
The thing is, over on this side of the pond our Government has been getting ever more “right wing” for the last decade and more!
Thanks for this excellent article. But could someone please copy edit it to fix the sentence splices, syntax errata and missing words?
Great idea. I write these things on my cell phone between pickleball games, exercise classes, volunteer work and other activities. Not quite, but close, I need all the help I can get. Heck, I missed that the title of my last piece had a suggestive connotation until a couple days after publication. I think that these posts convey very important concerns and deserve the attention of more than one individual whose time, generosity and enthusiasm are not boundless. I write about things that I don’t see other experts covering (I guess because there are no personal incentives to cover them.) I think I am mining gems, but would greatly appreciate it if others would help shape and polish. Hopefully they are seeds that will get picked up and put in showtime ready format. I am glad to help with that process. It would be more rewarding as a collaborative activity.
Ironically the IRA might actually disrupt or damage the renewables subsidies, or even the projects. It requires that all contractors and subcontractors pay union wages. Moreover the buyers of the credits bear the big noncompliance risk.
See my https://www.cfact.org/2022/08/23/renewables-subsidy-chaos-coming/
It would be very funny indeed if the glorious IRA shut down renewables development. That is true overreaching.
Not only does winter cold peak before sunrise, most people are up cooking, bathing and turning the heat up. A perfect storm of energy usage.
However blackouts often occur during off peak because a lot of capacity is shut down for maintenance. Unexpected cloudy days could cause blackouts, for example.
Betting on chaotically unpredictable weather is sure to lose.
Good afternoon David (UTC).
“Betting on chaotically unpredictable weather is sure to lose.”
What evidence do you have for your apparently confident assertion?
Jim – the evidence of chaotic unpredictable weather is quite obvious and the dangerous reliance on the creation of greater instability in the grid – at least quite obvious to anyone who is familiar with the chaotic nature of the weather.
See the attached link to the Energy Information Association data, Specifically the electric generation by energy source. Spent some time studying the supply side of the renewable generation then compare and contrast the supply with demand. Two things are quite noticable
A) the wild swings in electric generation from renewables, especially wind,
B) the great mismatch of the timing of supply with the timing of demand. Assuming that electric generation from wind can be control (LOL), the mismatch in timing is typically 4-8 hours every day.
Jacobson is claiming a 4 hour battery backup is sufficient. That is not even taking into account the 3-4 day doldrum of wind that occurs on the average once a month.
please reply after you have spent some time reviewing the source data provided by the link
Jacobson treats each wind farm as an independent random variable, so gets lots of wind all the time. The reality is that huge stagnant high pressure systems create many days of low to no wind on semi-continental scales. Even worse on the East Coast these highs, called Bermuda highs, also bring our heat wavest. Maximum demand with no wind power.
It is models all the way down ..
Who are you going to believe ?
1) the experts such Marc Jacobson who have published multiple peer reviewed studies
2) individuals that have actual real time experience
Isn’t there an option 3 Joe?
3) actual experts who have actual real time experience.
That certainly rules out guys like jacobson , breyer, etc
Fairy Nuff Joe,
That category includes me then, albeit in the context of the once United Kingdom.
I agree that Marc Jacobson’s analyses leave much to be desired. Here for your edification is my ancient official objection to a proposed solar PV “farm” on arable land in Devon:
Anything there you’d quibble with?
Afternoon Joe (UTC),
Has the cat got your tongue?
I think the chaotic nature (that is subject to nonlinear dynamics and extreme sensitivity to initial conditions) of weather is pretty well established. This makes weather intrinsically unpredictable from one to ten days out, depending on the situation. Of course many people still do long term predictions, there being no money in unpredictability.
Evenin’ David (UTC),
If we assume for the moment that “the chaotic nature of weather is pretty well established”, what has that got to do with Planning Engineer’s point in his OP that (e.g.) “The real problem was that the Texas market did not provide incentives for standby resources.”?
He’s pointing the finger at “the Texas market”, not “the chaotic weather”?
Nothing per se. I was responding to the point about Jacobson’s misleading storage claims.
I agree with PE that lack of a capacity market created the Texas fiasco. Note that the presence of capacity markets sets the stage for huge price spikes as renewable penetration increases. We may get spikes instead of blackouts.
Afternoon David (UTC),
In which case perhaps a radical rethink of energy markets is required, both in the US and worldwide?
What do you (and PE, and Judith?) make of “Transactive Energy” for example?
Another great and informative post.
Without having read this and your other articles, an interview I saw yesterday would have passed without a second thought.
A CEO of a large and well known brand said he just left a conference where one of the speakers asserted that eventually solar will be almost cost free. (My paraphrase)
He was not the least bit skeptical and was encouraged by that future prospect. I wonder if the other high profile CEOs accepted that conclusion as readily as he apparently did.
Somewhat related. My son has worked on Wall Street for over 25 years. While he was home recently, I asked him about his colleagues views of global warming. Specifically, I asked what percentage of warming did he think they would attribute to CO2. I expected a reply like “They think it’s a joke “ or “Not much”. Surely these well educated people, including some Ivy Leaguers, who were analytically inclined, would not fall for the claims of CAGW.
Wrong. He said they would probably say attribution of 90% AGW.
Somehow, I might have been misreading the room. A top CEO buying into costless solar and a bunch of Wall Street geniuses getting sucked in to the establishment narrative, just like your garden variety schmuck.
Solar is cheap – when the sun shines.
Solar is not cheap and you have to spend all the money upfront, very capital intensive.
Another way to look at it would be to value solar by its lifetime production. My PV system costs $14,700 (in 2012 dollars) and the 10yr treasury was yielding 2.5% at the time. Ten years later… my solar panels have generated 103 MWh and I have a $1,840 credit balance on my electric bill. Looking forward, my PV array should generate over 220 MWh by the end of the warranty in 2037. So the calculation looks like it will cost me a little over $0.06 KWh over the lifetime of the investment.
Solar can be a good deal if you are expecting higher energy costs which feeds into even more general inflation. The trick will be replacing the old panels at the same cost per watt in 2037. The panels efficiency has gone from .14% to .22% in the last ten years so maybe Moore’s Law will keep the price down in real terms.
Jack, it should be 14% and 22%.
I might have been a little conservative on that 22% number though.
“SHANGRAO, China, Oct. 13, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — JinkoSolar Holding Co., Ltd. (“JinkoSolar” or the “Company”) (NYSE: JKS), one of the largest and most innovative solar module manufacturers in the world, today announced that it has achieved a major technical breakthrough for its 182 mm high-efficiency N-type monocrystalline silicon solar cell. JinkoSolar has set a new record again with the maximum solar conversion efficiency of 26.1% for its 182 mm and above large-size monocrystalline silicon TOPCon solar cell. This result has been independently confirmed by the National Institute of Metrology, China (“NIM”).”
Sure does save on the number of panels you need. I have 28 ground mounted panels but with these I could have done it with 16.
“… eventually solar will be almost cost free.”
That was essentially the promise made for electricity by those promoting nuclear reactors. We know how that turned out.
Do have a citation for that promise?
The usual urban legend refers to a 1954 speech by Lewis Strauss, Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, at the Founder Day Dinner of the National Association of Science Writers. He was describing a large range of wildly speculative future technologies he expected in 15 years – curing disease, ending famine and old age – appropriate for after dinner fun with science writers. He didn’t give specifics (e.g., mentioning nuclear power).
My guess is that he was referring to fusion, which was hot at that time. The first fully successful h-bomb was 2 years before. The first experiment to achieve controlled thermonuclear fusion was 4 years later.
Reminds me of a pinned note in an office I had just inherited. It said:
“An engineer knows some about one thing; an Executive Officer knows nothing about everything”
The average grid is clearly a complex structure that has evolved to accommodate each addition and modification. But usually, although the source of energy changes, the grid still sees a rotating turbine. I can see that solar or wind delivers a different input and this can be a source of instability, quite apart from the intermittency.
This essay has been extremely useful but there is one aspect that I cannot estimate. That is the penetration by wind. I realise that each situation is different but I’m looking for ballpark figures. I just want some idea of the the wind power the UK grid might expect to use without problems and and at what level they might expect to encounter grid stability problems.
I am a sceptic and a realist. I am not impressed by renewables but I respect the truth. If windpower can (surprisingly) be tolerated to a high degree then I would rather hear that from you than one of the many unreliable commentators.
Thank you if you can help.
Good question. Hard to answer. The system need inertia for stability and the more evenly spread it is the better. If concentrated in two ends of the system you can get a see saw effect where they oscillate off beat from each other. Nuclear and hydro can have high inertia. Coal more so than natural gas.
Way back in the 80s I was developing nomagrams (charts) which had flows on various lines between areas (where inertia was concentrated) and bars base on magnitude of inertia to determine how large transfers might be without risking instability. The more inertia, the larger the inter-regional flows allowed. There were particular generating units that would allow you more or less transfer if they were in or not. Back then everything was on economic dispatch so we knew generally which units would be in and out at various load levels. Wind takes away that predictability.
There are other measures of system strength like short circuit MVA. In locating something like a Steele mill which makes large demands that change near instantaneously you want to locate them in areas with high values of short circuit mva. This is usually close to lots of big hydro, coal or nuclear plants the more closely connected the better. Other parts of the system they would pull it down.
So I’d say strong systems areas can handle likely handle a bit of wind. Weaker less so. What generation they replace on the system is critical as well.
One problem is in Texas and other areas wind gets priority to run whenever it wants. Gas plants which need to be on line will pay to contribute energy to the grid in times of oversupply, while wind gets paid. If wind could be curtailed when it’s not helpful or would be a lot easier for operators. No one should speak in generalities but if you could curtail wind when it threatened the system I wouldn’t be alarmed hearing it made up 20% or maybe a bit more of generation. Not sure if that too conservative or risky. Key to me would be to have a good track record with increasing amounts.
Just remembered this post says a lot of the same stuff. https://judithcurry.com/2015/05/07/transmission-planning-wind-and-solar/
While cost to users obviously depends on cost of fuel, my impression is that operating cost for gas furnace heating of homes, offices, etc. has, so far, been considerably less than heat pump heating. Is this not true?
One aspect of heat pump heating I’ve never seen discussed is its use in dense urban area such as many apartment complexes, office buildings, stores, etc. within close proximity to each other, as is the modern trend in so many places. Any method which generates it own heat doesn’t depend on the heat content of the atmosphere, in fact adds to it. However, if humans are only subtracting energy from the atmosphere via heat pumps, is it possible there will not be enough outside heat to supply everyone, even when the weather provides conditions generally favorable for heat pump operation?
I realize that the pumped in heat eventually get back outside again but under the conditions of high demand on a cold winter morning, might demand exceed supply?
If I recall my ‘thermo’ correctly 3/4 of the heat supplied by the heat pump is the electricity it consumes and 1/4 from the outside. It is a lot of heat. The question is ‘how fast is it being lost?’
That points a finger at housing design. What I have observed over the years, proper design went out of the window to be replaced by the heat pump. The reversible heat pump made the consideration of design unimportant, as long as electricity was relatively cheap. That may now change.
The history of electricity is shorter than a century. Older buildings, or better places of habitation, paid greater effort on the matter of maintaining livable temperatures. For example below ground level was always more stable temp wise, and it worked for both heat and cold.
The efficiency of a heat pump is highly dependent on the temperature of the heat source. About 300 percent with a warm heat source and much less as heat source cools off…which it inevitably does.
Remember a heat pump just moves energy from one place to another.
Great essay, but I do believe you’ve overlooked another early morning winter power draw. Everyone wants to take a long hot shower with water heated by a resistive load on the grid.
I have a question on heat pumps switching to resistive heating. One of my (Scottsdale, AZ, USA) AC units is two-way heat pump – i.e. it uses the heat pump to heat, and more often, to cool. This is pretty common here.
But, it is not unusual for the nighttime winter temperature here to drop below 40F at night, sometimes below 30F. I am not aware of any resistive heating elements in my heat pump system, but it heats my home on those cold nights.
So is the heat pump handling those low temperatures (obviously at much lowered efficiency) or is there a resistive heating element somewhere in my system, such as out at the heat pump where I wouldn’t notice it?
And finally, as always, thanks to A Planning Engineer for his many postings to this blog. As an EE with no background in electrical generation, transmission or distribution, I find them very useful.
Heat pump efficiency reportedly drops around 40 degrees but still does work as a heat pump as temperatures get colder. Technically it “works at very low temperatures, but not very well. They are programmed at some point to kick into resistive heating. If it didn’t it would continue to add heat to your home at low efficiency but not fast enough to keep you comfortable. I don’t know if that’s a factory set or the installer sets it based on home size or other factors.
I have never heard of one without resistive heat but that’s possible. I have never noticed the resistive elements but would guess they are by the vents, blowers where I change filters. I don’t think they are by the outside unit. On my thermostat there is a light that comes on when it’s in resistive mode (plus my smart app now tells me). I think that’s usually around 25 degrees. Dryer air, or a better pump, home size, brand, humidity may have resulted in yours having a different cut point.
Thinking more about it, I wonder if it shifts into resistance mode at a specific temperature calculated in advance or if it’s smart enough to only kick in only if it’s not making enough progress keeping the desired temperature. The later seems preferable.
I had an air source that switched based on outside temperature. My ground loop one switches when it can’t keep up. Just basic control system operation…it’s running but house is slowly cooling off it shifts to backup heat. Which for me is propane furnace.
As stated my backup is propane. It’s just a control scheme like any other control system it could start a bank of resistance heaters but for me it starts a propane furnace. When it was installed I insisted it be propane.
doug – I presume you live in a rural area (or city ) where there is not natural gas
fwiw – I have several cousins in MN & WI who use outdoor hot water boiler – takes one to four logs a day depending on how cold it gets.
Yes, in SW lower Michigan. There are plenty of towns and cities around with ng, I just don’t live in one of them. I also have a generator that uses the propane tank source. Big advantage is I can fill the propane tank once a year at summer prices. I previously used 200 gallons per month when propane was primary heat, now I use about 200 gallons per year.
I have installed a/c units and lived in Arizona for a very long time.
I have never seen nor installed one with resistive heat elements in it for a residential home. Sure the temperatures can get low, but not for very long. In Northern AZ things are different (and they install water lines properly below the frost depth and use furnaces for heating), but in Scottsdale the temperatures being below freezing for long enough to freeze water would be catastrophic. In every house in the PHX valley that I have ever examined the water comes up outside the house, then penetrates the building at a foot or two above the ground. If it ever got cold enough to freeze those pipes, they would at the best shut off water to your house, and at the worst the pipes would freeze and break. Go outside and look! You are talking apples and oranges to compare what the planning engineer is used to in his part of the country and Scottsdale which is in the middle of a desert. Even in Apache Junction where I used to live which is at a higher elevation than Scottsdale, I could get some frost on my windshield in the morning, but never enough to freeze my pipes which are not installed correctly to deal with such temperatures for more than a very short time. Is your statement correct that it can get to as low as 30 degrees? Yes. But the fact that it does not stay at that value long enough to freeze water in a 3/4″ copper pipe (which is fairly standard for the area) should tell you something about how long that lasts.
Planning engineer … another great piece. You hit the bullseye with your comments on misuse of heat pumps. I live in Northern Arizona where the average low in Nov (29), Dec (23), Jan (24), Feb (26), Mar (31) would seem to indicate that a heat pump is not the proper choice. Yet, last winter, when my control board went out on my old 125/100BTU NG furnace the HVAC company tried to sell me on a heat pump. The cost was subsidized. I tried to explain to him how this wasn’t the area for heat pumps, but he said the resistive element would be fine for what he said would be rare circumstances. I had him replace the control board. And I’ll replace every other part, if and when needed, before I go to a heat pump. Of course, I would replace the entire unit, but only with a high efficient NG unit. It’s amazing how the subsidies have distorted the HVAC trade.
Bill – For those that understand the supply and demand curves from micro economics, Most of the subsidized tax credit benefits go to the seller, not the buyer even though the buyer is the individual that gets his income tax reduced by the amount of the credit. the reason the seller is the one that actually benefits is that the credit artificially shifts the demand curve upward whereby the buyer is willing to pay the higher price since he gets the tax credit.
Joe … Understood. But regardless of who benefits more, my point was the market is distorted. In the end that doesn’t benefit anyone.
Bill – i concur – it distorts the market and retards better solutions
Power Quality is a subject that never seems to come up regarding adding inverters, even smart inverters, to the power grid. Non-linearity (from switching semiconductor devices) is a significant power quality issue. This inherently introduces more losses in the power system and shortens the lifetime of transformers among other negatives.
Good point. That could have been an enumerated item in Part 1. Big synchronous generators help with smoothing and maintain nice wave forms.
Just the opposite of the evolution of diesel technology where the byproducts of combustion – small particle particulate and NOx -have been removed from the exhaust.
Everything Biden and Europe have done has ensured high energy prices in the future. Clearly OPEC+ know that the IRA mean higher energy prices. Until there is assurance of competitive supply alternatives in the future, this dynamic will persist.
Genuine threat of real production & capacity increases are necessary to put pressure on OPEC+. It is also are necessary to give credibility to an eventual switch away from fossil fuels. What governments are pushing as alternatives just isn’t credible, otherwise production would be up.
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Planning engineer – can you comment of the attached report and the validity of the conclusion. Seems the authors are a little more confident of the stability of a wind/solar based system.
A little rushed now, is this the same study we talked about in comments on part 1? I liked Clays comments. Copied below:
PAUL | October 7, 2022 at 2:17 pm | Reply
Hi Planning Engineer, could you comment on the effectiveness including cost effectiveness of using specialized inverters to help wind and solar provide essential grid services.
Aplanningengineer | October 7, 2022 at 9:47 pm | Reply
Paul – you need someone more specialized. I hope technological improvements with these approaches will help. Quick scan of the report indicates this is pretty preliminary. I may have missed things and may be too hash, but this is my initial take. Some indication of what “works” but not really how well. No idea of costs for extra capability to be there all the time but only used for grid services. standby wind is wasted 24/7 except for service, rotating machines can exceed their average capability for the bursts that are needed by the system. standby wind is wasted.
I would like to see a real proof of concept type study, I’ve been retired for a number of years and they was a lot of talk before I retired about wind emulating essential grid services. So this early stage analysis tells me progress is slow. Challenges are big. But someday. Maybe. In theory.
Chris Morris | October 8, 2022 at 8:53 pm |
From my understanding of wind providing grid support functions, the proposal was that they be held back and only generate at about 80% of the load they could do with that wind force. Then they could go up to full load if they sensed the frequency was dropping. Several problems with this proposal. It was only a paper study – no understanding of voltage regulation and inertia. If the wind wasn’t blowing, 20% of nothing is nothing. And they wanted to be paid for running their machines underloaded all the time.
So it was invariably written by academics with no practical experience of grid or generation.
The CAISO test was an actual test using a wind farm. However, it was using GE turbines which are not common. I am not sure that the major suppliers on the market have plant with the required characteristics and equipment – the others are built very cheaply so their generators are crude.
The last point of the conclusion is telling “The project team considered testing the capability of the Tule WPP to provide synthetic inertia; however, this test was not completed because of the cost and labor required to upgrade controls in all 57 turbines at the plant. In addition, the project team did not
view the inertial response from wind power as an essential service at the present time because the Western Interconnection does not anticipate an inertia deficiency in the
near future. When this test is completed in the future, an addendum to this report will be published.”
The fact that this proposal did not go into grid rules tells one that there were undocumented issues.
PAUL | October 9, 2022 at 1:12 am |
Thank you for your and Chris’s replies.
I think the study does show that wind and solar could provide essential grid services when running slightly curtailed and with the control equipment. I don’t know the extra cost of that equipment but balance of systems have been the bulk of the installation cost for solar projects for a while so I think it might already be somewhat accounted for in the Levelized cost of Energy.
Your post got me trying to find recent data. A couple of charts were informative.
1. California has too much solar and has been struggling with negative prices mid day for years now. Policy changes seem to be helping to improve things slightly. See negative pricing tab here.
2. I checked the real time price yesterday at noon California time.
The cost was generally $50/MWHr throughout CAISO but it was -$10/MWHr throughout Utah. It made me think that CAISO was paying Utah to take their spare capacity. CAISO readily admits that they have been trying to manage overcapacity by sending it to nearby states during the day.
3. I think the most telling graph was graph 10 from this report.
I think it agrees with what you wrote. Additional solar is not cost effective on the grid after only a few percent penetration. California is totally overboard. It should have stopped adding solar capacity in 2014 and that even with the LCOE falling by a factor of 3 since then.
Chris Morris | October 10, 2022 at 1:09 am |
I don’t think you can say slightly curtailed. They were looking at 10-20% load drop of rating to give reserve. Doesn’t sound that much, except the plant is often only running 30-40% of rating.
All the LCOE costs I have seen take no account into control, transmission lines or the cost to the grid to put in equipment to cover the lines going from heavily loaded to light or no load. Those factors there make wind a lot more expensive than gas or even coal plants.
PE – different reports though with similar optimistic (possibly over optimistic)
Your comments/ pauls/chris etc are quite helpful
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It is interesting to see so much diversification in the design of wind capture devices from giant motionless grids to vibrating poles designed to deal with maintenance, noise issues and dangers to raptors etc.from standard turbines.
However none of these innovative products are designed to overcome the big problem of energy storage (“the battery”) that really could change everything and make our current generators and national grids even better with greater efficiency meaning less harmful emissions even from fossil fuel.use for the same energy output and much less wasted energy. And the other issue with these designs is they all use fossil fuel sourced materials …
Shouldn’t much of this energy be directed to solving the electricity storage problem rather than fill the market with products that all share the same blemish – what do you do when the weather is calm?
Is this an admission that the evolution of battery technology is getting nowhere fast? Isn’t it time to really ramp up nuclear?
Storage is a ridiculous dream since neither wind nor solar produce power even half the time. Nuclear is okay but coal is good too.
The only question is what will it take to wake?
China now controls most of the battery market (including some US patents!?).
“The world’s largest vanadium redox flow battery (VRFB) has been connected to the grid in Dalian, China, where it was built using technology patented in the United States…
It took six years and more than 15 million taxpayer dollars for the scientists to uncover what they believed was the perfect vanadium battery recipe. Others had made similar batteries with vanadium, but this mix was twice as powerful and did not appear to degrade the way cellphone batteries or even car batteries do. The researchers found the batteries capable of charging and recharging for as long as 30 years.”
Flow batteries look promising, and the US should build some and refine the technology, as an ace in the hole. But for now, we have plenty of oil and natural gas here in the US. We just need to government to leave market forces alone and let the most efficient energy technology supply us.
Just wait for liquid gas prices next year, Jim. Euros are already bidding on your reserves. They need it. Yours is dirt cheap and overly subsidized.
You will love market forces.
Willard – Oil and gas is “subsidized” by the same tax structure that governs all mining companies. To call the tax structure a “subsidy” belies your political bias.
Its legal but is it honest?
The story of Lexington Coal is the story of almost every resource extraction industry…
“Coal producers legally must restore damaged land, but some are dodging obligations”
“What it meant was that Alpha could wash its hands of the responsibility to clean up the land no matter what happened later. The two companies talked about a five-year plan to accelerate reclamation. Well, it’s been five years. Lexington hasn’t cleaned up many of these mines, and it’s unclear if they even have the money to do it. Meanwhile, they’re racking up more environmental violations this year than almost any other company in the country. But the deal’s worked out great for Alpha. The price of coal has skyrocketed, and the company’s stock is up more than 700%.”
There are always exceptions, Jack. And I haven’t heard the other side of the story, so there’s that.
Some mining companies know how to play the game. Earlier this year Peabody coal cut a deal to put solar panels on some of their abandoned mines and dumped the reclamation costs onto the utility rate payers. The stock has doubled.
Be on the lookout for the next big scam – AKA “The Hydrogen Revolution”.
“94 million tonnes of grey and black hydrogen made from unabated natural gas and coal — the “bad stuff”, as he put it — were produced each year, emitting 830 million tonnes of carbon, and that these figures were still rising.
“Before we position hydrogen as the solution to climate change, we first have to deal with hydrogen as a problem in climate change,” he explained.
Just replacing this dirty hydrogen — used mainly in chemicals production and oil refining — with green H2 made from renewable energy would require 143% of all the wind and solar installed globally to date, Liebreich said.”
Jack – given we’ve been using coal for about 2,000 years, given that you think it’s so horrible, it’s amazing civilization has advanced to the point it has, eh?
I personally think the fixation on CO2 distracts us from the wider and more difficult problem of not having our technology screw up the global chemical and energy balances. We are the apex predator so its up to us.
Here’s some more crazy technology that could irradiate entire ecosystems.
I believe that Highview Power, which has a very optimistic view of its liquid-air storage technology, is located in the UK.
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Another question when it comes to wind/solar stability, how readily available will those house size batteries be when one or more go bad? How long to get back on line?
Off topic but fun:
COP27 — Hopeless hopeful money will dominate the discussion
By David Wojick
The beginning: “The UN’s annual climate change global negotiating festival — in this case COP27 in Egypt — is less than a month away. This one could be a real hoot to watch because there is only one big issue left on the table and that is MONEY.
Lots of money, many trillions by the wishes, all flowing from the developed world to the “developing” world. (Since the so-called developing world still includes the super economy of China the word has lost all meaning.)
The money hopes are spectacular but also hopeless, hence the show. How this immense absurdity will emerge during the lucky 13 days of negotiations between the rich countries and the we-want-your-riches countries should be fun to watch.
Here is a simple scorecard so you can follow the action. First and foremost the code word is “finance”. This is not foreign aid and you will never hear that term used. The deliberately vague understanding is that the developed countries caused the climate crisis so they are obligated to somehow help the developing countries deal with it.”
Lots more in the article. Please share it.
Enjoy the show!
I’d love to have hear some comments on the possibility of storing energy as hydrogen via ammonia. I’ve read a couple of articles. Storing hydrogen is very expensive and dangerous, and cheaper alternative is storing it via ammonia which is cheaper, safer, but less efficient. Has anyone encountered this and able to comment on it in more detail?
I have found that emerging technologies often sounds very good but only pan out less that 10% of the time in the hoped for time frame. Superconductor technology was really close some years back. As I understood it there there was a small hurdle to overcome and all the experts were very optimistic. But what seemed like a minor hitch was impacted the fundamental physics of superconductivity. On the other hand, sometimes a work around emerges for an imagined insurmountable hurdle (fracking).
Cold fusion, flow batteries, cold climate heat pumps, emulated reliability services, hydrogen energy, hydrogen/ammonia storage, tidal generation, micro stirring engines. Space solar all to early for me to trust what I happen to think about them, other than it will likely be awhile. I don’t hunk hopes for these should impact energy policy,
In he middle we have technologies which have been demonstrate but work less well then expected (you might guess what I think those are) and technologies like nuclear which we make harder than it should be and judge too harshly.
Space solar seems technologically easy, but politically tough because it would be so easy to militarize. Microwaving communities would probably become the new school shooting.
They would probably connect the space mirror to the Internet of Things. What could go wrong?
Yes, tongue in cheek because I doubt any of these activities will cool the planet, but if the inflation reduction act were to reduce temperatures, that too would make things worse, in the scenario outlined above.
Pity that these policies do not address the facts:
1. CO2 at this time at these levels is not in control of climate and
2. We are not in control of CO2.
It’s a recipe for disaster.
We will now hear from the devout. Enter stage left.
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I was thinking about Germany and the coming winter so much that I forgot about New England. This article has interesting points about the Jones Act and the inadequacy of pipe lines in the Northeast. The article leaves out that NY State had opportunities to expand NG pipelines and frack in the Marcellus Shale, but Andrew Cuomo put the kabash on both.
Where has Ireneuwz been? We could use an update on the winter forecast for New England and Europe.
All this will be irrelevant by about 2025 when the correct physics becomes known worldwide I predict. It’s in nine languages at http://climate-change-theory.com
For the correct physics in nine languages visit https://climatescience.homesteadcloud.com/
Thank you. Interesting.
Planning engineer, I am wondering if you could comment further on asynchronous and synchronous systems. We have in the UK a number of ways of monitoring power sources. We are also connected to the Europe wide grid, and we occasionally import and export energy.
There is quite a lot of wind capacity, and there have been a few times when wind has provided more than 50% of energy to the grid. (As an aside: I am interested in this because I have investments that are linked to environmental and socially responsible companies. It turns out that most companies that fit these criteria are better run and more profitable anyway.)
I’d like to be able to characterise how further dependence on wind or solar sources may cause difficulties with the rest of the grid (or not). I rather suspect that being connected to a very large grid means that balancing is easier, and wind, tidal and solar start to make a bit more sense. It may not be windy in one place, but it might be in another part of Europe. Likewise, sun.
How much would transmission losses factor?
Why is it that UK seems to manage such diverse power generation if there is such difficulty in incorporating them into a grid?
Or have we reached some sort of limit before it starts to become ever more difficult as per your Sysiphean analogy?
What technology is used to match synchronous and asynchronous sources? Are they particularly expensive or unreliable or inefficient?
The UK has already suffered power cuts and near misses but they seldom make it as reports in the public domain because of MSM biases.
There was a public report about a power cut in August 2018 which was said to be caused by an electric storm in the North Sea which affected millions of people from loss of power at work, home, on transport networks.and infrastructure generally. As is always the case this was a random set of events which led to a power outage of some duration. In 2018 there were other unreported disruptions in London which were of shorter durations and did attract MSM attention and I dare say this is true in other UK locations.
Planning engineer’s theory that these random events will happen more frequently with greater reliance on wind and solar seems entirely logical and even now the UK has more expensive but less reliable elecricity. How can that be an efficient and effective improvement in grid provision and security?
This winter may be a very real test for Europe in general and a lot of investors will have their fingers crossed. Meanwhile MSM will not be reporting casualties and deaths from hypothermia (et cetera) in the same way they kept on and are still keeping on about SARS-CoV-2 when the mutated virus’s ferocity now seems to have been reduced to that of a bad cold i.e. still something that can kill very vulnerable people but not the killer that was announced to us early in 2020. Were lockdowns and school closures a good idea? Should the same question be asked of more intermittent and unreliable solar and wind?
What has happened to balanced objectivity with regard to energy and health policy in countries that once could be relied upon to make measured and sensible decisions about how to manage both present and future? Nowadays it seems we can do neither.
Afternoon UKW Lass,
Since “UK Grid Security” is one of my specialist subjects, what do you make of my recent UK energy security/bills shaggy dog thread over on Twitter?
Let’s not start at the very beginning!
Here is the latest in my campaign to block Atlantic offshore wind development:
More coming soon.
The days-long outage followed a fire Oct. 15 at a data center in Pangyo which engulfed batteries used in backup power systems, impacting key local tech firms including Kakao Corp., South Korea’s almost ubiquitous social media giant and provider of the country’s most popular instant messaging service.
The latest fire could be a specific negative for SK On, a supplier to Ford Motor Co. and Volkswagen AG, which provided batteries at the data center that were intended to deliver backup power and prevent outages, according to Yoon Joonwon, a fund manager at DS Asset Management, which invests in the tech sector. SK On said it didn’t receive any alerts on its battery management system — which would indicate any problems, including changes in voltage or current — until the fire started at 3:19 p.m. local time.
It seems Ukraine has a *missile* penetration problem with their wind and solar. The rest of their grid is taking a beating too.
“We have already lost about 90% of the wind and up to 40-50% of the solar (energy). These are huge losses,” Halushchenko said in an interview on Ukrainian television.
Ukraine made a leap in green energy in 2019 and increased its share to 10-11% in 2020, with a view to achieving 25% by 2030, the minister said.
I agree with most of this article (renewables are being pushed too fast and inappropriately provisioned on the grid) but the information on heat pumps is incomplete. It is ignoring a whole new generation of air sourced inverter ‘Arctic Model” heat pumps that can effectively heat down as low as -22f (without the need for resistive heat strips). A quick search yields a dozen manufacturers making them. They are, of course, a bit more expensive then a regular heat pump. Also search youtube for reviews in Canada to watch real users describe the pros/cons of using them in true arctic conditions. I just installed a 18K BTU split system rated to -5f in my home and am looking forward to checking its performance this winter here in New Hampshire. And no, I do not work for an HVAC business or have any ties to the heat pump industry.
Kevin – an 18k btu is only a 1.5 ton furnace.
1) what was the price of the unit (without install costs)
2) what is the amount of juice being used at -5f to 10f vs the amount of juice used for a resistance unit.
3) does your unit require any below ground piping vs all above ground piping (other than the need to possible go underground to enter the house).
Its generally known that the newer models of heat pumps are more efficient, and a lot more efficient at the moderately cool temps (30-50f), but how efficient at the cold or very cold temps.
1) yes, my installation is a ‘split’ system. My cost on Amazon was $1500 and I self installed it (it just dropped in price to $1372 US). This installation does require a vacuum pump and some knowledge of plumbing copper lines. Other systems come with lines precharged and just need to be connected.
2) I haven’t gone through a winter yet with it and will post wattage draw when outside temperatures reach winter lows (mistakenly said my system was good to -5f but its actually rated to -22f). I am anticipating a much lower wattage compared to resistive heaters.
3) No, it is a split unit with the outdoor unit hanging on the outside wall and the indoor air handler mounted on a inner hallway wall. About 20ft of line set for it.
We’ve had couple of days recently of near freezing temps and I’m encouraged by how the system is working. Hopefully it lives up to the hype!
My unit for reference https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00BRNFOIW/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&th=1
Forgot to mention, some of the arctic pumps I’ve come across online can go up to 5 or 6 tons.
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To Planning Engineer.
Sorry to be so late to this particular party.
Whatever the physics, plant operators need to cover all costs of their product to stay in business.
Tilting grid operations to short term contracts moves prices away from long term costs and toward short term marginal costs.
ISO-NE has a “capacity supply obligation; and a “forward capacity auction”.
In your opinion are these mechanisms adequate to forestall problems with short term pricing auctions?
If so, are they implemented correctly by ISO-NE?
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Thanks for this. Peak heating demand is the main show, especially as you go even more north.
One area that could help us is district heating, especially nuclear or maybe an even better fit, geothermal DH
The big issue for enhanced geothermal (EGS) for power is it’s low temperature, and hence low thermal efficiency, which increases costs as the well cost is fairly fixed. You can fight this by drilling deeper / hotter, but that is unproven and expensive.
But for DH even 150C would be plenty, and the full heat load could be used at peak time, with some research on the ‘storage’ characteristics of EGS wells, they may behave more like a tank that averages over a few days to a week rather than an instant capacity cap.
With fairly cheap per MWt capacity, it could end out to still be more economic to let it run at low or nearly idle most of the time to be available for high heat demand times.
DH has a few other nice features.
It fails gracefully. If demand is over capacity, users end out running somewhat cold than having a hard crash.
It is cheap CAPEX to be able to supplement with fuel fired heat. Conventional boilers are cheap per kW capacity. And at extreme conditions, that fuel will be more efficiently used than in electrical generators, and then in low CoP heat pumps.
It needs minimal backup electrical power, and can provide heat even if grid power is out (maybe reduced if circulation fans are down in each user, but still some).
Nuclear can supply this as well, but this time would need maximum electrical output so demand will still be high. A separate heat only system won’t have these conflicts.
New builds, commercial (malls etc) and institutions (schools, hospitals) would be the first choice to concert, and even a decent fraction would make a big difference in cutting peak electrical demand during these times.
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