By Planning Engineer (Russell Schussler)
The media, individuals, and policy makers are prone to serious misunderstanding of studies, reports and pronouncements coming from academic experts. It is important to carefully read and interpret academic publications to understand what has been studied and what is being claimed. Far too many dismiss the many wide-ranging formidable challenges inherent in green energy efforts due to their misreading and misunderstanding of academic publications.
This brings to top of mind a “joke” I once heard at a seminar for new power engineers. A Professor of Electrical Engineering was expounding on the differences between engineers and scientists. He explained:
Both engineers and scientists want to understand the world and both want to solve problems. Engineers worry about how much something costs. Scientists don’t worry about the cost; they just want the truth. So, the difference between an engineer and a scientist is that an engineer at least has some common sense.
There’s been a lot of discussion about the differences between scientists and engineers. The boundaries can get blurry and often are non-existent. In the energy power system arena, perhaps to my past professor’s chagrin, I’m afraid the more important boundary might be between academics and practicing engineers. Academics can approach the grid with some detachment while practicing engineers must keep it running 24/7/365. Practicing engineers have skin in the game and typically face consequences for errors and shortcomings, while academics and unfortunately many policy makers are more insulated. This brings to mind Thomas Sowell’s guidance, “It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.”
As I like to say, the electric grid is the largest, most wonderful, most complex machine ever. Meeting the electric needs of our nation depends on many specialists and experts in far ranging efforts including generation, transmission, distribution, maintenance, and operations as well as within the many subfields encompassing these broad areas. The grid must operate seamlessly across a variety of conditions without pause. Recognizing the difference between what theory suggests and practical knowledge demonstrates is critical.
Academics have the luxury of focusing on one or a limited number of problems at a time. The traditional scientific method of hypothesis testing through experimentation is better suited to studies involving limited numbers of variables. Wicked complex systems full of all sorts of inconvenient interactions and feedback tend not to always work as might be suggested by theory from experimentations. As described in this posting, Balance and the Grid, focusing on just one problem can in the end cause net harm, and in many cases, the feedback can make the outcome of the problem attacked worse. I will leave it to readers to ponder recent events and see if they can come up with an example where experts focused too narrowly on a single problem and developed solutions which were later shown to have serious repercussions.
The grid and power supply arrangements are an extremely complex system. The interplay and interactions among the components are extensive and complicated. Change a puzzle piece and the entire puzzle changes. Actions taken to address one problem will typically create new problems and also aggravate other problems. The negative effects of such system “fixes” may or may not be visible for some time. It’s a rare academic who can successfully grapple with the great complexities of the power system. Specialization is an easier approach. While findings from academics and specialists can have great value, their findings should not be taken to extremes. The typical course for successful “revolutionary” ideas is that after some struggles to implement working applications they eventually make a modest improvement within some niche of the industry.
Many read academic papers and jump past all the hard work of assessment to the conclusion that whatever is proposed can be done in the near term on widespread level with great benefit. Initial promise is a necessary step but nowhere near a sufficient indicator of eventual success. But mis- readings of studies often lead to such conclusions. Consider what happens at the simplest level. An academic will look at a particular energy resource, or set of resources, and calculate how much power could they could theoretically provide. Comparing this capability to actual needs, it might be stated that this resource could provide X% (all) of an area’s power need. Although the actual “study” did not look at many of the major items of importance, such as timing of the energy relative to load needs, let alone issues around transmission or distribution of the energy, the paper may be quoted and cited as evidence that this substitution can be done. Just because a resource can produce enough megawatt hours of energy to replace another “less desirable” resource, does not mean it can be substituted as part of the power system. But the media and others may include that paper as evidence that renewable can replace conventional technology.
It is understandable that not everything can be studied at the same time. Also, there is always the possibility of raising near infinite objections as to what was not considered. That certainly is a ditch on the other side of the road that we could fall in. But the ditch of concern here is failing to consider the most basic fundamentals around energy provision. Before any large generating resource can be connected to the grid, detailed interconnections studies must be performed to make sure that single resource works adequately with the system. Assuming that the widespread adoption and integration of many new generating resources can easily be accomplished is naïve. One needs to remain skeptical and questioning around proposals for major change until a myriad of basic requirements of the power supply system have been given due consideration.
Many readers here may have noted the numerous times over the years when I’ve discussed grid concerns, and a reader in the comments had directed me to some article in a prestigious journal from a highly credentialed academic. I check out the articles and often they are quite good, but usually the article does not even address the concerns that I have raised. Readers will offer me as a rebuttal, some publication showing at some basic level how wind and solar resources may contribute to the grid.
Overwhelmingly the academic articles I read are good. Usually, the authors carefully describe the limitations of their findings and recommendations. Sometimes they hint as to what remains to be worked out. I’m afraid this does not stop individuals, the media, and some policy makers from ignoring the qualifications and limitations inherent in their findings. The situation is worse when they leave it to the reader to ferret out the limitations of their findings. In very rare instances some academics will go beyond what has been demonstrated with exaggerated claims. I don’t know if this is done through ignorance, accident, hubris or for purposes of self-advancement. I am afraid, that unfortunately, overstating findings can lead to greater publicity and personal gain. There is not much to be gained personally from being a cynic; optimism is a better path for self-advancement.
Potential enhancements to the grid are usually sold with great fanfare. Those of you who have had an interest in energy and the grid should think back over the years to all the articles you have read which touted some major breakthrough which was going to be a game changer. Such game changers at best are very slow to arise, if ever, in the energy industry. Thinking back a few decades, power electronics were becoming available in many applications that collectively were going to change the industry. Power electronics involve providing high voltage capability to semiconductor devices, combined with sophisticated computer controls. The technology was proven and in use on high voltage DC lines. Theoretically other applications could solve a lot of problem making the grid smarter, correcting voltages and controlling and directing flows on transmission lines.
The research papers looked good. While the touting of these technologies may have gone overboard, I did not read anything particularly dishonest or false. The problem was that many read of the potential and did not see anything to suggest that this technology should not be adopted immediately on a widespread manner to improve the system. Many bright capable people read up on the potential and foresaw near term change and benefit. My Board wanted a report on how we would be using this “new” capability. The devil was in the details, however. The challenges and costs associated with power electronic applications were more burdensome at that time than the problems they would solve in our area.
Years later I found it was worth tens of millions to install a large power electronic device called a Static Var Compensator (SVC) to have on standby to prevent a potential voltage collapse problem that had emerged on the grid. Today power electronics play many important roles in the grid. They are a major part of what makes a grid “smart”. They enable asynchronous wind and solar generation to be converted to alternating current on the grid. Power electronics support voltages and help keep the system stable in many ways in varying situations. But they did not take the industry by storm in a short time frame as envisioned by the early reports. They were first employed in niches where they provided particular benefits. As experience was gained and improvements made, they grew to become more and more important. They key to adoption was that installations were built on successive successes. I suspect top-down mandates to broadly use such devices might have actually hindered development and adoption.
The path for innovation for the grid is most likely to follow the model of power electronics. Academics propose and refine an approach for the enhancement of the grid and/or power supply. Detailed serious evaluations of the approach take place and maybe additional research is warranted. Engineers determine specific areas where the new approaches might be most successful and the approach can be employed or tested. Project successes will be followed by further improvements and refinements and led to greater expansion as warranted.
That model seems preferable to this one: Academics propose and refine an approach for the enhancement of the grid and/or power supply (or a complete transition of the grid). The media and policy makers determine it is worthwhile. Policy makers and the public push for sweeping changes that are mandated. Everyone struggles to implement the new approach broadly in a sweeping near universal manner.
Academic research that promotes improvements to the power greed needs to be evaluated carefully with the understanding that the grid is a complex system full of interactions. Changes to the grid involve numerous hurdles. Language is often imprecise. For instance, when readers see a statement stating “Solar and wind could attain penetration levels of X”. What the statement really means is “Based on the factors I looked at and ignoring a vast number of critical requirements I have not looked at, solar and wind may be able to replace fossil resources at a level of X. But probably not.” Unfortunately, the statement is often interpreted as “Solar and wind can attain penetration levels of X with no significant concerns.”
Similarly, when a study quotes a cost, it should be understood that unless specified differently, the cost is for the specific problem at hand, invariably there will be many other costs added to implement this approach often dwarfing the provided number. If a study quotes a figure in the billions to provide connections for infrastructure to connect distant wind and solar to load centers and/or allow for diversity, you can be fairly certain that additional improvements to the underlying systems will rival or exceed the reported cost.
For those without a strong technical background, it’s hard sometimes to tell what is meant by various terms. There are many definitions of capacity factor. The difference between power and energy is critical though not always grasped. It’s understandable that individuals might be confused by academic studies and articles concerning the grid. Media reporters should do better. The results may be tragic when exaggerated and misunderstood findings influence policy makers and impact policy.
Look for a follow up piece titled, Academics and the Grid: Part 2 Are they Studying the Right Things? It will provide additional context and support for the central ideas here.
Thanks to Roger Caiazza for review and helpful comments
Postscript: I decided to write on this topic when somebody sent me this link as evidence that wind and solar could “easily” be made reliable. Perhaps some of the readers may be interested in discussing in the comment some hurdles not brought out in the article. Similarly, it looks like some of the optimism as to near term Fusion might need some tempering as well.
Amazing post. Very straightforward, honest, and informative.
In a recent report you mentioned reducing CO2 in the future. I’m confused. Don’t we need more CO2?
Your comment has nothing to do with this article.
The first sentence in Conclusions made me laugh. Freudian slip?
May be not. Greed is the worst when it comes to relying on the V2G band-aid.
If I’m forced to abandon my ice car for an ev, would I risk missing an important trip to work or hospital for someone else’s sauna day. I would prefer a full battery charge at whatever time I need it.
I wish I had a good excuse, but no. I deeply believe the grid is a great thing originally built at reasonable costs showing great cooperation among many.
Thank you for this clear article and the experience supporting it.
My own experience in Australia is far less hands-on than yours. In summary, we discovered a game-changer, a globally significant new uranium resource in 1969 and then studied in depth the economics of electricity generation then and projected, with all known forms of generation compared to nuclear projections.
Looking back, 50 years ago the engineering world knew broadly which electricity generation forms were likely to dominate and, importantly, the main strengths and weaknesses of each. For example, intermittency, frequency, voltage, phase control needs of wind and solar were well known and understood. We wanted wind or solar to work because remote mines mostly depended on trucking diesel fuel to them. They still do.
My point is that we are now having wind and solar thrust on us despite long-known limitations. Wise engineering has been overtaken by trendy engineering.
Why has this happened? How has it happened? What can be done to combat the thrust? This is vitally important, because
poor global electricity supply choices can have serious outcomes, ones that I view as disruption similar to that caused by WWII. Geoff S
I believe the grid WAS a great thing . . . fixed it.
The thing people miss about these ideas for ‘fixing’ the grid is that most of them would work as well or better for taking the better part of consumers off the grid. Now i’m thinking on the american model of independence of individuals managed their own power ‘plant’ the way we currently manage our own heating plant although I’m not opposed to an equally american touquevillian concept of microgrid.
It would have made a hell of a lot more sense to buy a few solar cells and a prius with bidirectional capability (they were actually used this way in Japan after the nuclear shutdown destabilized their grid but the technology was never offered stateside ) for remote enclaves in Puerto Rico rather than subsidizing the ‘rebuilding’ of their grid after every hurricane.
There are, of course, crazies in microgrid conception that make the academics who inspired your post look like practical mensa members, e.g., this ‘visionary’ who thought electric buses would be an efficient way to move power from one side of Brooklyn to the other:
As to the freudian slip, power “greed” is far more reflected in the craven and pusillanimous queue for subsidy from the grid which becomes the largely unjustified rents passed on to consumers. But, as Steven Cohen opined to Varanasi in the article that inspired your post: those lucky consumers in New York and California will be the first to “invest”.
As a CPA, I was working full time, while attending grad school 4 years into my career, my last grad school class was estate and gift tax. The professor teaching the class had written several of the textbooks on taxation which were used by at least 1/4 of the universities across the country at that time.
Long and short – Due to my real world work experience (a that time only 3-4 years), I became the defacto co-instructor in the class and on several occassions, I had to clarify and/or correct the professor.
Point being – when working with real $, you had to be right 100% of the time whereas errors by a professor working with fake $’s there is no consequenses for being wrong.
‘Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach’
Similar cautionary advise applies to the advanced reactors being touted as zero-carbon saviors.
Same goes for wind and solar.
I think they are negative on the whole
The resources needed to build them, and the impossibility of recycling most of the materials is a huge net zero imho.
Thank you very much, Dr. Curry.
These are the types of reflections and valuable considerations that one would like to read/hear in the media on a daily basis, but which are difficult to find in a world of “experts” who believe they are somebody.
Systems are complex. Laws of physics less so. If GHGs trap 240 w/m2 of energy now and a doubling of CO2 adds 3.77 w/m2, temperature rise cannot exceed 243.77/240 x current base temperature. 240 w/m2 warmed the surface from -18 deg C to +15 deg. C, or by 33 deg. C. Surely 243.77 w/m2 cannot increase temperature beyond 243.77/240 x 33 or about 0.52 deg. C?
AGW is based on a modest CO2 temp rise causing a large water vapor temp rise.
AGW is based only on the elites being sold out to the WEF and CCP and making China and Russia and India rich and powerful and making all western countries poor and weak.
“240 w/m2 warmed the surface from -18 deg C to +15 deg. C, or by 33 deg. C.”
Sun warmed the surface on average planet Earth surface to 288 deg. K, or to +15 deg. C.
Yes. A distinction without a difference. The quantum of rise is identical in deg K or deg C – 33 degrees, and the claimed warming from a doubling of CO2 immaterial, not alarming.
“The quantum of rise is identical in deg K or deg C – 33 degrees…”
There is not any +33 degrees greenhouse warming effect on the Earth’s average surface temperature.
I agree. But that is the IPCC claim and all I have done is shown that even if it were so a doubling of CO2 (again using IPCC reported data) that saw a 3.77 w/m2 increase in the GHG effect would be immaterial to global temperature.
Michael, do you agree on:
“There is not any +33 degrees greenhouse warming effect on the Earth’s average surface temperature.”?
There is little doubt that with no atmosphere Earth would be colder. GHG theory attributes that to the effect of water vapor and CO2 etc slowing the escape of LWIR back to space. I have no opinion. I merely say that an extra 3.77 w/m2 of energy retained on atmosphere for any reason couldn’t increase the temperature of that mass by more than a fraction of a degree and that the AGW alarm is nonsense.
” I merely say that an extra 3.77 w/m2 of energy retained on atmosphere for any reason couldn’t increase the temperature of that mass by more than a fraction of a degree and that the AGW alarm is nonsense.”
And you are absolutely right!
Russell … nice piece, as always. I’m curious …
On a much, much smaller scale, I worked on a project that replaced the 11KV 25 Hz motor-generator sets with GE SCRs (silicon controlled rectifiers) at Grand Central Terminal to power the trains (600-700 VDC) for Metro North Railroad. We had the subcontract to pull the positive feeders, 2000 MCM, from the new switch gear at 42nd St to the tracks and the new 50th St junction. The grunt work.
The old MG sets were quite beautiful. They had oak steps with wrought iron hand rails built onto them for personal to reach areas for maintenance. I think one is now at the Smithsonian. The new gear is soulless in comparison … but quite efficient. That was in 1989/90.
I believe it’s the same principal, using thyristors? Except in our case we were inverting AC to DC, while you use them to adjust/control aspects of power condition. Is this correct? Or at least in the ballpark? What are the maximum voltages the units you site are used at?
Bill, This is the Why’s and What’s of the project. Due to the Air quality zones additional synchronous generation resources could not be added in the Atlanta zone. These resources provide reactive power (vars) which are essential for voltage control. Vars don’t travel well over line with power deliveries so they need to be more local. During a fault on the system voltages dip temporarily. Vars are essential to make sure the system resumes its’ balance. Air conditioning load was aggravating the need for vars because when the voltage dipped, they demanded more current. This draw and the sagging voltages could lead to an area collapse. The phenomenon is called Fault Induced Delayed Voltage Recovery (FIDVR). The project was a Static Var Converter (SVC) which puts power electronics on top of capacitors. It could almost instantaneously inject about 30-40 MVARs of power into the grid for the few seconds needed when a fault was discovered. I believe it was on the 230KV system and cost tens of millions of dollars to prevent a serious wide area outage that might be expected to occur otherwise every 50 years or so. There are consequences to removing synchronous generators from areas.
We used to install synchronous motors for fans, continuous ventilation, on buildings to help with power factor. Small, simple stuff in comparison. But every little bit helps with load and cost. On generation scale it’s phenomenal.
I remember as an apprentice they showed us a video of 100A, circuit breaker, rated at 10,000A RMS, being subjected to a fault current of something like 150KA for a second, or so. Needless to say, the breaker disintegrated and pieces of it were embedded in the opposite wall. The demonstration was to show us why service disconnects should be protected with 200,000A RMS fuses.
I would think there have been similar attempts at demonstrations (experiments) for the issues you raise? If not, get a video camera, some graduate engineering students and start blowing things up. At the least, you’ll have some fun.
Europe just learned the importance of a functional energy system.
“As I like to say, the electric grid is the largest, most wonderful, most complex machine ever.”
It is also the heart of the entire modern society. In much of the western world, no electricity means no job, no hospital, no flush toilet, no tap water, no cooked food, no unspoiled food, no communication, and most of your transportation is gone in cities.
Euro governments look like they will luckily avoid the disaster that could have been this winter. I hope that means they will take “heart” health seriously, but they might not. I think they do grasp how serious the problem was.
Winter is not done yet. Celebrations may be a bit premature.
Jeffnsails wrote: Europe just learned the importance of a functional energy system.
I really doubt that. We can watch what they do.
I’ve got steam heat.
I’ve got steam heat.
I’ve got steam heat.
But I need your love to keep away the cold.
I’ve got steam heat.
I’ve got steam heat.
I’ve got steam heat.
But I can’t get warm without your hand to hold.
The radiators hissin still I need your kissing to keep me from freezing each night.
I’ve got a hot water bottle, but nothing I’ve got’ll take the place of you holding me tight.
I’ve got steam heat.
I’ve got steam heat.
I’ve got steam heat.
But I need your love to keep away the cold.
They told me to throw some more coal in the boiler.
They told me to throw some more coal in the boiler.
They told me to throw some more coal in the boiler.
But that don’t do no good.
They told me to pour some more oil in the burner.
They told me to pour some more oil in the burner.
They told me to pour some more oil in the burner.
But that don’t do no good.
Coal in the boiler.
Oil in the burner.
yes yes yes come on union get hot!!
I need your love to keep away the cold.
I need you love to keep away the cold yea!
The EU is conflicted on energy supply through its’ own propaganda. I too doubt it will resolve this with the best interests of the various populations in mind.
Sorry for the location – I couldn’t reply to jim2 directly below.
Steam Heat was written by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross for the Broadway musical The Pajama Game. Fitzgerald may have recorded it, but the credit is to Adler & Ross.
“ I’m afraid this does not stop individuals, the media, and some policy makers from ignoring the qualifications and limitations inherent in their findings.”
Many studies on climate science have the appropriate caveats, qualifications and discussions of uncertainties. The scientists have addressed the topic appropriately. It’s the hustlers and activists who ignore all that to push their own agenda.
This entire series of posts has helped me immensely in sorting out the BS in what can be actually achieved in the renewable energy field. Without the knowledge I’ve gained, I would have just blindly accepted all the rosy promises. Thank you.
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“…, the electric grid is the largest, most wonderful, most complex machine ever.”
I would liken it to the circulatory system of a large woolly mammoth — at risk of becoming extinct.
Right. We can probably replace the grid with hot air from Climate Doomers!
Re academics and practicing engineers: Soon after JFK took office, an aide to Vice President Johnson confessed to LBJ that he was awestruck by the brain power of the White House staff. Said LBJ, Son, I would feel better if any of those smart people had run for sheriff just once.
“Similarly, it looks like some of the optimism as to near term Fusion might need some tempering as well.”
In the recent excitement about a fusion “breakthrough” of a fusion instance producing more energy than it consumed, almost no one mentioned that the accounting did *not* include the energy stored in the batteries powering the lasers that were used.
For me, an engineer uses established methods to solve a new problem. A scientist tries to solve a new problem where no established methods exist.
Not so sure problem solving is the main driver for science. Rather, lies with understanding. The driver for engineering is making things work.
Engineering (proper engineering) is putting science to good use.
The engineering basics are founded on earlier science research. Like optimising the energy conversion from fossil to electricity; using the new materials from the science field to extend the limits of practicability. Like the standard spanner, two useful and complementary ends of the same tool.
Whether it is the electrical power-house/grid or the MRI machine in a hospital, science and engineering are a complementary pair.
As a power engineer, generation not grid, I find talking or corresponding with a lot of theoretical “experts” very frustrating. The don’t understand even simple concepts like the difference between power and energy, or N-1. Reliability is an abstract word. Reactive power gets blank looks. They have no idea on how big storage is – what a GWh looks like. They dismiss inertia and system security as insignificant issues, mainly because it is way beyond their comprehension. They have just one universal solution – wind and solar will power everything with transcontinental transmission lines and big batteries to balance it all out. In their eyes, I’m just being a stick in the mud not supporting that. They have no idea on costs, but that is an insignificant detail, and adoption with mass production is going to make it a lot cheaper anyway. There isn’t even a working renewables only grid to point to as something to emulate. That says a lot more than what people will admit.
The academics now seem to see their job as solely advocacy, particularly with Tee-shirt slogan mentalities. Then politicians latch onto these because they have no understanding of engineering, or even the simple physics underlying it. How many leaders have ever worked as engineers?
It is worrying that what is published is so stupid that even accountants and lawyers who blog on the sceptic side can pick real logic and data holes in the academics’ ideas. Doesn’t need engineering input over the nuances when the basics are so wrong. The only comeback from the authors’ supporters seems to be a mantra that criticism isn’t published in a peer reviewed journal, so it has no validity.
Things are a lot more complex than people realise and grids are often on knife-edges. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough grid failures to show the folly of the politicians and academics’ advocacy. California, Germany and South Australia are trying to take that honour, but they haven’t got there yet.
There may be some academics writing on the issue who have real world experience in generation and grid operation. Unfortunately, I don’t know of them.
Chris Morris comment – “The only comeback from the authors’ supporters seems to be a mantra that criticism isn’t published in a peer reviewed journal, so it has no validity.”
I will add another common retort – Engineers who have designed operated and maintained a grid are not “renewable energy experts” and therefore are not qualified to critique renewable energy studies – because they are not “experts”
Jo- There is a simple reply to that. ” Are renewable energy electrons different to fossil fuel ones?”
That supplements part 2 pretty well. Please comment after that as well.
Great article Russell. Looking forward your next instalment. I started out on this topic a few years ago too at my own blog. I’m another power system engineer, presently working in the area of power quality.
And nice to meet you here again too, Chris Morris.
I’ve copied and abstract of a paper I presented to TechCon a year or so ago. It’s really just an introduction to dynamic stability, and discusses the importance of synchronous inertia, prime mover governor control, and the important connection between rate of change of frequency and real power imbalance.
“ Dynamic stability is fundamental to overall power system capability and reliability. At its most basic level, power system dynamic stability is about the power balance between generation and load, and the system’s frequency response to power imbalance. The key equation describing this response is the swing equation; P/M = df/dt where P is the magnitude of the power imbalance (MW), M is the synchronously connected angular momentum (MWs/Hz), and df/dt is the system’s
response in terms of the rate of change of frequency (Hz/s). This paper describes the physics behind the swing equation while developing it from Newton’s second law. It then presents some
results from an Excel spreadsheet model based on a time step incremental view of the swing equation, to aid understanding and visualisation of the system’s frequency response. The Excel
spreadsheet model simulates the dynamic behaviour of a power system allowing the user to make changes to various parameters, including the type of generation (either with or without inertia),
an overall governor operating point, several governor control parameters, several load shedding responses, and two ‘synthetic inertia’ responses. Dynamic response is graphically observed while the changes are made to the parameters. It is the view of the author that ignorance of the factors required for stability, including the recent preference for forms of generation which have zero natural synchronous inertia and without governor control, is leading some grids to a very high operational risk condition. The author hopes that by providing this descriptive work and spreadsheet, readers will be encouraged to investigate this topic, bringing a greater awareness of the requirements for power system dynamic stability.”
Any link please. Interested, as an old antique.
I’m still curious about the interface between the electronic governor, and the stubborn and unresponsive rotating beast.
You’ll find my articles at kiwithinker.com.
We need more engineers putting concepts in words decision makers can understand.
And more engineers understanding how the mind of the decision makers work.
Sadly, my experience taught me that decision makers generally don’t understand complexities (and many don’t want to). It is finding that engineered ‘magic stick’ that moves them.
There is a big problem with doing that. Understanding how a grid works at even a basic level depends on the person having at least a modicum of physics knowledge. Very few decision-makers do not have even a basic understanding of the subject.
My articles are at kiwithinker.com, and if you want a copy of the paper or spreadsheet, feel free to drop me an email.
Academics are sort of known for being left leaning and I suspect they often have disdain for basic economic concepts such as economies of scale. They likely have romanticized notions about wind and solar and distributed energy generation. They haven’t thought through the concept of power density. Robert Bryce has come up with his Iron Law of Power Density:
“may be able” translates to “probably not able.” Note all the fudge words in academic studies. It highlights the practical uselessness of many, if not most.
For an really (really!) deep dive into this issue, I suggest reading :
“The Unpopular Truth about Electricity and the Future of Energy” by Dr. Lars Schernikau and Prof. Willam Hayden Smith
Kindle eBook version available.
Planning Engineer –
I would be interested in any comments you might have about Meredith Angwin’s “Shorting the Grid, the hidden fragility of our electric grid.”
I am just learning of the book. Upfront I don’t’ think utility insiders want outages or that those with an impact on grid design and operation profit from outages. I am afraid that the responsibility for grid reliability lies with NERC and regional reliability organizations who make and enforce standards. While utilities used to be responsible for outages, now they are responsible for complying with the standards. I think that makes some holes. I have two thoughts on grid reliability that may or may not apply. I think the grid has generally been strong and robust. I write about the problems introduced by going away from traditional supporting grid elements and in that sense I think the grid is getting more fragile. Now she may be writing about concerns like the recent shootings or nuclear threats and pulses. Obviously utilities can’t protect their critical elements from nuclear bombs. Similarly bands of saboteurs with some smarts could certainly cause major grid problems.
See this 55-minute interview from 2020 of Meredith Angwin by Rod Adams of Atomic Insights:
Atomic Show #284 – Meredith Angwin, Author of Shorting the Grid: The Hidden Fragility of Our Electric Grid
IMHO, early retirement of baseload generation without adequate replacement is certain to continue and even accelerate as the decade of the 2020’s goes forward.
I listened to the Atomic Interview 284. As a power system engineer with over 40 years of experience I agree with Meredith’s view about the grid becoming more fragile. It surely is becoming more fragile. I have installed power quality instruments that show this.
Meredith doesn’t talk about the technical reasons for the fragility in the interview, but rather the interview is more around industry structures and players in the USA. However, it does seem to me the book will be an important contribution to this discussion.
I live and work in New Zealand (as a power quality engineer). The fragility that I see happening is around three things, reducing synchronous inertia, reducing governor controlled generation, increasing inverter based generation and loads, harmonic and non-harmonic distortions. Some of these may not make much sense to non engineers. Sorry about that.
All in all, as an experienced engineer, and from a grid health point of view, I find the recent trends towards solar and wind is like watching death by a thousand cuts’.
As Russell and some others have stated here, the grid is an amazing machine. It’s importance to modern society cannot be over stated. Without an electricity supply, we have nothing. We are allowing those with next to no understanding of how it works, to slowly destroy it with a decarbonisation agenda.
If she is critical of the early retirement of baseload generation and fretful about the impact of that on the grid – I agree with her 100%. from an environmental perspective I think it generally makes sense to use what has already been built. It’s average environmental impact goes down with years (the marginal impact decreases). Of course from the cost perspective – the impacts are huge. Such a waste for posturing and “feel good pseudo environmentalism”
I listened to her on a podcast. I like her based on what I heard. I like her passionate defense of the grid and it’s value and importance. When she is talking about the grid it was a lot about California and Texas and RTO systems, She explains things well and I didn’t note anything significant to take issue with. Wish there were more like her and hope she continues to promote better understandings of some key issues. I want to touch on some of her issues from a different take in future posts.
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A question for aplanningengineer
Given the push to convert space heating to electric heat pumps and with 2 or more EVs per house, with 2-headed Level 1 or Level 2 EV chargers, at what point will upgrading house service amperage be necessary?
Does that lead also to upgrading the supply in the lines running along the roadways, and especially in the newish housing developments that have many, many houses packed close together on city-lot size lots??
Thought I’d answered sooner. I’ve never worked at the distribution level. Probably a better expert here.
Dan H – as a homeowner (vastly more mechanically inclined than the typical homeowner), I can partially answer your question. Most homes built prior to 1960 were built with 125 amp service panels. Adding central ac or converting from gas to electric requires changing out the service panel to 200 amp panels. ($4k -$6k depending on various factors. I converted to 200 amp panel 30 years ago, though I still have gas heat. Converting to electric heat, EV batteries, will likely require upgrading to a 250amp panel.
Not a big deal for the neighborhood if I am the only house on the block that upgrades, but if everyone does it, then the utility may have to upgrade the lines.
This new gizmo will let a lot of people add level 2 EV charging without having to spend thousands to upgrade their main panel.
Of course, if everybody in your neighborhood gets 2 EVs per household upgrades to the grid will be required.
There was study recently that finally looked at changes needed to the distribution system to supply yhe rapid charging EV infrastructure. Each rapid charger (level 3) needs about 150kw. This will charge a 100kwh EV from 15 to 80% on the order of 1/2 an hour. Do that math for 10 or so chargers and you need significant upgrades to lines feeding those “gas stations”. As a reference, a typical 200amp service can supply about 40kw.
Dan. Though it’s not my area, I can answer your query and at a more generalised level than Joe, though it is still simplified. I will use details from the one I’m on, but the same principles with different numbers for others.
The distribution network goes from the grid exit point (GXP) to your house. For us, it is 33KV to local substations, then 11kV to the street/ pole transformers and 400V 3 phase/ 240V single phase into the house.
The GXP has a triplex line to the main area substation, plus duplex to a number of others. The lines are generally rated at 120% with 2oo3 or 1oo2 in service. That means they can take one out of service for maintenance without outages. There are a couple of 25MW geothermal generators feeding into the area sub, which adds to the complexity but they allow it to be islanded from the grid. Almost all the 33kV lines are aerial but they can be buried – about 5-10 times more expensive for buried option.
At the substations, the voltage is stepped down to 11kV. These 11kV lines then go to the street transformers. There are also large industries directly supplied by the 11kV lines and we have a number of micro hydros (~1MW each) on parts of this network. As before, can be buried or aerial. Each set of 3 phase lines or cable can supply 5-10 transformers. Usually these are just 1oo1 so all or nothing.
The rating on the street transformers is usually 2-500kVA. The cables from these to the houses/ apartments are either buried or on poles. The domestic cables are generally rated at 40A (~10kW) though newer subdivisions are 60A. At rating, there will be a 5% voltage drop. Increase load, voltage rapidly drops, temperatures go up and you can melt the insulation.
Where I am, there are about 50 houses connected to the 200kVA transformer (average 4kW per household). They are relying on thermal inertia, the individual peak loads not coinciding and there not being poor power factor – very little air conditioning here. Average household load is 1-1.5kW.
Now increase every household average load to say 3kW, with peak going from 10 to 15kW. That will overload the cables to the households. It will overload the street transformers and the 11kV lines supplying them. The 33-11kV transformers will need uprating, so would the GPX to substation lines.
If the cables are aerial, relatively short outages needed, maybe just several days. If underground, then that is extensive trenching – a lot more disruptive. Three options for uprating cables/ lines. Duplexing, increase working voltage or replace singles with heavier cables. Transformers would need replacement though some could be duplexed with a secondary side switchyard created.
What it all means is a massively expensive and disruptive exercise that no all-electric proponent ever costs. One of those things they magic away. And I haven’t even factored in added distribution system protection, especially with things like domestic solar generation or battery storage.
Thanks for the info. Sounds like a big problem.
Some of the information provided above is incorrect. Probably just typos.
The Siemens device is a troubling trend that occurs from time to time in the electrical industry for a ‘quick fix’. Will it work, yeah, but it complicates your electric service and complications are what fuel problems down the road. Best bet is to upgrade the electric service.
Of course, anytime you increase load you move closer to the design limits of the system. And all systems are designed with demand factors (not all air-conditioners turn on at the same time in a neighborhood, or your air-conditioner and all your lights aren’t on at the same time) and non-coincident loads (your heating and air-conditioning don’t work at the same time).
All that said, generally speaking, the only way to have a Level 3 charger in your home is with a minimum 400A service, as the smallest Level 3 I’ve seen is 50KW. A 200A/240V single phase service is approximately 48KW, maximum. The math is pretty simple. So, your average person is not going to be able to have Level 3 charging. This will be mostly a commercial distribution, although many wealthy folks with expensive homes have services 400A, or more.
Level 2 has a load of approximately 10KW, about the same as an electric stove/oven or large central AC unit. So, most homes with a 200A/240V single phase service should have the capacity for a Level 2 charger, particularly if the charging is done overnight.
As for the utility part of the distribution in regards to load, I have no doubt that utilities can and will adapt, if need be. Increasing load is something they deal with everyday. The real questions are what, if any, harmonics or other power quality issues, the chargers create, which is what Russell is writing about at the grid/generation level.
The smallest level 3 charger is about 50kw, but that charger cannot do the fast charging needed at EV highway charging stations. You need several 150kw+ chargers for that job.
Households would likely use level 2 chargers that are a few to several kws. This would likely be the largest load in a home when it is operating. A standard 200 amp service could handle that but it will create significant issues in the evening peak. It would also cause issues in the typical 11.47kv distribution primaries if EVs are widely adopted.
I want to know if this Siemens adaptor will work with V2G. If the electricity can flow both ways it could make the grid more resilient.
Alas, human nature will defeat our best efforts to reduce emissions and pollution because we are in a doom loop of always having to make everything bigger, faster and heavier.
“Pickups and SUVs keep getting, well, larger (by 32 percent and 7 percent, respectively, from 1990 to 2021). Also heavier, due to increased size but even more so because of the inclusion of large battery packs needed to move those heavy vehicles, and to reduce range anxiety among would-be buyers.
The 2023 Ford F-150 with a conventional engine is up to 7 inches taller and 800 lb heavier than the equivalent 1991 F-150. The upcoming Chevrolet Silverado EV will weigh about 8,000 lb, 3,000 more than the current gas-powered version.
David Zipper, Visiting Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government, asks in his thought-provoking new piece whether this new crop of big, heavy EVs actually represents an improvement or a step back, in terms of their environmental impact but also in terms of safety – especially the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers (of smaller vehicles) on the road.
Pedestrian deaths resulting from collisions with vehicles reached a 40-year high in the United States in 2021.
Weight, size and visibility issues are being exacerbated by the tremendous accelerations offered by EVs and their instantly available torque.
A 2018 IIHS study found that hybrid vehicles, which can accelerate more quickly than gas-powered cars, were 10-percent more likely to injure a pedestrian than their gas-powered equivalents.
Environmentally, there are costs to building and driving a large, heavy BEV. When you factor in the materials and electricity needed to build and charge a large EV (considerably more than for a small electric car), you get realities like this:
According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, the 9,063-lb GMC Hummer EV (with a battery pack weighing as much as a Honda Civic) produces more emissions per mile than a gas-powered Chevrolet Malibu.”
jack … the Siemens device seems to be just a tap to your meter pan on the load side of the meter. As to V2G, I’m not sure. Talk to your local utility rep. If he comes out to your house, be prepared for a weird look.
doug … Dan’s question was for residential use. The load from a Level 2 charger is not going to create a problem, in a single home. Many have already been installed. The problem may come if everybody in the neighborhood installs one. The chances of that happening all at once is next to nil, and the utility will respond as the loads (chargers) are increased.
If you want ammunition to keep people from buying electric cars, one way is to show that electricity prices are going up. The higher they go, the ‘mileage’ advantage (a major factor in ownership cost) gets less and less.
A pole mounted transformer is between about 20 and 100KVA. One single level 2 charger can be 10KVA by itself. Infrastructure will need changed with significant EV penetration.
I could care less if people buy an EV they can make a lot of sense as a commuter car. There are consequences to that transition, and those consequences cost money to address.
The problem is that all these grid upgrades and VARs patches cost everyone money, not just the EV owner. Isn’t that called a negative externality?
I don’t think anyone is saying that EV penetration will not entail (at least eventually) infrastructure upgrades. Back in the late sixties when everyone in the USA wanted air conditioning the same thing occurred. Probably even faster. What happened? Our power generation and distribution responded.
So the issue really isn’t the additional loads. The issue is where the generation is coming from. Russell’s post is about how wind and solar affect the grid. If we were using just coal, NG, hydro and nuclear there wouldn’t be the issues he raises. Maybe others? But not those issues.
Great article. Like you and some others, to me the synchronized orchestra of rotating machines is a thing of beauty. And we allow politicians and green ideologues to chip away at it every day.
In glancing over at my ancient textbook, “Analysis of Faulted Power Systems” by Paul Anderson, it is clear it needs an updating to include a chapter on political/policy risks to the grid. Sad to say.
I’m reminded of an earlier situation in dynamics where physicist Thomas Kane noted that the usual approaches to dynamics problems (such as using spherical coordinates and angular velocities and accelerations) worked great for solving small problems with only a few degrees of freedom, but when used for something like a complex space probe that had multiple booms holding camera drives, antenna drives, gyros, and lots of other moving and spinning parts, the equations needed for the conventional approach exploded in complexity. There were too many interactions for easy solution by methods honed for the simple systems typically use for teaching physics.
So Kane came up with a simpler approach to dynamics that produced much faster and cleaner computer code.
I imagine a lot of the studies of renewables make use of spherical cows.
Love those spherical cows…
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Planning engineer. SVCs are becoming more common for the reasons you explained; but in some areas, they have had to go to the more expensive synchronous condensers, often with attached flywheels. These aren’t converted old fossil plant generators but purpose-built ones. Google it for Germany – up to 80MVA in service already, I believe.
Though not admitted, I believe this has been the only way they can give some system security for asynchronous generation, particularly at outer end of long spur lines. It has also helped low voltage ride-through.
Here’s a blurb on synchronous condensors (SC). Of course SC use power while source rotational inertia create power. Therefore, these represent yet another inefficiency caused by Climate Doomer’s “green” energy.
The real truth is that the Earth’s climate is unimaginably complex: far more complex than government scientists appreciate. That doesn’t stop engineers as they have learned to work with that.
Germany spent 807 millions euros to curtail wind electricity in 2021. The UK spend 216.5 million GBP to curtail wind in 2022, and has averaged over 200 million GBP over the last 3 years. Texas has averaged over US$200 million a year for 7 years – excluding the $2B from winter storm 2021. China curtailed something like 50 million megawatt-hours in 2019.
Curtailment is a real issue and is growing as solar PV and wind penetration increases.
Solar PV and wind are also affected the viability of dispatchable resources – i.e. the fossil fuel systems which have to make up the difference when solar PV and wind intermittency occur. The owners of these dispatchable systems are closely monitoring the “spark spread” – the difference between average electricity prices, peak electricity prices and the actual cost to turn on a dispatchable electricity generation plant. Too much overcapacity of solar PV and/or wind is likely to result both in ongoing increase of curtailment costs and reduction of spark spread. Too low a spark spread means a dispatchable plant just isn’t worth operating meaning either additional payments to keep it online and available to run or loss of dispatchable supply.
None of these are technical issues, they are fundamental economics issues.
“ Duke Energy Apologises for Winter Storm Renewable Energy Failure, Rolling Blackouts”
“A series of systemic failures in Duke Energy’s two utilities triggered outages over Christmas across North Carolina and South Carolina.
Duke Energy’s “nuclear fleet” was reliable, but solar generation was unable to meet peak demand because it occurred before sunrise.”
“ According to testimony before the NCUC, high winds had already left 300,000 without power during the day of Dec. 23 before a severe cold snap later that night and into Dec. 24. Company officials called the weather combination “unique,” saying they used rolling blackouts for the first time in the utility company’s history. ”
For Planning Engineer and others in the field who have provided excellent comments.
Was this weather combination really “unique”, or did humans create the fragility and vulnerability that 50 years ago would have been just a cold snap without major disruptions?
Thank you Doctor Judith. Where can I get a few new Ultra critical HELE coal fired power plants to be built in Australia . I think I have seen Duke Energy on YouTube showing the resulting upgrade on one of thier coal fired power plants. It is very impressive and I would like to send it to you sometime . I went to school with Peter Lang and I hope you can or have seen Ned Nickolov’s paper for peer review . Please respond .
Planning Engineer: In my amateur opinion, the problem with wind and solar starts with measuring their cost by the levelized cost of generation. However, in the real world, the cost of a product is determined by the law of supply and demand. Electricity is the most perishable product known to man – if it can’t be used the instant it is generated usually within a few hundred miles of where it is generated, it is worthless. When demand is high, the price of electricity is high, and grid operators are willing to make expensive deals to reduce peak demand.
In an ideal world (I’m a scientist, not an engineer (:)), one would have a model of your grid in a computer, along with the historic demand and weather for the past decade or two. That could allow you to calculate the value of all of the electricity produced by the generators linked to your grid. Then you can add a wind farm at a given site to your model and calculation and calculate the value of the average mW-h produced and compare it to other generators.
This reminds me of an interview I read about the retirement of the first big wind farm in Alberta. The old turbines had reached the end of their useful lifetime, but the owner wasn’t installing new, more efficient turbines, despite his large investment in land and other infrastructure. When ask why, the owner simply said: When the wind is blowing around here, no one wants to buy electricity from me. Before investing in new turbines, he wanted the government to ensure a market for his electricity.
Those are called production cost models. They have hourly load shapes, generation sources and all the rules for how they can ramp and dispatch. You can model all kinds of limits (fuel, emission limits, …). They can be probabilistic incorporating unanticipated outages, or use averages values, Some are expended to have rough transmission models as well. Utilities looking to put in a new long term resource would take the present value of how it worked over decades, it’s easy to put uncertain wind in the model and see their impacts on costs. I never heard of anyone selecting a resource based on levelized cost in my career. Part 2 will bring up levelized cost as well. I tend to think anyone arguing levelized cost doesn’t not have a pen understanding of how resources work in the real world.
Yes but LCOE is constantly used and cited in the policy realm. That renewables are the cheapest is everywhere said at the highest levels. Nor do I see the energy agencies saying otherwise.
Planning engineer comment – ” I tend to think anyone arguing levelized cost doesn’t not have a pen understanding of how resources work in the real world.”
can you elaborate on what is meant with the phrase “not have a pen understanding …”
(clueness understanding ? superficial understanding?)
thanks for any clarification.
side note – as a CPA, I find the computation of levelized cost of energy to be somewhat incomplete. Too highly focused on the marginal costs instead of all the costs.
I tend to think anyone arguing levelized cost doesn’t not have a pen understanding of how resources work in the real world.
spell check typed pen for me. I meant something like good. A revision:
I tend to think anyone arguing levelized costs has vested interests in the renewable energy industry, is seeking to mislead, or else really lacks much understanding about how generation resources function in the real world.
Joe – yes, focusing on marginal costs tends to favor resources that run on wind and solar. Of course that kind of fudgery can make nuclear look downright cheap. It some scenarios it can make a Tesla cheaper than a Kia Soul.
The issue isn’t just how LCOE is calculated. LCOE calculation is skewed in a number of ways, including unrealistic portrayal of both ITC and PTC (basically, subsidies to install vs. subsidies of production), actual cap factors vs. what is used, cost of backup with dispatchable, actual efficiencies of what is installed vs. what is modeled in LCOE, etc etc.
But the bigger problem is that the usage of intermittent – solar PV and wind – vs. dispatchable (fossil fuel or nuclear) is not even 1 to 1 on a cap factor basis.
For example: In theory, 2-1 GW wind farms @ 30% cap factor should be equivalent to 1 – 1GW natural gas plant @ 60% cap factor.
The problem is that due to intermittency, you almost never have both wind farms at max capacity. They average out 30% cap factor over a full year, but that is not the same as 30% at any given point in time. So in reality, the actual install of name-plate solar PV or wind capacity must be a lot higher than 2 to 1 in the example above.
In practice, it seems that the cap factor ratio appears closer to 2 to 1 (i.e. 4-1 GW wind farms vs. 1-1 GW natural gas plant from the above example).
Needless to say, this is expensive not just in capital expenditure. This overcapacity of maximum wind output in practice leads to accelerating curtailment amounts; requires more transmission capacity; affects grid stability etc etc – all of which increase cost.
Several years ago I attended a conference on biofuels. An academic scientist got up and explained what he described as breakthrough developments in his lab. I asked what scaling-up problems he foresaw. He looked at me puzzled and said, “Oh, I don’t think there will be any.” My mouth fell open but I said nothing more. It was clear that his lab’s work could not be taken very seriously. I later learned he had neither economists nor engineers working with him. I haven’t heard that his breakthroughs broke through anything since.
“Similarly, it looks like some of the optimism as to near term Fusion might need some tempering as well.”
I am very interested in fusion and have been following it closely for many years. What brings you to say the above comment? I would say based on the current rate of progress that we will see the first commercial units in production before the end of the decade. The question really is which will be first and will it be the most “ideal”. Ie an early front runner might require infrastructure that will ultimately be redundant as “better” types come on line.
By “fusion”, if you mean the large scale projects like NIF, ITER, JET etc, then yes of course – they have no chance producing commercial scale energy. But many of the smaller projects are beyond proof of concept and are moving to producing prototype commercial units – one generation before an actual mass production type unit. The main hurdle with most of these is not the fusion itself, but with ancillary technology to convert to electricity.
They rely on producing fusion in “shots” and the only way to make a unit produce useful energy is to do multiple shots a second. There is no technical reason that it can’t be done, it’s just that it’s not trivial. It means innovation particularly with capacitors of which they all need quite a lot.
The reason we can (should?) be bullish is that fusion has been making exponentially faster progress in recent years largely because of advances in computing. Smaller projects are able to iterate much faster, and some are able to produce new units in parallel. For example, Helion are producing a prototype commercial scale unit, while at the same time planning the unit beyond it that will (we hope) be the blueprint for commercial production. There are still plenty of questions left to be answered (eg they have 2 options for producing tritium) but unless there is an unforeseen setback they should crack it before 2030. And they have plenty of competition.
Very long on non-specific generalities, very short on verifiability of specific claims.
For example, for a “commercial production unit” to be up, running 24/7/365, and suppling electrons to the grid, by January, or even December, of 2030 starting from where the fusion industry stands today, is actually impossible. The initial development, design, and approvals of a complete facility having those characteristic does not exist. Ground should have already been broken if that schedule is to be met. And, ground breaking occurs only after final development, design, testing, and approvals of a complete facility, its location site, and associated distribution sub-systems have been completed.
Where do you go to fulfill your daily needs for helium-3 ?
You go to your local neighborhood office of the US Department of Energy, DoE.
Where does the DoE get its supply of helium-3 ?
Helium-3 is produced by the radioactive decay of tritium.
Where does the DoE get its supply of tritium ?
Tritium is typically produced by bombarding lithium-6 with neutrons in fission-based nuclear reactors. At the present time, the primary function of these reactors is for electricity production.
Why does the USA have a market for tritium ?
The decay of tritium into helium-3 makes our nuclear bombs, while they are sitting around awaiting potential applications, less useful: that is, the bang for the buck ratio monotonically decreases as time monotonically increases. They must be topped-off with tritium from time-to-time so that the bang for the buck ratio maintains.
So here we have an amazing situation. In our quest to replace fission-fueled electricity production, and the ‘waste’ so created by neutrons, with neutron-free electricity production, we are compelled to use neutrons in the very fission-fueled, neutron-producing, electricity-production, machines that we seek to eliminate. And at the same time we get to keep our nuclear-fueled bombs up to snuff.
Physical Realization of an Oxymoron if ever I encountered one.
The most efficient fusion machines might use the deuterium-tritium, D+T, approach. The tritium will be produced by the method summarized above: bombardment of lithium by the neutrons that come from the D+T reaction itself. At least we won’t be bothered by needing fission-fueled, neutron-waste production machines to make our tritium. Oops, there are free neutrons flying inside that D+T machine.
“Where does the DoE get its supply of helium-3”
No. Helion are planning to produce their OWN He3. They have patented another fusion generator that produces it, but it doesn’t produce a great deal of energy…but it DOES produce He3, and the discussion is whether or not to have dedicated plants producing it to fuel He3 dependent reactors or combine them. These are the sorts of discussions that are going on now.
Here, this video talks about the process:
Also, there are other approaches using B+P – Boron + Hydrogen (also known as pB11). This anuetronic fusion and has been demonstrated by a couple of approaches. My personal “favourite” fusion uses this – LPP Focus Fusion. Of all the approaches, theirs is the simplest and most elegant, and it works. They have similar engineering challenges to Helion, and they are completely non-thermal – ie they recover all energy via induction, either through the cathode used for the shot, or the x-ray converter they have patented.
The main problem with those guys is that they are a bit too boutique – boffins in a garage. What they need are some heavy duty engineers but they are more or less trying to do it all themselves. They are making progress, but it’s slow relative to other projects. For them, the problem is impurities on the cathode that causes oxidisation and reduces the pressures needed (B+P requires extraordinarily high pressures – much higher than D+T). They HAND polish the cathode to fix it.
The next main challenge are the switches. If I understand correctly, the switches have to be extremely precise since there are only nanoseconds between producing the plasma and then needing to capture energy from the resultant reaction. Latest news that their new switches worked better than expected.
They are hoping to build a commercial scale unit by 2026 (5MW). I guess we’ll see. Like I said – the fusion part is not the problem, its the ancillary engineering, capacitors, switches etc.
I’m looking forward to see both systems up and running 24/7/365, making He and pumping out unlimited electrons to the grid, in 7 years.
… “The reason we can (should?) be bullish is that fusion has been making exponentially faster progress in recent years largely because of advances in computing …”
My livelihood is computing and the changes we have witnessed over many decades is staggering but we have seen limits in important areas of our innovation and ability for many years now. We could do with serious improvements in quality of design and effectiveness of computer programs and standards are, IMO, still slipping badly away. We still cannot replicate randomness which would seriously open new vistas for analysing data which is critically important to decision making in, for example, climate change science. Currently we seem to be making many badly wrong decisions about climate change mitigation because of poor modelling and poor understanding of energy basics in electricity.
Perhaps this malaise hasn’t impacted upon fusion research and we should be grateful for that but I do not see any radical improvements in use of computers thus far.
I still believe ‘fusion is a decade away’ and will remain so for sometime to come.
We have been reduced to medieval exigencies these past months, several times, by electrical power failure, and should not be adding more encumbrances on the system. It will be best to remember that:
CO2 is not in control of climate and
We are not in control of CO2.
If the US focused more on energy security, we’d use less gas for baseload, increase capacity & storage, make distribution more flexible, and export excess capacity when not needed. #AntiFragileEnergy #HighlyFlexibleNaturalGas #IncineratePlasticPollution #WasteToEnergy #FissionFuture
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I read through that link in your postscript. There is nothing in it that would give me any confidence that any of those academics knew what they are talking about, even at just the Distribution level. I can see why you (Russell) have concerns if this is the level of advice that decisionmakers are getting. .
Chris – which link are you referencing?
Sorry Joe. The link planning engineer out up in his head post from Columbia
Planning engineer – Can you repost the link that Chris Morris is referencing? My search skills are deficient
Not a link I find credible
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I have an article on these articles, in the context of FERC’s proposed rule making to constrain renewables.
No one here seems to have noticed FERC’s action. Too real world?
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