Academics and the Grid Part 3: Visionaries and Problem Solvers

by Planning Engineer (Russell Schussler)

The potential of climate change with an unworkable grid is the most frightening potential scenario of all.  We need visionaries and problem solvers to avoid this scenario.

This is the third installment in a series concerning academics and the grid.  Part 1 observed that it was frequently the case that an academic paper which solved some component of a problem integrating a” green” resource would be interpreted to imply that all problems associated with integrating that “green” resource had been solved.   Part 2 looked at the large body of papers published on the net zero transition and noted most of the attention was on smaller components, while the larger problems associated with the grid were ignored.  This body of research as a whole generate serious misimpressions by distracting from the major concerns and causing policy makers to discount the significant challenges ahead in increasing renewable penetration.

In previous post Academics and the Grid Part 2: Are They Studying the Right Things?, it was noted that researchers on grid issues related to an energy transition, could be roughly divided into two camps.  I referred to the first of these groups as Visionaries and the second group as Problem Solvers. The study work and recommendations from these two groups are approached in different ways, have differing audiences and unfortunately are unequal in impacting energy policy.

Problem Solvers tend to work on present and emerging challenges.  These are highly technical academics, engineers and scientists.   They tend to look for solutions to emerging problems without questioning their drivers.  Problems solvers ask themselves how do we better adapt to the increase wind and solar we are seeing on the grid.  For the most part they do not question or endorse the emerging trends.  They see their work as important for maintaining the grid. While they are our best hope for adapting to change, some may see them as tools of the industry with to0 narrow a focus.

Visionaries are idealistic and consequently more likely to advance research and development to achieve greater societal goals.  They see their work as necessary for the planet as a whole. They advocate for lowering carbon emissions and promote research to facilitate the goal of CO2 reduction.  The Visionaries share the perspective that the “green energy” transition lies somewhere between “we can do this” to “once we get this going, we will figure it all out and the benefits will be enormous”.

In our overall society most individuals clump into one of two positions around climate change and “green” energy.  In a previous post, Taxonomy of climate/energy policy perspectives I wrote:

One side cries that either we switch to superior clean renewable technologies or we face climatic doom. The other side responds that is there is no problem and we couldn’t fix it anyway. In the debate over climate and energy policy two independent major factors stand out. The first is our understanding around the probability, degree and immediacy of adverse effects from man-made Climate Change. The second factor impacting policy determinations concerns the suitability of today’s various available “clean” energy sources as policy options. Since the policy implications are driven by two major factors there should be at least theoretically four distinct policy perspectives. Unfortunately, most debate seems primarily to feature two factions and major policy concerns may get lost in the noise.

It’s rare to find someone unconcerned by climate change, but who think renewables will work really well with the grid.  We don’t hear so much from those who greatly fear climate change but recognize current pursuits around clean energy are inadequate.  Personally, I find the potential of climate change with an unworkable grid to be the most frightening potential scenario of all.  I have never addressed or taken a position on climate and the need for carbon reduction.  I argue for the need for reliable affordable energy independent of what the climate might do.  I am more worried about the grid changes if we are to face climate doom as well.  Such changes would be the most devastating on poor and moderate-income people.  If we are to face disaster – a terrible inefficient unworking grid will magnify problems exponentially.  Unworkable technology is not the answer to an impending crisis.

The Visionaries tend to frame climate is an impending existential threat and seek to minimize concerns around a green transition.  The Problems Solvers, like me, are largely mum on the subject of climate change. When it comes to a green energy transition, they are similarly silent.  Their grappling with the subject is very narrow and modest in approach.  Reading between the lines in the technical journals it is apparent that there are many huge obstacles looming.  Why are these not discussed more fully?   Perhaps it is because there are many incentives to appear overly optimistic and few to none for espousing views that appear even moderately pessimistic.

Consider the perspectives of those writing as Problems Solvers.  They are typically engineers or scientists with advanced expertise in that specialized area.  The more the excitement and enthusiasm for a net zero transmission, the more their expertise is in demand and the greater the value of that expertise becomes.   They may be working for or supported to some extent by the manufacturers of the “green” industry. Whether they are directly or indirectly tied to a green industry, their near term well being is tied to the continuation of such research.  Chipping away at the problem and achieving minor successes is in their self-interest.  There is likely no personal benefit to be gained by sharing observations that trends in the overall efforts to date do not suggest eventual success at a net zero level.

What are the drivers for the Visionaries?  Overwhelmingly they are academics or work for entities with financial interests  and expertise tied to the “green” future.  Overwhelmingly in their working environment climate change is seen as an existential problem and the environment broadly supports efforts to reduce CO2 from electric generation.  Academic publications are critical to hiring and promotional opportunities.  Would an individual skeptical of the desired changes fare well when any such publications were reviewed?  As much as such views may be needed, I don’t know who would hire or reward those who provide such focus and balance. The environment they work in many work in might  be described  as the eco-anxious,  woke, true- believers or as Thomas Sowell described the “Anointed”.   Academics are likely constrained from sharing concerns and noting short coming of “green” approaches.  This may be too why they in Part 2 we did not see nuclear show up as a key word within the body of Net Zero research.

I will note that the mathematics used by the Academics to look at resource replacement, backup and transmission doesn’t go much beyond arithmetic with maybe some probability and statistics.  Even then the study work is often done by modelling software.  The mathematics needed for Problem Solvers to address the major concerns span mathematics from arithmetic to algebra, trigonometry, calculus and differential equations.  It may be too much too much to expect that many Academics with technological knowledge and capabilities would devote their efforts to sabotaging their career.

Where then is there an incentive for knowledgeable academics and engineers to speak up about grid concerns?  Once upon a time utilities were responsible for grid reliability.  They had skin in the game and if there were problems, accountability ensued.  In those days, when penetration levels were miniscule to small, it didn’t’ make sense for a utility to raise concerns and risk being caught in the crosshairs.  The better short-term plan was to go ahead with preliminary efforts, knowing the grid was very robust, hoping that eventually things would work out or someone else would speak up.  Then the federal entities FERC and NERC changed the interrelationships between basic functions and responsibilities.  FERC worked to break up traditional utility structures into components, with particular concerns for fostering competition within the generation sector and providing open access to transmission facilities. NERC took over responsibility for reliability and “ensures” reliability through their compliance standards. Utilities are no longer responsible for reliability, but rather for meeting the reliability standards.  NERC can impose fines up to $1,000,000 per day for standard violations.  Hard to see the incentives for a utility sticking their neck out to raise long term reliability concerns broadly or with the monitoring entity.

I am greatly suspicious of “conspiracy theories”.  I can’t believe that any parts of the green movement or any governments are plotting to bring down the grid and set back industrialized civilization. But if they were, a good strategy would look a lot like what we are seeing.  How might one seek to turn the economic and reliable grid into a costly, complicated system prone to blackouts?  Discarding dependable generators and replacing with asynchronous intermittent technology would be a good way.  To support this transition and forestall questions, in the public arena, have reputable scientists (Academics) pick small problems and show that they might be solved.  This work will distract from the real problems.  Examining the challenges evaluated by the Academics, the transition might look doable.  In the background technical experts (the Problem Solvers) work on forestalling the problems that will soon become insurmountable.  While the grid transition is not a nefarious plot, we might be better off it was.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer described malice may be a lesser enemy that what we face.  Dealing with well-intentioned but mislead true believers who become more strident and committed in the face of increasing evidence of the short comings may be a much more alarming scenario than what is described in this paragraph.

As the transition to net-zero continues, what should we expect to see?  The optimistic scenario is a more widespread understanding of the complexities involved leading to more reasonable “good enough” energy plans balancing economics, reliability and environmental concerns. This scenario might include large additions of nuclear with natural gas resources filling the gap until they are available.

The alternative scenario is that the net zero approach continues with wind and solar as key players.  As grid problems become more apparent eventually grid concerns will reach a wider audience.  You will find crossover publications between academics and problem solvers.  If nothing changes as to incentives, these papers will be largely optimistic about what capabilities are just around the corner.  You will see more and more how asynchronous resources might emulate the functions currently provided by synchronous rotating machines.  We might see a grand plan for rapid grid transition as we see calls for energy transition now.

The cost implications could be astounding, as emulating essential reliability services generally requires a large amount of otherwise unusable capacity to be on hand.  Cost estimates associated with the ‘green transition” are notoriously over optimistic.  Cost should not be thought of as the major obstacle. Perhaps the most critical concern is that all these controls are making the complex grid even more and more complex as we get farther and farther away from our extensive real-world experience.  For a more detailed description of these problems see this posting, Renewables and Grid Reliability.    Experience in many areas show we can better build complex systems by tinkering with improvements over time, rather than having them emerge full formed like Athena from the head of Zeus.

Designing large complex systems is fraught with challenges. There can be huge gaps between what works on paper and what works in practice. A couple energy projects stand out for having “green hopes” being dashed by reality.  The Kemper plant was to be a flagship project for clean coal.  It was a key component of President Obamas Climate Plan.  Initially it was supposed to cost $3 billion, it ended up costing over $7 billion.  It was supposed to gasify coal and store the captured carbon but that component of the plant proved unworkable and it cannot use coal or capture carbon.  Now it functions as a 582 MW natural gas plant that could have been built for less than one tenth of the $7 billion in cost.

Ivanpah was one of the most ambitious solar projects, at a cost of $2.2 billion.  The 400 MW plant stretches across 3,600 acres of the Mojave Desert.   The plant concentrates solar thermal energy to produce steam to generate power.  It’s less well known that the plant used natural gas as part of the process. The plant was plagued with problems and did not perform nearly as well as expected.  While generation was much lower than expected, the amount of natural gas used by the plant greatly exceeded expectations.   I found record for five years of the facilities operation (2014-2018).  Were the natural gas, used to preheat the water, instead used to power a combined cycle plant it could have provided roughly 20 to 25% of the total plant output during that time period.   I believe that the plant’s performance is improving with time, but it is hard to tell.  When projects of this sort fail, the problems encountered are not trumpeted as loudly as the initial optimistic assumptions.  The plant has been in operation since 2014 but the DOE webpage for the site while referring to the original projections for annual generation, does not have any readily accessible information or links to actual generation or facility performance.  There are always great press releases on new complex things that will work wonderfully, but when they don’t much is lost in the memory hole.

Evidently the originally intended functioning of both Plan Kemper and Plant Ivanpah were not only considered possible but also considered highly likely.  They both worked well in theory and on paper but proved too complex to implement as intended in the real world. Could large clean coal plants and large solar thermal plants emerge over time through tinkering and improvements on more modest proposals which grew in complexity over time?   That would seem possible, but the likelihood of success goes down the more quickly the transition and the more drastic the change.

We are a long way from figuring out how to solve for a net zero grid in terms of just theory and what might work on paper for many fundamental emerging grid problems. Work is underway on the puzzle pieces with mixed results. How they might fit together takes it to another level.   The challenges of a quick transition to a net zero carbon grid dwarf the complexities of the Kemper and Ivanpah projects.   Bright engineers, scientists and academics are working on the challenges, but they don’t trumpet their concerns as do those with “victories” on smaller problems. It almost seems at time as if all the flash and attention is focused on the more “minor” successes to distract an audience from the more serious concerns emerging from wind and solar. The Visionaries will have their vision and Problem Solvers will be committed to their problems. Who will tie true vision to the actual problems?   It will be dangerous if policy makers are swayed by those who are overly optimistic.  We can’t survive a grid transformation that looked good on paper but in the end turns out to be as disastrous as Kemper and Ivanpah.

Acknowledgements:  Comments from Roger Caiazza are appreciated.

97 responses to “Academics and the Grid Part 3: Visionaries and Problem Solvers

  1. “The cost implications could be astounding, . . . ”
    The costs will be astounding, . . .
    FIFY

    Throwing money at the meso-scale sub-systems in the absence of systemic planning for the macro-scale system is stupidity illustrated.

    The complete lack of time-dependent project planning, for economics; raw materials acquisition, transportation, processing; capital equipment build out; human labor availability and needed skills; will ensure with certainty that costs will be astounding. Some good old fashion Gantt charts with detailed Work Breakdown Structure are needed.

    Picking economic winners and losers from the top down by dictate/dictators has never in all history worked out.

    There’s this old tale from the former USSR. Long after the rest of the world had gone to plastic materials for piping runs, the USSR was still specifying yearly production goals in pounds (kilograms) of piping. And, when you think about it, given that the main purpose of pipes is to facilitate linear runs of distance, how did the metric become mass in the first place. Maybe simply because metal pipes have large mass.

    So it goes.

    • The analogy with the USSR example is not as far-fetched as it seems at first glance.
      We are pursuing a system that:
      Has been sent down by dictate.
      To which we are transitioning even in the absence of a system to which to transition
      Will require significant redundancies in sub-systems which, with certainty, will entail significant costs.
      Has yet to be demonstrated to be scientifically and engineeringly feasible.
      Has yet to be demonstrated to be possible given the current status of important raw materials.
      For which there are already real-world empirical data that indicate that it won’t work.
      Will/is denying a very significant number of countries/people to a life that we have so far enjoyed.
      &etc. &etc.

      • windmilltilter

        Bloody brilliant; the article and this reply. Please send it along to the PM of Canada, the hysteria world leader whose brilliant suggestion (no action!) was for the Provincial Premiers to take the grid task on, while ev’s power consumption is predicted to double, nay, triple the current output of Canada.

  2. We’re seeing how well the grid is working in concert with renewables this winter. The Independence Institute’s report provided a good picture of how fossil fuels (22% coal, 59% natural gas) kept Colorado warm when “low wind and limited sunlight that makes generating electricity from renewables nearly impossible.” The report noted that “between December 30th and January 2nd, Colorado’s wind fleet (with its roughly 4,500 MW of installed capacity) went from producing 2,000 MWh of electricity down to the negatives on multiple occasions. Solar generation similarly flatlined on January 2, when overcast skies arrived in the state.” As one point the electricity generation mix reached 97% fossil fuels.
    I’m sure that other regions of the U.S. are experiencing the same results as they experience winter cold, dark and windless days that preclude using renewables to any extent.
    Schussler mentions Ivanpah solar farm in the Mojave, which so far its only claim to fame is the number of bird kills — some 6,000 per year — as they fly too close to the mirrored panels, called by many “fry babies.” Surely the environmentalists appreciate the collateral damage and bird sacrifice of saving the planet.

    The newest facility here in Arizona is the Agua Caliente Solar Farm, 2,400 acres of desert in Eastern Yuma County, built at that location because of its proximity to the Hasayampa-North Gila 500kV transmission lines. The owners of the solar farm, NRG Energy and MidAmerican Energy Holdings, have a 25-year contract with Pacific Gas and Electric to supply energy. That energy will be needed desperately as San Diego is preparing to drop all natural gas usage, first in newly built structures and residential projects and then by retrofitting existing buildings and residences to accommodate the switch from natural gas to all electric. While they don’t have cold, dark winter months like Colorado, they may be sorry about this switch to all renewables to run a large city.

    Los Angeles County is, I’m sure, grateful for the fact that they purchased 7% of the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant west of Phoenix, as they can at least keep the lights on in LA when things get worse in the Peoples Republic of California.

    • aplanningengineer

      When LADWP built a coal plant in Delta Utah due to LA basin smog concerns in the `980s, I worked for them running studies to make sure among other things, that we operated the system so that if the HVDC line went out, all all that energy wouldn’t redirect on a northbound loop path and fry the lines in Idaho. Engineers keep battling whatever they throw at us, but there has to be some grounding in reason.

  3. This was in The Australian” today – One of Andrew Forrest’s key ­executives has described Sun Cable’s marquee project – the proposed 4200km connection to pump green energy from the Northern Territory to Singapore – as “not commercially viable””. I wonder if Gov money was involved it would have kept on being developed.

    • The project lost its’ only Singapore customer in 2021.

      The 4000km cable between the Northern Territory project site and Singapore was to be laid along the sea bed of about the most active tectonic zone currently on the planet. Tremors, sea bed quakes, volcanic activities, tsunamis. Constantly … as the Aus continent pushes north at 7cm/year.

      Doubtless constant expensive maintenance would minimise risk to some degree, but would a Singaporean customer prefer to rely on a land-based gas pipeline from Malaysia instead ?

  4. … so how do you categorize those who are unafraid to standup against the whole “climate emergency” mantra that is essentially nothing more than hysterical propaganda maliciously concocted to line the pockets of the few? I would call them courageous, pragmatic prophets.

    Spending trillions-and-trillions of dollars on climate change is going to impoverish billions of people and seriously undermine the quality of life for the poor, middle class, and our children and grandchildren. The trajectory of our water planet’s climate will not be affected by our inane attempts to control CO2.

    History is lined with the carnage created by unrestrained zealots and corrupt movements who were allowed to rise by those either too afraid to standup to bullies or thinking they would somehow remain unaffected.

    So is climate change a conspiracy? Actually it is, but more in the sense of those directly and indirectly unjustifiably financially profiting at the expense of the many. That list includes legions of politicians and accomplice companies that go along with the corruption.

  5. This conversation reminds me of the prospect faced by the world in the conversion from animal to fuel based transportation. Think of the millions of miles of high-grade roads required! The tremendous number of refineries and fuel stations! The amount of metals in all this plus the vehicles! Clearly. a bad choice, only possible with massive government subsidies. Bring back the horses!

    • Aplanningengineer

      Do you really think such discussions took place as you surmise? Do you find that a comparable situation? I have problem with organic adoption and expansion of any workable technology as occurred with automobiles, Consider a better analogy wondering where we might be if government had invested in and promoted early aviation technologies such as these: https://youtu.be/fw_C_sbfyx8

      • Aplanningengineer

        I have no problems with organic adoption and expansion…
        We didn’t have winners selected in advance based on emotions, connections and $$. In an open world good ideas will be adopted somewhere and repeated again and again without edicts. From my first posting in 2014

        In the US alone there are hundreds of utilities operating on very different business models including Investor Owned Utilities, Cooperatives, Municipals, Energy Marketers, State and Federal entities. No group of related utilities provides even 5% of the US market. Furthermore, FERC Order 1000 allows non-utility power suppliers to compete as well. Additionally the development of alternative resources is not just limited to the US. The idea that the collective reluctance of a diverse mix of utility engineers, or worse a conspiracy among them, is slowing down the implementation of alternative technology does not make sense. Those who argue that we must trust climate scientists on climate issues should also consider trusting the experts when it comes to power supply.

      • joe - the non climate scientiest

        planing engineer comment – “Those who argue that we must trust climate scientists on climate issues should also consider trusting the experts when it comes to power supply.”

        very valid point by PE
        Though that is the opposite of what the renewable energy advocates demand/believe.

        Individuals with real life expertise in grid operations and plant operations such as PE and Chris morris are not “renewable energy experts” . Therefore only renewable energy experts should be respected.

        None of the so called renewable energy experts have every operated, designed or maintained an generation plant or a grid.
        As I previously stated, How can someone be an expert in something they have never done.

      • Flying over Ivanpah years ago, on my way to Florida, I had a Salvador Dali moment. Clouds below the plane danced across the heliostats/mirrors providing surrealistic images. I assumed the output of the facility dropped similar to how my PV systems instantaneous output dropped when clouds passed by. Back than the Division of Rate Payer Advocates were recommending that PG&E’s long term PPA contract be renegotiated as the facility had failed its output requirements after opening up the natural gas usage specification.
        ….
        A CPUC commissioner supported keeping the PPA details in tack, which contained very favorable time of delivery (TOD) factors for the owner of the facility. The POTENTIAL of the NEXT iteration of CSP technology (Cresent Dunes dispatchable generation enabled by molten salt energy storage) was stated as a reason for keeping the TOD factors and costs per kWh in place.

        Cresent Dunes development and commercialization efforts haven’t been a complete failure it seems-

        Solar plant near Tonopah producing power for NV Energy after stop during bankruptcy | KLAS (8newsnow.com)

        https://www.8newsnow.com/news/local-news/solar-plant-near-tonopah-producing-power-for-nv-energy-after-stop-during-bankruptcy/

        Cresent Dunes failure to perform likely contributed to the rolling black outs CA experienced during a regional heat wave back in 2020.
        ….
        Naturally my former area in CA was blacked out during the lack of dispatchable generation. We pulled our Honda generator off the porch to provide power to the homestead during the black out as it was over 100F and our wells water served as part of our fire protection plan(s).

    • joe - the non climate scientiest

      The difference is that the conversion from horses to automobiles was due to innovation and creating a more efficient product. Basic bottom up creativity.

      Renewables are a top down dictate.

      You may recall , incandesent light bulbs were to be banned and replaced with floresent lighting. the floresant bulbs being crap.

      Major difference in a planned economy and a free economy.

      fortunately at the time the creation LED bulbs was just passed its infancy, and LED lighting has taken over. Fortunate timing in that if led’s had been just a couple years later in development, we would be stuck with the crappy flouresent lighting because no one would spend money developing a product when the mandate was for flourasent bulbs. .

      • windmilltilter

        History suggested it was more a matter of the clean-up problem that “followed” the horses in New York city.

      • joe – the non climate scientiest wrote;

        1) learn how to spell “scientist”
        2) Renewables are a top down dictate.

        Nothing wrong with that, because we know that fossil fuels have enormous negative externalities.

        Or do you think everyone on Earth has a right to pollute regardless of its impact on other people?

      • Thanks for the hysterical claptrap Appell.

    • Paved roads were a latter development in the saga of motorized vehicles. The free market got the product off the ground. Existing dirt roads were used. Then there were some privately owned toll roads built. After that, just about everyone could see the benefit of paved roads and that government funding made sense, in this case.

    • The conversation reminds me of the conversion from burning wood to coal. What do we need for that? Railroads, coal power plants, power lines, electrical bulbs, electricians. All kinds of stuff. It’s better if just burn wood to heat our homes and use candles to see by at night.

  6. Well, my current residence was built (ca 1969) as an “All Electric House” with a branded door knocker on the front door to show off it’s pedigree to anyone that might be interested. It was “super insulated” by the standards of those days.

    This was the era of electricity that was “too cheap to meter” provided by Nuclear Reactors, Then some thing happened near Harrisburg Pa (I was at college about 50 miles away at the time) and “Cheap Electricity” went away. Then we where going to “run out” of everything from Nat Gas to Oil to Talcum Powder….

    Remember a POTUS telling us that we where going to have to live in colder houses, not drive our cars so much…. And he set up a Federal Department of Energy that has produced maybe 100 kiloWatt hours of useful energy….

    Now we have returned to “Renewable Energy” like you can use it and it magically replaces itself…. RIGHT…. Like Schrodinger’s Cake, you can eat it and also have it to eat later…..

  7. ‘Visionary’ is is code for Western academia’s least productive productive.

    • Before giving over responsibility for our lives to visionaries of climate disaster like Al Gore who was only given a Nobel for being anti-American. We need real facts not convenient facts and not, politically-correct facts. An objective search for truth, wherever the facts may lead, may be a hard task and who but ourselves will put out all that effort for our sakes?

    • Need visions? Smoke marijuana, eat mushrooms …

      • Leftists’ belief in a bigger more powerful government to solve the problems of ever bigger and more powerful government is mushrooming.

  8. Visionary describes the political leaders of most Western countries, so their climate policies are also visionary aspirations unanchored to real limits of their favourite technologies.

  9. I concur with Planning Engineer’s comments about the differences between visionaries and problems solvers. As an example, in the previous post, I linked to a paper on poor system security and sub-synchronous frequencies in a large part of the Australian grid. The academics don’t understand these or the problems these will cause. The issues are serious. They can feed back through the transformers into generators (or syncons) causing torsional oscillations. These will crack the rotors and possibly lead to the destruction of the unit. Having heavy lumps of metal flying around the switchyard is not a good look.
    There is a sort of fix, at least when the extraneous frequencies aren’t too big an amplitude. They just have to build extra equipment and it has a significantly higher parasitic load. That solution isn’t something academics are any help on – it is all plant engineers – the problem solvers. However, that fix may only work for small amplitudes. It may need a lot more sophisticated (and expensive) approach for significant ones.
    And with the unreliable generators being at the ends of long radial spokes on the grid maps, these type of problems will rapidly become more common and most can’t be predicted. Just how many outages are needed before the population at large turns on the proponents?

    • Geoff Sherrington

      Chris,
      The problems you list have a dollar consequence, but where can a valid cost analysis be found, let alone cost:benefit?
      In short, can you recommend a publication or two where the real, operational costs of the main NEM electricity type alternatives are properly accounted and fairly compared?
      I have not read all of the many AEMO articles, but those I have read do not have such comparisons. They are stated by AEMO to consider only factors that are concordant with government policies like net zero by 2050 and Paris Agreement.
      Do you find, like I do, that it is hard to accept major, national scale planning that has not been fully analysed and that has not been presented to the voting public?
      Geoff S

  10. The problem I have with these pie-in-the-sky notions of a SuperGrid or microgrids or whatever latest fad is being pushed by those selling solar panels or wind turbines, is that the US Grid does not appear to be particularly well maintained or provisioned to be able to gear up quickly.
    For example: the DOE released this report in 2012 on “Large Power Transformers and the US Electric Grid”: https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/Large%20Power%20Transformer%20Study%20-%20June%202012_0.pdf
    Some numbers from that report:
    In terms of manufacturing base in 2010, six domestic manufacturers accounted for all power transformers produced in the United States, whereas over 30 power transformer manufacturers existed in China. The total annual production capacity of the six domestic factories was approximately 50,000 MVA in 2010, far below the U.S. market demand of 127,309 MVA for that year.
    This world’s largest installed base of LPTs is aging. Power equipment manufacturers estimated that the average age of LPTs installed in the United States is approximately 40 years, with 70 percent of LPTs being 25 years or older.
    The graph of historical LPT installations in the US from 1948 onwards show clearly that enormous numbers in the 1950s to 1970s vs. the period from the 1980s to today, and the discussion on the logistics of installing even 1 such LPT is sobering. The LPTs are too heavy to move by rail – rail top capacity is 100 tons and LPTs can go up to 800 tons.
    And large transformers aren’t a technology issue – they are a manufacturing, transport and installation issue.

    • Wolf1 – Cannot LPTs be assembled on site?

      • I am no expert on this – but the report does talk about how decommissioning involves draining the liquid (usually oil) along with disassembly.
        However, on the installation side, I would guess that this is too risky. Contamination of fluid, inadequate seals – there are probably lots of reasons why trying to assemble the multiple tons on site isn’t a good idea even though the transport is so non-trivial.

    • I happened to be able to inspect a transformer today at a new station we are building – security fence hadn’t yet gone up. 185MVA so not that big. 180 tonne dry and 50 tonne of oil to go in it according to name plate. Made in Korea where many now come from.
      Even minor site assembly work isn’t feasible because of the construction. Not only do they need clean conditions to assemble, there are also the necessary acceptance tests in a high voltage facility and pressure testing.
      It came to site from the container wharf 250km away on a multi-wheeled transporter via closed highways but mainly by forestry roads. Even if we put an order in for a replacement today, it would be two years before delivery.
      That is the reality for big transformers.

      • Some 20 years ago sourcing for high quality steam castings was from Korea. Saw that in UK and later the source for a European supplier.
        As for transformers the supplier was European but the manufacture in Turkey.
        Then the problem with old transformers is that they were filled with PCB, a carcinogen.

  11. Quite bemusing. And disquieting. The goals are quite contrary to the two known facts about CO2 which by implication is the impetus for these projects:
    1. CO2 at this time, at these levels, is not in control of climate or global temperature. There are 8 other major forcings, and CO2 is not one of the stronger.
    2. We are not in control of CO2 in the atmosphere. This has been demonstrated by the two natural experiments, 1929-1931, and 2020.

    • This is really the heart of the problem. As interesting as it is to study the problems and impossibilities of transition to renewable sources none of it is needed or effective for the erroneous causes of the imaginary problem of “climate crisis”. The real cost benefit analysis that cries for good engineers to address is the basic “how much benefit is possible by limiting CO2 emissions”. In my opinion the evidence leans toward NO BENEFIT so no cost should be allocated.

    • This is the heart of the matter. As interesting as it is to study the problems and impossibilities of transitioning to wind and solar the real cost -benefit study is ” How much benefit is available for emission reduction”. I lean toward the answer of 0.0 and therefore suggest no expense is justified and look at the process of transition as nonsense fraught with expense both real and in loss of opportunity.

  12. Pingback: Academics and the Grid Part 3: Visionaries and Problem Solvers - Climate- Science.press

  13. Before approving big renewables projects, politicians should be required to read BIG IS FRAGILE by Atif Ansar, et al. in The Oxford Handbook of Megaproject Management. Focus is on dams, but their conclusions are just as – maybe even more – applicable to renewables.

  14. “Why are these not discussed more fully? Perhaps it is because there are many incentives to appear overly optimistic and few to none for espousing views that appear even moderately pessimistic.”

    Bingo! A proper scientific discussion and debate is being suppressed by politicians and bureaucrats who are more interested in displays of virtue than achievements.

    Maybe the best, most honest renewable energy/fuels project was Sweden’s GoBiGas that was plagued by all sorts of problems, but has been honestly and openly reported. We can learn from that, but few are.

    https://www.energy.gov/sites/default/files/2022-12/beto-07-gasification-wkshp-nov-2022-thuman.pdf

    • The scientific discussion is also suppressed by the science community. It is perfectly politicized and the community is almost entirely left wing.

  15. Dietrich Hoecht

    Let’s not forget the grid amplifier – electric vehicle conversion from the vroom types. Mandates stand for utopian full transition, which would require the US electrical generation to be doubled (+/-). Headaches beyond the capacity of Tylenol to fix.

    • Joe - the non climate scientist

      Along with conversion of home heating to electricity during the winter – which corresponds to the time of year when wind and solar are generating 10% to 20% of capacity (at max)

      but hey wind is also blowing somewhere when the sun is not shining

      • Joe - the non climate scientist

        Note – As Hoecht notes – the greens want conversion to all electric vehicle fleet and conversion to all electric heating – thus requiring somewhere between 2x-3x increase in electric generation (before accounting for increase in population).

      • Joe – the non climate scientist wrote:
        Note – As Hoecht notes – the greens want conversion to all electric vehicle fleet and conversion to all electric heating – thus requiring somewhere between 2x-3x increase in electric generation (before accounting for increase in population).

        So what?

        Do you think Americans are incapable of rising to this challenge?

      • The “challenge” to convert to EVs is a race to jump into the sewage pond, David. Let China and Europe “win” it.

      • Joe - the reality based non climate scientist

        David Appell | January 16, 2023 at 11:51 pm |
        Joe – the non climate scientist wrote:
        Note – As Hoecht notes – the greens want conversion to all electric vehicle fleet and conversion to all electric heating – thus requiring somewhere between 2x-3x increase in electric generation (before accounting for increase in population).

        Appleman’s comment – “So what?

        Do you think Americans are incapable of rising to this challenge?”

        Appleman – time for you to learn excel – or even basic arithmetic!

        Texas has one of the highest wind and solar penetrations in the US (25%-35%). Yet during the Texas freeze , the combined electric generation from wind and solar was less the 5% for the better part of 4 days. the lack of wind was continent wide. kinda blows up the claim that it is alway blowing somewhere.

        do the basic math –
        That should answer the question as to whether americans are up to the challenge of doing something that will not work

      • Not a scientist wrote:
        Says who is everyone that has looked at renewables objectively.

        “Solar power [with] batteries will be the primary (not exclusive) means of sustainable energy production,” Musk said.​ He believes “quite strongly that solar power will be the single largest source of electricity generation by the mid-point of the century.”

        “People do not understand the magnitude of the business,” Musk said. “It’s really very, very significant.”

        https://www.utilitydive.com/news/8-unforgettable-quotes-from-teslasolarcity-founder-elon-musk/282774/

      • I’m-not-a-scientist wrote:
        Texas has one of the highest wind and solar penetrations in the US (25%-35%). Yet during the Texas freeze , the combined electric generation from wind and solar was less the 5% for the better part of 4 days. the lack of wind was continent wide. kinda blows up the claim that it is alway blowing somewhere.

        Texas is the clown car of energy management. They can’t even keep their power on in winter storms, and that has nothing to do with wind and solar, it’s due to their terrible management and hubris for refusing to join a regional or national grid.

        Texas cannot be taken as an example of anything except political corruption and ineptitude.

      • jim2 just commented:
        The “challenge” to convert to EVs is a race to jump into the sewage pond, David. Let China and Europe “win” it.

        It has to be done and it will be done. But not by sourpusses like you.

    • Progressives want diversity everywhere – except in energy.

      • How about not having a grid too dependent on the Rankine cycle?
        Too hot and the efficiency plunges. Too cold and the moisture freezes the intakes or clogs the fuel supply networks. Too dry and the water is diverted to agriculture and consumers. Wind and solar need zero water to operate and can produce power at temperatures ranging from -30F to 120F degrees. Diversity can be economic security.

      • Joe - the non climate scientist

        jacksmith4tx | January 17, 2023 at 12:37 pm | wrote – ” “Diversity can be economic security.”

        Diversity is good,

        Except that is not what the renewable advocates are advocating. – they want to put all electric generation into one basket ( actually a combination of very unreliable baskets – wind solar hydro and backup though hydro is reliable)

        Though nothing wrong with putting most all eggs into a better basket.

    • Appell – “Do you think Americans are incapable of rising to this challenge?”
      Um, yes, definitely, and a fortiori the world too.

      • jimmww wrote:
        Appell – “Do you think Americans are incapable of rising to this challenge?”
        Um, yes, definitely, and a fortiori the world too.

        I see your point, because Americans have never risen to challenges in the past. Thanks for pointing this out.

  16. Pingback: Academics and the Grid Part 3: Visionaries and Problem Solvers - Watts Up With That?

  17. The “consensus” scientists and Curry have failed to recognise that the effect on temperature of the tiny amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is too small to measure. Sceptics should concentrate on broadcasting this simple idea to the general public at every opportunity.

    Here are quotes from my Blog http://climatesense-norpag.blogspot.com/
    “……….5. CO2 -Temperature and Climate.
    The whole COP Net Zero meme is founded on the flawed assumptions and algorithms which produced the IPCC- UNFCCC model forecasts of coming dangerous temperature increases.
    The “consensus” IPCC models make the fundamental error of ignoring the long- term decline in solar activity and temperature following the Millennial Solar Activity Turning Point and activity peak which was reached in 1990/91 as shown in Figure 1
    The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is .058% by weight. That is one 1,720th of the whole. It is inconceivable thermodynamically that such a tiny tail could wag so big a dog. (13)
    Stallinga 2020 (14) concludes: ” The atmosphere is close to thermodynamic equilibrium and based on that we……… find that the alleged greenhouse effect cannot explain the empirical data—orders of magnitude are missing. ……Henry’s Law—outgassing of oceans—easily can explain all observed phenomena.” CO2 levels follow temperature changes. CO2 is the dependent variable and there is no calculable consistent relationship between the two. The uncertainties and wide range of out-comes of model calculations of climate radiative forcing (RF) arise from the improbable basic assumption that anthropogenic CO2 is the major controller of global temperatures.
    Miskolczi 2014 (15) in “The greenhouse effect and the Infrared Radiative Structure of the Earth’s Atmosphere “says “The stability and natural fluctuations of the global average surface temperature of the heterogeneous system are ultimately determined by the phase changes of water.”
    Also See AleksandrZhitomirskiy2022 Absorption of heat and the greenhouse gas effect. https://independent.academia.edu/AleksandrZhitomirskiy (16) which says:
    “The molar heat capacities of the main greenhouse and non-greenhouse gases are of the same order of magnitude. Given the low concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, their contribution to temperature change is below the measurement error. It seems that the role of various gases in the absorption of heat by the atmosphere is determined not by the ability of the gas to absorb infrared radiation, but by its heat capacity and concentration. ”
    Zaichun Zhul et al 2016 (17) in Greening of the Earth and its drivers report “a persistent and widespread increase of growing season integrated Leaf Area Index (greening) over 25% to 50% of the global vegetated area from 1982 – 2009. ………. C02 fertilization effects explain 70% of the observed greening trend.”
    Policies which limit CO2 emissions or even worse sequester CO2 in quixotic CCS green-washing schemes would decrease agricultural food production and are antithetical to the goals of feeding the increasing population and bringing people out of poverty.”
    For the solar activity – temperature correllation see Figs 1,2,3 in the link above

    Fig 1 Correlation of the last 5 Oulu neutron cycles and trends with the Hadsst3 temperature trends and the 300 mb Specific Humidity. ( 5,6 )
    The Oulu Cosmic Ray count in Fig.1C shows the decrease in solar activity since the 1991/92 Millennial Solar Activity Turning Point and peak There is a significant secular drop to a lower solar activity base level post 2007+/- and a new solar activity minimum late in 2009. In Figure 1 short term temperature spikes are colored orange and are closely correlated to El Ninos. The hadsst3gl temperature anomaly at 2037 is forecast to be + 0.0

  18. Pingback: Academics and the Grid Part 3: Visionaries and Problem Solvers - News7g

  19. PlanningEngineer

    >”… I can’t believe that any parts of the green movement or any governments are plotting to bring down the grid and set back industrialized civilization. But if they were, a good strategy would look a lot like what we are seeing.”

    I enjoy your articles – informative and helpful.

    I have picked up on your ambivalence though. The quote here from your article shows it very well.

    I do think one of the less cogent aims of sections of greenie organisations and the more zealous bureaucrats is to reduce demand for energy through rationing. Calling this a “conspiracy theory” is just a pejorative straw man, a crab walk, designed to avoid hard analysis of the encroaching chaos.

    That does not mean I know how to inject some rational control into the situation.

    • aplanningengineer

      Ianl I would say it’s setting up the careful reader for the Bonhoffer quote. If you are not familiar with it, you should click through and read it. I find it unfortunate that the word “stupid” is used. But I think what he says could be applied to the self-righteous, well intentioned, strident but wrong Visionaries. Similar to the “Anointed” referred to by Thomas Sowell.

      Rather then the typical conspiracy theory suspects, I think well-intentioned but misguided people united around false truths are the bigger danger.

      That and when I was writing it kind of jelled with what a local wag had once said about our small-town mayor after he had signed the city up for a terrible deal. “I don’t think he was paid off, but he should have been.” When people are putting the squeeze on you, they may be cognizant of your limits. But when it’s just incompetence it can go much further. So sometimes I fear incompetence more than I fear malice or theft.

      • Congratulations on finding that Bonhoeffer quote. It very appropriate; especially as it is a paragraph of contrasts, not just an epigram. The only quibble I would have is he doesn’t define “stupid person” other than “reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed”. That looks very similar to Feynman’s quote on theory vrs experimental evidence.
        We prefer the antithesis: “I can’t explain it – the theory says it shouldn’t work but it does in practice.” That or variations on it explains much of what happens in the power industry. Like trying to get people to understand the Ferranti effect – who I note was a business owning electrical engineer (problem solver), not an academic.

      • Remember Hypatia. One of the greatest evils for humanity is the ignorant fanatic.

        Still, it does not mean that the wide grid, in its insatiable appetite for fossil fuels is not a future risk. I recall a graph of prospective fuels cost from about 14 yrs ago with a gradient similar to a lemmings’ cliff.

        Then again, if CO2 is not a killer, then what is that regular millennial destroyer. I am now sure of one thing. ‘Science’ as an establishment hasn’t got a clue. Or worse – protecting the wrong dogma.

  20. Pingback: Academics and the Grid Part 3: Visionaries and Problem Solvers – The Insight Post

  21. Pingback: Academics and the Grid Part 3: Visionaries and Problem Solvers - Lead Right News

  22. It is very important that the utilities are pushing renewables for financial reasons. They are making a fortune rebuilding their asset base with guaranteed profits. They know well that renewables cannot work at greater penetration, but it is a lucrative bubble so they say nothing to burst it. I call it the silence of the power engineers. But burst it must, like all financial bubbles.

    • David Wojick wrote:
      It is very important that the utilities are pushing renewables for financial reasons…. They know well that renewables cannot work at greater penetration….

      Says who??

      • Captain Obvious says so, David.

      • Joe - the honest non climate scientist

        David Appell | January 16, 2023 at 11:00 pm | Reply
        David Wojick wrote:
        It is very important that the utilities are pushing renewables for financial reasons…. They know well that renewables cannot work at greater penetration….

        Appleman comment – “Says who??”

        Says who is everyone that has looked at renewables objectively.

        With real objectivity. Take for example marc jacobsons latest proposal – claiming that he has tested his proposal every 30 seconds across those 45 countries while needing only 4 hour battery and/or other storage backup. Only needing 4 hours because the wind is alway blowing somewhere. Obvious he never serious looked at real time data from EIA or the british, canadian , germany or europe comparable real time data.

      • Wind is always blowing somewhere. And the sun is always shining somewhere.

        I don’t have any data on this but it seemed as if growing up in the middle of the Great Lakes we would barely see the sun from November to April. It would be interesting to see an analysis of the impact of clouds on the electrical productivity of solar in the higher latitudes in winter.

        I thought AOC was quite prescient about space travel when she said some day we will land on the sun, at night of course.

    • We need to be adapted to the climate change the best way possible.
      Global warming is a slow some few millennia to come orbital forced natural process.

      What we need for electricity supply – it is a very cheap and affordable electric energy, a stable non-stopping cheap electric energy production.

  23. It seems to me that, while they make for interesting reading, the arguments made by Planning Engineer in this series mis a fundamental point: the assumption that we are dealing with rational people who are receptive to problem and solution based thinking.

    We aren’t. In fact, Planning Engineer is being terminally naive when he dismisses what he calls “conspiracy theories” that groups of people are in fact out to destroy the system. They are, and there is plenty of perfectly sound evidence to that effect.

    In fact and readily verifiable, the climate crisis narrative has since inception been aimed at dismantling the western industrialized democracies – look no further than UNEP/IPPC co-founder Maurice Strong’s repeated statements to that effect from the 1980s onwards.
    Christiana Fuegeras who signed the 2015 Paris Accord on behalf of the UN, was incontrovertibly explicit at the time stating that the Accord was an important step towards dismantling “the economic system that has dominated the world for over 200 years”. That would unmistakably be capitalism.

    There’s a saying found with some variation around the world that basically says: when a man tells you he’s going to kill you, take him at his word. The environmentalist complex, that for the past decades has comprised western politicians and cronyist business, has been telling us exactly what it intends to do, and has successfully been achieving its objective: the dismantling of western industrialized democracies by means of destroying access to abundant, reliable and affordable energy.
    Look no further.

  24. Author wrote:
    Ivanpah was one of the most ambitious solar projects, at a cost of $2.2 billion…. When projects of this sort fail, the problems encountered are not trumpeted as loudly as the initial optimistic assumptions.

    Please include the cost of the negative externalities of fossil fuels, at Ivanpah and everywhere else, and get back to us.

    • Appell, please include the positive externalities of fossil fuels and get back to us. And while you are at it, list the negative externalities of wind and solar. Stop cherry picking!

    • Joe - the non climate scientist

      David Appell | January 16, 2023 at 10:59 pm | Reply
      Author wrote:
      Ivanpah was one of the most ambitious solar projects, at a cost of $2.2 billion…. When projects of this sort fail, the problems encountered are not trumpeted as loudly as the initial optimistic assumptions.

      Appleman’s comment – “Please include the cost of the negative externalities of fossil fuels, at Ivanpah and everywhere else, and get back to us.”

      Pissing money away on something that doesnt work doesnt solve those negative externalities what ever those negative externalities might be.

      • I’m-not-a-scientist wrote:
        Pissing money away on something that doesnt work doesnt solve those negative externalities what ever those negative externalities might be.

        Again: how much are the negative externalities?

    • jim2 wrote:
      Appell, please include the positive externalities of fossil fuels and get back to us.

      The positive externalities of fossil fuels are the price we pay for them.

      Now: you list the negative externalities.

  25. Geoff Sherrington

    Russell,
    Your essays at Climate Etc have been a reading pleasure. In many ways, some hard to express, your writing indicates that (in earlier years before my retirement from the mining sector) you would have been just the type of person we sought to be part of our team. We used the phrase ‘able to deliver the goods’ when interviewing people, but in our hopes we sought people with the capacity to envisage both the old, existing and new, untested goods to deliver. That is, we sought a mix of the visionary and the problem solver. Without disrespect to you, we did end up working with some unusual people. However, overall, the team was rather successful.
    In those years and now in hindsight, it was hard to avoid thinking about human properties like intelligence, initiative, motivation, deep thought, abstract concepts and the like. There is a spectrum of people with each of these properties – but those with all of them at the sharp end are rare indeed. Some can pass on some properties but fail badly on others, hence use of terms like ‘idiot savant’ and ‘educated but idiotic’. When an author discusses the intelligence of others, it is dangerous ground and likely to earn a label of Dunning-Kruger affliction. Yet, there really is a spectrum of abilities far more complex than an IQ test shows. The progress of a society depends partly on finding the right employment for the particular abilities of people.
    Many comments on ‘sceptic’ blogs like Climate Etc and WUWT express frustration arising from a perceived mismatch of abilities in the areas of climate research and climate policy. This leads to a question of whether it is fruitful to complain about it, to try to change the mismatch. My guess is that labelling people as idiots it is not likely to change much of value. However, there will be improvements when readers of all types are presented with high quality articles that show how excellence looks. (My first reading of papers by Lord Kelvin left a lasting impression about research).
    It is an incentive for each of us to improve our thinking and writing and to describe what experience with a topic can reveal. We need bechmarks of quality to emulate.
    Thank you for such a demonstration. Geoff S

  26. ESG doesn’t have an operative definition, so it’s causing a lot of confusion. Also, it is a money manager’s job to look after the fiduciary interest of his client, not promote political and social goals. So, it’s no wonder this happened …

    “I’m taking this very seriously,” Fink said in an interview with Bloomberg TV at the World Economic Forum in Davos. “We are trying to address the misconceptions. It’s hard because it’s not business any more, they’re doing it in a personal way. And for the first time in my professional career, attacks are now personal. They’re trying to demonize the issues.”

    Fink, 70, has been outspoken about investing with environmental, social and governance goals, making it a focal point in his annual letters to the industry. The firm has become a political punching bag from forces on both ends of the spectrum, with some on the right alleging its policies harm the fossil-fuel industry and others on the left arguing it’s not doing enough to respond to climate change.

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-01-17/blackrock-s-fink-says-esg-narrative-has-become-ugly-personal

  27. @planningengineer

    “It’s rare to find someone unconcerned by climate change, but who think renewables will work really well with the grid.”

    Actually after reading your posts I am beginning to soften my views on renewables.

    I completely understand your concern, that the added complication of asynchronous and intermittent power generation will increase grid instability and vulnerability, and the following cost of solutions. But I have been striving to better understand the concern and learn more, particularly WRT to solutions to how asynchronous power generation might either emulate traditional synchronous generation. I am becoming less convinced that reasonable ones do not exist.

    For example, one way is to decommission a gas or coal plant, but use its generators as a “synchronous condensers”. In Victoria and NSW purpose built synchronous condensers are being produced for renewable infrastructure. The advantage with a decommissioned generator is that very little new infrastructure needs to be built, but the benefits of the inertial system is preserved.

    In terms of storage, there are molten salt solutions, and iron-oxide batteries as well as typical Lithium batteries. There is of course Hydrogen as well, but its short-comings are well documented.

    Maybe these are the solutions that you describe associated with “visionaries”, and whereas poor old problem solvers are left to make it all work somehow.

    What would be useful I think would be for someone with your level of knowledge and experience to make an assessment of the current proposed solutions, how they are tracking and their cost. Some idea of the strengths and weaknesses and the implications to give us a picture.

    My feeling remains that renewable energy – particularly solar and wind, is far too low density energy to be realistically serve mans energy needs into the future without absolutely trashing the environment. They require huge amounts of infrastructure to support them. But in terms of whether it impacts grid reliability I am slightly less convinced at this point.

  28. @Planning Engineer…

    A very good read. I do think that most of the problems you reference could be solved with a strategy of using existing, mature pumped hydro technology for energy storage to flatten the variation curve of solar (and, perhaps, wind) power.

    Rather than jumping to new technology of bidirectional pumps/turbines, why not use mature turbine technology of the sort already used for existing hydro-power, and mass-produced, decentralized DC/inverter powered pumps for the uphill trip? These latter could be powered directly by solar farms nearby. (Being unconnected from the grid they wouldn’t impact its reliability. This would also allow solar (and perhaps wind) power to be isolated from the grid, reducing its impact.)

    The actual issue of finding locations for pumped hydro could be solved without building enormous dams by using existing reservoirs as the low-side reservoirs, and high, shallow lakes behind long, low dams created with bulldozers and plastic film for the high-side. (I’m thinking of Lake Mead and the highlands around it as an example.)

    As a bonus, much of the solar power could probably be floating on the high-side lakes, at least on the deeper portions that don’t dry out during regular duty cycles.

    Such an approach could allow a gradual roll-out, with opportunities to solve problems as they arise, rather than massive, complex projects that will be most of the way through before problems are discovered.

    • Geoff Sherrington

      AK,
      Hydro is not a simple device that can be operated under a few standard rules. For example, it is rather dependent on weather at the time. The same is true of water management in all dams, hydro or not.
      Here in Australia, we have seen the city of Brisbane flooded by water release from non-hydro Wivenhoe Dam, a dam built to lessen flood impact. In practice, there are competing uses for water that can be in conflict and at times have been.
      The Blowering Dam, part of the Snowy Hydro scheme, was unable to provide adequate electricity in part of 2022 because it was too full. Release of water through the generators would have flooded/damaged downstream assets.
      Geoff S
      https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-06-20/snowy-hydro-water-problem-weather-driver-energy-crisis/101158300

    • Michael Cunningham aka Faustino aka Genghis Cunn

      The Australian government (under Turnbull) bought the Snowy Hydro scheme from NSW and Victoria for a pumped hydro scheme for $A6 billion. So a great deal of money for no change, at that point. Several years and about $A8bn later, we are nowhere near having a scheme. If we ever get one, the cost will be preposterous for very little if any benefit.

  29. I have to disagree with Russell’s basic conclusion in these 3 posts.

    There is non-fluff academic work being done to enable more penetration of renewables. To conclude otherwise is misleading.

    The US national labs (NREL & ORNL) and R&D teams at utilities (like Duke Energy, PG&E, etc.) along with standards bodies (NAESB and the IEEE) are all researching and implementing means to safely generate more GWs from asynchronous sources.

    For example, Dr. Stuart Laval @ Duke, has implemented DER from solar & wind at multiple sites for over 5 years now. I got an invitation to walk through 1 of these sites in Mt Holly, North Carolina while they islanded and re-synchronized with the grid. And they’ve published findings in the IEEE’s peer reviewed journal: https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/9509435, https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/9516897

    Readers of these 3 articles will walk away thinking that no serious academics or research is being done, or at best it’s all armchair simulations with no field deployments. That is not at all accurate.

    Perhaps Russell’s search for only “net zero” made his findings and conclusions myopic? Net Zero isn’t synonymous with safe and reliable renewable research on the power grid of the future. Such a narrow search probably led to confirmation bias. A more broad search, including terms in literature like DER, “microgrid”, etc. would have returned a fairer review about what power systems academics are working on.

    • Unfortunately, there is no scientific proof that “climate change” (global warming) will be catastrophic. My guess is you are making a good living off that fantasy.

    • jp
      The first link is just about theoretical modelling and no actual validation on even a microgrid. The second is behind a paywall and the abstract tells us nothing about the nature of the grid it worked on. But even if it was islanding and resyncing, I would have to say “so what!” That was done a hundred years ago by operators watching a couple of dial gauges and turning a switch at the right time.
      Peer reviewed doesn’t mean what academics want you to think it means. By itself, it isn’t any signifier of quality or even validity. I have been both a published author and peer reviewer in a number of those type of journals. Even have my own Elsevier Reviewer account.
      It is relatively easy to run an islanded distribution system, even one with embedded generation, when things are going along nice and predictably, like 90+% of the time. Any valid tests would need to be from minimum to peak load, uncontrolled load changes, with parallel circuits and step up/ step down transformers.
      On those solar/ wind/ battery microgrids when islanded, what happened when they DOL started a big motor, like one rated at 5% of the grid load? What were their frequency ranges? What harmonics occurred including transients and sub synchronous ones? How were the VARs managed? And the big one, what did it cost?
      The answers to those questions are what grid operations are about.

      • “The first link is just about theoretical modelling and no actual validation on even a microgrid. ”

        Well, you can go to Mt Holly or another microgrid site to voice your opinion that the work those researchers and engineers are doing is only theoretical.

        “But even if it was islanding and resyncing, I would have to say “so what!” That was done a hundred years ago by operators watching a couple of dial gauges and turning a switch at the right time.”

        Sure, that’s fair and actually I think the same of this early work. It’s like these microgrids are on a scale when each city/town’s utility operated at their own frequency, voltage, and consumers had to buy appliances rated for their local utility, etc. Yes the microgrid sites are tiny compared to the regionals. It’s very early, small, and re-doing what had started it all. But I think smaller, iterative progress is a positive thing for reliable grids in the future.

        Progress has to start somewhere. Russell and anyone only looking to criticize a “net zero” alarmist view seem to belittle any progress to mean nothing.

        Your questions sound serious but I’m no power systems guy. I only worked on 1 technology as 1 vendor’s input into the reliability of 1 microgrid’s replacement of controls. Our input was focused on control technologies putting grids at well known cybersecurity risks that power systems implementations have punted on for decades. (The state of SCADA/ModBus/OPC cybersecurity is laughable yet utilities continue to refresh their hardware knowing the risk to the grid.) The public is none the wiser about grid fragility under digital controls until incidents like the 2015 & 2016 Ukrainian outtages happen. (And those outtages had nothing to do with your questions about grid reliability.)

        So I take a positive view on this early research as a means to push forward a couple of overdue grid updates, like control technology, distributed resourcing, asynchronous sources, etc. that could make our power more strategically resilient. Perhaps power systems folks would rather each change done separately? change generation to more solar, and not just solar farms but every rooftop, and then update all controls to be secure, etc. Maybe that is a better approach than what researchers are doing with these microgrids that do an all-in-one overhaul. Anyways, it’s still myopic to criticize small, iterative progress only in the lens of “net zero” alarmism.

      • jp
        I can’t speak for Planning Engineer and I see issues through a different lens to him, but I would have thought the questions I posed were the first things academics would try to address before they try to emulate inertia.
        At the very least, they should have a big detailed list of the requirements and behaviour of a grid, especially under stress conditions, that is dominated by rotating and synchronous plant. System strength should be head of the list, not totally ignored. Then they try to develop power system electronics to match that specification.
        Coming from my background and experiences, I have little faith in an all electronic control for many aspects of power generation. Too many things can go wrong – everyone seems to be beta testing at best bespoke systems. When they do cause failures, they are a black box to understand – necessary before one can fault find and fix. A good example of this was the control and protection systems in the South Australian windfarms which caused their blackout. My reticence to accept new technology until it has been proven to match the reliability of the current system seems to be matched by the grid operators worldwide. That is why they are installing syncons everywhere – something that most thought went out in the 70s.

    • How many GWh of dispatchable “green” energy do you posit will be deployed on the US grid in the next 5 years?

    • Perhaps you can point out the research that predicted the growing amounts of curtailment. That would be an indicator that academics are looking at real world consequences.
      How about inverter production causing grid failures?
      I note above that the US grid is likely already behind in term of large power transformers; microgrids is just the latest fad to ignore baseline capabilities in favor of nonsense. Microgrids is a terrible idea for several reasons, not the least is which they will be proportionately far more expensive to build vs. electricity delivery capability. This in turn means that microgrids will principally be marked by installation in rich neighborhoods and areas so that the decline in reliability of the overall grid won’t impact the rich at all.
      Lastly: brandishing an example of a professor presiding over solar PV and/or wind installs is literally supporting Mr. Schussler’s conclusion: that at least some academics are insufficiently objective due to their direct involvement in alternative energy. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to criticize your own rice bowl.
      There can be, and is, a role for solar PV and wind in a grid but it isn’t Net Zero or even a majority – at least so far based on multiple years of real world outcomes.

    • Joe - the non climate scientist

      JP – thanks for the link and discussion regarding the asychorized sources. including your comment :

      “The US national labs (NREL & ORNL) and R&D teams at utilities (like Duke Energy, PG&E, etc.) along with standards bodies (NAESB and the IEEE) are all researching and implementing means to safely generate more GWs from asynchronous sources.”

      That being said, The two major hurdles that I foresee with 100% renewables and/or high renewable penetration are:
      a) intermedicy – ie frequent low production from wind and solar often lasting 2-3 days and in the case of europe in the summer of 2022 almost 2 months, and
      B) the intertia / asynchronous frequency disruptions.

      My take after reading advocates proposals for 100% renewables such as jacobson’s proposals / claims that 100% can be done, is that those proposals are not realistic in how the intermedicy is being address, Jacobson is relying heavily on only needing 4 hour backup for the vast majority of situations, and 8 hour backup is overkill. Nor have I seen in Jacobson proposal anything of merit addressing the asynchonized issues. – almost as if he doesnt discuss it, then no one outside the industry will think the issue exists.

      This raises the question as to why the adults in the renewable industry not calling out the charlatans? perhaps becasue the charlatans have sued the adults for pointing out the falacies?

      thanks for any follow up comments

  30. “The first link is just about theoretical modelling and no actual validation on even a microgrid. ”

    Well, folks can go to Mt Holly or any microgrid site to tell those engineers and researchers that it’s only theoretical.

    “But even if it was islanding and resyncing, I would have to say “so what!” That was done a hundred years ago by operators watching a couple of dial gauges and turning a switch at the right time.”

    Sure, that’s fair and actually I think the same of this early work. It’s very early and small. These microgrids are only on a scale of when each city/town’s utility operated at their own frequency, voltage, and consumers had to buy appliances rated for their local utility, etc. So yea they’re tiny compared to regionals. Progress has to start somewhere. Russell and someone looking to critize a “net zero” alarmist view seem to belittle any progress to mean nothing.

    Your questions sound serious ones to be answered, and perhaps that’s Russell’s point??

    I’m no power systems expert. I worked on 1 technology as 1 vendor’s input into the resiliency of 1 microgrid. Our input was on how control technologies expose grids to cybersecurity risks that power systems implementations have punted on for decades. (The state of SCADA/ModBus/OPC cybersecurity is laughable yet utilities continue to refresh their hardware knowing the risk.) The public is none the wiser about grid fragility under digital controls until incidents like the 2015 & 2016 Ukrainian outtages happen. (And those outtages had nothing to do with your questions; causes were lack of 2FA, no network/VLAN segmentation, no IDS, etc. all well known cybersecurity countermeasures with vendor technologies that utilities should have implemented 20+ years ago by consulting those of us in IT/OT: https://selinc.com/api/download/117044.)

    So I take a positive view on these early implementations as a means to push on a couple of overdue grid updates, like control technology, distributed resourcing, asynchronous sources, etc. that could make our grid more strategically resilient. Perhaps it would be better to phase-in each change, so 1st do secure controls, then solar farms, then rooftops everywhere. It’s myopic to criticize small, iterative progress only in the lens of “net zero” alarmism.

    • You are correct in that there is no reason microgrids cannot work.
      However, you are incorrect in implying that engineering capability is the issue.
      The issue is whether microgrids are a superior deployment of grid structure, in cost and reliability, vs. the existing power grid.
      The answer to this is: extremely unlikely.

      The reason is exactly the same as solar PV and wind subsidies for residential consumers: people with lots of money can afford to pay up front (and reap massive subsidies) for solar PV and wind installs – most other people cannot.

      What are the actual capital costs of the Mount Holly microgrid vs. the NC transmission grid, per mile? It is telling that the capital and operating costs of this project are blacked out in the application form available to the public: https://starw1.ncuc.gov/ncuc/ViewFile.aspx?NET2022&Id=6323ccbc-62d0-47e2-b900-a8695244f223
      However, since there was both transmission line upgrades, a new solar PV facility AND a battery backup install – it is safe to say that this microgrid was extremely freaking expensive. As in little finger on the lips, BEEELLIONS expensive.

      I could as easily argue for the ultimate microgrid: a diesel generator for every house. 100% reliability. No transmission capacity needed. But in reality, this is a terrible idea because it is extremely expensive and the logistical issues of supplying diesel to 40 million Californians is literally impossible.

  31. I have an article on these articles, in the context of FERC’s proposed rule making to constrain renewables.
    https://www.cfact.org/2023/01/19/power-engineer-explains-why-renewables-wont-work/

    No one here seems to have noticed FERC’s action. Too real world?

  32. Russell: Sorry I’m late to the conversation. I’ve had the crazy idea of promoting natural gas generation plants as the key to “making electricity from renewables reliable”. If I understand correctly, natural gas plants have low capital costs ($0.01 per kW-h?) and high fuel costs ($0.03 per kW-h?). So, it would only cost an extra $0.01 per kW-h to have natural gas plants continuous standing by able to meet maximum demand no matter how little or much power is being generated by wind and solar. When wind and solar are providing all the electricity we need, we pay $0.01 per kW-h for unused backup from a natural gas plant. When renewables are not adequate, then we pay $0.01 per kW-h for the plant plus $0.03 per kW-h for the natural gas it needs to burn. This minimizes CO2 emissions and guarantees reliability at the same time.

    The green approach is to have a grid with zero emissions or X% reduced emissions and hope it can meet demand (but knowing it probably can’t). We might call this the defined reduction in emissions approach. The alternative is to start with a grid that is reliable and gradually reduce the amount of CO2 it emits by using wind and solar WHEN THEY ARE AVAILABLE (whether or not they are cheaper than burning natural gas). You can add as much wind and solar generation capacity to such a grid as society wants, but as more and more of that capacity is wasted when the sun is shining brightly and/or the wind is blowing strongly and we don’t have the transmission or storage capacity to avoid that waste, society will be less willing to pay for that renewable generation capacity. Practical experience and cost will define how much emissions go down. If you want to include a real or artificial carbon tax to your cost calculations, great. That is far better that demanding reductions in emissions without understanding how much such reductions cost.

  33. A harbinger of things to come?

    “ Much of Pakistan was left without power Monday as an energy-saving measure by the government backfired. The outage spread panic and raised questions about the cash-strapped government’s handling of the country’s economic crisis.”

    “As an economic measure, we temporarily shut down our power generation systems” Sunday night, Dastgir said. When engineers tried to turn the systems back on, a “fluctuation in voltage” was observed, which “forced engineers to shut down the power grid stations one by one.”

    https://apnews.com/article/disaster-planning-and-response-karachi-pakistan-islamabad-business-2dc7d442d662f462de146111d02c49e2

Leave a Reply