The Duck Speaks

The term that’s currently de rigueur, is “over-generation”.

It’s supposed to indicate that power generation, using fossil fuels, is being done in excess.

What over-generation really means is the “over-generation” of expensive and unreliable electricity by wind and solar.

The Duck tells all.

Diagram 1, CAISO Duck Curve
Diagram 1, CAISO Duck Curve

The Duck curve was created by the California ISO (CAISO) because California is confronted with too much electricity being generated by wind and solar, leaving traditional power generation under utilized. The curve is for a single day in March, but curves for the rest of the year are similar.

The year 2020, represents 33% penetration by renewables.

The very top curve depicts when virtually all of the electricity was generated by traditional sources in 2012. Traditional sources being fossil fuels. In succeeding years, 2015 through 2020, the belly of the Duck depicts the electricity generated by renewables, primarily wind and solar.

The heavy dark lines in Diagram 1 & 2 depict the electricity supplied by traditional sources.

The difference between the topmost curve and the bottom curve, the shaded area in diagram 2, represents the supposed over-generation from traditional sources, but which more accurately depicts the over-generation by expensive and unreliable renewables.

Diagram 2, CAISO Duck Curve
Diagram 2, CAISO Duck Curve

And the belly of the Duck becomes extended in the years beyond 2020, and absolutely bloated by 2030, when California expects renewables to achieve 50% penetration.

Imagine the bloated belly of the Duck extending far below the x axis, perhaps to zero.

The Duck makes abundantly clear the impossible plight of utilities that supply electricity from traditional sources, while also showing why California can’t survive without electricity from fossil fuels.

Until early morning a certain amount of electricity is supplied to the system from traditional fossil fuels. But during the day only about half of the available capacity of traditional sources is used in 2020, with perhaps only one-quarter, or less, of the capacity being used in the years after 2020.

And then there is the sudden shock in the evening when the system must suddenly ramp up within three hours to its highest capacity utilization, at around 25,000 GW, which places a terrible strain on the system.

The stresses incurred are actually worse, because there is additional ramping up and down of traditional power plants due to the sudden loss of electricity when the wind stops blowing or the sun stops shining during the day.

Sudden ramping up and down causes severe thermal and other stresses on the system, including equipment damage due to differences in thermal expansion between the materials used in boilers, gas turbines and other equipment.

Germany is already rapidly approaching the situation in which California will find itself in 2020. In Germany, the penetration in 2012 of wind and solar was 22%, and increasing rapidly.

In Germany the utilities are trying to dispose of all their traditional methods of power generation, because they can’t survive with the bloated belly of the Duck.

Germans are already paying four to five times as much for electricity as do Americans.

If the belly of the Duck is distended far below the x axis, the utilities in California won’t be able to survive when they can only generate 1/4, or less, of the electricity for which they have built capacity.

If utilities have invested in, and built, 25,000 GW of capacity, but can only generate enough electricity to cover 1/4 of their investment, one of two things must happen.


  1. The utilities must charge rates triple or quadruple their current rates, or,
  2. The government must take over, i.e., expropriate, the utilities, and use tax payer money to subsidize the generation of electricity from fossil fuels, using, what will then be, power plants and grid owned by the government.

The end result is that people and companies will be paying:

  1. For expensive and unreliable electricity generated by wind and solar,
  2. While also paying much higher rates, either directly to the utilities to cover their underutilized investments, or through higher taxes for electricity generated by government owned utilities using traditional fossil fuels.

The California government hopes that storage can minimize the Duck’s negative effects. But, except for pumped storage, which can’t be built because it requires dams that extreme environmentalists oppose, the prospects for sufficient storage to offset the negative aspects of the duck are not promising. Especially if we include the entire country.

Thirty or more states have renewable portfolio standards (RPS) mandating the use of renewables.

But, even if storage is developed, it is more expensive than building natural gas power plants, so the consumer will still be paying much more for a less reliable system.

The Duck tells all, and his message isn’t good for America if the current infatuation with renewables continues.

Over-generation is caused by inefficient, expensive and unreliable renewables.

This isn’t the AFLAC Duck paying money to people who have been injured.

This is the opposite, where the California Duck causes people to pay a great deal more for their electricity, and for a system that is less reliable.

The next article has the Duck explaining higher electricity prices and why storage is critical.

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