Reliability is Everything

Reliability is Everything

A recent Wall Street Journal article, The Power Struggle, raised the importance of grid reliability, but claimed that electric grid failures were caused by climate change.

The claim that climate risk is undermining grid reliability is an illusion. The WSJ article correctly diagnosed the danger of  blackouts, but incorrectly determined that the cause was climate change.

is their proposed cure, i.e.,more wind, solar and batteries for storage, that is causing the problem.

As usual, some of their assumptions are wrong.

For example, the WSJ article said:

    1. “Wind and solar technologies have become increasingly cost-competitive and now rival coal, nuclear and, in some places, gas-fired plants.”

And:

    1. “Unlike electric systems in Europe, distribution and transmission lines in the U.S. were typically built overhead instead of buried underground, which makes them more vulnerable to weather.”

And:

    1. ”Wind and solar farms, whose output depends on weather and time of day, have become some of the most substantial sources of power in the U.S., second only to natural gas.”

Here are some facts:

  1. Wind and solar are not less costly than existing natural gas combined cycle (NGCC), coal-fired or nuclear power plants. They are also not less costly than new NGCC power plants. And they are, without question, far more costly when the cost of batteries, needed to backup up wind and solar, are included in the cost of generating and distributing electricity.
  2. Transmission lines in Europe are above ground except for a few DC transmission lines, mostly used to span waterways, just as in the US. The US has many more suburbs which resulted in distribution lines being built above ground, but distribution lines in new developments, since the 1960s, have largely been built underground.

I place the time as the 1960s because I was a manager at the plant making distribution transformers when we began making pad-mounted transformers used for underground distribution. Subsequently, in the 1990s, while living in Reston, I happened across one of the compact pad-mounted transformers we had shipped to the Reston developer, Bob Simon, in 1963.

  1. Wind and solar are not a substantial “source of power” generated by all power plants serving the grid. Together, wind and solar only provided 10.6% of the electricity in 2020.

Rather than solving problems, wind and solar are creating problems and increasing costs.

Reliability

Wind and solar are increasing the likelihood of blackouts. This is explained in the book, The Looming Energy Crisis, Are Blackouts Inevitable? 

These two recent article provide some details about why using wind and solar  are hurting reliability.

Cost

Wind and solar are increasing costs for two reasons: 

  1. Their actual costs are larger than reported in the media.
  2. Wind and solar must have backup, usually using batteries, and the cost of storage is not included in levelized cost of electricity (LCOE). The cost of storage is usually paid for by the utility.

These two recent articles provide some details concerning costs.

This chart shows that wind and solar require 25 times more critical materials than NGCC power plants, resulting in the US being dependent on other countries.

Summary

The WSJ article cites several situations where the grid is stressed, and includes this admonition by a professor at Wayne State University:

“Everything is tied to having electricity, and yet we’re not focusing on the reliability of the grid. That’s absurd, and that’s frightening.”

He, and all Americans, should be terrified by the addition of wind and solar to the grid and how baseload, dispatchable power plants, i.e.,  natural gas, coal-fired and nuclear, are being removed from the grid.

. . .

 

 

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11 Replies to “Reliability is Everything”

  1. Solar and wind energy are touted as the solution for climate change, yet solar and wind power transmission is threatened by climate change?
    Does that imply the problem and the cure are incompatible?

    • Actually, wind and PV solar are incompatible with the grid because of the need for storage, except for limited applications. In my view, trying to have wind and solar replace all fossil fuels is a fools errand.

  2. Another excellent article. I’m putting it on my climate science and energy blog today, with attribution ad a link. 329 visitors so far today — I wish I posted it earlier — my readers love short, concise articles like yours. I decided to delete the Lazard chart, but kept the link to your article about it. They don’t account for fossil fuel back up, or batteries, so their numbers are baloney, and I don’t serve baloney to my blog readers!

    I got a good laugh from the joke inserted by your spell checker:
    ” Canneries in the Coal Mine”
    Unless they’ve started canning fruits and vegetables
    in coal mines, that should be “canaries”.

    While it may not be a big issue:
    How about the initial start up problems when launching SO MANY brand new power plants in the next few decades? I know you have plant management experience, and I have experience in product development: Launching a new product at an existing manufacturing plant has plenty of start up problems. New power plants are likely to have start up problems too, in addition to the usual hours with no sun, and no wind.

    • Thanks for noting the misspelling. I checked the original article and the spelling was fine. Obviously I mistyped it when writing the latest article.
      I haven’t had to start up a wind turbine or PV solar installation, but I’m sure there are many problems. With wind, I suspect the transportation issues are immense. PV solar should be fairly simple, with the primary problem being the connections to the grid, i.e., cabling, substation and access.
      At GE, I spent three years on the Manufacturing Management Program and am very familiar with introducing new products to the factory floor. Getting engineering to adjust designs to facilitate manufacturing processes is usually an issue. Glad you have had the same experience.

  3. Pingback: Weekly Climate and Energy News Roundup #495 – Watts Up With That?

    • Interesting about switching on “kettles”. I think there are similar issues in Asia with respect to rice cookers. I know, many years ago, that rice cookers were turned on in Taiwan at approximately the same time every day.
      The main conclusion from these examples is that there must be adequate reserve capacity to protect against sudden surges in demand.