Monday, December 29, 2014

The Grid Reliability Myth - by Carl Pope

Power lines are seen as an out-of-control wildfire threatens the electrical grid in the area on June 9, 2011 in Springerville, Arizona. (Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
On August 1, 2011, a feral heat wave grasped Texas by its drought-parched throat.  Temperatures remained over 100 degrees for 40 days -- dozens of people died.  Air conditioners all over the state struggled valiantly to cool buildings -- much of their effort leaked out into the hot Texas sky.  Then, one by one, twenty power plants -- primarily natural gas peaker plants -- winked out because of the temperature.  The cost for a KWH of electricity during the afternoon peak reached $5000.  While inland wind was also low during the heat wave, coastal breezes kicked up.  Wind power barely kept the grid operator from having to black out neighborhoods.  Grid operators conceded that equipment failures in such heat were to be expected.  The irony here is that the power plants which failed -- inefficient peakers with a high cost per KWH -- are justified on the basis that they will be required only occasionally, during extreme weather -- but apparently are not designed to be available in those very circumstances!

Remember this episode the next time you hear -- or read -- that we can't progress to 100 percent clean energy because the centralized, fossil grid is more "reliable."  Our current coal and natural gas reliant grid is anything but reliable.  The Galvin Electricity Intiative led by former Motorola CEO Bob Galvin and former Edison Electric CTO Kurt Yeager, describes the grid as:
Aging, unreliable, inefficient, insecure and incompatible with the needs of a digital economy.... each day roughly 500,000 Americans spend at least two hours without electricity.  Brownouts, power spikes and even minor blips can bring high-tech production lines to a halt.  Such impurities and failures cost business and consumers an estimated $150 billion a year.  Moreover, the system is vulnerable to terrorist attack, major storms and even moderately turbulent weather.

Read more at The Grid Reliability Myth

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