Monday, June 19, 2017

Can the U.S. Grid Work with 100% Renewables?  There's a Scientific Fight Brewing

Four Days in 2055: Dynamic heat and power supplies in the wind, water and sunlight-fueled Continental U.S. simulated by Stanford's Mark Jacobson (Credit: Arizona State University/PNAS) Click to Enlarge.Read more at
A battle royale between competing visions for the future of energy blew open today on the pages of a venerable science journal.  The conflict pits 21 climate and power system experts against Stanford University civil and environmental engineer Mark Jacobson and his vision of a world fuelled 100 percent by renewable solar, wind, and hydroelectric energy.  The criticism of his “wind, water and sun” solution and an unapologetic rebuttal from Jacobson and three Stanford colleagues appear today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The critics enumerate what they view as invalid modeling tools, modeling errors, and “implausible and inadequately supported assumptions” in a projection of the mid-century U.S. energy supply that Jacobson and his coauthors published in PNAS in 2015.  “The scenarios of [that paper] can, at best, be described as a poorly executed exploration of an interesting hypothesis,” write the experts, led by Christopher Clack, CEO of power grid modeling firm Vibrant Clean Energy. 

Clack says their primary goal is accurate science, the better to equip policymakers for critical decisions:  “We’re trying to be scientific about the process and honest about how difficult it could be to move forward.” 
What is certain, from the darkening findings of climate science, is that climate change calls for a bold remake of the global energy system of the sort that both Clack and Jacobson have championed.  Their respective visions certainly appear to have more in common than ever as the Trump Administration seeks to turn back the clock on grid engineering.

The U.S. power sector is bracing for the release of a power grid study ordered by President Trump on whether renewable energy installations degrade grid reliability by undermining continuously operated “baseload” nuclear and coal power plants.  U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s memo commissioning the study states as fact that “baseload power is necessary to a well-functioning electric grid.”

Last week, the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Mark Dyson and Amory Lovins called out that “curious claim,” which they say, “has been thoroughly disproven by a diverse community of utilities, system operators, economists, and other experts that moved on from this topic years ago.”  What the grid needs, they write, is flexibility, not baseload power plants.

The power industry is already moving in that direction.  For example, flexibility was California utility PG&E’s central argument last year when it announced plans to shut down the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant when its reactor licenses expire in 2024 and 2025.  The baseload plant was ill-suited, PG&E said, to help them manage the increasingly dynamic power flowing on California’s grid.

Read more at Can the U.S. Grid Work with 100% Renewables?  There's a Scientific Fight Brewing

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