Skip to comments.Will the US Electric Grid Be Our Undoing?
Posted on 12/31/2008 10:56:43 AM PST by newbie2008
Back in May 2008, I wrote a post on the US Electric Grid. With the Obama administration taking over shortly, I expect there will be more discussion about upgrading the US electric grid, so below the fold is a re-post of the earlier essay.
One obstacle to upgrading the grid not discussed in my earlier post is the issue of the differing costs of electricity around the country, depending on the fuel used to produce the electricity (natural gas tends to produce high-cost electricity; coal and nuclear produce lower cost electricity). As the grid currently operates, the limitations of the grid tend to discourage huge long-distance redistribution of electric power. If the impact of a new electric grid back-bone is to start evening-out electric rates across the country, customers currently in low-cost areas will tend to oppose the change, because their rates may be higher. This could create a significant obstacle to passing legislation to upgrade the grid.
I am not sure whether this will be an issue in practice. With the grid upgrade, areas currently with inadequate local electrical production will more easily be able to import electricity from elsewhere, so their costs may be lower, not considering the cost of the grid upgrade. Rates in areas which are currently low-cost will increase to the extent that customers are charged for the new grid upgrades, but it is not clear that they will increase otherwise. If low-cost utilities are able to sell some base-production that might otherwise go to waste, the grid could theoretically lower costs to even currently low-cost customers.
It heats up the wires and is dissipated into the air.
Obama’s plan to “share the watt”?
Actually, the electricity can go considerable distances. Especially if High Voltage Direct Current is used. There is at least one such link in the United States (but I’m not finding an on-line reference for it at the moment)
“The longest HVDC link in the world is currently the Inga-Shaba 1700 km (1056 mile) 600 MW link connecting the Inga Dam to the Shaba copper mine, in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with our electric gr
Politicians are famous for ignoring laws they don't care for;especially irritating to them are the laws of nature,including laws of physics.
Same power level, but lower currents equal less resistance drop.
It's not perfect by any means, but is one reasonable engineering solution.
The real problem is political. Communists like single supplier solutions. To them one rilly rilly rilly big ultramega power plant that they control is the ideal solution.
To me, a vast network of vest pocket power sources is much more robust and immune to a single point failure or attack.
Up here in Maine, anyone who doesn't have a wood stove, kerosene lamps and access to water without power is double dumb.
We have become a nation totally dependent on that thin wire from the house to the phone pole. That is putting our lives in the hands of someone else and trusting all will be well. More people need to have the means of survival within their own control. During the 100 year Ice Storm of 1998, I was without power - no flush! - for 19 days in January...in Maine.
My wood stove provided me with heat, a cooking surface and the greatest wash-tub baths. My well gave me water. My kerosene lamps gave me light - in addition, more heat.
If you can't have a wood stove, you can heat with kerosene lamps - whether one room or more.
For example, years ago, I ran out of oil (before I had my wood stove) in the middle of mid-Feb, 20 degrees BELOW outside. It was a Friday night. No way to get a delivery.
The house was at 70 degrees when the furnace went out. I lit two lamps in the living room, two in the kitchen/dining area and one in the bathroom...corresponding with the number of hot air registers from the furnace.
An hour later, the temp was 72 - and remained so for the week end. The heat from a lamp is so hot you can't hold your hand over it - and is constant - unlike a furnace register.
So, at the least, keep your lamps trimmed and your oil supply filled.
And have, at bare minimum, two weeks of food on hand (NOT IN THE FREEZER)...
We conservatives spout "independence" - but how many of us can BE independent if juice stops coming through the wire?
HVDC link within the United States:
The Pacific DC Intertie (also called Path 65) is an electric power transmission line that transmits electricity from the Pacific Northwest to the Los Angeles area using high voltage direct current (HVDC). The line capacity is 3,100 megawatts, which is enough to serve two to three million Los Angeles households and is 48.7% of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) electrical system’s peak capacity.
^ Sharon Bernstein and Amanda Covarrubias, Times Staff Writers (September 10, 2006). “Heat Wave Caught DWP Unprepared”. L.A. Times online. Retrieved on 2006-09-11.
Diversity can be a good thing! Wood heat, Kerosene backup. Coal stoves or wood pellet stoves where those are easy to feed. Make your own 'lectric if you can, it doesn't mean your off the grid, just enough to keep things going while the grid is down.
I thought it was to kill the kilowatt.
Ah yes. I worked on the Sylmar inverting station as a student engineer after it was destroyed by the ‘71 earthquake, It was an awe inspiring set up.
My question about the electric grid is this. When everyone is forced to get an electric car, what happens when everyone charges their car every night, at the same time? Especially when nobody is allowed to build a new power plant?
With the grid being maxxed out already, and no new capacity, I suspect much of America will be subjected to 3rd world brownouts and blackouts.
Just a little concerned here if you know what I mean.
Millard COunty (UT) to SoCal (LA Water and POwer)
Sorry and a DC line betwen North and South Islands of NZ.
“Actually, the electricity can go considerable distances. Especially if High Voltage Direct Current is used. There is at least one such link in the United States (but Im not finding an on-line reference for it at the moment)”
AEP has extensive experience building extra-high-voltage 765-kV transmission lines and owns the nation’s largest electricity transmission system, a nearly 39,000-mile network that includes 2,100 miles of 765-kV transmission lines, more than all other U.S. transmission systems combined.
superconductor electric power transmission using next-generation, high-temperature superconductor (HTS) wire may be a way to send electricity large distances to other grid systems.
Even though the resistance to current flow is zero, there are energy losses. Superconducting hysteresis loss (AC loss)is the resistance to the change in magnetic field is alternating current systems. Other energy losses are heat leak through the insulation and through the terminations at the ends of the superconductor, and dielectric losses in the material between the conductors.
Even with various energy losses, it will be possible to transmit huge amounts of power over distances not seen before.
One more item of concern. I know of at least 3 power plant propositions killed in Missouri due to “environmental concerns” in the past 2 years, another plant built is currently locked up by injunction because the proper permits were not obtained, and one additional nuclear reactor in the early stages of planning, with more opposition.
My concern is, in relationship to regional capacity and uniform availability and consumer rates, is that if regional plant construction is continuously being blocked by environmentalist litigation, how can we expect any sharing of capacity to areas underserved. The solution is to allow the private construction in those underserved areas. Transmission costs will be minimized over shorter distances. A reliable power supply is more easily managed in a smaller region. And there is a lot of private capital available for those projects, yet the government holds the permission slip for all domestic energy. If the government kills every proposed project, then the government has essentially nationalized the power grid. And the way government manages (or mismanages) every other business they interfere in, this lame idea of a government operated grid concerns me.
Keep in mind that pellet stoves need electricy to run ;o)
Keep in mind that pellet stoves need electricy to run ;o)
Permanent brownouts at night as we try to recharge the auto.
NO charge = no work the next day because we can not get there without our cars.
At night time the demand dips considerably. I work at a power plant in NYC, and by midnight we are usually down to minimum load on each unit if running, which is 75MW. FYI, I work at a large 1950s era gas/oil burning steam turbine multi-unit 1200 MW plant.
However, in the summer, it is not uncommon for us to run all units at maximum load 24 hours a day. Air conditioners perhaps. Maybe that’s when there will be black outs. Hot summer nights, with everyone charging their cars.
“Even with various energy losses, it will be possible to transmit huge amounts of power over distances not seen before.”
At what cost to producers and consumers?
I want a Low Energy Nuclear power plant in my house, so I can be totally off the grid. Wouldn't have to worry about electricity for the A/C, heat, power for the water pump, electric car, anything. We'd even be fine on the Gulf Coast after a Katrina sized storm has knocked out the local power plant, and the water treatment system is fouled.
Environmentalist have won a battle in the northeast over carbon emissions too, affecting plants already built.
The ten northeast states involved in capping carbon emissions set it at 188 billion tons for next year. (I believe it stays level for a few years, then they plan on reducing the number.) It affects all CO2 emitting plants over 25 megawatts. The auction was set at just over $3 a ton per year.
Last year, all of my company’s assets which will be under the cap emitted 7 million tons of CO2. So if we produce the same amount of electricity, then we owe over $21 million dollars. Considering we only made a profit of $2 million dollars (NY assets made $30 million, Boston assests lost $28 million), that’s not a workable number without passing along the costs to the consumer.
If other plants can prevent passing along the costs to the consumer and we have to compete, then we won’t be making power at a profit without deferring maintenance. Well, we haven’t had a boiler explosion in about a decade. I guess we’re due.
This sounds so much like a chapter from the “Population Bomb”. The grid will only be one more tool for the communists to use to try to control the people. If you doubt this, look at the headline from today about Russia turning off the gas pipeline to Europe..
Here in Missouri Ameren is wanting to expand the Callaway Nuclear plant (about 20 miles from me) with a 2nd reactor and generator. A few hearings have been held with the usual environmental protests.
One big problem in state law is that the plant cannot raise rates to cover building as the plant progresses in construction (assuming it even happens). Without that kind of recapture of some construction costs during plant construction, it could add almost 1/3 to the cost of construction in interest alone, because the utility couldn’t start rate adjustments to cover the cost until the plant goes on line.
Last summer an aquaintance who works for a rural electric co-op told me that a coal power plant in NC Missouri had been killed by guess who? Environmentalists opposition and the government wouldn’t allow the permitting process to go forward. The co-op was out $17 Million in land aquisition, planning and engineering and other preliminary costs required for submission for the operating permit.
Folks, if we don’t get some control over this kind of stagnation and reverse the trends, we are going to become a 3rd world has been. Many homes will no longer be able to afford electricity without subsidy. And who will pay double for electricity to light our and our neighbors home?
I think the Chinese have a good idea with building some 300 pebble bed nuclear reactors. They are smaller and produce less power, but they create far fewer long term problems. Their nuclear fuel is put into ceramic balls, which are then arranged in a “giant egg carton” on the floor of the reactor, producing a fixed amount of energy over a fixed time.
Instead of heating water, that is circulated to heat a different closed circuit of water, that heats a third closed circuit of water which turns electrical turbines; the ceramic balls directly heat an inert gas, which directly turns the turbines.
There is no corrosion to parts, and the inert gas does not become radioactive. And finally, when the nuclear fuel is exhausted, the balls are dropped straight down from the reactor into a deep underground vertical shaft. No mess, no fuss.
A big advantage of pebble bed reactors is that they permit the grid to be subdivided, wherever needed. That portion of the grid can no longer be taken down by other parts, and can provide all the power needed in just its part of the grid.
Will the U.S. Electric Grid be our undoing before or after the impending economic collapse of the banking system, the great depression in the U.S., the price of oil at $200 per barrel and, thus another collapse of our economic system, or the huge government bailout that will lead to yet another collapse of our economic system? All of which will be our undoing. Pardon me if I just don’t care...
I cannot wait for all the mandatory electric cars.
Permanent brownouts at night as we try to recharge the auto.
NO charge = no work the next day because we can not get there without our cars.
Try driving those battery powered cars in -30 weather....the battery will have about 30% capacity, and I recommend that you don’t get stuck in a snow bank, cause you going to freeze....
The electric grids are more robust every year. The main threat is Mr Obama’s threat to drive the coal industry into bankruptcy.
Equalizing (or making “more equal”) electric rates - across the country - is a purely political-agenda and has no natural, or economic purpose it could ever serve.
On the other hand, IF there is any merit in “new technologies” for electric power service, then the place where technology, need and economic efficiency might provide the best entry points for them is in local and regional markets where the current supplies and grid capacity incur service rate$ that are higher than the national average. Those are the venues for “new technology” investments, not “power sharing” or “rate adjustments”.
Simply “adjusting” rates on and supplies across “the national grid” would in fact delay investment in “new technologies for power generation” and delay any demonstration of the most efficient, most practical applications of such technologies.
If any thing is true about energy it is that one supply and one form of supply CAN NEVER provide the most practical, most efficient power supply to ALL power requirements.
Some venues should, and MUST cost more, at the consumption level, because no matter how varied the power supply sources may be some venues will, quite naturally, cost more for their power supply, at the production-distribution end.
Politicians screwing with “unfair” market results do not “correct” markets, they distort them, which is an economic distortion that is pushed into other markets, producing a chain of politically set inflationary and deflationary actions that simply build, over time, into distortions of many markets.
Wholesale prices means more real time pricing. Much of the advent of the 'smart grid' isn't to hoist some conspiracy to equalize pricing(which simply cannot and will not be done) but to improve a seriously aging infrastructure across the US.
In the late 90's to early 00's, US utilities, sensing pressure financially and making deregulation an 'enemy' of the people, reeled in their spending and asset renewal to the point of "fix when fail."
Since 1997, most of the regulated utilities fixed their prices. Those freezes came off during the last three years with more to come. when that happened, states like Maryland and Illinois balked and raised holy hell because of the rates correcting to the current day. That's what happens with price controls - either nationalization or correction.
The 'smart grid' is all about easing transmission constraints and allowing generation assets to be distributed whereever. With it's success, utilities and their customers will have two way information from which to make decisions on the price of power and the use of power. It is truly a supply and demand marketplace. It won't do anything close to equalizing prices but will, in fact, deliver pricing differences to the nodal/zonal level consistent with generation assets and transmission constraints.
All one has to do is look at ISO-NE or NYISO and their respective pricing on the nodal level. You see the beginning of this approach to pricing.
The Obama Administration, in 2009, will pass some form of a national Renewable Portfolio Standard which will raise electric utility rates. So beat them up about that. But investment and incentives into the "smart grid" are reasonable, way overdue, and needed.
The cost will be huge. This is a refrigeration system that cannot fail. There would be all those plug-in electric cars of the future that would be out of juice if it did.
I strongly recommend it for anyone interested in oil, electricity and energy.
Heck, put up 5 of these - for under $500...and “as long as the winds blow...”
Also, for emergency indoor light - those inexpensive little ‘solar lawn lights’ are great to have in storage. you can recharge ‘em outside or in a sunny window...not enough light to read by, but enough to get around safely -
I prefer my kerosene lamps - but should I run out of oil? Although, one does not have to have ‘lamp oil’ to burn in the lamps. No. 1 fuel oil works fine, as does kerosene - which is what used to be used. So a gallon of that will go a long ways - a 5 gallon can a lot longer ;o) - and have a supply of wicks.
Also, a way to get even that last inch of use from the wick, sew a bit of rag on the end of it and it will pick up the oil to the wick. ALSO: should you find yourself with only a little oil left - and a wick to short to reach it = put water into the lamp. The oil will float to the top - and to the wick.
Likely never have to face these emergencies, but better to know solutions in case...
A car battery with a small ac inverter will keep them running for quite a while. Car batteries can be charged by running your car occasionally. The idea is to think outside the box.
Looking at it another way, you need a low quality energy source for heat, a high quality source for AC equipment. In this instance, a small amount of high quality energy (AC) is used to control the heat output of the low quality (wood pellet) stove.
We used to have kerosene lamps at our Fish Camp, because we’d lose power on a regular basis during strong summer storms.
I think the author is wrong in their assumptions about what exactly new technology SHOULD do, for general energy generation and distribution.
I think new technology should be employed to (1)reduce the need for super-mega-generation at far distant sources and so called “improved” increased long distance distribution of increasing amounts of such mega supplies, by (2) improving the number and variety of small to medium size venues that can achieve more power, more locally, by (a)”alternatives” [fuel cells, wind, solar, etc.] and (b) improved technologies for more efficient, more economical energy production on smaller scales from current conventional power sources (mini-nuclear plants for instance).
We need those things more than we need new ways to move additional massive-source energy supplies over massive distances more efficiently. We need a “grid” that is more resilient because more segments of it are less dependent on fewer remote supplies from it.
For instance it is stupid for massive far-remote power systems to send - and waste in that sending - energy to thousands of tiny rural hamlets across huge distances where the number of service connections per square mile could sometimes be counted on one hand. “The grid” is a huge wasted resource - and wastes massive amounts of energy - in such situations; which are perfect situations for wind and solar systems with backup (intermittent sources) supplies via natural gas.
On the other hand wind and solar cannot efficiently power large metropolitan areas.
And, again, on an other hand, a mega-power plant is not needed to supply energy for every city of no more than 100,000 people - given new nuclear power plant designs.
Technology needs to be charged with doing a better job of providing a huge variety of solutions that meet specific needs, scaled as much as possible to the conjoined size of the venue involved.
Get the environmental and regulatory Nazis out of the way, massively expand tax credits and tax holidays for capital investment in energy production, from ANY and every energy source, across the board, and science, technology and markets will transform energy production in this country in a decade (and likely reduce the importance of and problems of “the grid”) simultaneously.
Energy companies (”electricity suppliers”) will not see massive GROSS revenue depreciation, even in a recession (because most people do not reduce electrical consumption, accept as a last resort). But, if their steady GROSS revenues are met with massive tax credits, they will be able to increase their own capital and even verifiable “liquidity” for borrowing capital, based on their increased NET revenues; and to a much greater degree than the government can squeeze subsidies from unemployed taxpayers.
We do not need an “energy plan” run by the U.S. Congress and financed by draining more income from more working Americans. We need to TAKE LESS revenue OUT of the energy sector, leave them more of their earnings (why not all) and take more of the shackles off of the work they need to do. We can do this by rewarding the energy sector with dollar for dollar tax credits, all the way up to the point they have zero taxes owed, for every dollar they put into new capital investment in new energy production.
“” But investment and incentives into the “smart grid” are reasonable, way overdue, and needed””
There is plenty of private money available for investing in new capacity. But the government kills every project because of environmental concerns. We will never get anywhere significantly with socialized energy policy.
Best hope for most of rural America, which will be abandoned by the policy, is for individual generation.
Reliability and cost would then lay on the individual owner rather than government rate commissions and environmentalist interference.
And no, with so many rate cases being denied by state utility commissions, there isn't enough capacity.