Incipient Clean Energy Grid Problems

Power for USA:  January 17, 2014

It will start with small annoyances, and progress to real shortages. Is that the future of clean energy on the grid? Or, is it very expensive electricity because of the investments needed to back-up clean energy? Or, both?

The PJM, responsible for the grid across the northern tier of states, including Illinois and Pennsylvania, asked consumers to turn down their thermostats during the recent cold snap to prevent the possibility of blackouts. Commercial and industrial customers were asked to switch to back-up generators and other sources for several hours.

PJM had threatened mandatory blackouts, according to news reports.

PJM also asked residents to avoid using appliances like stoves, dishwashers and washers and dryers during peak periods of demand.

While summer-time peaks are typically higher than the peak reached during the cold snap, one must wonder why there would be a problem during winter.

Actually, wind and solar generated electricity are problematic in both summer and winter. And now there is also a potential problem with natural gas power plants as the result of coal-fired power plants being closed.

This is a message that people must pay attention to, since wind and solar are unreliable.

Wind, for example can’t generate electricity when the wind doesn’t blow. This is what happened during the cold snap across the northern United States, stretching as far south as Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina.

It has also happened in the summer during heat waves. Heat waves are often accompanied by periods where the wind doesn’t blow.

As mentioned previously, wind is unreliable.

Here is how the New York Times reported the issue in 2011 during the heat wave when the grid was put in danger:

“Peak supply is also becoming a vexing problem because so much of the generating capacity added around the country lately is wind power, which is almost useless on the hot, still days when air-conditioning drives up demand.”

PV solar can’t generate electricity when it’s snowing, and the sun doesn’t shine. The more PV solar installations there are, the greater the possibility of grid failure.

Homeowners with PV solar installations create a double whammy when they must not only turn to the grid for electricity, but also can’t supply the grid with surplus electricity.

Adding wind and solar to the grid will require adding additional back-up power, in the form of gas turbines or coal-fired power plants.

This is the exact opposite of what environmental supporters of wind and solar claim.

It should be noted that natural gas power plants were also shut down during the cold snap because homeowners have priority when there are limited supplies of natural gas, in this instance due to inadequate natural gas pipeline capacity.

To some extent, the closing of coal-fired power plants is having a negative effect on grid reliability and the price of electricity.

There was very limited solar on the grid, so its impact was minimal, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that solar can’t be relied upon, especially as more solar capacity is installed.

Wind and solar are expensive and unreliable; raising the question of why so much taxpayer money is being spent to support wind and solar installations.

Why are we putting the grid at risk by requiring more wind and solar while also preventing the building of modern ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plants?

The recent flirtation with blackouts is a yellow-flag, warning of possible danger, a cautionary indicator, with which we should all be concerned.


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