Green Power Gridlock: Why Renewable Energy Is No Alternative

December 10, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

© Guerito 2005

© Guerito 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since just about everything we do and the equipment needed to support it depends upon a source of energy, wouldn’t it be great if someone would invent perpetual motion machines that  can  generate all we want without consuming any resources or producing pollution? Okay, some of you are doubtless saying: “Yes, and they already exist. There are wind turbines and solar power systems that can do that if we build enough of them.”

Sorry…but it just isn’t that easy.

First of all, without reversing progress back to the Stone Age (and even then, remember those smoky caves), we couldn’t create adequate numbers of either or both  to accommodate modern power demands regardless how much conservation we practiced. One constraint is suitable land area. There simply aren’t enough appropriate wind and solar site locations to make that happen. Another limitation is power supply unreliability. For example, recharging those nifty plug-in electric cars would present a big problem when the wind isn’t blowing, at night and when it’s cloudy.

There are also such unfortunate matters to consider as high development and operations costs, low output efficiencies, and the fact that environmental groups and near-by landowners fight them tooth-and-nail in the courts.

I’ve discussed all of these issues at some length in other articles, and won’t dwell on them again here.  Instead, let’s revisit that previously-mentioned output reliability limitation on renewable power dependence alone, and just hypothetically imagine that installations and outputs will be pretty much limitless.

In other words, contemplate renewable energy (wind + solar) as true power source “alternatives” to fossils, nuclear and hydro which currently provide more than 96 percent of all U.S. electricity. Only about 3.4 percent now comes from wind, and about 0.11 percent from solar.

Grid Balancing On a High Wire:

Managing the uninterrupted transfer of electrical power from myriad sources wherever and whenever it is needed is a hugely complicated challenge. It’s one thing when the principal supply sources use gas, heat or hydraulically-driven turbines which provide constant, unfluctuating outputs that can be adjusted and counted upon independent of weather or season.

But circumstances become increasingly complex as more and more intermittent sources are added to the power supply mix. Difficulties arise as segments of the grid become overloaded or underserved by the renewables, requiring the conventional-source turbines which balance the grid to meet base demand loads be repeatedly throttled down and up.  This reduces turbine operating efficiencies.

Utility grid operators are sometimes forced to dump wind energy produced on blustery days when regional power systems don’t have room for it. As Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster, a board member of the California grid system management commented, “We are getting to the point where we will have to pay people not to produce power.”

Consider results of enormous E.U. wind power investments as a lesson to us all. Their Network of Transmission System Operators President Daniel Dobbeni noted in a 2012 letter to the European Union commissioner that grid operators are “deeply concerned about differences in speed between the connection of very large capacities of renewable energy resources and the realization in due time of the grid investment needed to support the massive increase of power flows these new resources bring.”

Dobbeni also expressed great concern “about the potential destabilizing effect of outdated connection conditions for distributed generation that are not being retrofitted fast enough.” To address these problems, the International Energy Agency estimates that Germany will need to invest between $62.9 billion and $96 billion in transmission and distribution upgrades over the next decade.

In addition to paying three times more for electricity that we Americans do, the European romance with increasing reliance upon renewables is further strained by power brownouts and blackouts. This is much less of a problem when there are reliable backup sources such as hydropower, coal and nuclear plants to meet base load demands. Unfortunately, Most of Europe lacks the former, and is intentionally cutting back both of the latter. As the balance of supply shifts to intermittent wind and solar, so does the demand-response inequity problem.

That demand-response balance is less of a problem where reliable backup sources like hydropower, coal and nuclear plants exist. However most of Europe lacks the former, and is intentionally – to its detriment – cutting back on both of the latter. Britain, for example, is closing down some of its older coal-fired plants – any one of which can produce nearly twice the electricity all of its 3,000 wind turbines combined.

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