Blackouts? Who Would Have Thought?

Suddenly, alarm bells are ringing that the grid may be in trouble, with the possibility of blackouts.

While many energy observers, including me, have been warning about the impact of wind and solar for years, it’s only now that some pundits are beginning to realize there is a problem.

It’s been obvious for years, and even the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) prepared a curve showing how renewables were eating into baseload power generation.

CAISO Duck Curve
CAISO Duck Curve

Solar and wind force baseload plants offline during the day, and then require baseload plants to rapidly come back on line and ramp up their output when the sun goes down. This deprives baseload plants of revenue, and then damages the equipment with thermal and other stresses when the equipment is forced to rapidly increase output when the sun sets.

Germany has become the poster child for what happens when wind and solar are added to the grid.

  • Electricity rates zoom higher, i.e., 3 – 4 times higher than the average US rate. See Europe’s High Cost of Renewables.
  • The need for added transmission lines is either ignored, or their costs are ignored when evaluating the cost of wind and solar.
  • Storage becomes urgently needed, which is either not technically feasible or its costs are ignored when evaluating the cost of wind and solar.

Power Magazine called the emerging grid reliability problems, “An alarming trend” and said:

This baseload exodus could have a worrying impact on reliability, as shown by summer planning reserve margin projections (%) from the North American Reliability Corp.’s 2015 Long-Term Reliability Assessment.” (Emphasis added)

Power Magazine blames the emerging threat on low natural gas prices, and:

“State and federal rules, and market design issues.”

But, they fail to explain the “state and federal rules and market design issues” which are at the core of why wind and solar are displacing baseload power.

Low-cost natural gas does affect nuclear power plants, but it does not affect coal-fired or natural gas power plants that are being forced from the grid.

Coal-fired power plants are, of course, the plants most affected by “state and federal rules, and market design issues.”

Interestingly, natural gas power plants can’t compete in Germany because the price of natural gas is too high. It’s the market rules that are forcing the main German utilities E.ON and RWI to shed their fossil fuel assets or go bankrupt. See, Germany’s Failing Energiewend, Part 1.

Wind and solar operators bid their electricity after taking the wind and solar credits, i.e, subsidies, which allows them to sell electricity at artificially low prices. The result? No baseload power plant can compete against subsidized electricity. Subsidized wind farms have even paid the grid operator to get the grid to use wind generated electricity so the wind farm operator could get paid the 2.3 cent per kWh tax credit.

When the market rules say that wind and solar must be dispatched first, it precludes baseload power generation from competing.

And now, the administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) will make a bad situation worse.

As made clear by Power magazine, with its unwillingness to explain “state and federal regulations and market design” issues, the fix is in to blame the problem on the low-cost of natural gas. Yet, it’s not low-cost natural gas that’s causing the problems in Germany, because natural gas in Europe costs two to three times as much as in the United States.

For the first time, an industry publication has raised alarm bells about the possibility of blackouts because of the way the market is being rigged against the use of fossil fuels.

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Nothing to Fear, Chapter 9, The Utility Death Spiral, explains why displacing fossil fuels with wind and solar will result in the bankruptcy of Utilities.

Nothing to Fear is available from Amazon and some independent book sellers.

Link to Amazon: http://amzn.to/1miBhXy

Book Cover, Nothing to Fear
Book Cover, Nothing to Fear

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0 thoughts on “Blackouts? Who Would Have Thought?

  1. I knew that the basic infrastructure ( transmission lines) was aging and in trouble , but I hadn’t really thought about what the ” green ” power generation was doing to infrastructure . I knew that for every kilowatt of ” green” generation in use you should have real generation in spinning standby for when the wind quit . I screwed up and didn’t think about revenue generation . Thanks for waking (sticking my nose in it ) me up . Every time I think I’m getting a handle on this I learn something new and it just gets worse !

  2. There was a study some time ago that was the first one to account for the cost of baseload cycling in a realistic way. As you can guess, it caused no end of controversy and, in some cases, downright vituperative blowback from renewables advocates. But, IIRC, no one effectively refuted the methodology and conclusions.

    • Thanks for the comment.
      There is little question that cycling baseload plants causes problems. Articles abound in the press about the damage caused by cycling, with some articles trying to describe how to minimize the problem.

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