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How do we keep the bucket full (but not overflowing)

image credit: Seabrook - Author Image

Every second thousands of power plants across the United States push power onto the grid. How do these plants know how much to generate?   What is the grid response if a unit goes down? How do we restore the Energy-In vs. Energy-Out balance in the event of a plant trip? The answer lies in Area Control Error and Frequency Bias. Here is a link to my Public Utilities Fortnightly explaining, in non-technical terms, how we balance the grid keeping energy in equal to energy out and how everyone on the grid helps out in the even of a unit outage. Each of these topics will become increasingly important as we go to higher levels of renewables.

Charles Bayless's picture

Thank Charles for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 17, 2020 12:32 pm GMT

Thanks for sharing Charles-- do these strategies change at all when utilities start implementing demand side strategies?

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 17, 2020 4:29 pm GMT

Matt, though making electricity less available to reduce consumption, euphemistically-labeled "demand-side strategies", "non-wires alternatives", etc. tends to appeal to more wealthy segments of society - no. Depriving people of electricity who need it most is not an answer, not even in the U.S.

Like California's policy requiring new homes to have solar panels on their roofs, adding $30K to the cost of housing for first-time homebuyers, it will backfire. Any real solution to climate change will be one which makes clean reliable electricity affordable for the less-fortunate 99%, too. Otherwise they will use cheaper, dirtier alternatives, and sink the boat we all share.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 18, 2020 10:17 pm GMT

"We must realize that the thirty to forty percent renewable targets that many have set are totally inadequate to halt our steady descent into a “hellish future.” To avoid this future will require renewable levels of eighty to ninety percent, and international cooperation."

Charles, I'm mystified by your acquiesence to the inevitability of a renewabes-dominated electricity grid, with all of its issues of intermittency, of frequency irregularity, of voltage irregularity, of land use, of limited lifespan, of...

To me, it's taking the formidable problem of climate change and making it infinitely more so.

190 new nuclear plants like Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant (above) would avail U.S. electricity customers of 440 billion watts of predictable, safe power. Zero-carbon power, available any time of day or night, in any weather. Even running them 24/7 and dumping excess power would be cheaper than the engineering gymnastics necessary to integrate 440 billion watts from solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, biogas, efficiency, demand-response, etc. A dedicated initiative would make a 100% clean grid possible in 30 years or less, and set an example for the world.

We allow public misperception and irrational fear to dominate energy policy at the peril of our descendants, and theirs. On this topic climate experts are united: "Nuclear power paves the only viable path forward on climate change."

Charles Bayless's picture
Charles Bayless on Jan 23, 2020 1:32 pm GMT



I agree on the need for nuclear see

I just posted htis on Energy Central. I alos agree that renewables are going to be a lot more expensive than most people think due to the need for storage and ancillary services but so are cliamte change and ocean acidification.



Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 23, 2020 8:29 pm GMT

Good to know, Charlie. I find that many career professionals understand the importance of keeping existing nuclear plants plants open, but are somewhat resigned to the barriers facing new builds.

In testimony last week Michael Shellenberger explained to the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology what will be required for nuclear to deliver on its immense clean-energy potential in the U.S. I'd be interested in your opinion of his comments:


Richard Brooks's picture
Richard Brooks on Jan 17, 2020 3:57 pm GMT

Charlie you were way ahead of your time in raising these concerns, but we now know, from everything observed today, that you were spot on and this is where we find oursleves today:

Externalities abound in the generation of renewable energy. A customer installs rooftop solar and uses net metering to buy or sell to the local utility. As far as the customer and the installer are concerned, that is the entire transaction.

But the installation imposes externality costs on the grid in the form of balancing costs, VAR (volt-amp reactance) support, reserve requirements, etc. Unless these externality costs are internalized by establishing a market for them, the market cannot optimize the system.

Different types of renewables impose different externality costs, and after reviewing the multitude of renewable options, we have two choices. We can internalize all of the costs, carbon, reserves, VAR support, balancing costs, transmission etc., and let the market work.

Or we can return to regulation and use the least-cost planning concept, where regulators look at the total costs of each renewable scheme and pick winners and losers. I vastly prefer the market. But the market cannot work as currently configured, since it does not recognize externality costs.

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