Junk Electricity: Don’t Be a Sucker!

Delicate Balancing Act Keeps Civilisation Alive

If the system has more power than it needs at any instant, its frequency will increase. If there is not enough power to meet demand at any time, the system frequency falls.

… Sometimes AEMO [Australian Energy Market Operator] detects variations in frequency which must be managed at very short notice. We can’t wait for the next 5-minute generation dispatch cycle, because generation or load will start automatically disconnecting before then, potentially causing bigger problems [cascading brownouts and blackouts]. These frequency variations can be caused by either demand or supply being suddenly higher or lower than expected. To be ready for these times, AEMO contracts with some providers to have “ancillary services” on standby, to raise or lower frequency within seconds of being asked. These contracts are usually with generators that are technically able to increase or decrease output on direction, but frequency can sometimes also be stabilised by quickly disconnecting devices that are drawing energy from the network. __ Source

Keeping reliable electrical power online 24 hours a day, is a careful instant-to-instant balancing act. Power demand (load) is constantly changing, and chaotically erratic — but it must be matched closely by supply, or things will come fatally undone. Only one kind of electric power can keep the lights on without bankrupting society — and it is not intermittent junk (wind & solar) electricity.

The addition of substantial levels of wind and solar resources to an electric energy grid raises significant reliability concerns at the transmission system level because these resources operate intermittently and, unlike other generating resources, they do not spin in synchronism with the grid. An electric grid is a large complex machine that must have many needs attended to in order to function properly. Dependable rotating generation operating in synchronism across the power system enabled the evolution of the modern grids. Without due regard to the issues of intermittency, voltage control, frequency control, and grid inertia an electric grid cannot operate reliably and stably. If the first world continues to expect affordable electricity, when we want it and in whatever quantity we want, these needs must be met. __ Source

Intelligent and knowledgeable people understand that intermittent junk electricity cannot run the life-or-death critical infrastructures of today’s advanced national and international economies.

Without reliable and affordable electrical power, advanced societies would suddenly begin to look like sub Saharan Africa, Venezuela, or tribal regions of Asia. Our modern critical infrastructures would collapse. And a lot of people would die.

The crux of the problem is this: renewable energy typically produces forms of energy that are poor substitutes for the energy required to manufacture, transport, install, and operate renewable energy, at least without major investments into each stage of our energy system, significantly reducing or even erasing the net energy delivered. As such, these energy sources are dependent on the existing system and function less as a replacement for the fossil fuel economy and more as a temporary extension of it. The empirical evidence agrees—renewable energy investment does a poor job of displacing fossil fuels [11]. Of course, there are exceptions (such as traditionally produced biomass), but these have nowhere near the potential scale required to run today’s enormous globalized, industrialized economy. __ Source

In the places that have gone head over heels for intermittent junk electricity, retail prices for residential and industrial electricity have soared. Power reliability is beginning to falter, and risks of brownouts and blackouts are rising.

World-class energy expert Vaclav Smil provides a clear look at the once-shrinking residential costs of electricity, and why you may soon be paying a lot more for your electric power than you should:

The United States has cheaper residential electricity than other affluent nations, with the exception of Canada and Norway, which derive high shares of their power from hydroelectric generation (60 percent and 95 percent, respectively).

When using prevailing exchange rates, the U.S. residential price is about 45 percent of the European Union’s mean, about half the Japanese average, and about a third of the German rate. Electricity prices in India, Mexico, Turkey, and South Africa are lower than in the United States in terms of the official exchange rates, but they are considerably higher in terms of purchasing power parity—more than twice the U.S. level in India and nearly three times as much in Turkey.

A naive observer, reading the reports of falling prices for photovoltaic cells and wind turbines, might conclude that the rising shares of solar and wind power will bring a new era of falling electricity prices. Just the opposite has been true.

Before the year 2000, when Germany embarked on its large-scale and expensive Energiewende (energy transition), that country’s residential electricity prices were low and declining, bottoming at less than €0.14/kWh ($.13/kWh, using the prevailing exchange rate) in 2000.

By 2015, Germany’s combined solar and wind capacity of nearly 84 gigawatts had surpassed the total installed in fossil-fueled plants, and by March 2019 more than 20 percent of all electricity came from the new renewables. However, over an 18-year period (2000 to 2018) electricity prices more than doubled, to €0.31/ kWh. The E.U.’s largest economy thus has the continent’s highest electricity prices, followed by heavily wind-dependent Denmark, at €0.3/kWh.

A similar contrast can be seen in the United States. In California, where the new renewables have taken an increasing share, electricity prices have been rising five times as fast as the national mean and are now nearly 60 percent higher than the countrywide average.

__ Vaclav Smil in IEEE Spectrum

Thanks to technological advances, the costs of computation and communication have been decreasing for several decades. In the same way, electricity rates had been decreasing for many decades until governments jumped in and mandated the priority use of intermittent junk electricity.

Whenever we see a commodity suddenly shift from being more affordable to being more expensive, we should suspect government involvement somewhere in the decision chain. Finding the government involvement in the sudden move to adopt intermittent junk electricity, is not difficult. Finding the excuse that governments use for jumping off the high board into a dry pool, is not difficult either. But the excuse is not valid, and should not be accepted by any well-informed constituency.

Twenty years ago, Al Fin was a strong promoter of “renewable” wind & solar at all scales — from isolated off-grid cabins to huge continent-wide grid systems. But time and intensive study have taught Al Fin some lessons about large scale power grids, and what they need to stay alive — and to keep the rest of us alive without bankrupting us. On every count, big wind and solar present huge liabilities to power grids and the life-saving critical infrastructures that depend so closely on them.

Don’t be a sucker for junk electricity. The price you will have to pay is beyond imagining.

Further reading:

Why renewables cannot power modern civilisation

Myths and realities of renewable energy


Rethinking Renewable Mandates

Can Renewable Portfolio Standards make RE Work?

Primary Energy Consumption (Part II—Electricity Sector)

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2 Responses to Junk Electricity: Don’t Be a Sucker!

  1. Ron Michaels says:

    If you can’t make another windmill or solar panel from the power they generate then you are at a dead end. You can’t move to the future using a power source that is less dense than the one you are currently using.

    • alfin2101 says:

      That is certainly an important concern. The amount of valuable resources that must be squandered to build these things is astounding. Another reason for concern is that intermittent energy sources are not capable of a “black start.” They cannot restart the grid from a zero power blackout condition.

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