Sunday, June 7, 2009

What happens when the wind stops blowing?

Shannon Love over at Chicago Boyz asks the question of all the wind power supporters:
At 6:41 PM, Feburary 26th, 2008, The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) activated a Stage Two emergency response to keep the power grid that supplies most of Texas from failing and triggering rolling blackouts.

The operators balanced the grid by cutting off power to “interruptible” customers. These are customers such as industrial sites that have their own power generators and that pay lower rates in return for being kicked off the grid during emergencies.

Several factors contributed to the emergency. Unusually warm weather caused increased consumption. Two coal plants were offline for scheduled maintenance. The major trigger, however, was an easily foreseeable problem:
Preliminary reports indicate the frequency decline was caused by a combination of events, including a drop in wind-energy production at the same time the evening electricity load was increasing, accompanied by multiple power providers falling below their scheduled energy production. In addition, the drop in wind energy led to some system constraints in moving power from the generation in the north zone to load in the west zone, resulting in limitations of balancing energy availability. The wind production dropped from more than 1700 MW three hours before the event down to 300 MW at the point the emergency procedures were activated.

Let me translate that for you: The wind suddenly stopped blowing. It does that sometimes. The grid couldn’t adapt to the sudden loss of wind-generated electricity and they had to kick people off the grid.

Currently, Texas receives 3% of its electricity from wind, the highest percentage in the nation. A lot of people seriously talk of requiring as a matter of law that we generate up to 30% of our electricity from windpower. If a sudden drop in windpower can destabilize the grid when windpower contributes only 3% of total power, what will our reliability look like when unreliable windpower contributes 10%, 20% or more? ...

Read the rest here. As I wrote almost a year ago (see my post here) about Al Gore's ten year plan to reduce carbon emissions from electricity production to zero, those who think we can just put up a bunch of windmills (sorry, wind turbines) and magically achieve "energy independence" are probably in a state of chemically induced delirium.

Apart from the fact that much of the most desirable parts of the country for wind generated electricity are often hundreds of miles (or more) from the large urban population centers where the electricity is needed, and would thus require massive transmission infrastructure investment, the intermittency problem inherent in wind or solar typically requires lots of natural gas powered electricity generation plants co-sited with these wind or solar farms. Although good luck getting those transmission tower rights-of-way and build permits with all the lawsuits from the environmental and conservation groups that would inevitably follow ("What??? You want to build stuff in the habitat of the endangered blue-speckled red-horned snail darter? Never!")

Of course, the liberal elites in Los Angeles or San Francisco who use all that electricity probably don't give much thought to the idea of besmirching millions of acres of pristine prairie or desert with wind turbines and solar panels as far as the eye can see. After all, that's flyover country, populated by overall-wearing unsophisticates. Paradoxically, however, the coastal elites object to any sort of development in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), a truly remote place where virtually no humans ever visit (and don't even fly over on their way to visit the elites on the other coast), and thus a place where development would go sight unseen. Go figure. So goes the cognitive dissonance of the Leftist mind, I suppose.

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