SEAMS Dreams (NOT)

Guest post by Rud Istvan,

Here we are again on another Charles request, this time just summarizing the essence of several previous related and much more detailed renewables dissections at Climate Etc. Those previous posts were co-authored with electric utility ‘Planning Engineer’– (who after his recent retirement is invited to comment on this here also).

The specific issue Charles highlighted for possible comment was a newish article at the ‘irrefutable’ Atlantic. It claimed that but for President Trump’s intervention, the ‘Green New Deal’ (GND) grid could have been stabilized by nationwide grid connected GND renewables.

This article is more ‘fake news’ nonsense for several separate technical reasons, independent of the fact that the sun sets nationally so night is still a big solar problem as California is finding with its rolling blackouts, whether or not there is national grid—although AOC might think it helps.

First, voltage sags with distance thanks to resistance (a bit more complicated in the alternating current Tesla domain, but still true as the main reason Nicola Tesla (Westinghouse alternating current) beat Edison direct current (GE) for our present several large regional grids. Even a very high voltage national AC grid would lose some of its electrical energy: per regional experience, transmission grid energy losses would be on the order of 15%. That is why very long links tend to invert to HVDC, then revert to AC, as the Scandinavian/EU interconnectors do. There are inverter losses, but less than AC losses at higher distances. There are several other practical engineering reasons the US high voltage grid is still NOT nationally interconnected, even though it theoretically could have been from a purely technical perspective. None have to do with President Trump.

Second, wind and solar lessen grid stability because they lack grid inertia. So the more renewables penetrate, the less the needed grid inertia provides voltage (manifested as AC frequency) stability. More renewables means less grid inertia, thus more grid frequency instability (evidenced as (‘brownout’ voltage sag) that can shut the entire grid down to protect all the classic spinning generators. Massive rotating steam/gas turbine generators (several hundred tons each) also store kinetic energy for the grid via their simple rotational momentum. The grid demands more energy, they offer up the momentum and begin to slow down, and the ‘steam/gas’ turbine responds and powers them back up to keep their rotational frequency generating speed ~constant.

Neither wind nor solar have this inherent kinetic energy momentum ‘capacity’, since both are asynchronous. They lack ‘grid inertia’. So their addition to any existing grid increases its potential frequency instability. That is not a problem if asynchronous penetration is a small percent of the total generation. It is a BIG problem if their penetration becomes significant (>~10% or about equal to conventional rotational momentum spinning reserve standby capacity).

There is a grid inertia solution, but at great additional grid cost ignored by GND. You can add synchronous condensers in an amount equal to renewables. These are essentially big undriven (no attached turbine) generators spinning synchronously with the grid AC. They can provide the grid inertia renewables lack. But are ONLY necessary with renewables; wind farms and solar operators need subsidies BEFORE the added costs of underutilized backup power and synchronous condensors. They are hopelessly uneconomic. In Climate Etc. essay “True cost of wind” we redid the grossly erroneous Obama era EIA estimate of onshore wind compared to coal and gas. The lifetime cost of energy (LCOE, an annuity calculation) of CCGT is about $56/MwH. The true cost of wind, using the Texas ERCOT grid for some of the specifics, is about $146/MwH. About 2.6x higher. Not a little bit higher, more than two and a half times higher. And that was without adding synchronous condensers.

Third, a nationally connected grid still does not solve three other separate renewable intermittency problems.

            (1) First, the sun always sets, albeit about 3 hours later on the US west coast than on the east coast. There is still much mutual night on both coasts. So there is always insufficient solar offset for the evening hours (dinner cooking, AC, laundry) on a US national grid. Florida cannot save California.

            (2) Second, energy demand is always seasonal. The sun sets early in winter when additional energy is needed for heating. No national grid can solve northern hemisphere seasonality.

(3) Third, wind is still highly variable by location. There is no mathematical assurance that on average it will ever be average across the US. The windiest places in the US (north Texas, western Iowa) still have capacity factors averaging about 32% of nameplate capacity. So 2/3 of the time, not enough wind even in the best locations. No different than the same meteorological problem covering much smaller Europe. But for French nuclear and Scandinavian variable hydro, German wind renewables would already be toast.

The Atlantic should have stuck to its previously justified fame, satirical political cartoons. Rather than now becoming several itself.

Addendum from Charles Rotter:

I believe this tweet thread below from David Reaboi sums up nicely what happened in this instance covered by the Atlantic.

Reaboi is talking about issues at DHS, not the EPA, but this pattern has been repeated for the last four years throughout Federal agencies. If anyone wants to do some FOIA leg work, we’d all love to see this brilliant plan to ease renewable energy issues.

(1) ANATOMY OF AN INFO OP. You’re a Democrat career civil servant somewhere, and you hate the president, who’s a Republican. You want to undermine him, and also advance your own political and ideological goals. How do you do it?

(2) You write a report that dovetails with your ideological thinking, but one that has no support from your bosses, the administration, or even reality. It doesn’t even have to be coherent or factually sound.

(3) When it’s laughed out of the room, you leak it to the media–as you’d always planned to do. The media runs the initial story like, “see, even Trump’s own DHS doesn’t think Antifa and far-left terrorism is a priority, or even a problem!”

(4) Then, once the DHS report is scrutinized inside government and subsequently rejected–guess what? Media has another story: “Truthful report censored by Trump!”

(5) When a legit report comes out–say, about Antifa and its documented anti-American activity and violence–the media casts it as “politicized.”

(6) The people who do this are loathsome. They know exactly what they’re doing, and that it’s an effort to undermine. The media knows it, too– they’ve got the whole story arc of these pieces already planned out before the first one runs.

Originally tweeted by David Reaboi (@davereaboi) on September 9, 2020.

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Kevin kilty
September 10, 2020 6:37 am

The windiest places in the US (north Texas, western Iowa) still have capacity factors averaging about 32% of nameplate capacity.

The farther east one travels from the western plains the worse is summertime capacity factor. The eastern Dakotas and Minnesota could be 15% in July/August, and these are monthly factors. The shorter the time span one looks at the more variable is the capacity factor. Every once in a while I will take a screenshot of North America and its current winds showing almost nothing. This happens regularly especially in summer.

I have no idea how many threads one can follow to illustrate deep problems with renewables…there are many.

September 10, 2020 6:53 am

40 to 50 years ago, when they tried to tie power lines going around the Great Lakes on both the northern and southern routes, they found out that cycle mismatch made it unstable. So they added AC-DC-AC converters to the connection. Distance affects timing, as well as voltage.

Reply to  Chris
September 10, 2020 8:48 am

When I was in Engineering School, this incident was discussed. The main cause of the cycle imbalance was the high percentage of hydro on the west coast vs coal generation on the east coast. The addition of all of this short term variable generation ie. renewables can only make this issue worse.
BTW, The DC connection between the east coast grid and the west coast is apparently quite impressive from a power engineer’s perspective.

Chris Eastlund
Reply to  Paul
September 10, 2020 9:29 am

The engineer that told the story said the powerflow caclulations he ran wouldn’t converge, always blew up. But TPTB in that situation ignored the results, assuming a programming error. Do you know if they updated the powerflow code to account for such situations?

That was back in single precision Fortran days, so the code certainly had limitations.

Erik Magnsuon
Reply to  Chris Eastlund
September 10, 2020 1:40 pm

Single precision on an IBM 360 (32 bits) or CDC 6000 (60 bits) series machine?

My understanding of the east-west synchronous interconnect problem is that the inertia of the two ends was too much for the lines along the western edge of the Great Plains. The two ends would start rocking with respect to each other and pull out the weak interconnections. The problem was addressed by putting several DC-DC asynchronous tie stations which allowed transfer of real power but not reactive power between the two sides. Nowadays transfer of reactive ad real power could be provided with GE’s phase shifting transformers.

The problem of “inertia” could be overcome with solar farms and wind farms having short term energy storage and converters responding to frequency variations to simulate inertia. This would cost money…

A perhaps more serious problem is that solar and wind farms do not have anything corresponding to the governor on most conventional plants that counteracts frequency shifts by increasing power output when frequency drops or decrease output when frequency increases.

Reply to  Erik Magnsuon
September 10, 2020 2:55 pm

IBM 32 bit. The projects at the time I was employed there were converting some of the tools used by the transmission and power EEs to double precision. 1980 or so, I think we’d just got a 370 upgrade that made double precision feasible for us.

Reply to  Erik Magnsuon
September 10, 2020 8:35 pm

IBM System 360 had both short (32 bit) and long (64 bit) floating point. System 370 had up to 128 bit.

Reply to  Erik Magnsuon
September 10, 2020 10:34 pm

You also hit another problem. The half wave length in cable of 60 cycles is about 1200 miles. As you get close to that, a whole new and exciting set of AC effects comes into play.

Thus my comment elsewhere that limiting the size of synchronous grids simplifies operation.

Erik Magnuson
Reply to  Erik Magnsuon
September 11, 2020 10:26 am

With a velocity factor of 100%, a half wavelength at 60 Hz would be 1500 miles, 1200 would imply a VF of 80% which sounds low for an open air transmission line.

Considering that virtually all of US and Canada significantly east of the Rockies except for Texas is operating as a unified grid, the wavelength effects are not a show stopper. Rule of thumb for load flow analysis is that a transmission line shorter than 100 miles can be modeled as a “Pi” or “Tee” network of series inductance and shunt capacitance. Longer than that, you have to take distributed transmission line effects into account.

As for SP/DP issues, my exposure to load flow simulation was on a CDC 6400, where the single precision was equivalent to double precision on most other machines. OTOH, running C programs would have been -um- interesting…

Reply to  Chris
September 10, 2020 2:09 pm

People assume, absent any evidence, that we don’t have a national grid because we are stupid or selfish. They don’t realize, we don’t have national grid because it is expensive, dangerous, and stupid. We’ve run the numbers. hell, every major utility has been running the numbers for decades. It just doesn’t pencil out. It creates way more problems than it solves.

I had a professor that put it best – energy doesn’t like to be contained. You can contain it…for a while. But the more you move it around, the longer you try and store it, the more problems you are going to have.

Steve Case
September 10, 2020 6:58 am

Here’s a cartoon from a few weeks ago with the same theme:

comment image


Steve Case
September 10, 2020 6:59 am

Oops wrong thread

Steve Case
Reply to  Steve Case
September 10, 2020 7:24 am

Uh no it wasn’t the wrong thread – Duh

Here’s the text which is very similar to the pattern the David Reaboi tweet outlined above:

The “Fake News” Wheel of MSM Bullshit

1-CNN makes something up and cites and un-named source

2-NBC calls CNN for a quote and CNN becomes the un-named source

3-ABC reports on NBC’s source

4-CBS reports on ABC’s story and the un-named source is no longer mentioned

5-CNN airs panel discussing the story ad “Fact” citing the coverage by other “major news networks”

6-NBC starts getting sound bites from Democrats reaction to CNN’s Story

7-ABC reports on Democrats reaction from NBC’s interview

8-CBS calls for comment from administration officials and says they are down playing the controversy

Reply to  Steve Case
September 10, 2020 8:12 am

You forgot a step.
Shortly after all the networks have begun reporting it as “fact”, a pre-chosen “reporter” from one of the networks asks Joe Biden a carefully worded question that he can then use to rant against the current administration.

They’ve delivered two “bombshells” exactly like this in the last week, expect many more between now and the election.

paul courtney
Reply to  davidmhoffer
September 10, 2020 11:51 am

Mr. Hoffer: I thought the “missed” step was the deep-state source of CNN’s 1st step, but CNN likely doesn’t have the money to talk to an actual source, cheaper to fabricate one. And CNN has learned that it works just as well, because no other news outlet considers “CNN fabricates anti-Trump story” to be news.
Agreed completely on the two “bombshells”, what I enjoy most is that the last six months worth of “bombshells” don’t stir enough earth for poppies to grow.

Reply to  Steve Case
September 12, 2020 8:56 am

It’s all scripted from start to finish. I didn’t realize how scripted until Tucker Carlson started playing clips from all the networks and how reporters/guests were saying the exact same thing word for word on a subject. They don’t even bother trying to put it in their own words so it at least looks a little like they came up with the idea themselves.

September 10, 2020 7:06 am

More on the complexity of renewables. Please scroll down to “the impossibility of wind” video.

Steve Case
Reply to  Chaamjamal
September 10, 2020 8:06 am

Chaamjamal September … at 7:06
the impossibility of wind

Watched the whole thing, see my comment on the You Tube.

September 10, 2020 7:15 am

TVA ki!lled the Clean Line interconnect project that would have delivered midwestern wind power to the southeastern US over their transmission grid. Good for them.

The Plains and Eastern line, which Clean Line said it could have built and activated by 2020, would have ended in Memphis, where city officials have backed the project to help build on Memphis’ reputation as the 21st century distribution hub in America. With the nation’s biggest transmission system, TVA could distribute the wind energy delivered to Memphis for its own use across its 7-state region or carry the power to other Southeastern utilities wanting more renewable power.

But after years of study, TVA said the Clean Line project didn’t make economic sense for the nation’s biggest government-owned utility, since TVA already has enough power-generating capacity and is on path to get more than half of its power from carbon-free sources. TVA President Bill Johnson said the intermittent nature of wind power would require TVA to build other backup power generators, including natural gas plants, that would offset the promised savings from the wind-generated power sources alone.
“We’re looking at a power demand in the future that is flat, or declining slightly, so we don’t anticipate needing major additions to power generation for a decade or more,” Johnson said.

Environmentalists blast TVA for killing major wind project

Reply to  icisil
September 10, 2020 11:00 am

New interconnections require new transmission lines. That’s a no-no — nimbys come out in swarms to stop them.

Reply to  beng135
September 10, 2020 11:24 am

The same people who in one breath will declare that since the wind is always blowing somewhere so it doesn’t matter if the wind stops blowing in your neck of the woods, are also totally against new power lines that are needed to carry power from where the wind is blowing to where you are.

Reply to  beng135
September 10, 2020 11:33 am

Nimbys didn’t have anything to do with it. TVA foresees no long-term need for extra power and any promised savings from cheaper wind power would be offset by the need to build backup generation to compensate for wind’s unreliability. Renewable advocates who think wind power is cheaper need to open their ears and let this sink into their brains.

TVA President Bill Johnson said the intermittent nature of wind power would require TVA to build other backup power generators, including natural gas plants, that would offset the promised savings from the wind-generated power sources alone.

Joel O'Bryan(@joelobryan)
Reply to  beng135
September 10, 2020 2:47 pm

There is actually quite a few farmers and landowners saying “No” to these power lines, not for environmental reasons. Although they get compensated for the acres taken under eminent domain laws underneath those big power lines, the line easements come with considerable encumbrances of the future uses of their property and its value.

Pat from Kerbob
September 10, 2020 7:25 am

Aside from inertia, i like to use the term “elasticity” to describe a conventionally fueled electric grid.
Those large masses of rotating metal represent inertia, when you start a very large motor for gas compression, say 50,000hp, the inrush is huge, 3-5 times the current drawn for the system for seconds, this causes “flicker” as the voltage collapses momentarily.
That massive inertia provides the elasticity of the grid to adjust to these regular events.

Yesterday i was looking at the Alberta AESO page, we have “windy” areas in southern AB where they put all of our 1800MW of wind generation, yesterday was a beautiful day, we produced 60mw ie 3.3%.

We have already used all the best locations. Wind enthusiasts ignore reality. Our really hot days in summer (A/C) and really cold days in winter (heating) occur when we are in the middle of a high pressure system, and there is NO wind to speak of.
So when you need it most its not there.
And solar is a joke up here, any greenhouse operator will tell you the sun has 8% of its strength at noon january 1 compared to noon july 1.

Our wonderful Trudeau government is going to decimate Canada

Bob Hoye(@subtle2)
Reply to  Pat from Kerbob
September 10, 2020 8:04 am

Just as his father’s Liberals did.
I did not know that insanity was inherited.
Very clear article on an elusive subject.
And the comment about the TVA avoiding getting in on a Politically Correct grid is worthwhile.

Reply to  Pat from Kerbob
September 10, 2020 8:28 am

“And solar is a joke up here, any greenhouse operator will tell you the sun has 8% of its strength at noon january 1 compared to noon july 1.” That does not even include the fact that daylight lasts how many fewer hours?

Pat from Kerbob
Reply to  Roger Caiazza
September 10, 2020 11:59 am

6 hours in january. 8% strength at its PEAK.
I keep driving by a massive solar install being constructed beside the highway between Brooks and Medicine Hat this summer.
This installation is probably 25% viable in arizona, here it will produce 10% nameplate over the course of a year.
Free money, wheeeeeeeeee

Update; today our massive wind investment is currently providing 317mw or 17% of nameplate

gives you such a warm fuzzy

Reply to  Pat from Kerbob
September 10, 2020 12:54 pm

Alberta now has TWO un-needed DC power lines.

But note that the justification for our expensive, new, un-needed electrical transmission infrastructure was to support green-energy generation schemes, such as wind power in Southern Alberta.

These two un-needed multi-billion-dollar DC transmission lines in Alberta are built into our rate base – my expert contacts in the electricity business say we don’t need either of them at this time.

Below is a post from 2017.

Regards, Allan

Here in Alberta the cost of generating natural gas-fired or coal-fired power is about 2-4cents/KWh.

Then this cost ~QUADRUPLES due to the way our idiot politicians have mismanaged the costs of Transmission, Distribution and Administration. Costs also increase due to the addition of unreliable, non-dispatchable wind power.

Alberta recently added a new $2 billion DC transmission line that actually has higher (AC-DC-AC Conversion + Line) losses than the old AC system, because the AC-DC-AC conversion losses are about 5%, much higher than the line losses of the old AC lines (which obviously require no AC-DC-AC conversion).

They had to take power off the old AC lines and put it on the new DC line – otherwise the new DC line would have run at less than 10% of capacity.

The math IS that simple, but clearly too much for our Alberta politicians.

Warren Buffet owns the new DC line and gets a guaranteed utility rate-of-return from this nonsense.

Preliminary Scoping and Engineering was apparently done by Phoebe Buffet.

September 10, 2020 7:36 am

Everything is possible, so long as you don’t care about cost.

Typically problems can be summarized in terms of the rule of 3, with only 2 being possible. So for example, the grid can be reliable, green, and low cost. But you can only have 2 of these at the same time.

Thus, the only possible green solutions are:

Unreliable, green, low cost
Reliable, green, high cost.

Reply to  ferdberple
September 10, 2020 10:50 am

If government is involved you can also get unreliable, green, high cost.

Reply to  harry
September 10, 2020 11:08 am

When you consider biomass deforestation, and the mines for lithium and rare earths for wind, etc., you get unreliable, un-green, high costs. Zero for three.

Reply to  ferdberple
September 10, 2020 10:55 am

Since they are always unreliable and always high cost, there must be something missing in your analysis.

Doc Chuck
Reply to  ferdberple
September 10, 2020 11:46 am

Not quite so fast, my friend. Let’s examine some routinely overlooked assumptions contained within the terminology itself. What is actually so green about the ‘green’ category itself? It doesn’t just appear in green form (except in deluded imagination) either in the first place or in its eventual replacement for continued service.

Since when are these ‘green’ wind turbine towers and blades being constructed entirely of wood dragged from forests by wooden horse-drawn vehicles and cut to size by green sourced electrically driven lasers to be attached together by wooden pegs (free of petrochemical adhesives or steel fasteners), and then delivered to the site by the aforementioned means? When will CO2 releasing steel-making and concrete production be abandoned such noble purposes, not to mention for the lubricated metal bearings for all this twirling upon, eh?

Reply to  ferdberple
September 10, 2020 11:50 am

Perhaps that should be “You can have AT MOST two of the three”. It’s possible to wind up with none of them, given sufficient lack of competence…

Curious George(@moudryj)
September 10, 2020 7:39 am

While wholesale lying is extremely effective, it has dangers in the long run. The biggest danger is that you will believe your own propaganda, as National Socialists did in Germany in 1940s. Let’s not start on that path. I am getting really nervous.

Joseph Zorzin
September 10, 2020 7:41 am

Off subject, but— the latest from James Hansen: “A socially and environmentally just way to fight climate change”

Reply to  Joseph Zorzin
September 10, 2020 8:49 am

Thanks. What a pile of crap this report is. Socialistic wealth distribution scheme using the false CO2 narrative as an excuse, and then claiming this nonsense supports the environment. A huge Fee and Dividend program admittedly collecting much more from the higher income people and distributing equally to everyone (“from each according to his ability to each according to his need”- sound familiar?). Of course, there is no mention of the large well-paid bureaucracy needed to implement this BS.

September 10, 2020 8:16 am

Of course any long distance US grid would be HVDC. It could even be UHVDC – china has several lines of this sort. There are any number of HVDC lines built in recent years across Europe…

Yes, a renewable heavy grid requires support from frequency response services. UK and other grids are building this out as they include more renewables. I think this may cover what the UK grid is doing

as usual this article merely recapitulates out of date technology and approaches and issues which renewable grids are already resolving

Reply to  griff
September 10, 2020 8:35 am

Who cares how much it costs?

Reply to  griff
September 10, 2020 8:44 am

You have in mind the numper of operator interventions is increasing and costs a lot

Reply to  griff
September 10, 2020 9:35 am

Griff, The sun sets across the entire continent. That’s not an out of date issue. Low sun angle and cloudy conditions prevail in the north during winter. That’s not an out of date issue. Power is most needed for heating and cooling when a high pressure system stalls over the area, but that coincides with low winds. That’s not an out of date issue. Wind and solar are unreliable and must be backed up by reliable generation. For most wind and solar farms, this backup power actually provides as much or more power than the renewables. That’s not an out-of-date issue. If your goal is to eliminate fossil fuel consumption, a fool’s errand, you will need to rely on nuclear power.

Ben Vorlich
Reply to  Meab
September 10, 2020 11:01 am

Currently wind as a percentage of demand in Europe Spain 10%, UK 11%, France 2.5%, Germany 3%, Denmark 18% (Denmark importing half its electricity). So low wind can affect most of Northern and Western Europe.

I can’t find Italy but will continue to look

Ben Vorlich
Reply to  Ben Vorlich
September 10, 2020 11:08 am

Italy about 2.5%, so Southern Europe not having much wind.

Reply to  Meab
September 10, 2020 12:18 pm

So to sum up, basic physics is not an out of date issue. Party of Science!

Reply to  griff
September 10, 2020 10:20 am

ROFL what we have again found out is that Griff knows absolutely nothing about electrical grids or economics. Sure lets drag a countries power distribution into a couple of very expensive massive single point connections and paint a big target on them for terrorists and foreign attacks. We know Griff lives in that lefty world of world peace and brotherly love but no sensible country would ever do that to their grid.

It’s really easy to bring the UK to it’s knees currently just severe a couple of the power links from europe and in the future a couple of those might well work out they can hold the UK to ransom.

Reply to  LdB
September 10, 2020 2:13 pm

It’s really easy to bring the UK to it’s knees currently just severe a couple of the power links from europe and in the future a couple of those might well work out they can hold the UK to ransom.
No not true
The IFA interconnector has been severed (1/2 the link ) by dragging anchors on a number of occasions.

Sever the french interconnectors to germany and spain and their nukes cannot load follow

Curious George(@moudryj)
Reply to  griff
September 10, 2020 10:23 am

Are renewable grids successfully resolving issues of their own making?

Joel O'Bryan(@joelobryan)
Reply to  griff
September 10, 2020 1:18 pm

There is always engineering fixes to the renewable power stupidity. But they come with greatly added costs and complexities.
And building HVDC long distance transmission line and the inverter-converter stations needed at each end is not some trivial matter. Highly specialized big transformers are needed. And those are very expensive and long lead times to manufacture and logistically move.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 13, 2020 7:47 pm

And there will almost certainly be no spares to replace them if they should be damaged in another Carrington Event.

Ray in SC
Reply to  griff
September 10, 2020 1:41 pm

As usual, either you did not read the source that you linked or you did not understand it. This report describes the need for future acquisition of technologies and assets that presently do not exist on GB’s power grid.

Leo Smith
Reply to  griff
September 10, 2020 8:23 pm

As usual Griffs ‘solutions’ are hand wavey qualitative propaganda.
Nowhere does he include the COST of all these upgrades – costs that he will cheerfully ignore when he claims that ‘wind is cheaper than nuclear’, or whatever.
The fact remains that HVDC is far more expensive than pylons across the landscape carrying AC.
Long links from ‘where renewables are generating today’ to ‘where we need power right now’ in the limit exceed the cost of building a zero carbon nuclear plant ‘where we need the power right now’.

They also represent a big target for terrorists. The crazy idea of moving sun power across from the sahara to Europe through all those nice poverty stricken third world Islamic countries who hate us…

Tim Gorman
September 10, 2020 8:16 am

“You can add synchronous condensers in an amount equal to renewables. ”

Just how long can these synchronous condensers maintain grid stability? If they are not driven then the inertia they provide begins to decrease from the moment they begin to deliver electricity. Is their ability to maintain stability measured in seconds? Minutes? Hours? Days?

Most sync-con installations are built to provide short-term stability in case of faults or sudden changes in demand. They are *not* backup generators meant to replace solar or wind plants when they go off-line.

(1) basically says: “So there is always insufficient solar offset for the evening hours”
(2) basically says: “The sun sets early in winter when additional energy is needed for heating.”
(3) basically says: “So 2/3 of the time, not enough wind even in the best locations.”

These are all *long-term* problems lasting at least for hours. They are not something that sync-con installations can address, at least from what I know of them. They need to be addressed by *driven* generators, not un-driven ones.

Reply to  Tim Gorman
September 10, 2020 8:37 am

The article specifies that these synchronous condensers are only used to provide frequency stability. They don’t provide power.

Tim Gorman
Reply to  MarkW
September 10, 2020 9:51 am


“The article specifies that these synchronous condensers are only used to provide frequency stability. They don’t provide power.”

That’s not what the ininformed reader is going to take from this article.

They are going to read: “here is a grid inertia solution, but at great additional grid cost ignored by GND. You can add synchronous condensers in an amount equal to renewables.”

For freq stability you don’t need to add synchronous condensers in an amount equal to unreliables. Not all unreliable sources affect frequency stability at the same time unless the sun stops shining everywhere at the same time or the wind stops blowing at the same time everywhere, i.e. nighttime. And sync-con’s won’t help then because they are not generators but only inertia providers. That inertia will only go down as it is used up. At some point their ability to affect anything will go away.

Sync-cons can be spot installed around the grid and only need to be sized to provide momentary stability. They can’t provide long-term stability but I’m afraid that is what many will take away.

Reply to  Tim Gorman
September 10, 2020 9:30 am

Tim Gorman September 10, 2020 at 8:16 am
“You can add synchronous condensers in an amount equal to renewables. ”
Wind and solar does not suddenly die across an entire network. In most cases it can be predicted and thermal generators started.
“synchronous condensers” are only required to stabilise for worst case loss when a generator trips without warning. 7MW for wind and 500MW for thermal.
Which is the more difficult to handle?!

Reply to  Ghalfrunt.
September 10, 2020 11:30 am

You’ve never seen a large cloud pass over a solar array, or wind die suddenly? I have. Your contention that there will always be time to fire up thermal is total nonsense. Regardless, except for gas turbines which aren’t very efficient, thermal power takes hours to be fired up from a warm start. Days from a could one.

Regardless, why pay for two power sources, just stick with the thermal plants.

Tim Gorman
Reply to  Ghalfrunt.
September 10, 2020 3:28 pm

“thermal generators started.”

Huh? If you have to have thermal generators then why do you need the additional cost of wind and solar?

Sync-con’s won’t really work for when a generator trips off-line without warning. Not if that generator requires more then a few minutes to come back on-line. Again, sync-cons are *NOT* power generators. They are not driven. Once the sync-con kicks in its power output starts to go down immediately. They are designed for high-output/low duration incidences.It’s the same with batteries. Even Elon’s battery in Australia only provides an hour worth of power. If it takes longer than that to bring the normal generator on-line the battery will deplete to uselessness.

The sync-con can provide momentary coverage while other generators kick up to fill the power vacuum. But they can’t generate power!

September 10, 2020 8:19 am

When I unfortunately have discussions with the grossly malinformed people that support “clean” energy, I cannot convince them of the facts of mathematics,physics and economics that prove that “renewable” are less efficient and more expensive and the people that are selling that to them are flat out lying or don’t have any actual knowledge of their own product.

Steve Case
Reply to  Matthew W
September 10, 2020 10:05 am

I asked a talented engineer, but liberal Democrat in-law of mine if he really believes that the power necessary to run the world’s economy can be supplied by solar panels and wind “turbines?” His answer was a simple and assertive, “YES” There is really nothing to discuss with those on the other side.

Joel O'Bryan(@joelobryan)
Reply to  Steve Case
September 11, 2020 5:21 pm

There are lots and lots of talented software and hardware engineers who don’t know the first thing about grid power engineering concepts. Apple, and Microsoft have thousands of very bright and talented engineers designing hardware and software who know close to nothing about reactive power problems on a grid. And if they do it was in some long forgotten intro EE undergrad course they took. Designing chips, circuit boards, and designing software architecture means all the essentials of understanding KVA’s and VARs topics of grid power is un-necessary knowledge for them.

September 10, 2020 8:24 am

The large number of shutdown coal plants could convert their generators to synchronous condensers. Some utilities contemplate this to get some value from the retired resource. However, these facilities are being demolished so the sometimes valuable real estate is being repurposed. Plus, there is no price signal from the energy market to encourage this use.

September 10, 2020 8:24 am


Thank you for a well-written concise summary of all these issues

September 10, 2020 9:23 am

The grid does need stability from instantly reacting generators.
In the UK these would be pumped storage (0-1.2GW in 12 secs) and large grid connected batteries. In future it is expected that the batteries could include vehicle to grid connections.
The uk has very few outages of note (personally being at the end of a long spur we get disconnected more frequently (trees / vehicles into lines and lightning strikes)).
The uk uses numerous hvdc links to other countries and even north to south (western link) within the UK (8.4GW in use and under construction)

When wind or solar dies it is not instant across the collection area and it can be predicted allowing slow start CCGT generators to be brought online. If a Wind Energy Convertor blows a fuse then the loss to the grid is 7MW. The real grid killer is when a thermal station suddenly trips and 500MW-1GW is instantly missing.

Reply to  Ghalfrunt.
September 10, 2020 11:32 am

Wind and solar may not die instantly, it often takes several seconds.

As to a thermal station tripping out, funny how that was never a problem before wind and solar got to be popular.

Reply to  Ghalfrunt.
September 10, 2020 12:09 pm

How about some actual performance figures? UK history of installed renewable fleet is operating at about 20% of capacity (nameplate rating). It is about 2.5 times more expensive as nuclear and about 10x more expensive than gas-fired plants.
The Southwest Power Pool in the US has about 25% of their total capacity in wind, 41% in gas, about 24% in coal. They have paid for almost On a good day they get about 12% from wind. Their history shows a 16GW drop in 21 hours when the wind died one day. Any idea how much spinning backup you need to pick up 16GW that fast?
They have paid for about 90GW capacity to be able to supply about 50GW of peak operating load, because you can rely on renewables as ZERO, ad still need some backup for other conventional plants. And, no, “all” the thermal plants don’t trip off together.

September 10, 2020 9:24 am

I think I did the math on something like this a while back, regarding how household gas usage costs would be calculated under an elevated cost scheme, similar to what is offered by this idea of switching to a “different” way to generate commercial electric power.

The cost for something like this WILL (not could or would, but WILL) substantially raise my monthly electric bill, which is very modest at $35 in the summer and $65 in winter, because the furnace has an electric blower motor, a more efficient model which replaced the old one several years ago. You can ask how it will affect my electric power bill? Simple: it’s an electric motor, connected to household current. Using it in the winter, as I’ve indicated, raises the monthly charge substantially, and I have the backup to prove that. I want to be warm in the winter, therefore, the furnace blower motor must work, period.

Since I”m charged a reasonable rate per kilowatt hour, I”m comfortable with this expense and it’s part and parcel of my household budget. Changing to an inefficient and unreliable source will not only raise my electric bill substantially (I said that above 🙂 ) but also put a severe dent in my income.

This idea that it’s cheaper and better to force people to move to an unreliable system is hogwash. I suggest that those who want to install it start with themselves. If they make it through a fierce winter with power outages out here in the prairies, I’d be quite surprised.

September 10, 2020 9:51 am

What is the best solar capacity factor attainable in a prime location?

Rud Istvan
Reply to  Ossqss
September 10, 2020 11:20 am

The best ever reached by Ivanpah (concentrated solar in the Mohave desert) was 21% after several years of tweaking and no thermal storage). But Ivanpah ‘capacity’ definition did not include night time because of lackmofvthermal storage, so in reality ~10%.
Another way of calculating is that the best monosilicon solar PV panels are about 22% efficient thanks to the Shockley Quisser quantum limit of 31% ( the cells are about 26% now, but there is panel overhead loss). So IF on average there are 12 hours of sunlight, then the CF is about 11%. In practice it is about 8% because of sunrise and sunset.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
September 10, 2020 1:57 pm

Is that before or after accounting for clouds?

September 10, 2020 10:03 am

“Those large masses of rotating metal represent inertia, when you start a very large motor for gas compression, say 50,000hp, the inrush is huge, 3-5 times the current drawn for the system for seconds, this causes “flicker” as the voltage collapses momentarily.”

This sounds like pure fantasy. An electric motor on a gas compressor that size to begin with and started locked rotor no less and claimed current draw well above locked rotor for a large motor? Do you have any links?

Joel O'Bryan(@joelobryan)
September 10, 2020 11:41 am

Anatomy of a INFO DISINFO OP.

Planning Engineer
September 10, 2020 12:00 pm

Nice piece Rudd. Sometimes I feel like it’s all been said to little avail in many cases. But continuing compounding events may making it harder to tune it out.

Rud Istvan
Reply to  Planning Engineer
September 10, 2020 10:00 pm

Russ, do not despair. We must fight on. Highest regards. Rud.

John Dewitt
September 10, 2020 12:06 pm

I personally know all of the parties named in the Atlantic story. It is exactly the partisan hack job that Reaboi describes. There’s not much love for Mr. Bloom outside of the NREL/Green Industrial complex. He thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room and won’t listen to reason or logic. Letting the result drive modeling instead of sound engineering principles is flawed on its face, but acceptable to the green by any means crowd.

Joel O'Bryan(@joelobryan)
September 10, 2020 12:15 pm

A term that is missing here in this survey of grid issues with renewables is reactive power. Complex math is involved to understand the phase changes in volts and amps, as they are imaginary and real components in the power (volt-amps, VA) math.

Grid voltages have to be carefully managed not to get too high as well as not too low, and understanding how reactive power is working against the AC power is essential. On windy spring night time in Texas’s ERCOT, when the wind turbines are humming and the consumer loads are light, the big transformers have to switch over to absorb reactive power to keep the voltages down. Also many of the wind turbines are feathered and shut down, even when the wind is optimally blowing because the wind turbines cannot absorb the back currents of reactive power. But the big natural gas, and nuclear steam driven spinning mass generators have to remain online to provide frequency stability. This is just as important, probably more so, as not letting voltages (and hertz) drop too low during high demand periods. And understanding reactive power by the engineers watching the computers controlling all this is technology far beyond grasp of any of the GND imbeciles.

So the complex math of real and imaginary numbers to understand reactive versus active power is math that probably not one Liberal politician calling for 50% and 100% renewable mandates have any inkling of, much less a firm grasp of. They studiously avoided those university programs and took their Liberal Arts courses to become “well rounded.” Yet these liberal indoctrinated GND imbeciles get themselves elected to positions of policy making and law making and keep pushing their ignorant of reality renewable mandates %’s.

So trying to explain all the power control problems that wind and solar introduce to them and their eyes glaze over. Yet not understanding those reactive power problems leads to these same imbecilic politicians thinking we can just throw more wind turbines into the mix to replace the very large spinning mass generation as coal, nuclear, natural gas steam, and large hydro provides. AC Grid stability cannot be understood correctly outside an understanding of active power versus reactive power. And the vast majority of Libtards studiously avoided anything that looked like higher math in high school and university.

Rud Istvan
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
September 10, 2020 9:58 pm

Joel, I know all about the complex math (a+bi) of Tesla’s AC, where the Imaginary math part using the square root of -1 part times something signifies phase shift and reactive power. So does Planning Engineer. See my post paragraph ‘First’ concerning Tesla. But when you write stuff for a mostly laymen WUWT audience, you simplify.

BTW, did you know that using Euler’s most famous theorem, you can merge all five of math’s most famous ‘magic numbers’ into one formula? As follows:
E^-i*pi +1 =0.
The five magic numbers, about which each ‘derivation’ a book in my possession has been written, are e (natural logarithm of 2), i (square root of -1), pi (circumference of a circle divided by its diameter), zero, and 1. The evolution of zero is IMO the most interesting, starting with Babylonian cuneiform clay tablets, evolving to ‘carrying no decimals’ and ending in the difference between positive and negative numbers.
Feynman said he was ‘enlightened’ when he first learned this magic Formula in high school. I learned it much much later, as am surely no Feynman. But felt similarly enlightened by its magic.

Joel O'Bryan(@joelobryan)
Reply to  Rud Istvan
September 11, 2020 11:37 am

I realize you do Rud. But understanding how reactive power must be actively managed and how solar PV and wind farms make that problem a difficult problem to manage is lost on the vast majority of people who have no engineering training or EE education, and that means most Liberals in political office. They think grid power problems can be solved by just adding more turbine farms without having any inkling of what that does to stabilizing the grid as big inductive loads from industry rise and fall during most 24 hour periods.

Old planning engineer
September 10, 2020 12:51 pm

There is another issue that Rud didn’t fully capture and that is the lack of diversity between generation sources for a grid heavily dependent on PV. Large PV installations generate a lot when the sun is out and don’t generate much when the sun is not out. Consequently, you get a very peaky production curve. This in turn leads to:
– very peaky short term prices; and
– lots of times when electricity production is curtailed due to either over production or negative prices.

Consequently privately non subsidised PV farm owners face something of a problem: high prices when they don’t generate much and low prices and potentially limited generation when they can.

In the Australian context this is pushing a lot of new PV farms into including batteries to capture some of the low / no priced generation and move it into the higher priced late afternoon slot. Batteries however cannot solve the longer seasonal issues of much lower demand in Spring / Autumn than in Summer / Winter.

Its my guess that the economic effects of this lack of diversity will limit large scale PV penetration far more than the engineering issues of inertia, synchronisation, voltage control etc.

Reply to  Old planning engineer
September 11, 2020 12:03 am

Well hang on: when the sun comes out and a/c units come on, California power demand used to spike, so they built a lot of peaker gas plants… same issue, different timing.

Most domestic PV systems will now include a battery plus grid scale batteries, demand response and other storage will address the ‘duck neck’ solar ramp down. It is not as if the sun isn’t predictable…

paul courtney
Reply to  griff
September 11, 2020 9:35 am

Just as predictable as the comments from a green activist. “Most domestic PV systems will now include” things that don’t exist, like a grid scale battery.
Does it make you wonder when a rank amateur blows a hole in your post?

Reply to  griff
September 11, 2020 9:39 am

The problem is that when the sun goes down, the AC units don’t go off.
Peaker plants are:
1) Expensive
2) Less efficient than full sized plants
3) Also opposed by the eco-loons

Grid scale batteries only have enough storage capacity for a few seconds, they are also hideously expensive.

The sun may be predictable, clouds on the other hand aren’t.

Bryan A
Reply to  griff
September 11, 2020 7:05 pm

So, just how many Grid Scale Batteries are in use today?
How many tons of refined elements are needed for 1 grid scale battery pod?
How many tons of more were mined and processed to produce the refined elements needed to create those enormous batteries?
Where did the mining occur?
What kind of toxics were those miners exposed to?
How many of the Miners were Minors?
How many Minor Miners died so the virtual signaling hypocrites could feel good about their delusions?

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  griff
September 13, 2020 8:00 pm

Speaking of California, when the smoke from the recent fires covered San Francisco (and most of northern California), the street lights came on and the PV units stopped working. Totally predictable!

September 10, 2020 2:11 pm

People assume, absent any evidence, that we don’t have a national grid because we are stupid or selfish. They don’t realize, we don’t have national grid because it is expensive, dangerous, and stupid. We’ve run the numbers. hell, every major utility has been running the numbers for decades. It just doesn’t pencil out. It creates way more problems than it solves.

I had a professor that put it best – energy doesn’t like to be contained. You can contain it…for a while. But the more you move it around, the longer you try and store it, the more problems you are going to have.

September 10, 2020 2:15 pm

You know, there was a time when socialists and progressives…cared about power costs. Charging Bill Gates or Warren Buffet an extra $50/month for electricity is no big deal. But doubling or tripling the cost of electricity is a huge deal at the bottom of the economic ladder. And they literally …don’t care. Couldn’t care less if poor people are harmed by their polices. their callous natures coupled with ignorance is just terrifying.

Joel O'Bryan(@joelobryan)
Reply to  Geo
September 10, 2020 2:54 pm

Oh they have a plan for the impoverishment they bring to the ever expanding lower middle classes… re-distribution to buy votes. Take money from the increasingly thinning middle class that is the real driver of the economy and give to the tribal underclass they have created for increasing political power at the ballot box. It is what Hugo Chavez did to Venezuela. It is how California Democrats are cementing their strangle hold on Cal’s middle class wealth to re-distribute. Don’t underestimate the March to Socialism as a powerful lure that depends on basic human behaviors in an uneducated population to its pitfalls.

Leo Smith
September 10, 2020 8:15 pm

You have missed one other good reason why the USA is split into separate grid regions – the speed of light.
Essentially if you have two wires of different lengths arriving at the same place, and AC signal will be slightly different in phase from one wire to the other, and this leads to large power factor type losses – yes its part of the resistive loss, but it’s not just about delivering power through a resistance, it’s about delivering ‘wattless current’ through a resistance.

That is why the USA has three synchronous grids instead of one. Because actually in terms of resistance grids do not send power from one end to the other. If you look at the resistance paths its clear that generators will supply more current to loads near them, and indeed the grid is not sized to carry full load current over its entirety – it is more a balance and emergency overload supply.
Local generators in general feed local loads, lending and borrowing a bit of power from the national (or part national) grid.
The grid is not sized to carry late afternoon power from California to new York, even if it were linked.
If it were linked, energy would be wasted, as some grid current would travel to New York and back, cancelling out energy sent direct to e.g. Las Vegas.
However the main thrust of the argument is valid: The grid is not and never was designed to transport massive amounts of power from one end of the country to the other. It is easier and cheaper to build a power station where its needed.

In order to do that, it would need to be massively extended – a cost that the proponents of ‘green energy’ ignore.

Reply to  Leo Smith
September 11, 2020 9:43 am

The rule of thumb that I learned back when I did a lot of circuit board layouts, was that a signal would move through a trace at about 1 ft per nano-second. As clock speeds started pushing 100MHz, this started becoming a big deal.
What the speed would be in a copper or aluminum wire, I don’t know.

September 10, 2020 10:30 pm

>That is why very long links tend to invert to HVDC, then revert to AC, as the Scandinavian/EU
>interconnectors do.

There are other reasons for DC links. The links between Germany and Scandinavia and Continental EU and UK are not long links. They are DC because
1. Many of these link are underwater cables. Water is polar, so an alternating electric field agitates water molecules and absorbs energy from the cables converting it to warmer water. There are ways around this, but making the link DC is both cheaper and more efficient.
2. Most of the regional interconnects in the US are connected by HVDC lines that are maybe 20 feet long. The reason is that, unlike an AC link, the two end do not need to be frequency and phase synchronized. Reducing the size of synchronized areas simplified operations and cleans up some ugly failure modes. In Europe, Scandinavia and Continental EU are separate grids each with its own phase synchronization. The DC links allow this phase and frequency separation.

The downsize is that, like the inverters on solar and wind generators, the DC links are poor at providing grid inertia or reactive power control.

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