Academics and the Grid Part 3: Visionaries and Problem Solvers

From Climate Etc.

by Planning Engineer (Russell Schussler)

The potential of climate change with an unworkable grid is the most frightening potential scenario of all.  We need visionaries and problem solvers to avoid this scenario.

This is the third installment in a series concerning academics and the grid.  Part 1 observed that it was frequently the case that an academic paper which solved some component of a problem integrating a” green” resource would be interpreted to imply that all problems associated with integrating that “green” resource had been solved.   Part 2 looked at the large body of papers published on the net zero transition and noted most of the attention was on smaller components, while the larger problems associated with the grid were ignored.  This body of research as a whole generate serious misimpressions by distracting from the major concerns and causing policy makers to discount the significant challenges ahead in increasing renewable penetration.

In previous post Academics and the Grid Part 2: Are They Studying the Right Things?, it was noted that researchers on grid issues related to an energy transition, could be roughly divided into two camps.  I referred to the first of these groups as Visionaries and the second group as Problem Solvers. The study work and recommendations from these two groups are approached in different ways, have differing audiences and unfortunately are unequal in impacting energy policy.

Problem Solvers tend to work on present and emerging challenges.  These are highly technical academics, engineers and scientists.   They tend to look for solutions to emerging problems without questioning their drivers.  Problems solvers ask themselves how do we better adapt to the increase wind and solar we are seeing on the grid.  For the most part they do not question or endorse the emerging trends.  They see their work as important for maintaining the grid. While they are our best hope for adapting to change, some may see them as tools of the industry with to0 narrow a focus.

Visionaries are idealistic and consequently more likely to advance research and development to achieve greater societal goals.  They see their work as necessary for the planet as a whole. They advocate for lowering carbon emissions and promote research to facilitate the goal of CO2 reduction.  The Visionaries share the perspective that the “green energy” transition lies somewhere between “we can do this” to “once we get this going, we will figure it all out and the benefits will be enormous”.

In our overall society most individuals clump into one of two positions around climate change and “green” energy.  In a previous post, Taxonomy of climate/energy policy perspectives I wrote:

One side cries that either we switch to superior clean renewable technologies or we face climatic doom. The other side responds that is there is no problem and we couldn’t fix it anyway. In the debate over climate and energy policy two independent major factors stand out. The first is our understanding around the probability, degree and immediacy of adverse effects from man-made Climate Change. The second factor impacting policy determinations concerns the suitability of today’s various available “clean” energy sources as policy options. Since the policy implications are driven by two major factors there should be at least theoretically four distinct policy perspectives. Unfortunately, most debate seems primarily to feature two factions and major policy concerns may get lost in the noise.

It’s rare to find someone unconcerned by climate change, but who think renewables will work really well with the grid.  We don’t hear so much from those who greatly fear climate change but recognize current pursuits around clean energy are inadequate.  Personally, I find the potential of climate change with an unworkable grid to be the most frightening potential scenario of all.  I have never addressed or taken a position on climate and the need for carbon reduction.  I argue for the need for reliable affordable energy independent of what the climate might do.  I am more worried about the grid changes if we are to face climate doom as well.  Such changes would be the most devastating on poor and moderate-income people.  If we are to face disaster – a terrible inefficient unworking grid will magnify problems exponentially.  Unworkable technology is not the answer to an impending crisis.

The Visionaries tend to frame climate is an impending existential threat and seek to minimize concerns around a green transition.  The Problems Solvers, like me, are largely mum on the subject of climate change. When it comes to a green energy transition, they are similarly silent.  Their grappling with the subject is very narrow and modest in approach.  Reading between the lines in the technical journals it is apparent that there are many huge obstacles looming.  Why are these not discussed more fully?   Perhaps it is because there are many incentives to appear overly optimistic and few to none for espousing views that appear even moderately pessimistic.

Consider the perspectives of those writing as Problems Solvers.  They are typically engineers or scientists with advanced expertise in that specialized area.  The more the excitement and enthusiasm for a net zero transmission, the more their expertise is in demand and the greater the value of that expertise becomes.   They may be working for or supported to some extent by the manufacturers of the “green” industry. Whether they are directly or indirectly tied to a green industry, their near term well being is tied to the continuation of such research.  Chipping away at the problem and achieving minor successes is in their self-interest.  There is likely no personal benefit to be gained by sharing observations that trends in the overall efforts to date do not suggest eventual success at a net zero level.

What are the drivers for the Visionaries?  Overwhelmingly they are academics or work for entities with financial interests  and expertise tied to the “green” future.  Overwhelmingly in their working environment climate change is seen as an existential problem and the environment broadly supports efforts to reduce CO2 from electric generation.  Academic publications are critical to hiring and promotional opportunities.  Would an individual skeptical of the desired changes fare well when any such publications were reviewed?  As much as such views may be needed, I don’t know who would hire or reward those who provide such focus and balance. The environment they work in many work in might  be described  as the eco-anxious,  woke, true- believers or as Thomas Sowell described the “Anointed”.   Academics are likely constrained from sharing concerns and noting short coming of “green” approaches.  This may be too why they in Part 2 we did not see nuclear show up as a key word within the body of Net Zero research.

I will note that the mathematics used by the Academics to look at resource replacement, backup and transmission doesn’t go much beyond arithmetic with maybe some probability and statistics.  Even then the study work is often done by modelling software.  The mathematics needed for Problem Solvers to address the major concerns span mathematics from arithmetic to algebra, trigonometry, calculus and differential equations.  It may be too much too much to expect that many Academics with technological knowledge and capabilities would devote their efforts to sabotaging their career.

Where then is there an incentive for knowledgeable academics and engineers to speak up about grid concerns?  Once upon a time utilities were responsible for grid reliability.  They had skin in the game and if there were problems, accountability ensued.  In those days, when penetration levels were miniscule to small, it didn’t’ make sense for a utility to raise concerns and risk being caught in the crosshairs.  The better short-term plan was to go ahead with preliminary efforts, knowing the grid was very robust, hoping that eventually things would work out or someone else would speak up.  Then the federal entities FERC and NERC changed the interrelationships between basic functions and responsibilities.  FERC worked to break up traditional utility structures into components, with particular concerns for fostering competition within the generation sector and providing open access to transmission facilities. NERC took over responsibility for reliability and “ensures” reliability through their compliance standards. Utilities are no longer responsible for reliability, but rather for meeting the reliability standards.  NERC can impose fines up to $1,000,000 per day for standard violations.  Hard to see the incentives for a utility sticking their neck out to raise long term reliability concerns broadly or with the monitoring entity.

I am greatly suspicious of “conspiracy theories”.  I can’t believe that any parts of the green movement or any governments are plotting to bring down the grid and set back industrialized civilization. But if they were, a good strategy would look a lot like what we are seeing.  How might one seek to turn the economic and reliable grid into a costly, complicated system prone to blackouts?  Discarding dependable generators and replacing with asynchronous intermittent technology would be a good way.  To support this transition and forestall questions, in the public arena, have reputable scientists (Academics) pick small problems and show that they might be solved.  This work will distract from the real problems.  Examining the challenges evaluated by the Academics, the transition might look doable.  In the background technical experts (the Problem Solvers) work on forestalling the problems that will soon become insurmountable.  While the grid transition is not a nefarious plot, we might be better off it was.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer described malice may be a lesser enemy that what we face.  Dealing with well-intentioned but mislead true believers who become more strident and committed in the face of increasing evidence of the short comings may be a much more alarming scenario than what is described in this paragraph.

As the transition to net-zero continues, what should we expect to see?  The optimistic scenario is a more widespread understanding of the complexities involved leading to more reasonable “good enough” energy plans balancing economics, reliability and environmental concerns. This scenario might include large additions of nuclear with natural gas resources filling the gap until they are available.

The alternative scenario is that the net zero approach continues with wind and solar as key players.  As grid problems become more apparent eventually grid concerns will reach a wider audience.  You will find crossover publications between academics and problem solvers.  If nothing changes as to incentives, these papers will be largely optimistic about what capabilities are just around the corner.  You will see more and more how asynchronous resources might emulate the functions currently provided by synchronous rotating machines.  We might see a grand plan for rapid grid transition as we see calls for energy transition now.

The cost implications could be astounding, as emulating essential reliability services generally requires a large amount of otherwise unusable capacity to be on hand.  Cost estimates associated with the ‘green transition” are notoriously over optimistic.  Cost should not be thought of as the major obstacle. Perhaps the most critical concern is that all these controls are making the complex grid even more and more complex as we get farther and farther away from our extensive real-world experience.  For a more detailed description of these problems see this posting, Renewables and Grid Reliability.    Experience in many areas show we can better build complex systems by tinkering with improvements over time, rather than having them emerge full formed like Athena from the head of Zeus.

Designing large complex systems is fraught with challenges. There can be huge gaps between what works on paper and what works in practice. A couple energy projects stand out for having “green hopes” being dashed by reality.  The Kemper plant was to be a flagship project for clean coal.  It was a key component of President Obamas Climate Plan.  Initially it was supposed to cost $3 billion, it ended up costing over $7 billion.  It was supposed to gasify coal and store the captured carbon but that component of the plant proved unworkable and it cannot use coal or capture carbon.  Now it functions as a 582 MW natural gas plant that could have been built for less than one tenth of the $7 billion in cost.

Ivanpah was one of the most ambitious solar projects, at a cost of $2.2 billion.  The 400 MW plant stretches across 3,600 acres of the Mojave Desert.   The plant concentrates solar thermal energy to produce steam to generate power.  It’s less well known that the plant used natural gas as part of the process. The plant was plagued with problems and did not perform nearly as well as expected.  While generation was much lower than expected, the amount of natural gas used by the plant greatly exceeded expectations.   I found record for five years of the facilities operation (2014-2018).  Were the natural gas, used to preheat the water, instead used to power a combined cycle plant it could have provided roughly 20 to 25% of the total plant output during that time period.   I believe that the plant’s performance is improving with time, but it is hard to tell.  When projects of this sort fail, the problems encountered are not trumpeted as loudly as the initial optimistic assumptions.  The plant has been in operation since 2014 but the DOE webpage for the site while referring to the original projections for annual generation, does not have any readily accessible information or links to actual generation or facility performance.  There are always great press releases on new complex things that will work wonderfully, but when they don’t much is lost in the memory hole.

Evidently the originally intended functioning of both Plan Kemper and Plant Ivanpah were not only considered possible but also considered highly likely.  They both worked well in theory and on paper but proved too complex to implement as intended in the real world. Could large clean coal plants and large solar thermal plants emerge over time through tinkering and improvements on more modest proposals which grew in complexity over time?   That would seem possible, but the likelihood of success goes down the more quickly the transition and the more drastic the change.

We are a long way from figuring out how to solve for a net zero grid in terms of just theory and what might work on paper for many fundamental emerging grid problems. Work is underway on the puzzle pieces with mixed results. How they might fit together takes it to another level.   The challenges of a quick transition to a net zero carbon grid dwarf the complexities of the Kemper and Ivanpah projects.   Bright engineers, scientists and academics are working on the challenges, but they don’t trumpet their concerns as do those with “victories” on smaller problems. It almost seems at time as if all the flash and attention is focused on the more “minor” successes to distract an audience from the more serious concerns emerging from wind and solar. The Visionaries will have their vision and Problem Solvers will be committed to their problems. Who will tie true vision to the actual problems?   It will be dangerous if policy makers are swayed by those who are overly optimistic.  We can’t survive a grid transformation that looked good on paper but in the end turns out to be as disastrous as Kemper and Ivanpah.

Acknowledgements:  Comments from Roger Caiazza are appreciated.

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January 16, 2023 2:23 pm

A lot more people are in this camp than you might think. Just look thru comments from any article.

“..argue for the need for reliable affordable energy independent of what the climate might do. I am more worried about the grid changes if we are to face climate doom as well. Such changes would be the most devastating on poor and moderate-income people. If we are to face disaster – a terrible inefficient unworking grid will magnify problems exponentially. Unworkable technology is not the answer to an impending crisis.”

Last edited 20 days ago by macha
Tom Halla
January 16, 2023 2:30 pm

All Ivanpah did was create new ways of killing birds. As to generating power, it was a failure.

Pat from Kerbob
Reply to  Tom Halla
January 16, 2023 2:33 pm

I think it showed how you would have the gas backup right inside the installation. Maybe that is the model. The wind and solar guys have to provide reliable power, make them build a gas combined cycle plant along side every ruinable plant.
Then their “facility” has to bid and provide power in a reliable fashion.

Dennis Gerald Sandberg
Reply to  Pat from Kerbob
January 16, 2023 5:57 pm

and there would never be another wind or solar “farm” ever again, anywhere. The whole charade/scam/hoax/fraud ugly monster would collapse,.

Reply to  Tom Halla
January 16, 2023 2:53 pm

A question that needs to be asked about Ivanpah is why doesn’t it work at night if there is so much down welling radiation at or equal in w/m2 as during the day.

Reply to  mkelly
January 16, 2023 3:05 pm

Good question –

Obviously solar panels are no good with the low energy infra-red radiation but concentrating all that IR that comes back from the cold clouds should be doing wonders at night. Maybe not many clouds in the desert at night? Or, heaven forbid, ELECTRO-magnetic radiation transferring energy against the electric field does not exist.

Reply to  mkelly
January 16, 2023 4:42 pm

Cuz to have “back’ radiation there has to be more “fore” radiation in SB equation where Q is proportional to Thot^4 minus Tcold^4…. and the Sun is the source of Thot….

Peta of Newark
Reply to  DMacKenzie
January 16, 2023 6:41 pm

and the substance doing the radiating, in either case, has to have some measurable Emissivity.
The Oxygen/Nitrogen mix that makes most of Earth atmosphere is generally taken to have a figure of 0.02
The emissivity figure for CO2 was measured, in 1954 by Hottel, as being 0.001 – at 340ppm like the atmosphere was then but at a temperature of 33Celsius.

A very significant thing about gases is that their emissivity changes according to both temp and pressure.
(The very working basis for Spencer’s Sputniks)

As temps and pressures fall (you gain altitude) the emissivities plummet, so the figure for an Oxygen Nitrogen mix can be between .01 and 0.03

It drives a Coach & Horses through all your precious calculations.

and assumptions

There may be ‘radiation’, there will be radiation, well welling, downwelling, upwelling or any way welling, but there is NOT necessarily any energy flow.

Because if the radiant energy is coming from a cold object (the sky) it can not be and is not absorbed by any and all objects it encounters that have a higher temp than where it was emitted from.
(In a nutshell = The 2nd Law)
In a bombshell, destroys the theory of the Green House Gas Effect
Because any and all points in the atmosphere are always colder than any all points below them.
Because of Lapse Rate.

Heat energy always flows up into the sky (down the thermal gradient) and NEVER down from the sky.
Unless El Sol emitted it.

Yes there is radiation but there is No Energy Flow from cold to hot

Until folks like Willis and Moncton get their heads around that, there is no point entering into any discussion with them.
Their magical thinking and increasing belligerence will always see any discussion end badly.

as we repeatedly see around here

Last edited 20 days ago by Peta of Newark
Reply to  DMacKenzie
January 16, 2023 11:26 pm

How does ELECTRO-magnetic radiation transfer energy against the electric field potential.

The SB equation is an approximation for point sources in the EM field. The energy only transfers from hot to cold i.e from high potential to low potential. There is no forward and backward flows.

All matter communicate across the electric, magnetic and gravitation fields at the limit velocity of the medium between them. Earth’s presence impacts on the electric field, the magnetic field and the gravity field that all matter exists within.

Jim Gorman
Reply to  RickWill
January 17, 2023 6:54 am

There is forward radiation from each body involved. You must examine the gradients to have a nonequilibrium situation. The cooling gradient of the hot body is reduced. When receiving more radiation than being emitted, the cold bodies cooling gradient is reversed into a heating gradient. That is how you reach equilibrium. Net radiation is from hot to cold until equilibrium is reached. If neither is a source, then both will cool. Gradients can’t be determined only from temperature. Heat capacities are involved.

Reply to  mkelly
January 17, 2023 3:47 pm

Sleep is an existential need?

Reply to  Tom Halla
January 16, 2023 3:43 pm

It is my understanding that even the shadow from a contrail reduced the generation rate.

Richard Greene
Reply to  Tom Halla
January 17, 2023 12:25 am

Ivanpah probably will be closed before 2023 is over — it was a waste of money.

Reply to  Richard Greene
January 17, 2023 3:59 pm

EPA has, perhaps still is, supporting non-function plants with large but bogus payments in order to keep the concepts it (EPA) favors alive.

Pat from Kerbob
January 16, 2023 2:31 pm

Controlling a grid with less and less large generators with spinning mass providing inertia coupled with having hundreds of thousands or millions of sources of power as well as fault current instead of thousands is likely an issue far too big to solve, problems will simply cascade out of control.
There is a thing called syncrophasors whereby measurement units all over the grid are broadcasting real time measurements of magnitude and direction over wide area networks that look like weather maps when pieced together but for power flow instead of highs and lows and wind, but i think for the most part this will only allow us to reconstruct the chain of events after the collapse but will never be fast enough to allow us to provide real time control over an actual full renewables grid.
Its an exercise in futility i think.

Reply to  Pat from Kerbob
January 16, 2023 3:14 pm

is likely an issue far too big to solve,

This issue has already been confronted and solved using synchronous condensers.

Australia’s grid operator had to order gas generators to stay on line to meet sub 6 second stability criteria in the South Australian network up until they installed the synchronous condensers. These simply offer rotating inertia and have the ability to source VARS for voltage control if needed. They are a small energy sink but offer economic benefit in a predominantly weather dependent grid.

South Australia is now using less gas because the need to idle gas plant for its inertia has been eliminated. It did take a system crash some years back to understand the need for rotating inertia.

Tim Gorman
Reply to  RickWill
January 16, 2023 3:52 pm

Every thing I have read about sync condensers are that they are not power generators. They can support the grid for seconds, not minutes, hours, or days. They are, in essence, MOTORS, not generators. I notice you reference a 6 second stability criteria. Sync condensers can help with this but that doesn’t make the grid more reliable when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow which are the main factors for the “unreliables” not meeting expected generation percentages.

Rud Istvan
Reply to  Tim Gorman
January 16, 2023 4:00 pm

TG, you may confuse two issues I have studied for years. Synchronous condensers are essentially unpowered generators. (In fact some are made by simply cutting the turbine shaft off an old steam driven generator at end of coal plant life and leaving it grid attached spinning at grid frequency.) They do nothing for renewable intermittency. But they can still provide their old grid inertia, which is only seconds.

Tim Gorman
Reply to  Rud Istvan
January 16, 2023 4:14 pm


No, you just said the same thing I said. Sync Condensers may help with short term (seconds) instability but not with grid reliability over any longer period. Sync condensers are not the savior of “unreliable” wind and solar.

Richard Greene
Reply to  Tim Gorman
January 17, 2023 12:45 am

Second hand from an auto engineer working on electric vehicles:

Advanced engineers are experimenting with the use of smaller EV electric motors and fewer batteries, supplemented with super capacitors.

Sort of like using a turbocharger with a small 4-cylinder ICE engine. Results so far: Capacitors can improve acceleration for a short period of time but are no substitute for conventional batteries.

EVs do accelerate fast — that may be their only selling point advantage versus ICE vehicles. My electrical engineer friend, when asked why his company does not use smaller electric motors, with slower acceleration, to save money, said: The larger motors don’t cost much more and there’s not much to get excited about with EVs, other than the fast acceleration.

In general, the engineers he works with think the EVs they are creating will be an expensive sales disaster for 2026 model. Engineers are always over-optimistic about new ICE vehicles they are creating. The current EV pessimism is unprecedented in the industry.

In recent testing, in northern Minnesota, in December 2022, some EVs lost 50% or MORE of their range in the extremely cold weather.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Richard Greene
January 17, 2023 3:44 am

Yes, and the costs of electric vehicle parts are increasing by the day.

Jim Gorman
Reply to  Richard Greene
January 17, 2023 7:09 am

You do realize that more torque, i.e., increased acceleration is death on ice and snow. I suspect that sooner or later, EV’s will need road temperature sensors or some other solution to limit acceleration under these conditions. Otherwise we will see more accidents and deaths.

old cocky
Reply to  Jim Gorman
January 17, 2023 3:55 pm

I think that’s one of the reasons for the various selectable power delivery modes in modern cars and motorcycles.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
January 16, 2023 5:55 pm

Which is why I keep a UPS on my computer. Idle it will ride over switching glitches without a problem. However I am running BONIC which loads the computer and a switching glitch will crash the computer. I notice the glitches with incandescent bulbs but you have to be paying attention to see them as they are under a quarter of a second. My glitches are local and not a big deal. Switching power sources are a big deal and could cause some real problems.

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  Dena
January 16, 2023 6:24 pm

BONIC? What’s that? Did you mean BOINC?

Reply to  Michael S. Kelly
January 16, 2023 6:34 pm

Must be the $#^$^$^% spell checker.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Dena
January 16, 2023 7:02 pm

I have three UPS units handing four computers. My newest PC needed one all by itself, since it sucks more power than the older three combined.

I only need enough runtime to go down and start the generator if there is an outage.

Jim Gorman
Reply to  Rud Istvan
January 17, 2023 7:02 am

“unpowered generators. ”

In essence a motor that begins to slow down without energy. Without power, they can’t even stabilize frequency.

Reply to  Tim Gorman
January 16, 2023 4:15 pm

They can support the grid for seconds

Actually they are only good for the sub 6 second as I stated but that is a vital factor in riding out a system fault until the protection clears it.

Batteries have become the FCAS supplier of choice in the 6 second market in South Australia. They earn a lot of money from that component. The money they made in the two weeks when the Victorian interconnector went down almost covered the initial capital cost of the Hornsdale Power Reserve battery.

Iain Reid
Reply to  RickWill
January 16, 2023 11:27 pm


riding out a fault is fine but what about larger deficits in supply?
Inertia as you say is short term but the difference between rotating condensers (or any other artificial inertia) and power plants is the power plant is capable of increasing output as frequency droops, unpowered inertia doesn’t have that. Batteries may cover for that also but what happens when the same sort of fault occurs within a short time and the battery is depleted? It is, in my mind, sticking plaster and a poor way to run a grid.
Also the fault current levels are lower with renewables making the protection system’s job harder to disconnect in a timely and selective manner.

Tim Gorman
Reply to  RickWill
January 17, 2023 3:33 am

I agree that sync condensers have a place on the grid. But that applies whether you have “unreliable” wind/solar or plain old fossil fueled plants. The real issue with “unreliable” wind/solar is what Texas, California, etc have suffered from – blackouts and brownouts from a lack of generated power by wind/solar. Sync condensers won’t help with that.

Dennis Gerald Sandberg
Reply to  RickWill
January 16, 2023 6:12 pm

Why did it take a crash?, Any chance the RE (Ruinous Energy) was installed despite system engineer warnings about inertia? I thought so. So the problem that never would have existed without wind and solar poison on the grid was “solved” by a significant capital expenditure and added grid complexity ,Win-win? Cost effective? Maybe not…

Tim Gorman
Reply to  Pat from Kerbob
January 16, 2023 3:38 pm

Designing large complex systems is fraught with challenges. There can be huge gaps between what works on paper and what works in practice.”

Just ask the FAA about this. What would happen to this country if we built a kludgy, complex utility grid control system like we have for airplane safety reports – AND IT DIED like the airplane system did. Especially if we go all EV after 2035. Think economic impacts that were estimated for a possible railroad strike and multiply by 100.

Reply to  Tim Gorman
January 16, 2023 4:34 pm

Grid administration costs are climbing at 12%pa in Australia. This was way higher than inflation pre 2022.

All generators have complex computerised forecasting and bidding systems to maximise their income. They all game the system to maximise their profit. The days of merit order generator scheduling died after the first large intermittent generator was connected.

Looking at the attached chart it is not difficult to work out the current price for LGCs (the “renewable” subsidy) will be just north of $34/MWh. In fact current spot price is $54/MWh.

The wholesale price in Victoria is also negative but 54% of the power is coming from lignite fired generators. The bid a block of energy through the middle of the day at high negative price to ensure they can operate at minimum stable output in the knowledge that they will be able to ramp up prices to the cost of gas generation during the evening peak to recover the daytime losses. They also make money on the FCAS they offer, which is a different market to the energy market. Both energy and FCAS are bid in 5 minute blocks so only possible with computers talking to each other – what could possibly go wrong.

Screen Shot 2023-01-17 at 11.21.40 am.png
Dennis Gerald Sandberg
Reply to  RickWill
January 16, 2023 6:23 pm

Best electrical cost chart eve explaining time of day pricing. .Great job. Can you do something comparable to illustrate time of year pricing variability?

Richard Greene
Reply to  Tim Gorman
January 17, 2023 12:51 am

The “airplane system” died in the US. Also died in Canada. And in the Philippines too. Tucker Carlson suggested those three events could be connected, and might have been blackmail by hackers, requiring large payoffs in Bitcoin. Bitcoin jumped from $16000 to $21000 in the time period, suggesting very strong buying pressure. An Interesting theory, and maybe not a conspiracy theory.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Richard Greene
January 17, 2023 3:50 am

It does sound strange that the United States and Canada would have the same air traffic problem at the same time. I didn’t know about the Philippines having the same problem.

January 16, 2023 2:48 pm

There are simple facts that need to be trumpeted:

1.Climate has always changed and always will.
2 Changing climate has nothing to do with CO2.
3. So called “renewables” of current technology are energy sinks.
4.There are few circumstances where they offer economic benefits.Current “renewables” have negative benefit of scale because transmission costs outweigh the small benefit of scale.

Climate models are junk because they have three fundamental faults. A. They start with Earth’s energy being in equilibrium in 1850 – that can never happen. B. They incorporate myopic focus on “greenhouse gasses” and fail to incorporate the actual physics of clouds, snow and sea ice formation. C. They have EMR transferring energy against the electric field gradient – from low temperature to high temperature.

Adding any intermittent source of generation to the current grid is parasitic and destroys the economics of current reliable generators. Generators should only be permitted to connect to the grid if they are willing to accept heavy penalties for not meeting at least day ahead scheduled generation.

The climate change that is occurring is resulting in ever increasing snow fall in the northern hemisphere that creates new challenges for the grids exposed to snow fall and ice accumulation.

There is a limited time horizon for fossil fuels. Right now fission heat is a proven alternative. Biomass can also offer economic benefit as a limited alternative. Low cost storage other than existing hydro, if ever available, could make use of low cost intermittent generation in some circumstances but the combination must be able to offer output on demand and be penalised if it does not meet its scheduled output.

It will be lower cost for certain energy users to make their own “renewable” power than relying on grid sources as grids push to increase penetration of “renewables” with the corresponding huge increase in prices. I use an off-grid source of on-demand electricity that is ultimately an energy sink but it is much more convenient having solar panels on the roof and battery in the garage than buying 20 tonnes of coal that went into its creation more than a decade ago, storing the coal on my property and setting up a tiny steam generator to use it economically.

Last edited 20 days ago by RickWill
Richard Greene
Reply to  RickWill
January 17, 2023 12:52 am

“2 Changing climate has nothing to do with CO2.”

Co2 is one of many climate change variables.
You are wrong.

Jan de Jong
January 16, 2023 2:58 pm

The academics are a self selecting group. Sensible budding academics give the subject a wide berth.

Rud Istvan
January 16, 2023 3:17 pm

Old saying.Those that can, do. Those that cannot, teach.
Academics are teachers who also ‘research’ after they get their PhD. They become expert in their research field, so know more and more about less and less, until finally they reach the pinnacle of their academic career and know everything about nothing.

Richard Greene
Reply to  Rud Istvan
January 17, 2023 12:55 am

Great comment.
I’ve used the everything about nothing rule of thumb in the past
I’m not sure leftists professors can reach that goal

But leftist politicians CAN know nothing about everything:
Jumpin’ Joe Bidet and Kamala “the word salad queen” Harris are exhibit A and exhibit B.

Last edited 19 days ago by Richard Greene
David Albert
January 16, 2023 3:33 pm

As interesting as it is to study the problems and impossibilities of transitioning to wind and solar the real cost -benefit study is ” How much benefit is available for emission reduction”. I lean toward the answer of 0.0 and therefore suggest no expense is justified and look at the process of transition as nonsense fraught with expense both real and in loss of opportunity.

Dennis Gerald Sandberg
Reply to  David Albert
January 16, 2023 7:34 pm

Agree. My two-bit crystal ball shows a maximum economic limit for W&S at 6% of total U.S energy consumption (24% electrical generation). We’ll be at 600 ppm ATM CO2 in 2100. My crystal ball converts this to 600 ppm*6%= 36ppm reduction. Cost $2 trillion that should have been spent on CCGT and SMR. Of course the best W&S deployment is your 0.0…

January 16, 2023 3:40 pm

Boeing doesn’t just design an airplane, build a fleet of them and have airlines start flying them in regular service. First, the airlines wouldn’t buy and operate untested aircraft. Second, regulators wouldn’t permit it. Third, passengers wouldn’t come streaming to the airport for the chance to buy a ticket to Hawaii on one. The risk is too great.

Why Oh Why do reportedly educated, smart and experienced government officials think it’s a good idea to tear out perfectly good and reliable utilities and replace them with experiments? If we do anything, shouldn’t it be a one-off, operating in parallel with existing systems for a period of time to prove it is reliable and affordable?

I think it’s a combination of “other peoples’ money” and “the blind leading the deaf.”

Reply to  rovingbroker
January 16, 2023 7:47 pm

The government regulators have absolutely zero personal skin in the game. If it all falls down, their pay check doesn’t stop, and they don’t feel any pain of any sort. There is no negative feedback (putting hand on hot stove) telling them it’s a bad idea. No negative feedback to the decision makers who wrote the laws either.
It’s the poor schlep trying to heat his house and feed his family that gets to suffer.

Reply to  JamesB_684
January 17, 2023 2:41 am

OPM. Other Peoples’ Money.

Jim Gorman
Reply to  JamesB_684
January 17, 2023 7:18 am

You missed the obvious, more problems more job security (and money) for government.

Dennis Gerald Sandberg
Reply to  rovingbroker
January 16, 2023 7:54 pm

Why? Maybe a few campaign contributions here and there. The Norwegians claimed recently to have a floating non-propeller wind turbine. If it meets their expectations every existing turbine is obsolete. We may have started the failed wind experiment 40-years too soon,
Keep in mind that the Genesis for this wind, solar, ethanol nonsense stems from Jimmy Carter’s 1978 response to OPEC tripling crude prices.

Reply to  Dennis Gerald Sandberg
January 17, 2023 4:29 pm

Non-propeller wind generators have been around for a long time. It could be something similar to betamax vs vhs with a big bias for the current infrasound generators based on sunk research cost and manufacturing capital expendures or maybe they are too less efficient to be seriously considered.

Reply to  rovingbroker
January 17, 2023 10:06 am

Most politicians cannot think beyond their term of office.

Reply to  rovingbroker
January 17, 2023 12:22 pm

Yes. As I may have posted before, The major maxim that nut zero advocate ignore is the engineering maxim that states “do not replace anything that works well with an alternative that has not yet been proven to work at least as well UNDER ALL CONDITIONS.” Here then is the problem of art majors making technical policy.

January 16, 2023 3:42 pm

By the way, that’s a great graphic at the top.

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  rovingbroker
January 16, 2023 6:43 pm

Thank you for that comment. I was going to make the same one myself.

Reply to  rovingbroker
January 16, 2023 8:08 pm

Thank you.

Rud Istvan
January 16, 2023 3:49 pm

A repeat of a general comment to Russ’s previous posts. Neither academic nor engineering problem solving.

  1. Renewables are most costly stand alone than conventional alternatives, else they would not have needed and continue to need subsidies.
  2. Renewables are intermittent, so cannot stand alone. They need underutilized backup generation, so from a grid perspective are much more costly than just subsidies.
  3. Renewables provide no grid inertia. They induce instability (frequency/voltage). Beyond some penetration, the conventional grid cannot recover. There is a solution, synchronous condensers (essentially large undriven spinning generators), but that makes renewables even more expensive than point 2.

There is literally no way to get to grid net zero from here. Anybody saying otherwise lacks simple basic facts and common sense.

Tim Gorman
Reply to  Rud Istvan
January 16, 2023 4:08 pm

Sync condensers aren’t really generators. They are large motors, sometimes with flywheels. They are basically for short interval support of the grid. Times measured in seconds, not minutes, hours, or days.

As a motor the sync condenser is basically a passive inductor.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
January 17, 2023 5:11 pm

Renewables are most costly stand alone than conventional alternatives, else they would not have needed and continue to need subsidies.

Is that perhaps like saying it is easy to give up cocaine?

Julius Sanks
January 16, 2023 4:08 pm

Russell, your three essays are really good. Engineering is easy until you must actually design & deliver a system that works.

Dennis Gerald Sandberg
January 16, 2023 5:47 pm

You state:
Dealing with well-intentioned but mislead true believers who become more strident and committed in the face of increasing evidence of the short comings may be a much more alarming scenario than what is described in this paragraph.

Comment: It doesn’t matter if the alarmists are true believers, conspirators, or irresponsible idiots; or if CO2 is going to increase temperatures as little as 0.25C or as much as 2.25C in the next 100 years. The fact remains that wind and solar at a high grid penetration rate of >50% is economically destructive. Grid scale battery storage for as little as 100 hours is off the chart economically crippling so don’t do it. It’s not complicated.

Electrical generation is about 24% of total U.S. energy consumption, 50% of that is 12% the ultimate cap on W&S, and realistically per the recent Pollock tool, more like 25% with a politically popular 50-50 wind/solar mix, so it’s more like 6% for the W&S total energy cap.
How much grid destabilization and electrical cost inflation do we want for a 6% possible CO2 induced temperature reduction (6% of 600 ppm). W&S is gross stupidity, it doesn’t matter what the motivation for it is, the result is the same, economic destruction. It’s not complicated.

Reply to  Dennis Gerald Sandberg
January 16, 2023 7:51 pm

Even if the world did warm by 2.25C (it won’t, not even close) the world’s temperature would still be less than what the temperature was during the entirety of the Holocene Optimum.

John Hultquist
Reply to  MarkW
January 17, 2023 12:17 pm

A good point to stop and read:
Holocene climatic optimum – Wikipedia

January 16, 2023 6:22 pm

Here’s where the rubber really hits the road for the visionaries with joe public with inevitable curtailment of duck curve solar-

In the later part of the postings you get some who appreciate the big picture problem for grid managers attempting to educate/placate the sulkers blind to the fallacy of composition/dumping problem that was locked in from the start through lack of foresight. That catastrophic oversight is a major political problem now that’s largely left to grid technicians to run around in ever decreasing circles to try and solve.

John Oliver
January 16, 2023 6:56 pm

None of this should be that controversial. You can easily demonstrate that wind and solar is not fit for the purpose. It’s just a pile of hardware that exists. Why spend trillions to find out that it does not work when you can build a smaller version at a fraction of the price to discover the same thing. This is insane.

Peta of Newark
January 16, 2023 7:37 pm

We saw the picture very recently..
You keep using that word – I do not think you know what it means

So it is with Synchronous Condensers/Capacitors (SCs)
(there is also a new word used for them, I forget now what it is)

The requirement for these things comes from when ‘loads’ are attached to the grid, any grid. This will happen on any real grid as consumers come and go about their daily lives – switching appliances on and off.

Appliances/Loads: Are ‘things’ which draw power from the grid and come in 2 significant types
Type 1: Pure resistive loads. Simple electric heaters, standard cookers, incandescent bulbs
Type 2: Reactive loads. These are devices which contain an energy storage element. This may be of two types, inductive or capacitive, but the effect is the same when they are connected/switched on. Inductive loads can affect their supply/the grid when they are disconnected also.
Reactive loads are anything with a coil of wire, constructed to make a magnetic field, inside of them. e.g. Transformers, solenoids, ballasts inside (what was) most fluorescent types and discharge bulbs/lamps but especially any and all synchronous motors. Large or small motors as found in industry or in the home inside fridges, freezers and air-cons.
Reactive loads also now comprise vast numbers of smaller appliances as their internal power supplies have converted from using transformers to using switched-mode power supplies (SMPS).
SMPSs are more efficient, smaller and lightweight than previous arrangements built around a transformer.

For the manager of A Grid Anywhere, reactive loads are the nightmare.
It comes because, at the very instant they are switched on or connected, they need a sizeable lump of energy to fill their internal energy store.
Inside an inductor of any sort or a motor, that energy is in the form of a magnetic field.
And that energy has Inertia – you can not just move it around or change its amount in any old way you like or especially, move it in ‘zero time’
That is the problem, because when the consumer throws the switch, or the relay latches, the radiators call for heat, that becomes the demand or requirement = some energy in zero time
In the real world such a demand = Infinite Power Flow

It manifests as, e.g. when a motor connects, as a short circuit across the supply grid.
This shows up as a hole appearing in the voltage waveform. The nice neat sine-wave signal gets ‘beaten up a bit’
In the normal or original grid with huge rotating machines, they are in fact reactive genertaors – in that they contain a huge amount of energy stored in their magnetic field.
So what happens when you connect a motor to that, the voltage may drop but the current will. for a brief instant, skyrocket.
And The Magnetic Field can do that – it is the working principle of the car ignition coil after all.
The other sorts of consumers, those using SMPS also have the exact same effect as the internal capacitors of the SMPS circuit charge up to their working voltage – they pull, for a very short time, a huge current.
In fact, capicitors make much better short circuits than inductors and are much much worse for the grid manager – they knock very short sharp steep holes in the voltage waveform.
But again with convential large turbines and alternators, The Machine automatically converts magnetic energy in the large alternator into Amps and will meet that demand.
Yes a hole appears in the voltage but reactive loads already connected use their stored energy to ride it out and resistive loads simply cannot ‘see it’
OK, maybe small bulbs will flicker a bit,

BUT BUT BUT, enter the asynchronous generators – i.e. Grid Tied Inverters – as used in solar systems and small wind turbines.
Their problem is twofold:
1/ They don’t contain any stored magnetic field that can could or will turn itself into Amps if required
2/ They require to track or follw the actual voltage waveform with great precision and accuracy at all times.
We are talking milliseconds here

Therein lies the problem.
When a reactive load is switched on by a consumer, it knocks a hole in the grid’s voltage waveform and any GTIs within range will see that.
The range depends on how phat the grid is, how much DC resistance is in the lines, cables transformers etc etc
But they have to be very sensitive, else they will destroy themselves. They themselves contain stored energy inside DC capacitors and it the GTI finds itself ‘out of phase’ or not in sync with the grid, that energy will bounce back on it and just destroy the semiconductors in there, either via over-voltage or over-current.
Basically, The Grid will see an inductance trying to connect and do what it does= dump near infinite power into that load to try get it up to speed.
GTIs don’t like that
Also, when an inductive load is switched off, its internal magnetic field would ‘like’ to stay alive and keep the current creating that field flowing.
And how it does that (car ignition coil) -inductive loads create immense voltage spikes when the are switched off. They actually try to fill the hole they created when they were switched on.
BUT, the GTIs will also see the spike as a voltage error or grid fail – and be obliged to disconnect.

Sorry it was an epic but hopefully you see what SCs are actually there for.
They are to supply reactive loads with the short-term but very large energy demands when they are switched.
In doing that, they ‘protect; the asynchronous generators – they stop the GTIs from seeing what they would regard as a fault on the grid and thus be obliged, for every reason under the sun, to disconnect.
Which for The Grid Manager is the very last thing he wants = just as a demand for power comes in, the devices supplying that power disconnect themselves.
nice. not.

Everything is wrong – this world has gone completely fugging mad

Richard Greene
Reply to  Peta of Newark
January 17, 2023 1:07 am

You just wrote a good article disguised as a comMent.

But you missed the good news: As the percentage of unreliables increases for an electric grid. the jobs of grid management will become more exciting. There will be betting pools on when blackouts will happen.

People who sell home electricity generators, flashlights and candles will be making a lot more money.

My wife collects candles. I don’t know why. When the blackouts begin her candle collection will be worth a lot more. We will be rich. Right now, the candles are mainly stored in the garage. If we ever have a home fire, it will be spectacular.

John Hultquist
Reply to  Richard Greene
January 17, 2023 12:19 pm

The candles need to be made of Bee’s wax.
Ask your wife why this is so.

Tim Gorman
Reply to  Peta of Newark
January 17, 2023 4:33 am


Sync condensers are a better tool than fixed capacitor banks near an industrial park but they are not a panacea for all the problems caused by unreliable wind/solar.

Reply to  Peta of Newark
January 17, 2023 12:39 pm

Along these lines, one my amusements is noticing that whenever some pundit mentions a new wind, solar or other unicorn power generation operation, they always say that this system of X megawatts will power Y number of homes. Damn near every time when one does the arithmetic, it turns out that each home would get 2500 watts. That’s about the power level homes got from the grid in 1920. They make no allowances for peak loads, like when everyone gets home from work, all their reactive loads (and resistive) turn on so that grid would collapse if not backed up by good old steam turbine generators.

Reply to  slowroll
January 17, 2023 4:50 pm

Or when running a large gaming computer.

Martin Brumby
January 16, 2023 7:43 pm

It has never failed to amaze me how many crackpots pretending to be Engineers there are lurking in dark corners.

Back when the Selby Coalfield was sabotaged and closed down, I was the Chief Civil Engineer technically responsible for safely treating the shafts and drift tunnels.

A long story.

But on a regular basis, I had to deal with people who imagined that the shafts could be used in all sorts of cunning ways to generate electricity. [Thanks, Genius Directors!]

Some of these bright ideas boiled down to perpetual motion devices that would not only run forever but also give surplus “energy” to feed to the grid. I tried to be kind whilst pointing out the tiny flaws in their ideas.

Others were slightly more feasible, but even after retiring myself, I felt morally obliged to point out the practical and safety issues in messing about with shafts 7.3 metres diameter and nearly a kilometre deep, still producing large quantities of methane. And I earned some decent fees for that.

The obvious thing to do, generating electricity from the methane, has been very successful and profitable for nearly two decades, but as expected, is now declining in volume.

Other ideas might be made to work by dropping huge weights down the shafts, attached to steel ropes with pulley wheels driving dynamos to produce ruinable energy. And then winding the weights back up the shafts with all that surplus energy from whirligigs, during the night. Just about feasible if you’d have many tons of other people’s money to spend. Viable? Hmmmm.

But apart from whirligigs and solar, we never hear much about all the other cunning plans that used to be bandied about. The French Rance Barrage is probably still generating and I know there have been very many plans to generate electricity from the tidal range in the Severn River or Cardiff bay.

Neither of these two ever got built (thank God), mainly because of the fantastic costs and environmental damage. But there must be others as well as Rance? The fact that you hear so little about them suggests results weren’t encouraging.

Then there was wave energy. (If you think about it, a version of wind “power”).
Wave energy was going to be another big Ruinable success story at the end of the Naughties, with hundreds of miles of the things planned around the UK coasts after Ed Milliband, Veggie Benn and Gordon Brown had saddled us with the 2009 Climate Change Act. After burning through another ton of money, quiet as the grave. Working anywhere else on Earth?

Then there was Geothermal. Lots and lots of sites, many of which I’ve seen with my own eyes. Certainly aware of some of the problems that have been experienced. Then there was talk of using fracking to enhance yields. And of course, Geothermal fracking is as ‘Good’ as Gas fracking is Evil. But what about the profitability of these cunning wheezes? All I can hear is crickets.

So WUWT dear readers. Which of these clever ideas will lead us to the land of milk and honey? And Net Zero, naturally?

Reply to  Martin Brumby
January 16, 2023 8:05 pm

Don’t forget the visionaries have big ideas on the demand side too but I note more and more skepticism creeping in-

That’s all AUD figures and at present petrol is $1.60/L metro while I can pay 40.7c/kWhr peak for power and bear in mind that extra $20-$30k purchase price now costs 8% on finance. No doubt why I see used Tesla listings by private sellers rocketting up on Carsales and they’re not finding buyers while Toyota have up to 2 year queues for new hybrids.

Richard Greene
Reply to  Martin Brumby
January 17, 2023 1:17 am

My Greene Dream Company has two products the electric grids will need.

(1) Portable nuclear powered fans to spin windmills when there is no wind

(2) Portable nuclear powered spotlights to light up solar cells when there is no sun

These products will solve all problems with renewables.
And they are painted green too.

I am selling one percent shares for $1,000 each. Hurry investors, only 1,943 one percent shares are still available for sale.

Send your money (cash or money order only) to our Treasurer:

Marvin “I didn’t do it” Washington
Temporary office: Suite 34
Cellblock B
Jackson Prison
Jackson, Michigan 49101

PS: You will get an additional share if you enclose a sharp hacksaw blade.

Reply to  Richard Greene
January 17, 2023 10:14 am

(2) Portable nuclear powered spotlights to light up solar cells when there is no sun”

The Spanish got in first with diesel generators for producing nocturnal solar power, I fear your share price might have just halved 🙂

Reply to  Martin Brumby
January 17, 2023 4:54 pm

Stick a thermocouple between the surface of the sun and the bottom of the ocean?

January 16, 2023 8:25 pm

I would modify “The first is our understanding around the probability, degree and immediacy of adverse effects from man-made Climate Change” to “The first is our understanding around the probability, degree and immediacy of the net of beneficial minus adverse effects from man-made Climate Change”.

Last edited 19 days ago by steve_showmethedata
Richard Greene
Reply to  steve_showmethedata
January 17, 2023 1:19 am

based on science. not climate propaganda, more CO2 in the atmosphere is more good news for our planet. At least until C3plants are satisfied — probably with 1000 to 1500ppm CO2.

Reply to  steve_showmethedata
January 17, 2023 5:05 pm

Does man-made climate ever extend outside the boundaries of landscape changes? That is an important consideration of the true ratio of benefits vs possible adversities.

Richard Greene
January 17, 2023 12:23 am

The Planning Engineer continues to be the best author at Climate Etc.

Based on my research. the best approach for US electric grids is to put politicians, bureaucrats and academics in charge of “fixing” US electric grids that were not broken, to prevent an imaginary climate crisis. My research was based on thinking about what Communist China would have done if put in charge of the US electric grids.

Fortunately, Communist China is not in charge of US electric grids. Americans are doing this to themselves, at great expense. Led by leftists. who ruin EVERTHING they touch. And now they are touching electric grids. The US food supply is next up to be ruined. But there is just so much leftists can ruin at one time — “take down one industry at a time”, is their motto.

January 17, 2023 12:59 am

There is a strong need for a proof reader. Tripping over typos upsets the flow of what is a very informative and insightful article.

John Hultquist
Reply to  Keitho
January 17, 2023 12:39 pm

In recent weeks I have had to start watching the screen as I type.
Little gremlins have started to add letters and words I didn’t intend.
This has happened several times in this short response.
I’m hoping I soon learn to function with this extra help.

Reply to  John Hultquist
January 17, 2023 5:09 pm

A dedicated, unbiased proof reader is helpful but you can be your own proof reader with probably more than 90% success.

January 17, 2023 3:06 am
Brian Catt
January 17, 2023 3:53 am

Joanne Nova did a good job of this a few years ago, with reference to the Australian grid, presenting it around the World, my version is from London, where I was lucky enough to see it, thanks to Benny Peiser and the GWPF..

Worth a watch, a story tip?

How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Electricity Grid in Three Easy Steps

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