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Power Earth Technology

The Power Grid Can't Handle Wind Farms 681

Posted by samzenpus
from the gone-with-the-wind dept.
DesScorp writes "The Times reports on the problems of adding wind farms to the power grid. Because of the grid's old design, it can't handle the various spikes that wind farms sometimes have, and there's no efficient way to currently move massive amounts of that power from one section of the country to the other. Further complicating things is the fact that under current laws, power grid regulation is a state matter, and the Federal government has comparatively little authority over it right now. Critics are calling for federal authority over the grid, and massive new construction of 'superhighways' to share the wind power wealth nationally. Quoting the article, 'The dirty secret of clean energy is that while generating it is getting easier, moving it to market is not.'"
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The Power Grid Can't Handle Wind Farms

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  • by Wandering Wombat (531833) <mightyjalapeno.gmail@com> on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @06:12PM (#24772121) Homepage Journal
    This isn't like one person standing at the end of a line, and shoving SO HARD that the person at the other end feels it... it's about co-operation: everyone takes one step forwards. You don't have to move mass quantities of ANYTHING over ANY long distance. Local distributors move small amounts, where needed.

    This is a job for... COMPUTOR!
  • by 99luftballon (838486) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @06:15PM (#24772159)
    In the 1950s the government set about a huge project to link America's cities and states via high speed road links. The investment has paid off well, and a similar project on our power infrastructure (especially if they could build a fibre network alongside) would pay off just as handsomely.
    • by ptbarnett (159784) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @06:21PM (#24772245)

      In the 1950s the government set about a huge project to link America's cities and states via high speed road links. The investment has paid off well, and a similar project on our power infrastructure (especially if they could build a fibre network alongside) would pay off just as handsomely.

      Or the states could step up and do it themselves:

      Texas Approves a $4.93 Billion Wind-Power (Transmission) Project [nytimes.com]

      • by gregbot9000 (1293772) <mckinleg@csusb.edu> on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @07:18PM (#24773001) Journal
        You know its not all milk and honey. Theres a good pile of evidence that this Texas wind thing is one giant con so that Oil man Mr. Pickens can use newly created government power of eminent domain to snatch up land and sell his water pet project under the radar. Like they always say, follow the money.
        http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/08_25/b4089040017753.htm?chan=magazine+channel_top+stories [businessweek.com]
        for those who won't read it Pickens has been buying rights to a massive water reserve in Texas and has been having trouble building a pipeline through peoples property, so he is buying the law instead "In January, 2007, the Texas Legislature convened.. helped win Pickens a key new legal right. It was contained in an amendment to a major piece of water legislation. The amendment, one of more than 100 added after the bill had been reviewed in the House, allowed a water-supply district to transmit alternative energy and transport water in a single corridor, or right-of-way." and then "Pickens still needed the power of eminent domain if he was going to build his pipeline and wind-power lines across private land. And by happy coincidence, the legislators passed a smaller bill that made that all the easier. The new legislation loosened the requirements for creating a water district."
        Long story short he's creating a new water and power district to sell this and is using public feel good green hype to get subsidy's and push through his new project that will drain a water resource that is very slow to renewal, out from under everyone else around it, to sell at low prices to Dallas, which is one of the most wastfull cites in Texas when it comes to water. Anyone who thinks someone who was part of the 80's raiders and swift boating can actually do something without a hidden con is a fucking idiot.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ptbarnett (159784)

          Theres a good pile of evidence that this Texas wind thing is one giant con so that Oil man Mr. Pickens can use newly created government power of eminent domain to snatch up land and sell his water pet project under the radar.

          I wouldn't be surprised. But, even without Pickens' wind (and water?) project, the existing wind turbines in West Texas are having difficulty delivering their full potential to where it is needed.

          Anyone who thinks someone who was part of the 80's raiders and swift boating can actually do something without a hidden con is a fucking idiot.

          There's no need for a partisan attitude -- hidden agendas are bipartisan pursuits. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who despite her efforts to save the planet [politico.com] by blocking repeal of offshore drilling bans, is apparently under the impression that natural gas isn't a fossil fuel [wsj.com]. Maybe she is influenced by her

        • by Tekfactory (937086) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @07:49PM (#24773349) Homepage
          The http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ogallala_Aquifer [wikipedia.org] is not just slow to renew, it is not going to renew naturally in our lifetimes. People need to know about this because the aquifer covers 8 states including corn growing ones where ethanol projects are literally pumping the aquifer into their gas tanks at the expense of drinking water.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Arthur B. (806360)

      The investment has paid off well

      How do you know?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by DeadChobi (740395)

        We'll know it's paid off if the Ruskies ever attack from behind their iron curtain. Then we'll be able to mobilize our military much more effectively than we could without the interstate highway system.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Tatarize (682683)

      Yeah, a nice fat set of great superconductive power lines would be nice to run across the US. We could build a nice array of Gen III nuclear plants in the middle of nowhere and use them to power most of the US.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Wonko the Sane (25252) *

        The best part is that we already have a place to put the lines.

        The interstate highway system already covers most of the country and links all the major population centers. They should bury all the superconductors in the median between the lanes.

        It's not like anyone is using that land right now alway

  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @06:19PM (#24772201) Homepage Journal

    Yes, the grid needs to be changed to handle large power inputs from a more distributed system.
    This would require federal tax credits as an incentive, as well as an open design.

  • It's about time (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Luscious868 (679143) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @06:22PM (#24772263)

    My parents both work for the local power company and this is a well known problem among those in the industry. I've been screaming about it forever. We can have all of the solar, wind, water and nuclear power in the world but it doesn't mean a thing if it can't be easily transferred from the places it can be generated to places where it's needed. Huge wind farms in the Midwest will only benefit the Midwest. A massive solar array in the Mojave dessert will only benefit states that are near it. Step #1 in the transition to alternative energy has to be to modernize and upgrade the power grid so energy generated in one region of the country can easily be transported to another and this is going to have to be a top down operation overseen by a single federal regulatory body. Leaving it in the hands of the states isn't going to cut it as the states have differing standards and regulatory environments.

    I'm generally a libertarian but this is one area where the federal government is going to have to get involved to get everybody on the same page. It's akin to the interstate highway system. Without the direct involvement and oversight of the federal government that never would have happened and this won't either.

    • Re:It's about time (Score:4, Insightful)

      by DeadChobi (740395) <DeadChobi@noSPam.gmail.com> on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @06:41PM (#24772519)

      Exactly. 3 years ago I remember reading a then 10 year old analysis of the US's energy issues, and this was one of the major steps that the author indicated that we would need to take in order to take advantage of renewable energy. This is not a new problem.

      This is also one of the few areas where the federal government can make themselves useful, as opposed to butting in and making life harder.

    • Re:It's about time (Score:4, Interesting)

      by evilviper (135110) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @07:53PM (#24773413) Journal

      Huge wind farms in the Midwest will only benefit the Midwest. A massive solar array in the Mojave dessert will only benefit states that are near it.

      Sounds good to me... Many many megawatts of capacity can come from solar and wind, and it's generated closest to where it's used, minimizing line losses. What's the problem?

      The example they use is that midwest wind-farms can't send power to the coasts... WTF?

      California is quite likely the windiest place in the US. Excluding tornadoes, the midwest can't hope to compete with the daily hurricane-force winds across all the mountain passes and deserts in CA.

      And it's not just CA. How about the Cape Wind Project? Just about any coastal community is going to have substantial and steady wind at their disposal. Honestly, just check out the map: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:US_wind_power_map.png [wikipedia.org]

      And why the fixation on maxing out wind power? Because T.B. Pickens wants to get the most out of his investment, and get the Fed to pick up as much of the check as possible? What happened to solar?

      Nearly every place in the US that isn't great for wind, is very favorable to solar. The entire southern half of the US could get by on solar, and skip wind turbines all together. That's just doubly true for the south-west. Again, see the map for yourself: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Us_pv_annual_may2004.jpg [wikipedia.org]

      Between the two options, where is it, exactly, that we can't locally generate all the energy needed? Seems to be pretty solid coverage, without the need for a national grid roll-out to get the Fed to subsidize the midwestern states. Of all the issues the grid has, the limited ultra-long-haul capacity (and correspondingly high losses) would be the last on my list.

  • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @06:24PM (#24772285) Journal

    The summary is a crock and doesn't match the quoted article.

    Transporting large and variable amounts of generated power is the dual of feeding large and varying loads. The power grid can handle it just fine.

    The problem TFA alludes to is that, while cities and industrial plants already have fat lines to them from the rest of the grid, windfarms are new construction generally sited in rural areas that don't already have a "fat pipe" available. So (for a wind farm bigger than about twice the local load) you have to run some new lines.

    Just like you would if you built a new auto plant or aluminum smelter in the same location.

    It's a regular line, just like the ones feeding loads. It just happens to be running the power the other way.

    Of course some people would love to get the government to pay for the line to their new wind farm, rather than bearing that expense as part of the project. And some people in government would love to have more authority and a bigger budget. So we get FUD like this.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by philipgar (595691)
      Actually, the problem is not the same. Building a new factory needs new lines, sure, but the lines only have to go to a power plant (or rather to the last substation or whatever). This can be measured in 10s to 100s of miles. Not really that large scale, and there isn't a huge concern for power losses over this distance.

      When building massive wind farms, the idea is that they're going to be built in areas without a large population center (say South Dakota). The power then needs to be delivered not 10s
    • by jonored (862908) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @06:46PM (#24772591)

      TFA is mostly talking about there not being, for instance, a sufficient link across state boundaries - I don't think that the wind power company having to build new lines from the state in the middle of the country (where the wind is) it's generating power in to the coast of the US (where the people are) to be able to do buisiness is on the same scale as tying a plant to the grid next to it.

      It's saying that "the grid" can't carry the power long-haul from sparsely populated places where there's easily collected power to densely-populated areas where there isn't, not that the local line from the wind farm is too small/too expensive.

  • HVDC FTW? (Score:3, Informative)

    by rsborg (111459) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @06:24PM (#24772287) Homepage
    Looks like the modernization is going to be real grid control mechanism (which is a Federal issue, since it's interstate) combined with something like HVDC [wikipedia.org] to allow for reducing the transmission losses.
  • So? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thermian (1267986) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @06:26PM (#24772335)

    If they aren't going to work together, build new systems that that will. It's that simple.

    I realise there's the whole 'but shareholders will object' thing. Well fine, if the well off think they're in a position to survive global warming, then let them vote no.

    Then the first company who gets its shareholders to understand that money doesn't provide immunity from extinction if the planet becomes hostile to our species through climate change will generate wealth beyond the dreams of avarice.

    Why? Because any such company would be so far ahead of the competition as to be unreachable. At least for long enough to make everyone involved very rich indeed.

  • Actually... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Halo1 (136547) <jonas...maebe@@@elis...ugent...be> on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @06:27PM (#24772349) Homepage

    One of the advantages of most ways to produce clean energy is exactly that it is easier to distribute the power generation over different locations. You can't put a nuclear plant next to each village, but you can put a combination of windmills, geo-thermal, solar panels, and waste incinerators (with their heat used for both electricity generation and heating industrial or other buildings, rather than just for heating rivers) in or in the neighbourhood of places where the electricity is actually needed.

    This both lowers the stress imposed on large scale heavy duty power distribution nets, and reduces single points of failure and associated cascade effects. Of course, when you build massive wind/solar/... farms in certain places, you're going to need massive distribution capacity there just like in case you'd build any other large scale power plant.

  • by bobbaddeley (981674) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @06:29PM (#24772379) Homepage

    I just toured a nearby dam, and was presented some very insightful ideas.

    Nuclear and coal power are great for handling base load because they provide consistent power.

    But peak load is where the money is; turning on power systems when they're needed to match the load at that second. Solar, wind, and water are all peak-load power supplies because they are not always consistent, vary widely according to weather and time of year and regulations, and can be very unclean with spikes. This is why these power systems cannot replace base load systems yet.

    The solution is to even out our peak load systems so that they are more consistent and more like base load systems. Whether that's tying many different types together and hoping they even out naturally, or storing the energy in some kind of battery in the middle.

    Since battery technology is nowhere near ready, a viable option is to store water in reservoirs behind dams, using wind and solar energy to pump water up, then releasing it evenly through a generator. This is even being employed in some countries.

  • Nothing new here (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dj245 (732906) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @06:30PM (#24772391) Homepage
    This has been the case for years and isn't an inherent problems with wind farms. Many areas (California, Connecticut) are full of NIMBY people and large amounts of power must be imported. Quebec and New Brunswick Canada, have been exporting to us for a long time. One of the biggest problems is that some generation companies are also in the transmission business.

    If area A has a surplus but area B needs power, and the lines cannot handle the transmission, then the price for electricity in B goes up. This is a complex case of supply and demand. The grid is a lot more fragile than it appears. In many places there is a desperate need for more generation/transmission, but the anti-infrastructure people are driving up the cost of electricity by not allowing infrastructure improvements to be made.

    I worked at one plant that had to erect a huge sound wall around the entire plant. It worked great, but cost around $2 million including all the sound studies etc. The people next door claimed they never knew when the plant was operating (clear exhaust). We CAN build large power plants in your backyard, and you won't even know they are there- aside from the plant staff spending it up in local businesses.

    Why yes, I do work in the power industry.
  • by geogob (569250) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @06:34PM (#24772427)

    I wonder if the whole north-east grid will fall like it did 2003 each time a cold front move through the region... The big blackout even showed that the conditions to create a cascade of overloads shutting down the whole grid are possible. Could the power surge caused by all wind turbine getting into action simultaneously create similar power pulses through the grid, jumping the safeties like it did in 2003?

  • by presidenteloco (659168) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @06:41PM (#24772529)

    If we imagine the combination of say, superconducting continent-wide backbones and smart, distributed-control, adaptive, switching,
    then as long as the wind is blowing, waves are rolling, or sun is shining somewhere in some parts of your continent, then you have a pretty stable power source (delivering some portion of the total combined rated capacity of all those widespread generators.)

    The old saw that these alternative, renewables are whimsical, unreliable sources is purely a myth, predicated on a brain-dead dumb grid.

  • by Rinisari (521266) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @06:53PM (#24772689) Homepage Journal

    Federal power grid = feds have the power to give a non-compliant region "power failure."

    Keep it to the states, folks. Read your tenth amendment and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

  • by TomRC (231027) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @06:57PM (#24772729)

    Offer cheap power to anyone who moves near the wind power farms.

    If electric power can't come to the people, move people to the electric power.

    "Right on! People to the Power, man!"

  • by I8TheWorm (645702) * on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @07:13PM (#24772945) Journal

    Further complicating things is the fact that under current laws, power grid regulation is a state matter, and the Federal government has comparatively little authority over it right now.

    Like that's ever stopped them before? We have a welfare system, federal highway system, healthcare for underemployed people, and federal guidelines for public schools, none of which is constitutional. Do you honestly think they won't nose into state business again?

  • by Baldrson (78598) * on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @07:14PM (#24772953) Homepage Journal
    I will argue that the strategic target for wind energy advocates should be the passage of legislation promoting the electrification of the nation's railways.

    This is crucial to the wind energy advocates (and all other electrical energy source advocates) as a consequence of the following facts:

    1) The main goal of public policy reform of wind energy advocates is to put into place transmission lines to carry electricity from the high wind potential areas (such as the Midwest) to the high utilization areas (such as the coasts).

    2) The main obstacle to constructing said transmission lines is the delays suffered by projects subjected to environmental impact litigation following from attempts to obtain rights of way.

    3) The main motive for said environmental impact litigation is a misguided environmental movement's tendency to see any increase of capacity in the nation's energy capacity as harmful to the environment. This cannot be addressed directly in legislation (as has already been attempted, btw) due to the fact that the environmentalist tactic is to use legal tricks to get the courts to delay implementation of systems until the time value of those systems has run out.

    4) The electrification of railroads is a proven technology -- indeed the largest railroad line in the world, the Trans-Siberian, is electrified.

    5) The "conservation only" environmentalists will not oppose going to electrified railroads since they already see decreasing the energy use of railways and increase of railroad utilization -- which would result from railroad electrification -- as a way of reducing the nation's energy utilization.

    6) The railroads already have rights of way that approximate the topology and coverage of transmission lines required to distribute wind electricity from sources to destinations.

    7) The use of cryogenic transmission lines buried under the tracks would render the transmission capacity of virtually all existing railroad rights of way enormously greater than the possible use by the railways.

  • by Dasher42 (514179) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @07:19PM (#24773017)

    I really believe that microgrids - peer-to-peer electricity grids wherein many small-scale power sources are used where optimal - are the answer to this. The big conventional grids lose a lot of electricity to resistance, and have to overproduce to get any redundancy at all. We need to revamp our infrastructure anyway, so why not?

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4245584.stm [bbc.co.uk]
    http://certs.lbl.gov/certs-der-micro.html [lbl.gov]
    http://www.ingenia.org.uk/ingenia/articles.aspx?Index=329 [ingenia.org.uk]
    http://www.fuelcellmarkets.com/fuel_cell_markets/news_and_information/3,1,1,1,14428.html [fuelcellmarkets.com]

  • by mschuyler (197441) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @08:17PM (#24773655) Homepage Journal

    The popular conception of wind power is fast-paced windmills cutting birds in half as they twirl through the air whenever the wind happens to blow. I was just in Germany and saw many windmills turning so slowly through the air that if a bird hit one, it was either not paying attention or drunk. I've seen the same thing on the hills of Crete overlooking Heraklion. One point is that you needn't have hurricane force winds to make wind power effective. All you need is an area of 'prevailing winds' that are more or less predictable--just like the trade winds that predictably blew sailing ships across the oceans for centuries. There are many areas like this all across the USA. For example, the Dalles area on the Columbia River, well known for its prevailing winds. Here's a wind map for Oregon, for example: http://www.eere.energy.gov/windandhydro/windpoweringamerica/maps_template.asp?stateab=or [energy.gov]

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @09:10PM (#24774097)
    This is the crap that G.W. Bush has been pushing... to "share" our electricity rates equally. Well, I have this to say about that: "NO!!!"

    My electricity rates are probably lower than most. But that's because "cheap hydroelectric power" has dammed OUR local rivers, ruining some of OUR recreational opportunities, covering up OUR land, and killing off OUR local salmon and sturgeon and trout and waterfowl...

    You east-coasters... go damage your own environment further if you want electricity at the same rates. The fact is, we pay for our power in other ways. "Sharing" equally is not equal. Nor is it equitable.

    There is plenty of windpower here, too. But windpower is not cost-free either. There are environmental and other costs, including opportunity costs, that must be paid.

    We do not want to pay your rates AND with our environment too. Look elsewhere for a free ride.
  • by Animats (122034) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @10:47PM (#24774825) Homepage

    Here's a useful briefing paper on dealing with intermittency in wind power. [bwea.com] It's a UK document, and has some hard numbers about wind plants in Europe.

    When wind power is covering less than 10% of the load, the UK study says no special arrangements are necessary to provide extra capacity to cover periods of low wind. I've seen 15% mentioned in US discussions. There's enough excess dispatchable generating capacity ("dispatchable" means you get output when you ask for it) to provide backup power for 10-15% wind. Above that, it becomes more of a problem.

    I've seen some US studies which indicate that even if wind power is averaged across a 1000 mile area (most of the Midwest and Southwest US), about 5% of the time, the whole collection of wind farms is generating very little output. So just running transmission lines around won't solve the problem. You need extra dispatchable capacity.

    That dispatchable capacity is usually natural gas, hydro, or pumped storage. Dispatchable capacity of this type is typically a source where the installed equipment is relatively cheap but the fuel is expensive. In practice, this means gas turbines. If you have dams around that collect water but don't have enough continuous flow to be full-time hydropower sources, they can be effective intermittent sources. The California Water Project uses some of its reservoirs that way; they generate power during peak periods, but not all the time, because that would drain the reservoir. Some California Water Project sites pump water uphill at night, when electricity is cheap, and profitably run it back down during peak periods in the daytime. Pure pumped storage plants are rare; the US has two.

    Solar, of course, is not dispatchable. Nuclear plants are normally run full time, since they're mostly capital cost; the fuel cost is small.

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