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Power Earth Technology

Expanding the Electricity Grid May Be a Mistake 412

Posted by kdawson
from the big-systems-thinking-needed dept.
Perhaps T. Boone Pickens was onto something. Al writes "An article in Technology Review argues that plans to string new high-voltage lines across the US to bring wind power from the midsection of the country to the coasts, could be an expensive mistake. What's needed instead are improved local and regional electricity transmission, the development of an efficient and adaptable smart grid, and the demonstration of technology such as carbon capture and sequestration, which could prove a cheaper way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions than transmitting power from North Dakota to New York City."
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Expanding the Electricity Grid May Be a Mistake

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  • by hyades1 (1149581) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Tuesday July 14, 2009 @06:19PM (#28697249)

    Decentralized generation seems likely to offer more jobs at the local level, both for construction of smaller, more numerous generating facilities and for on-going staffing and maintenance.

  • Central Generation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Dr_Barnowl (709838) on Tuesday July 14, 2009 @06:28PM (#28697347)

    The CBI in the UK has been railing against our governments focus on wind power as well [bbc.co.uk].

    They were also keen on carbon-capture and also nuclear.

    It's funny how big corporate interests are not so keen on projects where any little group of people could afford their own small-scale generation capacity. Although I could be talking through my tinfoil hat.

  • by hAckz0r (989977) on Tuesday July 14, 2009 @06:34PM (#28697435)
    Ok, so I'm supposed to believe that Alfred P. Sloan, someone that made a VAST FORTUNE off of technology that burns oil, is going to like us NOT burning oil? Who would have ever thought that...

    http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Alfred_P._Sloan,_Jr. [newworldencyclopedia.org]

  • Smart Grid (Score:2, Interesting)

    by MC2000 (1246222) on Tuesday July 14, 2009 @06:40PM (#28697517)

    Smart Grid technology is actually just around the corner. I was just listening to the CEO of Cisco talk about how they're trying to make a big push into this industry, a quick search turned up this; http://www.cisco.com/web/strategy/energy/smart_grid_solutions.html [cisco.com]

  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday July 14, 2009 @07:04PM (#28697723)
    If you're being serious here, then yes that's rather the point. ANYTHING you do on a large scale has an impact. Nothing is free. Scaling up wind and solar could produce just as many unintended consequences as any other form of power generation. But everyone's so infatuated with them right now that no one seems to even be CONSIDERING the potential problems (all I've heard are a few grumblings about birds getting hit by the turbine blades and the environmental costs of producing solar panels).
  • by alizard (107678) <alizard@@@ecis...com> on Tuesday July 14, 2009 @07:22PM (#28697873) Homepage
    this is what the author really wants to sell us as an alternative to moving to renewable energy.

    and the demonstration of technology such as carbon capture and sequestration, which could prove a cheaper way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions

    Capturing CO2 simply requires running smokestack emissions through a chilled ammonia bath at the cost of 25% input power... i.e. we get to pay for a 125% increase in the amount of coal burned.

    How do we move all these gigatons of CO2 to disposal sites and store it forever?

    Big, high pressure pipelines. Odd that nobody talking up a "clean" coal future ever talks about the comparative costs of a national pipeline network vs a smartgrid.

    We have massive unused heavy manufacturing capability in terms of both idle car factories and a trained labor force that can be converted to building renewable generation capability. The question of replacing coal with wind/concentrated thermal solar is a question of political will, not technological capability.

  • Re:Yeah (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tunapez (1161697) on Tuesday July 14, 2009 @07:22PM (#28697877)
    That's T Boone, the Electric Faerie! All you have to do is build them thar local transmission lines with tax payer money or else he'll drop it to focus on his water monopoly already in place!

    Haven't seen any wind turbines on Fl-Ebay yet, but when they do I'm gonna "Buy It Now"!
  • by Bemopolis (698691) on Tuesday July 14, 2009 @07:27PM (#28697917)

    You start taking a significant chunk of that energy out of the atmosphere, couldn't you end up with climate changes that could be even more devestating than the global warming you're trying to avoid?

    Yes you could. However, building the number of windmills required to satisfy all of our energy needs wouldn't make a noticeable dent in the climate AT ALL. Just to give a sense of scale, consider the following: wind power is primarily the result of solar input. At Earth distance sunlight delivers 1360 watts per (projected) square meter; that's about 10 megawatts per football field (or, if you prefer, soccer pitch.) Over the lit surface of the Earth, that's an energy input of 173,000 terawatts.

    The current energy consumption of mankind? 16.

    Note that this is just solar input (of which some percentage goes into wind power). This doesn't even touch on the potential of tapping into ocean tides, which is driven by gravitational forces. And of course the supernova remnant fuel storage device known as nuclear fission. Compared to the impact of releasing long-sequestered carbon from beneath the ground back into the atmosphere, stealing power from the wind is chicken feed.

  • by gonzonista (790137) on Tuesday July 14, 2009 @07:48PM (#28698087)

    HVDC lines are cheaper to build than HVAC lines. They only need two lines for conductors and use smaller right of ways. The problem with using HVDC is that it is very expensive to interconnect. HVDC works best when you have a single source of generation nearby. The interconnection costs make it not feasible for the majority of renewable energy projects.

    Conservation works very well but is limited in scope. When electric cars become more mainstream, their energy use will swamp any conservation efforts. At some point, it is necessary to build new generation. Whether it is renewable, nuclear or fossil fuel depends on the economics and regulations. No single type of energy will meet our future energy needs. It will take a combination of resources to have a reliable, low cost electrical system.

  • Changing technology (Score:3, Interesting)

    by steveha (103154) on Tuesday July 14, 2009 @07:53PM (#28698125) Homepage

    He makes one interesting point: it would take a long time to build transmission lines that could carry large amounts of power all the way from the midwest to the northeast. In that time, technology could improve in a way that could make the project pointless.

    On the other hand, improving the existing grid from 1940's tech to modern tech is guaranteed to be worth doing. (Is he correct that a major chunk of our existing grid is 1940's tech?)

    On the subject of clean and decentralized power, how much longer before we get those solar roofing tiles that can contribute a useful amount of power? Even if we didn't wait for the improved tiles, would today's solar tiles provide a useful increment of electricity to feed into the current grid?

    He quotes a price of $60 billion to build the new transmission lines. What would be the effect of using $60 billion to subsidize people to put solar tiles on top of existing buildings? How about $60 billion worth of pebble-bed or similarly safe small reactors, each one in a piece of the grid?

    I'm not an expert on any of this stuff, but I'm inclined to agree that this project sounds like a way to put a whole bunch of eggs into a single basket. If we're going to do something big, let's try to make our electricity grid more decentralized, instead of adding one more frakking huge centralized source (however eco-clean).

    steveha

  • by noidentity (188756) on Tuesday July 14, 2009 @08:42PM (#28698515)

    I'm pretty sure they said the same thing about pumping pollution into the air, too. The volume of pollution pumped out of factories vs the volume of the atmosphere, it'd never be significant. What do you know - as more people started jumping on the bandwagon, new technology found new ways to pump out pollution. If we invest heavily in wind farms, new technology will come along to extract more energy in less land footprint.

    The difference is that pollution accumulates, while the wind dissipates pretty quickly. And hell, putting up a large structure probably blocks more wind (turns it into heat and sound) than a turbine could. Also, is anyone really concerned that having solar collectors on the ground is going to disrupt things as compared to having the sun hit the ground instead?!?

  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Tuesday July 14, 2009 @09:00PM (#28698669)

    which could prove a cheaper way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions than transmitting power from North Dakota to New York City

    Or, according to this NY Times article [nytimes.com]:

    An influential coalition of East Coast governors and power companies fears that building wind and solar sites in the Midwest would cause their region to miss out on jobs and other economic benefits. The coalition is therefore trying to block a mandate for transcontinental lines.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 14, 2009 @09:41PM (#28698953)

    There is a big DC line running from roughly The Dalles, Oregon to LA. This has been running for over 30 years.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pacific_DC_Intertie

  • by Firethorn (177587) on Tuesday July 14, 2009 @09:46PM (#28698977) Homepage Journal

    I think he's missing the biggest reason for these interconnect power lines.

    You see, the vast majority of our electricity is generated from 'on demand' sources. IE excepted unanticipated breakdowns, you want power, you get power. You have the ability to schedule at least short down times around periods of lower demand. With wind, it's not the individual turbine you have to worry about, otherwise you'd simply overbuild the wind farm to take the relatively horrible If it wasn't for this, you could simply overbuild to correct for the relative capacity factor (90% for nuclear). If we go towards generating a significant fraction of our power from wind/solar, we won't have the option of just placing wind turbines/solar cells in optimal locations.
    But whole regions won't be producing power at the same time, or producing power when there's relatively little demand.

    More energy storage systems that can avoid using electricity during high demand/low supply times like electric cars or electric fed water tank heating/cooling(IE you heat/cool the water, then use it to heat/cool the house/building) will help, but won't be enough.

    Thus, there will be times when (for example) Nevada wind farms are under performing but North Dakota ones are operating at capacity. Right now, that power is likely to be wasted. With a massive interconnect system, Nevada can buy from Idaho, Idaho can buy from Montana, Montana from North Dakota.

    In addition, the bigger effective size we can get our interconnected system, the more stable our power demand and supply will be. Rather then having a spike at 0500-0700 when people start getting up and making their coffee, the spike will start at 0500 East Coast time, ending 0700 Pacific, or 1100 Eastern, just in time for lunch to start. Much more even. Heck, East coast solar can supply early morning electricity for lighting to the West coast, and vice versa in the evening.

  • by moosesocks (264553) on Wednesday July 15, 2009 @04:00AM (#28700959) Homepage

    Don't forget that the surface of a forest has a huge frictional coefficient, and sucks the power out of a gust of wind just as fast as a turbine.

  • by moosesocks (264553) on Wednesday July 15, 2009 @04:35AM (#28701071) Homepage

    I don't even know how to dignify this with a response, apart from encouraging the moderators to mod it down as a troll, rather than 'Insightful'

    Assuming that our government spontaneously decided to turn fascist, do you really think that they'd need a "smart grid" to cut power to undesirable cities and factories? They could just as easily physically sever the connection!

    The "smart grid" is about repairing our power system, while anticipating future demands and generation methods. The current system has suffered from decades of neglect (as has much of our infrastructure), and is dangerously vulnerable in places. Three summers ago, about 170,000 residents of Queens in New York City lost power for several weeks after half of the feeder cables serving the borough burned up, while most of the other half eventually failed as well due to the grid's inability to properly compensate for the reduced supply. To help manage demand, many large buildings participate in a program that allows the utility company to cut power to Air Conditioning units if demand is too heavy.

    In 2003, the entire northeast US (45 million people) lost power, due to a single (minor) fault in Ohio.

    There's no grand conspiracy. Our current infrastructure is old, and needs to be fixed.

  • just wrong.

    Objecting because nuclear power is dirty is wrong? Objecting because nuclear power is "Hooked On Subsidies [cato.org]" and is not profitable without those subsidies is wrong? Objecting because cost overruns quadruple [marketwatch.com] the cost of building plants is just wrong?

    Falcon

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