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The Power Grid Can't Handle Wind Farms

samzenpus posted more than 6 years ago | from the gone-with-the-wind dept.

Power 681

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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Oh, THAT'S It! (2, Funny)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772113)

The grid can't handle wind power! Now I get it!

It's the gospel truth. I read it in Pravda. []

Moving it across the country? (4, Insightful)

Wandering Wombat (531833) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772121)

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!

Ok... (1, Insightful)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772243)

What do you do in places that don't have sufficient wind for wind power?

Re:Ok... (2, Interesting)

Wandering Wombat (531833) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772275)

Probably use the existing oil / coal system, that so far the article has NOT mentioned trashing? It's the only feasible option right now, until lossless power transmission becomes a reality, and the nerds are working on that one.

Re:Ok... (3, Insightful)

philipgar (595691) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772611)

you do realize solar and wind power cannot really replace the base power loads of coal/nuclear plants (oil plants are rare now due to cost, and natural gas plants are generally run for supplemental power). Most plans so far have been looking into reducing the number of natural gas plants in use by using supplemental wind and solar plants. The real issue we will run into is the need to store power. Distributing it is great and helps allow us to rely on a larger percentage of "renewable" energy (as the odds that it's not sunny in places xyz, not windy in abc, etc starts to fall), but doesn't allow us to use the power 24/7. This is going to require an infrastructure capable of storing power for long time periods. The last thing we want is to have rolling blackouts on cloudy or windless days. It's not like you can just go "okay, for the next 3 hours this coal plant needs to produce more power", they just don't work that way (however natural gas plants are able to do this, which is why they're used for supplemental power despite being more expensive than coal).


Re:Ok... (2, Funny)

c_sd_m (995261) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772405)

Hamster wheels.


Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24772385)

Every county moving a megawatt one county west from coast to coast is the exact same thing in terms of transmission capacity needed as moving a megawatt across the country, only more complicated and expensive.

Re:Moving it across the country? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24772749)

under current laws, power grid regulation is a state matter

I think the authority would more likely be granted under power laws or voltage laws. Did they check what Ohm, Watt, Volta, et al, had to say about this?

The Feds (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24772125)

[/sarcasm]Federal regulation.....what we always need.[/sarcasm]

Re:The Feds (5, Funny)

gregbot9000 (1293772) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772491)

Where the hell did you learn HTML?

Re:The Feds (2, Interesting)

philspear (1142299) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772621)

Well... if it's between not having wind power, and having electrical lines explodify every time the wind blows, I'll take the no wind power. Federal regulation isn't always bad. We have to thank bureacratic red tape for keeping thalidomide out of the country before we realized it doesn't just cure morning sickness, it also makes your children not have arms and legs. The company selling the stuff was going nuts without testing.

This is a much more cut and dry situation that might not need regulation, but let's keep perspective.

Time for a new Interstate project (4, Insightful)

99luftballon (838486) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Time for a new Interstate project (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24772241)

I just made a lot of wind. Had chili and beans last night.

Not so pleasant to experience. Well, the wind making part was pleasant, but the after effects are stifling.

Re:Time for a new Interstate project (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24772723)

I just made a lot of wind. Had chili and beans last night.

That's not wind, that's methane.

Re:Time for a new Interstate project (5, Informative)

ptbarnett (159784) | more than 6 years ago | (#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 []

Re:Time for a new Interstate project (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24772573)

Or the states could step up and do it themselves:

As was mentioned in the article, not all power transmission projects are contained within a single large state like Texas.
Your post is analogous to saying that individual states could each build their own highway system within their own borders.

Re:Time for a new Interstate project (2, Interesting)

Arthur B. (806360) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772247)

The investment has paid off well

How do you know?

Re:Time for a new Interstate project (1)

99luftballon (838486) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772317)

Greater interstate trade at lower cost for a start. It helps businesses get their products around faster and more cheaply.

Re:Time for a new Interstate project?????????? (4, Informative)

Mr Pippin (659094) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772435)

They already did. It's called "railroads". James Hill (Great Northern) even proved you could build a transcontinental railroad WITHOUT government help, without the huge corruption government funded projects on that scale inevitably create.

Re:Time for a new Interstate project?????????? (5, Informative)

geekoid (135745) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772727)

not true.
He needed land grants and money from JP Morgan.
He purchased much of the railroad from failing companies.
There was huge corruption and wall street issues from the trust. Something that required government intervention to break up.
The practically destroyed wall street.

He was able to stay in business by giving an unfair advantage to his other business using the rail road during hard times. Basically shifting money on paper.

He did build 1700 miles of track, but at nearly slave labor rates.

The US government has done many very large and complex projects without corruption.
Nobody in the US has enough money to fix the grid.
The grid must be fixed for us to move into a new distributed system.

It's a perfect job for the government. Not to private contractors. That is where you get corruption, and failed projects.

Re:Time for a new Interstate project (2, Informative)

DeadChobi (740395) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772555)

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:Time for a new Interstate project (1)

gregbot9000 (1293772) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772575)

Uhhh. How about instead of a new one to push an unproven technology, they fix the old one that is falling into sever disrepair due to the feds and everyone else earmarking the money for it into other uses?

Re:Time for a new Interstate project (1)

Usquebaugh (230216) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772713)

Right we really have a high speed road system! And the high speed rail system works a treat as well.

When I see high speed with regard to land vehicles we're talking 100mph bare minimum preferably 200mph+.

Given how much the road system has cost the US both in money and reduced competition it's comical to hold it up as a success.

Thay said this about nuclear energy too (1)

bobwrit (1232148) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772161)

So, I doubt that the article is true. I have a feeling the Times got paid by a political party to say so. Desprete times call for desprete mesures.

Re:Thay said this about nuclear energy too (5, Insightful)

jeffstar (134407) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772261)

The next time you drive by a nuclear plant take a look at the transmission infrastructure. You might see three different sets of pylons leaving each with a couple of 500kV circuits.

It takes wires to move electricty from generation to load, I don't know why they are surprised that when they build a wind farm in the middle of nowhere there transmission capacity to handle all that extra energy.

Especially since everybody says they have hardly built anything new in the way of transmission...of course there is no spare capacity!

Great... (1)

actionbastard (1206160) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772163)

Now we need an energy superhighway. Line up the trucks!

Re:Great... (1)

Wandering Wombat (531833) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772189)

No no, it's NOT like a big truck...

Re:Great... (1)

mnemocynic (1221372) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772583)

Yeah, you can't just dump stuff on the power grid, it's like a series of tubes!

Scary thought! (1, Insightful)

BCW2 (168187) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772165)

Why anyone wants Federal control of anything is beyond me. Think about it, the only thing that thundering herd of dumbass has done in the last 30 years that worked "as advertised" is the Do Not Call List! Put them in the power business and take more money from our pockets for them to waste? I don't think so.

Remember, if you make less than $169,000 a year, you have NO representation in Washington!

Re:Scary thought! (1)

Fulcrum of Evil (560260) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772267)

yeah, look at the shit they pull with FHA funding - how'd you like them to say 'do what we say or no power'?

Re:Scary thought! (1)

marco.antonio.costa (937534) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772281)

Nobody really wants the Feds to get into that. It's one of those constructs like 'the public good'.

They just say it so people think everybody's saying it. So they can dive down on it like the big arrow and plant grabbing hawk it is. :-)

Re:Scary thought! (4, Insightful)

Evets (629327) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772511)

Remember, if you make less than $169,000 a year, you have NO representation in Washington!

LOL. The bar is higher than that, buddy!

Re:Scary thought! (4, Informative)

MrSteve007 (1000823) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772739)

For 99% of situations, I absolutely agree with you. However, the feds regulate the Northwestern power grid and a large portion of the generation capacity (the dams).

The federally operated Bonneville Power Administration has done an excellent job for the past 80 years, using zero tax dollars. Their wholesale rates are dirt cheap (~$0.04 per KwH) and the grid reliability has always been top notch. We should extend their reach across the entire grid. []

You want wind power? (1, Funny)

frank_adrian314159 (469671) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772185)

You want wind power!?

You can't handle the wind power!!!

Re:You want wind power? (1)

pieisgood (841871) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772537)

What's the matter power grid? Wind Power too GREEN FOR YOU!?

It has to be said once... (3, Funny)

philspear (1142299) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772551)

This really blows.

(Apologies to all who are sick to their stomachs right now.)

Yep, the grid does need an upgrade (3, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772201)

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.

Oh no. (2, Insightful)

BitterOldGUy (1330491) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772697)

This would require federal tax credits as an incentive, as well as an open design.

Oh boy! I just had an images of another few volumes added to our already byzantine tax code; for which there will be some loopholes put in by lobbyists that will allow some big corp to get some easy money. And then when or if wind or solar or whatever becomes the dominant power source, the tax incentives will still be there to further distort the economics of said power source and god forbid if anyone suggests that the tax incentives should be removed.

But hey, Washington is all about compromise.

As oil an gas gets more and more expensive, there won't be any need for tax incentives - the markets will take care of it. Maybe not as fast or as efficient as some would like it, but it sure beats a legislative solution any day.

Improving Transmission System (1)

colganc (581174) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772217)

The federal government doesn't need authority for this to work. Individual states can collaborate if need be. The article mentions how someone from Texas was able to build new transmission lines and he wants the federal government to assist in some way, but the article isn't clear in how he wants the government to assist. It sounds like the real problem is it is too difficult regulation/legal wise to build more transmission lines. Let's make it easier.

No! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24772225)

Stop giving authority to the federal government!

Re:No! (4, Insightful)

_damnit_ (1143) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772649)

The feds don't need authority. They already have it. Congress just hasn't assigned it to any agency yet. If you think an electrical grid that shares power generated by utilities in numerous states isn't covered by the commerce clause, you are not reading the same Constitution as the rest of us.

OT (1)

19061969 (939279) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772257)

Completely OT I know, but isn't "The Times" a UK newspaper? It might be better to refer to the NY Times as, well, the NY Times to prevent confusion.

Re:OT (1)

TriggerFin (1122807) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772599)

Considering there are papers with the name "Times" all over the country, yes. The same goes for most other names as well, until you get to papers so small you need the location anyway.

Re:OT (1)

DesScorp (410532) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772655)

When I submitted the article, the title had "NY Times" in it. The editors changed it; for brevity, space, or whatever reason they felt necessary.

Re:OT (1)

chill (34294) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772657)

You're referring to "The Times of London", which is called "The Times" for short. Just like every other paper in the world that has "Times" in its name.

Same problem with fusion reactors? (1)

Sybert42 (1309493) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772259)

Some of those designs look powerful yet expensive to build. We'll need some way to distribute GiW level production.

It's about time (3, Insightful)

Luscious868 (679143) | more than 6 years ago | (#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 (3, Insightful)

DeadChobi (740395) | more than 6 years ago | (#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 (1, Interesting) (463190) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772565)

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.

Why do you assert it needs to be transferred long distances? We already have an infrastructure that can provide 24x7 power everywhere, from fossil fuel and nuclear plants. We don't have to throw that away or duplicate that in order to add green energy into the mix. Those renewable sources produce relatively small amounts of power, at varying times of the day, at varying locations. That doesn't mean they can't interact with the grid, providing power where they can and actually alleviating the load on long distance lines by effectively reducing the power drawn at the periphery of the grid. Indeed, there is _less_ power lost in transmission when they're closer to the load. And TFA is full of shit - wires don't get "congested".

Yes there is "trapped" energy in places where, for example, there is lots of sunlight hitting open land but no people nearby to consume it. We can't effectively tap those resources yet. That doesn't support your point whatsoever, and it's certainly nothing to be "screaming about".

I suspect your parents who work at the local power company are simply regurgitating the company PR line, and perhaps you should do your own research and exercise some critical thought in forming your own opinions.

The summary doesn't match TFA. (5, Interesting)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772285)

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:The summary doesn't match TFA. (2, Insightful)

philipgar (595691) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772525)

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 of miles, but rather 100s to 1000s of miles (the big demand for power is in the northeast and the west coast). This will require building huge lines that need to have low losses. This will likely mean building DC lines, and the cost of such infrastructure is huge compared to the cost of building lines 10s of miles. This means that despite the fact that wind power generation is currently less efficient (on a cost basis) than coal, the true cost will likely end up being even more. If the wind power is generated 1000 miles away, the real cost of the power has to factor in the cost of building the power plants (which still cannot be part of the base power load), the cost of building transmission lines, and the cost of the significant power losses that will occur when transferring the power 100s or thousands of miles.


Re:The summary doesn't match TFA. (1)

unitron (5733) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772751)

Why would DC lines be better at line loss prevention than high-tension 60Hz AC lines?

Re:The summary doesn't match TFA. (4, Insightful)

jonored (862908) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:The summary doesn't match TFA. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24772691)

pipes and tubes and internets

Calculus studies tubes and troughs for a reason. They make wonderful analogies for fluid (or data) in motion.

HVDC FTW? (2, Informative)

rsborg (111459) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772287)

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 [] to allow for reducing the transmission losses.

Re:HVDC FTW? (1)

jeffstar (134407) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772395)

is HVDC really that great?

Sure the losses are less, so you save some money there, but the equipment at each substation has got to be a lot more expensive. So maybe HVDC is best at transporting large amounts of power from A to B, but not making any stops along the way.

Another handy use may be for an intertie between parts of the grid that are not synchronized but I think there are alternatives (phase shifters?) for this as well which are cheaper

stupid much? (2, Informative)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772303)

You don't need to move it. California's not getting our wind powere here in Wisconsin! We'll keep it, thanks. If people generate electricity and use it locally, then it doesn't need to go anywhere far away. Why the hell would it? If someone lives in a place where the sun never shines and there's also no wind (and usually it's tipped one way or the other), they can either use nuclear or move. And what's this overloading crap? You know how many turbines it would take to equal a coal plant? When the power plant sees that less power is needed, the turbines spin slower, don't they? So you get 25% electricity from wind turbines, which btw would take thousands in most cities' cases, and it slows down to output 25% less power. What's the problem?

Re:stupid much? (1)

jeffstar (134407) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772419)

hydro and fossil driven turbines have constant RPMs if they are attached to a synchronous generator, which they usually are.

To reduce the power out they reduce the power in (ie use less water/steam/coal/gas/whatever)

Why does wind lose? (1)

ThanatosMinor (1046978) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772311)

Transmission lines carrying power away from the Maple Ridge farm, near Lowville, N.Y., have sometimes become so congested that the companyâ(TM)s only choice is to shut down

In the case of congestion, why aren't the turbines the only ones providing local electricity instead of being forced to turn off? Why doesn't a coal plant decrease output? Couldn't the turbines pick up the slack to decrease load and ease congestion?

Re:Why does wind lose? (1)

jeffstar (134407) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772475)

transmission capacity is a limited resource, so when supply gets tight the cost goes up. TFA said they didn't want to pay the increased cost of transmission:
"...become so congested that the companyâ(TM)s only choice is to shut down â" or pay fees for the privilege of continuing to pump power into the lines."

Somebody else is clearly willing to pay the increased cost of transmission - meaning they can do so and still make their profit.

Possible solutions exists (1)

TheDarkMaster (1292526) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772329)

One maybe is create automatic "plug in/out" for wind generators on main power grid, using as criteria the power load on moment, just like the speed regulator from hydro turbine. Or maybe create a better speed regulator for the wing generator to equalize the wind speed / power output

So? (4, Insightful)

thermian (1267986) | more than 6 years ago | (#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... (4, Informative)

Halo1 (136547) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772349)

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.

Re:Actually... (4, Insightful)

Fulcrum of Evil (560260) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772585)

You can't put a nuclear plant next to each village

You can put one near every major city and that'll work just fine. Just have to make them medium sized and standardize on a design or two.

Ultracapacitors (0)

CODiNE (27417) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772353)

Rig up a whole bunch of these babies in parallel and they can take sudden spikes and even it out. They're great for things like bicycle powered generators where the pedaling speed makes it inappropriate for things like TVs and computers. Say if you've got to charge a bank of Lithium-polymer batteries really slowly, but your power comes in suddenly, you can buffer it with ultracaps and trickle it out to the batteries. Great stuff.

Obligatoy Joke (1)

Rayeth (1335201) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772373)

It's a series of tubes!! You can't possibly fit more in than the tubes can carry. /facepalm Or you could just, you know, not use the FREE electricity that was produced. I know its not the most efficient use, but come on... Its not like there aren't windy places all over the country. I can bet everyone can think of such a place near to them. So just build a bunch and waste some power. Then work on upgrading the system and have a whole crap ton of extra power to export to whomever later.

Re:Obligatoy Joke (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772625)

The electricity is far from free. There are leases and things to pay off, so the people who spent the money putting up the tower generally want to sell the power it produces. All of it.


Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24772375)

Says hello! I'm not too familiar with the software but I believe that SCADA base software is widely used. On top of that if their isn't already there should be some sort of mechanism or protocol to transfer between lines owned by different entities while recording the amount transferred for billing later.

I know that Slashdot has a lot of people working in the electrical industry because of previous comments I've read but from my VERY LIMITED knowledge it seems like if you have robust software tracking all this you could get the power from point a to b on the lines without having to immediately invest in massive architecture changes.

Anyone have more on this?

Peak load vs non-peak (5, Insightful)

bobbaddeley (981674) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772379)

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.

Re:Peak load vs non-peak (1)

sillyman71 (129782) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772635)

My thoughts exactly. In addition to pumped water, I don't see why flywheels or the compressing of air couldn't be used to smooth out the release of energy between peak and non-peak periods.

Oh, I thought the dirty little secret of wind powe (1, Interesting)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772387)

was that the majority of farms produced less than 20% of their rated power per year.

Amazing that Pelosi likes them, wait, no its not, she's invested in them, in particular that guy from Texas.

I am all for a super transport system but I want it backed by nuclear to handle base loads and allow us to truly get coal off line. If its good enough to have Germany switch gears what is our problem?

I am so sick of a Congress more concerned about piss ant groups, having to many to satisfy, that we get the shaft.

Nothing new here (5, Interesting)

dj245 (732906) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772391)

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.

Solar= Where it's at. (1)

veganboyjosh (896761) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772407)

Sure, it's damn inefficient right now. But we have an almost unlimited (in terms of longetivity, not necessarily amperage) supply of rays from the sun. Right now, it's the only source of energy that comes from outside the planet. Everything else causes problems somewhere else in the world. Either directly, like from pollution, or indirectly, as in damming a river causing weird results downriver. We're now finding that windfarms have a similar effect on birds' migratory patterns, seed migration, similar things that rely on the wind that have happened for thousands of years.

I think tidal energy has some potential for greatness, but not necessarily the way it's being used now, as it has similar effects on the environments where it's being used now. Fish, underseas plant life, etc. are affected. (There's also the dangerous potential (very hypothetical at this point, I realize) for someone to develop some kind of tidal energy harness system that's so efficient (think 90-100% efficient) begins to affect a>the moon's orbit, b>the earth's orbit. That's a lot of energy.) But If we could figure out a way to harness the gravity without messing with the water that's moving around, there could be potential there for another energy source outside the planet.

/end completely uninformed rant about the future of energy.

speaking of animal impact... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24772451)

I just found this on BBC News:

"Bats are at risk from wind turbines, researchers have found, because the rotating blades produce a change in air pressure that can kill the mammals." []

Re:speaking of animal impact... (1)

veganboyjosh (896761) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772527)

That's one of the things I was talking about, but I'm pretty sure we're going to start to see more and more of the same.

Re:Solar= Where it's at. (1)

ShadowRangerRIT (1301549) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772601)

Claiming that wind power isn't derived from an external source is somewhat inaccurate. Wind is generated by uneven heating of the Earth's surface and atmosphere. Wind power is just one level of indirection from solar. Same goes for hydroelectric. And all of them, solar included (the act of capturing the heat alters wind patterns too), could have unpredictable effects. I wouldn't put all your eggs in the solar basket. But combine some of each, in proportion to the damage they do and to cover each others weaknesses (solar and wind are often collected under diametrically opposed conditions), and you end up with stable, relatively non-destructive way to fully tap the "free" energy around us.

Oh, and the worry about tidal is plain silly. By the same logic, if people decided to improve solar efficiency by covering the sky in solar absorbing satellites we'd all freeze to death. There is *far* too much coastline to effectively tap any measurable percentage of the Earth's tidal energy, no matter how efficient a particular generator is.

Re:Solar= Where it's at. (1)

veganboyjosh (896761) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772667)

Good points all... I did qualify my rant at the end there...

Without stable supply alternative will stay fringe (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24772421)

Wind solar and other alternative forms require some means of levelling out their output.
Even if all they could do was hydrolize water and then burn hydrogen at a reliable rate they'd be miles ahead.
Spikes are a pain for any grid to handle and most power demand spikes occur later after people come home from work.
Without a way to level output alternative energy will remain mostly on the fringes.
Some solar projects are storing heat in liquid sodium as a way to level things out. One MIT proposal is to hydrolize water and they apparently have found a good catalyst to make this process less difficult.

Who knows? (1)

jav1231 (539129) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772425)

I wonder how much of this is sour grapes. People always poo-poo ideas so what's new? When drag racers were struggling to break the 170mph barrier in the 60's doctors told them the human body could never survive the g-forces necessary to hit that speed in 1/4mi. Now they do 300mph. I'm sure when Ma Bell built all those old desk phones they never dreamed they a) last this long and b) withstand the incredible power surges they have over the years. Yet, these phones can handle a ton more than new sets can handle.

cascade overloads possible? (4, Interesting)

geogob (569250) | more than 6 years ago | (#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?

DC grid. (1)

thestuckmud (955767) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772443)

Europe has the beginnings of a DC grid [] for long haul transmission of electric power (over very long distances AC losses add up). Looks like Edison was right, after all!

This consideration makes the prospect of upgrading America's power grid even more daunting, but I'd venture to say we'll be better off making the changes sooner rather than later.

Hydrogen from Salt Water! (1)

curmudgeon99 (1040054) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772461)

This is a softball. We don't need to just make electricity, we need to run a big pipeline and a little one all the way from the Mojave to the Pacific Ocean. Then, pump in Seawater and pump out brine. Use the electricity to desalinate and make hydrogen, which is then liquefied and used to power hydrogen vehicles. This can generate fresh water, electricity and hydrogen, which can power the future. Of course, much smaller and lighter cars too--almost like golf carts.

If the goal is making hydrogen, we can make the industry here and the fuel here. We can reduce pollution--which everybody agrees is a good idea.

I can hear Scotty now! (1)

jav1231 (539129) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772465)

"Captain! I don t'ink she can handle any more pow'rrr!?"

Wind at national party conventions ... (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772497)

This is really a shame. Just think of how much wind will be generated at the national party conventions in the next weeks. And none of that can be plowed back into the Grid.

I'm no scientist or engineer but.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24772505)

... couldn't they just store up all the energy and release it consistantly?

If someone makes $$$ off of this, please send me some.

Re:I'm no scientist or engineer but.. (1)

actionbastard (1206160) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772679)

"... couldn't they just store up all the energy and release it consistantly?

Ah..., no.

Superconducting lines (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24772515)

What will be needed are superconducting lines. Some are being layed now in the New York area initially, to help with grid distribution. They are available now, and have about 10x the capacity of conventional lines.

Re:Superconducting lines (1)

jeffstar (134407) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772561)

while those are really cool, I think only worth the cost when you need to move a lot of power and have limited physical space (ie not enough to fit the required number of non-superconducting conductors).

Note: A fixed up grid make wind & solar reliab (3, Insightful)

presidenteloco (659168) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Note: A fixed up grid make wind & solar rel (1)

jeffstar (134407) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772631)

How is our grid not smart enough as it is?
It may have limited capacity, but what more do you want it to do! It already disconnects circuits with faults on them to protect itself...what else is there (other than controlling demand, which is maybe more smart loads than smart grid)
adaptive: if there is a path for electricity to flow it will, no adapting required
switching: every Tx line has circuit breakers and reclosers shortage of 'switches' there.

When people say smart grid I never know what they mean. Some people are talking transition from analog to digital and I get that but to be honest I've not seen a whole lot of analog electro-mechanical gear ... it is being replaced by new digital relays rather quickly

Being Purposeful Blind (a NYT specialty) (2, Funny)

Herschel Cohen (568) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772553)

It is not a revelation that the grid has to be upgraded, I read long ago it was a required investment. The problem is that it seems to be in none of the major players realm of interest or responsibility. Even as the grid stands, conventional power is not distributed efficiently.

Several months ago there was a big article on the need for new grid infrastructure to carry power from solar facilities in the Southwest (some via dc transmission) to areas of high demand. Moreover, did it escape the informed scribes attention that Pickens was in D.C. to get the feds to fund new investment in the grid? He needs it for his investment in wind power in the Texas panhandle to pay off. With all the business reporting it has, how was that missed? Too obvious?

This article meets the current low standards of reporting that has become endemic at the NYT. As they advised the recently former governor of New York state, you have screwed up so badly you should be gone! Well by the same standards, they too should follow the same example. Both by its actions and inactions, the NYT should exit too. Or more kindly, at least those at the top encouraging this type of reporting should remove themselves so that the vaunted reputation of the NYT may be regained.

Battery? (1)

Geeyzus (99967) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772593)

Why couldn't a wind farm hook up some kind of huge battery to store wind power in excess of whatever the grid could handle? And then once the wind died down, they could basically bleed off the battery into the grid?

Maybe there's a reason that this is a dumb idea, and I'm sure you'd need one hell of a battery system to hold that kind of power, but it seems like a reasonable idea to me...

Re:Battery? (1)

jeffstar (134407) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772665)

cost. and nobody wants a higher electricity bill. batteries that large are expensive and then you need equipment to change it from ac to dc etc.
I've seen one large enough to power a military base for 2-3 days, it was 30 feet high, 30 feet long and 60 feet wide.

So why isn't this a problem in Europe? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24772637)

This doesn't seem to be a problem with the massive offshore wind farms in Europe. The UK, Denmark, etc, all are using more and more wind power each month from wind farms in the North Sea. No-one's ever said that the power grid can't handle it.

Federal power grid? (2, Insightful)

Rinisari (521266) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772689)

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.


Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24772693)

We coulda had wireless power all along.

Wind Farm short-term energy storage? (1)

Anachragnome (1008495) | more than 6 years ago | (#24772719)

It seems to me that the "spikes" in output from sudden wind changes at wind farms could be converted into heat, and stored for a short time in underground, insulated heat sinks. When the spike calmed down, or as usage increased, that heat could then be converted back into electricity (steam turbine?) for release onto the grid.

Am I missing something here?

Another thing that occurred to me is that this entire article and all it represents are merely a ploy on the part of Big Oil to put the idea of wind power in a bad light.

If the power can't come to the people... (4, Informative)

TomRC (231027) | more than 6 years ago | (#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!"

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