Friday, August 16, 2013

Before You Talk to Me About Alternative Energy Read This

Otherwise I'll probably have to use Charlie Munger's all-purpose turnaround on you:
"Think about it a little more and you will agree with me because you're smart and I'm right."
Old farts hands at this stuff mumble terms like 'nameplate capacity' and 'spinning reserve' in their sleep and know the pluses and minuses of rooftop vs. utility-scale solar or the problems of depending on wind in a sub-zero temperature northern climate (it's the calm high pressure that accompanies the coldest days).

For everyone else here's a good intro to some of the issues raised by incorporating alt-energy into the current (no pun) grid while battery* technology lags far behind.

From FT Alphaville:
Who needs all that power capacity anyway?

From JBC Energy on Wednesday, a short tale of power market disruption in Germany (our emphasis):
Two major European electric utilities E.ON and RWE have both announced that they are planning further cuts in their power generation capacity, with E.ON announcing yesterday that it might be closing more than the previously announced 11 GW of capacity, while RWE stated that it will take 3.1 GW of power plant capacity offline. Low electricity demand and the boom in renewable supply has pushed German forward electricity prices to an eight-year low, while the priority given to solar and wind energy in the grid sharply lowered demand for gas and coal power generation outside peak periods....
...John Kemp at Reuters has also been looking at the topic of pro-renewable capacity displacement. As he noted on Wednesday, there may be under-appreciated implications for balancing volumes, and thus power prices.

This is because the greater the share of renewables input into the grid is, the greater the volatility of supply becomes. Renewable generation is notoriously unsteady. Given this, traditional power plants cannot be done away with completely. In fact, Kemp argues, it’s likely these costly stations will have to stand ready as power producers of last resort, just in case there are shortfalls....MUCH MORE
I get anxious when I'm buttonholed at parties by someone gushing about the success of wind in Denmark or a so-called Moore's Law in solar.

To regain blessed solitude I'll ask my interlocutor what they know of Denmark wheeling electricity to Norsk Hydro or what the price of residential power in Copenhagen is.

Sometimes I'll explain that Moore's Law was about qualitative improvement, the doubling of microprocessor performance every 18 months whereas referring to such a thing in energy systems is to mistake the cause for price effect.

Usually though I'll just excuse myself and go look for the girl with the wicked sense of humor.

*I mentioned batteries because the other forms of storage, flywheels, pumping water uphill (see Norsk Hydro) or compressed air are limited by geography or geology or cost and other conversions of energy,  which is really all that storage is, result in too much energy loss.

As the young lady said "It would be nice if we could get our power from Unicorn farts but magic only goes so far".

If someone is serious about learning rather than talking at me I usually refer them to the book linked in "Here is THE Problem Facing Alternative Energy".

In addition, Katie Fehrenbacher at earth2tech is a big booster of alt and very level-headed, here's one of her pieces: