The Power Grid Needs Stability, Not Ripping Off the Band-Aid

FractivistsK.J. Rodgers
Crownsville, Maryland  

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Many believe that we can shut down fossil fuel plants today and rely directly on renewables. Our power grid says otherwise. 

Some things in life are better suited to be done quickly. The slower the motion, the more pain that is inflicted. Ripping off a Band-Aid is one example where the best course of action is to get a good grip and jerk that sucker off as fast as you can. You may barely feel it as opposed to the slow action that reminds you of every tiny hair you have on your body as they are individually plucked from your dermis.

Other times, a slower approach is better. When it comes to projects, you do not want to be haphazard and rip it off. Seems to be an easy concept, but we see people who oppose natural gas taking that approach. Through their war cries, they all seem to chant to keep it in the ground and that the U.S. could be 100% renewable tomorrow.  This is clear from the nasty comments Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, received when he visited a fracking site.

They seem to believe that countries such as Germany have successfully eliminated all fossil fuels and it is simply not true. I will admit renewables have a place in our energy market and I will also admit they’re  becoming more effective at creating energy; however, we are still long ways away from ripping off the Band-Aid.

One of the biggest issues facing the 100% renewable dream starts at its very roots: the power grid. Our power grid is not able to handle the fluctuations that wind and solar come with.  In order for our power grid to work, supply and demand must match. Through statistics and precise predictability, the power companies can adjust to meet the current demands. This is easy for a natural gas plant. Demand is increasing, turn on the heat to the boiler. When demand falls, turn off a boiler.

Natural Gas Plant

For our power grid to be able to accommodate the volatility of renewables, the grid needs to be rewired and that is no cheap task. Recently the Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (AII) released a study that found making our grid “smart” would be extraordinarily expensive. “It is probably a trillion dollar asset,” Brigham McCown, chairman of AII, told reporters during a press conference.

The grid currently has problems with being overloaded by renewables as well. Last year, a Texas wind farm caught a breeze and drove the cost of electricity into the negatives, requiring energy providers to pay to take electricity off their hands. An LA Times article mentioned how last March California’s solar farms produced so much power, they had to pay Arizona to take the excess before the grid fried. Being the LA Times, of course, they had to blame fossil fuels, overlooking the one constant in this fluke situation—the unpredictability and the uneven yields of solar energy compared to demand:

“The number of days that California dumped its unused solar electricity would have been even higher if the state hadn’t ordered some solar plants to reduce production — even as natural gas power plants, which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, continued generating electricity.”

Antiquated Power Grid I agree that our energy grid needs to be updated and it is currently. The Recovery Act has enabled $4.5 billion in modernizations and enhancements to the grid since 2010.  According to Energy.gov:

“Since 2010, these investments have been used to deploy a wide range of advanced devices, including more than 10,000 automated capacitors, over 7,000 automated feeder switches and approximately 15.5 million smart meters.”

But, is that all it takes? What about Germany? Well, the Energiewende has essentially blown up. German energy prices have doubled – they’re about three times the U.S. price – while over 330,000 German households lost power. They have become so renewable focused, that they, too, have ended up paying others to take away that surplus energy generated when not needed, and in return, they have buy power generated by their neighbors’ oil, coal and nuclear plants when they do need it, to say nothing of having to build new plants burning dirty brown coal. German consumers get to pay twice; that’s the real story of the Energiewende.

Ys, ripping off the fossil fuel Band-Aid (as “glass is half-empty” fractivists are prone to describe it) may seem like a good idea, but it’s likely to create a deeper wound and there’s not enough time, money, or technology to heal it in the foreseeable future. Staking our future on such mindless, rash positions may get a few of us some great publicity, while others solve real world problems, but it’s no solution or healthy situation. Rather, it’s a rip-off of a different sort.

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