Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A lot of people who are not very smart and the smart grid

A lot of people who are not very smart have decided that a smart grid will solve all of our problems with electricity. For example if the wind stops blowing while it is still dark, the smart grid will figure it out. If there are dark clouds over the Nevada desert the smart grid will find extra electricity, or will decide who needs to stop drawing juice. If it is night and there is no wind the smart grid will turn on some bright lights outside to get some PV cells going. The smart grid is going to figure out what it takes to generate electricity. You see why the experts think a smart grid would be useful. No matter how dumb people get, the grid can be smart.

Now you wonder how we can get going to find a smart grid. The answer is to advertise for it in Craig's List. Remimber you want a smart grid that is AC/DC. You want a smart grid that will take orders from you, and will do what you want without talking back. That sort of grid can be a real pleasure.


Anonymous said...

I work for a company making "smart grid" components, a company that has NOT gone whining to the government for a bailout.

There are a lot of good, really smart things that can be done. But there is also a lot of hype.

The smart things that can be done are to quickly control power flows when something go wrong in order to limit power loss to the fewest consumers. A classic example of "dumb grid" is the power outage about 5 years ago in the Northeast US and Southeast Canada where a "state estimator" program used to determine power flows on the grid was locked up but the system operators did not know it. Even when the state estimator is working, it takes about 20 minutes to determine power flows. More up-to-date technology allows power flow to be determined in seconds so that remedial actions can be taken quickly when things start going wrong. The key here is that the "smarts" are trying to keep the power on for as many people as possible.

The other part of "smart grid" is much more intrusive. This is the part at the consumer level. This may involve controlling your thermostat, or charging you $1 per kilowatt-hour for electricity on hot afternoons. In this case, the "smarts" are trying to turn your power off.

I could go along with a portion of this kind of smart grid, say if I had an electric car. I would want it to have a full charge in the morning, but I wouldn't care exactly what time the recharging took place. On the other hand, this could probably be accomplished about as well with a dumb timer that starts the charging at 1 AM.

But if it late on a hot afternoon, when solar is not able to contribute, and the wind is not blowing, it doesn't matter how smart the grid is if there simply is not enough power available to run everyone's air conditioner.

DW said...

Donb, still, though, if we had tons of cheap nuclear power, why would need this? In fact, even time of use meters which we have in California in newer homes, based on cheaper usage after peak, are almost unnecessary when we have lots of power and don't have to run the grid with almost no reserve.

If we accept the severe limit's of a "Green economy", then yes, essentially ration our power usage. If you reject it, if you aim high enough, such economics based on scarcity go out the window.

David Walters

Robw said...


Agreed...the smart grid serves its best purpose in an energy-scarce situation.

I our plans for LFTR's ever comes to fruition I also believe it will be quite unnecessary...


Anonymous said...

The current grid provides power to the electric customer (the utility serves the customer). The smart grid turns this on its head and provides well controlled demand to the power generator (the customer serves the utility).


Charles Barton said...

Axil you are hitting the nail on thehead. The smartgrid takes the power to choose awayfrom the energy consumer, and places it into the hands of the producer. It is a powerful tool for an energy rationing system controlled by electric utilities. i don't know why the people who advocate this claim to be progressive. The last time I checked progressives were opposed to taking the power of choice away from consumers and turning it over to capitalists.

Anonymous said...

David Walters said:
Donb, still, though, if we had tons of cheap nuclear power, why would need this?

There is a distinction to be made. The part of the smart grid that we want is the part that minimizes bad affects even when things go wrong (tree falls on power line, lightning strikes, fire in the transmission line right-of-way, equipment failures).

The part we don't want is the part that limits lifestyles - that would shut off my air conditioner on a hot afternoon, for example.

What I tried to say (apparently not very well) is that I would be willing to have some "smart grid" devices that would control the timing of my power consumption where the exact timing is a matter of indifference. The example I gave was recharging an electric car (or running the dishwasher after supper), where it really doesn't matter exactly when it happens, so long as I have a full charge (and clean dishes) the next morning.

I think the reality is that we will always times during the day when demand is lower and power is cheaper. The generation plants with the highest marginal costs are the last to be brought on line and the first to be taken off line. It can be advantageous to both me and the power utility to shift consumption off the peak - if I can get a cheaper rate, and the power utility can use their generation and transmission assets more fully. I like to think of it as a win-win, especially when there is no negative impact on me.

Charles Barton said...

Gee, no one has commented on my suggestion that we advertise for a smart grid on craig's list. I often don't get so many serious comments when I attempt to write thoughtful essays. Perhaps you guys are to young to have picked up on the AC/DC reference. Didn't anyone chuckle at my advertise for a smart grid on craig's list suggestion? Now i am wondering if my attempt at humor is driving people to suicide. Oh well.

DW said...

This is an interesting discussion. Carried over, a bit, from the larger on one energyfromthorium.com/forum

I have no problem with the way a smart grid works, per se, that is, the various components. What I oppose is the Smart Grid, capital "S" capital "G". The idea that it allows for rationing and is based on scarcity which is 100% of the motivation out there, Denebs comments notwithstanding. You can BUY devices that turn on and turn off a charger for an EV. You can set some time-of-use meters (20 year old technology) to go on during the best 'rates' if your rates change throughout the day. You do NOT need a "Smart Grid". The SG is only a paradigm for an energy starved, no reserve, electrical system.

SCADA...the digital control system that runs most grids now and that no one seems to know anything about in the blogger community, works *really well*. It is always being upgraded and getting "smarter". It is designed to handle all emergencies and, if there were HVDC lines, and even in the current HVAC structure we have now, can shift vast amounts of power hither and dither.

It's all crying over spilled milk, IMO.


Anonymous said...

Contrary to popular opinion smart grid technology and energy storage will provide more benefit to nuclear power than to renewables.

The renewable buffs think that they will be able to sell their intermittent kWh's at high peak prices. In reality, the effect will be to suppress price peaks and shrink the gap between peak and minimum pricing.

Most people focus on the suppression of price peaks on hot afternoons, but the real key is that nighttime prices will rise to near average levels. Since nuclear plants make half their kWh's at night this will be a big windfall profit for nuclear plants.

Smart grid and storage will also allow nuclear plants to run at high capacity factors while providing a large fraction of total energy, as opposed to the situation in France where capacity factor suffers when nuclear plant have to throttle back under light load conditions.

Charles, while your at it, advertise for a LFTR on Craig’s list.

Bill Hannahan

Charles Barton said...

Bill, i am afraid that Craig's list will bump my add for a LFTR on the grounds that the LFTR is too hot for CL to handle.

Anonymous said...

Charles Barton said:
Bill, i am afraid that Craig's list will bump my add for a LFTR on the grounds that the LFTR is too hot for CL to handle.

Too hot to handle? Nah, the LFTR is nothing compared to a fusion reactor.

Charles Barton said...

When ORNL started fusion research in the early 1960's, they said that we will produce commercial power from fusion in 50 years. Now nearly 50 years later, and after billions being spent on fusion research, it still looks like fusion generated electricity is another 50 years down the line.

Robw said...


have you been following the progress of Bussard Fusion by EMC2 corp? If so, what are your thoughts?

Just curious


Charles Barton said...

i am aware of the Bussard Fusion concept. If they get it to work it would be great, but I am not going to hold my breath. It might be 50 years.

Jason Ribeiro said...

I am not very familiar with all the different aspects of the smart grid, but I have heard of some elements that do sound appealing. For instance, newer digital meters that can give the homeowner a clear breakdown of how, when, and where they are using energy that can be accessible via a web page sounds like a great idea. Many people might care less but at least it should give people a better idea of what their power bill consists of.

What you point out however, is the aspect of a "smart" grid that is supposed to compensate for unreliable/dumb energy sources. The pure renewables plan depends on costly added infrastructure of batteries and "smart" grids. As you've pointed out time and again, those elements send the cost of renewables sky high. Moreover, this doesn't fit any model of Lovins' "decentralization" concept that I can tell. The centralization & decentralization paradigms have never clicked with me because "power network" more accurately describes it.

Our nation exhibits some of the same problems that individuals do when tackling their problems. Procrastination, fear, denial, and distraction are all at play here with the smart grid. Essentially this is a huge distraction from the real energy issues we need to deal with. We consistently divert money away from the real energy issues.


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