Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Nuks and the Grid: "Smart Grid" Verses Smart Grid Design

A computer simulation of a nuclear dominated grid is not nearly as urgent an issue as the computer simulation of of a renewables dominated grid. We know that reactor generated power is reliable enough that a nuclear dominated grid will be at least as reliable as the present 20% nuclear grid. A sophisticated, multi-demintional computer model or modeling tools would still be of great value in designing a nuclear dominated grid. Questions such as new reactor location and size, and effects on grid could be modeled for answers. A modeling tool would be valuable for determining the most cost effective grid upgrades.

Nuclear Green favors the use of local rather distant generation capacity, because reliance on local capacity decreases grid complexity, and thus is consistent with reliability. Eric J. Lerner states:
. . . limited use of long-distance connections aided system reliability, because the physical complexities of power transmission rise rapidly as distance and the complexity of interconnections grow. Power in an electric network does not travel along a set path, as coal does, for example. When utility A agrees to send electricity to utility B, utility A increases the amount of power generated while utility B decreases production or has an increased demand. The power then flows from the “source” (A) to the “sink” (B) along all the paths that can connect them. This means that changes in generation and transmission at any point in the system will change loads on generators and transmission lines at every other point—often in ways not anticipated or easily controlled . . .
Accounts of the August 2003 blackout in the North East suggest the fragility of the grid, especially when stressed. Yesterday I noted that renewables dominated transmission system holds the potential for disaster, and its reliability cannot be judged without sophisticated multi-demintional modeling tools. Yet renewables advocate, using the slogan, "smart grid," are touting just such a questionable grid expansion. The "Smart Grid" slogan should not be associated with the most urgently needed grid upgrades and improvements, however. Indeed much of the so called "smart grid" investment has nothing to do with the use of electronic management tools in grid management tasks. Rather proposals for the direction of massive amounts of electricity from remote wind and solar facilities to consumers hundreds and even thousands of miles away. The "smart grid" can up the cost of transmission system improvements to as high as two trillion dollars.

Clearly then managing grid upgrade costs will be a significant future tasks for grid modeling tools, whether or not a renewables dominated grid is ever built. Construction of a nuclear dominated grid, while offering a low cost alternative to a renewables dominated grid, still is likely to strain financial, materials, and labor resources for some time to come. Grid improvements must be prioritized, because we may not be capable of doing everything at once. Rather that building many large new transmission projects, a more economical approach to new power construction would use existing grid resources when ever possible, until construction peaks. Some less urgent but still desirable grid improvements should be deferred until the construction of post-carbon generation capacity decreases. Sophisticated modeling tools will help in determining priorities in transmission system improvements.

What we need is not just a smart grid, but smart grid design, that focuses on making intelligent choices about both generation capacity and the electrical transmission system.


donb said...

The so-called "Smart Grid" comes in several flavors. The classic flavor is one where the power system tries to keep the power flowing to as many customers as possible. The intelligence is used to keep the power flow reliable, safe, and economical.

The new flavor is less palatable. It revolves around charging customers more for power when they most need it, like hot summer afternoons (in exchange for cheaper power at 2 AM). The deluxe topping for this version of the "smart grid" has the power company turning off your air conditioning or resetting the thermostat.

The unreliability of power from renewables such as wind and solar plays directly into the "strengths" of the smart grid of the second flavor.

I am sure there are some who are studying the control and pricing power offered by the second flavor smart grid, the "opportunities" to invoke the control and pricing driven by unreliable renewable power sources, and thus ways to benefit themselves financially from the mess that results.

While the much more reliable power from nuclear sources can't eliminate all power shortages (and thus possible financial gamesmanship via the smart grid), it certainly can minimize shortages compared to renewables.

Frank Kandrnal said...

Charles! The common sense you outline in this blog is not going to be accepted by solar/wind proponents because they operate completely outside the boundaries of any common sense, wrapped up in their fantasy dreams.
The massive power grid needed to interconnect scattered unreliable low density power sources will not be built anytime soon.
The only Smart thing that can be made, with the least investment and material use, is to place mass produced medium sized nuclear plants near the places of consumption and utilize existing power grid, with minor grid improvements, to interconnect between adjacent power plants for back up reliability during refueling or other shut down maintenance needs.

Anonymous said...

The smart grid I would like to see is one that delivers power from the generator of choice to the customer, like UPS.

The independent generators would compete on a level playing field with no subsidies and all external costs added including atmospheric waste dumping fees, and therefore would have to use realistic pricing. The solar farm could offer solar power at 45 cents/kWh, the wind farm could offer wind power at 5 cents/kWh, the nuclear plant could offer power at 7 cents/kWh etc.

The grid would add appropriate shipping and handling fees. The fees for kWh's from a distant wind farm on a low capacity factor line would be much higher than for a local fossil or nuclear plant. On peak fees would be higher, especially from distant sources.

Consumers would go on line and purchase whatever type of power they want. Of course when the wind stops blowing or the sun goes down the lights will go out for consumers dependant only on those sources. Consumers who prefer intermittent sources can purchase backup power from conventional plants, but that will be much more expensive. Or they can install a massive battery on their property which they will have to pay for and maintain, and they will have to pay for the additional kWh's lost going in and out of storage.

Bill Hannahan


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