Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Earl Killian and the Texas Grid

Earl Killian, a chronic renewables advocate, and anti-nuk fanatic, complained yesterday in a Climate Progress comment about the autonomy of the Texas grid.  For those of you who don't know, the Texas grid, managed by the Electricity  Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT),  is not hooked up to the rest of the country.   ERCOR was set up during World War II, to insure that Gulf Cost refineries and other industries had enough electrical power.  There was enough electrical generation capacity in Texas to insure that this was the case.  ERCOT has been well managed, and has worked well for Texas, which has significant electrical needs, especially in the summer, that are not well matched to other parts of the country.

Killian, however, thinks that it is an "issue" that the Texas grid is not connected to the rest of the country, because, "[t]hat makes it difficult for it to export its wind energy, or to import other renewable energy from other states."

I responded to Killian:
Earl you should ask T. Boone Pickens to pay you for your support. The Texas grid is stable, and Texas has enough peak generating capacity to take care of needs. Wh have not had system wide blackouts, or rolling blackouts, so interconnection with the rest of the country would not make our system reliability. Texas utilities are beginning to replace fossil fuel technology with reliable nuclear plants.

Texas wind generators tend to produce power when it is not needed, and not produce it when it is needed.. Wind speed drops all over Texas, during the summer. During summer days it drop even more. The Texas wind capacity factor during the summer is under 17%,, but at mid day during July and August is is significantly lower. Mid-day is when people start turning on their air-conditioners. In Texas the unreliability of wind generated electricity is used to argue the case of who want to keep fossil fuel plants running for a long time to come. The wind generation people are in cahoots with the coal interests.

Interconnection would not then benefit Texas rate payers. It would be in the interest of wealthy investors like oil man T. Boone Pickens, who would love to be able to export his unneeded wind generated electricity out of state on connections paid for by Texas rate payers. Let Pickens pay for the wires he uses to export electricity, not me.

Killian's optimism concerning the future of renewables may not be entirely realistic. Renewables are at present a very limited and expensive stopgap solution to the control of CO2 emissions. Solar electrical generation provides power on average five and a half hours a day. Wind power, even in Texas, offers limited and irregular power production, and is least productive, during typical periods of peak electrical demand. Thus renewables can never be more than a fully replace fossil fuel generating capacity.

In other to stop producing CO2 during the generation of electricity, we must replace fossil fueled plants with nuclear generators.

In addition, the price of basic construction materials including steel, concrete and copper is rising rapidly. The use per MW of generating capacity by renewables of these materials is far more intensive than the use in the construction of nuclear facilities. Thus the future costs of increasing renewable generation facilities is likely to rise more quickly than the future cost of building nuclear facilities. This problem is compounded by the lower capacity factor of renewables, which necessitates the installation of up to 5 times the generation capacity of a nuclear plant in order to equal its output.

bigTom, I am far less optimistic about renewables than I was two years ago. Even without energy storage, building renewable generating facilities is going to be at least as expensive as nuclear plants, while the facilities will produce between 25% and 45% of electricity of that the nuclear plant will. The most significant cost of solar power in not the price of PV modules, it is the cost of installation.

A PV facility, recently completed in Spain officially cost130 million euros, but unofficial cost estimates places the cost closer to a quarter billion Euros with cost over runs. 400 workers worked for 11 months to build the facility, which is officially rated at 20MWs. In fact the facility can be expected to produce 4MWh per day, on the basis of the power output of other PV facilities in southern Spain. Hence the capitol cost of PV facilities can be expected to run as high as $18.5 billion per name plate GW, with capacity factors running around 20%.

TVA has recently stated that it expects to pay no more than $3 billion each for its first two new 1 GW+ AP-1000 reactors. Even taking the most pessimistic estimates of $8 billion per GW costs with reactors, the cost of nuclear power seems positively bargain basement compared to the cost of PV installations. If we look at the cost by capacity factor, rather than name plate power, wind is also far more expensive than nuclear power.

The world's largest PV installation will typically generate as much electricity as much electricity in a year as an AP-1000 can generated in a day.

The advocates of renewable energy need to take a long hard look at cost and performance in the real world.


DW said...

Charles, excellent response, as usual. I hope this is sent to who ever published his report.

I should point out that while there is a "Texas Grid" is is one more of jurisdiction than of physical separation. There are 3 main "grids" in the US: the West, the East and Texas. They are ALL connected. The difference between "connected" and "integration" is that for it to be integrated...there would be a separate grid, just, willy nilly, connections across state lines as the grids were build, like between Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi.

But in there are, according to national grid maps I've seen, inter-ties between the West and Eastern grids in 3 places. These are DC connections, and ergo they are not 'synched' to each other. power can, and does, flow in both directions, for grid stability in case of emergencies.

It is true that it's not likely that merchant wind plants could wheel power to, say, Indiana this way. Texas is separate for such purposes but the state is not an island, as much as many Texas nationalists would like to think it is:)

The other, bigger question, is the national plan to overlay the existing grid with advanced Extra High Voltage (756kv) DC lines, the first part of which is being build from eastern Virginia to Indiana. This is a new grid that "overlays" and cuts across existing high voltage grids (500/350kv AC lines) to wheel large amounts of power hundreds and even thousands of miles with less than 1% line loss.

How Texas will fit into this the article from power magazine didn't explain.

David Walters

Anonymous said...

You know, I am getting really tired of the claim that building wind driven electricity complexes will mitigate the global weather change process. This is sheer nonsense. Nobody has a clue about what to do concerning future weather. People who claim that they can control the future weather are either liars or fools, or both. It could very well happen that reducing the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere at this point will make things hotter rather than cooler. It could also be the case that we will overshoot the carbon dioxide reduction target and send ourselves into the deep freeze. No one knows. Yet all sorts of idiots want to rush at full speed into these uncharted waters. Madness, sheer madness. What we should do is proceed cautiously, improve our public health statistics as we go, and be creative. On the creativity front we should be looking for ways to make our cities and systems weatherproof. That rules out wind driven electicity.

Anonymous said...

Hey Charles, check this out:

Loss of wind causes Texas power grid emergency


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