Are we going off-grid, or building a super-grid?
Will that grid be baseload and reliable and give us power when we really need it, or only trickles that can hardly meet the real demand?
- OFF GRID or SUPER-GRID?
a/ We’re all going off grid, and magical storage devices are going to back up wind and solar on our own houses or industrial estates or offices in town. Renewables advocates like Paul Gilding, one of Australia’s biggest sustainability experts, celebrates the ‘death spiral’ of utilities and how they’re going to be stranded with all these inconvenient expensive assets. He says: “The utility death spiral is a great example of system complexity that is simple to understand. Solar energy costs have plummeted – so far that in most places you can get electricity cheaper from your own solar panels than you can from a utility. The impact on the grid of people doing so at scale is to lower the overall cost of electricity generation by reducing both peak demand (and so peak pricing) and lowering volume. Utilities are then stuck with expensive physical assets, less sales and lower margins, so they need to increase either the cost per unit of power or impose grid connection charges to customers. But doing either gives customers more motivation to leave the utility – thus the death spiral.”
He is celebrating people going off-line and threatening the economic viability of the grid.
- SUPER-GRID: We’re all going ONTO a continent-wide super-grid, and it’s going to cost billions in its own right because it is necessary to get the distant wind and solar to where the consumers are, and if we build it big enough it might even help tackle that other great problem with wind and solar, it being fundamentally intermittent and unreliable. Desertec assumes that EUrope are going to build a continent spanning super-grid all the way down through the Middle East into North Africa. (EU-ME-NA, Eumena).
“Key FindingsDesert Power 2050demonstrates that the abundance of sun and wind in the EUMENA region will enable the creation of a joint power network that will entail more than 90 percent renewables. According to the study such a joint power network involving North Africa, the Middle East and Europe (EUMENA) offers clear benefits to all involved. The nations of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) could meet their expanding needs for power with renewable energy, while developing an export industry from their excess power with could reach an annual volume worth more than 60 billion euros, according to the study results. By importing up to 20 percent of its power from the deserts, Europe could save up to 30 euros for each megawatt hour of desert power.
The north and south would become the powerhouses of this joint network, supported by wind and hydropower in Scandinavia, as well as wind and solar energy in the MENA region. Supply and demand would complement one other – both regionally and seasonally – according to the findings of Desert Power 2050. With its constant supply of wind and solar energy throughout the year, the MENA region can cover Europe’s energy needs without the latter having to build costly excess capacities. A further benefit of the power network is the enhanced security of supply to all nations concerned. A renewables based network would lead to mutual reliance among the countries involved, complemented by inexpensive imports from the south and the north.”
This is just one example. Australia’s going to be part of an Asian super-grid.
Even University of Melbourne think tank Beyond Zero Emissions recommends an Australia-wide supergrid.
So which is it? Paul Gilding’s death spiral, or the Pan-Asian-Australian super grid? Are these people even speaking to each other? What’s the plan?
2. BASELOAD RELIABLE ELECTRICITY, OR JUST IN TIME ELECTRICITY?
The American NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) assures us that if we just charged all our cars at *night* on overnight *spare capacity*, we could charge half of American driving without building a new power plant or upgrading the grid at all!
But hang on. This is the same NREL that pushes Amory Lovin’s studies that claim we don’t *need* reliable baseload power overnight. He understands that solar and wind work mostly during the day, and that there are challenges moving from a power supply that is baseload and reliable (or mostly ON) to intermittent and unreliable (or mostly OFF!) Amory says there will be no baseload power. With all his efficiency measures, we’ll only need a trickle of power at night. He doesn’t understand that baseload power *is* a massive efficiency measure because it lets you charge half your electric car fleet at night, on the existing grid transmissions lines and generators. But no. Forget charging half the fleet on spare night-time capacity. That’s gone! Amory is relying on intermittent solar and wind power to run a tiny fraction of the grid at night, and power everything during the day.
So how are we going to charge our cars during the day? If today’s baseload grid’s *huge* night time spare capacity could only have charged half the fleet, then what about during the day when the grid is already struggling to meet demand? How many times are we going to build out the grid again? How are we going to charge all those EV’s? Are we going to double the grid? Triple it? No. Amory Lovins pretends we’re going to roughly *halve* daytime capacity!
To which I say, pull the other one!
So what is it NREL? Baseload reliable night time power charging our EV’s, or only a tiny trickle, and the day time grid being beefed up to some kind of hyper-industrial super-grid? How much is *that* going to cost? Talk about magical *and* contradictory thinking! This kind of wishful thinking is just not good enough for deep sustainability. I haven’t even talked about the costs of building out the so-called smart-grid either. It’s not just a super-grid, it’s a super-sized super-smart super-grid! Or we could end these silly debates, and just plug nuclear power into today’s sized dumb grids and clean up our energy in about 11 years, as France did.
As Dr James Hansen said:
“Can renewable energies provide all of society’s energy needs in the foreseeable future? It is conceivable in a few places, such as New Zealand and Norway. But suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.”