[Paleopsych] Gaming the power grid

Werbos, Dr. Paul J. paul.werbos at verizon.net
Tue Aug 17 01:10:45 UTC 2004

At 04:37 PM 8/16/2004 -0700, Steve wrote:
>I agree that home-power systems are
>a drop in the bucket, but I would suggest
>that many such drops will prove to be
>part of the solution.

No harm with good drops .. but even a lot of them won't solve
the overall crunch.

>The homeowner I wrote about has built
>3 previous homes with passive and active
>solar features.  He says that the first thing
>is insulation.  The house he is building
>in California is insulated to the levels of
>many houses in Minnesota- R30 walls and
>R45 roof.
>The big problem with the large power grids is the
>simple fact that they exist.  The present
>system is set up for the efficient concentration
>of economic power rather than for the
>efficient  distribution of electricity.

I wouldn't go that far... the present configurations are biased,
but it takes energy to build better configurations... and they DO
have an important role to play...

>It would be interesting to have an idea of the
>transmission losses resulting from the current
>long-distance systems and see what could be
>done by breaking them down into smaller zones.

I forget what total losses are... certainly no more than about 7 percent.

BUT ... consider how much more cost-effective (more output, more efficiency)
it is to run a solar thermal plant in the desert than in cloudy Northeast 
US, for example!
That's more than a factor of two! Likewise, for coal plants, it makes more 
economically to run electricity some distance. Those are the big potential 
if we reduce the use of oil and gas in making electricity.

The small sources deserve support, yes, but even a halfway efficient 
overall system has
to include a lot of transmission, to meet anything even half as great as US 

>Among other things we need to revisit the
>notion of "economies of scale" and realize
>that bigger is not always better and certainly
>not cheaper.  Years ago I read that when Con Ed
>built some of their larger units they encountered
>unexpected technical problems that led to large
>cost over-runs.

Economies of scale are VERY technology dependent.
Certainly wind and solar thermal want smaller plants than, say, today's
nuclear plants! But solar farms and wind farms tend to make sense,
simply because of the need to exploit prime locations. Coal
generally wants to be biggish... though someday it would be nice to
have solar thermal plants located near (smaller scale?) coal
processing systems, to inject energy, to allow each carbon atom to
go to a methanol molecule with no CO2 emission. But that's
another future possible technology, not being investigated today, so far as 
I know;
it's way too early to guess what its scaling characteristics are!

But--- intelligent grids and more rational regulation should increase 
incentives for all kinds
of small-scale power generation. Even if I don't think they
will solve so many problems as some folks believe-- I certainly agree we should
give them stronger rational incentives (as part of intelligent grids). And if
opening the market shows they have more potential than I expect, fine..

Best of luck,


>Steve Hovland
>-----Original Message-----
>From:   Werbos, Dr. Paul J. [SMTP:paul.werbos at verizon.net]
>Sent:   Monday, August 16, 2004 2:41 PM
>To:     The new improved paleopsych list; paleopsych at paleopsych. org (E-mail)
>Subject:        Re: [Paleopsych] Gaming the power grid
>Rooftop PVs are nice, but best solar thermal is cheaper and more efficient.
>More important, rooftops are a drop in the bucket.
>The one really serious and urgent energy crisis in the US is the crisis
>of electricity regulation so crazy that we dramatically overuse natural gas
>as a fuel, distorting markets worldwide. Even modest reforms
>have gotten nowhere based on folks in Congress who have said
>"First things first. First MUST come controversial corporate welfare
>(pork for my buddies, either earmarks or tax breaks). And if we DO get that
>well, next year more of the same will come first..."
>But the world oil situation is coming to a head fast. Decisions within the
>next 5 years will
>be decisive, in terms of our ability to avert global catastrophe 20 years
>(Those poor folks who think TODAY'S problems with the Middle East are 
>IF Bush were brave enough to dump Cheney AND Halliburton, and bring on
>McCain with
>a promise to really clean house and get back to what the US and the world
>really needs...
>well... there might be some hope by that route... But I have to admit,
>putting it all together,
>it's my personal judgment right now that the chances of nonextinction would
>definitely be a lot greater
>if we all picked Kerry (f Bush-Cheney is the alternative).
>The present grid, and the modest reforms now before Congress, wouldn't do
>much to
>give the US the kind of "spinning reserve" backups that made the big
>blackouts in France
>and Italy last so much less time than the big one in the US Northeast.
>Expanding spinning
>reserves is just one aspect of "intelligent" (and more rationally
>regulated) power grids,
>and... as you say, critical to getting full value from intermittent
>distributed generation.
>To put it another way... a major barrier to mega-use of stuff like solar
>thermal power is
>the low VALUE (and payment) per kwh of intermittent power today. More
>intelligent grids
>(including better and more use of spinning reserves) would raise that
>value... raise
>what utilities can RATIONALLY pay to intermitted power generators... and
>increase the potential market for much larger-scale renewables.
>By the way... "intelligent grids" are a major official priority of DOE.
>They will tell you
>it's $80 million/year. But IEEE-USA people tell me more than half of that
>is just
>Ronald Reagan's superconductor program, recycled and relabelled.
>(Since current projections are that such wires will cost ten times present
>capability, and we can't even afford simple wires these days, one may question
>the relevance to what I just discussed...) Lots more is pork. They estimate
>$2 million for the actual grid research in FY03, about half or a third of what
>NSF put in. There are some unmet opportunities as it happens... a polite way
>of saying we are sitting down marking time as the flood waters rise...
>Best of luck to us all...
>     Paul
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>paleopsych at paleopsych.org
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