Sunday, December 8, 2013

Smart Grids, Dumb Grids, and the Dullards Behind HVDC

“Does anybody know what a smartgrid is anyway?

Snicker. Snicker.

“What we need is a whole lot more dumb grids.” - Michael Skelly 2009

Really? That’s spoken like an idiot pushing an agenda for idea of HVDC transmission for wind energy.  The entire idea of smart meters and a “smart grid” is based on the idea Regional Transmission Organizations, like MISO and PJM, plus energy generators can be more responsive to consumers’ changes in energy consumption.  The quicker MISO and generators can react to shifts in energy demands, the less overhead for extra unneeded energy generation is needed.

I’m and not an expert on energy transmission, but I don’t think Michael Skelly at Clean Line Energy is either. 

If smart meters can communicate consumption with energy retailers, generators and RTO's  more quickly, a more efficient overall system will be operated.   If smart meters lower the amount of excess energy produced to meet the demand, we could all save money.  If the generators can produce less and run with tighter overhead that goes unused because they have more information quicker, they will save money and ultimately we as consumers can save money.

How will consumers save?  Wouldn’t the profit be pocketed by the generators?

In open and less regulated markets, generators are competing to sell energy.  If Exelon, for example, has a better understanding of the data from smart meters, that overhead can be cut and they can sell nuclear energy at a lower price. 

So why does Skelly and the wind industry want more of a “dumb grid”?

Perhaps wind generation doesn’t care to compete in the open market and often times they are more concerned about the Production Tax Credit subsidy and 20 year Power Purchasing Agreements at higher prices than the market price.

In many sense the wind energy industry is “the tail that wags the dog”.  They produce what they produce.  They are the first at the table and get top priority and it’s up to the RTO’s and the rest of the industry to figure out how much wind companies will produce and how much additional generation is required.

MISO has a computer program called PROMOD that is supposedly used to help them guesstimate tomorrow’s energy supply and demand.  I can't image how hard this is attempting to figure out both ends of the equation with the changes in demands from consumers and the changes in supply from the weather.  They attempt to take into account everything from what day of the week it is Sunday versus Monday) and what is the foretasted weather tomorrow in Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana (where and how much is the wind going to blow).

Weather forecasting has got to be a bigger industry than the 10:00 news.  From grain marketing to energy generation, there is a lot of money riding on weather forecasts.

From there, MISO attempts to determine who much energy is needed to fill the middle, after wind generation and before ratepayer consumption.  All this time wind energy is living in an alternate universe and doesn’t really care what the wholesale price is.  The wind industry is getting paid a premium based on the 20 year Power Purchasing Agreements. 

Ironically, as the “smart grid” is getting smarter on the consumer end and wind energy is making the grid dumber on the generation end.  It doesn't take and electrical engineer to understand Michael Skelly and Clean Line Energy with their HVDC powerlines want to build a transmission system that will decrease operational efficiency of the grid for the wind industry while ComEd customers in Illinois are spending over well over $300,000,000 to upgrade to smart meters. 

What the heck are we spending so much to update to smart meters when the wind industry is making it equally as hard to predict the convergence of supply and demand?

Seems to me that the wind industry needs to start living in the same reality as the others in the energy generation industry.  I have to ask,who is really the inefficient energy producer, coal generation who can’t slow down and speed up the generation according to demand but needs to run at a constant operating capacity or wind generation who can’t slow down or speed up and generates at whatever level the wind blows?  

If you listen to Michael Skelly talk, he makes it sound like coal and nuclear are the inefficient dinosaur because they cannot adapt to changes in demand, but wind cannot supply a consistent supply. Wind is creating the problem coal and nuclear find it difficult to adapt to.

So if RICL will supply up to 3,500 megawatts of energy and the wind doesn’t blow tomorrow, are we as consumers going to have to pay more for the energy to make up the difference from the instability of Iowa wind?  Won't this make more spikes in energy prices as the industry attempts to react to wind energy's inability to meet demand?

 Wouldn’t we be better to pay for a consistent reliably supply?

I have a real hard time with the argument that coal or nuclear energy is inefficient because the cannot adapt when it's wind energy that creates market instability.

So what happens when the wind doesn’t blow in Iowa?

Here’s what Steve Holliday, the CEO of National Grid said on 2011 about that same subject in Great Britain.  What happens when the wind doesn’t blow?  This is the same National Grid that has invested 40 million into Clean Line Energy (the more silent partner).

“Families will have to get used to only using power when it was available, rather than constantly.”

“As a society, we all need to be clear about what we can and cannot afford”

Who really will benefit from the Rock Island Clean Line, consumers or Clean Line Energy investors?
Or, as Michael Skelly says in this video at Harvard (37 minute and 30 second mark)

“So ahh, people who try to tackle something like that are really smart or really dumb.”

I’d say Michael Skelly’s idea of HVDC powerlines for the wind industry falls under the “really dumb” category.  As consumers, I think we'd be much better off investing in smart meters, a more efficient grid, and a consistent and reliable energy source and reduce the overhead of unnecessary energy generation.

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