The U.S. Power Grid Can’t Support Its Climate Pledges

Yves here. It’s frustrating to see a post introduce an important observation and then not explain it adequately. But odds are good our very plugged in (pun intended) and grid-savvy readers can fill in the blanks.

Speaking of blanks, yours truly is put off by the “smart [fill in the blank]” lexicon, since it generally entails the application of lots of chips and software with less than commensurate improvements in user experience (and in some cases a reduction since the intent is to facilitate planned obsolescence or impede user/independent repair).

A big question here is how much does a “smart grid” require “smart homes” or at least “smart meters”? If either of the latter, I can’t see this happening any time soon.

By Haley Zaremba, a writer and journalist based in Mexico City. Originally published at OilPrice

  • America’s ailing power grid can’t support the country’s climate pledges.
  • While Texas and California are producing enough renewable energy to share with other regions, surplus clean power is doomed to languish on the grid because of the dated infrastructure.
  • The U.S. desperately needs to invest into creating “smart grids” that are capable of measuring and regulating a constant in- and outflow of energy.

The neglected domestic power grid is standing between the United States and its climate pledges. In many parts of the country, most notably Texas, California, and the Southwest, renewable energy plants are producing enough clean, emissions-free energy to share with other regions – but there’s no way to get it there. Instead, surplus clean energy is doomed to languish on the grid where it was produced instead of being sold to where there is demand. This phenomenon has led to the peculiar outcome of negative energy prices in parts of the country in the midst of a global energy crisis.

It’s been over a year since Oilprice published an article titled “The U.S. Desperately Needs To Modernize Its Power Grid,” and while President Joe Biden’s administration has thrown considerable money and publicity toward the issue, the need is no less desperate today. More than $400 billion have been allocated for clean energy infrastructure and climate initiatives broadly through last year’s infrastructure bill and this month’s Inflation Reduction Act, but a the U.S. needs to spend $360 billion through 2030 and $2.4 trillion by 2050 on energy transmission systems alone in order to keep up with projected renewable energy expansion, according to a Princeton study from December of 2020.

The issue is not just a failure of investment, it’s a failure of vision. That’s according to Jeremy Rifkin, an economist who has advised Democrats and Republicans on power infrastructure, who was interviewed for a recent Bloomberg article on the phenomenon of negative energy prices. Instead of cooperating on a countrywide project to modernize the energy grid and coordinate a smooth clean energy transition, renewable energy projects have been carried out in silos by private enterprises that are not communicating with each other. “The narrative got lost,” Rifkin says. “It’s not about putting in solar and wind, it’s about ‘How do you transform this country?’” He believes that the importance and scale of grid modernization and energy transmission should be something akin to President Dwight Eisenhower’s highways initiative or President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. Instead, the piecemeal approach that has actually taken place has left a lot of stranded clean energy at a time when energy is in remarkably high demand. According to data and analytics company Yes Energy, wholesale energy prices went negative approximately 200 million distinct times across the seven US grids in 2021. That number is set to skyrocket this year as grid bottlenecks for solar and wind power grow even worse in Texas, California, and the Southwest.

On the whole, prices this year fell below zero for 6.8% of the time. In the Southwest’s Southwest Power Pool, prices went negative a whopping 17% of the time for the first seven months of 2021. “Prices aren’t falling below zero often enough to meaningfully dent wholesale power costs,” Bloomberg reports. “But the phenomenon is a warning sign that grids aren’t anywhere near ready for a broad shift to renewable power.” The particularly cruel irony is that regions in desperate need of energy are turning back to coal – the dirtiest fossil fuel – while clean, green energy goes to waste on other parts of the nation’s grid system.

Transmission is not the only issue with the United States’ aging power grid – far from it. Existing grids are designed for one-way energy flow – from a utility to a consumer. But with residential solar panels gaining popularity, more and more energy will be flowing the other way. In order to meet the complex set of demands posed by wide-scale renewable energy adoption, the U.S. will have to invest heavily into creating “smart grids” that are capable of measuring and regulating a constant in- and outflow of energy.

In this regard, the United States is falling far behind some other countries. In China, for example, where creating a sweeping and transformative energy policy is not hindered by Democracy, we’re seeing the introduction of “flexible green electricity grids.” If the U.S. wants to keep up with the Joneses, it’s going to require a far more sweeping, bi-partisian, and expensive endeavor.

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  1. c_heale

    I’m not sure about smart grids. Wouldn’t it be better not to introduce more complexity into an already complex system. I think a better solution would be to allow people/communities to generate their own electricity by solar, wind etc, (with battery or other storage) and have a back up of grid supplied power. Over time this would involve diminishing amounts of electricity being sold by the grid. But I’m not sure this would be accepted by either the power companies or by the current political system.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      One of the paradoxes is that the type of grid you are talking about is actually more complicated than the existing type of grid. Balancing up lots of small producers and users is a lot more complicated than just building a few big thermal plants and connecting everyone up.

      The big issue of course is legacy infrastructure. Nobody would build a grid looking like any countries grid if you started from scratch. Japans weird dual structure (essentially, two parallel grids) is the result of fairly random decisions made by the Osaka power company back in the 1880’s. It takes at least a 20-30 year cycle of investment to make fundamental changes to a grid, and even then you are often stuck with decisions made a century ago.

    2. Peter

      Here is the problem. Theoretical story – Alexander Graham Bell comes to the future, looks around and says ” WOW, it is amazing how much you have advanced my technology, far more than I ever thought. Thomas Edison comes back, looks around, and says – what have you been doing?? You have advanced very little since I left – it is disgraceful.

      A simple way to put it – America has an early 1900’s grid, and Germany has a 2000 grid. The 1900 one is too old and cannot work with new technology. You cannot just add an ammunition magazine to a musket – just too far apart. On the other hand, it will mix and mold far more simply with a german age grid. We have spent far to little on maintenance and now we are going to pain dearly and have to spend FAR mone moany to upgrade.

      1. Anthony G Stegman

        To expand on your comment, something as simple as burying power lines in fire prone areas has become very problematic. Had the lines been buried from the start California might have a few more intact forests.

        In my neighborhood the power lines run through backyards. This is a terrible idea, but someone must have thought that power lines running along the street were unsightly, so the backyard was chosen. There has been a lot of bad planning done over the decades when it came to providing electricity to end users. Nobody is seemingly smart enough to think a few generations ahead.

    3. Charlino

      IMHO, Totally agree. Community evergy independence is the only intelligent solution. Power grids owned by megacorps has always been and will always be a bad idea.

  2. PlutoniumKun

    The US grid has its merits, not least its sheer size and scale, which has protected it from lots of problems associated with changes in generation types and capacity. A long legacy of large scale investments going back to a century can cover over a myriad of problems which smaller and newer grids can’t hide.

    I’ve spoken with many Irish engineers who regularly do a year or so stint in the US, and they all come back with stories that start off with something like ‘why the hell don’t they do X, its not complicated….?’. It seems to me that the core problem of the US grid is a fairly well integrated (if very outdated) physical infrastructure, with a hideously complicated and fragmented regulatory environment which makes sensible upgrades incredibly difficult. As one simple example, a few DC lines connecting California with the mid-west grids could solve an enormous number of problems, not least providing far more capacity for dirt cheap solar, but it is regulatory and political issues that make this almost impossible, not financial or technical problems.

    The good news is that there are increasing numbers of cheaper ‘fixes’ (mostly software, but also a wide range of short term storage tech) which can increase the efficiency of grids without needing huge investments. But obviously the US needs both a lot more national scale DC lines along with a huge upgrade to the normal local network, which is now decades out of date. This will take trillions, not billions. But much of this investment has to take place anyway, whatever the chosen future. The problem comes when its carried out in a haphazard and incremental manner which locks in inappropriate technologies.

    The best thing the US can do is not look to China, but to smaller countries that have struggled for years with the problems of balancing loads as generating types change. China has its own particular problems relating to the dominance of provincial grids over national needs. The power cuts in China last summer were as much to do with regulatory issues as physical constraints in the grid. Somewhat belatedly China has started to centralize grid planning, although they are already having to deal with bad decisions locked in during the past 2-3 decades. That said, I’m pretty sure the Chinese have developed a much more robust grid than the US for the future.

    If the US wants a model, it should look to smaller to mid sized countries, in particular island or isolated nations, which have had to use more detailed and, yes ‘smarter’ grid designs to overcome issues of intermittency and irregularity which will be a major feature of the future as rapid climate shocks causes mass shut downs of thermal or hydro plants. From what I can see from many conversations I’ve had with grid engineers over the years, the US is several decades behind Europe and most of Asia in grid management and design. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – being a late arrival can provide all sorts of advantages in being able to select more mature technology. But it can only do this when the overall regulatory and structural messes are confronted, and from what I can see, this can only be done at the Federal level in the US.

    1. upstater

      The US does have regional grids and many more balancing authorities even within the large eastern and western interconnections. The eastern interconnection has multiple regional reliability planning and operational authorites. While FERC (the federal regulator) and NERC (North American Electricity Reliability Corporation, a non-governmental organization chartered by FERC to actually implement standards) have overall authority, individual states also regulate individual systems within their boundaries. The “regional reliability entities” that sit below NERC are huge players and they all differ and are parochial. Thus, the rules for building new transmission can vary considerably with respect to evaluating need, who gets to build it and rates of return. Crossing state boundaries is a huge issue.

      An example of unnecessary, costly expansion because of regulatory capture by FPL:

      How a Florida Power Project Flew Under the Regulatory Radar
      The state’s biggest utility is building a 176-mile line that may be unsuitable or even unneeded. Its design minimized scrutiny. Critics see a pattern

      (NOTE: Florida “The Sunshine State” has some of the most obnoxious restrictions on residential PV, as do most sunbelt states! Surprise, suprise!)

      This is but one example… Here in NY State, the New York Power Authority is the largest state owned generation and transmission utility in the US. They run massive hydro plants on the Niagara an St Lawrence and pump storage, and a couple thousand miles of high voltage transmission. Yet they are essentially cut out of new generation and transmission development, thanks to FERC and Cuomo’s efforts. New transmission is being built by the usual suspects like Blackstone as expensive toll roads. We have fantastic potential for pump storage along the Niagara escarpment (tens of thousands of acres of abandoned industrial areas) and other areas, yet the last pump storage was commissioned 50 years ago. There is plenty of off-peak hydro and nuclear to fill those reservoirs. But none are on the drawing board. We have enormous PV built on previously productive agricultural land. See the common thread? Pump storage takes years to develop, whereas a solar farm can appear in a couple months.

      The rot is epic in its dimensions. Utilities basically quit capital investing for new capacity between the 80s and 00s, virtually all was replacement. Much of the US was built in the 1940-1970s time period. While maintenence has improved after the 2003 blackout, the culture at the utility and political level is one of “can’t do”. I believe there has not been a major DC line constructed in the US in over 40 years. The building that does take place today is market driven mandated by the independent system operators or their customers (ie the financial sector doing trading) and has little to do with net zero. Compliance to NERC standards is the other major driver.

      In short, PK, the USA!USA! is #1, we don’t need to look at smaller countries or anywhere else. Our elites are experts at everything. Just look!

      The only solution is either public ownership and/or a return to tightly regulated utilities, fixed rates of return and abolish this whole corrupt system of “markets” and “market players”. Electricity is just below water and sewage, necessary for civilization as we know it. Things will obviously have to get much, much worse before the neoliberalism entrenched in the grid can be binned. No region in the US is going to be net zero in my lifetime.

      1. IEL

        I tend to agree. Deregulation was at least notionally intended to reduce prices, but is entirely unsuited to large scale long term planning. DC connections between the Eastern and Western Interconnections might help (though the line losses at that scale would presumably be significant) but there is not currently political appetite for the use of eminent domain needed for that.

        The RTOs / ISOs that run much of the US grid are regional, which has some advantages per the principle of subsidiarity, but trying to coordinate even the states in one region can be difficult, especially if you need unanimous buy in for something like smart meters.

      2. Jeremy Grimm

        Back in the dinosaur days when I took a few classes in economics, before the rise of Neoliberalism, the generation and transmission of electric power was one example of a clear case for a public utility. However, since that time the generation and transmission of electric power has been haphazardly privatized and managed in accord with the inscrutable Pareto optimizations of the Market. Electric power has a complex history reflected in a correspondingly complex structuring of the u.s. Grid as it exists today — its ownership, and the division and assignment of responsibility for its maintenance and expansion. Past efforts at regulating the Grid, so that it might behave a little like a public utility, have fallen prey to capture by big interests that profit from electric power and the Grid. The notion of a Public utility managed in the Public interest relies on government controlled by and responsive to the Public. The u.s. does not have a government controlled by and responsive to the Public — even to the limited extent to which a government of that sort did exist following the Great Depression and World War II. I believe the concerns expressed in this post — whether the present Grid can support u.s. climate pledges — are fantastic concerns considering the Grid’s poor ability at meeting basic electric power needs, at least as judged in terms of its past performance. I would far prefer concern about the most basic reliability of the Grid, little things like maintenance and replacement of end-of-life equipment, or the removal of tree branches and some new policy and practice for protecting lines and equipment from forest fires, maintaining a depth of spares, especially spares for some of the expensive and very long-lead time components of the high power sections of the Grid, perhaps a little “smart” power equipment winterization in places like Texas, or maintaining a sufficient staff of decently paid, trained, equipped, and supported maintenance crews. [I am worried about how well the Grid would hold up under a little solar flare event — actually, I am not sure how real the danger is or whether the Grid could be protected from a solar flare like that of the Carrington Event. Perhaps a little money could be spent adding some protections?]

        I am skeptical that much can be done to effectively repair and improve the Grid given the existing u.s. national, state, and local governments and the existing structure of the electric utility Market. There can be no Public Utility where there is no Society, no Public, no Public Interest, no Common Good, and no Government of, by, and for the People. Each multi-hundred page omnibus bill passed by congress seems to deliver a wealth of plums hidden in its fine print depths and relatively little else.

    2. Louis Fyne

      “…a few DC lines connecting California with the mid-west grids could solve an enormous number of problems…’

      California can’t even build one inter-city rail line with a de facto blank check. Don’t hold your breath re. California infrastructure.

      California residents please chime in, but from the outside, your state looks hopeless for big infrastructure. (The Northeast isn’t any better)

      1. John Wright

        I view the problem as financial as well.

        Where will be the profits that accrue to the builder of the improved grid?

        The last big CA infrastructure project was the California State Water project that
        “History — Since its inception in 1960, the SWP has required the construction of 21 dams and more than 700 miles (1,100 km) of canals, pipelines and tunnels”

        But this had BIG supporters in the Real Estate and Big Ag industries.

        But for an improved grid for California, where are the powerful interest groups that will push for it?

        Only those producing electricity and being unable to sell it at a good price will be interested.

        California has it all, earthquakes, water shortages, wildfires, poor mass transit, long commutes, expensive real estate, and neglected infrastructure.

        And it is a Democratic party controlled state that produces such luminaries as Pelosi, Feinstein, Kamala Harris and Gavin Newsom

        CA looks hopeless in many ways, but it is never uninteresting.

      2. anon in so cal

        Not sure what kind of inter-city rail lines you are thinking of but southern California’s Metrolink, as one example, features inter-city rail lines.

        There is also LA Metro.

        Perhaps you are referring to the infamous “bullet train,” which has been riddled with problems from the start, including initial low-ball bids, corruption (Roy Hill, consultant, awarded $51 Million Contract to Jacobs Engineering (part of Dragados team). Hill had $100,000 in stocks in the firm he chose for the contract.), environmental issues, and logistical impasses.

        “A 2022 business plan released in February estimates that the full, 500-mile high-speed system between Los Angeles and San Francisco will cost as much as $105 billion, up from $100 billion two years ago. In 2008, when voters approved a bond to help build the railroad, the authority estimated that the system would cost $33 billion.”

        Getting the train through the Burbank/LA area would entail massive technological feats and environmental devastation.

        1. Louis Fyne

          the SF to LA train. 100%+ over budget.

          the whole point of the LA-SF train was to ameliorate all the LAX, SFO, I-5 traffic.

          trains won’t reach the Bay area until 2031 at the earliest, 23 years after approval by the legislature in 2008.

          point stands. California can’t do big infrastructure.
          Democrats’ original sin: no concern for good governance and results. (whatabout-ism saying that the GOP is just as bad is not an acceptable answer)

      3. Anthony G Stegman

        With respect to big projects in California a major problem are the opportunities for bribes, kickbacks, and the like. The bigger the project the bigger the skim, and the greater the cost overruns. Very little can be built on time, and on or under budget. Nearly impossible. Too many hands expecting a payoff.

  3. Jack

    France has the most reliable power grid due to its widespread use of nuclear. Delivering electricity over long distances between the source and end user makes it difficult to maintain a stable and reliable flow of electricity. If you look at a map of the location of France’s 58 nuclear reactors they are spread evenly over the entire country. The main problem with the US electrical grid is its age and lack of centralized planning and regulation.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I’d be interested as to where you get the idea that France has the most reliable grid – all available information I’ve seen is that France has the least reliable grid in Europe and by its own admission, its getting worse. France has had to be repeatedly bailed out by neighbouring grids when its had excessive outages in its nuclear power plants, which it has regularly now due to cooling problems in the summer and due to aging plants. France lacks a range of energy options – over reliance on any one power source reduces resiliance.

  4. nippersdad

    One sees dates like 2050 all over the place, but when one tries to synthesize what must happen by then none of it really seems to work. So, here, we are talking about fixing electrical grids for areas that will be uninhabitable. Everyone will be living in shiny new cities, tending their vineyards on the North slope of Alaska, just about the time that the Gulf Stream stops and we have a new ice age which will make real estate in Nicaragua really attractive. Unfortunately, Nicaragua has been sterilized due to the heat, but at least they will have a nice grid waiting for the reverse flow of climate refugees. This is all starting to look a lot like a Chinese fire drill.

    All of which is to say that I am really grateful that there are smarter people out there than I who can work all of this out. I just hope it all happens in time to save something other than just the humans who created this mess. It is hard to believe that there are such things as oil lobbies out there that would be willing to sell out their own planet for a few bucks.

    1. amused_in_sf

      Just have each climate refugee family carry a few kWs of solar (or the equivalent in wind or storage) and a few yards of transmission line with them, and we’ll be fine!

      1. nippersdad

        I think I saw an ad for that on YouTube the other day proposed by “Liberty Strategies”, or something.

        Some of these preppers are totally preoccupied with their Mad Max fantasies to the exclusion of anything else, like, maybe, letting the “socialists” win and actually upgrade our infrastructure. It is not going to be long before we look like Afghanistan ourselves, with herds of goats toting looted solar panels through the dried out remains of Las Vegas subdivisions.

    1. Anthony G Stegman

      Nobody should want high tension electrical wires running through their neighborhoods. They are not only unsightly, but also pose serious health hazards (especially to children).

      1. TimH

        They are not only unsightly, but also pose serious health hazards (especially to children).

        Really? Overhead wires offer higher risk to kiddies?

  5. rrennel

    I share Yves’ skepticism of “smart” solutions, which means we are beholden to the “experts,” many of whom have been busy over the past 20 years redesigning our world to the benefit of wealthy political leaders. In this regard, I would caution skepticism of the expert advice that has perverted our utility regulations to adapt to false “market designs” in “deregulating” prices. It should be obvious to anyone who takes a minute to think of it, but negative pricing cannot occur in real markets.

    1. IEL

      Negative prices occur because renewables get out of market subsidies, so they can be profitable even if the market price is negative.

      Replacing the (state and federal) subsidies with a (federal) carbon price could provide the same incentives without causing negative prices – solar and wind would bid low positive prices and coal would bid high to reflect the cost of the tax.

      1. rrennel

        You are correct. Negative prices are attributable to subsidies; ergo, prices are not determined by the invisible hand of supply and demand. Regarding a carbon tax, I agree it would be a preferable approach to climate change.

    2. Proud Ignoramus

      I have no idea how to interpret your hostility to “experts”.

      Should we instead allow people who have no understanding of power engineering to instead dictate the policies??? Do these people have a modicum of understanding on grid stability and reliability when, for example, a company chooses to bury cable instead of using overhead transmission lines? Or the pros and cons of using zone 3 and zone 4 distance protection system schemes (or, for that matter, wide area monitoring)? Or how to connect different types of generators to a system bus? Or the ramifications of using two small parallel transformer banks compared to one large transformer bank? etc.

      Like politics and professional sports, engineering appears to be one of those areas where every amateur appears to believe that their opinion is just as valid as those of a professional practitioner who spent their lifetime learning their craft.

      1. rrennel

        My hostility to experts is essentially focused on those whose “market design” concepts are intended as a means to overcome market failures and enable market forces to set prices. Let’s be honest and recognize that monopolies require some level of regulation.

  6. amused_in_sf

    Debating the required smartness of the grid seems like a distraction when large scale, long-distance transmission is what will need to get built in any sort of transition to renewables, and which are already overdue (evidenced by the negative pricing the piece documents).

    Localized optimization of demand, storage, pricing, etc. is an area where technology and changing markets mean we don’t really know what the best solution is at this point, but HVDC lines are something that we know we can build today with a policy push and government funding. Besides the threat to existing profit centers, what’s the downside to building a massive interconnection network ASAP?

    1. Anthony G Stegman

      We’ve all seen what an environmental catastrophe the national highway system has caused. Large scale electrical transmission infrastructure will prove to just as damaging. We really ought not go there, what with mass extinctions and collapsing ecosystems already underway.

      There really is no good way to satisfy ever increasing demands for electricity. Each proposed solution comes with it serious downsides. It is best to be highly skeptical when the word “smart” prefaces a proposal or a gadget. There will prove to be little that is smart.

  7. Ignacio

    I will leave here a short reply, very general, and very opinionated, about problems related with power grids and beyond on decarbonization.

    – Rather than “smart grids” adaptation of grids means mainly decentralization and there is resistance to decentralization by large suppliers.
    -The resistance to decentralization starts in wholesale markets which IMO are not as transparent as publicly stated in Western nations. The big players want to keep their market share and want to be the only players in the decarbonization scheme or in investment in renewable energy. It is not very open to new players that might bring better solutions. The auctions are not as transparent as publicly stated and the separation of wholesale and retail markets result almost certainly in less affordability every year for households that have very little if any bargaining power. Large suppliers are able to introduce regulatory changes to their favour.
    -Grids are reactive: they adapt to changes not the other way around. This results in accommodation to existing supplies and more entry difficulties to new operators and game changers.
    -Complex normative with regional peculiarities is, IMO, the result of lobbying of large suppliers depending regionally on their different production schemes.

    Much of what I said comes from my observation of Spanish power markets but I suspect that much of it is shared by US systems.

  8. Anthony G Stegman

    I had the smart meter removed from my home. I did this because the meter was literally 6 feet from where I lay my head down to sleep. I measured the RF fields that pulse from the meter and they were a bit high for my comfort. I think it’s a mistake to rely on so much wireless technology. We’ve all been sold a bill of goods. It’s time to push back.

  9. Dave in Austin

    It is not yet clear if the winner will be building-top solar or large solar arrays on marginal land.

    If the winner is building-top, then two-way local distibution systems will be required. But home systems are a problem because they require custom contracts, installation and maintainance and are placed over roofs that need regular repairs. On the other hand, large open-field arrays will not need two-way systems.

    The issue of long distance bulk movement of electricity using high-voltage DC lines is a different issue both technically and politically. Texas is not in an interstate grid and refuses to join. “Why should we give away our cheap electricity to outsiders?”

  10. solarjay

    The author says 2 times that the grid needs to be smart to be able to measure constant in and outflow of energy.

    This is already happening, it has to. The Grid is 100% balanced at all times, that is what keeps the volts and hz plus other stuff exactly where its supposed to be. Watts generated vs watts of load is extremely well balanced.
    I agree that trying to keep track of millions of small solar systems vs 1000’s of huge systems is much harder. There is just now starting to be a new communication protocol called sun spec which should help to take care of this but most legacy systems don’t have it. Could be added I suppose.

    What is a problem, not mentioned in the article is that as certain areas increase in solar production that were in the past just loads, then yes current can flow backwards to other areas. This isn’t any sort of problem except that many safety devices are not designed to work both ways, and yes some of the meters might not read correctly. They were designed that the flow was always from one direction. This is fixable with different equipment, not a huge deal but it does have to be changed.

    Transmission lines are often 2 directions because of where power is produced vs where its used and daily/seasonally that can change.

    A mention about “smart meters”. There are a number of different types. 1 type just allows cell phone frequency communication so they can get rid of the meter reader. They don’t send the information over the power lines, because it won’t go through all the transformers. Another variant is the IR meter that can be read from 200′ or so via a IR reader. Another type actually has a relay in it so that the utility can turn your power off. And the last variant is where the utility can turn on/off your house loads ( currently is optional some places). What I’m unclear about is I don’t think its through the meter becasue the bandwidth isn’t enough but through the IOT/web based. Not sure I”d count that as a smart meter per say.

    And yes the grid is often not up to the task at hand let alone for the future advanced loads.

  11. Doug Home

    Australia, which started with a ramshackle collection of truly archaic, disjointed and fiecely partisan State controlled grids, might be able to show the US, which appears to be in a very similar position, how to move forward.

    Led by Audrey Zibelman who was formerly New York public utilities commissioner; the local East Coast grid operator, AEMO, battled tirelessly against the powerful Australian fossil fuel lobby and their political hacks to try and get a “smart grid” up and working before the on-rushing tide of renewables, blew it up.

    Alas, Zibelman, doubtlessly worn down by having to deal with drones; was head-hunted by Google but the smart grid project has developed its own momentum and progressed; driven in no small part by Australian Mum’s and Dad’s continued investment into rooftop solar and batteries. (About a third of Australian houses are now “solar”; and the trend shows no sign of changing. Solar – rooftop and utility; now regularly out-produces coal.)

    AEMO have published annual project reports titled “Integrated System Plan” for the last 5 years. The plan has progressed from mere limited upgrading of the tottering pile, in some cases, actually collapsing pile to an integrated plan for a interconnected 100% renewable smart grid resembling the EU’s ENTSOe monster grid but with much better distributed generation, storage, delivery and IT control. Work is now, at last, started and is accelerating – after a decade of wasted opportunities and lost productivity gains.

    Details here:

    The French Agency for Ecological Transition – ADEME – has also published plans for a similar grid design over the last 8 years but France has the dual benefits of having a centralised if occasionally performing bureaucracy and access to a large grid as back-up.

  12. Jeremy Grimm

    The author of this post clearly espouses all the proper Green bona fides, but I cannot get past my suspicion that some Green capitalism also motivates this facile plea for using government support to adapt the Grid for solar and wind power — eliminating “the particularly cruel irony … that regions in desperate need of energy are turning back to coal – the dirtiest fossil fuel – while clean, green energy goes to waste on other parts of the nation’s grid system.” But wait, there’s more — “the U.S. will have to invest heavily into creating “smart grids” that are capable of measuring and regulating a constant in- and outflow of energy.”

    I do not know how much Big Green is working to make things better for our electricity and CO2 future and how much it is working to line the pockets of some very Big Green players. It is possible to do the right things driven by very selfish motives and vice versa, but such thoughts offer cold comfort to my stomach. I guess it is too soon after watching “Planet of the Humans”. I fear the conflicts and tradeoffs between Big Green, Big Oil, Big Coal, and the Power Utility Companies which emitted the verbiage for the energy components of the Inflation Reduction Act seems unlikely to result in an outcome beneficial to the Populace, except as a purely collateral impact.

    Solar energy and Wind power are swell, but their roughly 25-year lifetime and heavy reliance on fossil fuels for obtaining their component materials and the processing of those materials — tends to throw cold water on the Green hoopla and celebrations, and as far as I know they do not lend themselves to recycling either. I suppose they are a little better than grinding forests into Bio-fuel.

  13. Solarjay

    Planet of the humans has been sooo thoroughly debunked as just a pack of lies from the data about solar and wind. There are countless articles and YouTube videos going through the film and showing how badly he lied again and again.
    It’s really sad to see what Moore did and it did a lot of lasting damage to renewables and his reputation for a lot of people.

    If you want to talk about the movies depiction of environmental groups, I agree with a lot of what he says.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      The movie “Planet of the Humans” received a great deal of blowback when it first came out. I did read the criticisms of the film at that time, and I also listened to Michael Moore’s lengthy response. Would you please point out some of the lies about the data from solar and wind that have you so aggrieved? I am not going to hunt through countless articles and YouTube videos trying to make your case when it would be so easy for you to make your own case.

      The movie “Planet of the Humans” very nicely impales environmental groups, the leaders of those groups, and their Corporate allies — using their own words and actions — hence my skepticism about much of the Green movement. The “Green New Deal”, its verbiage and proponents, helped solidify my skepticism about those factions of the Power Elite that I believe are funding and promoting Big Green in pursuit of big profits.

      I also made reference in my comment to the lifetime of solar cells and wind power generators, their reliance on fossil fuels and certain materials which require energy to extract and process. Further, I indicated they do not lend themselves to re-cycling. Is one of these claims among the pack of lies from Planet’s data about solar and wind? If one of these claims is incorrect, please offer some correction. In closing I made a reference to Bio-fuel and recalled in my mind the images from Planet, of clear cuts and huge piles of trees being ground into Bio-fuel. How are those images misleading?

      I have nothing against solar energy or wind power but I am troubled watching Big Green grub for government subsidies to match the subsidies Big Oil has enjoyed for decades. I might be a little more sympathetic were there any remnants of the solar energy companies started in the 1970s and crushed in the 1980’s along with the solar panels Ronald Reagan pulled from the White House roof to celebrate Morning in America. Right now the local agriculture department is concerned about the number of farms that are allowing the installation of fields of solar panels over what had been fields of farmland. I have very mixed feelings about spreading fields of solar panels over farmland.

      A couple of years ago I read up a little on the structure of the Grid and delved into some of the details of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. If I recall correctly, utility companies are private entities variously responsible for maintaining components of the Grid, including electric power delivery from the last mile all the way to portions of the High Power backbone of the Grid. The utility companies are also responsible for maintaining the smooth delivery of electric power in response to changes in the demand and supply of energy — load balancing. As I recall the Energy Policy Act of 2005 compelled utility companies to offer equal access to the Grid to other providers of energy and directed the utility companies to pay the going market rate to those external energy providers for the energy they provided. The external energy providers, which I believe are primarily large Bio-fuel, solar and wind energy farms, had no responsibility for load management or maintenance of the Grid. As a consequence, utility companies found their profits squeezed. Power generation had been a source of profits for utility companies but the Energy Policy Act of 2005 enabled external energy providers to undercut these profits without the costs associated with maintaining the Grid or balancing the loads. The utility companies began saving money by cutting back on maintaining and repairing the Grid, and cut back on maintaining an inventory of spares, and judging from the Inflation Reduction Act, failed to make adequate investments in purchasing members of Congress to counter the investments of their opponents who provide the external energy to the Grid. Admittedly, this is a caricature-cartoon of matters. I would greatly appreciate your insights in how this cartoon differs from what is actually the case.

      After poking through Mark Jacobson’s papers, critiques of those papers and claims, and after poking through Jacobson’s websites and other Big Green websites — where I feel as if watching re-runs or viewing stills from variants of the U-North commercial in the movie Michael Clayton, except that Green energy is the theme — I am very skeptical of the good offices of Big Green and the Big Money proponents I imagine pressing for Big Green. I view the Grid as very fragile and cannot view the IRA as a remedy for that fragility.

  14. Solarjay

    Planet of the humans is based around the statement early on that “solar panels never produce as much energy as they take to make”

    It’s factually 100% wrong, but he really doesn’t have a film without it.

    Here is just one of hundreds of studies and reports that all show about the same amount of time.

    as to recycling there is solar panel recycling.–6aslm7cW1vpvYZ8gAsc0aApqVEALw_wcB

    In Europe it’s much more organized than here.

    And here is one of hundreds of links to a great take down of the movies wrong data.

    FYI the panels on the roof of White House were solar thermal, hot water panels not electric, and also recyclable.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I appreciate your response to my comment. I looked at the sources you pointed to and I watched the video you linked to, twice, and made an effort to take notes from it.

      As to recycling solar panels — I was not unaware of the approach sketched in the link you provided. That is why I stated solar panels “do not lend themselves to re-cycling”. A lot depends on what one means by re-cycling, and how far the term might be stretched. Solar panels can be recycled in very much the same way old electronics is recycled — but to call that recycling seems a bit of a stretch to me.

      [In theory the LED light bulbs that replaced my incandescent bulbs should last a very long time, longer than the life my LED light bulbs enjoy. But that is also true of the incandescent bulbs I used before. I believe that in theory the silicon solar cells in solar panels should last a very long time, much longer than the lifetime that solar panels can boast. Am I being overly cynical if I wonder whether solar panels are designed to incorporate planned obsolescence.]

      That the solar panels installed on the White House were solar thermal, hot water panels not electric seems immaterial to my intimation that the u.s. fed its nascent solar energy industries from the 1970s to the wolves. Those solar thermal panels work very well to heat water, although unless you carefully time when you take a shower it is still necessary to keep a standard u.s. hot water heater hooked up to the Grid or to natural gas. During the Carter years that application of solar energy was low hanging fruit, and I suspect it still is. Solar thermal can be constructed with far less up front investment than that required for producing silicon solar cells. But while interesting, all this is beside point of my comment — which is that the u.s. produces little and few of the key components that go into making a solar panel installation. I should state my argument more plainly: subsidies for Big Green will subsidize production and production jobs somewhere else, not here. Subsidies might line the pockets of Big Green, which might claim nominal presence in the u.s., and might provide some employment in u.s. sales, warehousing, trucking, and installation but is that what the Green New Deal is supposed to be about?

      Regarding the web video — As I said, I will have to watch Planet yet again, which is not a problem since I purchased the DVD when it first became available. Rebuttal to the fourteen claims I counted in the web video you pointed to will run this comment to unhappy length — I will pick and choose from the full set of claims. You suggest that Planet is based around the claim that “solar panels never produce as much energy as they take to make”. I will have to watch Planet again more carefully to pick up on that claim. I really did not pick up on that, but after trying, unsuccessfully, to fathom too many efforts by battling accountants in numerous different circumstances, I tend to dismiss both the truth and falsity of such claims. The solar festival near the beginning of Planet, like many of the other scenes in Planet, made the point to me that the leaders of environmental groups and the other Green proponents shown in Planet seem to have little reluctance at telling lies. Considering the solar festival — it does not matter that later versions of the solar festival were able to back up their claim of relying on solar power. What matters to me is that the claim was made when it was evidently quite false. That for me, was the basis and main claim made in Planet. Noble lies undermine my trust. The many today-versus-then comparisons and suggestions of deliberate antiquity of the Planet’s documentary footage do little to repair my trust of Big Green and the many nobly striving Baby Green efforts.

      I am going to skip over some of the other critiques posed in the web video, and focus instead on some of the claims and references made in those critiques: carbon capture, life-cycle analysis, Tesla, Apple, Google Green wash involving power purchase agreements, and offsets, initially solar and wind were intended to increase power production rather than reduce carbon emissions. After losing my trust, do Big and Baby Green expect me to accept these claims about solar and wind energy repeated in the web video on their face? The power purchase agreements and offsets accounting only remind me of renewable Bio-Fuel, and they rise my concerns about the fragility of the Grid and what I believe is a tendency for the push for solar and wind to place cost burdens on utility companies in the u.s. while squeezing utility profits. I am no fan of utility companies but as far as I know they are responsible for balancing Grid power, and maintaining and repairing the Grid.

      The web video’s last two critiques of Planet impress me as cheap shots. The critique of Planet’s claim that there are too many people quickly dragged in strong suggestions of Planet’s racism. To me, Planet’s claim that there are too many people is obvious given even the briefest considerations of the direction of Climate Chaos and its impacts on food, water, and habitable regions of the Earth. The critique’s observation about consumption and the great disparity between that in the relatively wealthy u.s. and the less wealthy regions of Africa or India, combined with the unstated disparities between rich and poor in the u.s. and places like Africa or India, and the suggestion — if only there were some redistribution of wealth — if only the u.s. had the same diet as India … This line of argument seems immaterial to whether there too many people for the Earth to support in the future. It does suggest further alarming instabilities for the future. However, I am not sure what too many people has to do with what I have identified as Planet’s main theme of Big and Baby Green mendacity.

      The critique that Planet offers no proposals for how to make things better is an old red-herring often tossed out whenever there is criticism of a status quo. There is no compulsion that criticism must include proposals for how to make things better.

  15. Solarjay

    Solar panels have a rated warranty for most of 80% rated output at 25 years.
    Here is the Trina one

    Will they go longer? Maybe, maybe not. Regardless they have paid their energy to make in 1-3 yrs. From an economics point, newer panels are more efficient meaning more watts per acre, creating a greater ROI. It also depends what kind of installation ones talking about.
    For roof top, most roofs have at best a 25 year lifespan, and removing and reinstalling old panels is not usually done as they are so near the end of their life snd the cost to install when your already removing them is cost efficient
    Industrial/Utility scale have different economics. For them, replacement ( called repowering) with larger wattage panels can yield much better returns.

    I work with 24-35 year old panels and some produce about what they did when new, others don’t work.
    So like everything they have a functional life span, which is where recycling the silicon and aluminum come in.

    Plus In 25 years what will solar panels be like? How much more efficient will they be? Will they have aluminum frames or go frameless. Will it be crystalline silicon or thin film or something new?

    The reason I’m going on about the 25 year warranty etc is your comment about planned obsolescence, what device can you point to that has a 25 warranty to 80% of its original output with no maintenance, zero?

    You’ll have to explain with links why you believe that renewables make the grid less stable? Currently a main argument against renewables is that they have to be backed up with dispatchable power( gas,coal) which throws cold water on that idea. Unless one feels that somehow that solar/wind power isn’t as good ( clean wave form etc) as gas,coal,nuclear,hydro?

    If you’ve read my posts, I don’t think renewables alone will do it. I am strongly for nuclear. Because I’m more afraid of climate change than finding a safe place to put the really small amount of high level waste.

    1. Jeremy Grimm

      “…what device can you point to that has a 25-year warranty to 80% of its original output with no maintenance, zero?”
      Answer: I am speculating that the silicon solar cells in a solar panel last longer. I am also speculating that the design of solar panels, like the design of so many other modern devices, does not foster their ease of repair, and recycling. I am also speculating that like so many other modern devices, solar panels incorporate planned obsolescence into their design. I am speculating that a 25-year lifetime seems suspicious considering the lifetime of most roofs. I am speculating that solar panels designed for direct current, local applications should last longer than 25-years.
      “…explain with links why you believe that renewables make the grid less stable…”
      I object to the way you made an equivalence between solar panels and wind power generators and “renewables”. The Green Movement badly tarnished the coinage “renewables” with their Bio-Fuel boondoggles. Although “renewable” has been appropriated as a quality of the devices tapping into truly ‘renewable’ sources of energy [not that I believe it will be possible to renew the Sun when it runs out of light weight elements to fuse] I object to this usage as misleading. Energy from the sun might be called “renewable” with some torment to the meaning of the word renew — “To make new or as if new again; restore.”, but solar panels hardly seem renewable to me. Old solar panels are “recycled” by tearing them apart and grinding up glass and substrate to in theory extract some fraction of the component elements from the grind sand. I have trouble thinking of this as in any way serving to renew solar panels.

      I do not have to explain with links why I believe that what I perceive as a move by a Big Green lobby to push solar panels and wind power generators onto the Grid, makes the Grid less stable. I thought I already explained why in my earlier comment and couched that explanation in my possibly faulty recall and understanding of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. My understanding of the ownership patterns of the components of the Grid, the assignment of responsibilities and costs, and the areas of profit is that privately owned utility companies are responsible for maintaining the Grid and balancing power on the Grid, and energy generation is one of their profit centers. The u.s. energy policy compels utility companies to give solar panels and wind generators access to the Grid and compels the utility companies to pay for the energy solar panels and wind generators provide at market rates. To the best of my knowledge the owners of the solar panels are not responsible for balancing the power they provide to the Grid. It appears to me that some Big Green faction of the Power Elite have crafted Federal law to their advantage to enable solar panel farms and wind power farms to cut into the profits of the utility companies while keeping the costs for maintaining and balancing the Grid onto the electric utility companies. The small providers of rooftop solar installations benefit from the actions of Big Green and make a nice poster child. Please correct me where I am mistaken. The electric utility companies were already cutting back on maintaining the Grid to boost their profits — hence my concern that Big Green proponents including firms building solar panel farms to provide solar power to the Grid contribute to furthering the fragility of the Grid.

      I do read your comments, and to the best I recall I have never suggested that you believe renewables alone will do. I am strongly opposed to nuclear and very fearful of Climate Chaos combined with the seemingly concurrent exhaustion of fossil fuel and mineral resources. [Note: I do not mean to suggest that fossil fuels or mineral resources will run out. I intend the more nuanced notion that they are reaching or have reached their peak as elaborated in Hubbert’s paper.] In theory, the energy provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act are intended to promote implementation of improvements to the Grid to enable the Grid to support u.s. climate pledges — which brings me back to my suspicion that Big Green’s fingerprints are all over the IRA and my suspicion that Big Green is not working to make things better for our electricity and CO2 future but working to line the pockets of some very Big Green players.

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