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On A Look at Wind and Solar, Part 2: Is There An Upper Limit To Variable Renewables?

Hi Torrey,

Yes if nuclear plants operate at a lower capacity factor, that certainly impacts the economics of these plants, just like curtailment does for wind and solar. But that's how the markets will work. If you have a competitor that produces at lower marginal cost, you'll need to ramp down when you're power is not needed. That's fine in principle. It may mean some baseload plants can no longer recover their costs and will have to exit the market until equilibrium returns. If those plants are nuclear plants the net CO2 impact could be bad and we may want to avoid that for climate reasons with some explicit subsidy, similar to subsidy needed to push wind/solar to ever higher shares. If those plants are coal plants, then good news for CO2. As long as system reliability can be maintained, that's what we want. Hope that clarifies.

Jesse

May 29, 2015    View Comment    

On President Obama Approves Drilling in the Arctic: Should We Be Outraged?

Just to clarify, when I say "focus on the demand side" I mean demand for fossil fuels. That includes (principally IMO), developing substitutes for fossil fuels -- aka alternative supplies of clean, affordable energy. 

As I said, the supply side is not irrelevant, for many of the reasons you outline. But it is a losing strategy to try to constrain off enough supply to limit CO2 emissions. In the absence of substitutes, demand for fossil fuels is too substantial, and you can't halt enough fossil fuel extraction with this kind of action. Activists just don't have anywhere near enough leverage—Venezuala or Iran or Russia don't care much about what U.S. climate activists do for example. That's why I say the supply side is relevant, but will remain secondary to ensuring fossil fuels become obsolete.

Jesse

May 14, 2015    View Comment    

On President Obama Approves Drilling in the Arctic: Should We Be Outraged?

Busted! Can't pull one over on you Arthur ;-)

I think same principles apply to gas. I just think gas is much less of a priority concern on both climate and environmental metrics. But if you're drilling for both oil and associated gas in the Arctic, all the same risks as I discuss apply. And yes, I think royalties from any gas developed on public lands/waters should be dedicated to clean energy investment as well. 

Jesse

May 14, 2015    View Comment    

On Why Ecomodernists Should Embrace Wind Power

Actually Nathan, this was exactly the kind of reply I was looking for. I guess my rephrasing worked better than you give me credit for! ;-)

In all seriousness, this kind of careful thinking about portfolios and pathways to deep decarbonization is the conversation to have. I think you've presented some great hypotheses here. I'm actively involved in research testing several of these pathways using power systems modeling approaches at MIT, and I think you present valid hypotheses. They aren't yet proven, but are credible (and not too different from my own).

I personally hypothesize that we could see a somewhat higher share of renewables and nuclear together, if (a) renewable costs are lower than nuclear and (b) nuclear can operate as flexibly as most modern reactors are designed for (and/or c, we have some additional sources of zero-carbon system flexibility, such as storage, demand response, or power sinks like power to gas). In that case, wind and solar will penetrate until they have destroyed their own economic case (i.e. the marginal cost equals the margina revenue of adding additional units of wind) through price supression and possibly curtailment. Then nuclear will fill the rest of the low-carbon energy needed. But I think in this case we will see larger shares of renewables than you hypothesize (more like wind and solar shares close to their capacity factors, so in the Texas system I'm modeling, about 30% wind and 18% solar).

If nuclear is cheaper from the outset, then wind and solar penetration would be marginal, unless nuclear penetration is constrained by non-economic factors (i.e. political opposition). 

Stay tuned for some more concrete findings soon...

In the meantime, THIS is the conversation we should be having in my strong opinion. Thanks for the comments.

Jesse

April 22, 2015    View Comment    

On Why Ecomodernists Should Embrace Wind Power

This is exactly right Bruce, and exactly the point I was trying to make in the article:

'The burden of proof for this argument goes far beyond the claim of "nuclear is preferable to a portfolio of renewable energy" ... it requires "nuclear alone, with existing hydro and possibly some solar PV, will certainly be enough for a worldwide transition from fossil fuels".'

April 20, 2015    View Comment    

On Why Ecomodernists Should Embrace Wind Power

Dear readers,

Thanks for the many comments and serious discussion here. 

I do want to note however that much of the discussion here still seems to be premised around the idea that we must decide which technology is superior to all others. Nuclear is better because... No, wind and solar are better because... etc. This largely misses the point, or at least my point (there are other points to raise I realize).

Unless you believe that our global energy mix can or will be fueled entirely by one technology, arguing ad nauseum about which source of energy is superior is a quite tiresome exercise. If you do believe that, then good on you. I don't think we have much more to chat about however. Your views I'm sure have now been clearly stated for all to read. Let's move along.

If, however, you acknowledge that no single technology will fuel our energy system, the question then becomes: what portfolio of energy technologies is preferable? That was the conversation this article meant to elicit. Let's try to keep things on that topic.

In other words, there may well be good reasons to exclude wind from your preferred portfolio. But arguing that wind is inferior to nuclear is not one of them (unless you firmly believe that nuclear can and will be our sole source of energy globally).

And remember that I write all of this as a supporter of an expanded and significant role for nuclear energy in our global energy system...

Cheers,

Jesse

April 20, 2015    View Comment    

On Why Ecomodernists Should Embrace Wind Power

Thanks Adam.

April 16, 2015    View Comment    

On Why Ecomodernists Should Embrace Wind Power

Thanks Adam. Where did I 'diss' wave, tidal or current energy? Sorry that was not my intent. I've not seen much evidence that they will really scale to a multi-TW level, so I consider them of secondary importance to wind and solar and nuclear personally. Perhaps I need to update my views on that question, but that was were my earlier research led me on wave and in particular tidal power.

April 16, 2015    View Comment    

On #EnergyChat Webinar: The Utility of the Future

Our always-sharp audience asked a ton of great questions during our live webinar. Unfortunately we couldn't answer all of them during the discussion, so I'm hoping to keep the #EnergyChat going by publishing some of the questions here. Please chime in, answer yourselves, and discuss in the comments!  On electricity demand, efficiency, active demand management, and demand response:
  • How much of the recent flattening of electricity demand is caused by natural gas heating and appliance marketing and shifting from electricity to gas? Why don't electric utilities work harder to market their excellent product?
  • What happens to business models built on alleviating high demand charges when peak prices are pushed down by sufficient capacity
  • Shouldn't energy efficiency programs be taken away from investor owned utilities since achieving deep energy efficiency is a conflict of interest?
  • Who will a customer call if the computer program controlling their appliances in the future crashes or is hacked?
  • As realtime data and ADR  (active demand response) becomes the norm, how do we keep automated "trading" from causing grid crashes like the financial trading markets experienced when automated trading emerged?
On electric vehicles:
  • Why would an electric car owner want to use up her limited number of charge-discharge cycles by putting power back onto the grid?
  • What is the future of smart charging of electic cars so that EVs are charged or discharged to the grid to balance demand?
On smart grid and smart metering:
  • How big of a hindrance is public grid 'literacy' to the expansion of smart meter/smart grid technologies?
On new business models for utilities and distributed energy resources:
  • Assuming investor owned utilities are allowed to recover the fixed cost of transmission and distribution, is community choice aggregation a better model for creating free market solutions related to technology implementation and integration?
  • Are you discerning particular trends around community energy? For example, where is the biggest growth in community energy being seen - not individuals or commercial outfits - but communities taking ownership as a collective bargaining/ procurement and shared ownership proposition?
  • What spaces are being created or closed for community owned or controlled generation, distribution with these new utility models?
  • What role do you think 'transactive energy' business models will play in driving this transition?
  • Can you conceive of an end to electric utility monopolies?
On microgrids, net zero energy buildings, and other new grid technology:
  • If a group of utility customers wanted to band together to form a microgrid, what options do they have for the microgrid distribution (the wires)? Would they typically buy the wires away from the utility, set up a new set of wires, or something else?
  • What role does the panel see for net-zero energy buildings, direct current inside the envelope and DC microgrids as a model, playing as the basis for re-architecting the existing grid?
On batteries and energy storage:
  • How much energy is lost in the charge-discharge cycle for Lithium-ion batteries?
  • How can storage be incorporated into a rooftop solar grid tied system when in the past, anyway, utilities wouldn't allow it because of surge issues?
  • How did you value in c$/kWh the industrial user adding smart storage to network?
On network charges and tariffs for distributed energy resources and network users:

 

  • What's the different between a solar PV customer and a customer which simply switches all of the lights and appliances in their apartment? Why should there ever be a monthly solar 'fixed charge'?
  • Should network users, such as solar panel owners, by charged for their impact on voltage or reactive power? Or credited for helping solve voltage issues with their inverters?
  • The Maine PUC just released a value for solar study that found a $.33 per kWh value. This is higher than the $.13 kWh rate. Even when stripping off the environmental benefits included in that estimate, the value for solar is $.14 (1 cent higher per kWh than the utility rate). Does this not suggest that solar owners are subsidizing non-solar owners?
April 6, 2015    View Comment    

On Has Renewable Energy Finally Ended the Great Clean Energy Stagnation?

Dear Willem, 

I think BP and IEA or UNEP use different accounting, and may track biomass differently as well. An important discrepancy though. I'll dig in further. 

Jesse

April 6, 2015    View Comment    

On How to Regulate the Electricity Distribution Utility of the Future

Thanks Bas. I have to admit, I've been somewhat stymied in my efforts to study Germany's regulatory environment by the language barrier (which doesn't plague me when examining Ofgem documents!). But I'll try to take a closer look at dena's policies. 

Jesse

February 4, 2015    View Comment    

On How to Regulate the Electricity Distribution Utility of the Future

Yes, a reference network model would help you benchmark the cost of expanding your network to incorporate distributed resources, such as solar, biogas, etc. You would most likely to need to contract with a consultant to perform the analysis. I assume as a small rural electric cooperative, it would not make sense for you to license a model and train your own staff to perform such analysis. If you're interested in more information, contact me: jesse[at]socialmediatoday[dot]com.  

February 4, 2015    View Comment