Friday, February 17, 2012

Do We Really Have to Pay the US to Take Our Electricity?

For a few years now I have been listening to opponents of wind energy make claims that it is too expensive, too erratic, and we have no way of storing the excess energy for use at peak hours.

I have been sceptical of these claims, but one story I read recently tops them all.

On CTV news,  "energy expert Tom Adams, told CTV's Queen's Park bureau chief Paul Bliss. "We have to get rid of it. It's a disposal problem and sometimes our neighbours need to get paid in order to take custody.""

He was of course referring to wind energy, and the claim that Ontario must pay neighboring states to accept energy from our grid when we have too much.

I don't really know if this is blatant propaganda or not, because I can imagine a situation where we would have to pay to get rid of something that might be harmful to us.  In electricity, this is not uncommon actually.  For example, there are times that you need to shut down a high voltage power line, and you need very expensive equipment to do it, because a sudden shut-off builds up the voltage.  If you do not have this equipment, you may need to pay someone to do it for you - in theory anyway.  Another example of excess energy is a car travelling at high speed that needs to stop suddenly.  That kinetic energy has to go somewhere, so hopefully you have brakes to disperse it.  Some cars have brakes that store the energy (like the Prius).  Other cars have no brakes (like my '72 Corolla after it lost a wheel strut), and you have to find some other way to get rid of your energy.  If you plow into another car, that other car takes your energy, but in the end you will have to pay - either direct costs or in insurance premiums.

So are we talking about some kind of shock absorbing system being provided by our neighbours, because Ontario does not possess any way to recapture excess power?  Or is there actually any known way to either recapture excess power, or to at least burn it off?  Wind energy opponents have told us it is not possible to store energy, which I believe is not only false and misleading, but goes against all common sense.  But now apparently they are saying there is no way to even dump energy, without paying the US to do it for us.

Upon researching this story further, I expected to discover that there was some unusual, hopefully temporary, situation that forced Ontario to dump excess energy into the US grid.  For example, an unforeseen spike of wind energy combined with an unforeseen reduction of power requirements.  In a brief span of time, it might have been impossible to shut off the wind turbines or the water power, nuclear power, gas fired, or coal power plants.  So maybe we had to pay money until some parts of the energy generating system plants could be shut down.  I don't know how long this might take, as I am not an "expert".  But it seems to me that a month is a bit excessive simply to reduce our power output just a little.

So in my opinion, this story is planted to mess with our minds, and to soften us up so that we stop questioning the anti-wind power "experts" on their outrageous statements.

I do not believe that it takes a month to reduce our power output to the point where we stop paying a penalty to the US.

I do not believe there is no way to burn off excess energy harmlessly.

I do not believe that there is no way to store energy, although its possible that Ontario needs to build some, or more than they already have.

If you want me to believe those things,  a lot more explanation will be required than the statement of another energy expert.

Tom Adam's blog
  Tom Adams refers to this article  "perhaps the most coherent, balanced and accurate explanation of wind power to so far appear in the Canadian print media." in his blog post titled "Excellent Journalism re. Wind in Ontario’s Power System"

Quote from this article (which refers to Tom Adams as a source.)

"For a full month the price of our power was negative — that is, we were paying utilities in Ohio and Michigan to take it off our hands.
Private energy analyst Tom Adams thinks that could happen again when we lean more heavily on wind power. Wind turbines can shut down in high wind, but Ontario would still have to pay them for the power they aren’t generating, like a diner who orders a restaurant meal and doesn’t eat it. It’s called “curtailed output.”"

1 comment:

  1. Once upon a time, electricity generation was relatively simple. We opened the sluices, the turbines spun and electricity came out. When demand began to exceed the output from those hydroelectric sources, we simply burned some coal.

    Nuclear power, of course, was going to be so cheap that we wouldn't even need to meter it. But then bad things happened. No one seemed to be able build a nuclear plant without going 50%, or 100% or even more, over budget. And it turned out that nuclear power, per Kwh, was more expensive than other sources.

    And then even worse things happened ... Windscale, Kyshtym, Three Mile Island, Tsuruga, Chernobyl, Tomsk-7, Fukushima-Daiichi. And even Tom Adams was a long-time opponent of nuclear energy.

    There is no longer any simple solution to electricity production. Our grid will become more complicated as the proportion of power generated by 'variable' sources such as wind and solar increases. That's just the 'reality' of the thing.

    Demand reduction through conservation has not yet been thoroughly exploited, although the most obvious approach, adjusting rates to 'real cost,' is unpopular with consumers (and, thus, an easy political football for the anti-renewable crowd).

    But the most significant technical hurdle is bulk energy storage. As long as the grid provides no buffering capabilities, generation must track demand in real time - something 'variable' sources have a problem with.

    However, although there is a broad range of emerging technologies for grid storage, these have yet to scaled up (or even demonstrated to be capable of upscaling). Sodium-sulfur (and other) battery technologies have shown promise. Hydrogen, pumped water and dam uprating offer some solutions. Thermal solutions, such as molten salt, have been demonstrated to be very efficient. As electric vehicles become more common, V2G (vehicle to grid) offers possibilities.

    But the answer is not to throw the baby out with the bathwater as Adams appears to propose. But to invest in technology that allows us to make effective use of those, unfortunately variable, renewable energy source.