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You're neglecting scheduled load-following. If all the wind in Europe is offline at the same time, we will know about it at least a day in advance. Dedicated peakers only need to cover the forecast errors and unexpected plant shutdowns.

Suppose you have a sustainable grid in which the baseload is wind, solar, and run-of-river hydro (and wave and tidal); scheduled load-following power is wood pellet, biochar, and large industrial consumers being paid to shift energy-intensive production around to other parts of the day/week; and peak load is hydro, pumped hydro and biogas.

Suppose further that European total consumption is on the order of 1 TW at the daily and seasonal peak, and 0.65 TW at the trough. If the largest single point of failure is 10 GW, with an 0.3 % probability of failing during any given day, and the largest forecast error for consumption in any given day has a standard deviation on the order of 20 GW, or about 2 % of peak power.

Now assume that we want to have enough peaker capacity to make blackouts only happen once every 1800 days (approximately five years) on average, and keep enough peaker power online at all time that we only need to bleed off scheduled power about once a year. That means you need about six or seven standard deviations plus the largest single point of failure. Call it 150 GW of dedicated peaker power. For all of Europe, in a fully sustainable grid. So 50 GW of peaker power from Scandinavia alone is very definitely in the right ballpark.

The real challenge is going to be coming up with sustainable scheduled load-following.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Oct 7th, 2012 at 09:07:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Being able to predict it doesn't absolve you from having to provide it! As you said it,

The real challenge is going to be coming up with sustainable scheduled load-following.

I think you misread me: I'm not implying that the mechanics of load following would be a problem of consequence even at ~100% renewable penetration. That meme is nonsense. But we do need load-following power above and beyond hydro.

I don't think using bio-fuels for this is a good idea: they are limited in availability, and it would be better to reserve them, e.g., for transport, where they are hard to replace completely. One solution on the longer run would be hydrogen fuel, generated by electrolysis from peak wind/solar. This is already being studied. Besides being burned in power plants, hydrogen has some direct uses, e.g., in steel making (one example of a user that could switch off on request and use stored fuel).

This would require the installed capacity of renewables to be more than 100% of average electric power load, e.g., 150%. A tall order, but the North Sea is large enough for a big chunk of that.

by mustakissa on Sun Oct 7th, 2012 at 10:03:04 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"...implying that the mechanics of load following would be a problem of consequence even at ~100% renewable penetration. That meme is nonsense."

I would not bet the farm on that.

by asdf on Mon Oct 8th, 2012 at 12:11:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The economic characteristics of the market interact with the physical characteristics of the power system, and the two must be considered as a whole...not so easy to do...

http://arxiv.org/abs/1106.1401

by asdf on Mon Oct 8th, 2012 at 12:43:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yep, there are folks that study this for a living. Still, no show-stopper...
by mustakissa on Mon Oct 8th, 2012 at 06:39:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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