Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Wind power faulted for low prices!

by DoDo Tue Jul 6th, 2010 at 07:27:48 AM EST

The emergence and maturing of renewables is often supported with feed-in laws (or feed-in tariffs, FITs), which guarantee the purchase of produced electricity, and that at a rate above the production price of conventional modes (feed-in rate, FIR). But does that mean that FITs increase electricity prices?

Not necessarily. The merit order effect has been brought up many times on ET: the actual market price of electricity is determined by supply and demand, and will reflect the price of the most expensive producer needed to cover demand. Thus fluctuating market prices can get well above FIRs, hence, when renewables are around, they will throttle peaks.

But on the night from 3 to 4 October 2009 in Germany, something even more extreme happened. Market prices turned negative! In a just released analysis, Germany's federal economy ministry (BMWi; which is headed by a minister from the neoliberal FDP), the blame is put on abundant wind power, and the minister called for mitigation measures.


The meaning of negative market prices (which happened a number of times, that night last October was only the record) is that producers would rather pay for the use of electricity they produce on standby than shut down and later re-start their power plants. In the argumentation of BMWi, this indirectly means extra costs for consumers.

In the summary, the correlation of high momentary wind power, low total consumption and negative spot market prices is suggested with a table of past negative spot market price events:

(The columns are: event No., day, date, hour of day, spot market price, electricity from wind, total load [annual average c. 65 GW], and 'residual load' [c. load minus FIT regime].)

Two negative peaks close by were picked as examples for deeper analysis:

The scale on the left is for spot market price, which is the red curve. The scale on the right is for momentary power; with wind shown in light blue, conventional production in black, and the total in blue.

Upon close inspection, you'll see that the deeper negative peak arose when the conventional power plants were powered up for the morning upswing in consumption and wind power began to fall -- the study argues that the operators had to make do with the limited speed of variability of reactors. They also compare the events during which the total power from baseload plants (which are the least flexible in power output) was the lowest, and note that while baseload power wasn't the lowest during the 9 October 2009 record event, the prior down-powering of both the nuclear and Braunkohle [terminology warning: low-grade bituminous or high-grade sub-bituminous coal; often mis-translated as lignite] power plants was relatively slow. The diagram for that event:

(Yellow: nuclear energy, brown: low-grade coal, black: high-grade coal, orange: gas.)

The study also contains long-term statistics. Here the market price against conventional load:

:: :: :: :: ::

What is to be done? The minister proposed, what else, a market participation of renewables -- speak: if conventional producers claim that they can't reduce their output fast enough to respond to shrinking demand, then he wants renewables to power off what they can't sell, too.

Display:
In related news: as taz reports, in the first quartal of this year, Germany's reported electricity export surplus reached a new record of 9 TWh, 6.7% of net domestic consumption. Even while the two problem-plagued nuclear power plants near Hamburg were still offline.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Jul 5th, 2010 at 07:08:40 AM EST
Surely there are two distinct problems here:

  1. The difficulty of matching variable (and slightly unpredictable) demand with variable supply from different energy sources with differential abilities to respond quickly to supply/demand shortfalls/bottlenecks.

  2. The effects on prices of such (occasionally severe) supply demand mismatches.

Presumably sophisticated computer models are used to reduce the incidence of 1. by proactively managing the baseload/peaker supply mix and optimising supply/demand equilibrium whilst minimising the use of expensive peaker plants.  If they err on the shortfall side, "brownouts" are the risk, if on the surplus side - some wastage may occur.  The incidence of both can be reduced by increasing electricity "storage capacity" - e.g. Turlough Hill style pumped-storage hydroelectricity  plants, or "smart grid" overnight electric car recharging facilities (only charging when surplus exists).

Pricing is always going to be complex in such a volatile mix but surely v. high/low spot prices for very short periods simply incentivise the provision of peaker and storage capacity which needs such incentives to be economic in the first place.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jul 5th, 2010 at 02:19:58 PM EST
I posted the diary in a rush, and it doesn't contain my commentary, but here it is in response to you.

The second problem is one claimed by the ministry, but I'm not sure it is real. If I got this right, the idea is that a negative peak means that some utilities/consumers (ones who purchase at the stock market) will have a good time, while the producer paying for it will later transfer the costs to other users.But will it really? Won't the negative spikes only cut into profit, which is generated anyway due to the merit order effect when spot market prices are positive and higher?

This also points to the fact that there is a third problem here:

3) The ministry has an agenda, which skews the analysis.

The market fundies dislike the special regimes for renewables, and the whole analysis, as detailed as it is, focuses on wind's role. The key omission (which was stated explicitly in the study) was not identifying the reason why during one negative price peak, the baseload was regulated slower than in the other. In the study, they merely speculate that maybe during the worse peak, the more flexible nuclear and coal plants were down.

But that's pure speculation, especially considering that there are two possibilities to regulate baseload output: one is to control the output of all plants in a smaller band around the maximum, the other is to completely shut down resp. power on entire plants. Had the energy giants decided to shut down not one but 2-3 nuclear resp. low-grade coal plants during the expected wind maximum + nightly consumption minimum, and let fast-reacting gas balance the fine detail, there would have been no negative peak and no discussion. Instead, the intermediate and peak load was pushed to a minimum before they touched the profit-maximising baseload.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Jul 5th, 2010 at 04:52:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But don't peaker plants need v. high prices to make them economic, and storage plants need v. low prices to make them economic - so I don't see what the problem is with such dramatic fluctuations in price - especially as they only occur for a very low percentage of the time.

This debate seems an artefact of different industry players having different mixes of power sources and each wanting to maximise their profits at the expense of the others. If one industry player thinks wind is disproportionately profitable, why don't they simple build/acquire more?

The role of the Ministry should be to ensure security of supply, minimise carbon footprints, reduce imports, and maximised use of infrastructure and enhancement of same.  If the pricing regime doesn't ensure that, it might have to be tweaked.  However increasing the renewable share of the mix should be public policy and it appears that the current pricing regime is achieving that.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Mon Jul 5th, 2010 at 05:08:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If one industry player thinks wind is disproportionately profitable, why don't they simple build/acquire more?

  1. tradition & expertise,
  2. It is much easier to acquire and secure dominance on a market of 1GW or even 100MW plants than on one of 2MW or even 10kW plants.


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jul 6th, 2010 at 06:32:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But presumably a windfarm with 200MW capacity could be regarded as "one plant" and gradually the larger windfarm operators will become comparable in scale of operations with the smaller coal/nuclear/gas operators...

What we may be witnessing here is just the old boys trying to bully the new boys, which works for a while until the new boys develop comparable clout...

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jul 6th, 2010 at 10:31:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But presumably a windfarm with 200MW capacity could be regarded as "one plant" and gradually the larger windfarm operators will become comparable in scale of operations with the smaller coal/nuclear/gas operators...

Yes, and indeed in the USA and many countries where wind arrived only recently (with developers active elsewhere looking for new areas), there is already ownership concentration. But it is not a necessity. There are a lot of smaller windfarms, and a lot of them are at least co-owned by farmers. As for solar, a consolidation of the ownership is much less likely.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jul 6th, 2010 at 05:00:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Solution: build enough pumped hydro, flywheels, batteries or whatever to store the excess...

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jul 5th, 2010 at 05:42:15 PM EST
Or adjust the blades slightly so as to produce less...a lot cheaper than cycling down a conventional plant.
by asdf on Mon Jul 5th, 2010 at 09:17:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
For the conventional plant owner, yes... for the wind power plant owner, it means loss of income too.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jul 6th, 2010 at 06:27:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, but if windfarm owners with variable pitch blades agreed to be more flexible in their power provision they should/could also be rewarded with higher prices like peaker plants...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jul 6th, 2010 at 10:28:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Unlike peaker plants, wind farms have no bargaining power on the spot market, since their cost structure is heavy on fixed and light on variable costs. So they depend on long-term take-or-pay contracts.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Jul 6th, 2010 at 10:47:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Agreed, but if opponents to FITS argue that windfarms are getting preferential treatment they should also be confronted with the uncomfortable fact that if variable pitch blades wind farms can also operate in quick response to supply/demand mismatches they should therefore also qualify for higher "peaker" rates for power.  If you combined that with substantial carbon taxes on gas fired stations, I suspect windfarms would quickly replace gas fired as the "peaker" plant of choice despite their higher capital costs.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jul 6th, 2010 at 11:14:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Agreed, but if opponents to FITS argue that windfarms are getting preferential treatment they should also be confronted with the uncomfortable fact that if variable pitch blades wind farms can also operate in quick response to supply/demand mismatches they should therefore also qualify for higher "peaker" rates for power.

No, because when the wind farms have slack that they can power on, there is no price peak, or they would not have any slack.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Jul 6th, 2010 at 03:13:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
hmmm. If I correctly understand the lay of energy industry competition/intended antitrust remedy, incumbents may well have pooled to execute a price war skirmish, given known contractual contraints on FIT-protected firms' wholesale price movement --upper and lower bounds.

Some deeper analytic experience with the boilerplate is needed.

Possibly related reference:
onlineimpact.org, What is a FIT law? What is not a FIT law?

Diversity is the key to economic and political evolution.

by Cat on Tue Jul 6th, 2010 at 11:23:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]


It is rightly acknowledged that people of faith have no monopoly of virtue - Queen Elizabeth II
by eurogreen on Tue Jul 6th, 2010 at 06:30:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Provided variable pitch blades can be adjusted in real time to accommodate fluctuations in supply/demand this could be a lot more sustainable than building more gas plants to fulfil this function.  Of course any turbine has a maximum output depending on wind speed, but that is where the baseload plants come in - i.e. baseload should operate at (say) 110% of base demand (total demand less predicted variable supply) and that gives you 10% to play with (up or down) by adjusting blade pitch in response to unpredicted supply/demand surplus/deficits.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jul 6th, 2010 at 10:45:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Wind plants can adjust downward, spilling wind, but not upward. We don't control the fuel source. Our primary current responsibility is to replace fossils. Later, higher level of incursion into the grid, together with a new mix of emerging storage and load balancing technologies, the game changes entirely.

the context for the FITs was to jumpstart and mature the technology. (technologies). Quite successful, i'd say.  Now the game is just beginning to change.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Tue Jul 6th, 2010 at 11:36:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The context of this Diary is the FDP complaining of too much wind driving down prices and causing other producers to bear the full costs of load balancing which can be extreme in rare cases.  The point I'm making is that if you pay wind operators to contribute to load balancing they could also do so by varying the pitch on their rotors.  (This can be done in real time, can't it?) and thus wind is every bit as effective as a potential load balancer.

This load balancing can be up as well as down if a windfarm is operated at 90% design efficiency so that it can instantaneous ramp up to 100% or down to 80% in response to load balancing requirements.

You might want to ask - why run a windfarm at 90% in the first place - and the answer is only if wind penetration is so high that you don't have sufficient gas load balancing available, or the baseload plants are having difficulty adjusting in a timely manner.

My point is that windfarms don't engage in load balancing because it makes sense to run them at 100% for carbon footprint, capital asset utilisation, and income maximisation in a FIT pricing regimen.  However, technically, there is no reason why higher wind penetration levels must result in increased load balancing concerns provided you are prepared to pay operators compensation for operating their plant at less than 100% potential output - (which is presumably what makes gas turbines economic?).

(PS - this is me testing a theory, not speaking from knowledge or experience! Please correct me if I have gotten this all wrong)

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jul 6th, 2010 at 01:30:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
OK, now i understand your point. Though it involves completely changing the payment structure (or adding another type of tariff), and also the control systems of the turbines.

  1.  A turbine, or a windplant, can be de-tuned to operate less than optimal normal efficiency, in effect spilling wind. If it's already operating at less efficiency, it can be ramped up again.

  2.  A turbine can not be operated above it's design efficiency (power curve) but for short bursts. (a 2 MW generator can peak at say 2.2, 2.3.) the potential gust loads become too high.

  3. If a turbine is operating at peak efficiency, it can only be ramped up if it's operating below peak power AND the wind also ramps up. If the blades are detuned, OK.

  4.  Detuning the blades in effect means new and more complicated control algorithms, as well as potentially exceeding existing design parameters. That might even entail new load calcs, and thus new certifications.

  5. So at present, theoretically it's possible to some limited degree, but involves another generation of design effort.

  6.  Perhaps more possible are the addition of various storage technologies together with a more varied renewable grid, which may include load balancing technologies (smart grid).

  7.  Perhaps more important, none of this actually matters in the real world, until a national grid has far above 20% incursion from wind. Unless you are trying to get your nukes permitted for another round, and your coal buddies some cash.

  8.  If the FDP (or anyone) was serious about real world energy, we would already be seeing a crash program of building insulation. But we're not, so what does that tell you.  They're bitching like spurned whores, over 0.4% of costs from one metric only, which has nothing to do with the whole picture.

  9.  Tempest in Teapot.  reminds me of the vehement attacks against wind by the transmission operators about 8-6 years ago, accompanied by draconian attempts at regulation. scared that we were going to crash the grids with our uncontrollable shit.  now all the parent companies are investing in humungous wind projects. same in nord amurka.  they gave all manner of technological reasons why we couldn't penetrate more than a few percent.  no one really argues 20% anymore. unless it's your wallet. i wasn't all that upset when the automobile decimated the horse and buggy blacksmith trade, though i did think the exhausts stunk and were poison.

  10.  when the FDP comes up with authoritative numbers about how much it costs to have inefficiencies throughout the grid (far larger than this mosquito prick), we'll be on another planet.

  11. hey guido, shut the fuggup.  (my boy westerwelle.)


"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Tue Jul 6th, 2010 at 02:11:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Great to have some real expertise around!  Although it may involve some design effort, the fact that (in theory at least) wind-turbines can be detuned/retuned to cope with load balancing issues means you can have a much higher degree of wind penetration - baring a giant high covering all of Northern Europe and generating almost no wind - and you need far less gas load balancing units.  When combined with smartgrids, a larger grid coverage,  more storage, and other renewable sources you could even reduce baseload coal/nuclear capacity as a proportion of the whole.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jul 6th, 2010 at 06:39:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
commercial presentations by one of the large turbine manufacturers when they sell the ability of their new turbines to provide capacity adjustment services, by noting that wind turbines have a higher W/s speed of change than gas-fired power plants.

Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Jul 7th, 2010 at 05:07:19 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is the point I've been trying to establish (without having the necessary industry/technical background):  Wind turbines can provide load balancing as well as base-load power which makes them uniquely well positioned to contribute to grid optimisation in all but very low wind conditions, and the wider the geographical spread of the grid, the less the variability in the total wind energy available for base-load purposes.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jul 7th, 2010 at 07:42:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the question is at what cost.  all schemes i've seen sacrifice MWh production, albeit not too often. ramping up on demand independent of the wind can only happen in stiffer winds, and with turbines already detuned.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
by Crazy Horse on Wed Jul 7th, 2010 at 09:14:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If the payment for the load balancing capacity helps cover the capital cost of the wind farm, then its at a benefit that covers the cost.

Of course, this assumes transmission capacity connecting wind farms spanning the wind resource as well as connecting independent wind resources, as stiff wind is far more regularly available somewhere than in any individual location.

Indeed, even if only available for load balancing 50% of the time, that shares the load balancing burden with coventional hydro, which faces a lower total capacity ceiling than wind.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sat Jul 10th, 2010 at 12:51:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"Detuning the blades in effect means new and more complicated control algorithms, as well as potentially exceeding existing design parameters. That might even entail new load calcs, and thus new certifications."

I'm not sure about this. I was under the impression that current turbines already have fast load matching systems to accommodate millisecond-scale changes in load; the technical problem being that they respond differently from similar systems used for conventional generators...

by asdf on Sun Jul 11th, 2010 at 08:41:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
fast load matching systems to accommodate millisecond-scale changes in load

Millisecond-scale? That can only be something in the electronics, not mechanical.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Jul 11th, 2010 at 08:43:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My hard disk responds in milliseconds.
by njh on Sun Jul 11th, 2010 at 08:07:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It also has a rotation speed in the thousands of rpm...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Tue Jul 13th, 2010 at 07:53:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The mechanical inertia in a wind or gas turbine can provide power to make up for an instantaneous shortfall (or accept a surplus) for quite a while, probably a few seconds. The electronic control systems have to react on a millisecond scale, maybe checking the supply/load balance every tens ms or so, and then adjusting the mechanical systems--either the fuel supply to the gas generator, the steam supply to a steam turbine, or the blade angle on the wind turbine--to maintain balance in the second-scale timeframe.

I don't think there's a huge difference between the control systems, each of which responds fairly slowly to the control input. Mechanical vibrations can be set up in the blades of the wind turbine or on the shaft of the gas turbine, and I suppose the two are substantially different from the mechanical engineering viewpoint...

The windy-day/calm-day variability is on a much longer time scale than that of the frequency control system of the grid.

by asdf on Sun Jul 11th, 2010 at 08:40:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Managing fuel supply or steam supply is perhaps a technical problem to solve, but since we can't manage the wind, it's all about blade angles. And blade angles can't be managed on a seconds time scale to be either cost effective or efficient.

The electronic control systems have virtually no connection to the turbine control systems, as they are for power conditioning. Key turbine control such as blade pitching is based on averaging up to minutes.

There are currently several companies and research efforts to provide forward monitoring of oncoming gusts so as to have the blades in proper pitch as the gust hits. These companies have secured significant funding for these efforts.  But the reality is the technology is pretty much a fantasy at this stage.  One problem is reading momentary gust intensity over the entire rotor swept area, which of course changes as the gust nears the turbine.

Those who try to affect momentary blade pitch angle change to respond to the wind often induce higher loads than if the rotor simply cycled based upon the averages. Turbines are designed for loads within these averages, though there remain some disagreement about the extent of peak loads.

Generator algorithms have been known to send reverse loads back through the coupling to the gearbox, underscoring the complexity of getting the systems to work together on different time scales.

Ultimately the driver is long-term cost of energy, and the more complex the system, after a certain point quickly reaches diminishing returns. There are reasons why wind systems have coalesced around certain design parameters.

Because ultimately, we're trying to harvest the wind itself, which remains mysterious.  There will be evolutions for certain, but we're at a pretty high efficiency already, considering the vagaries of the wind itself.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Mon Jul 12th, 2010 at 03:25:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
At the risk of appearing superfluous to DoDo's suggestion that the ministry has an agenda, i'd like to point out that according to the table above, we're analyzing a total of 39 hours of the year (8760).

Ministry agenda? Ya think?

Of course, increasing penetration of windpower would only exacerbate the problem, albeit gradually. That's why we spend so much effort choosing the wisest visionary politicians, who can certainly restructure in advance of need, the functioning of the grid to reflect to reflect environmental, climate and security concerns necessary for a sane future. or a sane present, since we're already a decade or two overdue.

tesla forbid that the fossil boys, and those who profit from their support, might have to admit the jig is up.

PS. As we learned in California, spot markets have true inputs, thus can't ever be wrong. umhh...

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin

by Crazy Horse on Tue Jul 6th, 2010 at 08:01:02 AM EST
Honestly.. if we had visionary politicians in this area, there would be no market in electricity at all. The liberalization of electricity markets and the feedin tarrifs is very clearly  driving infrastructure investment in two directions: 1: Build of renewable capacity with certain prices due to the feed in tarrif.

Secondly: The massive build out of gas fired capacity, because these have so low capital requirements that no matter how little or how much they get used, they make money. - Ie: They only really operate profitably at sky high electricity prices, but due to near-zero fixed costs, as long as they operate at all, they make profits.  Problem being of course that when everyone is building gas burners.. Gas will inevitably rise in price A lot. And since noone appears to want to build anything else, customers are going to get utterly fracking murdered by their electric bills in the end, at which point we will have a political crisis, and all the utilities are going to get nationalized and something - anything. Not gas and not fickle. Will get built in panic.

All of this is trivially predictable. And idiotic. The French are right. Electricity is a natural monopoly, and a national priority. We want a carbon free grid? Fine. Copy the french one, on a massive scale. Hydro and nukes are cheap, reliable, and we know how to build them. And we should under no circumstances rely on the market to get this done, because it will fail to do so nearly everywhere, as a corporate culture that is utterly unable to think beyond the end of the quarter is an endemic curse on nearly all the west. Fuck that noise. Public utilities should damm well be public

by Thomas on Tue Jul 6th, 2010 at 09:27:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Speaking off.. who should I lobby if I want more of a fire lit under the ELSY project? ;)
by Thomas on Tue Jul 6th, 2010 at 09:30:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We want a carbon free grid? Fine. Copy the french one, on a massive scale.

That's like the notion a few years back that everyone should copy the US model, forgetting about the giant imbalances. The same way the USA needed constant capital influx from trade surplus countries to sustain its credit binge, France needs the electricity deficit and fossil fuel flexibility of Italy et al to sustain its relatively inflexible power plant park. (I need to dust off that half-written diary based on a study Jérôme sent me a few months back.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jul 6th, 2010 at 10:17:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There are several examples of mostly nuclear grids in operation, and not all of them load balance via trade - Switzerland, and Sweden use hydro. To which extent a nuclear grid would need to balance via Electric Mountains and existing hydro versus throttling if the reactors is a question of economic efficiency but clearly it is not an engineering problem, nor will the need for swing and surplus capacity affect the economics of nuclear to anywhere near the extent the same problem would hit the economics of a renewable grid.

This is, however, one reason I think we should really kick the fast reactor research into somewhat higher gear - Xenon does not have much of a cross section in the fast spectrum, so an ELSY/molten salt/whatever fleet would be much easier to throttle.

by Thomas on Tue Jul 6th, 2010 at 11:37:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How many breeder reactors do you have to keep around in order to power a country of, say, 30 million people? How many of those breeders can be used (or converted with relative ease) to make weapons-grade fissile material? And how were you planning to make sure that they are not, in fact, used to make weapons-grade fissile material? How many technicians will have all the required knowledge to make weapons-grade fissile material? And how are you going to prevent them from selling that knowledge on the open market?

Oh, and in what fictional alternative universe is the ramp-up time for an all-nuclear grid shorter than the ramp-up time for a wind/solar/hydro/nuclear mixed grid?

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Jul 6th, 2010 at 03:25:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
a:Depends on the size of said reactors.
b: IAEA.
C: IAEA.
D: IAEA.

.. No, seriously. The non-proliferation treaty is the centerpiece of all efforts to contain the spread of nuclear weapons, and since the backbone of this treaty is a promise from the nuclear powers of the world to help the rest of the world with the civil application of nuclear energy if they in return refrain from the military use of same, making civil nuclear power more economically valuable and widely used will strengthen our safeguards against proliferation, not weaken them. - Or to put it another way, in an economy that runs on plutonium pissing off the nuclear suppliers group by engaging in nuclear weapons programmes will be as ill advised as annoying opec is in an oil based one.

by Thomas on Tue Jul 6th, 2010 at 05:43:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ah, so you do not actually envision non-nuclear countries obtaining full control of the fuel cycle?

That's gonna be real popular...

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Jul 6th, 2010 at 05:57:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There are several examples of mostly nuclear grids in operation

Neither Sweden nor Switzerland is mostly nuclear (from what I can find, both between 40 and 50%, similar to France in the early eighties), and their abundance of hydropower is really not transferable to other countries. Lithuania, Slovakia and Belgium are the only others beyond France with mostly nuclear electricity supply, and I think exports play a role in all three.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Tue Jul 6th, 2010 at 05:15:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You do realize that this exact argument you are making is orders of magnitude worse for renewables? - the most heavily wind based grid in the world is Denmark, and Denmark exports on the order of three fourths of the electricity generated by wind, only to turn around and import an equivalent amount of power back from norvegian/swedish hydro when wind is low. And this became nessesary at a penetration of 20 odd percent.

.. Basically, what I am saying is two things: Our current composition of electricity supply is utterly unacceptable on grounds of public health and pollution - never mind the carbon, that is a long term problem- the poisons from coal are causing utterly unacceptable numbers of casualties right now.
second; Viewed from the point of practicality and economics, the proven, the cheapest, and therefore, in a world where the budget for fixing this problem is not infinite and RnD take time - also the fastest solution to this, is  a grid based on nuclear and pumped storage.

by Thomas on Wed Jul 7th, 2010 at 04:10:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You do realize that this exact argument you are making is orders of magnitude worse for renewables? - the most heavily wind based grid in the world is Denmark, and Denmark exports on the order of three fourths of the electricity generated by wind

Denmark is a small country. Unlike nuclear, there are positive economies of scale in wind w.r.t. load-balancing, because you get to tap into different resources.

You're not going to get around the need for spinning reserves and/or storage buffers, but extrapolating the Danish need to a Europe-wide integrated grid is silly and naive at best.

second; Viewed from the point of practicality and economics, the proven, the cheapest, and therefore, in a world where the budget for fixing this problem is not infinite and RnD take time - also the fastest solution to this, is  a grid based on nuclear and pumped storage.

Well, no.

Wind has a positive return on investment in real economic terms. Given the correct market structure, the only limiting factor on wind (for the foreseeable future) is therefore the ramp-up time for the industrial base needed to produce it. With nuclear, you also have a non-zero ramp-up time, even setting aside safety, monitoring (have you included the cost of running the IAEA at several hundred times its current staffing levels to cope with all the non-nuclear powers needing inspection in your cost calculations?), raw material access and the absolute requirement for reasonably competent and politically stable local authorities (the Italian industrial plant can barely make a train that will actually run - do you really trust them to make a nuclear reactor? And that's not even a third-world country, occasional appearances to the contrary notwithstanding).

What this tells you is that the optimal way of pursuing an "anything but coal" energy strategy is to pursue a mix of wind, nuclear, solar, hydro and conservation.

Once coal is fully phased out, the next step is to replace gas with spinning reserves, demand-side interventions (aluminium smelters and electric arc furnaces can be run by night instead of by day, batteries can recharge overnight, etc.) and (pumped) hydro.

Once coal and gas are both phased out (by this time oil will not be burned for power except by the terminally profligate), we should have a pretty good picture of the long-term viability of nuclear fuel provision, as well as the EROEI and EROI of the different non-fossil energy sources. But that is at least two iterations down the road, so there really is no need to start worrying about it until the coal phaseout is nearing completion.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jul 7th, 2010 at 06:30:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
ok with you, except that you CANNOT do any demand side variation including Al smelters or similar devices: it would kill them.

Once the aluminum is solid around the electrodes, thay cannot be cleaned or repaired.

by Xavier in Paris on Thu Jul 8th, 2010 at 02:24:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Such facilities should have their own power plant...

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Jul 8th, 2010 at 04:16:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
historically, they have: In France, all the very first Aluminum plants were implanted in the Alps, where Hydro power was built at the same time.

Aluminum production increased when electricity became more available, at the end of XIXth century.

by Xavier in Paris on Fri Jul 9th, 2010 at 05:19:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... variation, its just a different time scale from demand side variation with night ice-storage air conditioning and smart grid allocated electric vehicle recharging.

The entire demand side if a portfolio of consumptions, some of which are intrinsically on-demand, but most of which have an component that is open to demand management.

And this is, of course, part of the problem with reacting to the massive implicit subsidies on fossil fuel power entirely on the side of subsidizing the competing non-fossil-fuel powered systems to the same extent to allow them to compete on a level playing field ... the result is power that is prices below its full economic cost, which discourages the development of energy efficiency in general and technology that adopts existing technique to take advantage of opportunities for lower power rates in return for buying seasonal, weekly, daily, or load balancing dispatchable demand.

Continuing to make power artificially cheap continues to artificially compress the difference in price that can be offered for buying dispatchable demand versus on-demand.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jul 9th, 2010 at 09:22:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sure, but if we have the ability to provide cheap base-load power in the form of nuclear, why shouldn't we do that?
by njh on Sun Jul 11th, 2010 at 08:10:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But there is a fair range between 100% and just melting.
by njh on Sun Jul 11th, 2010 at 08:09:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is quite a range of variability that you can achieve within an industrial environment, even including a aluminum smelter. In fact, that variability is something they brag about:

http://www.eurometaux.org/DesktopModules/Bring2mind/DMX/Download.aspx?TabID=57&Command=Core_Down load&EntryId=403&PortalId=0&TabId=57

I once worked in a shop that had molten salt baths (for dip brazing of aluminum) that, when the electricity was turned off, froze into a solid block of salt. The problem in restarting them was not the jack-hammering out of the salt block, or the cleaning of the electrodes, or the initial melting of the new salt, but to get the chemistry balanced, which took about a month.

However, the time constant for freezing was several hours, and we did load management between them and the electric furnaces, water heating, and other loads in the plant...

by asdf on Sun Jul 11th, 2010 at 08:53:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You do realize that this exact argument you are making is orders of magnitude worse for renewables?

Nope. What you talk about has to do with local intermitency, not general fluctuation of demand. As JakeS says, Denmark is just too small, it basically has the same weather across the country. Intermittency is lower in larger areas.

the proven, the cheapest, and therefore, [..] also the fastest solution to this, is  a grid based on nuclear and pumped storage.

We discussed this several times before, when I argued in detail that your brave new nuclear world would not arise faster than renewables, would hit a fuel problem and cause great environmental destruction (on par with coal in the field of mining) with existing mature technologies, and would depend on the longer run on new technologies existing on drawing boards or in the form of sub-scale test reactors only, no better than fusion power; and I didn't mention the local maintenance and proliferation issues JakeS writes about.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Jul 7th, 2010 at 08:45:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sweden and Switzerland has access to rivers suited for water power, and that is not a universal feature.

Does anyone know how Finland balances their grid - trade, gas, or what?

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Thu Jul 8th, 2010 at 06:59:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Checking DoDo's link, Finland does not have that much nuclear power. So, the rest of the mix might contain something more suited for load balancing (though probably not hydro, as Finland is fairly flat).

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Thu Jul 8th, 2010 at 07:08:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Finland is building a 1600 MW reactor, and will build two more soon, about 3000 more MW's there.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Mon Jul 12th, 2010 at 03:57:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Neither Sweden nor Switzerland are beyond the reasonable reach of HVDC long haul grid to grid transmission. Negative prices at that level of wind generating capacity are an artefact of having a long haul grid that has too little range or capacity for the volatile renewable capacity.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jul 8th, 2010 at 01:03:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Electricity sector in Finland - Wikipedia
Mode of production
Electricity by mode of production (%)[7]
Nuclear Hydro Gas Coal Wood Peat Oil Wind Other Nettoimport
2008 25.2 % 19.4 % 12.5 % 9.2 % 11.2 % 5.6 % 0.5 % 0.3 % 1.5 % 14.7 %
2009 28.0 % 15.6 % 11.4 % 13.1 % 10.0 % 5.4 % 0.6 % 0.4 % 0.7 % 15.0 %

So hydro, coal, gas, wood burning, cross-border flows: probably all of those take part in balancing the grid.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Jul 8th, 2010 at 03:17:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
France needs the electricity deficit and fossil fuel flexibility of Italy et al to sustain its relatively inflexible power plant park. (I need to dust off that half-written diary based on a study Jérôme sent me a few months back.)

I note that not only have I dusted off, finished and posted that diary, but in a comment, Jérôme gave a link for France's power and load curves, so that finally I could get a picture of the actual magnitudes of nuclear resp. fossil fuel load-following operation and balancing with exports.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed Jul 7th, 2010 at 09:29:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Enron was just one or two bad apples in a sea of virtue...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Tue Jul 6th, 2010 at 10:34:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the Wind power series.

Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Jul 7th, 2010 at 05:09:52 AM EST


Display:
Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]

Top Diaries