Saturday, May 25, 2013

End Of The Grid

...As seen from the Left.  Or part of it, anyway.  Interesting -- and maybe it's not an issue that will see division along the stereotypical lines.


Sean D Sorrentino said...

They always make creative destruction seem like incipient armageddon, don't they? Worst of all, they act like they aren't the first people to start doling out money to businesses which are "too big to fail." When the IBEW starts screaming that their members are losing jobs, the Dems will fall all over themselves subsidizing the electrical companies.

It's all hot air anyway. When it becomes economically viable to generate your own electricity rather than buy it from the electrical company, everyone will do that, and no one will shed a tear any more than the ordinary citizen now worries about the woes of the livery stable owners.

Roberta X said...


Eck! said...


Having played with solar for a decade or so they have one major failing,
The electrons being herded by the sun stop everything in the dark. However people start seriously using the electrons after dark. Without some form of storage, like batteries or pumping water uphill, solar doesn't work tot he levels needed.

So save for some solar powered peaking support during the day (voltage support) the idea the grid has a short life is still pending.

Sean hit the mark. When it happens it will be fast and sharp as cheap energy is a form of currency.


Jeffro said...

I don't think I'll be holding my breath on this one.

Anonymous said...


Do you really find that energy use increases after dark? The biggest energy hog in my house is the A/C and its gets it heaviest use during the day. I can turn on most electrical appliances in the house and not equal its load.

Other than that assertion I agree with everything you said :)

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...


All those folks out there with heat pumps might take issue with you, since a heat pump is just an air conditioner run in reverse.

But yes, I think your question points up the great conundrum; humans can live (if not comfortably) without air conditioning in the summer, but the week-long below-zero cloudy days and long dark nights that are part and parcel of our wintertime existence might make grid power look really attractive to even the most inveterate solar fanatic...

To me this is not a question of an outdated distribution model. It's a question of a perfectly reasonable distribution model that's afraid to use nuclear power because the hippies are agin it.

Then there was this article. Key graf: "[T]he insistence that solar is ready to play a major role in meeting our energy needs today is both delusional and irresponsible."

Read the whole thing. (May require registration.)

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

When I mentioned heat pumps above, I neglected to mention that most heat pumps switch to electric resistance "emergency" heat below about 40 degrees. (Chalk this up to my not having had any coffee yet this morning.)

In addition, there are all the folks out there in total-electric homes running all that resistance heat on a regular basis...

Solar power simply isn't ready for that level of prime time.

fast richard said...

The cheap solar panels being imported from China have made solar more affordable, but the low prices reflect low electricity prices for manufacturing in China. It still takes a very long time for a solar panel to make as much electricity as was used to make it.

Electric resistance heating only makes sense where electricity is very cheap or heat demands are small. Direct solar heating makes much more sense than making electricity from sunlight, then making heat from that electricity.

Roberta X said...

Fast Richard: And...? How is this different from any other consumer good, other than it being able to make back what I spent to buy it?

Solar cells would be one element in in reducing grid-dependance. Here's a sticky one: if most folks are sellin' some power back some of the time and using grid-juice the rest of the time, can the operators still make enough to maintain it? If not, then you're off the grid ahead of schedule. Oops!

Charles Pergiel said...

Solar schmolar. I want a coal fired steam engine turning a generator in my backyard.

John A said...

Oh my, electricity usage peaks during when the Sun is (sometimes) shining, so solar is a threat to utilities?

Uh, usage peaks then because that is when offices, hospitals, factories, and just about every business - including government - is working (yes, even hospitals do shut down almost everything at night). Does your work use more electricity when people are working than those same people would use if they stayed home? Almost certain. And is the roof at work large enough to hold enough solar panels to power the whole building? To power NY City would require, for either solar or wind, uncluttered space the size of Rhode Island or Delaware.

And I rent. Am I going to spend thousands to install a system that may offset its cost in a decade or two, while I may move in four years or less? Uh...

And to Anon, if you work why is the air conditioner on? Buy a timer to turn it on about an hour before you expect to get home, after turning it off as soon as you get up. OK, if your family stays home while you work you have reason not to do that.

Scout26 said...


1) The ROI on solar dramatically improves (Current payback models are 20-30 years).
2) There's a better way to store the unused electrons. Batteries are highly inefficient in both charging, discharging and lifespan.
3) Space. Agua Caliente needs 2400 acres to generate 250MW. Braidwood Nuclear Generating Station only needs 4457 acres to generate 2,242MW. (2x the land to generate 10x the power) And most of that land is old strip mines, and simply used as a security barrier (although there is a great deal of waterfowl hunting done there.)
4) It's hard to beat chemistry and physics.

Rugby Jef said...

The problem with most renewable sources is availability. A grid powered by big, old, stick in the mud,but mostly just uncool generators is consistent and reliable. When the demand goes up due to a heat wave, cold snap it's fairly easy to spool up a couple more. Not instantaneous, but doable. Unless you've been subjected to some political pressure that has not allowed for "peak load" demands, or a disaster has taken out a generator or two, and now you have brown-outs. Hawaii passed a law limiting solar support for their grid to a max of 15% because of the destabilizing effects of transient production. A hypothetical case would be town that produces 30% extra power to the grid during daylight hours. The standby generators can provide sufficient power to keep everyone watching Star Trek reruns at night. One day a large forest fire starts upwind from the town. (Or a large hail storm, or a month of cloudy days, you pick). Now the grid is not receiving the extra 30% it was relying on, but also has to provide the extra power for the houses that used to power themselves. Uh-oh. No Capt. Kirk for you. Also, Mr. Roberts seems upset that utility companies charge people for their output and make a profit, and allow investors to get a return on their money. Whole 'nother diatribe. Love your blog, Rx.