Too Little, Too Late

Finally, even the energy pundits are proclaiming the benefits of electricity over natural gas.  Yes, it does require technologies like heat pumps, infrared, and microwave to be employed, but the DOE’s stand against electricity as bad has finally been challenged.  In case you are unaware the DOE has been openly hostile to the use of electricity ever since its establishment out of the national wrath over the oil embargoes of 1973 and 1978.

I must point out that energy policies come and go.  Remember when we lowered the speed limit on highways to 55?  As I rocket along at 70 mph, I sometimes think about how wasteful that is.  But, of course I would not dare drive at 55 on today’s highways.  I would be run over!

But, our friends at Rocky Mountain Institute have formally concluded something I wrote about 20 years ago.  Nice to have my observation confirmed:

Read Energy Central’s article: Electrifying US Heating Needs Creates Massive Carbon Reductions, New RMI Report Finds

Of course, this is a bit too late to reverse the damage done, especially in the regulatory mood across most of the United States.  Yes, DOE and even RMI back then convinced the vast majority of our regulatory bodies that electrification was wrong and bad.


Baseload Extinction?

Antique illustration of Great Auk (Pinguinus impennis)

As you must have noted, I am becoming increasingly concerned about today’s attitudes toward grid reliability and resiliency we have long taken for granted.  Steve Mitnick at Public Utilities Fortnightly just offered a series of quotes from regulators across the country about recent transitions that included one from Bill Russell, Chair of the Wyoming PSC.

“How many big spinners can we lose before grid failures increase when the system is stressed?  I’m concerned we may regret shutting down too many baseload plants because we failed to think it through.  I’m reminded of an old fable: Consider the Auk who became extinct because it forgot how to fly and could only walk.”

So, I went online to learn about the Great Auk which I must admit I did not know ever existed.  Indeed it was a prevalent member of the penguin family.  It was “easy prey” for sailors being a big meaty bird that wasn’t very mobile.

Sorry … doesn’t this all seem way too good an analogy.

This should also be a wake up call for all PSC and PUC staff and leaders.  Be careful what you wish for.  Once the Auks in our world are extinct, your job may be as well.

Risk Perception

Photo Courtesy Utility Dive

I grew up in New York City and got used to seeing very interesting people yelling

at me from street corners telling me this or that.  It was pretty easy to dismiss most of this as just the quirky nature of individuals.

One that was humorous was a guy standing at the entry to a subway station snapping his fingers over and over again.  I asked him why he did that and he told me that it kept tigers away.  After I stated that, as far as I knew, there were no tigers in New York City.  To which he stated: “works pretty dang well, now doesn’t it?”

The perception of risk is an elusive attribute.  Engineers like myself are extremely sensitive to things that can go wrong.  It is what we are trained to do, and trained how to avoid that, all of which comes at a cost.  But, at times we can appear to be a bit like fear mongers.  Or, as my wife likes to call me: Dr. Doom!!

Fair enough, but what drives us is avoiding things like those that just happened to Pacific Gas and Electric.  Read about it here if you didn’t catch it already.

But, before things like this happen, it is almost impossible to get management to pay attention to risks like this.

Afterwards, it may be too late.

This also reminds me of the placards I would see when I grew up:  The End is Near!!  So far, that appears to be have been untrue.  One can only hope it is untrue for PG&E.


The Invisible Hand

Advocates of free market design have fallen in love with “that invisible  hand” long attributed to Adam Smith to describe the natural force that guides free market capitalism through  competition for scarce resources. According to Adam Smith, in a free market each participant will try to maximize self-interest, and the interaction of market participants, leading to exchange of goods and services, enables each participant to be better of than when simply producing for himself/herself. He further said that in a free market, no regulation of any type would be needed to ensure that the mutually beneficial exchange of goods and services took place, since this “invisible hand” would guide market participants to trade in the most mutually beneficial manner.

Well, that invisible hand can also “slap you upside your face” as they would say in the South.  Here is an eloquent statement about how nuclear power has fallen to the market theories without consideration of deeper and more important collateral responsibilities.

Read what Power Magazine has to say. 

Gee … we don’t trust the invisible hand with solar or wind but we are willing to trust it on nuclear … and perhaps even hydro?

The key in my opinion is this:  Crane said, “One thing I know is when we shut a nuclear plant down, it’s never coming back. Today, the way the markets are designed—New England, PJM—they do not take fuel diversity and resiliency into the capacity market design to the level that needs to be to maintain the resiliency of the system.”

Seems like a clear slap in the face to me.

A Ban on Cats is on the Horizon!

No, I am not serious … well … I don’t think I am serious.

But, if you read this article on the relative threat of wind power vs. cats to birds, you could conclude that cats are a real problem to society.  That is if you are a bird lover.

Read what Wind Watch has to say. 

It is far from news that wind power can represent a significant threat to birds.  Even though most do not fly at night, bats do.  And, birds cannot see the blades of modern wind turbines as easily as they saw the older style of windmills.  Today’s wind turbines are over 400 feet long and are traveling through the air at hundreds of miles an hour.

The problem is compounded by the lack of trustworthy data.  Small birds are obliterated when they are struck and larger ones are carried off by vermin shortly after they reach the ground.  But, we do have a pretty good idea how many birds are eaten by household cats.

All this reminds me of the tongue in cheek criticisms of water being dangerous since people who die drink it and extreme amounts of it being swallowed have proven fatal … called drowning.

What a world we now live in!  I remember when DDT was banned because it was proven to be damaging.  Could we see wind power shut down for reasons like this?  What if certain bird or bat species land on the endangered species list as a result of these turbines?  And, are there parallel risks of bird blinding with all the solar panels we are putting up?