Devil horns and duck curves renewables reshaping grid in california, elsewhere climate denial crock of the week static electricity human body causes


It’s an unintended consequence of the Golden State’s effort to slash greenhouse gas emissions and get half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, and has vexed the state’s grid operators. California’s top utility regulator warned last week of a looming energy crisis if the region doesn’t start planning for a future with more people either generating their own power or getting it from suppliers besides the big utilities.

“As the amount of renewables on the system grows, grid operators need increased visibility into behind-the-meter resources,” said Steven Greenlee, a spokesman for California Independent System Operator Corp., which runs the state’s power grid. Grid operators will need more visibility into how these home systems are working, he said.

That’s the shape formed by intraday power prices that increasingly having to adapt to greater flows from solar farms in the middle of the day. As photovoltaics feed more supplies to the grid, power prices crash and then rise as the sun sets, leaving a distinctive formation in charts like the one below.

More than an amusing oddity, the dramatic swings indicate the scale of the challenge grid managers are facing in smoothing out supplies from plants that only generate when the sun shines or the wind blows. The pattern is becoming increasingly familiar across Europe, especially in Germany, where it translates as “Doppel Knick.”

As solar capacity has surged more than ten-fold in the past decade in Germany, it’s leaving utility executives wondering if they should switch off coal and natural gas plants for a few hours when the photovoltaic facilities deliver their peak yield.

“Thermal plants are struggling a lot with having to ramp up and down fast when they are needed,” said Hanns Koenig, a project leader at Aurora Energy Research Ltd., which is based in Oxford, England, and advises utilities, investors and governments. “To ramp up quickly uses extra fuel and may not be economical so currently a lot of plants run through solar’s production peak.”

As much as 38 percent of Germany’s power came from wind and solar farms last year. That’s making it difficult to estimate how much supply will feed into the grid at certain times of day as some of it will also feed local distribution networks. It’s a dramatic change from a decade ago when the deep price dip occurred in the middle of the night as reactors were humming even as demand was low.

Storage and charging of electric vehicles will eventually help to even out the sharp within-day price swings, but short-term it will continue to have a negative effect on operations, said Magnus Hall, chief executive officer at Vattenfall AB, the Swedish utility. The company on Thursday reported fewer running hours from its German coal and gas plants in the first quarter, even as cold weather increased demand.

The impact on the grid from renewables is now so great that supply at times exceeds demand and pushes power prices below zero. The trend has also undercut the economics of replacing some of the oldest traditional plants, with some forms of renewables mature enough to compete in the market without subsidy.

That’s so much that National Grid Plc is preparing measures to avoid overloading of the network. The grid manager may need to curtail renewable energy production and also ask coal, gas and nuclear plants to rein in output during certain hours.

Deep offshore wind turbines with capacity factors up to 65% and still growing seem pretty simple. Ready for production within 2 years; blade testing this summer for turbines more than 5 times more powerful than anything in operation today seem pretty simple. (Well, not so simple, but worth putting the money in to make them operational in the next 3 years. The Off-Manhattan Project)

The rest of it is not a problem with renewable technology or batteries; it’s a problem with an economic system that says it’s worse to give away power to those who need it and worse to build batteries and retrofit buildings before it “makes economic sense” than it is to sit and watch television until civilization violently and chaotically collapses around us. The economic system has to go anyway, why not let this little challenge take out its part of it and replace it with one that views survival and the public good as paramount?

That’s not a real question, the answer is obvious. There are a few people with poor self esteem who are addicted to the current economic system to give them constant jolts of money-shaped shots of it. Like all addictions, diminishing marginal returns makes them seek ever-larger shots, the end of which with heroin is a single death, the end of which with economics is countless decillions of deaths. We need to treat the addiction while engaging in whatever harm reduction is called for, while we build batteries as fast as Musk’s and the Chinese and whatever other factories we can build can churn them out, and PAY ABSOLUTELY NO ATTENTION WHATEVER TO THE PRICE!