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April

Sub-archives

Apr 17, 2012

The myth of baseload power

by Nancy Reinhart — last modified Apr 17, 2012 02:10 PM

The article, "Why baseload power is doomed" by Chris Nelder gives an excellent rebuttal to a myth we hear commonly in Kentucky - that renewable energy cannot replace "baseload" electric power.

The author opens, "A persistent myth about the challenges of integrating renewable power into the grid is that because solar and wind are intermittent, grid operators need to maintain full generation capacity from “baseload” plants powered by coal and nuclear."

But, "The notion that renewables cannot provide baseload power is really an artifact of the way the grid and its regulators have evolved," he says.

(Baseload power generators are large units that provide most of the electricity to the grid. They rarely shut down, providing most of the "base load" of power, hence the name. In Kentucky, these are mostly coal-burning plants. When consumers draw more electricity from the grid than those plants can provide, utilities fire up additional units, usually fueled by natural gas, to provide the extra electricity needed to meet demand.)

In the article, the author describes why much of today's existing grid is not "smart." It grew up around demand, rather than in a planned, logical fashion. Lines went up haphazardly, starting in populations centers and then reaching out to rural areas as demand grew. As the grid grew, so did a very complex system of connecting and regulating it - one which includes several different agencies in each of several overlapping U.S. "grid territories."

This haphazard design makes grid technicians' jobs very tricky and makes them therefore resistant to the type of innovation that is required to bring large-scale renewable energy online.

"Grid operators have one overriding, fearsome task: They must maintain enough supply from this very complex system, within a narrow range of frequencies and voltages, to meet constantly fluctuating demand at all times. Therefore they tend to be risk-averse, preferring to stick with what they know to be reliable, and avoiding innovation.

Before the advent of renewables, generating power was a pretty straightforward task: When demand increased, you just added more fuel to an engine. With renewables, the task is reversed: The engines (wind turbines and solar collectors) ramp up and down of their own accord, and grid operators must adjust to accommodate their output."

So we need to get a smarter grid across the U.S. - one that provides real time information - and use the good models already out there to better predict how and when renewables will output power. It's a dance that we can master if we're willing to try.

"If all generators were able to ramp up and down on demand, and if grid operators were able to predict reliably when and where the sun would be shining and the wind would be blowing, accommodating any amount of power from renewables would be no problem."

Many states and countries successfully integrated large portions of renewable energy into the grid successfully. The author discusses several such examples including Germany and Texas. These places are proving and will continue to prove what is possible while places that hesitate to act are left behind.

We cannot ignore that some sectors of our economy stand to gain if we remain locked into the old system of electric power, but, Nelder says, the facts about what is technically possible remain firmly on the side of renewable energy supporters.

"The attachment to our antiquated architecture of power generation and grid management is simply a failure of imagination and innovation," Nelder concludes.

Apr 13, 2012

In the news...

by Nancy Reinhart — last modified Apr 13, 2012 01:08 PM

Solar manufacturing jobs come to Edmonson County, KY
Taggart Solar LLC recently announced that it plans to locate a manufacturing plant in Edmonson County. A $440,000 investment, the plant will sustain 30 full-time workers. The Tennessee Valley Authority, which provides electricity to Edmonson and several other Kentucky counties, offers large financial incentives for renewable energy production in it service area. These incentives make it more attractive for solar manufacturing companies to locate there.

Kentucky Center to install Green Roof
The Kentucky Center for the Arts plans to “green” its 76,000 square foot roof quite literally. It will be covered with a special type of soil and sedum plants, which soak up water and provide insulation lowers air- conditioning bills. Center staff hopes to implement a pubic education project along with the new roof. An estimated 500,000 people visit the center each year.


U.S. Department of Defense Spends Big on Clean Energy
The U.S. Department of Defense invested billions in clean energy innovations between 2006 and 2009 – an increase of nearly 200% from pre-2006 spending levels. Projects include major efficiency efforts and large renewable installations at bases. For example, DoD is partnering with Nolin Rural Electric Cooperative to make efficiency improvements and install solar and geo-thermal systems at the Fort Knox base.  (Department of Defense Accelerates Clean Energy Innovation to Save Lives, Money, Pew Study 2011.)

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Clean energy stories
Save money, create good jobs. Save money, create good jobs.

9,000 clean energy jobs could be created in Eastern Kentucky and save Eastern Kentucky Power Cooperative (EKPC) customers money. Folks from throughout EKPC’s service area and beyond have joined in efforts to persuade the power company to make planning decisions that would create these good, green jobs.

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