The Problems With On-Grid Wind Power

From Maxedoutmama

Here is a paper for dullards like me who didn’t understand the implications of trying to hook highly variable wind power into a power grid. The bottom line is that effective usage is low and that actual replacement effect is even lower:

A power station takes days to start producing electricity from a cold start. Time is needed to boil the water, to superheat the steam, to warm all the components of the power station, and to spin the turbogenerators up to operating speed.

Each power station is designed to provide an output of electricity. It can only provide very little more or very little less than this output (i.e., a power station has a “low turndown ratio”).

The problem of matching electricity supply to varying demand is overcome by operating power stations in three modes called “base load,” “generation,” and “spinning standby.”

Some power stations operate all the time providing electricity to the grid, and they are said to provide “base load.”

Other power stations also operate all the time but do not provide electricity all the time. They burn (or fission) their fuel to boil water and superheat the resulting steam which is fed to the steam turbines that are thus kept hot and spinning all the time. Of course, they emit all the emissions from use of their fuel all the time. But some of this time they dump heat from their cooling towers instead of generating electricity, and they are then said to be operating “spinning standby.”

One or more power stations can be instantly switched from spinning standby to provide electricity to match an increase to demand for electricity. It is said to be operating “generation” when it is providing electricity. Power stations are switched between spinning standby and generation as demand for electricity changes.

Thus the grid operator manages the system to match supply with demand for electricity by switching power stations between “generation” and “spinning standby.”

So if you are installing a bunch of new coal power plants to handle load, you will really be running them all the time with very little savings of fossil fuels. You can control some of the grid surge by diverting the power production away from the grid when your wind kicks in, but that of course doesn’t change fuel consumption very much.

Read the full report here. Maxedoutmama

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