Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Tuesday Links

  • The above figure (from the EIA) shows the seasonality of electricity demand by sector (residential, commercial, and industrial) in the US.  All are mainly summer peak demand.  It's interesting to think about this in the context of a carbon neutral economy in which heating would presumably mainly be done via heat-pumps (creating a large winter peak in demand also), and electricity would be supplied by wind and solar (with the latter being very much a summer peak thing).  Right now my guess is still that the only way to pull off a fully renewable-based economy is via global electricity trade (since storing electricity from summer to winter sounds really hopeless, whereas global electricity trade seems only somewhat quantitatively harder than the intra-continental electricity trade we do now).
  • Corporate profits soar as labor income stagnates.
  • The New York Times kills its Green blog (after having already dismantled its environmental desk).  The optics of this, at a minimum, are appalling.
  • David Brooks on the incentives for the US in dealing with Chinese commercial cyber-espionage.
  • Why are the Chinese hacking into US/Canadian pipeline and electric grid companies?  Very good question.  I was particularly amused by this quote:
At a moment when corporate America is caught between what it sees as two different nightmares — preventing a crippling attack that brings down America’s most critical systems, and preventing Congress from mandating that the private sector spend billions of dollars protecting against that risk — the Telvent experience resonates as a study in ambiguity.


Mike Aucott said...

Wouldn't transmission and distribution line losses be significant, perhaps unacceptably so, with global electricity trade? Or are there new technologies that could minimize this?

Stuart Staniford said...

Mike: I did some back-of-the-envelope on that a few years back:


sunbeam said...

It seems to me it would be really difficult to build much transmission capacity between the southern hemisphere and the northern. Not just geography, but he installed population base, particularly that which is used to electricity on demand is in the northern hemisphere.

It doesn't take much to imagine connections between the US and Canada, or some kind of infrastructure laid across the bed of the arctic ocean (hmmm methane, wonder if that makes things dicey in the polar environment from a geological stability viewpoint?)

It's kind of hard to imagine something going from Brazil to the US.

North Africa might be reachable for Europe, as has been proposed in the past.

Just kind of hard to imagine the players that would be interested in extending this network to the West African states, or any of the smaller countries between the US and Brazil though.

Tony said...

Hi Stuart,
Caveats for a global solar grid?:
- In addition to east-west cables, north-south cables would be needed for winter-summer solar variation, increasing total mileage.
- Would the equatorial region provide reliable solar, due to clouds?
- The southern hemisphere has less land than the northern, with fewer solar-producing deserts. The winter northern hemisphere, with cold, populous places like Russia, would have to be supplied by Australia, southern Africa, and southern South America.
- These three regions are separated by long ocean stretches (140 deg longitude in the Pacific), so the sun would be weak over all land when it was in mid-ocean.
- Terrorist sabotage could be difficult to control in equatorial and southern regions.

Thanks as always for your references and insights……….J Anthony

patfla said...

I've noticed the opposite (seasonal) for our home. Electricity is use is highest in Jan-Feb and lowest in the summer. We live in the Bay Area sort of at the edge of what I call the Inner and Outer Bay Areas. That is, in summer it can get quite hot - and for a while - 100+ but then we're close enough in that within a couple of days, the fog will come in and temperatures could drop to the 70s. We use a little air conditioning but not much. On a hot day, we can leave the aircon off until, say, 2-3 pm and then turn if off again at 7 pm and open all the windows. Temperatures fall fast in the evening (unlike other parts of the country where I've lived).

But is aircon even the main reason for the peak in residential electricity use in the summer? Don't know.

I attribute out winter peak to lighting. We've converted over to compact fluorescent and yet winter is still the peak. What I'll really need to do is get something like a Kill-o-Watt and measure devices around our home.

Switch from residential. Over time I've watched

Cal Iso Daily Usage

Wind is strongest in the summer and, given capacities in CA, much larger than solar. The problem is that summer wind power seems to all be overnight. To improve this situation we don't need energy storage that would keep the overnight wind power no more than 24 hours. I wonder if such a thing could be devised and if so, I would hope that it would be cheaper and easier to do than current batteries which are having a great deal of difficulty in ramping up.

Stephen B. said...

Regarding the residential demand, I agree that the summer seems to be the highest peak, but the winter seems to have a fairly respectable one too right around the beginning of each calendar year. I've noticed this myself on our family's usage. Winter entertaining, winter lighting, some Christmas lighting, and some spot electric space heating are the main culprits I think. Actually, that graph looks very much like our personal graph.

Returning to the graph, I wonder why the 2011/2012 winter peak was so much off the previous end of year peaks? For that matter, 2012 seemed to end on a really low point as well, if I can read much into that graph.

By the way, here are some interesting graphs of what PV solar has done to South Australian peak grid demand along with some forecasts of what may be coming. http://reneweconomy.com.au/2013/rooftop-solar-reshapes-energy-market-in-south-australia-18272

Patrick R said...

Regarding summer peak in electricity demand look at this example of how disruptive distributed PV can be. Fascinating real world OECD data in great charts:

adamatari said...

Re: the NYTimes closing the environmental blog:

I think it shows how badly environmentalism has declined, especially in the upper-middle class and above. The NYTimes basically represents the wealthy liberal elite, and they have abandoned environmentalism. They see it as incompatible with growth and profit, which it is at this point.

I say this based on what I've seen over the years. When I was quite young, drift net fishing became an issue. Environmentalist groups mounted campaigns against it and it was severly restricted at the international level (it was already limited in the US by 1987, the UN restrictions came in 92). Since then, I have heard dire stories about fisheries, over and over again, and doing my own research I have found that trawling is a major cause of collapse. Yet very few major environmental organizations have called for a trawling ban or severe restrictions on trawling... And to the extent they have, it has not been anywhere near as loud, public, or obvious as the drift netting issue.

Another example is the mountaintop removal mining issue. Obama made sympathetic noises about a moratorium before being elected but did nothing. It disappeared from the news and has been forgotten.

I feel more and more that most people, especially those in positions of power and influence, have simply given up and stopped caring. The NYT obviously has concluded the same. The "optics" might look bad to you, but I don't think the NYT would act as it did if they thought it would really bring them substantial bad publicity.

It's over, environmentalism as a movement is dead. I think global warming, paradoxically, is part of the reason - it has stolen all of the attention that used to go into concrete efforts like the drift net ban. Perhaps taking on something that strikes to the heart of modern society too early, with too little support, lead to this. Perhaps the questionable election that Al Gore lost demoralized the movement. In any case, it's dead.

Mike Aucott said...

OK Stuart, I read your back-of-the-envelope assessment of what it would take to power the world with PV and other renewables. As usual it is a trenchant analysis. Clearly, as you point out, building an expanded, high-tech grid that could do this is a massive undertaking, but is probably technically do-able.

In my view, this is what we, as a world, should be doing with the energy and associated wealth newly available in the form of shale gas. If we used the energy this way, shale gas could indeed be a bridge to a renewables-powered world. A carbon tax, with much of the revenue dedicated to renewables development, should do the trick. Needed are politicians with the guts to push for this.

Susan Kraemer said...

Saudi Arabia and Egypt began a load sharing on their grid similar to what you describe: except it shifts peaks across a time zone by an hour or so, and one has an afternoon peak, the other an evening one.

As far as long distance electricity swaps, surprised you and your well-read commenters are not familiar with Desertec or Dii as it is now, that is gearing up to send power from the solar drenched north African desert nations of Morocco etc to the EU.

As far as storing night wind, and delivering it by day, yes, there's several ways that is now done. Check out Ice Energy, that uses night wind to make A/C cheaper in the daytime for huge office blocks, municipalities and hospitals, as well as Steffes who with their Vinalhaven Fox Islands project in Maine for example, stored night wind in heaters in houses that can be turned on when you get up in the morning.

And for just storage on the grid itself, check out Beacon Power that was bought by a VC firm Rockland, Sustain X, and Enbala. None of these are batteries - all are commercially viable - and using three totally different technologies, enable more renewables on the grid.

Nick G said...


The sensible storage option for seasonal wind/solar lulls is "wind-gas".

Overbuild wind by, say, 25%, and use the excess to electrolize seawater and store the hydrogen underground.

That makes the storage incredibly cheap, and the conversion efficiency doesn't matter much because you'll only need to draw about 5% of consumption from storage.

People get hung up on the capex of batteries and pumped storage, but those only make sense for diurnal storage where the capex is amortized over thousands of cycles.

"wind-gas" is the solution, and other forms of storage are just red herrings.