Too much green energy could lead to sudden collapse of power grid

Monday, January 27, 2014 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: green energy, power grid, electrical infrastructure

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(NaturalNews) Renewable "green" energy is an admirable goal, and our country should strive to develop it as quickly as possible, but we've got a problem that needs addressing first: a power grid that is simply outdated, aging and in danger of becoming overwhelmed.

Plugging in automobiles by the tens of millions, coupled with powering the energy-hungry high-tech industry of the future will require a substantial investment in the infrastructure necessary to deliver the energy, experts increasingly say.

Fortunately, the problem has been identified, as reported by the Los Angeles Times:

In a sprawling complex of laboratories and futuristic gadgets in Golden, Colo., a supercomputer named Peregrine does a quadrillion calculations per second to help scientists figure out how to keep the lights on.

Peregrine was turned on this year by the U.S. Energy Department. It has the world's largest "petascale" computing capability. It is the size of a Mack truck.

Its job is to figure out how to cope with a risk from something the public generally thinks of as benign - renewable energy.

Too much for a 20th century grid

The discovery of electricity - or, more appropriately, the discovery of how to utilize electricity to power American growth - came with a daunting problem: how to get that electricity to the cities and towns, factories and businesses.

As America grew, so too did our patchwork of electrical grids. Today, the aging "grid" is held together tenuously, and energy officials worry quite a bit about how to keep "the massive patchwork of wires, substations and algorithms that keeps electricity flowing" stable, the Times reported.

A number of scenarios could put the grid on the fritz, big time, officials say. Such potentially devastating scenarios include cyber attacks, sabotage or a freakish storm.

But in the race by some states like California to bolster the use of wind, solar and geothermal power, those forms of alternative energy, as well as others, are creating new worries for energy officials.

The problem? Renewable energy places unprecedented levels of stress on a grid that was designed for 20th century America.

As noted by the Times:

Green energy is the least predictable kind. Nobody can say for certain when the wind will blow or the sun will shine. A field of solar panels might be cranking out huge amounts of energy one minute and a tiny amount the next if a thick cloud arrives. In many cases, renewable resources exist where transmission lines don't.

So, ecological concerns aside, we seem to have gotten ahead of ourselves in terms of the electrical infrastructure needed to handle these new technologies.

"The grid was not built for renewables," Trieu Mai, senior analyst at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, told the paper.

That said, it is not as if there is no effort to upgrade the current grid. In fact, as the paper noted, state and federal government officials who are concerned that the 20th century grid will hinder efforts to reduce greenhouse gases are investing billions of taxpayer and ratepayer dollars to "hasten the technological breakthroughs needed for the grid to keep up with the demands of clean energy."

What about energy storage? Expensive...

But it won't be easy - as anything worthwhile on this scale isn't. Building a green energy future will be "one of the greatest technological challenges industrialized societies have undertaken," says a group of Caltech scholars in a recent report.

The role of the nation's power grid is to ensure a steady, predictable flow of power. At every moment of every day, engineers work to carefully calibrate how much electricity to feed into the system as every electrical device - from a porch light to a factory machine - is switched on and off at all hours.

This requires painstaking precision, for at any moment an overload can bring the system crashing down.

One of the technologies being examined now involves the development of some kind of green energy storage device, which would allow energy to be distributed more evenly over time.

"Energy storage has the potential to be a game changer for our electric grid," California Public Utilities Commissioner Mark Ferron said.

The drawback? Dramatically higher utility bills.


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