With a Great Trust in Technology Germany may go all Green in Power Generation

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 7th, 2013

Week in Review

In 2003 one power plant went off line for maintenance in Ohio.  As their electrical load switched over to other power lines the extra current in them caused them to heat up and sag.  Coming into contact with some tall trees.  And the electric power flashed over to the trees.  This surge in current opened some breakers and transferred this electric load to other cables.  Overloading these lines.  More breakers opened.  More lines disconnected.  And with the electric load switching around it caused some electric generators to spin a little wildly.  So they disconnected from the grid as designed to protect themselves.

Eventually this cascade of failures would cause one of the greatest power outages in history.  The Northeast blackout of 2003.  Affecting some 55 million people.  And taking 256 power plants offline.  Apparently there was a software bug in the computer control system that didn’t warn them in time to rebalance the grid on other power sources before this cascade of failures began.  Once the event was over it took a lot of time to bring the power back online.  Three days before all power was restored.  Because you have to reconnect generators slowly and carefully.  As you are connecting generators together.  If these generators are not running in phase with each other fault currents can flow between them.  Damaging them and starting another cascade of failures.

So the electric grid is a very complex network of generators, cables, switches and computer control systems.  The more generation plants added to the grid the more complicated the switching and the computer controls.  Which makes having large-capacity power generation plants highly desirable.  For it reduces the complexity of the system.  And their large power capacity makes it easier for them to take on additional loads when another plant goes offline or a cable fails.  It provides a safe margin of error when trying to balance electric loads between available generation.  In Germany, though, the politics of green energy may take precedence over good engineering practices (see Linked Renewables Could Help Germany Avoid Blackouts by Paul Brown and The Daily Climate posted 4/5/2013 on Scientific American).

Critics of renewables have always claimed that sun and wind are only intermittent producers of electricity and need fossil fuel plants as back-up to make them viable. But German engineers have proved this is not so.

By skillfully combining the output of a number of solar, wind and biogas plants the grid can be provided with stable energy 24 hours a day without fear of blackouts, according to the Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy and Energy System Technology (IWES) in Kassel.

For Germany, having turned its back on nuclear power and investing heavily in all forms of renewables to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions, this is an important breakthrough…

Kurt Rohrig, deputy director of IWES, said: “Each source of energy – be it wind, sun or biogas – has its strengths and weaknesses. If we manage to skillfully combine the different characteristics of the regenerative energies, we can ensure the power supply for Germany.”

The idea is that many small power plant operators can feed their electricity into the grid but act as a single power plant using computers to control the level of power…

The current system of supplying the grid with electricity is geared to a few large producers. In the new system, with dozens of small producers, there will need to be extra facilities at intervals on the system to stabilize voltage. Part of the project is designed to find out how many of these the country will need.

The project has the backing of Germany’s large and increasingly important renewable companies and industrial giants like Siemans.

If you are a heavy electric power consumer in Germany you might want to build your own power plant on site.  For if they go ahead with this they are going to create one complex and costly monster.  Which is why IWES and Siemens no doubt are on board with this.  For it would give them a lot of business in a recession-plagued Eurozone.  But the amount of switching and computer controls to make this work just boggles the mind.

Just imagine a night of high winds that shuts down all wind farms.  Which is something a wind turbine does to protect itself.  You can’t switch over to solar at night.  So you will have to switch that load over to the remaining power lines that are connected to active generation.  Heating those wires up.  Causing them to sag.  Perhaps flashing over to a tall tree.  If these lines disconnect from the grid will those small producers be able to pick up the demand?  Or will they disconnect to protect themselves from an overload?  Once the event is over how long would it take to bring all of these generation sources back in phase and back online?

If they move forward with this chances are that the Germans are going to learn a very painful and costly lesson about green energy.  It may make you look like you care but it won’t keep the lights on like a coal-fired or a nuclear power plant can.  Which they may learn.  The hard way.

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