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.
Tags: biogas, blackouts, cables, computer control system, electric generators, electric grid, electric load, electric power, Germany, grid, power outage, power plant, renewables, solar, switches, wind
Week in Review
Thanks to global warming the Germans have an expensive future ahead of them (see Don’t mention the atom posted 6/23/2012 on The Economist).
WHEN Germany decided a year ago, after the Fukushima disaster, to phase out nuclear energy by 2022, economists were worried. Would the country be able to replace its 17 nuclear plants, which supplied 23% of its electricity in 2010, with renewable forms of energy? Would electricity prices go through the roof? Would the move endanger Germany’s industry?
It will be years before the answers are known for sure. But the Energiewende, as Germans call the energy U-turn, has already produced one certainty: the country’s four giant power companies, which were already compelled last year to shut eight of their nuclear plants for good, are among the big losers. And their fate may revive heretical thoughts of a reprieve for atomic power…
In the meantime, thousands of subsidised wind farms and solar arrays are hobbling the earning-power of conventional power stations. The midday peak, when the giants used to command premium electricity prices, is undercut by solar power. Winter winds whip away the margins that big, inflexible plants used to enjoy.
To add insult to injury, consumers and power-hungry industries still expect the power utilities to take up the slack when sun and wind are idle. Last February, with all the active nuclear plants working at full capacity, Germany’s energy producers were only just able to keep the lights on…
Various estimates say the U-turn will push up consumer prices by between 20% and 60% by 2020. What is more, to encourage investment in new conventional power stations, extra subsidies may be needed to reward standby capacity or stored power reserves.
Subsidized wind farms and solar arrays are eating into the profits of the big power producers by providing power at peak times that the big power producers used to charge a premium for. Yet in February with all active nuclear plants working at full capacity they were barely able to keep the lights on. So wind farms and solar arrays are producing so much power that it reduces the amount of power the conventional plants can sell. Yet these same plants working at full capacity can barely keep the lights on in February. Interesting.
When 23% of their power production goes off line it will take an enormous expenditure to replace that power with clean renewable energy. So much so that electric rates will increase between 20% and 60%. Interesting.
Because of the unpredictable nature of the wind and the sun they will have to build standby power capacity and power storage facilities. Presumably to produce and store a surplus of electricity when the wind blows and the sun shines so they can use it when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine. Interesting.
Poor Germany. To save the planet they will have to reduce their citizens to serfs. Their government will tax them so much for all of this renewable energy that they will leave little for the German taxpayer to bail out the Eurozone. Let alone leaving anything for themselves. The Germans are an industrious people used to sacrifice (they paid a heavy price to join East Germany with West Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall). But there must be a limit to their self-sacrifice. Just how much more will their government ask of them?
Even if they suck it up and pay most of their income in taxes they will have little left to engage in economic activity. Which may result in a recession. And growing budget deficits. For as economic activity falls so does tax revenue. Because there’s just less economic activity to tax.
Energiewende. This current path cannot end well for Germany. Or Europe.
Tags: conventional power stations, economic activity, electricity prices, Energiewende, energy U-turn, Germans, Germany, nuclear plants, renewable energy, solar arrays, wind farms
Week in Review
Greece is in a world of hurt. Their government spends too much money. And their people answer calls for austerity with riots. They simply refuse to address the problem that got them where they are. Too much spending. If they continue to reject austerity measures to bring their spending in line with their ability to pay for it they’re going to be cut off from future loans. And broomed out of the Eurozone. That won’t be pretty. Because if others don’t prop them up they simply won’t be able to service their debt. They will default on their sovereign debt obligations. And the banks who have loaned large sums of Euros to them will struggle to recover from these losses. Many of them simply won’t be able to. Once the banks start failing the contagion will spread throughout Europe. And the world. Bringing on a worldwide recession. That could easily slide into a depression. And all of this because of excessive government spending. There’s a lesson to learn here. STOP SPENDING SO MUCH. But no one ever learns this lesson. Especially when Keynesians are running the government.
They’re talking about your typical Keynesian solutions. More of the same that got Greece into the trouble they’re in. Quantitative easing. Printing money. To stimulate these troubled economies with…wait for it…more government spending. As if they can fix their debt troubles with higher consumer prices. Which is what you get when you print more money. Especially when the supply of money grows at a rate greater than its economy grows. So prices will rise while the value of the Euro will fall. It’ll make their exports cheaper. But it’ll also make the value of all those outstanding sovereign Euro bonds worth less. Those bonds all those banks are holding. Giving them a negative return on their investment. Pushing these banks closer to insolvency.
And it doesn’t end there. The strongest economy in the Eurozone is Germany. They know a thing or two about inflation thanks to the hyperinflation in Weimar Germany that gave the world Adolf Hitler. So the Germans have governed responsibly. By living within their means. And their people have been paying a lot of taxes to pay for all of those Eurozone bailouts. A nation that has truly gone above and beyond. Their reward for responsible governing and selfless sacrifice? They’re asking the German taxpayer to assume the Greek debt (see David Cameron and Barack Obama lead charge to save the eurozone by James Kirkup posted 5/19/2012 on The Telegraph).
Angela Merkel of Germany came under intense pressure to do more to support the struggling currency by putting German economic credibility behind the debts of weaker economies like Greece…
There is growing agreement among G8 leaders that the answer to the eurozone crisis is for members of the single currency to “mutualise” their debts, meaning strong members like Germany partly guarantee the debts of weaker ones like Greece.
Mrs Merkel has resisted any such plans, reluctant to ask German taxpayers – who already resent the bill for helping other eurozone countries – to underwrite the budgets of indebted southern Europeans…
That’s fair. Except to the Germans, of course. The problem is if the Greeks don’t reduce their government spending the underlying problem will remain. Excessive spending. Which means they will need bailout after bailout. One or two or three just won’t do it. And it will delay the inevitable. And take more people with them when this Keynesian house of cards implodes.
Giving people benefits is easy. People love you for your generosity. Taking benefits away is very, very difficult. People will hate you. The longer you wait to start the more difficult it will be to cut these benefits. And the more the people will hate you. Which is why it is so difficult to govern responsibly. Because politicians find it is easier to buy votes with generous benefits than it is win votes with good ideology. This is why governments everywhere embrace the failed policies of Keynesian economics. Because it gives legitimacy for the easy way of winning elections. Buying votes with excessive government spending.
And this is the ultimate problem in the Eurozone. Keynesian economics. For if governments did not deficit spend or ‘stimulate’ their economies with monetary policy there would be no Eurozone sovereign debt crisis. Being debt free makes everything easier. Because you don’t have to borrow. Service your debt. Or roll it over. You have none of those headaches when you live within your means. Just look at the Germans.
Tags: austerity, bailout, banks, debt, depression, Euro, Eurozone, excessive government spending, Germany, government spending, Greece, Greek, inflation, Keynesian, Keynesian economics, Merkel, recession, sovereign debt, spending, taxes
Week in Review
The social democracies of Europe are going broke. Why? Growing government benefits. And an aging population. Which means there are fewer people entering the work force than leaving it. Which, of course, means fewer and fewer people have to support more and more people in retirement. And how did this happen? Europeans stopped having babies. Fewer babies means fewer taxpayers. And fewer taxpayers means each taxpayer has to pay a large share of the total tax burden. Which spells one BIG problem. And Germany’s solution to all of this? Make it even less appealing to have and raise children (see Germany is healthy, could be healthier posted 2/24/2012 on The Economist).
Another interesting aspect of the German economy, and one of its major weaknesses, is often overlooked (though not by Matthew Yglesias)—low participation of (married) women and mothers in the (paid) labour force. There are two economic reasons for this shortfall: taxes and child care…
Progress has been made, though: from 2013 on, there will be a legal entitlement to child care when the child turns one, and all states are busy expanding supply…
With its ageing population—only in South Korea will the dependency ratio increase faster, says the OECD—Germany may be forced to speed up the reform process in order to raise the employment of women.
The social democracies of Europe have destroyed the family. The more the state provides the less children need parents. Even children as young as one will be put into the cold world of state-funded child care . So the mother can be freed of providing a loving and nurturing home for her children. And, instead, enter the work force and do something more useful for the state. Like paying taxes.
If they didn’t stop having babies they wouldn’t be in this mess. For even the greatest of all Ponzi schemes will work if there are always more people entering the scheme than there are collecting benefits from it. So the best way for Europe to save their welfare state is to nurture the family. Let mothers stay at home and mother their children. Stop making being a mom a four-letter word. Bring back the family and you start reversing the trend in 20 years. If you don’t and you provide more state-funded child care it will only require more taxes. Making it ever harder to raise a family (someone ultimately pays for ‘free’ child care ). Thus further discouraging women from being mothers. Which will never reverse the downward trend in birthrates. Or the downward trend in new taxpayers entering the workforce.
Tags: aging population, babies, birthrate, child care, children, Europe, family, Germany, government benefits, having babies, mothers, retirement, social democracies, state-funded child care, taxes, taxpayers, welfare state, women