Clean Power electric grid right of way

Published on August 20th, 2014 | by Silvio Marcacci


How One Wonky Court Decision Could Unlock Our Renewable Energy Future

August 20th, 2014 by  

When it comes to the future of renewable energy in America, most people don’t think about the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or the United States Court of Appeals.

But a decision last week by the District of Columbia U.S. Court of Appeals upheld FERC’s Order 1000, which would require regional coordinated planning and renewable energy integration for major new transmission line projects.

At it’s heart, Order 1000 would mean states who aren’t part of regional grid operator systems like PJM Interconnection or ISO-New England can no longer make decisions about adding new generation in a vacuum and must consider the renewable portfolio standards or emissions reduction goals of neighboring states – opening the door for vast amounts of new clean energy.

electric grid right of way

Transmission line right of way image via CleanTechnica

One Solution For Two Renewable Energy Challenges

Adding large amounts of renewable energy to the grid faces two major challenges – getting electricity from remote locations with the best renewable potential to large areas of power demand (meaning they can sell power at market value), and compensating for intermittency created when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine.

Both those hurdles have been cleared with more and more frequency in regional grid systems. Simple logic dictates that the larger a grid footprint, the easier one power plant can find a customer and the easier a grid operator can balance out when power plants go offline (don’t forget, even the biggest fossil fuel power plants go offline for planned maintenance or unexpected outages).

For context, consider the wind power records being set across regional grids every day, the impact Texas’ Competitive Renewable Energy Zones (CREZ) transmission project has had on the state’s western wind energy resources, or the potential impact of the Clean Line transmission project for Oklahoma wind resources – if remote wind farms can reach populated areas, their capacity factors increase and the percentage of renewable energy consumed rises across an entire region.


Wind energy generation RTO records map via CleanTechnica

What’s America’s Future Power System Look Like?

But in large parts of the American West and Southeast, utility service has remained in monopolistic control. Essentially, if you live in a utility’s service territory, your power demand is guaranteed to their generation and power lines. It’s no surprise that these regions are among the most dependent on fossil fuel and least innovative when it comes to demand response or smart grid technologies. Without competition or input from others, what incentive does any business have to change its model?

Seems only natural, then, that Order 1000 was originally opposed by a glut of 45 state regulatory agencies, utilities, and trade associations representing power companies and supported by multiple environmental organizations and clean energy advocates.

After all, no less than the future of America’s grid system was at stake. “We have an aging grid that needs billions of dollars worth of renovations and the question is how that money will be spent – on the smart grid technology that can hasten reliance on more clean energy or on masking tape and chewing gum solutions that keep us wedded to fossil fuels,” said Abigail Dillen of Earthjustice.

“We No Longer Live In Our Own Small Worlds”

Now that the courts have upheld Order 1000, all that’s set to change. Grid investments like transmission lines across multiple states or utility territories will require mandatory coordinated planning instead of decisions by an individual state’s regulators (often elected by fossil fuel interests) or one utility. Critical stuff, considering nearly 15 gigawatts of new wind power capacity could soon be built across the U.S.

“Among Order 1000’s most important reforms is requiring transmission-owning utilities in regions without electricity markets, like the Southeast and most of the West, to create and participate in regional planning processes with more transparency and stakeholder participation,” said John Moore of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Order 1000 sensibly recognizes that we no longer live in our own small worlds, at least where the grid is concerned.”

US Wind Turbine

US wind turbine image via CleanTechnica

More importantly, any new regional transmission plan will now have to consider the carbon reduction targets or renewable energy standards in place across 30+ states, meaning not only will states have to consider their neighbors’ emissions goals (think California versus Arizona), but states just got another reason to consider regional carbon markets to comply with the pending EPA emissions reductions rule.

“This really is significant because now any time transmission is being considered it will have to take into account states that use renewable energy as a compliance tool to meet greenhouse gas emissions goals,” said Gene Grace of the American Wind Energy Association in a ThinkProgress interview.

U.S. Grid-Renewables Potential, Unlocked

Hundreds of billions of new investment will be needed to maintain grid reliability, especially in an age of extreme weather where one major storm can knock out power to millions and bring major commercial hubs to a halt.

Superstorm Sandy Brooklyn flooding

Superstorm Sandy Brooklyn flooding image via CleanTechnica

Until now, that smart grid and clean energy future was essentially locked out of major portions of the United States, even as it was proven to cut emissions and keep the lights on in regional transmission areas – for example, the nation’s regional grid operators recently argued regional carbon reduction and planning solutions are more efficient than localized decisions.

But last week’s court decision reiterates the power of FERC, the one regulatory body charged with ensuring the most efficient and reliable grid across America, to knock down those arbitrary walls blocking our clean energy future. “Our nation needs substantial investment in transmission infrastructure to adapt to change sin our resource mix and environmental policies,” said FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur. “Order 1000 is critical to the Commissions efforts to support efficient, competitive, and cost-effective transmission.”

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About the Author

Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate policy public relations company based in Oakland, CA.

  • Siri Das

    Why spend billions upgrading the grid when we could send power wirelessly as demonstrated by Tesla 100 years ago?

    • Bob_Wallace

      Because no one has demonstrated that ability at scale?

    • why upgrade the grid or fill the air with electromagnetic radiation to transmit power when we could locate small modular nuclear generation close to every single load in america and not EVEN NEED a transmission grid anymore!?!

      • Bob_Wallace

        Multiple reasons:

        1) Nuclear is too expensive and SMRs are likely to be even more expensive than large reactors.

        2) It would simply not be possible to find many neighborhoods which would host SMRs.

        Now, why is your comment getting deleted?

        Because you continue act like a petulant child and use all caps.

  • WindCapacity

    Could you clarify the comment that “if remote wind farms can reach populated areas, their capacity factors increase”? The links behind capacity factors explain the term but not why it increases.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I suspect that’s simply a mistake. If remote wind farms can reach populated areas, i.e., if grids can access wind farms across a larger geographical area then wind provides significant power more hour per day/year.

      Capacity factor is calculated at the wind farm or turbine level. Moving the electricity to someplace else wouldn’t change the CF.

      • Roy Wagner

        It may be a reference to more availability to the end users/customers and less time idling at the request of the local grid operators.
        Therefore a greater (capacity factor) delivery of wind energy could be realized

        • Bob_Wallace

          That could be. But percentage of wind curtailed is pretty low and mostly due to transmission issues.

          Summary table on page 4 and interesting causes table starting on page 34.

      • you demonstrate your competence again, Bob. Indeed, using terms like “capacity factor” to describe renewables is misleading. Thermal generation has a capacity factor that actually corresponds to when it is generating useful power, because it RESPONDS TO THE LOAD AS REQUIRED.

        The capacity factor of wind doesn’t even take into account the fact that wind fails to produce ON DEMAND AS REQUIRED. Lets go ahead and divide the capacity factor by two and come out with a more reasonable number :]

  • GraceAdams830

    Regardless of etymology of wonk and/or wonky–I am very glad someone is finally putting pressure on electric utilities to join and 21st century and adapt to interruptible energy sources like wind and solar. We need some dispatchable power like geothermal. We also need energy storage and smart grid electronics to match variations in both supply and demand against each other over the course of the day.

  • Larry

    The Utilities are finally being forced to integrate renewable. All that tar sands gunk in Alberta never should have been disturbed.

  • WhatTheFlux

    This also opens the door to renewables having to take responsibility for the harmonic and sub-synchronous waveform disruptions they will inevitably create by feeding large quantities of intermittent power to the grid.

    • Bob_Wallace

      It’s the responsibility of grid managers to control supply levels and quality of electricity. The good ones already are doing a good job incorporating wind and solar. They also deal with nuclear and coal plants going offline without notice, large loads appearing and disappearing, etc.

      Wind farms are being used for frequency control. Solar is DC, has to go through inverters to make it grid compatible. It’s a matter of putting the Legos together properly.

      EPCOT is already incorporating a decent amount of wind (9.9% of total generation) and reporting no problems and low cost for integrating wind. In fact, they report dealing with wind easier than with large thermal plants.

      • Larry

        Hooray for Disney

      • you make a number of baseless claims here.

        also it is ERCOT and not EPCOT.

        I am a power systems engineer that has worked on systems in oklahoma, texas, and arkansas. Wind generation has damaged thermal generation in Dallas before and causes problems intermittently. Dont speak about topics in which you are uneducated.

        Renewable energy comes with huge costs associated with integration. Pat Hoffman, a DOE secretary, told me personally that there is NOT A SINGLE transmission line expansion project in this country that is not opposed on environmental grounds.

        In texas, over 400 MW of wind generation was installed without appropriate transmission studies performed and was idled for years while the appropriate lines were built.

        You greens have no clue when it comes to power. You want wind and solar, but don’t want to cut down the forest to make a transmission line. Please answer this simple question, why do we require reactive power?

        :] noobs

        • Bob_Wallace

          Oh, gosh, I made a typo. Take me out and shoot me.

          How about we bring in the people who run ERCOT?

          “Very large quantities of wind are being used by several grid operators with virtually no increase in the need for operating reserves,” AWEA Transmission Policy Manager Michael Goggin. “The Midwest System Operator (MISO) has over twelve gigawatts. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has over ten gigawatts. Xcel Energy subsidiary Public Service Company of Colorado (PSCo) has had well over 50 percent wind at times.

          Renewables opponents, Goggin recalled, “have said for years that costs would go up and the grid would fall apart. They have been proven wrong.”

          In ERCOT’s calculations for 2011, Goggin said, “the total cost for integrating wind came out at about $0.50 per megawatt-hour.” And, he added, without 2011’s anomalies in July and August that accounted for 80 percent percent of all costs, the total costs in 2012 for the necessary balancing reserves and other expenses associated with the integration of large amounts of wind are expected to be even lower.

          “Newer research suggests systems can go to 40 percent renewables with no problem,” Goggin said, “using the very efficient grid operating practices being applied by MISO, ERCOT, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) and others.”

          “They do very fast interval dispatch of all energy resources,” Goggin continued. “because load is continuously changing, the output of fossil-fired plants is continuously changing, and, of course, wind is continuously changing, too.” The closer system operators are to real-time dispatch, he explained, the more effectively supply and demand can be balanced without the use of reserves.

          “They also have pretty large balancing areas,” Goggin added. “If one wind project is going off, another is probably going on somewhere, providing an overall more stable output. Larger areas also simply have more resources to accommodate variability. In MISO, wind’s variability is just something in the noise. It is not showing up in their reserve needs.”

          ERCOT’s data is similar, Goggin said. “The areas of the country that have efficient grid operating practices have shown it is possible to integrate very large quantities of wind very reliably at virtually zero incremental cost. The areas of the country that don’t have efficient grid operating practices, namely, much of the West outside California, are seeing increased costs and challenges.”

          Studies show nuclear and large fossil plants actually have “far higher integration costs than renewables,” Goggin said. “Contingency reserves, the super-fast acting energy reserve supply required of grid operators in case a large power plant shuts down unexpectedly, are a major cost. Comparing the incremental cost of wind to those costs that ratepayers have always paid, the wind cost looks even more trivial.”

          The fundamental issues are more or less the same with integrating solar, Goggin, who specializes in wind, said. “Relative to wind, solar has more minute-to-minute variability, which increases the cost. But forecasting the sun is easier because it is clear when the sun will come up and go down and when the peak is, and that reduces the cost. But grid operators who use efficient operating methods are finding it is no more of a challenge or cost than wind.”

          Now in this paragraph –

          “Renewable energy comes with huge costs associated with integration. Pat Hoffman, a DOE secretary, told me personally that there is NOT A SINGLE transmission line expansion project in this country that is not opposed on environmental grounds.”

          Are you trying to say that some opposition to new transmission lines has something to do with the cost of renewable integration or is this a case of poor communication skills on your part?

          Just about anything new is opposed by someone. Try sticking a nuclear reactor along the US Pacific or NE seaboard and see what real opposition looks like.

          “In texas, over 400 MW of wind generation was installed without appropriate transmission studies performed and was idled for years while the appropriate lines were built.”

          So? China had the same problem, as did Germany. Sometimes projects are not well coordinated. The new nuclear plants in Georgia were thrown off schedule because contractors could not deliver components on time.

          I’m sorry, you’re not coming across as an honest information broker.

          “I am a power systems engineer that has worked on systems in oklahoma, texas, and arkansas.”

          You’re a “that”? The names of states should be capitalized. And you jump on me for a spelling mistake?


          • you are not brokering honest information by linking to only pro-green power sites.

            The truth is that all wind and solar require natural gas and coal backup power. You will never get to a clean power grid with wind and solar. The manufacture of solar in China is an environmental disaster. Please investigate Baotou province.

            Anything that directly contradicts Merkel’s leadership positively stating that the energieweinde is a failure is bogus. Massive amounts of money are poured into stuff like this by the natural gas and coal folks.

            Let us consider a german source, Der Spiegel


            or any of these



            I suppose you could make a case that Germany had to PAY for a world class reliable grid just to integrate the renewables it has. In terms of FACTS devices, they certainly have the most! Perhaps it is better to say that
            germany had to increase their grid reliability hugely just to incorporate renewables?

          • Bob_Wallace

            “The truth is that all wind and solar require natural gas and coal backup power.”

            Sorry, Andrew, you’re simply wrong.

            I’ll give you a very simple system that could be built which would require zero fossil fuel.

            Install enough wind and solar to cover all demand (along with covering system inefficiencies).

            Build enough pump-up hydro storage to cover demand when wind and solar are not producing.

            A 24/365 wind/solar grid supported by storage.

            Obviously our future grids will be more complex because we will incorporate additional inputs (hydro, tidal, geothermal, biofuels, etc.) and other types of storage (CAES, vanadium flow batteries, liquid metal batteries are candidates).

            And you know very little about what is happening in Germany.

            Energieweinde is doing quite well. Things did stall out for a short period due to the decision to close nuclear plants early, but Germany is now back on track. German utilities have requested permission to close 7.9 GW of coal capacity.

            If you’d like to learn about what is happening free to ask questions. If you are here to pontificate and demonstrate how poorly informed you are, well, please go away.

          • I have been researching and speaking on this topic for 5 years.

            All pumped hydro capacity that is reasonably available has already been put to use. Nobody is going to build a mountain just so they can make a lake at the top of it.



          • Bob_Wallace

            Andrew, I feel like I’m talking to a child who pretends to be a grown up.

            We have ~80,000 existing dams in the US. We use about 2,500 for power production. Based on a survey of existing dams on federal lands at least 10% of the non-producing dams should have ample head and be located close enough to transmission lines to serve as PuHS.

            We have at least a thousand abandoned rock quarries on federal lands alone. One quarry just outside of Chicago is being converted to PuHS right now.

            We have hundreds (thousands) of abandoned subsurface and open pit mines.

            And there’s closed loop PuHS for which we have thousands of sites.

          • We already control the output of these dams for dealing with demand variability. You need to locate energy storage near to loads. Just because you have a rock quarry does not mean it is good energy storage. You need to be located near to a river or other body of water and have a large height difference in order for pumped hydro to be cost effective. These locations are already built out. We are not building significantly more.

            In order to meet the variability constraints of a unreliable 100% renewables based grid , you would need to pump something on the order of lake superior back and forth across the Niagara falls dam. That is not feasible. Get with reality, sir.

          • Bob_Wallace

            We most certainly do not control the output of the roughly 77,500 dams that are now not in use as producers.

            “You need to be located near to a river or other body of water and have a large height difference in order for pumped hydro to be cost effective.”

            You need a height difference. You need enough water to fill the facility over a 1 to 3 year period. Then you need enough water to refill evaporation loss annually.

            We just finished a pump-up facility in California and have started on another in Illinois. We’d likely be building more if we needed them, but we don’t at this point in time. The grid has the ability to accept wind and solar penetration somewhere into the 30% to 50% range and we’re only now passing the 5% point.

            I’m getting very tired of your making obviously false statements. Read the site rules.

          • These dams are not located in areas useful to grid operators and this is why they are not currently used for power production. There is a capital expenditure that must be justified by the available head and flow rate, and not all dams qualify. Do you think people are stupid?

          • yeah, lets sink a ton of mineshafts into the ground and put weights in it and pump water up and down through a turbine.

            Yes it is a clever idea. It is not cheaper than just drilling for natural gas and burning that in a single cycle gas turbine. Energy storage is more expensive than natural gas.

            You are chasing the wind on a cloudy day, and will not find the light to fill your wings. The economics of renewables do not work. They are promoted by the fossil fuel industry as a green alternative in order to confuse the issue. The only baseload resource that can unseat coal IS nuclear. Our fleet of highly reliable nuclear plants have been operating safely for almost 70 years, with capacity upgrades in the meantime!!

            Wind and solar have low reliability and lifetimes of 20 years or less. These are not hard concepts. You can only ignore the truth through the mindset of a zealot. Please wake up.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Andrew, you are becoming a bore.

            There’s no need to sink mine shafts. That’s something you made up.

            Our supply of natural gas is finite and the price is rising off the lows created by a drilling “gold rush”. Plus NG produces CO2 (in addition to the methane leakage problems).

            If you think the economics of renewables do not work then you simply don’t know the economics of renewables.

            We do not need “baseload”/always-on generation. We need the ability to cover demand at that can be done with renewables and storage. (I gave you one paper. Did you read it? Do you want more?)

            Nuclear is dead. If that’s where you want to spend your career, have at it. You can earn your paycheck working with the twitching corpse. Or perhaps find a multi-thousand year career in repackaging used radioactive fuel.

          • nuclear is dying because you are actively trying to shut it down through market manipulation.

            If you actually cared about the environment instead of promoting your money making scams you would be pro-nuke.


          • Bob_Wallace

            Nuclear died in the US because of economics. (It was dead before TMI.) I gave you the link so that you could educate yourself.

            Nuclear died in the rest of the world by 1989. Worldwide nuclear plants plateaued prior to 1990 and nuclear has lost market share from a high of about 17% down to around 11%.

          • you are lying though omission of the truth. In actuality Germans are building MUCH more coal power.

            Here is a report written recently about lessons learned from the failure of the Energieweinde:

            I read your papers now you darn well better read mine

          • Bob_Wallace

            Germany started a program of building 11.3 GW of supercritical coal generation and closing down 18.5 GW of inefficient plants.

            That was before they decided to close nuclear sooner (Fukushima).

            Now they have scaled back their building plans by about 3 GW because they have found that they don’t need as much coal power as they thought they would. And they have submitted requests to close 7.9 GW in the next few months. More old plant closures will follow as the remaining new builds are completed.

            I’m reading your linked paper. I’ll comment as I read…

            1) Yes, the German FiT program was poorly designed and has caused retail prices to rise. Of course was industry paying a fair share the load on retail customers would be less.

            2) “The rapid growth of renewable energy has reduced wholesale prices in Germany, with adverse consequences on markets and companies.”

            Love this one. Reduced wholesale prices (take a look at the graph I’m linking) has hurt whom? Not Germany industry which is thriving, but German fossil fuel interests. I’m guessing this paper goes downhill from here now that its bias has been so clearly stated.

            3. “As a result, wholesale prices in Germany for base load have fallen dramatically from €90-95/megawatt hour (MWh) in 2008 to €37/MWh in 2013. This has created a large amount of load and margin destruction for utilities that built and financed thermal plants.”

            Boy, Howdy! Thermal plants are looking their shorts because renewables are lowering the wholesale price of electricity. Want to see how bad things are? I’ll line another graph.

            Let me post this for now. Disqus sometimes crashes and drafts are lost….

          • By giving subsidies to renewables and mandating that grid operators accept their outputs, you NECESSARILY reduce the value of baseload generation. This is not a difficult concept.

            Through legislation, we have created an artificial market for renewables by taking away money from grid operators who run thermal plants. This is nothing short of wholesale corruption for the benefit of well connected “renewables” brokers, such as Bith Energy. You create the framework that rewards people for inferior power sources.

            You will destroy us all for your green dream.

          • Hans

            In Germany grid operators are not running thermal plants. Production and transmission are in seperate companies to create a fair market. An example that the US should follow.

          • We’re Not Betting
            the Farm, We’re Betting the Planet

            Problem with Large-Scale Wind and Solar

            Can wind
            and solar power the country?

            It’s an
            enticing idea, because the raw amount of solar and wind energy is enormous.
            For example, the earth’s surface
            receives about 163 watts of solar radiation per square meter.

            But even
            if we can capture enough of it to run the country, can we distribute it through
            our existing infrastructure, to significantly change our energy picture?

            no. While it sounds good in theory, feeding enormous quantities of intermittent
            energy into the grid wouldn’t work. In fact, it would be a disaster.

            this .…

            A big
            river runs deep and wide, flowing fast and smooth. Small, turbulent tributaries
            feed into it, but the river runs so strong that its flow isn’t disrupted, and
            river traffic can sail with ease. In fact, the river is so big and smooth that
            it’s the backbone of the region, a commerce and transportation resource that
            anyone can use 24 / 7 / 365. Whole cities have sprung up along its banks.

            imagine that same river with dozens of new canals feeding into it, bringing
            water from flash floods, snowmelt, bubbling springs and fitful waterfalls.
            Sometimes the canals flow like lazy creeks, and sometimes, with hardly any
            warning, they disgorge enormous bursts of turbulent water.

            The river
            would soon become too choppy to navigate, and so rough you could hardly use it.
            It would no longer be the backbone of the region; it’d be a hazard. And if the
            disruptions were bad enough, they could break the region’s back.

            Our electric
            grid works the same way.

            From the
            generators in our power plants, through our entire national transmission
            system, and right down to your happy home, all of it — from Hoover Dam to your
            doorbell — has been designed to generate, transmit and use one thing, and one
            thing only: A
            smooth-as-silk alternating current running at a rock-solid 60 cycles per
            second. Every single piece of equipment we have is built around that idea.

            quality ac voltage is displayed on an oscilloscope with a familiar shape you’ve
            seen before, called a “sine” wave. Lay a long garden hose in the
            driveway, and make sure it’s nice and straight. Give the end of it a big,
            smooth side-to-side wag, and you’ll see a sine wave travel down the length of
            the hose.

            Quality voltage has no deviations from that shape, and
            no “noise” or glitches on the waveform, either. Drink too much coffee
            and draw a sine wave on a piece of paper. The waveform might be there, but
            you’ll see some jittery noise and glitches in the wavy line.

            A quality
            voltage source for the American grid makes exactly 60 complete oscillations
            (wiggles) per second, known as 60 Hertz. A “systematically choppy”
            wave doesn’t count — smooth means smooth. You don’t want a waveform with noise
            and glitches, and you don’t want one that deviates from 60-Hz frequency, even
            if it wanders and comes back again in a predictable pattern.

            arrays (“PV solar”) are processed through a dc-to-ac inverter
            and wind turbine alternators are processed through an ac-to-ac converter.
            These devices do what they can to make waveshapes compatible with the
            grid. But they still produce imperfect
            waves, because they’re being fed with intermittent energy, and not a smooth,
            continuous flow from a perfectly-balanced generator.

            To get an
            idea of just how smooth and continuous, consider this: Aside from a bit of
            routine maintenance every year or two, some of the hydroelectric generators
            that power New York City have been spinning at 3600 rpm, day in and day
            out, for more than a century.

            Since most of the energy generated by large-scale wind
            and solar isn’t stored, their converters and inverters must feed it to the grid
            as soon as it’s generated, no matter how fleeting that energy may be. The precise
            instant of connection is supposed to happen when the new energy is in perfect
            and instantaneous time-sync with the grid’s sine wave. That would be when
            they’re they’re both passing through “zero-volt point,” the low point
            of the wave. Detection circuits and controllers are pretty good at making this
            happen, but they’re not perfect.

            Once the
            connection is made, a strong-versus-weak interaction comes into play: The
            imperfections of the weak source are (hopefully) washed out by the strong
            source, which has always been a smooth ac current generated by the grid’s
            “turboalternators,” the technical term for ac generators.

            make a smooth sine-shape voltage wave because of their carefully-engineered
            design. The sine wave frequency is kept at 60.0 Hz (cycles per second) by
            precisely modulating the amount of steam (or water for hydroelectric) that’s
            fed to the inlet port of the turbine. American steam-driven turbines (coal-,
            gas-fired, or nuclear) spin at exactly 3600 rpm, and most American hydroelectric
            turbines spin at exactly 180 rpm. They both generate a rock-steady 60
            Hz, and for well over a century the entire national infrastructure, and
            everything we plug into it, has been designed around that standard.

            When a weak new energy source connects to the grid,
            the strength and stability of the grid’s waveform “pulls” the weak
            source into nearly perfect match with the grid’s behemoth baseload generators. And
            so long as these disruptions are minor, the grid continues to function
            satisfactorily, like a booming 200-voice choir with an off-key voice in the
            back row.

            But what
            if they’re all off-key?

            Ever been
            to a birthday party where everyone’s slogging through the song, trying to find
            the right key? It’s pretty much like that. Imagine your toaster, your light
            bulbs, and your air conditioner going through that every time you use them.

            a grid with a preponderance of intermittent sources. It’s a nice day, the sun
            is shining, and a dozen big solar farms are energizing the region. Things are fine,
            but now the wind kicks up and some wind farms come online. After their
            converters go though a brief period of adjustment, the wind farms’
            contributions achieve a good match with the magnitude (size) of the solar sine
            wave, as well as its 60-Hz frequency and time-sync.

            connecting switches close and the wind energy flows into the grid. But sudden
            electrical switching can always presents the possibility of imperfect
            performance. Switching may be perfect 99 times in a row, but on the 100th try a
            “transient” voltage surge might appear. And it may even be from some
            far-away perturbation in the grid, that has nothing to do with the wind farms.

            problem with a grid powered by intermittent energy is that spurious surges have
            a greater chance to propagate down the wires because there isn’t a large,
            steady baseload working in perfect sync to “call the tune.” It’s like
            an orchestra with no conductor, such as the famous cacophony in The Beatles’
            song A Day in the Life. The conductor basically told the London
            Symphony, “Every instrument plays for 16 bars. Start on this note and end
            on this note.” And that was it.

            The presence of wave choppiness also raises the
            possibility of an unhappy timing coincidence, when the grid’s waveform is
            momentarily magnified, dampened, or otherwise perturbed by the appearance of a
            newcomer. There’s no orchestra conductor to make all the musicians follow the
            beat and melody, because there is no beat and melody. It’s just noise. And
            every time the wind picks up or dies down, or the sun goes behind a cloud, it’s
            another stray melodic line (Free Jazz comes to mind…)

            Can’t we
            just re-design the grid?

            Maybe. And maybe not. We don’t know if it can be made
            sufficiently reliable to satisfy modern expectations, because no one has tried it
            on a national scale. Right now, the American grid consists of less than 5%
            intermittent sources —over 95% or our turboalternators are powered by coal,
            methane, hydro, biofuels and nuclear. The German grid is about 12% wind and
            solar. Their 9% river hydro and biofuels aren’t intermittent by our definition,
            because they spin steady-speed turboalternators, though not as
            “strong” as coal-fired plants. Denmark has the highest portion of
            wind and solar in its electrical supply, with up to 30% in 2012.

            With ingenious control engineering and sophisticated
            connect / disconnect equipment, it may be possible to reliably operate a
            stand-alone, wide-area, high-content national grid like ours, using 50%
            intermittent sources. Perhaps even 80%, the goal of the National Renewable
            Energy Laboratory’s 2050 plan. Or maybe even
            90-100%. Who knows? We don’t, and we won’t, until we try it.

            But we do know one thing: What we’ve accomplished so
            far, by adding marginal intermittent energy on top of our national baseload, is
            not indicative of future success. What it does indicate is that small intermittent
            sources don’t disrupt a grid that’s firmly anchored by large baseload
            generators, which is how we’ve powered the nation since Niagara Falls lit up
            Buffalo in 1896.

            The availability
            of wind and solar over a large region can be mathematically modeled with
            historic records, but the functionality of thousands of intermittent
            sources cannot be modeled with computer software. That kind of modeling isn’t
            yet possible because there are no mathematical equations that apply to any
            engineered system, mechanical or electrical, on such an enormous scale.

            Bluntly, we don’t know if it’ll work because we
            haven’t done it before, or anything vaguely like it, either. To find out will
            require a multi-trillion dollar gamble, and several precious years, or even decades,
            spent on a possible wild goose-chase:

            It will
            cost something like $8 Trillion to replace 80% of our existing electrical
            generation with wind and solar, based on current renewables technology. Figure
            another $2 Trillion for the extra transmission corridors needed to bring all
            that energy to populated areas from the windswept, sunny wilderness.

            And the
            price tag doesn’t even include the two things that might actually make
            renewables work on a national scale — a feasible means of mass-energy storage,
            and/or rebuilding and re-wiring the entire infrastructure to accommodate a
            system built on intermittent energy, from Hoover Dam to your doorbell. And then
            there’s the time, energy, labor and resources needed to build it all, and get
            it up and running with the kinks worked out. If they can be worked out.

            Anything can look good on paper, and we’re all free to
            speculate. But when the time finally comes to decide on a course of action (and
            many people think that moment has already arrived), keep one thing in mind:

            We’re not betting the farm, we’re betting the planet.

          • Bob_Wallace

            3. (cont.) I just want to paste in some more, simply because it’s so enjoyable.

            “Many new gas-fired power plants have been rendered uneconomical, leaving owners to shore up their balance sheets by undertaking large divestitures of some of their holdings, as well as by reducing their operational costs. The impact to utilities’ shareholder value has been dramatic and has come on top of the impact of the global financial crises, and, in the case of Germany, the decommissioning of nuclear power. The German utilities have seen their stock plunge by nearly 45 percent since 2010. Some power plant operators in Germany and other countries, like the United Kingdom, are now calling for capacity payments to ensure that reliability is maintained and not threatened by the shutdown of various thermal power stations.”

            Fossil fuels are getting shoved into a backup role. That’s fine. We’ll have to fade them out. It’s not possible to go cold turkey.

            4 . “The wholesale pricing model has changed”

            The entire electricity model is changing as a result of the large renewable energy penetration.”

            Let me show you a before and after picture of what only a small amount of solar has done to the German demand and price curves.

            5. “Fossil and nuclear plants are now facing stresses to their operational systems as these plants are now operating under less stable conditions and are required to cycle more often to help balance renewables’ variability”

            Poor babies. We’ll replace them with storage over time.

            6. “Large scale deployment of renewable capacity does not translate into a substantial displacement of thermal capacity.”

            Oops, here they try to slip in a little falsehood. Up until now they’ve been crying about how just a tiny amount of solar and wind has been killing thermal plants.

            7. “Large-scale investments in the grid are being required to expand transmission grids so they can connect offshore and onshore wind projects in the north of Germany to
            consumers in the south of the country.”

            And all of Europe is in the process of building new transmission in order to share electricity which means that every national grid will need less storage and less dispatchable backup. It’s the equivalence of building railroads to build coal like we did in the past.

            8. “Overgenerous and unsustainable subsidy programs resulted in numerous redesigns of the renewable support schemes, ….”

            They’re repeating their point about the FiT system being poorly designed. Did they get paid by the word for writing this paper?

            No one claims that the German (or Spanish) programs were well designed. But they were really, really effective. They brought solar from expensive to affordable in a hurry.

          • Bob_Wallace

            And a special comment for “the great lie”

            “In conclusion, the lessons learned in Europe prove that the large-scale integration of renewable power does not provide net savings to consumers.”

            That’s bullshit and even you with your glow in the dark goggles should be able to see through it.

            The subsidy program was poorly designed. It should have scaled down faster. And industry should be picking up part of the cost.

            I’m not going to bother to read further. This paper is a pro-thermal plant POS.

          • they made german electricity one of the most expensive in europe, drove their largest electric utility to the point of bankruptcy, and are forcing industries to relocate out of the country.

            your victories destroy both the environment AND the economy

          • you just assume that my points don’t have to be addressed JUST because you say they are not legitimate. If you want to have a conversation then fine, but I am not going to argue with a green zealot. You buying the crap about wind and solar plays right into what the fossil fuels lobby wants.

            Check out this picture. Its one of the first advertisements for solar power

            in the bottom left


            damn your energy lies. You cannot suppress the truth with your dirty “clean energy” propaganda. If I win, then the environment is saved. If you win, then the air is polluted with soot, our water is poisoned by fracking, and oil is spilled from countless pipelines.

            Damn your Lies

          • Bob_Wallace

            First, cut out the all caps. We don’t shout at each other here.

            Second, I have no idea what you’re going on about. There’s an ad you don’t like? I’m not sure the site has the ability to pre-screen ads. If there’s an ad that offends you let me know and I’ll see if the site operators can block it.


          • its not shouting, its emphasis.

            I used that emphasis to demonstrate how, from the beginning, wind and solar have been tools of the fossil fuel industry to use against nuclear power. Until you accept the truth, you will keep on wasting your effort on fake energy solutions.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Here are the site rules. Give them a read.


            Nuclear failed long before wind and solar became viable. Had the price of wind and solar not fallen so significantly then we might have paid the extra cost of running grids on nuclear in order to minimize climate change. But cheaper they became and we lucked out.

          • You put out all these numbers without any concept of scale. Just because you have a maximum wind capacity does not mean it generates that constantly. Wind and solar have a capacity factor of anywhere from 10-40% typically, considering BOTH the availability of loads and wind/sun.

            In truth, the only renewable that makes sense is hydro, and even hydroelectric comes with SERIOUS environmental consequences.

            Until you all wake up and understand WHY we have been forced to stick with fossil fuels, when the Seaborg Comission laid out a plan in 1962 to get us OFF fossil fuels by the year 2000…. you wont have anything to add to the conversation.

          • Bob_Wallace

            ” Just because you have a maximum wind capacity does not mean it generates that constantly.”

            Well, duh. Thank you for telling me what CF means.

            Next thing I guess you’ll have to teach me is that the Sun sets at night.

            “In truth, the only renewable that makes sense is hydro”

            Hydro is great. Comes with some environmental impacts that can be quite serious at times. And is not available in large enough amounts to power most grids. There some places such as Paraguay which have exception hydro resources, but other countries such as Saudi Arabia which come in on the short side.

            Now, back in 1962 we really thought that nuclear was the answer. I grew up a few miles from Oak Ridge National Labs and I grew up with nuclear energy.

            Thing is, nuclear turned out to be too expensive and we quit building reactors. The US figured it out earlier than some of the rest of the world, but by 1989 nuclear was finished. Since then it’s been slowly dying away.

            It’s a new world Andrew. Wind has dropped from over 30 cents/kWh to under 4 cents. Solar panels have gone from $100/watt to around 50 cents/watt.


            Would you like some good papers to help you catch up?

          • I came to graduate school because I believed in renewable energy. I have learned it is a lie. The IEEE is complicit in the promotion of these lies. My professors tell me hard truths about these resources, but they cannot escape the paradigm because it is the only research money available to them.

            Wake up. This system is run by corporations, in this case, energy corporations. They have a major investment in the fossil fuel cycle and will fight tooth and nail to divert, confuse, and defeat any truly disruptive change.

            At oak ridge they built a molten salt reactor. It was shelved because it was not capable of plutonium manufacture for bombs. You really need to check out Rod Adam’s blog on this for a close look at all the historical details.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Please, Andrew.

            You’ve already demonstrated that you know very little about renewable energy and storage.

            And apparently you also know little about the economics of nuclear energy.

            And please don’t bring Rod into the discussion. I’ve known that hack for years. He’s a joke.

            Why don’t you learn something about the history and economics of nuclear energy?

            Start here – Google “THE ECONOMICS OF NUCLEAR REACTORS: RENAISSANCE OR RELAPSE?” and read the cached copy. For some reason the link is not currently working.

            Then read this paper –


          • you just insulted someone who served our country in the navy as a nuke. You continue to insult my intelligence. I can see why you are a top commenter here. You are quite effective at rustling my jimmies.

            When the Thorium Energy Alliance finally breaks the hold the fossil fuel industry has on your minds, I will hope to shake your hand.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Rodney is a dishonest shill. Perhaps you’ll eventually figure that out.

            Perhaps you’ll chose to remain ignorant.

            Another thorium dreamer.

            Do you know the cost of fuel in a uranium reactor? Less than $0.01/kWh. I’m seeing numbers from $0.0025 (EIA) to $0.0075. Thorium might be cheaper but there’s not enough room between half a penny and zero pennies for fuel to bring the overall cost of nuclear down to where new reactors might be competitive.

            Do you know how much new nuclear costs? Check the new Finnish plant. Check the UK that is trying to contract at 15 cents/kWh. Check the Vogtle plants which should produce at 11 cents if they encounter no further budget/timeline overruns (Citigroup LCOE).

            And realize that even in Vogtle does produce for 11c that number will be pretty much impossible to replicate in future builds because our recovering economy will bring about higher financing costs. Future builds won’t get the very low rates Southern Company is enjoying.

            (BTW, are you aware that there has been at least one meeting discussing abandoning the Vogtle builds? People are starting to think it might be better to take a $5 billion loss rather than extending it to a $10 to $15 billion loss.)

            Thorium reactors still need a reactor and a steam generator. Those are expensive to build and they take a long time to construct.

            Read the papers I linked for you.

          • the high temperature available with MSRs allows the use of gas turbines that have higher power density and subsequent lower cost. The reason that nuclear costs have remained high is due to sociopolitical opposition facilitated by the fossil fuel industry and useful idiots such as yourself. If you dont believe me now, give it another year or two and we can watch together as countries struggle to extricate themselves from the morass of power quality issues caused by integrating renewables.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I gave you the link to the site commenting rules.

            Follow them.

          • you can censor the truth as much as you want asshole. Your lies and cleantechnica’s garbage will end up in the dumpster where they belong

          • Bob_Wallace

            You have received ample warnings.

            Any more name-calling and you will lose your privilege of posting.

          • you are name calling as well and need to go to hell post-haste

          • Bob_Wallace

            And Andrew could not control his inner child thus has been escorted from the building….

          • Bob_Wallace

            Oops, looks like I checked the wrong box and vaporized Andrew.

            Sorry about that. A simple banning is all he earned, not an erasure of all his previous posts as happens with trolls.

            Whatever, Andrew. Good luck with your career. Don’t stand too close to the stuff that glows.

          • Rod Adams

            @Bob Wallace

            I would prefer if you did not smear my character just because you disagree with what I say.

            For the information of people who care, I graduated from the US Naval Academy, taught ethics during a later part of my 29 years of commissioned service and have never been employed to market nuclear energy.

            On Atomic Insights, I freely provide my complete resume and work very hard to share what I have learned about nuclear energy and other energy sources. I also share what I have learned about human nature, common business practices, and politics. (I’ve never been an elected official, but I served as a requirements officer in three different codes in Navy Headquarters during a nine year stint in Washington.)

            Rod Adams
            Publisher, Atomic Insights

            PS – FYI, I do not have any vanity search alerts set up, but sometimes fans let me know if someone is besmirching my reputation by speaking ill of me.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Rod, I’ve interacted with you on the web a number of times.

            I’ve seen you post lies. You have made you your reputation, live with it.

          • Guest

            shut your fucking mouth asshole

          • Down Under

            Provide your credentials Mr Adams. In which university did you receive your “engineering” degree?

          • Nicholas Thompson

            Rod Adams is not a “dishonest shill”.

            There are many places that nuclear is cheaper to build than wind and solar, mostly in regulated markets and in the developing world. In those places, nuclear should be built.

            The goal should be to reduce carbon emissions in the fastest and most economical way possible, and in certain places that means part of the solution will be nuclear.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Perhaps Rod has changed his ways. I’m going from the posts I’ve seen him make over the years but I haven’t read anything from him during the last few months.

            Now, where are these places where nuclear is cheap to build than wind and solar?

            “Regulated markets” don’t count. All you’re saying is that there exist local regulations that put a heavy thumb on the scale, distorting the price structure.

            “The goal should be to reduce carbon emissions in the fastest and most economical way possible,”

            I totally agree. Now back to my original request. Where are these places?

          • I thought you said not to use caps?

          • Bob_Wallace

            I did.

            I copied the title of a paper which was printed in all caps.

            So shoot me.

          • the cost of the solar panel is now largely irrelevant. It is the cost of installing the hardware on your roof to locate the panel. It is the cost of cleaning and maintenance. It is the cost of battery backups that need replacement ever 3-5 years. It is the cost of the power electronics in the inverter system.

            I have installed 8kW battery systems in Binger, OK. I have seen the issues caused by wind and solar integration. You cannot take the intellectual high ground here because you dont have the experience or credentials.

            Growing up “near Oakridge”

            what a joke!

          • Bob_Wallace

            Even normal deep cycle batteries have a 5-7 year lifetime when used appropriately.

            Check out the Trojan RE series, rated at 5,000 cycles at 20% DoD cycling.

            Check out Windston lithium yttrium iron phosphate with even higher cycle ratings.


            You can keep attempting to demean my knowledge base but you continually demonstrate that you are a badly informed individual. You might want to drop the insults and start learning something.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Use links to back up the point you wish to make.

            No one is interested in opening up unexplained links in order to go on a fishing expedition.

          • you need to read that link. It is relevant to your comment and this is why I posted it. I am not going to waste your time. It is a waste of my time to waste yours.

          • same to you, bud.

          • you realize that 20% depth of discharge means I am only using 20% of the capacity of the battery, right? You really think we can build enough electrochemistry to integrate renewables?

            We wont mine enough lithium in 40 years, and we would destroy the environment in the process. You completely ignore the massive environmental harm caused by your “green” technologies. You moved your pollution from the west to the east. How racist are you to approve of such a thing?!? Its just fine for you to pass off your burden to do the right thing to foreigners?

          • Bob_Wallace

            You claimed to have some expertise with battery systems and made the claim that they lasted only 3-5 years.

            I pointed out the fact that you were, once again, wrong.

            Now your “racist” “pass off your burden” stuff. Are you becoming unhinged?

          • I made that claim based on appropriate depth of discharge figures from industry. We like to use most of the battery capacity because you have to buy less batteries. It is a design tradeoff. Would you rather have 5x the batteries go bad in 10 years or 1x the batteries go bad in 5 years?

            As for the racism point, it is valid. You westerners who promote green energy are functionally transferring pollution to china, where most PVs are made, and most of the rare earth power electronics and permanent magnet synchronous machines are made for wind turbines.

            Are you ok with asian people becoming genetically malformed due to your mad dreaming? Green energy is a sham that hurts poor people. It is almost as disgusting of a deception as the war against the muslims.

            If you act in such a way that it harms those of another ethnicity in a systemic manner, then yes, YOU ARE A RACIST.

      • where is this report because I speak with them personally and there have been specific instances where wind turbines have resonated along the long lines from oklahoma to dallas, damaging thermal generation equipment there.

        Quit lying to these people Bob. Your days as a cheerleading whore are numbered.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Give us a link to something published on wind turbines damaging thermal generation equipment.

          If you’re saying that renewables are causing additional cycling and that is lowering the lifetime of thermal plants, sure, that could be. We’re going to have to use something other than old fashioned thermal plants for renewable fill-ins.

          Short term that will be NG plants with storage and load-shifting taking on the role over time.

          • ever heard of sub-synchronous resonance?

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’m not going to pretend that I’m an EE. I do know that there have been some learning pains with turbine integration. But lessons get learned and systems are adjusted.

      • You are not an impartial commenter bob. Do you work for ?

        You are making money by SCAMMING the american public with your green energy filth. Your company will go bankrupt soon. The renewable energy credits are coming to an end and you will no longer be able to compete with those that produce reliable energy.

        • Bob_Wallace

          No, I work for no one. And you aren’t following rules which is why you’ll see your comment disappear.

    • GCO
    • Ronald Brakels

      Sometimes South Australia is entirely wind powered and we have no problems with out of phase power. You must be doing it wrong.

      • thats a lie

        • Bob_Wallace

          Present proof.

          Or admit you spoke without basis.


            Quick summary: The variability of wind is not a gaussian distribution. We cannot spread wind over a large enough area to compensate for the variability.

            Dont accuse me of speaking without bias again.

          • Bob_Wallace

            By connecting wind farms over a moderate area 35% of their output operates as “baseload” 85% of the time (the CF of a coal plant).

            Onshore wind and solar tend to mirror each other, at least in the US, with wind being a highly reliable nighttime resource and solar producing during the day.

            Anytime you see someone talking about an all wind or all solar grid then you can be fairly sure you’re talking with a coal or nuclear advocate who is trying to distort things.

          • The link i posted REFUTES exactly what you just stated. You obviously are failing to read. Spreading wind over an area does not increase its reliability with any significance.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Sorry, Andrew. Published research proves you wrong.

            As do the reports from large grid (ERCOT) operators –

            ““They also have pretty large balancing areas,” Goggin added. “If one wind project is going off, another is probably going on somewhere, providing an overall more stable output. Larger areas also simply have more resources to accommodate variability. In MISO, wind’s variability is just something in the noise. It is not showing up in their reserve needs.””


        • Ronald Brakels

          Glad to hear you aren’t doing it wrong, Andrew.

      • out of phase “power” doesn’t even make sense.

        if I am out of phase with the grid by 180 degrees then I am a consumer of power and not a producer. In the linked article there are actually some instances in which wind power DID act as a net load!

        Wind is best left for sailing boats and flying kites, gentlemen.

        • Bob_Wallace

          With Iowa and South Dakota now producing 25% of their electricity with wind and Texas producing 10% it seems that there are entire states which disagree with you.

          Note: I gave you a pass on the all caps. Don’t expect much more latitude, I’m trying very hard to not give you the excuse to storm away because your 1st Amendment rights were violated or whatever cockamamie excuse you prefer.

          • you capitalized 10 letters in this post. The one you complain about ONLY has 7.

            Are you offended by das capitals?

  • eveee

    I think wonk comes from policy wonk, a term used to describe Clinton, for example. Someone very nerdy about policy and numbers.
    As far as Order 1000, its a nice step, but we need a united national grid coast to coast. Tres Amigas needs to be built. Forget all the ISOs, we need a combined, cooperative, publicly owned grid. Private ownership and deregulation has only lead to neglect of the grid for private gain at the publics expense. The easiest way for private firms to make money is to deliver less reliable service and charge the same amount.

    • WhatTheFlux

      Wonk is “know” spelled backwards. I believe that’s the 90s-speak origin of the word.

      • If that’s the case that’s interesting and kind of cool. I’ve heard of policy wonk or regulation wonk used for years. Usually it’s referred to the details guys in Washington who write and read policy word for word. For instance there’s a blog called Wonkette. It was run by someone who knew the inter workings of DC politics and legislation.

      • AltairIV

        Sorry to burst your bubble, but that’s just coincidence-induced folk etemology.

        Summary: It looks like “wonk” and “wonky” are actually unrelated. “Wonky” is an old English word meaning “unsteady” and “wonk” first appeared as student slang in the 1960’s to mean someone who studies excessively. It’s origins are unclear, but may be related to an older “wonk” referring to naval cadets.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Perhaps someone who studies excessively knows the material forwards and backwards….

        • Stan Hlegeris

          AltairIV almost has it. Americans use “wonk” in the sense of thorough study, with “wonky” perhaps an adjective along the same line.

          For Anglo English users (i.e., Australians) “wonky” most usually means crooked or suspect. “Wonky” is not a useful word for an international publication.

  • Kevin McKinney

    OK, so why does the headline term this decision “wonky?”

    Definitions found online:

    “won·ky ˈwäNGkē/ adjective informal
    “crooked; off-center; askew. (“you have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth”)

    “(of a thing) unsteady; shaky. (“they sat drinking, perched on the wonky stools”)

    “not functioning correctly; faulty. (“your sense of judgment is a bit wonky at the moment”)”

    I don’t think any of these were intended. Maybe ‘wonkish’ was meant?

    Anyway, headline aside, thanks for a useful story.

    • Alec

      Wonk: a person who takes an excessive interest in minor details of political policy.

      I believe the author is suggesting that the decision is premised on a very intricate and legalistic determination of the extent of FERC’s rulemaking authority, something you don’t see too often in energy policy.

      • Kevin McKinney

        Yes, I think so, too–I know what a ‘wonk’ is. But the fact remains that the terms are unrelated, as AltairIV points out below.

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