The Wind Energy cart. Will the horse ever catch up?

Energy Secretary Steven Chu recently addressed the Grid Week conference in Washington.  Jeff St. John reported on the Secretary’s comments at Greentech Media.  The full article is linked here for your convenience:  “GridWeek: Chu Lays Out DOE’s Smart Grid Vision, Standards to Come.”

While the intent of the article was to discuss challenges facing the Nations electrical grid and the vision for the future, I was struck by the phrasing attributed to Secretary Chu as relates to Wind as a “reliable” source of electricity.

At the risk of “cherry-picking, I offer the following:

1 – The article mentions that Chu sees “massive new transmission lines carrying renewable power across the country, along with energy storage projects to keep that fickle solar and wind power from disrupting the grid.”  Fickle solar and wind power???

2 – When citing Bonneville Power Secretary Chu said, “it gets about one-fifth of its power from wind energy when the wind is blowing.”  “But when it stops blowing, that share drops to zero,” he said.  Further to that point the Secretary questions, “How do you maintain and run a reliable transmission and distribution system when you have variable power?”  His answer, “massive energy storage of the kind that is only contemplated today.”  Of the kind only contemplated today???

3 – The Secretary sees energy storage as coming from pump-storage hydro systems.  The article states that Federally run dams like Grand Coulee Dam in Washington state are looking at new pumped hydro projects, which offer about 80 percent efficiency but could cost billions of dollars, he said. And while the United States has tapped much of its potential for pumped hydro, “Canada has a lot of untapped hydro, and that hydro power can be ported into the United States,” he said.  So we’ll reach out to Canada to sell us power to cover the shortcomings of wind energy???

4 – Finally, the Secretary dealt with “getting beyond 20 percent intermittent renewables will create an additional problem for power generation, he said. It could require baseline generation sources like coal-fired and nuclear plants to actually turn down the amount of power they’re generating when the wind is blowing hard or the sun is shining bright, he said.

“Because coal and nuclear plants don’t run nearly as efficiently when they’re not running full-out, that will make their power more expensive at partial loads,” he said.

“You’re actually dipping into more inefficient ways to generate electricity. This is something that the smart grid can only partially take care of,” he said.

To combat that, “We’re beginning to look at using some of the fossil fuel generation as what is called poly-gen,” he said. That is, use the power that’s being taken off the power grid to do something useful, like make biofuel or other high-value products, he said.”  So, if we bring an unreliable source of power, such as wind, to the grid we can accommodate it by operating the efficient systems inefficiently???

So, at what point do we determine that wind power is not a sensible solution to our growing energy requirements and that the taxpayer money being spent would be better placed in nuclear, clean coal, natural gas and geothermal?

Or, where did I go wrong?

Read the Greentech Media article in its entirety here.

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