Monday, August 20, 2012

Real Clear Energy Editors: Dumbing Down the Energy Debate?

The website Real Clear Energy provides a useful service to followers of the energy field. It provides timely links to a wide range of energy stories, as well as informative graphics and editorial commentary.

Editors of such a site should be more knowledgeable and informed on energy issues than the average internet user, and should attempt at all costs to provide an honest view of the energy field.

Here are two graphic images currently being presented on the Real Clear Energy main page, which seem to illustrate either a "dumbing down" of the energy debate, or a subtle type of deliberate obtuseness -- otherwise known as dishonesty.

Take a look, and think it over, considering all the things you should have learned by now about intermittent unreliable sources of energy such as big wind and big solar.

In the above graphic, Real Clear Energy "Editors" make the claim that wind energy added 32% of electrical generating capacity in 2011. But that is a false claim, and the editors should know enough about energy to understand this.

The "capacity factor" of wind is 30% or less of its "nameplate capacity," so one should never treat the nominal capacity of wind as the genuine capacity being provided. Even worse, wind is an intermittent -- innately unreliable -- source of energy. One cannot count on wind for either baseload power or dispatchable power. This means that "capacity" of installed wind energy is essentially meaningless in terms of percentage of overall capacity -- since no one can predict when the wind will blow, or how hard. This makes it impossible for grid managers to plan utilisation of wind energy in any meaningful or useful way.

This graphic purports to show a "dispatch curve" for the summer of 2011. For the sake of the graphic, the editors "pretend" that wind is a dispatchable source of energy, although they later admit that it is not:
The only problem with renewables is that they are unpredictable and not always available. Ordinarily systems operators would charge a premium for this since other units must be run simultaneously to back them up. But because of the great desire to get renewables on the grid, systems operators in some regions have been instructed not to add reliability premiums. This has caused some resentment since other suppliers are not rewarded for their reliability and it adds costs to the system. In the Bonneville Power Authority, dispatchers have now been instructed to give preference to wind even if it means that hydroelectric dams must be operated in a way that endangers fish runs. _RCE
The excerpted paragraph above is the most honest part of the entire editorial. The rest of the piece is smattered by crucial omissions and fudge phrases.

The "editors" claim that renewables are "dispatched" earliest in the dispatch curve because "they are the cheapest." That claim is only true for hydro-power, and by lumping wind and solar together with hydropower, the editors commit a bait and switch. Wind and solar -- not being dispatchable, or predictable -- are far from cheap. The above graphic portrays "load curves" for both a summer day and a winter day. Grid managers utilise dependable and cheap sources of power -- such as nuclear, coal, hydro, and increasingly combined cycle natural gas -- to supply the baseload component. The intermediate and peak loads are supplied by power sources which may be more expensive -- but are more "dispatchable," meaning they can be reliably put onto the grid as needed. Natural gas and hydro -- as well as backup storage -- are often used to supply these loads.

The reliability of the power grid and the power industry determine issues of life or death, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For the "editors" of an otherwise useful website to attempt to mislead readers with deceptive quasi-partisan phrasing, and dumbed down or misleading graphics, is something we should be moving beyond -- in a true information society.



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