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How does our electrical grid work?

Discussions of conventional and alternative energy production technologies.

Re: Still think the electric grid will survive post-peak?

Unread postby chris-h » Fri 13 Oct 2006, 14:08:27

Torjus wrote:What if the hydroelectric stations are blown up by rioting masses? A similar situation to what is currently seen in Bangladesh.


Well it is like Rome and Byzantium.

Things will be made simpler.

Anything that is part of the electrical grid will become property of the state.
The state will be owned by the army and the church.

Anyone that tries to do harm to any part of the electrical grid will be executed (think cross or pike style).

The electric grid will survive at least survive from destruction from the causes mentioned in this thread.
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Re: Still think the electric grid will survive post-peak?

Unread postby TommyJefferson » Fri 13 Oct 2006, 14:19:54

Rising copper prices have caused some real weirdness down here. Theives are stealing wire from everything; old houses, construction sites, even pulling the gutters off houses with people inside.

Hey SPG, I'm curious, are you an AK47 or AR15 kinda girl?
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Re: Still think the electric grid will survive post-peak?

Unread postby smallpoxgirl » Fri 13 Oct 2006, 16:12:50

With the price of materials rising, those copper wires are going to start to look more and more like dollar bills hanging on the poles. Seems to me that stopping this would require either burying the wires, or banning payments for scrap metal. Neither seems very practical. Harsh punishment for offenders may buy time, but won't solve the problem.

TommyJefferson wrote:Hey SPG, I'm curious, are you an AK47 or AR15 kinda girl?
AR15, though you have to respect the functionality of the AK.
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Re: Still think the electric grid will survive post-peak?

Unread postby strider3700 » Fri 13 Oct 2006, 17:40:01

I just finished reading "Lights out"
http://www.giltweasel.com/stuff/LightsOut-Current.pdf

excellent doomer porn. There the grid goes down due to EMP and then the country rapidly declines to mad max levels. I highly recommend it.

Having seen the number of issues with the grid recently while we have the resources to maintain it I have serious doubts that it will survive.

Sure there will be pockets of electricity here and there but one harsh winter could cause massive damage that won't be easily repaired.

I also believe it should be the prime target of terrorists and they will figure that out. Around here all of the high voltage lines go into stations where they kick things down to residential lines. They're guarded with a fence and some barbed wire. Sure you may get electrocuted and die if you go into them but blow a dozen up and see what happens to a city. It's not like they're easy to replace in an hour or two.
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Re: Still think the electric grid will survive post-peak?

Unread postby Loki » Fri 13 Oct 2006, 21:46:00

A bit more on this story from the Oregonian:

Some cop in Clark County wrote:"I get one to five copper theft reports across my desk every day," Bieber said. "And that's just unincorporated Clark County. That's not even counting Vancouver."

Within months of a Hazel Dell-area restaurant being closed, thieves stripped the building of copper wiring, including inside electrical boxes, he said. That practice could prove dangerous if the electricity is not turned off, he said.

New construction sites are hit so often that some contractors no longer report the thefts, he said.
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Re: Still think the electric grid will survive post-peak?

Unread postby TheDude » Sat 14 Oct 2006, 17:19:22

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Re: Still think the electric grid will survive post-peak?

Unread postby gg3 » Sun 15 Oct 2006, 03:53:23

Copper thieves: "mosquitos" hmm. I call 'em "two-legged cockroaches." As for stealing from construction sites, our cable crew routinely leaves boxes of "cat 5," telephone & data cable, on sites and hasn't had trouble yet (I'll tell the person in charge of that department just in case).

Substation sabotage: I somehow don't see that happening in the US, except possibly in places with large concentrations of people with little or no education. There are easier ways to take down the grid than to blow up a substation (technical details omitted for the usual public safety reasons).

Hydro & islands of light: And don't forget wind, nuclear, and solar installations. The nukes will keep running as long as there's fuel, and producing nuclear fuel will be a profitable industry in the years to come. The wind & solar plants of course don't need fuel, but wind turbines do need occasional maintenance.

Science fiction: Done that; should do more. Hmm... The trick is to avoid falling into the "singing-pamphlet style of songwriting," i.e. tell an interesting story in which the doomer elements are not overplayed. And at the same time, don't fall into one of the usual plotlines or an obvious variation, i.e. guy gets gal or vice-versa, black-sheep son or daughter finds him/herself, lone cowboy stands against the world, rebel soldier overthrows treasonous commander, etc. It's hard to completely avoid any of those elements, but they shouldn't be so much in the foreground that they're obvious.

Back in the days of the Soviet Union, it used to be a common joke that American fiction was "guy gets gal," and Socialist Realist fiction was "guy gets tractor," referring of course to the shortages of the Five-Year Plans and the inefficiencies of state-collectivist agriculture. One has to wonder, how long before "guy gets tractor (and the fuel to run it)" will become a theme in post-PO doomer fiction.
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Price of oil near US grid electricity costs?

Unread postby MrMambo » Sat 25 Nov 2006, 07:05:34

Just for curiosity I did a calculation of what the price of crude oil translates to in cents /KWh ... (the pricing unit for grid electricity).

1 liter of oil contains about 10 KWh of energy or about 36 MJ.
One barrel cointains roughly 159 liters.

So one barrel of oil priced at say 60 dollars provides 1 590 KWh.

60 dollars / 1 590 KWh gives you about 0, 0377 dollars/KWh or
3,77 cents per KWh.

From the graph on this page I noticed that a couple of years ago the industrial sector (orange line) in USA used to pay as low as 4 cents/KWh, and at a time the price slumped below 4 cents/KWh.

http://www.eia.doe.gov/neic/brochure/el ... icity.html

I don't know current electricity prices in the US (I'm from Norway). But one thing that strikes me is that modern wind-power seems to be almost as cheep as crude oil per KWh at current prices. In norway you can produce windpower at the price of 4,7 cents/KWh without subsedies (its a windy place).

Oil at 80 dollars a barrel will give you about 5 cents/KWh

I know that oil has some uniqe qualities as an energy carrier, but so do electricity. For mechanical devices electricity is far more efficient than combustion engines. This means that you get a lot more work done with one KWh of electricity compared to one KWh worth of crude oil. The only shortcomming of electricity is the difficulty of putting a lot of it on an unconnected motorized unit like a car.

Any thoughts?
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Re: Price of oil near US grid electricity costs?

Unread postby pup55 » Sat 25 Nov 2006, 09:42:41

Electricity in most of the US ranges from 5 cents to 12 cents per kwh.

The problem with your calculation is that in order to turn the "energy contained in crude oil" into electricity you have to burn it, boil water, and run a turbine, all of which causes heat loss and other inefficiencies. So, you need to know what the energy balance (oil in and electicity out) for a power plant is. If you could figure out how to extract the energy from oil, or any other object, 100% efficiently, you would really be onto something.
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Re: Price of oil near US grid electricity costs?

Unread postby smallpoxgirl » Sat 25 Nov 2006, 09:58:43

Well...I think what you just demonstrated is that oil fired power plants are no longer cost effective. As your link shows, about 3% of US electric generation was from oil based plants, so probably not a big deal. As your link also demonstrates, about 50% of US electricity is generated from coal. Most of the other 50% is pretty fixed in capacity. There hasn't been a new nuclear plant brought online in 20 years. All the good hydro sources are already exploited. Cost effectiveness has been the major barrier to adoption of "alternative" energy. There are certain places where wind or solar may make economic sense, but in general, it's pretty limited. Realistically, increased electricity use is just a surogate for increased coal use.
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Re: Price of oil near US grid electricity costs?

Unread postby Denny » Sat 25 Nov 2006, 10:03:53

I have been following the shares of Florida Power and Light (FPL) for some time now. They have recently shot upward, and its interesting to note that they have a lot of exposure to wind power. Despite their name, their wind generation is across the U.S.
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Re: Price of oil near US grid electricity costs?

Unread postby Revi » Sat 25 Nov 2006, 17:55:53

I live in a town where the electricity is provided by FPL energy. Very interesting that they are going up. They like renewable energy. I'm glad it's paying off for them. Maybe the lights will stay on around here. They own all the hydroelectric plants on the Kennebec River now. They used to be Central Maine Power, but deregulation solved that. At least they are solvent.
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Re: Price of oil near US grid electricity costs?

Unread postby MrMambo » Sun 26 Nov 2006, 07:05:10

pup55 wrote:Electricity in most of the US ranges from 5 cents to 12 cents per kwh.

The problem with your calculation is that in order to turn the "energy contained in crude oil" into electricity you have to burn it, boil water, and run a turbine, all of which causes heat loss and other inefficiencies. So, you need to know what the energy balance (oil in and electicity out) for a power plant is. If you could figure out how to extract the energy from oil, or any other object, 100% efficiently, you would really be onto something.


I don't think thats a problem with my calculation at all. I think we agree more than you think. I mentioned that you can get a lot more work done for the same amount of KWh in the form of electricity than you can from the same amount of crude oil. To generate work from oil you use either a combustion engine or a heat engine. If you have a really really efficient heat engine or combustion engine you might be able to translate 40% of the energy in the oil in a regular engine you get less than 30%. While for an electric engine you can expect an efficiency of way over 90%.

The consequense of this is that if you are going to buy energy to get work done you can choose between bying crude oil /gasoline etc for close to 4 cents/KWh. and then have maybe 0,3KWh translated into real work. How much electricity would you have to buy to get an electric motor operating at 95% efficiency to do 0,3 KWh of work? 0.3/0.95 = 0.316 ( kontroll: 0.316*0.95 = 0.3).

How many more KWh of crude would you need to do the same work as one KWh of electricity (1/0.316 = 3.16 times)

This means that for uses where you need mechanical work done you can afford to pay 3.16 times as much for electricity than for crude oil, assuming you can choose between a 30% efficient oil-engine and a 95% efficient electric engine.

I know all theese assumptions doesnt translate perfectly well to the automobile sector. But still for short trip driving you get more miles per KWh of grid electricity than for KWh of gasoline.
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Re: Price of oil near US grid electricity costs?

Unread postby MrBill » Mon 27 Nov 2006, 04:04:52

From my limited knowlege of power generation from watching nat gas markets versus electricity markets it comes down to base load versus peak loads.

Base loads are usually run by hydro-electric, nuclear and coal fired plants that are always on (or take longer to power up). As electricity cannot be stored it has to enter the grid as it is needed. Peak loads that run on nat gas make up this temporary short fall as they take less time to ramp up. Of course peak loads are generally either much more expensive or much less expensive than base load energy depending on demand.

Wind cannot typically make up more than 10% of a grid's overall capacity as the wind may be blowing at the wrong time when there is no need for additional power or may be blowing too strong when the power is also needed, but the wind turbines have to be shutdown. In this case, a European wide power grid can more easily absorb this extra capacity than a small regional grid.

This is the problem with wind turbines in the Prairie Provinces of Canada or in the Midwest in the USA. Lot's of wind, but power transport infrastructure is expensive to build to get that wind power to major population centers. Also, for example, taxpayers and politicians in Chicago want Illinois wind farms not to subsidize transport corridors from N. or S. Dakota.

So both base and peak power generating capacity are necessary as are a large enough power grid to match supply with demand. Co-generation, for example in Germany where the government pays more than market price for excess power to the grid, can help supplement base power supply, but may not be where it is needed when it is needed.

I saw a very nice micro- hydro generation facility in Nepal in November. The Austral-Nepal 650mw plant supplies the surrounding communities. It is fed from a very small river. But they dug a very deep holding pond. This means the deep resevoir can supply a larger generator than the small river might be able to and it will not freeze over like the river might. But of course they have gravity to help with the transport, so they do not have to pump that water over any distance, and transmission losses are small as the grid only supplies the nearby communities. Still, it looked like an alternative to large hydro-electric dams for smaller, remote areas or communities?
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Re: Price of oil near US grid electricity costs?

Unread postby MD » Mon 27 Nov 2006, 05:06:56

You might want to take a closer look at your electric rates. Actual rates are much higher than posted rates, usually.

In our area the posted rate is 5.7 cents per kwh, but whenyou add in all the other charges, the true rate is close to 12 cents per kwh
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Re: Price of oil near US grid electricity costs?

Unread postby nocar » Mon 27 Nov 2006, 09:51:55

MrBill are you right about hydroelectric not easily being increased or decreased in response to need? I thought it was quite easily done, just damming the flow.

In any case the fact that electricity is so much better to do work than a car-engine is makes electric trains and street cars a real winner for transport. Running on tracks they have much less resistance too, they need less energy to start with.

Bicycles for the short distances, electric trains for longer distances - I think we (=humanity) can get around quite well without cars. But we need to build rail road tracks. And conserve electricity.

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Re: Price of oil near US grid electricity costs?

Unread postby MrBill » Mon 27 Nov 2006, 11:25:47

nocar wrote:MrBill are you right about hydroelectric not easily being increased or decreased in response to need? I thought it was quite easily done, just damming the flow.

In any case the fact that electricity is so much better to do work than a car-engine is makes electric trains and street cars a real winner for transport. Running on tracks they have much less resistance too, they need less energy to start with.

Bicycles for the short distances, electric trains for longer distances - I think we (=humanity) can get around quite well without cars. But we need to build rail road tracks. And conserve electricity.

nocar


saw an advert in a magazine for Conrail or one of the US railways... 400+ miles per gallon of diesel to move one ton of freight... so even though electric is better by far, even with diesel it is a vast improvement over long distance trucking.... no wonder almost 25% of Bill Gates discretionary investment portfolio was invested in CNR (Canadian railway with ops in US as well) as of June 2006 and CPR is doing just as well! ; - )
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Re: Price of oil near US grid electricity costs?

Unread postby aahala » Mon 27 Nov 2006, 15:44:10

MrMambo wrote:
I don't know current electricity prices in the US (I'm from Norway). But one thing that strikes me is that modern wind-power seems to be almost as cheep as crude oil per KWh at current prices. In norway you can produce windpower at the price of 4,7 cents/KWh without subsedies (its a windy place).



Any thoughts?


So far this year, the amount of electricity produced here in the US,
is oil down about 50%, wind up 50%, compared to last year. Wind's
still less production, but it's much closer than last year. My guess
is that here the wind costs before subsidy are in the 5-6 cent
range as well.
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Re: Price of oil near US grid electricity costs?

Unread postby MrMambo » Wed 06 Dec 2006, 04:57:25

MrBill wrote: Base loads are usually run by hydro-electric, nuclear and coal fired plants that are always on (or take longer to power up).

Wind cannot typically make up more than 10% of a grid's overall capacity as the wind may be blowing at the wrong time when there is no need for additional power or may be blowing too strong when the power is also needed, but the wind turbines have to be shutdown. In this case, a European wide power grid can more easily absorb this extra capacity than a small regional grid.


A lot of wrong there. Hydro power is the ultimate combined renewable energy source and storage system in combination with short term fluctuating renewables such as wind. Norway has 99% hydro electric and is currently using cooperating with denmark witch have 20% windpower. So each time there is above demand windenergy-production in Denmark they send power to Norway, where we shut down some of our hydroelectric dams. And each time there is a shortage of wind in Denmark we release water from our hydoelectric dams and produce surplus electricity that can be sent to Denmark.

This is called "Grid balancing-services". There are also plans to build a cable to Germany to help balance their fluctuating wind power production. And a cable to the netherlands is currently being built.

So hydro is definately not something that is "always on".. And you can definately have a lot more than 10% windpower in a grid as long as you have some systems that will help balance the fluctuations.

There is also a techonology called flow batteries. Wich are in principle two tanks of electolyte that can be pumped in to either produce or store electricity. This is 75% efficient and could become 85% efficient (About as efficient as the best pumped hydro storage systems) This can be used to balance a grid where you dont have sufficient access to hydro as a balancing producer.
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Re: Price of oil near US grid electricity costs?

Unread postby MrBill » Wed 06 Dec 2006, 09:00:28

The articles that I read mentioned a 10% upper limit on wind power due to surges in demand when there is no wind and/or when wind turbines have to be turned-off due to too much wind. Obviously the larger the grid the greater the chance that you can balance out surplus regions with deficit areas.

Large scale wind farms in sparsely populated areas will suffer from a lack of infrastructure to get that power to where it is needed and/or from diminishing returns from the expense of providing that infrastructure over large distances.

Norway is indeed lucky that it can rely almost 99% on hydro-power. I guess in this respect Provinces like BC and Quebec that also produce more hydro than they need are also in an enviable position.

It was my error if I referred to hydro as always on. However, coal and nuclear fired power plants to meet base demand are considered always on power, not because they can never be shutdown, obviously, but because they take time to power-up, and in the meantime there is a surge in demand it can cause brownouts or blackouts or other shortages.

This is one reason that Europe, and especially the European Commission, is trying to pry open national markets for both the wholesale supply of natural gas and also the electricity grid, and to link it to the Nordic grid, is to make sure that demand in Spain could be met by hydro or wind power from Norway or Denmark if that happens to be the least cost or most efficient source of power. Otherwise those needs will have to be met by coal or nuclear power for base needs and supplemented by nat gas power generation to cover peak periods.

If you look at the dark and spark pricing models in Bloomberg for example you will see it is simply a least cost formulation of producing electricity using various inputs such as wind, nuclear, coal and nat gas. Not all countries are as blessed as Norway or Denmark in hydro and wind and Norway and Denmark do not produce enough hydro and wind to supply all of Europe's power needs either. Hence the need for coal, nuclear and nat gas.

However, considering that wind is unreliable at times of peak demand and/or the wind can be blowing too hard requiring turbines to be shutdown I do not agree with your ascertain that wind can be more than say 10% of the total energy mix, even if wind is 20% of Denmark's because, as you say, they can swap power with Norway when they are short or when they produce a surplus. The larger the grid the more opportunity to combine alternatives including micro-power and co-generation that can be sold back into the grid.

That is not to say that wind could not supply 100% of your needs, so long as you're willing to live with unreliable power supplies?
Last edited by MrBill on Wed 06 Dec 2006, 11:08:44, edited 1 time in total.
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