Friday, August 17, 2012

The Cost of Green Power

Germany decided that wind and sun were the way to go, and bet big on them. The result? Completely predictable. Instability in Power Grid Comes at High Cost for German Industry - SPIEGEL ONLINE

The German electrical grid has been hit with a series of voltage drops. It has caused problems (havoc, is probably too strong a word at this juncture) with German industry.
It was 3 a.m. on a Wednesday when the machines suddenly ground to a halt at Hydro Aluminium in Hamburg. The rolling mill's highly sensitive monitor stopped production so abruptly that the aluminum belts snagged. They hit the machines and destroyed a piece of the mill. The reason: The voltage off the electricity grid weakened for just a millisecond.

Workers had to free half-finished aluminum rolls from the machines, and several hours passed before they could be restarted. The damage to the machines cost some €10,000 ($12,300).

In the following three weeks, the voltage weakened at the Hamburg factory two more times, each time for a fraction of second. Since the machines were on a production break both times, there was no damage. Still, the company invested €150,000 to set up its own emergency power supply, using batteries, to protect itself from future damages.
It isn't all doom and gloom of course - battery companies are tremendously profitable at this time.

The cause?
The problem is that wind and solar farms just don't deliver the same amount of continuous electricity compared with nuclear and gas-fired power plants. To match traditional energy sources, grid operators must be able to exactly predict how strong the wind will blow or the sun will shine.

But such an exact prediction is difficult. Even when grid operators are off by just a few percentage points, voltage in the grid slackens. That has no affect on normal household appliances, such as vacuum cleaners and coffee machines. But for high-performance computers, for example, outages lasting even just a millisecond can quickly trigger system failures.
Freezing in the dark? Not yet. Watch this space.

(And for those skeptics, I will only point out that Der Spiegel is not generally considered a right-wing publication.)

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