January 15, 2024

The Cold Truth About Renewable Energy in the Pacific Northwest

Over the weekend I received several messages from Puget Sound Energy to reduce my energy use, both gas and electric, with the implicit threats of potential blackouts (see below).


Avista Energy (eastern Washington/Idaho) and other utilities made similar requests from their customers.

The key reasons for the worries?    

The cold weather caused a large increase in energy demand and radically reduced the output of renewables (mainly wind in our region).   For a few hours, there was also a problem with PSE's gas storage facility south of Olympia.

This blog will describe the situation and why renewable energy tends to plummet just when energy demand is highest.  It is also a warning that politicians and energy activists need to consider.


Let us begin by looking at electricity demand and supplies over the Pacific Northwest for the past week provided by the Bonneville Energy Administration (see below).  The total demand (red line) increased rapidly between January 11 and January 14 (Saturday) as frigid Arctic air moved into the region and remained quite high on Sunday.  Huge demands to keep our homes and buildings warm.

Most of this energy demand was met by hydrogeneration (blue line).  Nuclear energy provided a steady energy source but at a lower level (purple).

But now look at renewables (the green line).  This is nearly entirely winds since solar is extremely low over the Northwest during mid-winter.   

Wind produced about a third of what hydro did before the cold air moved in, increased slightly at gusty northerly winds brought in the cold but collapsed to near zero once the cold air was in place.

To repeat, once cold air moves into the region and demand is at a maximum, winds calm out and renewables are no longer a significant source of energy in the Pacific Northwest.     During summer heatwaves something similar happens:  wind energy collapses during the warmest days.

So you understand this wind collapse issue better, let me show you a series of surface wind maps for the region (actually some highly accurate short-term forecasts of near-surface winds).  When you look at these maps, consider that most of the wind turbines are in eastern WA/Oregon.

At 10 PM last Tuesday, there were some decent winds east of the Cascades (orange, yellow, and red colors).

10 PM Tuesday

Winds and thus wind energy held up on Thursday as strong northerly winds brought in the cold air.

10 PM Thursday

But by 10 PM Saturday, the winds had collapsed over most of the inland regions.

10 PM Saturday
And plummeted even further by 10 PM Sunday.

The winds at Ellensburg, well placed within wind turbine country, tell the story as well.  Plenty of wind when the cold air started to move in but collapsed during the past few days.

This case is not unique. The same thing happens in virtually every cold wave.

So when we need the energy the most--to keep warm-- renewable energy will virtually always fail in winter.

And the name thing happens on a national scale...and is happening as I write this.   Below are the national statistics for the past week.

Wind energy (green line) dropped greatly as the cold air settled in over much of the U.S..  The only thing that kept the lights on was the increased use of natural gas (dark yellow line) and coal (red line).


The message of this information is clear.   Renewables such as wind energy are generally not reliable sources of energy in our region during cold wave situations when demand is highest.

Hydrogeneration is extraordinarily valuable and flexible and any suggestions to reduce hydrogenation resources (such as removing the Snake River dams) is highly irresponsible.

Natural gas, a very clean source of heat, is still acutely needed and attempts to reduce supply or to prevent gas heating in buildings are highly irresponsible as well.

And keep in mind that the energy problem will only get worse as the regional population grows and more folks buy electrically powered vehicles. 

Considering the acute deficiencies of renewables in our region (other than hydro) during cold and warm periods, we must take a more serious look at expanding nuclear power.  We can also work on the energy efficiency of our buildings, demand scheduling (such as controllable driers/washers/home thermostats), and better energy storage (although there are no magic bullets on that).

But reality is reality and climate/energy advocates need to understand the underlying problems and refrain from unrealistic demands.










78 comments:

  1. Very informative, Cliff.
    We can say that we can't pull back on hydrogenation -- I get it -- though the problem with it is that it's not scalable. We can only put so many dams and generators in place, while also adding to the stress on the river ecosystems.
    Looks like nuclear is still the most stable and scalable source to meet the growing population and EV demands, and newer-gen nuclear plants are quite capable. We simply have to get past the stigma associated with them.

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    1. But,,,,How can we get past the "stigma"--actually fact--that Nuclear Energy is by it's very nature, very deadly/poisonous to the environment, when the rare disaster happens? Maybe someday we can overcome this salient problem, but so far...there have been horrible "accidents".

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    2. The new Gen IV nuclear plants are designed so they won't melt down. In addition, they can use the spent fuel from older nuclear plants, thereby not increasing the amount of nuclear waste that is generated.

      Renewables are not able to meet our fossil-fuel-replacement needs, nuclear power is the only way.

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  2. Maybe I missed it elsewhere but I don't hear about off shore wind power. I'd think it would be at least somewhat more reliable than land-based wind turbines. Is that a consideration?

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    1. Offshore wind is absolutely terrible for animal life.

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    2. What are you basing that on? Often offshore instillations serve as artificial reefs and are extremely productive animal habitat. It has actually become a problem as California has started decommissioning its offshore oil derricks, have many of them have become important ecological hotspots.

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  3. Thanks for pointing this out. I sat through a seminar from a renewable energy expert down in Texas last summer and his findings were very similar. He noted that peak demand for energy would be in heat waves which also are often coupled with low wind, and furthermore solar is not helpful as (close to the) the hottest period of the day and highest use of home AC was at dusk.

    This has a curious negative affect that requires extra run time of dirty resources such as coal plants. But. On the flip side since for most of the day/year renewables are cheaper than coal and other 'dirty' resources it is driving the coal plants to shut down as they are not competitive.

    The speaker claimed that it is not economical at this point for energy companies to store energy loads as a backup plan for peak times. Excess renewable energy is dumped off the grid.

    As you mentioned these are underlying problems that should be addressed prior to making drastic changes to our current energy planning.

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  4. But during heat waves, solar is near maximum just when we need it.

    Yes, winter is a problem. Hydro, I guess, and advanced design nuclear reactors. One of my friends, who works for the power company, remarked that, had we not become discouraged with nuclear power in the 1970's, we would be in a better position now with regard to climate change.

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    1. Solar is good but wind declines radically in heat waves and wind is much more important in our region. And solar is not available at night.

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    2. The night time issue is not so difficult to resolve using batteries, smart car chargers, and electricity rates that change by time of day. Agree on the winter issue though- solar is obviously weak in the winter, and wind is non-existent.

      One of the most important statistics regarding climate change is that the average person in the top 10% of global wealth causes over 30 times the CO2 emissions of the average person the the bottom 50% of global wealth (published by oxfam). If you care about climate change, live like you're poor- drive less, fly less, buy less, eat less meat, and fix what you have instead of buying new. With conservation we can live within the limits of what renewables and hydro can provide.

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    3. Agreed, the article separates out hydro which is a renewable! Intermittent energy sources are obviously intermittent. With improved battery developments the solution is better and more storage.

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  5. As a point of clarification (former utility guy here), the issue here was never a supply one, but an infrastructure one. The failures we were asked to prevent were breakdowns of the transmission and distribution systems, which are pretty brittle in some places.

    There's plenty of power for EVs, etc., particularly if there are broader incentives to use energy off peak. I get a 75% rate discount to charge at night, for example, as part of a pilot program. The utility gets the usage profile they need, and in exchange I get to drive 300 miles for only a couple of bucks.

    We're going to need a combination of technology, infrastructure investment, and incentives to make the transition to clean power a successful one.

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  6. Thank you for this information. I hope our leaders read it closely and respond appropriately

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  7. Why do you exclude hydro from your term "renewable energy"? You address this problem at the end of your blog, but why not make it clear from the beginning? Hydro is renewable, it has powered our region winter and summer for decades, and it has given us some of the cheapest power in the country.

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  8. There is a lawsuit ongoing now about the new State building code, slated to take effect this March, since it eliminates the ability to heat or cool with natural gas in most new buildings going forward. I believe we are going to have to learn lessons the hard way before anything meaningful changes.

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  9. I am glad you added the comment about the potential benefit of demand response programs at the end of your post. California has been able to manage peak demands for the last 20 years using demand response strategies which we, in the the Pacific Northwest, have yet to implement. For example, the entire warehouse cooler/freezer industry electric load in Washington State could of been handled off-grid during this period with battery storage. Not to mention the impact of using heat pumps for meeting space heating and service water heating loads in lieu of electric resistance. I am not disagreeing that an energy source such as nuclear will help in the peak demand situations but we have the potential to achieve a lot more reduction on the demand side of the meter.

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    1. Heat pumps become less efficient during frigid cold times and require emergency heat from resistance or natural gas combustion. Hard to find any heat in -10F air to pump into a home. As we ban natural gas now all those heat pumps will require resistance heating as a backup. That will put more stress on the grid. Plus now all electic stoves, more electricity required. California has many examples of not managing electrical demand well with their brownouts and blackouts. I don't want to be like them. Keep natural gas and more nuclear is a solution. Do not tear down any dams.

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    2. Variable speed heat pumps from Mitsubishi, Fujitsu, and Daikon are capable below 0F. Mitsubishi hyperheat has a COP of 2.8 at 5F, and can operate down to -17F. The older constant speed heat pumps operate like your refrigerator and become ineffecient at about 20F, which requires the electric resistance back-up. The efficiency of a variable speed heat pump actually makes it more efficient to burn the natural gas in a gas turbine generating plant to make electricity to power the heat pump as compared using the natural gas in a 95% efficient hot water heater or forced air system.

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    3. Not necessarily. Older constant speed heat pumps that operate like your refrigerator will lose efficiency at about 20F and require electric resistance backup. However, newer variable speed heat pumps are rated for cold weather and operate efficiently below 0F. Manufacturers include Mitsubishi, Fujitsu, and Daikon. Mitsubishi Hyperheat models have coefficient-of-performance of 2.8 at +5F, and can operate as low as -17F. Consequently, it makes more sense to burn natural gas in a gas turbine generator to make electricity than to burn it directly in your home.

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    4. Also. I would like to know your source of all warehouse/freezer needs off batteries only, as stated below, the cold affects batteries, you probably experienced this phenomenon when trying to start car first thing in the morning and it cranks slower than usual. I would like to know the data you state and if it takes into consideration storing batteries in heated space to keep capacity up, battery heaters for such a a thing would be resistance, to produce enough heat for a vehicle battery to keep up is generally 200-300 watts. For enough heat to keep batteries warm enough I would expect to need 10's of thousands of watts, not knowing the load or capcicity of battery needs. Please do more research. Let me know what you find.

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    5. A number of the heat pumps in my neighborhood failed due to moisture freezing. My natural gas furnace did not. Just saying some things just are not ready for "prime time".

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    6. Jeff B. I do not know if you are making the point or not. In practical sense a heat pump CAN operate at those temperatures, but in a real world sense? You would not like what the temps would be in your house. The temperature swing in your house would be very noticeable due to run times and at the temps we just had I doubt you could keep your house at the "comfort zone." You can wear sweaters or wear layers or more blankets in your home, but I will keep my electric furnace and keep my home 68 to 70° without the long swings of temp in between. Hence the most "efficient" heat pumps still require "emergency heat". If temp isn't climbing fast enough with the heat pump it kicks in the emergency heat to keep the swings down and bring up temps quicker. But I like the notion of still using natural gas for power generation!

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    7. @Budd. If your experience is that the heat pump can't keep up, it was either sized incorrectly for the house or you are using them wrong. Heat pumps don't need to be turned down at night because it doesn't save any energy when it is used that way. Heat pumps should be used to keep the house at a constant temperature throughout the day and night time.

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    8. As someone who has 2 mini splits, I can tell you that you are wrong. External thermometer showed 16F, and the downstairs mini split was set to 66 and we are walking around in shirt sleeves and sweat pants, if we turn it up to 70, we are in shorts, because it gets nice and warm. The upstairs runs about 63, and is cooler but it's also trying to heat a room with 20 foot high ceilings and no ceiling fan. We have two wood stoves and didn't even bother to start a fire in either one during this cold snap.
      These mini splits were (I believe) manufactured in 2013.
      Here in the NW mini splits work fine. I've lived here my entire life, and here on the west side it's never gotten cold enough to be a concern.

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    9. Rick. I am not wrong. Jeff B no they are not sized incorrectly. Rick you are wrong to assume the entire NW has the same weather as you. I stated earlier was it was -10°F over here that is negative ten. Not +16 you had. Quite a but of difference. Heat pumps alone are not enough and cannot provide comfort needs people want and expect. Jeff B, I guess everyone over here has systems not sized right as they use the emergency heat as the heat pump alone wont keep up and become ice blocks not able to move heat effenciently. They could be wrong size if heat pump works, that would be way oversized more expensive option, but then working the A/c side you would be short cycling causing damage due the over size. Don't know about you but all our HVAC guys here won't install a heat pump without supplemental, you don't even qualify for rebates here without supplemental heat.

      https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2023/03/do-heat-pumps-work-in-cold-places-heres-what-you-need-to-know/

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    10. This all being said, point is most homes that aren't as efficient or people that do not have the money for a geothermal heat pump or oversized expensive units will STILL need supplimental heat source and as we push all electric everything the grid demand during peak times will only increase which is the point of this article how wind/ solar isnt good during peak loads. That is a fact.

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    11. Temperatures of -10 F are *exceptionally* rare if not unheard of in the places where most people in Washington live. It certainly hasn't gotten even close to that cold in any of the places I've lived in WA. Heat pumps alone will run just fine for most people.

      That said, I would still want a backup heat source of some kind just in case, because I'm paranoid.

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    12. Unknown how do you figure? Cliff could give data better than either you or I, and I am guessing this, but roughly 300,000 or a little more people experience those temps last week in washington alone. Rare? At least once to twice a year we have an arctic blast with negative temps. Reports of -24 were just a few miles from me. That leads to the crux of the majority on westside not paying attention beyond their bubble, their experience and shaping policy, that not thinking about consequences for the rest of us.

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    13. Unknown you are wrong. While most of washingtons population does not live in this location it does affect a good amount of people, guessing over 300,000. That population is also growing as people seek to move from the larger populated areas. Taking away natural gas for us will require us to have electric supplimental taxing the grid further.

      https://wrcc.dri.edu/climate/narrative_wa.php

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    14. Ya’ll are kinda talking past each other. You can get a heat pump for nearly any home, but the question will always be at what expense and trouble to the homeowner/resident. Ideally you are doing air sealing and insulation beforehand and improving overall comfort in the process, but all this adds up to tens of thousands of dollars in many cases and takes time to implement. Current level of federal, state and local funding isn’t enough to cover the incremental cost of electrification, so state mandates mean increased costs to homeowners and renters. Given the dearth of good contractors who know how to size and install heat pumps, I don’t see the transition happening quickly or smoothly so I have to agree that gas furnaces are here to stay (at least in the short to medium term). The best we can do is hybrid/dual fuel systems in the mean time as we build up contractor skills and public awareness.

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    15. Thank you @Mydknyght. However the new building codes and trying to ban natural gas in new construction will soon spill over to replacements as well. Not to mention the ban of equiptment using current refrigerants. These cost family so much and yes I wasn't able to mention a heat pump could work, but eluded to people wouldn't like practical working, unless home is either so tight the load calculation wouldn't have to oversize. However older homes a good contractor wouldn't over size for heating but size by the a/c needs. If oversized for to heating needs it would be oversized for a/c causing system to short cycle and that is bad on anything mechanical starting and stopping often, very likely voiding warranty. Heat pumps are still a/c first here on eastern side due to hot summers. Heating with it for a short span in winter is a bonus. However, like I kept stating and what originally bothered me was the assumption heat pumps would help the demand during peak loads. Which is not true if a lot of us on Eastside side have to give up gas and electrify.

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    16. I don't doubt that they will try, @Budd, but it will most certainly fail. Building Performance Standards in commercial and new construction always have carve-outs that make the policy weak and ineffective. Policy-makers know that forcing residents to electrify would be incredibly expensive and unpopular, but they have to appease their more environmentally inclined constituencies. So, they create mandates that are unenforceable or ineffective. I hear you on the peak load issue. Moving from gas to electric increases peak demand, no doubt about it. Might be better than electric resistance, but a cold climate heat pump only needs to have 1.75 COP at 5 degrees to qualify, so we're not talking about massive efficiency improvements at low temps. People quoting specific expensive pieces of equipment from Mitsubishi need to look at the rest of the marketplace, which is full of warm climate single-speed heat pumps that are much more prevalent due to their low cost. A variable speed, cold climate heat pump and a single-speed baseline model are completely different pieces of equipment and we should stop confusing the two as if they were one and the same.

      As far as mandates go, if we forced (or simply incentivized) manufacturers upstream to just stop selling central ACs and instead sell equivalent heat pumps for dual fuel systems we'd save way more money and more carbon than mandating electrification and give folks flexibility to use either fuel. It would be much cheaper and more likely to succeed.

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    17. Yep @Mydknyght. It is very frustrating how the previous commenters just took the "Good enough for me good enough for thee" stance. Or assumed since they lived places in washington that the weather I stated was "exceptionally rare". Which is not at all the case. 1 to two weeks a year we face these temps on average. I guess by their standards though, a house that can maintain 50° during these times keeps us from freezing to death and we have done our duty saving the planet suffering through those couple weeks.

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  10. Someone at BPA has a sense of humor 'cause they label the purple line Cobalt.

    The Columbia Generating Station (CGS) refuels in spring when water availability is high. Planning and coordination -- this is a big project -- is essential. A news report from last June:
    Biennial refueling is necessary to add fresh nuclear fuel to Columbia's reactor core so that it can operate for a two-year cycle. Operators replaced 248 of the 764 nuclear fuel assemblies in Columbia's reactor core with new fuel. The fuel that had been in the reactor core for six years . . .
    Next refueling should be May/June of 2025.

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  11. To me the takeaway is we shouldn't put all our energy eggs in one basket. We need a diverse system. Renewable power is great, but at least for now we can't rely on it 100%.

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  12. I wonder what the affect will be next year when by WA law all use of coal is illegal, thus nearly 1/4 of PSE power source will be off limits? Looks like brownouts and blackouts headed our way, with additional cost to the consumer to follow.

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    1. Interestingly, Puget Sound Energy (a private for profit company) is committed to decarbonizing their electrical generation and does not agree with your assessment. They see the future in electrification the same as the big utilities in California.

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    2. My point is, where is PSE going to get the 23% of its power they get from coal today, when by WA law they can no longer use coal in there portfolios next year? And according to this blog by Mr. Mass, apparently wind power was diminished with the extreme cold temp. To me it doesn't look favorable for someone who lives in WA and wants to have heat next winter should we experience this type of weather.

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    3. I found my answer, apparently the wind farms work better in Montana and PSE will have a viable solution for its power replacement to coal. "Montana wind, which blows strong in the winter when high pressure systems cause Washington wind farms to produce less energy, and demand in the Puget Sound region peaks, according to PSE." source: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/environment/pse-to-build-montana-wind-farm-as-coal-fired-energy-winds-down/

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    4. Montana won't save Washington. Take a look at Wind production in Montana over the last few days. It was zero or close to it. Data at https://www.eia.gov/electricity/gridmonitor/dashboard/electric_overview/balancing_authority/NWMT
      There are a couple small utilities e.g. NaturEner Wind Watch, LLC that were zero electricity production. https://www.eia.gov/electricity/gridmonitor/dashboard/electric_overview/balancing_authority/WWA

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  13. The Saturday map seems counterintuitive. There is a huge pressure gradient over the Eastern side of the Cascades, yet there is no wind. What's up? Is the pressure gradient at the wrong level of the troposphere?

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    1. The wind turbines are on the _east_ side of the Cascades, which is fine for west winds. But none are on the west side, which would be great for cold east winds. The west end of the Gorge has had extreme east winds since Saturday, but wind turbines are prohibited by the Columbia Gorge National Scenic area.

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    2. Oh interesting. Is this the right way to imagine this?

      Central WA is a big bathtub of air, and the passes (Snoqualmie/White/Stevens) are more like the overflow drain than the regular drain. There is a ridge/slope towards the over Cascades, but it's the top layers of the fluid that are flowing down. The turbines are sitting near the regular drain, and the air is calm down there. The airmass is sliding towards the passes well above the surface.

      This makes wind on the Western side, where the mass flows along the surface. Opposite effect for West to East pressure gradient: relatively stagnant in the Puget Sound lowlands, but flowing down the Ellensburg slopes.

      Is that about right?

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  14. PSE generates about 30-40% of its energy and imports the rest from BPA (2500 to 4000MWH). If you look at PSE they were internally generating most of this energy from natural gas and their own hydro. They were even burning oil. They were pushing gas to the max. PSE Wind average 1.2% of total generation and about 2.1% of its nameplate capacity. Natural Gas maximum of 90% of total energy (mean 82%). Their wind generation was essential zero, even given huge investments. Can't insert the figure but it is on X at: @timbob611 Numbers are from the US Department of Energy EIA.

    This while not a crime is very bad policy.

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  15. It’s a little disingenuous to push this on wind or the lack thereof. PSE’s own failure at their NG storage facility in Johns Prairie came at the worst possible time.

    The grid design methodology and operations capacity to stabilize demand and renewables variability with gas turbines has been a thing for close to forty years. There’s 3GW of NG-fueled peaking capacity on the I-5 corridor, most of it owned or in long-term supply contracts with PSE, and nobody is (yet) proposing doing away with it. Thing is, when it was needed the most, it was the fossil fuel solution that couldn’t deliver the power.

    The BPA chart illustrates the problem perfectly - Saturday, when grid conditions needed NG the most, they couldn’t stabilize the grid with NG generation for legitimate fear of crashing the entire Northwest Pipeline system and every retail NG user connected to it. That nice steady line of fossil fuels could have surged on short notice to cover the critical periods but PSE couldn’t send gas back into the pipeline to do so. The pipeline operator was extremely transparent - http://www.northwest.williams.com/NWP_Portal/northwest_notice_detail.action?format=&notice_num=31613 - a *billion* cubic feet of NG was requested from Johns Prairie for the Saturday gas day and they were delivering zero. It wouldn’t matter if there had been wind or not - when you can’t deliver fuel on demand to your peaking generation, you’re SOL, whether it’s wind, water, visible light, chunks of coal or neutron flux. I don’t know how much capacity they could have bought from the Vernonia, OR storage, but know that NG pipelines deliver at about 45mph and thus unlike trading power on the electric grid, the swaps aren’t instantaneous. If the solution was to pump more gas in from the Wyoming end, figure 24 hours to get it here.

    It’s better to trigger rolling blackouts on the electrical grid than to crash the gas network - it’s much harder and slower to bring gas back online than restore electric power when the grid is stable. They had no choice but to get panicky and shed the electrical loads and encourage conservation once they started losing pressure (aka “line pack”, a term of art in gas pipelines) because their most useful distributed peaking that doesn’t rely on the grid operator’s capacity was absolutely not an option.

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    1. Looking at the EIA data natural gas carried the load. The real reason was the complete absence of wind energy. This will be a difficult issue until there is cost effective energy storage or another source of dispatchable energy. Wind just is not working.

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  16. Making the matter worse is that Washington is unusual in that a substantial majority of households (60% from FERC data) already use electric heat as their primary heat source - decisions made when housing stocks were built assumed a hydro and nuclear future. There was no thought of decarbonization at the time - the notion was that the local energy supply would be primarily hydro and nuclear and distant coal plants and grid-traded power could be used for peaks and maintenance windows if dumping more water down the hydro system wasn’t an option.

    These electric heat sources aren’t modern heat pumps that move multiple units of heat (even at 17F outdoor temps) for every watt of input power (a COP>1 in terms of art). They’re in-wall and baseboard heaters that put out precisely one watt of heat for every watt in. This is staggeringly inefficient use of the grid, it increases grid demand precisely when solar insolation and wind are low, and it leaves all grid users vulnerable. Couple this with insufficient investment in NG storage, losing Trojan and failing to build new nuclear and PSE’s studied disinterest in utility-scale battery and it all comes down to a point where EVs and renewables get the blame when the former is still a tiny fraction of the grid demand during peak weather events and the latter were never intended as peaking capacity sources.

    The utilities and the regulators are fervently incentivizing conversion away from electric resistance heat in recognition of both the grid strain and the relatively poor heating performance per watt of input power, and that’s a great thing. Don’t blame decarbonization and EVs for the PNW’s fragile grid when it’s the baseboards and Cadets and home-size blow dryers that make us outsizedly dependent on electricity when temperatures fall.

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    1. Do you have said heat pump? Take a look inside bet there is still resistance heat. If you don't then you don't live in a climate they say they "work" down to. I have yet seen a heat pump keep up with the comfort standards of the customer. Period.

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    2. Utilities are still subsidizing the installation of electric resistance heating, and heat pumps have exactly the same problem: their efficiency drops with temperature at the same time heating demand increases. A heat pump that is "6 times as efficient" in 47F weather will be down to 1.5x during a cold snap--even the high end Mitsubishi models.
      Please don't be a propagandist Eric.

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    3. So you admit they have a COP 50% better than resistance heat even at the bottom of the temperature span? That’s a pretty remarkable efficiency gain over straight resistance. It’s misleading because that COP is for a temperature not found in the temperate rainforest - they’re now much, much higher at any temp ever experienced by half the residences in WA, and at least that high for temps experienced by 97%.

      The reality is that with hyperheat, VRF and liquid/vapor separation, the heat pumps of 2023 are capable of delivering a comfortable room environment down to historic low temperatures in Western Washington. A COP of 3 at 17F means three times the heat per watt relative to electric resistance and that makes a positive contribution to grid strain.

      Yes, single speed compressors with single-speed blowers make lousy residential heat pumps because they can only be optimally sized for a single level of cooling and are thus limited to a single level of heating. Thing is, that hasn’t been the standard for decades. Variable speed blowers on the air handler optimize ΔT to increase temperatures at the register reducing drafts. Variable-speed compressors optimize capacity relative to demand so you don’t get short cycling in cooling but can still get real heat.

      I wasn’t a believer - shitty systems from all the usual suspects from the late 70s until about fifteen years ago weren’t even that good in the western side of the Cascades and did use the resistance packs all the time once temps dropped into the 30s. But the move to hyperheat starting with Mitsubishi and spreading out to essentially every manufacturer and marketer means you can absolutely have viable performance in almost every inhabited place in Washington.

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    4. Not everyone lives on the westside. Population is growing on the Eastside. The new homes being built here will still need supplimental from natural gas or electric. Even with the new technologies just emerging they will be cost inhibiting. Not to mention the refrigerant used by your mini split is being phased out by Inslee, so they will have to go back to design with new refrigerant and if yours developes leak will be costly to charge. Two articles below. One is stating what I state they struggle and new technology (more expensive) is just coming out. Second a look at climate by region. By my guess over 300,000 people get subzero temps yearly. Should they just be satisfied with a 50° house during those times.

      https://www.cnet.com/home/energy-and-utilities/heat-pumps-can-struggle-in-coldest-winter-but-new-models-at-ces-show-promise/

      https://wrcc.dri.edu/climate/narrative_wa.php

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  17. Yet nobody is saying the entire power grid should be running off of wind turbines. FFS...

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  18. We also discovered that extreme cold weather impacts electric vehicles significantly. Drove our EV to Bellingham on Saturday and tried to charge in Mount Vernon on the way home and the chargers were not working because of the cold. Charged mileage was also shortened by the cold. Hmmm. Going to think twice about driving my EV very far in the cold in future. We barely made it home.

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    1. Tesla chargers or another brand? I've run into so many garbage chargers that aren't Tesla. It can be 70 degrees and the others seem to be down.

      Delete
  19. EV's are often charging overnight, when the grid has an excess of energy that isn't being used. I know with my electric car I can tell it when to start charging, this is because some states, California for example, have peak and off-peak rates. EV's are a fantastic way to utilize energy that typically goes to waste while we sleep.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sounds great, except electric cars are neither practical nor affordable.

      Give me a $10,000 electric Corolla with a 400 mile range and I'm in. Until then, the cost and hassles aren't worth it. And no, I'm not poor, I just don't like wasting money.

      Delete
    2. Today you can buy a used model 3 for around $15k-$20k. I worried about range when I bought mine back in 2018, but the fact is, most of us aren't driving crazy mileage each day. Unlike a gas car, I "fill my tank" every night when I plug it in. Therefore I have 260 miles of range every single morning when I wake up, instead of passing the gas station every day and saying, "I'll just fill up tomorrow."

      So unless you're driving more than 200+ miles per day, an EV makes sense for 95% or more of people. We have a Toyota Tacoma as well, so I know how damn expensive it is to fill up a gas vehicle these days and you just can't beat 260 miles or so of range for $10 of electricity. In the end, extra cash in my pocket and an extremely fun car to drive makes it an obvious decision for me.

      Delete
    3. "So unless you're driving more than 200+ miles per day, an EV makes sense for 95% or more of people."

      You omit the use case of occasional 200+ mile trips. Occasional might mean every weekend or every month or maybe a couple of times in the summer. I make several 750 mile trips a year, no way I would do that in an EV.

      I suspect that many people that own an EV have it as a second or third vehicle.

      Delete
    4. Eh, I have family members who have taken them on long trips across the country with no real issues. They don't have any other vehicles. And if you don't go on long road trips very often (and most people don't), it's really not an issue to begin with.

      Delete
  20. PSE and SnoPUD have pilots for time of use rates. I'm enrolled in PSE's. Even before that time, my EVs were programmed to charge in the dead of night.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I agree with everything in this article except the flippant comment about energy storage at the end. In fact, I think it's fairly radical technical advances in energy storage that will help greatly mitigate the intermittent, inconsistent availability of renewable electricity generation. Look at Australia - they have had large scale battery storage powering their electric grids for several years. Solid State and Sodium batteries have made huge advances and are more likely to be used for large scale energy storage before EVs because they need to do more work on energy density. We still need more nuclear energy, but I think renewables combined with advances in storage are the easiest path forward to lower carbon output.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Our energy policy is not made in the interests of the PNW. It's made in the interests of where the West Coast elites live--in other words, by and for people living in Santa Monica. Solar is more plentiful, wind is practically constant from the ocean, and temperature extremes are rare. An electric car will do nicely for short trips in the LA sun. If you don't live in Santa Monica or Santa Barbara, current energy policy requires blackouts in extreme weather conditions. Once again, those who have get more; those who have not, get less or nothing.

    ReplyDelete
  23. It's not that they don't understand: they're intelligent people. It's that they don't care about anything except giving power and money to the left. Power failures during cold snaps are *good* for them because they will get billions of dollars in grants to set up "warming shelters" while blaming the outage on their enemies.

    ReplyDelete
  24. My further remarks on this topic would be enhanced by the use of Blogger's text formatting tags. This comment is a test of four of these tags to see what text actually looks like when formatted with these modifiers.

    The 'strong' tag - This RE stuff is completely nuts! It will never work!

    The 'b' tag - This RE stuff is completely nuts! It will never work!

    The 'em' tag - This RE stuff is completely nuts! It will never work!

    The 'i' tag - This RE stuff is completely nuts! It will never work!

    This concludes the all-up test of the four Blogger text formatting tags.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I recommend that every home owner consider solar panels and a back up battery for their home. We pay zero utility bills from April thru October and we receive enough power charge over the winter to keep the back up battery charged should power go out. It is totally worth the investment. And as other posters have commented, the take away is that a diverse energy system is needed. There almost never is a one size fits all solution to any problem. Don't allow extremist views to cloud your reasoning. We use a combo of energy sources in our home (gas, electric and solar) and literally have cut our total energy bills by more than in half and haven't had our power go out in 5 years when our entire neighborhood has been out of power. Do what you can to protect your home and family: insulation, energy wise appliances, and as I suggest, solar panels and battery if possible.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Based on a Bank of America analysis, industrial solar plus battery storage is $413/MWh vs. $122/MWh for nuclear. Home solar/battery will be even more expense in comparison to utility nuclear.
      In the NW, solar produces about 15% of it's nameplate rating so the area required to meet a residential home needs and to charge batteries to cover the night/cloudy day shortfall will go into acres of panels and $$$$$$$.

      Delete
  26. Monsta -- Do you live in Santa Monica or Santa Barbara?

    ReplyDelete
  27. Bonneville Power had to spend $180 million on power purchases this past weekend in order to meet contracted load, beyond what it could generate to cover

    ReplyDelete
  28. Since mid-December of 2023, I've been downloading the BPA's visual graphic PNG files for the BPA's area of load balancing authority, doing so every afternoon.

    It's the same graphic included by Cliff Mass above in today's blog article.

    I've taken time this afternoon to consolidate the PNG format files for these BPA graphs into a pair of more readable graphical illustrations which cover the period of 12/16/2023 through 12/31/2023, and the period of 01/01/2024 through Noon 01/16/2024, respectively.

    BPA Generation and Load, 12/16/2023 through 12/31/2023

    BPA Generation and Load, 01/01/2024 through Noon 01/16/2024

    The BPA's area of load balancing authority includes approximately 12,000 Mw of nameplate hydropower; 2,800 Mw of nameplate wind & solar (mostly wind); 1,100 Mw of nuclear (the Columbia Generating Station); and roughly 1,100 Mw of fossil/biomass -- for a total of approximately 17,000 Mw nameplate generation capacity.

    Fossil/biomass includes the Gray's Harbor gas-fired power plant of roughly 600 Mw namplate capacity, plus a number of smaller biomass co-generation plants which produce another 500 Mw, more or less.

    In the two graphs shown above, total generation exceeds total load because electricity is being exported to other areas outside of the BPA's load balancing authority.

    The four Snake River dams now targeted for removal supply roughly 3,000 Mw of the BPA's 12,000 Mw total hydropower nameplate capacity.

    It is strongly rumored that the Biden Administration is working closely behind the scenes with the Army Corps of Engineers, the BPA, Governor Jay Inslee, and with Senator Patty Murray to draw down the pools behind the four lower Snake River dams, thus eliminating the services these dams provide for power generation, for crop irrigation, and for barge navigation.

    This is all being done out of sight and with no public involvement.

    In addition, the Biden Administration's Net Zero objectives combined with Washington State's own decarbonization programs will eventually force the closure of the Gray's Harbor facility.

    And so if the Biden Administration and Washington State's politicians have their way, a total of roughly 3,600 Mw of power generation capacity will have been eliminated from the Northwest's power grid by the year 2035, possibly earlier.

    To my personal knowledge, the agencies responsible for power planning in the US Northwest have taken no account whatsoever of the forthcoming loss of this 3,600 Mw of power generation capacity. In other words, the RE Kool Aid band plays on, completely oblivious to the looming energy shortfalls which await us.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Lower Snake River Dams may have a nameplate capacity of 3000 Mw, but their utilization actually only averages about 1000 Mw per year generating 8.75 TWh of electricity per year. Because they are run of the river, their power generating capacity drops off substantially by August through mid-Fall when stream flows are low. Essentially the LSRD are intermittent too.

      A Department of Commerce study projects Washington will need to build about 30x the electricity generation by 2050 because our electricity demand is going to increase from 282 TWh today to 351 TWh.

      Replacing the electricity from the LSRD is probably the easiest challenge to solve before taking down the dams. The costs to farmers for grain shipping is more politically messy because farmers know what they have now and won't take promises going forward considering the risks to their businesses.

      Delete
  29. The issue is not so much one of intermittent renewables, that is their nature. Hydro production is also a renewable and much more of a stable baseload supply. The solution to intermittent renewable energy is to build out more storage. This is now practical with newer battery technologies. Flow battery systems are able to scale to meet grid supply demands. They are easy to implement and don't have the huge regulatory baggage that nuclear does, especially in this state that still remembers the WPPSS fiasco and still has not figured out how to deal with the huge mess at Hanford.

    Grid storage is already in place in multiple locations. It's actually cheaper at some point than adding capacity. It's time to rethink grid power with new solutions.
    https://youtu.be/udJJ7n_Ryjg

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's like talking to a wall. Grid storage fantasies aren't going to happen. https://www.manhattancontrarian.com/blog/2023-9-28-a-semi-competent-report-on-energy-storage-from-britains-royal-society is an example of explaining the impractical battery storage issues.

      In the " Scoping plan" for New York state's net zero plan there is repeated mention of dispatchable emissions-free resources, what are those? They storage is discussed using MW not MW-hrs. It's a serious error.

      Delete
    2. Semi-competent is a good explanation of the report. It is a fools errand to in many locations to base the energy plan solely on intermittent energy supplies. That's not the point of storage, unless the region has other factors blessing it. The South Australia is an example of an region that has combined solar and storage to power a large population where hydro is the intermittent supplier of power. It is now over 71% renewables. The Tasmanian state is over 99% renewable energy powered. Storage make this possible.

      Delete
  30. An available renewable for supplemental baseload power in WA state is geothermal. This potential needs do be developed to supplement hydropower generation.

    ReplyDelete

  31. In this research report from Bank of America on nuclear fuels investment opportunities, they point out the relative cost of "All in" (I.e with current battery storage costs) wind and solar versus nuclear. Here is an extract of key points showing how much more wind and solar costs are compared to nuclear.
    Nuclear in numbers
    1. 437: the number of reactors in the world today. 90% were built in the 1970s & 80s.
    60 new reactors are under construction, 100 are planned, and old reactors are being
    refurbished for 80 years or more of total lifetime use.
    2. >50%: the nuclear share of emissions-free electricity in the US. Nuclear power is
    25% of global carbon-free power and 10% of global electricity overall.
    3. 60: gigatons of CO2 emissions avoided in the past 50 years due to nuclear power.
    4. 1-inch pellet of uranium: equal to 120 gallons of oil, 17,000 ft3 of natural gas, or
    one ton of coal. 10 pellets can power a household for a year.
    5. 93%: average “uptime” for nuclear plants. It’s 35% for wind and 25% for solar.
    6. 75 joules: amount of energy returned for every 1 joule of energy invested in nuclear
    power production; including storage, for fossil fuels it’s about 30 joules, for
    concentrated solar it’s 9, for wind & biomass 4 joules.
    7. 22¢/kWh: electricity cost in France (>70% nuclear); in Germany, 40¢ (0%). In the
    US, it’s 14¢/kWh in South Carolina (56% nuclear) or 27¢ in California (10%).
    8. $122/MWh: average cost to build & generate nuclear power on an “all-in” basis;
    wind plus battery storage costs $291/MWh, solar plus batteries $413 (Exhibit 20).
    9. 1.3 square miles: space required for a 1000 MW nuclear plant, about the size of
    Central Park in New York; a comparable solar installation would need 45-75mi2 (the
    Bronx or Brooklyn); comparable wind needs 260-3360 mi2 (all five NYC boroughs).10
    10. 50 bananas: living near a nuclear power station gives radiation exposure equal to
    the amount of naturally radioactive potassium in about 50 bananas. Living within 50
    miles of a coal-fired plant gives radiation exposure that is 33x higher.
    https://advisoranalyst.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/bofa-the-ric-report-the-nuclear-necessity-20230509.pdf

    ReplyDelete
  32. I find two things highly ironic here:
    (a) you're using the power shortage as a cautionary tale about the perils of renewables, when in your own data they are still a tiny piece of the overall supply, (and hydro stepped up), so their drop-off wasn't really a significant factor to the shortfall. But more importantly...
    (b) You specifically highlight the value of natural gas when in fact natural gas shortages were here the proximate cause! The Prarie facility went down, so it was natural gas that was constrained! https://www.thenewstribune.com/news/local/article284232213.html.

    So much for renewables being the problem...

    ReplyDelete
  33. We better get on it, time is running out and fossil fuels have done irreversible damage.

    ReplyDelete

Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

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