Keeping the Lights On
Shockingly, our electric bill was almost $400 this month and we were traveling for part of it! Our house is all electric because it was built during the 1980s when natural gas was in short supply. We are well insulated, have new doors and windows. Lynnda does like it warm at 72 degrees. That takes electricity. We have smart technology and our computers. Fortunately, we live in West Virginia where electric rates are relatively low. If we were in New England our bill would have been over $600. In California it would have been close to $800.
The better news is, we have electricity 24 hours a day year-round. California chose to shut down a 3000 MW nuclear power plant about 4 years ago and replaced it with 57 acres of windmills, about 76 MW if the wind is blowing. CBS’ 60 Minutes Show did a piece on this, I believe it was in 2018. It seemed like a good idea until California started having brown outs. Everyone is welcome to an opinion on energy. However, basic engineering and math are not subject to opinion. Understanding math and some basic engineering concepts are important when it comes to energy, especially electricity. Without electricity people can die.
It is important to understand the difference between base load and intermittent power. Baseload on a power grid is the minimum level of demand on an electrical grid over a span of time. Historically coal and nuclear power met most base load requirements. Natural gas is now abundant, cleaner and cheaper than coal for base load power. As additional power is needed other power sources can be brought on. Natural gas is an excellent source of additional power supply because it can be brought on line in a matter of minutes. West Virginia has a number of natural gas peaking plants that can be put on line quickly to meet increases in load especially in extremely cold or hot weather.
We need electricity most during extremely cold or hot weather when renewables are least effective. Early evening is a peak power time when everyone is home from work and school. People are using electricity for cooking, heating or cooling and everyone is using electronic devices like TV or computers. In winter it is already dark eliminating solar as a source of electricity.
We visited a dairy farm in Maryland that was off the grid and used solar power for much of its electricity. The farm also operated a store that sold ice cream and other dairy products. The farmer said when the sun was shining, solar could power the entire farm. Natural gas generators provided back up for the solar power coming on line in seconds.
Renewables today are filling a larger roll on the power grid above base load. The amount of wind and solar in our electricity mix has increased. Disney is using solar to help power their theme parks during the day. Even in Florida the sun doesn’t always shine. Intermittent power sources require 100% back up, typically with natural gas. Batteries are expensive and technically are not capable of storing large volumes of power. There are alternatives. Several years ago, I was involved in project pumping water up into a large reservoir, actually a lake, during off peak time. The water from the lake was used during peak hours to power a generator for peak power needs.
Wind and solar are good sources of electricity when available. However, they DO NOT WORK 24/7. They require a backup power source. This is where California got into trouble. The Green New Deal as written depends on wind, solar, hydro and wave power. It eliminates the use of fossil fuels and HAS NO BACKUP for 95% of its proposed energy. This would mean cold dark dinners in winter for most Americans. The elite will be using natural gas or propane to generate their electricity. We will need fossil fuels to manufacture windmills, solar panels, electric cars and other products. Government and now many corporate leaders are ignoring basic engineering as we continue to hear about a transition to renewables. They don’t even consider manufacturing and its power and molecule needs.
Math and engineering are different than science. Science is NEVER settled. The scientific method is about constantly testing hypotheses (beliefs). New knowledge changes science. We know much more about COVID today than a year ago. The methods to protect people and treat COVID have evolved as a result of new knowledge. Engineering equations don’t change. Stresses, forces and energy are calculated.
The earth was believed to be the center of the universe with the planets revolving around it. Copernicus (1473-1543) proposed from his observations the planets of the solar system revolved around the sun, not earth. Galileo (1564-1642) confirmed the sun was the center of the solar system using a telescope. For his belief, Galileo was put on trial for heresy by the Catholic Church. His science violated religious dogma at the time. He avoided execution but spent the last years of his life under house arrest. Being a scientist requires courage. A few years ago, Pope John Paul II said Galileo’s prosecution was a mistake and praised Galileo as a brilliant mind. Many engineers don’t like controversy and have been intimidated or bullied into silence. We can’t afford to silence our scientists and engineers.
Our planet’s environmental and energy problems need solutions requiring open honest discussion and teamwork. They require us to think globally not just locally. People need affordable dependable 24/7 electricity. This must be part of ANY solution. I attended a recent conference where Bill Gates spoke. He said because of technology and increased use of electric vehicles our electricity use will INCREASE 50%. My $400 becomes $600 unless we go the way of California where it would be $1,200. How much more are you willing to pay? It is time for new ideas, collaboration, working together on common goals and engineering common sense.