Author Topic: The future of the electric grid  (Read 603 times)

Offline JayUtah

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The future of the electric grid
« on: February 17, 2021, 01:55:45 PM »
Y'all okay down there in Texas?  Just pointing out how Rick Perry was President Trump's energy secretary.  The whole nation might have dodged a bullet here.  Stay warm.
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Offline gillianren

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Re: The future of the electric grid
« Reply #1 on: February 18, 2021, 10:03:00 AM »
And of course people are trying to blame the windmills, not the infrastructure.  As a friend put it, she hadn't realized the Green New Deal had already been passed and implemented in Texas, of all places . . . .
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Offline JayUtah

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Re: The future of the electric grid
« Reply #2 on: February 18, 2021, 12:21:01 PM »
As usual, one party seems particularly adept at blaming the other party for catastrophes obviously caused by its own actions.  And people seem all too eager to believe it.  I really hope our regulars from Texas are safe.
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Offline apollo16uvc

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Re: The future of the electric grid
« Reply #3 on: February 18, 2021, 01:05:49 PM »
USA's unwillingness to spend money on repairing and expanding the bulk of its infrastructure is once again manifesting itself.

This time as a failure of the electrical grid.

This is something multi-generational, not one one single party or parties.
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Offline apollo16uvc

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Re: The future of the electric grid
« Reply #4 on: February 18, 2021, 01:13:52 PM »
Lets talk about how the Texas powergrid works. They’re the only state not part of the two national interconnections. This is because in 1935, The Federal Power Act came to be. The law gave the federal government authority to regulate power companies.



The Texas powergrid is 90% self-contained, they can't simply get power from other states. This is why all the states are connected, so the demand of the grid can be met.

Right now, acc to ERCOT, Texas's electricity demand is FAR exceeding current generation capacity.

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Offline JayUtah

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Re: The future of the electric grid
« Reply #5 on: February 18, 2021, 01:39:12 PM »
Right, the vulnerability of the U.S. power grid just a couple decades ago was one of American civil engineering's dirtiest secrets.  It was vulnerable to physical attack, to cyber attack, to sabotage, and to deficiencies caused by widespread natural disaster.  A great deal of effort has been expended toward improving the U.S. electrical distribution infrastructure and hardening it against failures -- both natural and human-intended kinds.  But there is still a long way to go.

My reference to Perry, and especially to his role in the Trump administration (which is why I posted it in this thread), is that it's being widely reported that Perry and others who hold or held authority in Texas specifically separated Texas from the U.S. national power grid system so that it would not come under the regulation that makes the national power grid work.  That is, the regulations that require expensive backups, hardening, and other measures.  My brother is an electrical engineer now working in the field of infrastructure-scale power distribution and management systems.  His regulatory structure is even more stringent than aerospace now.  Texas is not part of the national electrical grid systems not because of a failure in infrastructure upgrades, but because Texas explicitly chose not to be a part of it.

As a result, Texas could cut corners and provide only a minimally robust electrical distribution system.  It could rely on whatever generator technology it wanted.  It wasn't fettered by cost and rate controls that are generally uniform across each of the major U.S. grids.  It is responsible only to minimal federal oversight.  In short, it seems it was a system designed to privatize electrical generation and distribution for the financial benefit of a select few.  It's the "free market forces" at work.  In other words, while the technical topology that's presented here is accurate and is the proximal cause of Texas' current problems, it also seems that the Republication leadership that has dominated Texas for the past 20 years drove the policy that resulted in Texas opting out of the more heavily-regulated, but also far more robust, national electrical grid.  If the reporting I'm reading is accurate, we can certainly entertain political causes for the failure.

And the reason I say we dodged a bullet is that Perry, as Trumps Secretary of Energy, could have implemented at the national level a "free market forces" privatization of the electrical distribution grid that would have amplified the failures were seeing in Texas to a national level of vulnerability.

Don't.  Privatize.  Your.  Infrastructure.
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Offline Peter B

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Re: The future of the electric grid
« Reply #6 on: February 18, 2021, 09:57:48 PM »
As usual, one party seems particularly adept at blaming the other party for catastrophes obviously caused by its own actions.  And people seem all too eager to believe it.  I really hope our regulars from Texas are safe.

You mean actions like going on holiday to Cancun?

Offline gillianren

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Re: The future of the electric grid
« Reply #7 on: February 19, 2021, 10:06:30 AM »
I mean, I'm strongly of the opinion that people from the US shouldn't be traveling to other countries right now regardless.  The only other person I know of who has made Mexican travel plants lately is that child of privilege who planned her vacation for after a planned insurrection.  But yesterday, I found out that a friend who was traveling within the US more than I was particularly comfortable with has now been diagnosed with Covid, and that was me failing to be surprised.  We have a responsibility not to spread our ridiculously high numbers to other countries.

I'll also acknowledge that, you know, Ted Cruz could not personally do anything about what was happening.  I get that.  But for one thing, optics are a thing.  And for another, he blamed his ten-year-old daughter.  He said he didn't want to disappoint her.  I've been disappointing my kids all their lives because of what we can't afford, in no small part because people like him want the disabled to stay poor.  I've also been disappointing them because we're following quarantine protocols.  People in Texas are disappointing children by melting snow for them to drink because they have neither power nor water.  Like, consider these things.  Also, a friend of mine in Texas points out that his neighbourhood never lost power.
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Offline JayUtah

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Re: The future of the electric grid
« Reply #8 on: February 19, 2021, 12:20:30 PM »
Sen. Cruz is being uncharacteristically contrite over this.

I assume he and his family have been vaccinated.  And he appears to be obeying mask protocols for travel.  So while I agree that discretionary travel should be curtailed as a matter of courtesy and utmost safety, I don't think there was any real danger of coronavirus transmission in Cruz' case.  It just creates a bad image, just as other politicians (both U.S. and U.K.) did earlier in the pandemic when they disregarded travel and gathering restrictions.  You trust people more to make and execute laws when they show they believe the laws to be reasonable according to their own desires and behavior.

Normally in a crisis involving a substantial part of a State, the Governor is in charge.  There is indeed very little a single U.S. Senator can do.  But politics, like entertainment, is a relationship-driven industry.  Sen. Cruz should have been seen calling in favors, working the back channels, aligning federal resources -- perhaps not with statutory authority, but at least with expressed interest and practical power -- to maximize the Governor's relief efforts.  Sometimes just making your staff available to the Governor or other officials is a meaningful contribution.  And yes, you can Zoom those things from Mexico just as effectively as you can from Austin or Dallas.  But you have to be seen being engaged.  What looks like jetting off for a vacation has the simple appearance of abandoning the people he represents, in their time of need.  As gillianren notes, it's terrible optics, and optics matter quite a bit in politics.

It's no great surprise that Sen. Ted Cruz is not particularly well liked.  So the controversy probably has more to do with him as a public-figure Texan than it has to do with the Senate.  Character matters too in politics -- or at least the ability to simulate character convincingly.  What Cruz did reeks of smugness and arrogance.  He and his family get to flee the cold and other harsh conditions while less fortunate Texans have to wait for help.  It doesn't matter a whole lot to me whether Cruz could have meaningfully (or even disingenuously) accelerated that help.  It's the tone-deafness of having the privilege to flee the harsh circumstances that his party's policy created.  And the policy helps generate and sustain that privilege.  Sure, have a statewide energy policy that has little if any margin for failure, so that it can be run cheaply and generate more profits for those who operate it.  But when it breaks, you have to sit there and freeze your ass off just like everyone else.  Otherwise it's a moral hazard.
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Offline gillianren

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Re: The future of the electric grid
« Reply #9 on: February 20, 2021, 10:44:45 AM »
Especially in someone who's so denigrating of other people who take their children from their homes in order to make things better for them.
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Offline apollo16uvc

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Re: The future of the electric grid
« Reply #10 on: February 20, 2021, 02:23:11 PM »
I don't think a state having a 90% independent power grid is necessarily a bad thing. Nor is having a joined one the be-all-end-all manner of avoiding this.

Infrastructure independence can be a good thing.

Quality above quantity. Either system can work if it has the overhead to handle long-term unforeseen spikes such as this.

Many places and big cities in the USA that are part of one half of the national power grid have rolling/cascade blackouts, often.

This one just comes at such a bad time (Due to the cold) that it has caused a mass humanitarian crisis.
« Last Edit: February 20, 2021, 02:26:06 PM by apollo16uvc »
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Offline LunarOrbit

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Re: The future of the electric grid
« Reply #11 on: February 20, 2021, 09:13:13 PM »
An interconnected system is smart since it provides a backup in situations like this, but also because it provides a way to sell excess power to other states. I can't think of a good reason not to have one.
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Offline gillianren

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Re: The future of the electric grid
« Reply #12 on: February 21, 2021, 11:28:31 AM »
Avoiding regulation.
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Offline Jeff Raven

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Re: The future of the electric grid
« Reply #13 on: February 21, 2021, 11:55:11 AM »
An interconnected system is smart since it provides a backup in situations like this, but also because it provides a way to sell excess power to other states. I can't think of a good reason not to have one.

The first thing that comes to mind is security. If the system doesn't have good network security, it might be possible to hack the system from a vulnerable node and take down much or all of the rest.  I know it's the stuff of movies, but any interconnected system can make its component parts vulnerable. The likelihood is low, and that's what safety and security measures are for, but it is possible. Of course, the pros far outweigh the cons.

Offline grmcdorman

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Re: The future of the electric grid
« Reply #14 on: February 21, 2021, 01:51:50 PM »
For an electrical grid, it also makes the system - generally - more stable. In particular, the system frequency (60Hz in North America) will drift less, because there's fewer major changes in load.

Many years ago, my brother, my father, and myself took a trip to Iceland. We were able to go into the control room of a hydroelectric station, and my father - who was an electrical engineer, and worked for what used to be Ontario Hydro - noticed a strip chart that showed a major event. Turned out it was the system frequency over time, and that event was when the aluminum smelter came online. The sudden increase in load caused the system frequency to oscillate for a while before it settled down.

A larger grid would have been impacted less when that happened.

Of course, the downside is that - like in 2003 - major failures can quickly cascade through the grid unless your interconnects are properly secured.