Monday, June 27, 2016

Designing an Electrical Grid From Scratch

Subtitle: Ranting and Raving Does Not Produce A Useful Result

Sometimes one just has to laugh at the things others complain about, and even rant and rave about.  A blog article I wrote recently produced a rant (on WUWT), about how the California electrical grid and its operation are grossly unfair and should never have been allowed to reach the condition that it is in today.   The chief complaint, it appears, is the price paid by residential customers, what is known as the rate structure.   California does have some high rates, it is true, by law there are a few tiers or levels of price depending on the season and how much power one uses.   The more use in the summer during peak
California Energy Commission - major electric transmission lines 
demand, the higher the price.   Conversely, low use in Spring during offpeak hours has a low price. 

Another loud complaint is the use of renewable generating resources on the California grid. Most of the howls of indignation appear to be directed at solar power and wind power systems.   It seems that geothermal is not on the list that causes anger.    The utter confusion, indeed ignorance, of how hydroelectric power is treated as a renewable source or not is perhaps understandable.  Basically, most systems of 30 or smaller MW count as a renewable, while most larger systems do not.  

I requested the unhappy commenters to provide their solutions to how California should proceed, what would and would not be included in their ideal grid.   Their goal, of course, is to have cheaper power.    No response as of this date, however.   It seems it is much easier to complain than it is to offer workable, sound solutions.    I should point out that I have never seen a utility reduce their rates when adding new generation assets, or for transmission or distribution assets.   In fact, where nuclear power plants are being built, the utility (in Georgia, USA) obtained a special law from the state legislature to increase customers' power bills for the several years of the nuclear plant's construction. 

Therefore, I put together a few items that one should, and in some cases must consider (laws of many types play into the electricity issue).  

California already has quite a mix of generating types, including nuclear, gas-fired, petroleum coke-fired, oil-fired, diesel engines with generators, geothermal, hydroelectric, wind, solar PV, solar thermal, biogas, and biomass.   Some storage is already provided by batteries, pumped storage hydroelectric, and a gravity rail system is under construction.  There are mandated combined heat-and-power (CHP) systems that replaced standard boilers.   In the gas-fired category, there are at least three types: steam, combined cycle gas turbine (CCGT), and peaker plants or simple cycle gas turbines.   However, at least a few peaker plants are also CCGT.  

Below is a list of generating technologies, with perhaps others existing that do not readily come to mind after a bit of research.    In no particular order, then, here is a list of 46 generating and 7 storage possibilities.   Note:  BL denotes Base Load design, LF denotes Load Following.   There are substantial initial cost and operating cost implications for Load Following vs Base Load designs.   Acronyms may be familiar to readers, if not I can provide a link to a resource. 

1 Nuclear BL PWR - AP-1000
2 Nuclear BL PWR - EPR
3 Nuclear BL BWR - ABWR
4 Nuclear BL SMR
5 Nuclear BL LFTR  - MSR Thorium
6 Nuclear BL HTGR
7 Nuclear BL Fusion - Tokamak
8 Nuclear BL Fusion - LIFE
9 Nuclear - LF PWR - AP-1000
10 Nuclear - LF PWR - EPR
11 Nuclear - LF BWR - ABWR
12 Nuclear - LF SMR
13 Nuclear - LF LFTR  - MSR Thorium
14 Nuclear - LF HTGR
15 Nuclear - LF Fusion - Tokamak
16 Nuclear - LF Fusion - LIFE
17 Coal Rankine - Med Pres
18 Coal Rankine - USC
19 Coal Gasified - IGCC
20 Hydroelectric Large
21 Hydroelectric Small
22 Natural Gas Rankine
23 Natural Gas CCGT
24 Natural Gas SCGT
25 Natural Gas Methane SMR - Fuel Cell
26 Geothermal Rankine
27 Wind Onshore HAWT
28 Wind Onshore VAWT
29 Wind Offshore HAWT
30 Wind Offshore VAWT
31 Solar PV - utility scale
32 Solar PV - residential demand reduction
33 Solar Thermal w/o storage
34 Solar Thermal w/storage
35 Solar Pond - Rankine
36 Biomass Burn - Rankine
37 Biomass Synthetic Methane (Park process)
38 Biogas Methane collection
39 Wave Various
40 Tide         Turbine
41 Ocean Current Turbine
42 OTEC Thermal - Rankine
43 River Current - turbine
44 Oil         Rankine
45 Diesel Engine
46 Natural Gas ICE engine - cogen and tri-gen
47 Storage Pumped Hydroelectric - onshore
48 Storage Pumped Hydroelectric - offshore - MIT spheres
49 Storage Pumped Hydroelectric - combined onshore and offshore
50 Storage Battery
51 Storage Capacitor
52 Storage Gravity - rail

53 Storage Compressed air

With those as the available cards in the proverbial deck, one must then have solid answers to a few dozen questions (or issues) about electrical grid design and operation.   Below are listed just a few of the hundreds of issues that must be resolved in an electrical grid.   I pose these to the ranters and ravers, with the full expectation that they will not ever provide any answers.   Perhaps merely reading the questions will give them pause, and a bit of respect for a grid as large and complex as the California grid.   

1. Power grid first of all must be safe
2. Power grid second, must be reliable
3. Power grid third, must sell affordable power
4. Utilities must obtain a reasonable return on investment
5. Power grid must meet all load conditions, all the time 
6. Account for variations in demand daily, weekends, seasonal
7. Account for planned and unplanned asset outages
8. Account for adverse weather, earthquakes, fire, flood, wind, tsunami
9. Account for blackouts and brownouts
10. Account for fuel supply issues including disruptions (coal, natural gas, etc)
11. Account for available space (if any) on railroads for coal imports from other states
12. Account for growth in demand, if any
13. Account for environmental impacts - wildlife, air, water, soil, radiation, noise, explosion, etc
14. Account for transmission and distribution systems
15. Account for customers' ability to pay - poor, elderly, etc
16. Account for power attributes as attracting or deterring commerce and industry
17. Pricing must also pay utilities for fuel and other operating costs
18. Account for critical services - hospitals, life-support systems at residences, etc
19. Account for cooling water, river, lake, ocean, or air-cooling, mixed-cooling
20. Account for customers' installation of solar on property, and wind; will you buy power from individuals?
21. Account for other states with offers to sell power to California, yes, no, what conditions
22. Account for large industry or commercial sites that self-generate, will you be their backup?
23. Account for large industry or commercial sites that produce excess - will you buy?
24. Account for location, siting, of generating assets, and environmental justice issues
25. Account for location and siting of transmission assets, distribution assets
26. Will you cooperate in a regional grid, or a very large regional grid?
27. For experimental technologies that need research and development - will you fund this?  How?
28. How will you determine acceptable pollution emissions to air, water, soil, and via radiation?
29. What levels of animal, bird, and fish deaths will you accept and how to justify these?
30. What level of grid reliability will you deem acceptable, and how to justify this? 99% or higher?
31. How will you ensure that grid reliability is uniform across all areas, so no group is discriminated against?
32. How will you price the power sales, by residential, commercial, industrial, transportation, or other method?
33. Will you have a flat rate, or a tiered pricing system, and why?
34. Will you encourage efficiency in use, or profligacy, or be neutral, and why?
35. How will you address energy profligacy by a rich few, and the increased generation assets that requires?
36. If nuclear is part of your assets, who pays for a nuclear disaster and related deaths? Property damage?
37. How will you bring electricity to a very small user in remote areas?  Not at all?  
38. Will you have above-ground or in-ground distribution, where and why?
39. Will you allow distributed generation, if so, at what size and where? 
40. How will you address the disparity in use vs location in California, with coastal areas
having mild summers and winters thus low usage, but inland areas
. having hot summers and cold winters thus much higher usage? 
41. For gas-fired peaker plants, if you have those, how will you regulate their use?
42. For large hydroelectric plants, if you have those, how will you decide where to put them?
43. How will you decide when to retire an asset, either generation, transmission, or distribution systems? 
44. On a daily and hourly basis, how will you choose which generating assets to run, which to order to stand by, and which to hold in reserve? 

45. How will you ensure complete compliance with all Federal Laws and regulatory agencies, including but not limited to FERC, Nuclear Regulatory Agency, PURPA, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, various national energy policy acts, and state agency regulations such as California Energy Commission, California Coastal Commission, California Public Utility Commission, California Independent System Operator, California State Water Resources Control Board, and California Air Resources Board? 

Have I any experience in any of these issues?  Absolutely, but just a bit.  My engineering experience includes economic justification and preliminary design of a CCGT plant that was installed and is still running near Houston, Texas at a large chemical plant.   I also performed a make-or-buy analysis many times, one notable example was for nuclear power to a large refinery using a small reactor.  Also, I did an economic justification with technology selection, and sizing for a large hydroelectric project overseas.  I had the nuclear power course in undergraduate school for nuclear chemistry, physics, reactor design, and remainder-of-plant design for multiple types of reactors.   I had a full guided tour of a large nuclear reactor in Perry, Ohio with a group of fellow engineers.  I was assigned to analyze completely the fiasco of the South Texas Nuclear Plant design and construction process, then report on the entire matter to my employer.  I have evaluated and made recommendations to several clients on their make-or-buy decisions for both electricity and steam in their large refineries and process plants.   As an attorney, I don't discuss my clients or my cases.  It is sufficient to say that I am quite familiar with many of the legal requirements for grid-scale electrical systems.  

With California presently in a crisis summer, with high loads on the grid and inadequate natural gas supplies due to the Aliso Canyon storage facility problems, it is not surprising that the grid is a popular subject.   Everyone seems to know what California should do.  It is easy to rant.   I wonder how many, if any, could provide answers to any of the issues above.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

copyright (c) 2016 by Roger Sowell - all rights reserved

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