By Chris Nelder | October 3, 2012, 3:00 AM PDT
Americans have been repeatedly told a series of lies about accommodating renewables onto the power grid: That it can’t handle large amounts of intermittent power generation. That standby fossil-fueled capacity must be maintained at 100 percent of demand for those times when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. That brownouts and blackouts will inevitably result from depending on renewables. That nuclear is the only power source that can meet our needs in the future. And so on.
Europeans beg to differ.
An August 31 article by James Conca in Forbes (”Germany — Insane or Just Plain Stupid?“) regurgitated these hoary tropes, claiming that Germany’s decision to shut down nuclear plants and transition to renewables was a colossal mistake, because “the grid can’t handle it, the transmission system is not there, and the power disruptions and brownouts are wreaking havoc on the country’s energy reliability.”
Germany-based energy journalist Craig Morris shot back in his column at Renewables International:
The fact is that none of what is happening in Germany fits what Americans think, and the only regular source of news from Germany in English is Spiegel Online, a laughable source of energy news (the Forbes article cites Spiegel). Germany is switching to renewables quickly, without raising its carbon emissions, with probably the most reliable grid in the world, on a market with freedoms Americans don’t even know they lack, with a job market that continues to strengthen (even during the ongoing economic crisis), and in combination with a nuclear phaseout. None of this makes sense to Americans, who respond not by accepting the facts and changing their minds but by getting the picture wrong.
Morris highlighted a 2010 study I mentioned in March (”Why baseload power is doomed“), which found that nuclear power plants are fundamentally “incompatible with renewable energies.” Because renewables enjoy priority dispatch on the grid, conventional generators need to be cut back when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining. Older nuclear and coal power plants, which cannot be ramped up and down easily, are ill-suited to a grid with large amounts of variable renewable power.
Morris proceeded to dismantle the reliability argument, pointing out that instead of power disruptions, Germany’s grid is now the most reliable of the EU member states.
Phi Beta Iota: The article focuses on macro or nation-wide grids. The other half of the renewables coin is at the micro-level — self-sufficient neighborhoods focused on optimization of localized wind, solar, and biomass.