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posted by Blackmoore on Wednesday November 12 2014, @04:18AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the turn-up-the-reactor-power-three-more-triangles dept.

Justin Gillis writes in the NYT that Denmark is pursuing the world’s most ambitious policy against climate change aiming to end the burning of fossil fuels in any form by 2050 — not just in electricity production, as some other countries hope to do, but in transportation as well. The trouble is that while renewable power sources like wind and solar cost nothing to run, once installed, as more of these types of power sources push their way onto the electric grid, they cause power prices to crash at what used to be the most profitable times of day. Conventional power plants, operating on gas or coal or uranium, are becoming uneconomical to run. Yet those plants are needed to supply backup power for times when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining. With their prime assets throwing off less cash, electricity suppliers in Germany and Denmark have applied to shut down a slew of newly unprofitable power plants, but nervous governments are resisting, afraid of being caught short on some cold winter’s night with little wind. “We are really worried about this situation,” says Anders Stouge, the deputy director general of the Danish Energy Association. “If we don’t do something, we will in the future face higher and higher risks of blackouts.”

Environmental groups, for their part, have tended to sneer at the problems the utilities are having, contending that it is their own fault for not getting on the renewables bandwagon years ago. But according to Gillis, the political risks of the situation also ought to be obvious to the greens. The minute any European country — or an ambitious American state, like California — has a blackout attributable to the push for renewables, public support for the transition could weaken drastically. Rasmus Helveg Petersen, the Danish climate minister, says he is tempted by a market approach: real-time pricing of electricity for anyone using it — if the wind is blowing vigorously or the sun is shining brightly, prices would fall off a cliff, but in times of shortage they would rise just as sharply.

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  • (Score: 1) by Gravis on Wednesday November 12 2014, @06:09AM

    by Gravis (4596) on Wednesday November 12 2014, @06:09AM (#115097)

    Rasmus Helveg Petersen, the Danish climate minister, says he is tempted by a market approach: real-time pricing of electricity for anyone using it — if the wind is blowing vigorously or the sun is shining brightly, prices would fall off a cliff, but in times of shortage they would rise just as sharply.

    those of us who are serious about getting off of depletables are using solar panels in combination with a battery, for when the sun isnt out.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 12 2014, @06:59AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 12 2014, @06:59AM (#115102)

      If only battery kwh/$ were improving as fast as solar has been.

    • (Score: 2) by Aiwendil on Wednesday November 12 2014, @08:05AM

      by Aiwendil (531) on Wednesday November 12 2014, @08:05AM (#115111) Journal

      It would be very costly and batteries are still either lead-based or shortlived (when talking infrastructure anything lasting less than a couple of decades are considered shortlived)

        (For the sake of discussion I will use Denmark to refer to "mainland Denmark" (ie, Denmark without Greenland and Faroe-islands))
      Denmark is actually a quite interesting case in itself for many reasons:
        * It isn't a unified electrical grid (it is two grids, only a 500MW link between them)
        * It has extremly fluctuating electricy prices (it can go from cheapest to most expensive in europe virtually over night)
        * It is a very flat country (ie, no pumped hydro available)
        * Strong enviornmental laws (ie, no quick-n-dirty fixes allowed - excepting coal for some reason)
        * Despite not having any nuclear power plants their electricity still comes about 10% from nuclear (imports)

      It all makes for a very interesting case with unique problems. However at the moment a battery system to flatten the changes would probably be profitable but it still is a very expensive method - and this would only cause baseload plants to get even more into the red which would exacerbate the problem)

      (figures below from 2012)
      Probably is worth pointing out that Demark's total electricty needs only is about 30TWh per year (this is roughly the output of a 4GWe power plant) (they get about 10TWh from coal and 4TWh from gas)

      • (Score: 2) by mojo chan on Wednesday November 12 2014, @09:27AM

        by mojo chan (266) on Wednesday November 12 2014, @09:27AM (#115122)

        People are using recycled lithium cells or sodium sulphur. The are pretty cheap and pay for themselves in a few years. Lifespan is 10-15 years.

        In the future I imagine people will use their electric cars as house batteries. You can already do it in emergencies with a Nissan Leaf, but if you had something like a Tesla you could do it all the time. They tested their packs up to 750,000 miles with only 14% degradation, so for most people who will never get anywhere near that kind of mileage it makes sense to use some to reduce their domestic energy bill.

        --
        const int one = 65536; (Silvermoon, Texture.cs)
        • (Score: 2) by Aiwendil on Wednesday November 12 2014, @09:42AM

          by Aiwendil (531) on Wednesday November 12 2014, @09:42AM (#115124) Journal

          Cheap and pay for themselves (in unstable grids) - yes, but still shortlived at the timespans used for infrastructure.

          Sounds like an idea if one isn't living in an apartment, but if is living in a house I would probably be in favour of just getting a ten-foot-container ("half-size"), good logic and control and then just throwing whatever batteries are available into it.. it will have the advantage of being able to be charged when the car isn't at home (in case of solar this would be during daytime when the car is parked at work), will allow for better fire supression, wouldn't leave you without a functioning car during long-term power-outages, and with a good partitioning wall can also be used to store firewood :)

          Or just use a twenty foot container, a partition wall, and use it as a battery-backup and garage..

    • (Score: 2) by Immerman on Wednesday November 12 2014, @03:43PM

      by Immerman (3985) on Wednesday November 12 2014, @03:43PM (#115216)

      Indeed. And a steeply fluctuating free market for energy would actually make power-buffering installations extremely profitable. Buy low, sell high, pay for your batteries in no time. At least until enough people got in on the game that it became only barely profitable enough to be worth doing - at which point the problem is solved.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 12 2014, @09:02AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 12 2014, @09:02AM (#115118)

    renewable power sources like wind and solar cost nothing to run

    If we're running low on soylent bars, I've found some more feedstock. Hugh Pickens' brain has ceased functioning.

    One can argue for the costs being low, but one cannot argue from a demonstratively false premise.

    http://www.windmeasurementinternational.com/wind-turbines/om-turbines.php [windmeasurementinternational.com]

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 12 2014, @10:11AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 12 2014, @10:11AM (#115126)

    First of all, the comment about uranium doesn't make sense in connection with Denmark, as we have no nuclear power plants. It's mostly coal.

    Second, while there is some talk of getting rid of coal, our politicians aren't willing to pay for the change, and are starting to realize that getting rid of coal is not going to happen any time soon.

    Third, cars running on electricity have been popular due to not having to pay tax on a zero emissions vehicle. But now, pretty soon we'll start to see electric vehicles that can replace regular gas cars in most cases, which has our politicians scared, because if people start buying them the state won't get any income. To counter this, they have decided that electric cars will be taxed from next year, bringing the prices back up to where nobody can afford them (we pay between 180-250% tax on a car, making most cars nearly as expensive as a house).

    TLDR version: I'll believe it when I see it. Until then, it's just politicians making promises they aren't going to even try to keep.

  • (Score: 1) by klondike0 on Wednesday November 12 2014, @02:17PM

    by klondike0 (1511) on Wednesday November 12 2014, @02:17PM (#115178)

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/new-flywheel-design/ [scientificamerican.com]

    An old idea that is still worth exploring, large flywheel system (maybe lots of little flywheels) to keep things rolling for several minutes while a mothballed natural gas plant gets fired up.

    The grid may not be profitable if renewables really take hold. So much the better.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 12 2014, @03:14PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 12 2014, @03:14PM (#115200)

    Renewables in this case must include using some of that "free" solar power to subsidize production of biodiesel and ethanol, or the goal of being totally fossil-free won't get far. Electric bulldozers and passenger planes don't even exist in theory.

    • (Score: 2) by Aiwendil on Wednesday November 12 2014, @04:57PM

      by Aiwendil (531) on Wednesday November 12 2014, @04:57PM (#115264) Journal

      Electric bulldozer depends on how you define it really, if you mean "electric drivetrain" it already exists (Caterpillar D7E) but it gets its electricity from a diesel-engine, so it basically only is a matter of waiting for decent batteries to appear.

      However with all-electric machinery there are electric steamrollers ( http://www.dynapac.com/en/NewsEvents/News/Dynapac-presents-the-worlds-first-emission-free-asphalt-roller/ [dynapac.com] )

      Electric passenger planes are not really that far away, so far it seems that the most passenger-heavy airplane is an electric version of the Cessna 172 (one crew, three passengers)...

      However I do agree that at this point electric passenger planes and all-electric bulldozers are just silly - but I wouldn't be surprised if my view on that would be changed within the next decade or two.

  • (Score: 1) by monster on Wednesday November 12 2014, @03:32PM

    by monster (1260) on Wednesday November 12 2014, @03:32PM (#115211) Journal

    Subsidize the backups you want to keep, then.

    Set a minimum amount of Kw/h they should be able to provide to backup the other sources and pay for a margin of that (like, say 70%) even if the other sources produce enough power that the backups don't run at that capacity. Set also permits that are required to build new plants so it doesn't become a rush to build new coal or gas plants for the guaranteed income. Distribute the cost like the other costs of the infrastructure.

  • (Score: 2) by Phoenix666 on Wednesday November 12 2014, @04:38PM

    by Phoenix666 (552) on Wednesday November 12 2014, @04:38PM (#115253) Journal

    I weep blood for the poor, poor fossil fuel utilities. Their built-distribution networks that once ensured their monopolies have become millstones about their necks? Oh my, how tragic! They got to destroy the world and ecosphere for the entirety of humanity in exchange for coke and hookers in Mallorca? It just ain't right!

    May they and every one of their descendents spend an eternity in hell for the hell they consign the rest of us to.

    --
    Washington DC delenda est.
    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Wednesday November 12 2014, @06:16PM

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday November 12 2014, @06:16PM (#115298) Journal

      May they and every one of their descendents spend an eternity in hell for the hell they consign the rest of us to.

      Absurd. Electricity is one of the prime drivers of the remarkably high quality of life we have. And fossil fuels continue to play a strong role in making that happen.

  • (Score: 2) by Arik on Wednesday November 12 2014, @04:39PM

    by Arik (4543) on Wednesday November 12 2014, @04:39PM (#115254) Journal
    Bucky Fuller provided an answer to this problem many decades ago.

    The fact is that since the earth is a globe, 50% of it is in the sun at any given time. The problem is not lack of energy, the problem is lack of distribution.

    And that comes back down to a political problem, essentially. We've had the technology to build a world-wide electric grid for many decades. Politics is the issue there, not technology.
    --
    If laughter is the best medicine, who are the best doctors?
    • (Score: 2) by bob_super on Wednesday November 12 2014, @06:26PM

      by bob_super (1357) on Wednesday November 12 2014, @06:26PM (#115305)

      Using superconductors, built a ring of solar panels around the equator (or two, one per Tropic). By the time you build it strong enough to defy nature, it will have enough surface area to power everybody. Problem solved.

      Cost? If you used half of the current worldwide military budget, it should be done in a few years.

    • (Score: 2) by turgid on Wednesday November 12 2014, @10:49PM

      by turgid (4318) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday November 12 2014, @10:49PM (#115357) Journal

      Vladimir I'm-Not-Gay Putin has the answer to the global warming, energy and over-population crisis. After all, he only has our best interests at heart, protecting us from fascists, neo-Nazis and imperialists.

      He is going to start a nuclear war which will cull 50% of the world's human population (the weak and the fascists), putting the rest of us squarely back in the stone age. The subsequent nuclear winter will lower gloabl temperatures by several degrees.

      Problem solved. And NO MORE GAYNESS, fascism, lies or weak lefties.

      --
      Don't let Righty keep you down.
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 13 2014, @04:57PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 13 2014, @04:57PM (#115600)

    Denmark could install underwater turbines, which get energy from moving ocean currents. It has in fact one such a current, which flows pretty much all the time. Also at night. Also in winter. Other countries have such turbines and they work well. They are difficult to install, but afterwards they provide free energy and quite constant power. And are invisible on the surface.

    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 14 2014, @06:28PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 14 2014, @06:28PM (#116000)

      Major circulation currents are relatively slow moving. The high currents everyone at high latitudes wants to tap into are tidal and therefore periodic.