Friday, June 1, 2012

Was solar collection the easy part?

Considering how very difficult it has been to get photovoltaics to work and be produced at prices that staggering economies can afford, or considering the hassle it has been to bring significant windpower into existence, it is sort of depressing to think that these may have been the easy tasks.  The hard jobs will include integration into existing power grids and storage, perhaps the hardest one of all.

As an old-time sailor, I should not have been surprised.  After all, the biggest difference between sailors and motorboaters is their different approaches to the availability of power.  Guys with motorboats only worry about the level of fuels in the tank.  If you have the right fuel, there are essentially no other considerations.  You go when and where you want.  Sailors, on the other hand, constantly fret about the speed and direction of the wind.  Schedules are, at best, provisional.  In short, there are a host of reasons why sailing is now only done for recreation—and why sailboats almost always come with motors to get you home when the wind has died.

Powering a society with renewables will be a LOT like going back to sailing.  Yes it is possible.  But yes, it will be difficult.  This added complexity is what makes sailing fun but when it comes to powering societies that operate on schedules, this complexity will mostly make life more difficult.  And renewables will only be a serious source of power IF there are ways to connect the areas where the sun is shining and the wind is blowing with those areas where it is not.  Smart grids and storage folks.

Germany to speed up power grid expansion

Klaus Ulrich DW 5.30.12

One year ago Germany embarked on a new energy strategy, with renewables apparently destined to fill the gap left by the country's planned nuclear phaseout. Now Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to speed up grid expansion.

Germany's solar power plants broke a new world record last weekend. Production reportedly peaked at over 22 gigawatts through the midday hours of Saturday and Sunday – the equivalent of 20 nuclear power stations at full capacity, according to a German renewables think tank.

These figures may be impressive, but the main problem remains unresolved: delivering the power to the customer. On Tuesday German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited Germany's Federal Network Agency in Bonn, where she promised to speed up the expansion of the power network for renewables.

"The transition is feasible in the way we decided it a year ago. And of course we will stick to our pledge to phase out nuclear energy by 2022," Merkel said at the Bonn press conference. The chancellor added that reshaping the energy sector was a demanding and exciting project and that the world was keenly following Germany's progress.

Representatives of the four grid operators 50Hertz, Amprion, Tennet and TransnetBW presented the chancellor with the draft of a so-called national grid development plan.

This plan is vital, because insufficient power lines is considered the main bottleneck in bringing about Germany's planned energy transition.

Expanding renewables means that the power generated in Germany's windier northern region needs to be transported to consumers in the country's west and south. But the expansion of the network has been lagging behind demand for years. The construction work is protracted and lasts about ten years on average, with locals often up in arms over the planned routes.

Economy Minister Philipp Rösler stressed how important the plan was - He said the aim was to find the "best possible energy transport routes and speed up construction to improve the connection from north to south." more

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