Having a global grid solves energy dilemmas
Rick Perry, formerly Texas governor and head of the federal Energy Department, blames recent Texas power outages on increased use of wind and solar power there:
“If wind and solar is where we’re headed, the last 48 hours ought to give everybody a real pause. … We need to have a baseload. And the only way you can get a baseload in this country is (with) natural gas, coal, and nuclear.”
Perry could not be more wrong. Green energy is the solution, not the problem.
These comments are in response to the Editor’s corner “Winds of change coming for grid” that was published on this page Feb. 27.
Texas hasn’t connected its electrical network to the two main grids serving the rest of the United States. As Perry himself noted, this is to avoid regulation by the federal government, which has jurisdiction over interstate commerce but not commerce entirely within one state.
When electricity demand in Texas becomes greater than the supply, electricity therefore cannot be imported from other parts of the U.S. to make up the difference. Hence, the blackouts when the recent cold wave hindered electricity production but drove demand way up by Texans trying to heat their homes.
For green energy to work well, it must be tied into very large distribution networks, for reasons I will explain. The grid required by green energy will be the solution to this kind of emergency, because it will allow importation of electricity from other places during shortages.
A set of critical problems limits maximum reliance on today’s solar and wind generators. Local winds are intermittent. The sun doesn’t shine at night and produces little electricity during cloudy weather. It is impossibly expensive to store enough electricity to handle long periods of depressed local production.
These problems will be solved when we connect the entire planet into a single electrical distribution network, as proposed by Clark Gellings, a distinguished electrical engineer. Solar energy will be dependable everywhere because it is always daytime somewhere. This largest possible grid won’t store energy but just move it from where it is available to where it is needed.
Cold and heat waves only affect localized areas, though “localized” can sometimes be a vast part of the United States. Therefore weather emergencies shut down only a small part of world generating capacity. A worldwide grid will make it possible to keep supply of electricity in balance with demand in areas where there is an emergency.
We must move to green energy in order to avoid wrecking our planet’s climate. We need to hook the entire planet together electrically in order to maximize the potential of green energy. After that, problems like those recently afflicting Texans will no longer occur.
Connection to a world-wide grid might have a small downside, since wars or natural disasters occurring elsewhere might reduce the supply of electricity here. But this risk is far outweighed by our greatly reduced risk of local emergencies like the recent Texas disaster.
Rick Perry has said that “”Texans would [be willing to] be without electricity for longer than three days to keep the federal government out of their business.” But Texans who at best were sorely inconvenienced and those whose homes were ruined by water escaping frozen pipes might not agree.
Texas politicians did not hesitate to ask the federal government to declare an emergency and send in assistance for dealing with the cold wave, a request which was granted by President Biden. One might wonder, though, why the federal government should bail out a state which resisted federal regulations that might have prevented some of the damage in the first place.
One such regulation might have required Texas utilities to build enough backup generators to handle an occasional emergency. A limited amount of backup might have helped.
But building enough generating plants to handle a massive and prolonged shortage like the recent one would not have been an optimal solution and would have increased Texans’ electric bills substantially to pay for the rarely needed facilities.
Looking to the future, Texas would do better to join the United States and eventually the world in a single electrical grid distributing dependable green energy.
Paul F. deLespinasse is professor emeritus of political science and computer science at Adrian College in Corvallis, Ore.