Where even to begin?

Instapundit linked here, a very big deal indeed. He’s long been in my opml, but I’ve neglected to add him to the blogroll. That injustice has been corrected. I’ll email him and see if he’ll return the favor.

Also must give a shout out to Jay Solo, who made it possible by bringing my electricity post to Glenn’s attention. Thanks Jay!!!!!

Ok, so let me see if I can address a few of the issues brought up by commenters, without dealing with some of the more snide remarks and loaded comments that simply can’t be dealt with politely.

A number of you have brough up Enron, as if the accounting scandals that happened there somehow discredit the entire notion of energy deregulation. That’s simply not teh case. What Enron management did was to commit fraud, and it was a fraud that could have occurred at any one of a number of companies in any one of a number of industries. Congress was correct to address the issue as one of corporate governance and creative interpretations of accounting standards. Not one of energy deregulation.

Telephone Poles:
It’s true that telephone poles are not always owned by the utilities, are already federally regulated, and that there may be problems having the poles owned by municipalities. All points are well taken, but I still think that there is an interest in having the poles owned by someone other than the company that hangs the wires on them. For the record, I have NOT suggested a free-for-all among people putting up random telephone poles, as some have suggested.

Some have pointed out that regulation came after an early chaos among unregulated utilities. That’s true. Students of this sort of thing will also remember the battle between Edison and Westinghouse over DC vs. AC current. It’s also true that cable companies engineered their own monopolies, agreeing not to tread on eachother’s turf and asking municipalities to grant them monopolies for cable service. That didn’t help the consumer or the industry either. But today, in Waltham where I live, I have my choice of two cable companies, three phone companies, and at least three high-speed Internet providers. Some of these actually do come through different sets of wires. And my rates are reasonable as a result.

Generation, Routing and Metering:
Some people got quite testy at my notion that power isn’t currently routed. And I basically stick by that. It isn’t. The lake analogy I used is one that is widely circulated in the electricity industry itself, and it’s apt. After the blackout of 1965, the national grid was built in order to attempt to provide redundancy to major urban areas, bringing power to cities whose own supply may have temporarily gone down. As we saw on Thursday, exactly the opposite occurred. Instead of acting as a backup, it acted as a suck that took down several cities at the same time. My Internet analogy is apt. I understand that power cannot be precisely packetized in the same manner that electronic information is, but the comment made by one reader that even a rudimentary identification of power sources and destinations will go a long way towards fixing the current problems in electricity routing (or lack thereof).

Some people have pointed out that time of day metering currently exists in some areas, particularly for business customers. Others have implied that customers wouldn’t want to save money by timing their use of electricity. That is hogwash. As I’ve already pointed out, peak and off-peak billing is common across other industries as an accepted practice, and would do a lot to alleviate the strains on the electrical grid currently being experienced. Others have stated that it’s scientific fact that companies (and I suppose individuals) cannot generate their own power as cheaply as the power companies. This is factually incorrect, and the rise of companies such as Microturbine and the attempts to launch products such as the home fuel cell by GE attest to this.

I would suggest that you, my dear readers, discount the some of the rantings of the cranky cranks who appear to be from the utility industry, and still haven’t learned the first thing about customer service or competitive offerings that the happenings of teh past decade should well have taught them already.

I’m going to try and dig up the landscape analysis that we completed in the summer of 2000 for you to read. It’s well referenced, and will answer many of the detail questions that some of you may have. Until then, sit tight.

UPDATE: Got the landscape here. Read it and weep.


5 Responses to “InstaPower”

  Don Says:

Congratulations, Rob!! You’ve arrived!

  M. Simon Says:

Time of day metering is already working to provide peak shaving in commercial loads.

Solar voltaics are used and are cost effective in this aplication.

The problem with local generation: Because of the PHYSICS involved utility scale power will be cheaper than locally generated power. Large generators use less iron and copper per KW than small generators. Same goes for transformers.

Other mitigating factors are involved such as capital requirements for transmission and idle capacity but generally it holds true. Then of course you have the maintenance issues. It is generally less costly to maintain a large plant (per KWh) than a small plant (if it is mechanical in nature). The fuel cell plant might be a better bet than a microturbine. Solar cells better than a wind turbine (if the cost per KWh were the same – they are not – wind has at least a 3X advantage and possibly as high as 10X currently).

Did I mention that the microturbines use a very high cost fuel (natural gas) vs low cost (coal).

Did I mention that even if these technologies were here today in production quantities the roll out would take decades.

There is no problem so complicated that a simple – and wrong – solution cannot be proposed and implimented. Humans do it all the time. You need only look at drug prohibition to see the amount of wrongheadedness humans are capable of.

Electrical power is already packetized in the way you speak of it at the grid level. The packets are handled by METERS that measure flows from different segments of the generating/distribution system. The METERS are how utilities allocate costs and revenue.

Adding one or two micro turbines to the grid will not change how the grid functions in any significant way. Adding millions may or may not be a good idea. Depending on how the system is CONTROLLED. The key is how do you damp out transients? How are the costs of transients allocated?

The reason phone dereg can work is that each customer has an independent connection to the system which the phone company central office isolates.

If we all had to hook up to a single local cable (like an Ethernet connection) then the rules would be much more stringent. One bad connection could destroy the neighborhood phone service.

Rules that work for the current phone system might be a disaster for the current power system.

  M. Simon Says:

I read the first few paragraphs of “Landscape” and couldn’t go any further.

There are no “new” sources of low cost electrical energy. There are lots of “new” high cost sources.

Of those “new” sources only UTILTY scale wind is likely to be a cost competitor to current power generation plants in the near future (10 to 20 years). In fact it will be another year or two before wind (unsubsidised) will be as cheap as coal or nuclear. As time goes on wind will be the cheapest method for producing electricity. The problem with wind is that you can’t turn it on when you want it.

Now starting off with so obvious an error does not give me confidence in the rest of your analysis. I will try to slog through it but the feeling I get is that it is full of touchy/feely hope and not much rubber meets the road experience.

Electrical power is not a problem you can fix with software. BTW I help design aircraft power systems, I’m nuclear reactor operator qualified, and I design electronic/electrical hardware and software. I have also helped design and write the manuals for Motorola’s first Electronic Mobile Exchange (carphones before cell phones became popular). I know a bit about call routing. I have also designed POTS interfaces. I also am an expert at computer intercommunications – RS-485, CAN Bus, RS-232, 1553, various avionic busses etc. Industrial controls. Motor controls. Servo systems. And that is just a digest.

Did I mention that I am a BIG alternative energy fan? When it makes technical and economic sense. Of course as a hobby it is fine under any circumstances.

  M. Simon Says:

Landscape: Stranded costs.

This is so wrong I don’t even know where to begin.

The decisions that led to stranded costs were made under a certain set of rules. If you change the rules by government fiat you must make investors and utilities whole. Other wise it amounts to a taking by the government to please the voters. I find it hard to believe you would agree to a taking by government under other circumstances. Why is it OK when it comes to electrical utilities? Don’t forget utilities used to be the premiere “widows and orphans” investment. Why should widows and orphans be required to absorb the costs of changes in government regulation?

I better stop reading now or I will fill the comment section with my objectons. Maybe I will get back to it tomorrow. Maybe not.

I can believe this paper came out of the dot com bubble. It makes as much sense as the whole “the internet will make us all rich tomorrow” mentality. And just as divorced from reality.

  Winds of Change.NET Says:
Power and Control: 2 Views
Time to dive back into the issues the blackout raised, via 2 excellent articles that offer important background and points of view.


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