Simple Math can Keep Our Lights on

Last week, touring sites with the European company planning to come here, when in the Pittsburgh area we drove by a large coal fired power plant that shut down 2 years ago. Based on the size, it was probably a 2,000 MW (Mega Watt) facility. A mega watt is 1 million watts of power. This plant could produce approximately 2,000 mega watts every hour at maximum capacity when it was operational. I wondered how or if this plant’s capacity was replaced on the power grid. This week Lynnda and I get to see all eight of our grandchildren. The youngest is just two months old. My concern is for their future. Will they have dependable 24/7/365 electricity?

According to an assessment from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), “Large swathes of the U.S. could suffer blackouts this summer.” The report forecasts how prepared the energy grids powering our air conditioners, medical devices, lights, computers, electric vehicles and other devices are. It found roughly two-thirds of the country is at an “elevated risk” of power loss. These regions are central and western U.S. and New England. The grid can handle normal conditions but if there is extreme heat for an extended period there could be trouble. When electricity goes off people can die.

Fortunately West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania should be in good shape for now. The USA probably has more energy than any country on earth. It is the world’s leading natural gas and oil producer with huge coal reserves. The USA has geothermal energy, nuclear power that can be expanded and the ability to expand wind and solar power. Blackouts are preventable if we understand basic math and the strength and weaknesses of different types of energy sources.

Last fall I presentad at an energy webinar put on by the Council of American States in Europe (CASE). CASE is 19 states working together to bring European investment to the USA. West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania are members. A representative of a large Midwest electric utility stated that by 2050 the utility would be carbon neutral. They would not be using coal, natural gas, oil or nuclear power. He never said what they would be using. A lot of people depend on their electricity.

I said, “If you are coming to the USA to use 100% renewable power, don’t waste your money. Stay in Europe and use wind and solar. However, if you want to use wind and solar when it is available, know that in the Shale Crescent USA you have natural gas as a 100% backup at night or when the wind isn’t blowing because of our abundant natural gas.” The reason European companies attended the webinar was because European energy is undependable and expensive. We learned that directly from the companies themselves. Renewables haven’t worked as planned because the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.

Baseload power is the minimum amount of electric power needed to be supplied to the electrical grid at any given time. Baseload power plants operate continuously. Coal and nuclear power have been typical baseload power suppliers. In recent years natural gas, because of its abundance and low cost has replaced some coal power plants for baseload. Renewable sources like hydro and geothermal can also supply baseload power. Most electricity in Iceland is provided by geothermal power. As demand for power increases because of modern technology and EVs so should our baseload power.

Baseload is typically 30-40% of maximum load. To supply fluctuating power demand above baseload requires other power plants using various fuels called intermediate power plants. Wind and solar power fit into the intermediate mix. Peaker plants are used to meet maximum load under extreme contidtions, typically on extremely hot or cold days when people and businesses need heat or cooling. Peaker plants are normally natural gas or oil because they can be operational in minutes when power is needed quickly. West Virginia has at least 2 peaker natural gas plants. They aren’t used often, but are available when weather conditions are at their worst to keep our lights on.

Power companies have kept our lights on for decades in all types of weather. The biggest problem we had was trees falling on power lines during storms. As the Federal government has gotten involved with increased regulation and emissions restrictions, we have seen increased closing of old or inefficient plants mostly coal and nuclear power. Anti fossil fuel groups want to reduce or eliminate fossil fuels in electric power production. There is a lot of work to be done for that to happen. The gentleman from Chicago on the CASE energy webinar couldn’t tell anyone how they would produce electricity in 2050. After my presentation he began to walkback his statements.

The math is pretty simple. If 2,000 MW of baseload coal power is shut down it must be REPLACED with 2,000 MW of other baseload power. Intermittent wind and solar can’t be part of baseload power. A few years ago now former California Governor Brown was on CBS’ 60 Minutes telling about the 3,000 MW nuclear power plant they shut down and replaced with less than 100 MW of intermittent solar power. California began having “Brown outs”. NERC indicated the western USA has shutdown baseload power without replacing it.

Europe and California showed what happens when baseload and dependable intermediate power is shutdown without a dependable replacement. European and Asian companies are coming here because of our dependable energy. American manufacturing has a global advantage because of the USA’s energy. For the sake of the elderly, our children and grandchildren we need to keep the power on with dependable economic energy. All energy sources have pros and cons. The math is simple. We need to replace any baseload power planned for closure with a 24/7/365 dependable replacement BEFORE shutting it down. Our voices must be heard.

Greg Kozera, [email protected] is Director of Marketing and Sales for Shale Crescent USA. (You can follow SCUSA on Facebook) He is a professional engineer with a Masters in Environmental Engineering and over 40 years’ experience in the energy industry. Greg is a leadership expert, high school soccer coach, professional speaker, author of four books and numerous published articles.

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