This Isn’t Fantasyland

Two weeks ago, Lynnda and I were at Walt Disney World with our youngest son and his four children. We had a great time in the Magic Kingdom. Guess we are still kids at heart. The rides were fun. What makes them so much fun is the story that goes with each ride. You can cruise through a jungle or be part of a pirate ship crew. Disney’s goal is to transport you to where, with a little imagination, you can be part of the adventure. In Fantasyland you can fly on Dumbo the Flying Elephant, ride a mine train through the Seven Dwarfs’ diamond mine or fly with Peter Pan to Never Land. When we are with the grandchildren we get to go on those kinds of rides. It’s a relaxing escape from reality for a little while. A day at Disney stimulates my imagination and creativity.

This week it was back to business. We attended an energy conference. There wasn’t any fantasy just reality. The PJM electric grid that covers Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia isn’t quite as stable as I thought. Electric load continues to be added due to technology, economic growth, electric vehicles and data centers, which are huge users of electricity. “The Cloud” where most of us have data stored isn’t a cloud at all. It is a collection of servers that host software and infrastructure from around the world. We access data from “the cloud” over the internet. Cloud computing is the on-demand availability of computer system resources, especially data storage and computing power.

To operate the cloud a lot of electricity is required. Greenpeace estimates that if the cloud was a country, it would be the 6th largest electricity consuming country on the planet. It requires as much electricity as can be produced by 30 nuclear power plants. The U.S. DOE estimates each data center uses an average of 50 megawatts (MW) of power per center. In 2022 the State of Virginia alone had over 300 data centers requiring more than 2,800 MW of power. Ohio has 78 data centers and West Virginia has 2. Data centers demand power 24/7/365. Companies are looking at Ohio and West Virginia for future data centers because of the abundant and economical natural gas in the Shale Crescent USA. This gas can provide uninterrupted electric power independent of the PJM grid. Data center companies like to talk about using renewables like wind and solar. The reality is, these sources are undependable requiring 100% backup when the wind quits blowing or at night. If a data center experiences a power failure the entire IT infrastructure is rendered useless leading to data loss, damaged files, destroyed equipment and loss of revenue.

The problem being faced is demand for electricity is increasing and dependable baseload power plants are being shut down. We heard this week, to meet federal emission requirements a number of coal-fired power plants may need to be shutdown sooner than planned. Texas learned during its winter freeze a couple of years ago what happens when electricity demand increases without sufficient baseload power. Over 200 people lost their lives. It takes natural gas to melt aluminum to manufacture windmill blades. One aluminum manufacturing facility lost their natural gas supply because the natural gas compressor was run by electricity. The molten aluminum hardened costing them $20 million.

To manufacture the fiber optic cable, we need for broadband requires natural gas. The raw materials for electric cars are 70% petrochemical based. Windmills and solar panels require fossil fuels to manufacture and deliver them. The boats servicing off shore wind in Virginia run on diesel now and eventually LNG. Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) did a study that showed 287 new electric substations would be required for full electrification at a cost starting at $100 billion. The rate payers will get this bill. It currently takes 5-7 years to permit and build one substation. This is just one utility. Imagine how many utilities there are in the USA some larger than BGE.

The movement of manufacturing to the USA is real and happening. This is good for U.S. jobs, increasing tax revenues and becoming less dependent on foreign sources like China for critical products. This also requires increased energy like electricity and natural gas as well as raw materials. We learned, since the pandemic more foreign shipments are coming to east coast ports. After switching from the west coast during the pandemic, companies have seen lower shipping costs and shorter delivery times due to east coast efficiencies. They aren’t going back to California. Shipments from Southeast Asia and India are coming through the Suez Canal to the east coast.

The point is, the USA requires more baseload electricity to avoid blackouts. The time to start planning and building additional power plants is now! Federal and many state governments have been more focused on environmental regulations and shutting down baseload coal and nuclear powerplants rather than getting new ones built. Pixie dust and magic work well for Disney. They don’t work in the real world where people’s lives are at stake. Government can’t wave a magic wand or legislate energy into existence.

The reality is, we need all energy sources to meet our needs. We will need increased natural gas-powered electricity to back up increases in renewables. Small nuclear reactors may be a power source of the future. Clean coal should even be considered. Hydrogen and other fuels may become part of our energy mix but they won’t help us in the short term. We have the resources, people, creativity and technical expertise to solve our energy challenges and have a cleaner environment. Sound engineering principals not government mandates based on magic and pixie dust will get us to the us to the clean, economical and dependable energy we all need to keep our lights, electronic devices and heat or cooling on. Use your voice. Thoughts to ponder.

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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