Sunday, November 9, 2008

Fish Need a Smart Grid

First birds, then bats, and now...salmon? KUTA Portland reports:
At the end of June, there was an unexpected surge in wind power and too much energy was created for the regional grid to handle. To compensate, the dams cut their power by spilling more water. Spilling more water is dangerous for fish because water plunging from the dams into the river becomes saturated with air. Air is mostly nitrogen and salmon do not like nitrogen saturation.
The problem stems in part from load balancing between multiple generation sources, some of which, like wind are variable and do not produce firm power. Elliot Mainzer with the Bonneville Power Administration observed that they were caught "just a little bit off guard" due to the rapid growth of wind power generation and the larger swings in electrical generation as more wind capacity came on line. Very little new transmission capability has been built in the Northwest in the past 15 years making it hard to send excess green electrons out of the region.
In August, the Bonneville Power Administration asked gas and coal-fired facilities to look at 'generation increases or generation decreases.' In short, they asked if the facilities would be willing to produce less power when wind turbines are producing at high levels. The rub with that is that anyone who owns a coal or gas-fired electricity plant made a huge investment and is essentially being asked to cut their income.
While this approach may work in the short-term, it is not sustainable. Better integration of variable sources such as wind, solar and wave/tidal will be needed as more of these renewable sources become operational on a significant scale. Significant infrastructure investment is needed to upgrade the national grid and incorporate smart grid technology.
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