The Electrical Grid and the Gas Network

A recent report from the operators of the PJM Interconnect, the nation’s largest power grid, on the dangers of instability as wind/solar resources are added and plants with predictable/dispatchable output are shut down.  (Since I’m in PJM territory, this got my attention even more than it normally would have.)

Interesting analysis of the peak energy delivery by the US gas pipeline network (coldest days) compared with peak delivery by the electrical system (hottest days)

It strikes me that if the Biden administration…and various states & cities…are successful in reducing home demand for natural gas (initially for gas stoves, then for gas heating), one result will be the fixed costs of the pipelines being amortized over a smaller base of sales, resulting in higher prices–which will flow through into electricity prices and into prices for industrial products whose manufacturing requires gas, including fertilizers.

22 thoughts on “The Electrical Grid and the Gas Network”

  1. The “Green New Deal” is an exercise in insanity which seems to be aimed at taking us back to the 19th century, maybe even to before the industrial revolution. Rousseau was enamored of a period of “natural goodness” of man. Throughout his life he kept returning to the thought that people are good by nature but have been corrupted by society and civilization. He did not mean to suggest that society and civilization are inherently bad but rather that both had taken a wrong direction and become more harmful as they became more sophisticated.

    This led him to In response to that challenge he produced a masterpiece of speculative anthropology. The argument follows on that of his first Discourse by developing the proposition that people are naturally good and then tracing the successive stages by which they have descended from primitive innocence to corrupt sophistication.

    Thus, the French Revolution rejected all that had gone before and invented new ideas, including the Metric System. Of course, they preceded the Industrial Revolution which the Progressives seem to be rejecting as they seek the innocence that Rousseau described.

    The “Climate Change” crisis is only the excuse for such radical ideas as ending fossil fuels. They want to return to primitive innocence but have no idea of what it would be like.

  2. The article and Substack you cite address one of the key “misconceptions” of renewable energy which is that replacing fossil fuels is simply a matter of building enough solar panels, windmills, or what not with the requisite nameplate capacity. You can imagine something like the National Debt Clock in New York but instead of showing how deep in the fiscal hole we are it would should how much “renewable” capacity is installed.

    Of course the issue is not building capacity, but rather a grid which means having sufficient power available when and where you need it. That pretty much eliminates a renewables grid because you would need to build a parallel reliable generation or storage network that would equal the capacity of the grid…. Or you could just accept rolling blackouts as a feature. As far as storage technology that can scale to continental-wide demand? Batteries are a non-starter and there is no evidence that Hydrogen or a pumped-storage can scale.
    Oh and please spare me anecdotal stories about someone’s else house or town that went off-grid because they used renewables. We’re talking about solutions for tens , hundreds of millions of people across continents with various climates, topography, and weather patterns If you met your power needs

    For all the happy talk, screen time, ink spilled on the “renewable future” , and not just the media but also from politicians and intellectuals, I have yet to see any comprehensive plan or integrated model on how this can all possibly work Material requirements? Grid reliability? Even down to the fact that in an EV future you have plan your life around charging? Do people understand that the Green New Deal, even if it worked completely as advertised will fundamentally change how they live? If you pitched an idea to me for a small business loan with this lack of prep I would have my receptionist beat you for wasting my time.

    The older I get the more I scared I become. I have always assumed that politicians will be corrupt and make bad decisions, I always knew that consultants and other experts wouldn’t tell you whatever you wanted to hear, but really? Save me the spiel about this is the Manhattan Project or Apollo program for renewables and we can do it… if we didn’t get to the moon or get the Bomb then the worst that happens is we wasted money. We are already destabilizing the grid before the solution is in place. We could sure use a man like Fred “Russians don’t take a crap without a plan” Thompson right now,.

  3. So-called “renewables” are obviously the answer to the wrong question. Sunshine & wind will never run out — but solar panels and windmills do indeed fail at a distressing rate, usually before they have paid off their loans. On the other hand, we also know that fossil fuels like gas, oil, coal are indeed finite. There is room for lots of debate about when fossil fuel supplies will start to get tight — a few decades maybe, or possibly a century — but there is no doubt that the day will come.

    What’s to be done? We could look at what countries which are preparing for the future are doing. China, Russia, UAE and others are building nuclear power plants. Yes, it would take a long time to build enough nuclear power to secure the US grid — decades. About the same time we have left for fossil fuels. We better get started building those plants soon!

  4. The amount of energy that can be feasibly stored in natural gas storage reservoirs doesn’t compare with the amount that can be stored in coal piles…but I imagine it’s greater than the amount that can be stored as electricity at similar cost. Does anyone here know: what is the typical capacity of gas storage tanks serving a city, in hours of days of capacity?

  5. As far as amortized costs, it is the reason the AT & T landline service is so expensive. My late mother kept hers because it was integral to the alarm system, but she was paying $77 a month for a silly landline.

    While that is simply the result of more technological options ( I keep my “landline” because though Xfinity I get a better internet deal, and I use it as a “bit bucket” for companies that want my phone number and I don’t want to hear from them – answering machine off, no ringer… ;-)

    But as far as politicians wanted to “help us” (look at the medical industry today) the more they try to help us the worse it gets.

  6. The actual amount of gas used in home cooking is negligible in comparison to heating, both space and process and power generation. The object is to prevent new houses from having any availability of gas. If they allow new neighborhoods to be plumbed for gas, even if it’s only for cooking, fireplaces and grills, it’s easy to add gas heat when the heat pumps fail, as they do below about 40°F. The object is to eliminate any alternative.

  7. Back in the days of USS Clueless, Steven denBeste showed the energy density comparison of oil and coal versus wind and solar. Nothing has changed since.

  8. Who runs the cities? The Left, the same ones who are screwing things up. And most of their supporters are in the cities. Cities have a much more restricted space. Definitely not enough to generate/store enough energy in whatever form; natural gas, electrical generation, coal, etc. to cover their needs. Either the electricity or natural gas is imported, or the fuel that generates it is imported.

    Where is it imported from? How about the non-Leftist areas around the cities all through the country? The means of delivery are not secured and go through areas that may end up being hostile to the cities the way things are going.

    So what happens if/when that energy is cut off to Leftist cities by bad luck or ill will . . . most of which are located in areas where winter can get really, really nasty? Minus heat and light, what happens to the Leftists within?

    As the Social Contract is killed by those in power, life is going to get really nasty from both sides.

    Subotai Bahadur

  9. Living in HVAC world like I do, I can for sure tell you that the charge toward the electrification of comfort heating is going full apace. There are new technologies coming on board that will allow low temp heat pumps to work in cold climates, but for now, those technologies have no scale and are very expensive. The inflation reduction act (lol) and state and local agencies incentivize them, just like the govt. had to incentivize solar to get it off the ground.

    Also, this is all fine and dandy for milder climates with low electricity rates/hydro, like Washington, but for a place like Wisconsin, where it gets real, real f1cking cold and we have relatively high electricity rates (by the way gas is plunging down to $2 with the mild Winter), even with the incentives coming people are going to be shocked by their electric bills when they come.

    The charge toward electrification isn’t coming, it’s here, for better or worse.

    What always gets me is where do people think that electricity comes from? Gonna need more fossil fuel burning power plants, or solar panels as far as the eye can see, or nukes. And transmission. And distribution.

  10. Here’s a post on natural gas I wrote in 2012..National Gas: Past, Present, and Future

    Note this: “Gas stoves seem to have become popular circa 1880, and apparently had quite an impact….I’ve read that the term “gas-stove wife” was enviously applied to women who were so fortunate as to have one of these appliances and were thereby spared the labor of tending a wood or coal stove, and hence had some leisure time available.”

  11. The gas in 1880 clear to the ’30’s in the East was not “natural”, it was produced from coal. It is a mixture of hydrogen, methane and carbon monoxide. It’s the absence of carbon monoxide in natural gas that makes it inferior for committing suicide. It started out as illuminating gas, using it for cooking was an afterthought.

  12. It all comes down to climate change. Many of the people that run the world, are watching it start to make areas of our planet uninhabitable and want that to change. Many of the people that do not believe this is real, think its some kind of plot.

    As far as I can tell you are all idiots. ;)

  13. “The gas in 1880 clear to the ’30’s in the East was not “natural”, it was produced from coal.”

    In 1883, Westinghouse became interested in natural gas. As usual, he wasted little time. He applied for 28 patents in 1884 and 1885, with 10 more to follow. His gas inventions included the proportional gas meter, the automatic cutoff regulator, pressure regulator valve and long-distance gas transmission through a series of increasing diameter lines in lieu of lines of uniform dimension; the list goes on.

    His most intriguing invention is innocuously termed: well drilling apparatus, Patent #307606, 1884. A summary reads: “The invention combines rotary cutting apparatus and a fluid-pressure motor actuating it. …” Sound familiar? With it, Westinghouse came within a hair’s breadth of beating “Big Howard” Hughes to the invention of the rotary drill bit, the foundation of his son’s erratically run empire.

    When Westinghouse went into a new industry such as natural gas, he jumped in with both feet. Much to the dismay doubtless of Mrs. Westinghouse and his neighbors, George punched down a well right in his own back yard at Solitude, his residence in Homewood. As usual, he was successful; gas was struck in a moderate amount at 800 feet. This was quite sufficient to serve his own needs and those of a few neighbors; but now caught up in the excitement, Westinghouse pushed on. A few hundred feet later, with a roar, came a flaming blast of gas along with tools and the casing head.

    For several weeks he brightened his neighborhood with a roaring torch 100 feet high. He had his own Spindletop. In order to market the inventions, Westinghouse founded the Philadelphia Company in 1882. It produced and distributed natural gas as well as electricity in the Pittsburgh area and for many years ran the streetcar systems of Pittsburgh and San Francisco.

  14. As I understand it, denBeste got into anime as he was getting terminally tired of people trying to use really lame arguments against him, ones that completely missed the point(s) of his articles. Dunno if it also has a bearing, but he had serious health problems, so if he decided to leave behind the serious stuff to spend his last days on whatever he thought was fun then I can’t blame him.

  15. Until David’s post, I hadn’t really put much thought into the geography of power generation and transmission. Looking into a number of utilities out west, I found it interesting that while natural-gas fired plants tend to be located near the populations they serve, coal plants tend to be at a great distance, The next time I’m home, I may have to do some field research and rewrite “Bridges of Madison County” as the “Coal Plants of Apache County (AZ)”

    I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised by it as it all within the same rubric as supply chain management with the same logic as other operational bottlenecks just dealing with pipelines and unit loads of rail-born coal as opposed to port schedules. One of the unremarked challenges of this energy transition we seem so hell-bent on doing is redoing and extending the distribution system. While the material demands will be formidable, what will even more challenging is overcoming the regulatory hurdles especially given that so much power to block such projects is vested in the court systems and lawsuits. An example of this are the lawsuits blocking the Northern Pass project which would construct the transmission lines needed to connect New Hampshire to nice, clean Canadian hydro power.

    The quietest way to kill an energy project is to block the distribution of the resource produced. New York did this with the Marcellus shale basin by effectively blocking the development of the pipelines needed to distribute the fracked natural gas. I would not expect environmental groups to roll-over and allow massive transmission line projects to be built even if they do connect to renewable power.

  16. Mike,
    Those plants are, I believe, all “mine mouth” plants that were built, like hydro plants, to take advantage of particular geography. In this case the coincidence of cheap, unexploited coal, cooling water from the Colorado River and a large market in California. Little did they take into consideration that all that was subject to change.

  17. There are new technologies coming on board that will allow low temp heat pumps to work in cold climates, …
    I’m not trying to be argumentative, but the thermodynamics I learned in my career as an engineer are pretty hard to argue with. As the difference in temperature between inside and outside widens, the coefficient of performance reduces to 1 which means that the heat pump is no better than straight electric heat.

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