Saturday, December 24, 2011

Energy and Liberty

So, I covered the "Geek Stuff" here.  That's the easy part.  The hard part comes here.

"The Grid" carries all the energy from electric generating utilities.  It carries all the electricity demanded plus makes up for "line losses" (think of line losses as "electrical friction").  No more, no less.  Energy demand follows a sinusoidal curve where it is lowest at  night and highest during the day.  Peak load comes somewhere between about 3 and 7 pm most places.

Generally speaking, the energy is generated by three types of plants:

  • Base Load - these are plants that are very large and inexpensive to run.  Large coal and nuclear plants fall in this category as well as much of the natural gas and some of the oil-fired plants.
  • Rolling (or "Ready", or"Spinning") Reserve - these plants are generally smaller and more expensive to operate. They operate at low loads connected to the grid and are available to make up for peak load.
  • Hot Standby - Also known as "Replacement Reserve" or some other moniker, depending on the utility. These in a hot condition, but require longer to bring onto the grid.  
There must be adequate reserve to cover peak and the loss of the largest single unit in the system.  This isn't necessarily a "rule", but it's good practice.  The greater total reserve available, the less likely it is that the loss of a single unit will have catastrophic cascading consequences (alliteration not intended) to the grid.  It also means that there is adequate reserve for those days of extraordinary peaks that is, very hot days or very cold days, days when very large units are off line for maintenance or other similar situations.  In order to maintain the necessary load on the grid, the generators are frequency responsive.  As load changes, the units will change frequency to adapt until adequate energy is returned to the grid and frequency is returned to the customary 60 hertz.  It is also possible to reduce voltage on the grid to maintain frequency and power output ("brownout").  If conditions become such that there is inadequate energy to meet demand, some areas may be "blacked out".

This brings us to the whole "Liberty" part of this post.  I believe in the modern age, Liberty is nearly impossible without an abundant supply of cheap, reliable energy.  Liberty requires communication between government and individuals and between individuals themselves.  Liberty also requires the ability of citizens to travel where they wish, when they wish without needing to tell anyone or ask anyone's permission.  Not everyone has a horse these days.

The far Left is, according to this argument, opposed to the conditions required for Liberty.  The continuing delays of drilling permits, the stopping of pipelines, the blocking through inaction of combined operating licenses for new nuclear construction and new EPA regulations, effectively killing the coal industry have all placed us in a precarious situation regarding our individual liberty.  The Left sees "snail darters", mountain tops and tundra as more important than Liberty and more important than the lives of citizens.  It is ironic that EPA seeks to remove all risk from electric power generation, while at the same time, placing the citizens of the United States, especially the children they claim to care so much about by limiting their access to cheap energy.  

Until politicians quit worrying about small loud constituencies and use sound technological and scientific advice to make  their decisions, we will be at risk.

No comments: