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United States Earth Power

US Could Lower Carbon Emissions 78% With New National Transmission Network (smithsonianmag.com) 346

mdsolar writes with this story from Smithsonian magazine about how building a national transmission network could lead to a gigantic reduction in carbon emissions. From the story: "The United States could lower carbon emissions from electricity generation by as much as 78 percent without having to develop any new technologies or use costly batteries, a new study suggests. There's a catch, though. The country would have to build a new national transmission network so that states could share energy. 'Our idea was if we had a national 'interstate highway for electrons' we could move the power around as it was needed, and we could put the wind and solar plants in the very best places,' says study co-author Alexander MacDonald, who recently retired as director of NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado."
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US Could Lower Carbon Emissions 78% With New National Transmission Network

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  • Keep dreaming. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Monday January 25, 2016 @09:19PM (#51370591)

    'Our idea was if we had a national 'interstate highway for electrons' ...

    We can barely get Congress to fund maintaining our interstate highway for cars and trucks.

    • by WarJolt ( 990309 ) on Monday January 25, 2016 @09:24PM (#51370629)

      Just tell them it's like an electric bridge to nowhere and they will fund it. They don't need to know how it works.

    • 'Our idea was if we had a national 'interstate highway for electrons' ...

      We can barely get Congress to fund maintaining our interstate highway for cars and trucks.

      Or trains. (Forgot about them.)

      • Re:Keep dreaming. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Monday January 25, 2016 @09:42PM (#51370723)

        Or trains. (Forgot about them.)

        Trains lose money, so they require a lot of government subsidies. This grid will (supposedly) save money, so it should require no subsidies. There is no reason for the government to "fund" it. If private investors are not willing to pay for it, then that is a sure sign that it is not going to generate an acceptable ROI, and shouldn't be built.

        • Re:Keep dreaming. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Monday January 25, 2016 @09:52PM (#51370775) Journal
          I mean, you're right most of the time, but we need some government programs to take care of those entrenched in society's last mile.

          Somebody has to do the expected to do poorly, return on investment-wise public works, 'cause we just need roads, bridges, and stuff.

          • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

            It's all about infrastructure. It makes commerce for everyone possible. Even libertarians love infrastructure.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by rmdingler ( 1955220 )
              The important thing is, Libertarian infrastructure creates and maintains itself, in the universe's first-encountered positive entropy loop.
          • we need some government programs to take care of those entrenched in society's last mile.

            This is NOT a "last mile" issue. Long haul inter-state HVDC interconnects are the opposite of "last mile". These lines should pay for themselves by moving energy from where it is cheap and plentiful, to where it is expensive and scarce. But if no private investor can be convinced that this scheme will work, then it is silly to spend tax dollars on a boondoggle just because it is "infrastructure".

            Btw, I don't understand why you think that the "last mile" should be subsidized. If you live in a rural area,

            • If in this instance, last mile is a figure of speech, virtually everylet them eat cake historical example would've improved its own outcome with a bit more charity and understanding.

              My lifestyle is not at issue, but if it were, I'd hope my "betters" were kind and giving.

        • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

          Trains lose money? Are you crazy? They move an incredible amount of freight for a fraction of what it costs to haul by truck. Some railroads like Union Pacific are wildly profitable. The trains that lose money are passenger trains. Amtrak is famous for losing money.

          This from Forbes....

          In 2014, Union Pacific logged $5.18 billion in net profits on sales of $24 billion, for a return-on-revenues ratio of 21.6%.

          I wish I could lose that kind of money!

          • local passenger rail loses money as setting fairs at an level needed to be in the black will make people not use it.

            • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

              But local passenger rail is a benefit to everyone as it helps take cars off the road. As such it is a good target for government subsidy. It helps unclog traffic and reduce pollution. I remember taking the train in Germany many times when I was stationed there. Convenient, fast and on time it made getting around in an area where traffic and parking were hell much nicer.

        • Re:Keep dreaming. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by turbidostato ( 878842 ) on Monday January 25, 2016 @11:37PM (#51371243)

          "If private investors are not willing to pay for it, then that is a sure sign that it is not going to generate an acceptable ROI, and shouldn't be built."

          Two ideas on why an investment wouldn't be done despite being beneficial for the involved parties:
          1) Local optimum
          2) Tragedy of the commons

        • The United States:
          the only country in the world where people believe that that nation wide important infrastructure is best run by private entities for an ROI.

        • There are things that are net wins for society that can't be built effectively by the private sector on a user-pays basis. Roads and sewers are classic examples. National power grids are probably another.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by firewrought ( 36952 )

          If private investors are not willing to pay for it, then that is a sure sign that it is not going to generate an acceptable ROI, and shouldn't be built.

          Companies exist for the next quarterly statement. Governments exist (or should exist) for their people, and it's precisely by investing in things with no immediate monetary payoff (infrastructure, scientific research, education, military, law enforcement, conservation, etc.) that they improve society as a whole.

          Note that the primary motivation behind this proposal is lowering carbon emissions and fostering renewables. If you arrest climate change, that's a massive benefit to future generations, but it wo

        • Or trains. (Forgot about them.)

          Trains lose money, so they require a lot of government subsidies. This grid will (supposedly) save money, so it should require no subsidies. There is no reason for the government to "fund" it. If private investors are not willing to pay for it, then that is a sure sign that it is not going to generate an acceptable ROI, and shouldn't be built.

          Just because something is not profitable does not mean it shouldn't be built. Trains are one you've already mentioned, roads another, schools, etc.

          The existing grid is failing so why not replace it with something more efficient?
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
          http://www.scientificamerican.... [scientificamerican.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 25, 2016 @09:20PM (#51370595)
    With new nuclear power generating plants.
    • mdsolar wouldn't like that!
    • Try mentioning that, or even linking to some interesting Thorium concepts...
    • Put your life where your mouth is. Move to Fukushima. There's lots of empty housing, and even a foreigner to Japan could get a government subsidy because there is such anxiety about living there. If you run a software consulting firm you can be anywhere, so it's economically feasible.

      Or move to Flint Michigan, since you seem to be of the opinion that man made environmental disasters are no big deal.

      Or shorten your life span by setting up shop in Beijing.

      Otherwise STFU. You incorrectly assume that there i

      • by DarkTempes ( 822722 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2016 @01:37AM (#51371755)

        A man-made natural disaster is something like the BP oil spill in the gulf.

        Fukushima was a straight up natural disaster. They could have done more to prevent the tsunami damaging the plant due to cut corners but in the end it was still the tsunami's fault. Nearly 16,000 people died from the tsunami. I seriously doubt the Fukushima leak will kill that many (though it will likely kill some.)

        And Flint isn't a man-made natural disaster either as it's not even a natural disaster. Nature is probably just fine in Flint (unless leaking pipes have significantly contaminated the ground water.)
        Flint's pipe system has old lead pipes and they pumped acidic water through it without properly treating it. That's it.
        The river they were getting water from isn't the best but it doesn't, afaik, have lead in it. If they could magically replace all of their lead pipes then there wouldn't even be a problem.

        I live ~20 miles downwind from a nuclear power plant and I have no issue with that. I'd definitely rather live 1 mile from a nuclear power plant than live 1 mile from a coal plant.
        And I'd definitely rather live near a power plant than not have power.

        You're right, everything has risk, but history seems to say that nuclear power isn't actually that risky as long as you do it right. I'm not sure I'd put all of our eggs into the nuclear basket but I do think that coal and gas power need to go.

    • Nukes don't vary output well. Thus storage is needed in a nukes only system. The point here is that transmission substitutes for batteries for renewables. It does not for nukes. Since nukes are inherently much more expensive and batteries add to the expense, this is about the worse possible choice.
      • by Goetterdaemmerung ( 140496 ) on Monday January 25, 2016 @11:25PM (#51371177)

        Nukes don't vary output well. Thus storage is needed in a nukes only system.

        This is a common misconception based on old nuclear designs that were designed specifically to be base-load-only. Fukushima was one. Nuclear power is extremely flexible and has minimal constraints due to technological reasons. France is 75% nuclear and has load-following generation III reactors capable of daily load cycling of 50%-100% capacity at a ramp rate of 3-5%/minute.

        The new AP-1000 is a gen III+ reactor rated to change from 30%-100% at a response time similar to coal or gas turbines. There are many other different and smaller reactor designs that could easily be used to supplement the large reactors, as a complete power solution.

        There are many valid arguments against nuclear, but this isn't one of the stronger ones.

        • by mdsolar ( 1045926 ) on Monday January 25, 2016 @11:46PM (#51371279) Homepage Journal
          OK, so new nuclear costs $0.14/kwh assuming 90% capacity factor. Now you want to switch to 60% capacity factor. That raises the cost to $0.19/kwh? Maybe the batteries would be cheaper.
        • by angel'o'sphere ( 80593 ) on Tuesday January 26, 2016 @12:59AM (#51371627) Journal

          The load following of french plants is actually not as easy as you make it look. It is an complex orchestrated plan which plant is regulated down over night and followed by which next.
          The point is not ordinary load following, the problem is a plant is regulated down, it either hast to be regulated up pretty soon again, less the something like 20 mins, or you can not power it up again for the next aprox. 6h as to many neutron capturing decay products (mainly Boron) are accumulating.
          So your reaction times only work if a plant is constantly changing load up and down. And compared to an modern coal plant: that is incredible slow.

  • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Monday January 25, 2016 @09:27PM (#51370645) Journal
    Man. Texas, and other pro-wind energy States invested heavily in infrastructure to mine wind power in far off rural windmill farms that was additionally attractive due to generous gov't subsidies. They milk the winds in west Texas for power in San Antonio.

    My income comes in great part from the oil and gas industry, but I'm all for energy alternatives and their development.

    Folks just have to recognize, with little interest in nuclear development, that the comfortable grid is still generationally dependent upon the fossil fuels for stability. I will support the betterment of alternatives, but they can't carry us just yet.

    • by rch7 ( 4086979 )

      Power-to-gas can do it without fossil fuels and without unreliable fantasy mega-grids. Some demo projects are already done in Germany.

      • Brown's gas, yes, but depending entirely upon your interpretation of fantasy mega-grid, still a dream that comes from pipes if considered as a stable grid energy source.

        Oxyhydrogen manufacture [wikipedia.org] might be a contributor, but either the storage batteries get Moore's Law better or the harvesting technology get's GMO-better. Something... until those eventualities or nuclear is finally deemed acceptable, the carbon-based fuels will reign as reliable as Hoover Dam.

  • by Etcetera ( 14711 ) on Monday January 25, 2016 @09:31PM (#51370671) Homepage

    JFC, there's an entire segment of the tech industry that doesn't seem to live in the real world.

    Having more things hooked up together doesn't make things more reliable, it makes them more vulnerable to both common mode failures and cascading system collapses.

    5 years ago the entire county of San Diego was knocked off-line [wikipedia.org] for the better part of a day because a power worker in Arizona flipped the wrong switch. The entire NE US was out a decade ago [wikipedia.org] because of a single software bug, and I seem to recall another recent blackout caused by squirrels.

    The fragility of our nation's power grid and the lack of cross-connects are two separate issues, but there's NO WAY that the second should even be remotely considered until the inter-reliability of the systems that ARE connected is fixed. And then maybe about 10 years after someone claims it's fixed we *perhaps* consider taking the next step.

    • Having more things hooked up together doesn't make things more reliable, it makes them more vulnerable

      If BSG has taught us one thing about networking stuff thogether...
    • by butlerm ( 3112 )

      It doesn't help that California imports a third of its electricity from out of state. That is a prescription for instability, as are a number of other California energy policies, like price controls and punitive retail electricity pricing schemes. The state's electricity problems are largely self inflicted.

    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      The US grid has so many different city, state, national, federal and commercial plants placed over the decades. From the tourist and gambling needs to military production lines, everyone got to build as needed.
      Computers try to balance that out regional load but so many issues can result in brown outs.
      Military bases, teaching hospitals and other protected zones will be fine.

      Re "someone claims it's fixed we *perhaps* consider taking the next step."
      The inner city areas and lack of digital food payments
      • Get back on your meds. The paranoia is getting serious again.

        The mail carriers go to everyone's house, they are not there to spy on just you.

        No secret messages are coming through your TV set.

        I think you get my drift.

        • The mail carriers go to everyone's house, they are not there to spy on just you.

          You haven't met my pervy mailman.

    • Having more things hooked up together doesn't make things more reliable, it makes them more vulnerable to both common mode failures and cascading system collapses.

      Which is why the internet is always experiencing catastrophic system-wide shutdowns.

  • NO! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by p51d007 ( 656414 )
    Once there is a government run "national" grid, then those states that, according to the government, waste, use too much, do not do what the government says in reducing this or that, will be CUT OFF, or cut down on the amount of electricity they use. Every time the FEDERAL government gets its hands on something, they can DICTATE how it is used, consumed or anything else. The 10th amendment is about powers not constitutionally granted the federal government, be left to the states. Do not DOUBT me on this!
  • There's a difference in thinking when you look up "national grid" on Wikipdedia.org:

    USA: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

    UK: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

  • What's wrong with the old ones [wikipedia.org]?

    People who make these "Wow! Wouldn't it be neat if we ...." statements with no idea how the existing systems already work make me think they are trying to sell bridges to suckers.

  • Such projects need to start someplace.

    So by golly get started.
    Any large producer or distribution company should see this %% of
    improvement as a way to increase market and sidestep a lot of carbon
    regulation. North-South routes seem to be a good place to start.

    Any simulation can be constrained to a data subset and
    optimizations rerun. Compare the results and overlay to
    see which paths are shared solutions.

    Any 5% solution that is part of a net +75% solution would
    be a place to start.

    For what it is worth this

  • This describes some ot the cost savings: https://t.co/SXD9LGuIWF [t.co]
  • ...it'll cost nothing to build, nothing to maintain, there'll be no loss along the way, nothing will go wrong, and it'll last forever.

    I think somewhere along the way, someone forgot that storing fuel is more efficient, not less. That's why every living plant and animal does it.

  • Every user connected to such a 'smart grid' will have a second-generation 'smart meter installed'. This would continuously monitor your power use and be able to, under control of the grid, turn your major appliances on and off according to the fluctuating generating capacity coming into the grid from windfields and solar farms. You might have to run your A/C longer in the mornings, when it's windy in Texas, and have it turn itself off when the sun has set in Arizona. That is what putting renewables on the g

  • And we need to actually build all those wind and solar plants. And we need the feeders from the wind and solar plants to the new transmission grid. And we need to ignore the fact that the US isn't the British Empire and the sun does in fact set on the entire country. But hey, if we solved all those problems, we could reduce carbon emissions a lot.

Recent research has tended to show that the Abominable No-Man is being replaced by the Prohibitive Procrastinator. -- C.N. Parkinson

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