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June 27, 2008

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Excellent. This is exactly what I wanted to know. The only thing missing is just /why/ the US grid sucks so badly... though I suspect I could make a decent guess.

The next step in this line of questioning: what happens when the entire world is getting ~15% of its power from wind? IMS there was a paper about 1-2 years ago that suggested this would have noticeable effects on world climate at the macro level. I wonder what the current state of investigation is.


Doug M.

IMS, there are basically five separate grids in North America north of the Rio Grande: Western (including the U.S. west of the Rockies, BC and Alberta, and Tijuana), Alaska, Texas, Eastern (the rest of the mainland U.S. not covered in the above, plus Canada apart from Quebec), and Quebec. On the other hand, I don't understand the difference between a grid and an interconnect, so I could be totally wrong.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_Electric_Reliability_Corporation

Doug: do you mean climate impacts other than through the reduction of CO2 emissions? I'd never heard of that before. Do you know where you got the original report?

Dennis: as far as I understand it (and I'm an amateur here) you've got it right. Basically, the separation between grids/interconnects is in the eye of the beholder, but inside a grid there is a mass of AC interconnections, whereas grids are connected to eachother via DC links. In practice (except for Texas, which is remarkably isolated) grid boundaries are fuzzier than they appear on the NERC map.

I think this is the report Doug referred to:

http://www.pnas.org/cgi/reprint/101/46/16115.pdf

AFAIK, there hasn't been any other research. The report is pretty speculative, albeit interesting.

Still, the report itself concludes, "These climatic changes are detectable above background climatic variability in model runs of a few decades in duration, but they might remain too small to detect in the presence of other anthropogenic change and natural climate variability."

They don't seem worried, even abstracting from the beneficial effect on climate of switching from fossil fuels to windpower.

[Sweden, with all its hydro, uses pumped storage to balance load]

The USA has at least one pumped-storage facility for load-balancing, at Northfield Mountain in western Massachusetts. According to the Wikipedia article, it was built in 1972 and at 1080 MW is the largest such facility in the world. I guess you want to be a relatively short distance from some heavy consumption to make this worthwhile, but most of our hydro is rather remote. At Northfield they could build a reservoir 240m above a dammed-up section of a major river.

I've been directly under one of those German wind turbines, in the Saarland. I'd guess 70-100 m high -- very solidly built in a German sort of way. I talked about these with some Germans last week -- they are noisy if you're right near them and they kill some birds, but perhaps not many compared to all the other human artifacts that kill birds.

I didn't know about the Northfield Mountain site. Is it worth visiting?

I've never had the tour but I understand that there is one. The surface area between the reservoir and the river is a recreation area, where I've done orienteering and x-country skiing, and they hold major x-country running meets.

I live about five miles from the place during the school term -- let me know if you're interested in coming out this way...

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