Grids have excess capacity 95% of the time

Monday, August 29th, 2022

There are many ways Texas’s grid could have avoided disaster during winter storm Uri:

Being synchronized to one of the other wide-area grids in the US is one way. Another is not to have ~50% of its households rely on electric heat.

Cold weather causes demand to spike while also hampering supply. ERCOT is not the only grid to have suffered significant supply outages during cold weather. But other grids like PJM in 2014 were bailed out by imports and lower shares of customers using electric heating.

Customers using electric heat don’t pay the costs of their impact on the grid when they only pay a fixed price per kilowatt-hour. Electric resistance heaters and air source heat pumps see power usage spike dramatically during the coldest events. The overall kilowatt-hour usage only sees a slight increase on the monthly bill, but the peak power might be two or three times higher than the norm.


  1. Jim says:

    Worry not, for I have the solution:

    A nuclear micro-reactor in every home.

  2. Wang Wei Lin says:

    Jim, I don’t know if you’re kidding or but, but I would take one. SMRs should be deployed across all grids.

  3. Bob Sykes says:

    The cost per kwh of SMR’s would be enormous. The economy of scale exponent for most processes is between 0.6 and 0.8. For an exponent of 0.7, the unit cost of electricity ($/kWh) falls by 20% for each doubling in generator size. That is why most reactors are in the 1,000 MW range.

    On the other hand, if you just want the heat à la The Martian, a small pile would work. Just don’t take it to bed.

  4. David Foster says:

    There are manufacturing economies of scale as well as construction economies of scale. To the extent that much of the work for an SMR can be done in a factory rather than on-site, those costs will go down with total number of units rather than with size of a particular site.

    Also, SMRs in the pipeline can support a number of reactors feeding a common turbine or turbines, and common electrical equipment…each reactor doesn’t have to be a self-contained plant.

  5. Fredrick says:

    Interconnection means federal “oversight” and federal interference too.

  6. McChuck says:

    And the price of natural gas to heat homes is what now? Four times what it was two years ago?

    Build more coal fired power plants. This will bring back jobs in the mining and railroad industries. And modern, clean coal plants produce little but power, water vapor, and gypsum for making sheetrock.

  7. Jim says:

    Dear Mr. Wang Lin,

    I am deadly serious.

    All power to the SMR!

  8. Pseudo-Chrysostom says:

    In a heat engine powered by exothermic decomposition of chemical compounds, a general rule of thumb is that the larger the scale, the greater degrees of thermal efficiency you can practically achieve.

    Nuclear reactors are not like this. A complex the size of a city block, and a complex the size of a semi-trailer, can both be designed with comprable efficiency.

    The greatest value add of Our Friend, The Atom, is his ability to be distributed for power generation at all levels of scale, which is especially relevant for the revolution in civilizational logistics this may facilitate.

    The uncritical tendency to imagine nuclear power as involving huge complexes derives from a number of historical contingencies. One of them is that then existing power companies that moved into nuclear power, being used to running huge thermal generation plants, simply approached the matter with many of the same presumptions.

    But perhaps the greatest factor by far, was the fact that the post-new-deal managerialist establishment was extremely prejudiced against the proliferation of Our Friend, The Atom, in the first place, and fairly strangled it in the womb before the nuclear age was even born, really.

    They reviled the idea that ‘anyone’ could just acquire nuclear technology, never mind benefit from it – much as they, or the archetypical whig throughout history, reviles the idea of anyone (other than themselves) having any kind of outstanding power in general – and threw up huge barriers to entry for any body not directly connected to their graces – much like how the polygon in later days is perfectly content with tech monopolies over communication platforms and other services, as this gives them most convenient inflection points for exerting control; instead of having to keep track of umpteen many heretics in detail, you just have to lean on a few big bodies in particular as responsible for policing, and let the shit roll downhill.

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