While reading an article from the Denver Business Journal about the potential unintended consequences of increasing wind energy, I was reminded of one of my all-time favorite customer quotes: "Big coal burners are not designed to be driven like a maserati; they are mack trucks". That customer was talking about the challenges and impacts of ramping baseload coal-fired power plants to accommodate renewable energy sources such as intermittent wind energy.
While this is a very difficult and thorny problem for many of our customers, I was pleasantly surprised to see it getting coverage in the main-stream media. While I believe renewable energy technology will play a vital and exciting role in meeting our energy needs and environmental challenges, too often people view them simplistically as a panacea. As I said in my recent blog about the American Coal Council Spring Meeting, clean coal will necessarily play a strong role in meeting this nation's future energy needs.
While the results of this particular study, which concluded that increased use of wind energy may have actually increased power plant pollution levels, is up for debate; it draws attention to some of the complexities of combining new, greener forms of energy with traditional sources.
According to this article, some of the reasons why ramping units that are not designed to be ramped may cause increased emissions include:
* Inefficiences occur as plants are ramped up and down;
* And rapidly increasing output throws of the operations of air-quality control equipment.
I have no illusions that these and the host of T&D-related issues will cause wind and other forms of renewable energy to blow away; rather, they need to be understood and mitigated.
At NeuCo, for example, we are seeing an increased demand from customers to address this issue by adjusting to vastly different load profiles, accounting for response deficiencies in pollution control equipment, adjusting model response times, enabling lower load limits through improved stability and better gas temperature control, etc.
What I like about this type of story going mainstream is that it might help the general population to understand that theres no magic bullet when it comes to solving the countrys energy and environmental problems. Our operating profile can change, and it will, but it is not easy and there will be consequences. Speaking as a recovering economist, there is simply no free lunch!