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  • Hard Week Ahead for the Midwestern Grid // The UK's Big Renewable Slowdown // US Gas Prices Climb Up Again

Hard Week Ahead for the Midwestern Grid // The UK's Big Renewable Slowdown // US Gas Prices Climb Up Again

Hard Week Ahead for the Midwestern Grid

Just after the Texas grid escaped blackouts by the skin of its teeth over the weekend, the heatwave has quit the Lone Star State for the Midwest. And the Midcontinent Independent System Operator is in bigger trouble than Texas.

Later in the week, the entire middle of the country is looking at unseasonably hot weather. Parts of my homeland, the American Midwest, might see their thermometers pop into the 90s.

That's bad news because 44,000 MW worth of power plants will be unable to produce power at the same time. The plants are offline for the same reason some of Texas's plants were: spring temperatures ought to be cooler than summer's, making it an ideal time for maintenance and repairs.

MISO's in a particularly bad spot because it has lost reliable plants like nuclear and coal and has replaced them with unreliable wind and solar.

Just last week we covered MISO's concerns that its capacity shortfalls were going to put it in a tight spot this summer. And during that call, members from MISO talked about relying on imports from PJM, which covers a solid chunk of the eastern section of the US. But if you look at the FERC map above and the weather map just below it, something else becomes clear: a fair bit of PJM will be trying to beat the heat too. They might not have what MISO needs.

Isaac Orr over at the Center of the American Experiment points out that "[t]he other major factor affecting the reliability of the grid this week will be wind output. If wind generation is strong this week, then we will have enough juice to keep the lights on, but this is no guarantee, as wind production often drops as temperatures soar."

We're seeing Angwin's Fatal Trifecta--overbuilding of renewables, overreliance on just-in-time natural gas, and overdependence on neighbors--rear its ugly head yet again.

MISO and ERCOT aren't exceptions. Yesterday we discussed the same problems facing the California grid. And as Katherine Blunt at the Wall Street Journal recently wrote, the nation's "electric-grid operators are warning that power-generating capacity is struggling to keep up with demand, a gap that could lead to rolling blackouts during heat waves or other peak periods as soon as this year."

But Blunt's piece seems to imply that speeding the transition to renewables and batteries would make up for the shortfall. If only it were so simple. The hard reality is that unreliable energy can't replace the old, faithful thermal generators many now call outmoded.

All grid operators have to worry about weather, but sunset and low winds shouldn't be mortal threats regardless of the temperature. Unless that's the point of the "future grid" I keep hearing about. If it is, then the future sounds a lot like the past.

The UK's Big Renewable Slowdown

Like most countries, the United Kingdom has pledged itself to massive renewables buildout to tackle climate change. The UK wants to add 50 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030 and 70GW of solar by 2035.

But now the UK is seeing huge bottlenecks for its projects, ballooning the queue for connection to 6-10 years. The Financial Times reports, "National Grid says it has historically had 40-50 applications for connections a year but that this has risen to about 400 as renewables suppliers have proliferated."

The main source of the bottleneck is transmission. Renewables swarm the grid with electricity when they produce and grid operators have two options if they get spooked about overloading (and thus blacking out) the grid: distribute or curtail.

But like most grids, the UK's is built for reliable baseload generators like coal or nuclear that sit near the power consumption areas because that's the way the world has run electricity grids since the late 19th century. The transition to renewables demands that unreliable resources get sited far from where their electricity is consumed.

So who pays for the upgrades? Either renewables firms or the transmission owners. And, of course, the customer.

Balancing the grid with an uptick in intermittency and all sorts of new and tragically interesting technical problems for transmission sounds like a bad plan for the future. "Fragile and complex" tends not to make it.

As Irina Slav wrote in a recent piece, "The level of complexity that the energy transition from fossil fuels to renewables involves is so high, I suspect most of us cannot comprehend all of it. I certainly can’t but I keep trying because I like 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzles. Sadly, it appears that the individuals in charge of the transitions don’t like jigsaw puzzles at all."

US Gas Prices Climb Up Again

More pain at the pump for Americans. Bloomberg reports, "The country’s average gasoline retail price rose to $4.328 a gallon on Sunday, according to auto club AAA, within a fraction of a cent of its $4.331 a gallon peak reached in early March, shortly after the U.S. banned oil from Russia following its invasion of Ukraine."

It appears that the crisis has spread from diesel to gasoline just in time for the summer driving season.

The outlook is grim: inventories are down, the market's been made tighter by all the exports to Europe, and the shortages in diesel and jet fuel all braid together into this mess.

"Still," Bloomberg offers, "U.S. drivers are expected to consume more gasoline this summer than they did during the same period in 2021 despite high prices."

Conversation Starters

  • Chinese imports of crude rebounded in April as more Russian oil arrived. Last month, China imported 10.51 million barrels per day of oil. This was up by 6.6% compared to April of 2021, and up by 4% from March 2022.

  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has agreed to extend construction deadlines for two LNG projects on the Gulf Coast. It has also signed off on more construction activities for a pipeline serving a third LNG project.

  • The Democrats are being split apart by the energy crisis. On the one hand, the Biden administration recognizes the country's energy needs. On the other, its green agenda has pitted it against fossil fuels. Centrists up for re-election who want to see more oil lease permits are caught in the middle.

Word of the Day



The geological principle formulated by James Hutton in 1795 and publicized by Charles Lyell in 1830 that geological processes occurring today have occurred similarly in the past, often articulated as, "The present is the key to the past." (source)

Crom's Blessing