“Baseload” is “the Least Useful Power”: Josh Pearce PhD on Distributed Energy

June 10, 2021

11 Responses to ““Baseload” is “the Least Useful Power”: Josh Pearce PhD on Distributed Energy”

  1. ecoquant Says:

    This is an awesome presentation.

    The same idea, that “baseload is a shortcut for engineers who can’t think dynamically”, was similar in the early days of robotics. In those days, engineers didn’t want to do a lot of computation, primarily because they did not know how. So the arms of early Puma robots were massive compared to anything they expected to lift. Why? Because the engineers designing the control laws and loops for the robots did not want to have to solve, in real time, the nonlinear sensing of the mass and moments of inertia of the thing they were picking up. If they made the arm so more massive, they could ignore the physical characteristics of the item they were maneuvering.

    That kind of thinking no longer works for robots.

    That kind of thinking no longer works for rocketry, especially if you want to make boosters that are recoverable and land.

    And that kind of thinking no longer works for the energy grid.

    Apparently, “strong currents” engineers, to borrow a term from the work of Norbert Wiener, aren’t versed in ideas and methods of control theory. (Specifically, it’s Starkstromtechnik versus Schachstromtechnik.) Now, the strong are subject to the weak, and that’s good. Nietzsche would not approve but, then, what did he really know about anything?

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      In those days, engineers didn’t want to do a lot of computation, primarily because they did not know how. So the arms of early Puma robots were massive compared to anything they expected to lift. Why? Because the engineers designing the control laws and loops for the robots did not want to have to solve, in real time, the nonlinear sensing of the mass and moments of inertia of the thing they were picking up.

      Let’s also remember that computrons used to be much much more expensive than they are now. Back in the 1980s the per-arm chip set to do those dynamic calculations would have taken up a lot of space.

      Even in the 1980s the scary-big heavy duty robots of the time were still using old magnet core memory technology because they were less vulnerable to the chaotic electromagnetic environment of the factory floor with arc-welding and the like (compare to how long music amps used old tube technology for big spikes that solid state couldn’t handle), and boy did those take up space.

      [Caveat: Husband-Man used to work at a robot-control software startup called Automatix in the 1980s, so I may be misremembering some things. I do remember gawking at the magnet cores in the robots in the International Harvester Robot Lab where we both interned before graduating.]

      All I know about Nietzsche is that he didn’t understand that that which does not kill you can leave you with a permanent limp (or, in COVID terms, that which does not kill you can take out a lot of your lung capacity).

  2. J4Zonian Says:

    Debunking the argument that baseload is the only power worth having is the most useful information. More?

  3. Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

    ‘Solar is the cheapest power by a mile.’ Remember, NOT many years ago, when solar was so ridiculously expensive it would NEVER be a major factor. Salutary ‘lesson’ for the present.
    ‘Solar is basically problem free until 25%’ (total supply or instantaneous supply??). Here in PV land it provides 10% of power. Presumably that number is 10% of total supply but it is Annoyingly undefined. Regardless, solar input has already been curtailed, as in shut off, because of over supply. Can only get more frequent. To catch this power, and maintain the percentage, will require a massive electricity usage over very short periods. We do not have this capability, is it even possible?
    As always, problem to be solved. Or just build nukes.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      I’m keeping an eye out on the market nerds setting up ways to broker grid power that would make storage (“time-shifting) a more standardized and therefore more attractive investment option. More of the “excess” power from wind and solar would be a resource that grid storage could suck up. They would be analogous to the petrochemical tank farms in fuel-based infrastructure.

      • rhymeswithgoalie Says:


        They would be analogous to adding petrochemical tank farms to a fuel-based infrastructure that only consumed fuel as it was being made.

  4. John Oneill Says:

    The most useless power source is the one that isn’t there when you need it. Since nuclear is nearly always there, that don’t apply ( 93% fleet average in USA last year.) The ‘basket of technologies’ that gets rolled out boils down to geothermal, which is baseload, hydro (which can do anything, if you have enough mountains and rain), wind, and solar. The latter two are ‘even more useful’ if you have batteries. Wouldn’t that apply to baseload too ? Considering that existing nuclear is about the cheapest source of electricity, as well as the most reliable, and the lowest carbon – about equal to wind – wouldn’t it be a good idea to keep those legacy plants, that could still charge your peaking batteries even if you had a couple of cloudy days ?
    According to Fraunhofer’s chart of ‘Day-Ahead market values, weighted by volume in Euro/MWh, Year 2020’, ‘Uranium, Brown coal, Gas, Biomass, Run of River and Pumped Storage’ all average within a Euro of 30 E/MWh, while wind is at 25 and solar at 24. Wouldn’t that suggest that dispatchable power is more valuable than erratic ? The same source shows that the number of hours per year of negative power prices went up from 210 in 2019, to 298 in 2020. How valuable is power that you have to pay to get rid of ( after paying a fixed feed-in tariff for it ) ?
    https://www.ise.fraunhofer.de/content/dam/ise/en/documents/News/electricity_production_germany_2020.pdf – Graph 51

  5. J4Zonian Says:

    As was pointed out recently (yet again) clean safe renewable energy is cheapest and best when widely distributed through different time zones and weather patterns. Some people seem determined to not know that, as well as other facts they apparently don’t like. In California, for example, (49% renewable grid including 15.4% solar so far) the legislature passed a bunch of good energy bills at the end of Jerry Brown’s reign, but they left out the equally necessary one to connect the grid better to states to the east. That and adding storage (as they have and are) will end curtailment and help individuals, the state, the other states, the country, and the world.

    The Staggering Cost of New Nuclear Power
    Part One in a Series on a New Nuclear Cost Study
    Joseph Romm 2009

    Between 2009 and 2019 the cost of wind came down 70%, solar PV 89% [1]

    “just five years ago [2014], renewables were the cheapest source of new power in only 1% of the world, explains BNEF in its New Energy Outlook 2019.”
    Now [in 2019] wind and solar are the cheapest form of power across two thirds of the world

    Meanwhile nukes have only gotten more expensive. Attempts to bail out the many money-losing existing nukes have descended to massive bribes ($30 million in Ohio, for example) and finally, where they’re all headed—shutdowns. Because nukes are about the most expensive electricity there is. (The cost of solar PV is compensated for by lack of transmission costs, and it continues to drop fast.)

    Pilgrim nuke in Massachusetts was shut down last week. Because nuke production is not peak-coincident, Pilgrim required more gas back up than the wind power that’s replacing it, which makes the nuke a higher carbon emitter than other renewables. Pilgrim’s costs live on beyond it, of course; even after phenomenally expensive decommissioning, someone will have to deal with the radioactivity it leaves behind for centuries. That’s on top of nukes’ already exorbitant cost.

    The fact that nuclear energy is more expensive is not a sign that it’s more valuable; it’s a sign that it’s more expensive. And that it’s about to be gone because it can’t compete. On anything—price, subsidies, safety, carbon, water use, dangerous waste, inequality, destruction of democracy, and other issues.

    Solar and wind have the lowest carbon footprints

    Part 1 How cheap can solar get? (very cheap indeed).
    Part 2 How steady can wind blow? (65% so far)
    Part 3 How cheap can energy storage get? (pretty darn cheap).
    Part 4 How far can renewables go? (pretty darn far).

    Nuclear Power Is Losing Money At An Astonishing Rate
    Half of existing nuclear power plants are no longer profitable. (renewables, fracked gas)
    2016 archive.thinkprogress[DOT]org/nuclear-power-is-losing-money-at-an-astonishing-rate-e9473d62acc5/
    A July Bloomberg New Energy Finance analysis concluded that nukes producing 56 percent of U.S. nuclear power “would be unprofitable over the next three years.”

  6. John Oneill Says:

    From one of your links -‘The study finds each kilowatt hour of electricity generated over the lifetime of a nuclear plant has an emissions footprint of 4 grammes of CO2 equivalent (gCO2e/kWh). The footprint of solar comes in at 6gCO2e/kWh and wind is also 4gCO2e/kWh.’ Against that, the current fashion in renewables circles seems to call for about 5X overbuild of both wind and solar, to reduce the need for storage. If you have to build a thousand wind turbines to try to match a reactor, instead of just 200, that skews the ’embodied energy’ argument a bit, no ?
    ‘ ..renewable energy is cheapest and best when widely distributed through different time zones and weather patterns’ versus ‘..The cost of solar PV is compensated for by lack of transmission costs..’. One of these statements might be true, but hardly both.
    From another ‘The primary reason existing nuclear power plants are in trouble is because of cheap natural gas.’ – not renewables ( though mandatory take of intermittents doesn’t help.) It’s well known that fracked gas producers have been losing money for years, and that most of the early independent drillers have been bought out by the deep-pocketed oil majors. They’re playing the long game – if they can drive the existing nuclear plants out of the market, history shows that gas will take most of that 20% of the market – as it has already taken a major chunk of coal’s share. Wind and solar, even with massive overbuild and storage, will still leave lots of gaps for gas to fill, and with reliable competition out of the way, the methane vendors will have the public over a barrel, so to speak. They can sell less gas but still make a killing.

    • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

      Dear J O. We know presenting facts and logic to deniers is a waste of effort. BUT, using them in debates with real people is just UNFAIR!

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