Solar and Wind power could help Romania avoid electricity blackouts

Twice this year it is reported that Romania nearly suffered a complete electrical power outage. Grid operators in Romania say the cause is that the country is that “no investments were made in the power plants”, and that therefore electrical generation capacity is not enough. The grid operators are planning to make some large scale investments, to replace old coal fired power plants with new gas fired plants, and to add two new nuclear reactors at the country’s existing nuclear power complex.

According to a Romania-Insider report (referring in turn to a Profit.ro report), Romania has a total installed capacity of over 24,000 MW of electricity generation. However the actual net production capacity is around 16,000 MW. The difference, about 8,000 MW, is plants that aren’t producing at all (down for repairs, etc) or are intermittent resources like solar and wind parks.

One of the two near-blackouts was last Winter – the cold weather surely caused high electricity demand. The other was a few days ago when one of the reactors at the Cernavoda complex was shut down due to technical problems.

Of course there are times of high demand, and times when resources go offline. Any electrical grid needs to have spare capacity to handle such issues. At the same time electricity demand grows because of increasing population and economic activity, as well as the retirement of old generation plants. Therefore grid operators regularly plan new generating plants, and are always balancing various needs to select the best technology to deploy.

Evade blocked charging stations with one of these handy J1772 extension cords.

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Any electricity grid operator faces this problem. We’re focusing on Romania as a convenient example.

Why do we say at the top that adding solar or wind power would help? While solar and wind power is ultra-clean low emissions, they are intermittent and therefore cannot be counted on for every moment of need. To solve for that energy storage systems are required, of course. But that still doesn’t explain what we said at the top.

There is a financing issue with adding natural gas or nuclear power plants to an electricity grid. Such systems are large, hundreds of megaWatts at a time, and a high cost, billions of euros at a time, and therefore require big-scale financing and planning horizons.

Adding a large electricity plant to an electricity grid means there will be a capacity overshoot, as shown in the left-hand-side of this image. That shiny new gas-fired electricity plant is probably as clean as you can get with fossil fuels, but it is more generating capacity than is needed right away. Instead the grid operators trust that over the coming years electricity demand will grow enough to use up the newly added generating capacity.

By contrast solar, and wind, and energy storage can be added in much smaller increments, as shown in the right-hand-side of this image. Where a gas-fired or nuclear plant must be sized for hundreds of megaWatts, solar arrays or wind turbines are a few megaWatts apiece and can be added at lower cost as the real need is demonstrated.

Because the energy resources are added in smaller increments a region electing to use solar+wind+batteries can more nimbly react to changing electricity demands.

What if a region builds an expensive nuclear reactor or two, but electricity demand does not grow as expected? That region is stuck paying for an expensive reactor without the demand required to pay for it. By contrast installing a solar or wind plant is very easy. The cost is low, making it easier to get financing, and adding a few megaWatts here or there around the grid is relatively fast and easy. A grid-scale energy storage system is even easier, since it can be as easy as installing an equipment pad next to a substation. Some even suggest the feasibility of redeploying energy storage systems by truck depending on changing usage patterns.

That’s a nice theoretical story, but this piece of news is a discussion about the electricity grid in Romania. From reading the referenced articles some issues stand out making it look unlikely for Romania to follow the advice presented here.

For example the primary source in the Profit.ro article is a Board Member of OMV Petrom. As the name Petrom implies, this is a fossil fuel producer in Romania. Hence it appears electricity generation in that country is largely under the control of fossil fuel interests, despite there being excellent an wind energy resource in the area near the Danube Delta, and excellent solar capability elsewhere in the country as shown by the map at the top of this article.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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