Think through battery power


To the Editor:

Until we get the storage figured out, this Vineyard Wind project simply takes $2 billion from the Massachusetts tax- and ratepayers’ pockets to build (overseas) or recycle (from overseas) garbage to be hauled here at enormous cost and pile-driven into the sea. Mixing metaphors but fairly enough, it’s putting the cart before the horse.

Anything put up today is unlikely to be around to greet the storage solution. Until we perfect industrial-scale storage, more wind in the energy portfolio only increases the use of fossil fuel and carbon dioxide emissions. Prices skyrocket.

Despite the alluring promise of wind as an environmental savior, its massive towers provide a pitiful product. Spasmodic, skittering energy tied to the cube of the wind speed [“wind 10-15 with gusts to 25” = 1,000/3,375/15,625 units], coming in off-peak and off-season, wreaks havoc on all parts of the system, including “the Grid.”

“As turbines and offshore projects increase in size, they create yet more stress-provoking turbulence. The analysis of almost 3,000 onshore wind turbines — the biggest study of its kind — warns that they will continue to generate electricity effectively for just 12 to 15 years … The decline in the output of offshore wind farms, based on a study of Danish wind farms, is even more dramatic. The [actual output of] turbines built on platforms in the sea is reduced from 39 percent to 15 percent after 10 years.”   –

Elon Musk’s highly touted $150 million 100MW battery “would satisfy South Australia’s minimum power demand for all of four minutes.” (!)

Drawn on when the wind dies, how does ‘’the world’s biggest battery’’ perform? On Jan. 24, 2019, in South Australia, as wind power collapsed into the afternoon, the battery began to dribble 30MW into the grid.

The 30MW was less than 1 percent of South Australia’s total demand, and less than 0.1 percent of its national grid’s demand. As 7:30 pm’s peak demand period hit, the world’s biggest battery was completely flat, completely useless.

Meanwhile the emergency diesel generators (burning a reported 80,000 liters of diesel fuel per hour) were doing the real work in South Australia, pumping out over 400 MW on demand. At 7:30 pm that hot summer day … in the renewables paradise of South Australia, 97 percent of its electricity was coming from fossil fuels.

And … as wind power collapsed into the afternoon, prices in South Australia surged to a [well nigh unbelievable!] $14,500 Mwh (versus an average $40 Mwh before “cheap” renewables flooded into the grid), a stunning illustration of how, of course, big wind is hand in hand with fossil fuel interests in the energy market. The more wind in the energy portfolio, the higher spot-pricing spikes, bringing profits into the energy sector as a whole. Of course the fossil fuel interests are intertwined and happy about big wind — only the ratepayer and the taxpayer lose out.

Battery power sounds good, but our decision makers would do well to do a little bit of homework, think this through, and delay using our money for pie-in-the-sky as yet impossible dreams.


Helen Schwiesow Parker, Ph.D., L.C.P.


  1. FYI. Eversource is in the process of installing a 14-20 MW battery at their operations on VH/ED Rd. Speaking of homework, I’d think a doctor would do better to understand power system economics before authoring an opinion such as this. I do think it’s great that you point out that countries like Australia have allot of work to do in bringing more renewables into the generation mix.

    • HOW MANY HOURS OF STORAGE or GENERATION AT THAT RATING? The number of MW’s is near meaningless without knowing the duration. 2 hours output may be near twice the cost of 1 hour.

  2. Turbine parts get replaced as they wear, likely of better materials and at lower cost; that will boost technology and feed the economy. Or is the good doctor suggesting we’ll run out of wind?

  3. If the spot price of electricity can increase by 360 times because of a drop in the wind, the problem is not with the wind or the battery–it’s with regulations that allow that type of price gouging.
    As more electric vehicles get on the road, they represent a significant amount of storage capacity that could put excess power back into the grid during peak demand. The technology exist, thanks to people like Elon Musk.

    • dondondon’s economics says that if the price of oil went to say 200 dollars a barrel, then prices of gas should stay at 2.88 or so otherwise its price gouging. In other words there is no correlation between cost and price. People like Elon Musk are spending capital that was lent to him by investors and he is producing negative cash flow even with government subsidies to consumers. Tesla will go bankrupt or be acquired by someone like Apple or Google. If apples at Cronigs suddenly cost the owner 4 dollars per pound due to some freeze in the state of Washington he should sell them at 3 dollars per pound and not price gouge. Only on MV sheeeeesh.

      • A gentle reminder that both American and Arab oil producers price gouge. You may return to your regularly scheduled discussion.

        • Gas down here in florida is 1.99 per gallon. What is it on MV save the cost of getting to mv from the mainland. Who is gouging again ?

      • Bad example, Andrew. You are obviously not familiar with the Cronig’s business model. “Only on MV” definitely applies in that case.

      • Andrew– read my comment– I am not saying that if the price goes up, the distributor should eat the extra cost. My comment is why the price went up in the first place. is there something I don’t know about electricity? Does the coal fired plant suddenly have more expenses with moving electrons around because the windmill stopped for a few hours? No– Who controls the spot price of electricity ?
        The distributors have no control over that. But someone went home that night millions of dollars richer because of some flawed regulatory system. And the ratepayers paid millions of extra dollars to those robber barons with their next bill. Don’t twist the story— someone made a lot of money. Or do you think that if the supplier gouges the distributors , that’s ok ? Or is it ok if a group of speculators trade their “options” and make millions off the backs of working people?
        If that’s the case , then it’s time to get rid of capitalism, and embrace socialism.

      • Andrew– when are you going to take my bet about Tesla going bankrupt ? I am willing to put my money where my mouth is, and If I win, I will donate the money to your favorite charity.
        Careful with the predictions about what is going to happen sometime in the future while you throw rocks around in your glass house about things people predicted years ago.
        And for all we know, we could very well be at the environmental tipping point already. I,for one, am not convinced this environmental train wreck is stoppable at this point.

        • dondondon. I heard all the predictions over 50 years starting with Rachel Carson and Silent Spring. I heard Erlich and I heard Club of Rome and I heard food shortages and mineral prices and I heard silicone in implants and Alar in apples. I heard them all and none of them came true and all of them were contradicted. More food, fewer people demographically, cheaper minerals, silicone safe, malaria eradicated and WHO saying DDT is safe. I heard it all and now I am hearing uneducated freshmen telling me the tipping point is 12 years and indoctrinated children walking around with placards telling me we are doomed. Oh I heard about collusion with Russia and who is bringing up alternative facts?

          • Would you expect to depend on observations made 50 years ago? Not that some aren’t still spot on (mine, for example), but would you rather a scientific community decide it knows everything and convert to a professional sports career of lawn bowling?

            Some of your examples are when products were marketed after hiding the problem bits in a dusty filing cabinet. Everything causes cancer in white mice, they’re bred for that, Glyphosate were tested on mice and plants, researchers always knew the stuff wasn’t safe, the truth is finally coming out courtesy of the legal system. But Monsanto sold the public that the stuff was safe.

            Back to 50 years of history. Which would you say is most likely: 1) everything considered bad for us is really good, 2) we were spot on with our assessments 50 years ago, or 3) we keep making new stuff that’s extremely bad for us?

          • “I heard all the predictions over 50 years starting with Rachel Carson and Silent Spring”

            Silent Spring was not, AFAIK, a “prediction.” Silent Spring was the solution of a murder mystery that was already happening: The catastrophic die-off of birds that was already occurring. The prediction that cessation of DDT spraying would reverse the trend was, however, a prediction that came true.

  4. “Battery power sounds good…” Yes, it does. Batteries store energy, though, from kinetic sources. They do not generate that piston-moving kind of energy. Diesel generators, well, they generate power, obviously, the kinetic kind. Most of this variety of energy is lost through heat. The laws of thermodynamics do not discriminate.

    As for Cronig’s, Hey it’s Martha’s Vineyard! Why pay less?

    • Bulkington– Batteries store energy from any source– there are ways to generate electricity without kinetic energy. (solar for example). The main idea about batteries on a grid scale is to take up some of the peak load . We have generating plants that run most efficiently at a steady rate. When demand is off, some of the excess could be stored, put in at peak demand times, and reduce the need for additional power plants. They are certainly not a solution, just a part of mitigating the problem.

  5. Oh wow – where to start.
    Our most modern form of storage the lithium-ion battery has been stretched to the top of its potential. Until a new mainstream (keyword) storage is proven effective and mass produced our storage options limit our ability to rely on unreliable (wind,etc) electric productions.
    When we bring “renewables” into a market the relationship of how energy is sold changes. Instead of main plants, our gas or coal plants are now peak or standbye – this requires the same, if not more, amount of labor and maintenance and thus the unreliability of production and different spot structure forces the price to go up…otherwise why not just a abandon it and avoid taking a loss.
    South Australia is an extreme example however Hawaii hits closer to home – in an effort to go 100% renewable they have instead increased their co2 output after closing more efficient main plants. The relationship between Scandinavia and Germany is entirely frustrating as a consumer- the buyback prices are ridiculous but someone has to pay.
    Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t all doom and gloom with renewables, but storage limitation in the market is, as the professor there pointed out, a huge reason why it’s not beneficial financially for consumers.

    • Respectfully, the cost of maintenance (parts and labor) is reduced when plants are not run at 100 percent. For any piece of machinery there’s an ideal number which if demand exceeds, it’s time to add additional machinery.

  6. We have to stop taking Denmark as a usable example for our situation. Denmark has always had a “battery” available in hydro-rich Norway (connected by grid).
    Please understand the concept of “dispatchable” generation:

    “Dispatchable generation refers to sources of electricity that can be used on demand and dispatched at the request of power grid operators, according to market needs. Dispatchable generators can be turned on or off, or can adjust their power output according to an order.[1] This is in contrast with non-dispatchable renewable energy sources such as wind power and solar PV power which cannot be controlled by operators.[2] The only types of renewable energy that are dispatchable without separate energy storage are biomass, geothermal and ocean thermal energy conversion.[3]

    Dispatchable plants have different speed at which they can be dispatched. The fastest plants to dispatch are hydroelectric power plants and natural gas power plants. For example, the 1,728 MW Dinorwig pumped storage power plant can reach full output in 16 seconds.[4] Although theoretically dispatchable, certain thermal plants such as nuclear or coal are designed to run as base load power plants and may take hours or sometimes days to cycle off and then back on again.[5] ”

    I don’t really see how the wind plant can work well to supply the Island with power unless the Island is also hooked up via a grid to Hydroelectric power in Canada. Otherwise during peak load where will be get teh power we need? It takes too long to fire up a conventional power plant so they would have to be running at base load all the time. So, yeah, we will have power, but we will also be paying a lot for it and pollution will still be pumping into the atmosphere. We need to concentrate more on distributed generation and ocean energy.

    Check out this report from the European Renewable Energy Research Center on WAVE and TIDAL energy.
    What I see as the takeaway here is that wind is the developed part of the renewables sector, and now is favored in various ways that shut out other technologies while research languishes on potentially far more powerful technologies—wave and tidal–are really teh “wave” of the future.

    I guess the MVC hearing has been confined to discussion of the cables, but I think we need a far wider discussion of the potential of different types of renewable energy that are rarely discussed but should be deeply and broadly understood, especially in our marine environment: tidal, wave, etc. Hundreds of technologies are under development in Europe and are being beta-tested offshore and near coastlines throughout Europe, Scotland, Portugal, etc. Some entity needs to bring some real experts down to the vineyard to show the vast potential of these technologies. For a taste, go to the Orkneys, or go to this webiste if you can’t get to the Orkneys:
    “Orkney tidal turbine generating ‘phenomenal result'”
    Why aren’t we doing this here?
    See also:
    Why aren’t our energy planners making a study visit to the European marine Energy Centre to see the renewable marine technologies companies are developing and “testing” there in real life?

    Meanwhile I’d like to see our science=minded high-school student putting some rotors in the Lagoon POnd channel under the bridge to see how much energy we can get of of there. Just for fun. Maybe tourists could “dock” their devices there on teh bridge to recharge them while the humans get recharged from teh view.

    • Yeah, um … The wiki author on “dispatchable generation” is insufficiently educated to know that once it’s left the generating source, electricity from fossil fuel plants (and biomass), geothermal, solar panels, hydroelectric plants, tidal turbines, and wind farms all look exactly the same and all may be hooked up to the energy grid at the same time and feed energy at the same time. Even a homeowner with solar panels on their roof may sell excess generation to the power grid. That wiki piece needs a serious review and rewrite.

      As for tidal and wave technologies being locked out, read up on what those entail.

      • ” all look exactly the same and all may be hooked up to the energy grid at the same time and feed energy at the same time.”
        The point is not what they look like when the leave the point of generation. The point is how long it takes them to gear up to generate power into the grid. This affects how well they can back up a stochastic source such as wind.

        • In other words, many renewables advocates are making the argument that too many—actually, it seems like virtually all—of their technology eggs are being placed in the wind basket.

          • Renewable advocates are supporting the wind basket here because the proposed generating facility is a wind turbine farm.

        • How long it takes them to gear up to generate power into the grid: You understand this would be a one-time effort? They won’t hook up for a weekend, then disconnect everything Monday morning. Hooked up is hooked up.

    • And those “dispatchable plants” that take a bit longer to bring up to full steam, are you saying if we had an an event similar to the northeast blackout of 1965, you would not allow a generating plant requiring say, 15 minutes to get going, you want better than 16 seconds?

  7. island raised. silent spring was about banning DDT and when it was banned it resulted in the deaths of millions of people from Malaria. I dont know how many birds DDT killed and neither do you but I assume you want birds more than people.

      • To those not appreciating the significance of poisoning birds of prey: the DDT was on plants which were eaten by small animals, or excess washed off into the water supply to be likewise consumed, and the small animals were eaten by predatory birds.

        Humans are considered predatory. We eat meat, though some skip that step of the food chain and eat grains. Chemical treatments of our food supply and environment get to the predators in the food chain, that means us. Remember that next time you support spraying of herbicides. Whether it’s meant to kill flora or fauna, poison is poison.

    • Andrew–we can always count on you to come up with the “alternate” explanation.
      I don’t know how many people DDT saved, and neither do you. But let me say this— If god chose to create malaria, and creates a very effective creature to transmit it from one person to the other, who are we to kill the mosquitoes ? And if in the process of killing the mosquitoes we wipe out birds, do you think that is acceptable ? On the whole, I would not trade the extinction of birds for a few million humans.. We can have both — that’s the way god set it up, after all .

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