Leaked DOE study draft: U.S. grids are getting more reliable, not less

Late Friday Bloomberg revealed that it had obtained a leaked draft of the study on baseload power, markets, subsidies and grid reliability ordered by DOE Secretary Rick Perry in April, which includes statements that run contrary to the boss’ own rationale for the study.

While Bloomberg did not publish the draft, it did publish a line which states that “The power system is more reliable today due to better planning, market discipline, and better operating rules and standards”.

It is not a far stretch from there to conclude that the additional levels of wind and solar which have been added in the United States have not wrecked the grid. This is also consistent with the experience of European nations. Denmark, where wind supplies more than half of the annual electricity (the highest portion in the world) has a far more reliable grid than the United States, as does Germany, where last year wind and solar met 18% of the nation’s electric demand (all renewables together met 29%). Spain and Portugal, which each get more than 25% of their power from wind and solar, also saw reliability increase during the periods of wind and solar deployment.

As such, while it has not been proven that wind and solar are the direct cause of greater system reliability, a correlation between deploying wind and solar and higher levels of grid reliability is clear.

Additionally, a number of studies have shown that there is not link between the retirement of “baseload” power plants and grid reliability, as baseload is an artifact of electric system planning and not a technical requirement.

However, this is not what DOE Secretary Rick Perry has claimed. In the original memo, Perry claimed that (un-named) grid experts “have highlighted the diminishing diversity of our nation’s electric generation mix and what that could mean for baseload power and grid resilience”.

Whoever these alleged “experts” are, pv magazine staff would love to discuss technical matters with them. As a starting point, with wind and solar and more gas added to coal, nuclear and hydroelectric power, the nation’s grid is now more diverse than it has ever been.

Administration sources have stressed that this draft is not the final version, and noted that this statement, as written, is not in the current draft. This may explain things. If Perry’s DOE follows the pattern of previous Republican administrations, the findings of career scientists and engineers will be tampered with for political reasons before they become public.

In their 2010 book Merchants of Doubt, Harvard Professor Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway revealed how multiple administrations have edited or amended technical studies on environmental and health issues which ran contrary to their policy aims. Such practices included abuse of the peer review process, placing political appointees to insert conclusions which run contrary to the findings of studies, and other means of undermining or erasing undesired conclusions. Such political tampering with science covered the gamut of issues from the dangers of smoking, to acid rain, to ozone depletion, to global warming.

Secretary Perry’s study is currently overdue, and a final version could be published within a week. It remains to be seen how much pressure from Perry’s own party – including a strongly worded letter by pro-wind Senator Chuck Grassley (R – Iowa), will affect what DOE publishes.