Thoughts on Hydro Power

So, I was doing some research into hydro-electricity… for reasons related to surviving WW3.

Well, well, well… did I learn a few things I had no idea about.

Did you know that every large power grid needs to have some hydro added to it?

This is because coal and nuclear power plants can’t be switched on and off easily. It typically takes two days to switch a coal or nuclear turbine on and off. So the purpose of coal and nuclear plants is to supply the base load of power to the grid: A fixed amount of electricity that’s always in use.

But what happens on a hot summer’s day if everyone goes home and turns on their air conditioning at once? It is impossible for a coal or nuclear plant to increase electrical production on such short notice.

This is where hydro power comes in, you can just switch on hydro power in minutes, and then switch it off again in minutes. It supplies anything from a low output of a few hundred kW to thousands of MW as required. So hydro plants typically only operate when there’s a large increase from the base load level, then switch off again when no longer needed. This performs a critical role in maintaining the stability of electrical supplies, and it is why hydro plants are idle for most of the year. Only active about 30-40% of the time.

If hydro were running all day long, every day, they would drain their reservoirs and stop working. So Hydro isn’t viable for supplying base loads to a grid. They have their niche in the power grid and they do it very well.

However, the traitors… saboteurs… no… what do they call themselves? Oh! THE GREENS want to close down all the coal power plants and prevent any nuclear power plants from being built. They want to remove the power plants that supply the base load to the grid.

The problem with this is that wind and solar power have no niche to fill in the power grid. They can’t supply baseload, nor can they supply the auxiliary load that hydro can on demand. They are useless without some kind of battery. Some kind of battery… Not necessarily a lithium-ion battery that we’re used to thinking of, and believe me they are working on building massive battery towers that will explode if hit with a single bullet, but a battery can also be filled with water… also known as a reservoir.

Remember how I said that hydro power can’t run 24/7 otherwise it would drain its reservoir and become useless? Think of that reservoir as the battery of the hydro power plant. Thus filling up that reservoir is charging up the battery for the plant. The solution to ending coal and nuclear, according to the Green movement, is to run everything off hydro power running 24/7 with solar and wind power pumping water back up a mountain into the reservoirs for the hydro plants. This would use up more power than would be produced by the water flowing down the pipes into the hydro plant. (I am going to say 20% more here for the sake of argument, but I haven’t checked the efficiency of industrial water pumps for this post).

If you’re thinking this is genius; then you haven’t stopped to think about the mathematics of this proposal.

Say you have a city that consumes a base load of 1,000 MW. You have two coal power plants that produce 500 MW each, and a grid of hydro power plants that produce 1,000 MW extra load on demand. That’s a total of 2,000 MW of potential power output. (That’s enough to supply ~1,000,000 houses with electricity).

If you close one of those coal power plants, then you only have 500 MW of baseload and the hydro power grid has to work constantly to provide the other 500 MW. In order to maintain this, an additional 600MW of solar and wind needs to be produced to pump the water back up into the reservoirs.

Thus the new baseload of the system is now 1,600 MW instead of 1,000 MW, because 600 MW of additional power is needed to guarantee the maintanance of the power grid.

If both coal plants close, then the new baseline is 2,200 MW because we would need 1,200 MW of unreliable electricity to guarantee the reliability of 1,000 MW of reliable electricity. The inefficiency and waste of this solution is so mind boggling only an idiot could have come up with it. But that’s where we’re at now. We’re a nation ruled by ideologues (the root for “idiot”) who care more about ideological purity than practicality.

Author: philosophicaltherapist

I am philosophical therapist based in Australia. However, I offer Skype services for people who live in regional districts, or internationally providing the time zones do not clash. In my practice I emphasise honesty, self-knowledge, curiosity, self-acceptance, self-responsibility, compassion, empathy, respect for emotions, and understanding how key relationships work.

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