Meredith Angwin

Energy Analyst & Author

What Surprised You?

Eric Meyer of Generation Atomic has started a new on-line book club. Eric starts the conversation with a very important question:  “In this book, what surprised you?”

Great question! The club meetings started with my book, Shorting the Grid.  I wrote the book because I realized that most people don’t have any idea about how electric grids are organized. Most people know about types of power plants, and they know something about transmission lines.  However, knowledge tends to stop there.  How the entire grid works is a mystery. How the grid is managed is a  bigger mystery!

Therefore, I hoped to shed a little light on grid management by writing Shorting

Many Surprises

We mostly discussed RTO grids (Regional Transmission Organization grid) but we also talked about vertically integrated areas.

Here are some of the group’s answers to Eric’s question: What Surprised You.

  • De-regulation caused more regulation!
  • Overall impression is that grid policy is a tangled web of imposed “fairy tale ” fairness between generators.
  • The rules appear FAIR to all generators. especially from the outside.
  • Most surprising – the grid was never deregulated – one regulatory scheme was substituted for another.
  • I had to re-read the auction price setting process over and over.
  • For me most surprising thing was that no single group is responsible for reliable power.
  • No accountability for the grid.
  • Vermont got away with selling the same clean electricity to multiple different customers for year and years!?!

Beyond surprise

We went from “what surprised you?” to “what can be done about this situation?”  There’s a sticky subject, unsuited for simple bullet points.  Are vertically integrated areas just as messed as RTO areas? Our tentative conclusion was that the vertical utilities were not as messed up, because they had clear responsibility for reliability. However, in terms of payments and transparency, the vertical utilities were also messed up.

Reliability matters.  Robert Bryce asks the fundamental question.  Can you turn your lights on in the morning?  He poses this question at the beginning of his eye-opening movie, Juice: How Electricity Explains the World.

Book and Book Club

I am grateful to Eric for organizing and chairing these book club meetings. I know that not everyone can attend the meetings.  Therefore, it would be great if you could comment on “the most surprising thing” in the comment section of this blog post.

Oh, and if you haven’t read Shorting, this would be a great time to buy a copy! Link below:

There will be more meetings of the Atomic Book Club. I think the meetings are going to be a lot of fun. Our next book is Jack Devanney’s Why Nuclear Power Has Been A Flop. It is available as a free download at that link.

The next meetings will be on September 13 and September 27.  Here’s a link to receive the invite. You can email me for more information, also.