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What combination of power generators on the U.S. grid produces reliable power at the lowest cost? Or, what’s the most renewable energy that can be deployed at a given grid power cost, and what kind of transmission capacity is needed to support it? How would the U.S. grid be different if it were one, unified grid with more high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission capacity? What’s the most productive design for a wind farm? How might weather and a changing climate affect future electricity production from wind and solar farms? And how much renewable power is really feasible on the U.S. grid?

These have been devilishly difficult questions to answer, but now advanced mathematical simulations are beginning to make it possible to answer them much more quickly…and if quantum computing becomes a reality, we could answer them instantly.

In an homage to Comedy Central’s Drunk History, this episode features a conversation conducted over several pints of IPA with a mathematician who recently developed such a simulator while he was working at NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) in Boulder, CO. His insights on how the grid of the future might actually function are fascinating, and will likely shatter some of your pre-existing beliefs. It also contains a few nuggets for the serious math geeks out there.

Geek rating: 8

Guest: Dr. Christopher Clack is the founder of Vibrant Clean Energy, LLC, a software and services company that focuses on optimization techniques and renewable energy integration into the electricity grid. Dr. Clack was previously a research scientist for the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado Boulder working with the Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) NOAA for half a decade, leading the development of the NEWS simulator. Dr. Clack received his first class BSc (Hons) in mathematics and statistics for the University of Manchester in the UK. He then went on to research applied mathematics and plasma physics at the University of Sheffield in the UK. During his PhD, Dr. Clack completed an area of study centered on nonlinear resonance theory within the framework of magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) that remained unsolved for twenty years. The theories derived have helped our understanding of the Sun as well as possibilities for fusion reactors, such as ITER.

On Twitter: @clacky007

On the Web: Christopher Clack LinkedIn Profile

Recording date: October 21, 2016

Air date: November 2, 2016


Christopher T M Clack publications and presentations

Christopher Clack LinkedIn Profile

Vibrant Clean Energy

National Energy with Weather System (NEWS) Simulator

Christopher Clack, “The cheapest way to scale up wind and solar energy? High-tech power lines,” Energy Post. (Feb 9, 2016)

Alexander E. MacDonald, Christopher T. M. Clack, Anneliese Alexander, Adam Dunbar, James Wilczak & Yuanfu Xie, “Future cost-competitive electricity systems and their impact on US CO2 emissions,” Nature Climate Change 6, 526–531 (2016) doi:10.1038/nclimate2921. (Jan 25, 2016)

Vauhini Vara, “The Energy Interstate,” The Atlantic. (Jun 2016)

Monica Heger, “NOAA Model Finds Renewable Energy Could be Deployed in the U.S. Without Storage,” IEEE. (Jan 25, 2016)

Clack, C. T. M., Alexander, A., Choukulkar, A., and MacDonald, A. E. (2016) Demonstrating the effect of vertical and directional shear for resource mapping of wind power. Wind Energy, 19: 1687–1697. doi: 10.1002/we.1944.

Choukulkar, A., Pichugina, Y., Clack, C. T. M., Calhoun, R., Banta, R., Brewer, A., and Hardesty, M. (2016) A new formulation for rotor equivalent wind speed for wind resource assessment and wind power forecasting. Wind Energ., 19: 1439–1452. doi: 10.1002/we.1929.

C.T.M. Clack, Y. Xie, A.E. MacDonald, “Linear programming techniques for developing an optimal electrical system including high-voltage direct-current transmission and storage,” Int J Electr Power Energy Syst, 68 (June 2015), pp. 103–114. ISSN 0142-0615

Christopher T. M. Clack, 0: Modeling Solar Irradiance and Solar PV Power Output to Create a Resource Assessment Using Linear Multiple Multivariate Regression. J. Appl. Meteor. Climatol., 0, doi: 10.1175/JAMC-D-16-0175.1.

California Air Resources Board press release, “CARB approves $363 million plan that includes putting more clean vehicles in disadvantaged communities.” (Oct 20, 2016)

Mark Chediak, “America’s Nuclear Problem,” Bloomberg Businessweek. (Oct 19, 2016)

Gavin Bade, “Re-regulation on the horizon? State plant subsidies point to looming ‘crisis’ in organized power markets,” Utility Dive. (Oct 20, 2016)

Maina Waruru, “As prices plunge, Africa surges into clean, cheap solar energy,” Reuters. (Oct 11, 2016)

Damian Carrington, “An energy first as UK successfully transmits data via national electricity grid,” The Guardian. (Oct 11, 2016)

Photo credit: /reupa/flickr, CC BY-NC