Oh great, Green Power will screw up the electrical grid and make our clocks run fast

Starting next month the clock on your oven will probably be wrong. No, it won’t be broken, but the electric current it relies on to count the minutes will start deviating from the tried and true standard of 60 cycles per second.

Since 1930, electric clocks have kept time based on the rate of the electrical current that powers them. If the current slips off its usual rate, clocks run a little fast or slow. Power companies now take steps to correct it and keep the frequency of the current – and the time – as precise as possible.

The group that oversees the U.S. power grid is proposing an experiment would allow more frequency variation than it does now without corrections, according to a company presentation obtained by The Associated Press.

Those corrections take effort, and the amount of effort needed is growing more complex every day. Which seems counter-intuitive because he power grid has run at 60 cycles per second for more than 80 years. They should know how to keep it that way by now! So what changed?

Green power, that’s what. It’s a whole different kettle of fish than the older, legacy (aka fossil fuel, nuclear, or hydro-electric) systems. And there’s more and more of it being connected to the grid every day.

In the future, more use of renewable energy from the sun and wind will mean more variations in frequency on the grid. Solar and wind power can drop off the grid with momentary changes in weather. Correcting those deviations is expensive and requires instant backup power to be always at the ready.

Hmmm, so does that mean all this new-fangled green energy stuff is less reliable? Why yes, yes it does.

Hence the need to test the effects of allowing the frequency to fluctuate.

No one is quite sure what will be affected. This won’t change the clocks in cellphones, GPS or even on computers, and it won’t have anything to do with official U.S. time or Internet time.

But wall clocks and those on ovens and coffeemakers – anything that flashes “12:00″ when it loses power – may be just a bit off every second, and that error can grow with time.

The North American Electric Reliability Corp. runs the nation’s interlocking web of transmission lines and power plants. A June 14 company presentation spelled out the potential effects of the change: East Coast clocks may run as much as 20 minutes fast over a year, but West Coast clocks are only likely to be off by 8 minutes. In Texas, it’s only an expected speedup of 2 minutes.

Some parts of the grid, like in the East, tend to run faster than others. Errors add up. If the grid averages just over 60 cycles a second, clocks that rely on the grid will gain 14 seconds per day, according to the company’s presentation.

This will be an interesting experiment to see how dependent our timekeeping is on the power grid, said Demetrios Matsakis, head of the time service department at the U.S. Naval Observatory, one of two official timekeeping agencies in the federal government.

Great. It’ll be interesting. We’re all guinea pigs now. They’re gonna mess with our clocks! What could possibly go wrong?

I guess it’s time to break out those sundials again. They’ll be more accurate than the alarm clock next to my bed. And best of all they’re powered by a kind of renewable energy which thankfully isn’t dependent on the power grid. Yet.

That’s green energy for you. Less reliable, more expensive, and a potential cause of nationwide inconvenience. What’s not to like?


Cross-posted from WyBlog.us. Follow me on Twitter @WyBlog.

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