The Problem With Renewable Energy The Bizarre Plan to Drain the Mediterranean: 2 weeks ago   04:06

Tom Scott
( This isn't a sponsored video, but I am massively grateful to all the team at SSE! Go look: , and pull down the description for more. )
As the world switches to renewable energy - and we are switching - there's a problem you might not expect: balancing the grid. Rotational mass and system inertia are the things that keep your lights from flickering: and they only appear in big, old, traditional power stations. Here's why that's a problem, and how we're likely going to fix it.

Thanks to all the team at SSE! FULL DISCLOSURE: This is not a sponsored video, no money has changed hands, and SSE did not have editorial control. But they did go out of their way to arrange access and support for me and my team, including giving us safety training for working at heights. I am incredibly grateful to all the team: Paul and Ed for arranging it all; Bob and Scott who helped us at the turbine; and Calum, Head of Operations, who was keeping an eye on safety throughout.


The drone footage is from Cyberhawk, they normally do turbine inspections and land surveying, so I'd like to thank them for getting some artistic shots for us too!

And finally, my camera operator was Paul Curry, @cr3, who's written a more experiential post with photos for Buzzfeed:

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Comments 1801 Comments

I love this sort of stuff.
Paul Lambert
No no no ... The grid stays at frequency ... The grid is billions of hp ... one wee 20 Mw generator decides to buck the system .... Lmfao ... Ain't gonna happen ... That generator just became a motor ... let's hope it stays together while the frequency relay does its job ya ? And no Nuclear won't pick up .... You got one thing correct ..... Hydro .....
I really wish the United States would go more Renewable
Daniel Rule
The thing I love about this series and really all educational youtube channels is that even though this was posted 2 years ago it still has educational worth to anyone who watches it today. Sure science has improved since then and there are new things to talk about but this has more lasting worth than most other styles of video.
Makes me appreciate nuclear all the more. Small relative footprint, abundant fuel, clean, waste issues are very manageable (engineeering-wise, political will notwithstanding), and best of all, it runs when the sun doesn't shine and the wind doesn't blow.
Anish Murthy
Watching this 2 years down the line, wondering why Tesla made a super massive battery instead of doing this even though Tesla literally sells electric cars and can do this instead.
Oversat til dansk - de skal bare bekræftes
Mad Haze
"meters that can watch the grid and work out when to turn on your air conditioning and fridges" ? So we will be dictated to when we can use our appliances . Another created crisis coming I see. Educate your self with some Antony Sutton books. This is pure propaganda sugar coating .
J Gates
Elon musk fixed this :)
Nah, big batteries work too.
Cant you just use wind power to rotate a giant mass of steel?
Boh Hope
Wind power can't even to begin powering a city.
Thomas Jefferson
"One slows down, they all slow down." No. They are brought up and synced before being put on line. They are not affected by another unit on the grid per se, without tripping and coming off load. There is no speed adjustment of a generator as frequency is product of rpm. The UK runs at 50 hz. 2 pole gensets run at 3000 rpm. Full load, half load, quarter load... 3000 rpm. 4 pole units at 1500 rpm. Your analysis of the electrical grid misses a large fact. In relation to the demands of the grid, the wind hardly ever blows and when it does it doesn't blow for very long or very hard. Without a massive capacity storage system these units produce very little real power.
Daniel Dogeanu
I do not like the idea of the grid sucking current out of my car's battery! The reason I plug it in, is to charge, and not provide electricity for others. I would be really pissed off the get in the car in the morning, rushing to get to work, and find out that my car can't get me there, because the batteries are empty. I'm strongly against this solution!

Google fixed problems like this in their data centers with flywheels. When they have power, they spin them to colossal speeds, and when the power goes out, they just keep spinning out of inertia, just like you mentioned with normal power plants. That would be a solution that I like.
Bas de Bruijne
Someone probably already commanded this, but most turbines are connected to the grid with a DC link so that they're velocity can be controlled according to the wind
Somewhere, 6ft underground, Thomas Alva Edison is laughing his half decomposed lungs out... AC has a hell of a lot of benefits, but a DC grid would make this problem absolutely moot.

Or, like, feeding everything through a rectifier then electronic inverter chain...

...or maybe just a ginormous flywheel somewhere, connected to the grid via a motor-generator.
Zack Stewart
Negativist interpretation: so when the power goes out my car goes dead and I am trapped at home with no way to get potable water? Don't know if that's a realistic scenario but that's what the negativists will say.
Iain Reid
Your explanation about how conventional power stations make up for say a trip of one turbine is not entirel correct. No manual input is required to increase power from all the rest of the conventional stations simply becaue all the turbine power, i.e. steam, is controlled by a speed sensitive governor on each turbine. Yes there is inertia, but like a car hitting a hill that's not enough to keep up the speed, you must open the throttle. Each turbine will automatically increase power to keep the turbine rotating at 3,000rpm . This speed is strictly controlled within fine limits. Voltage is also automatically controlled by voltage regulators.
Baseborn Manjack
Thousands of times a second??! Sure about that Tommy?!
Shanta Hsieh
Make it yourself thanks to Avasva solutions. I think it's the best way to learn how to build it in the cheapest way.
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The Bizarre Plan to Drain the Mediterranean: The Problem With Renewable Energy 2 weeks ago   03:29

Herman Sörgel wanted to create the largest civil engineering project the world has ever seen: a colossal dam across the Strait of Gibraltar, lowering the Mediterranean sea. There were, of course, a few problems with this.

VFX by David 'Hoolopee' Post (
Camera by Paul Curry (@cr3)

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