Further information on Winter 2020 courses


Richard Schulte: Electricity in Your Past, Present, and Future


Expanded description:


Course text

No reference book will be required.  The instructor will provide handouts to illuminate selected topics.



Schedule of classes (subject to modification)

Class 1.0, Introductions, Course Plan and Electric Power Terminology

  • Introductions – Students and Instructor
  • Course Schedule, Door Monitor and Snacks
  • Course Objectives proposed by the instructor
  • Terminology:
    • Electrons
    • Electric and magnetic fields
    • Current vis-à-vis Voltage
    • Capacity vis-à-vis Energy
    • Demand vis-à-vis Supply
  • Concept of an annual capacity factor
  • Typical, monthly, residential, electric bill

Class 2.0, History, and Organization of the Electric Power Industry in the U.S.

2.1 History of the U.S. electric power industry

2.1.1 Edison and Tesla

2.1.2 Evolution of the electric utility industry

  • Investor-owned, private sector companies
  • Municipal electric utilities in the public sector
  • Rural Electric Cooperatives
  • Federal Power Agencies – TVA, BPA, WAPA,

2.1.3 Regional Independent System Operators – MISO, SWPP, PJM

  • Demonstration by internet of MISO operations in real time.

2.2 Organizational Structure of Utilities

2.2.1 Distant Past – Stand alone, encountered obstacles

2.2.2 Recent Past – Consolidated, vertically integrated, monopoly, lightly regulated

2.2.3 Present – More consolidation, vertically integrated, monopoly, heavily regulated, facing customer choice and competition

 2.2.4 Future:

  • Business as usual: monopoly, regulated, vertically integrated
  • Utility as a platform: planning, transmission, distribution, customer billing, communications and market where customers and suppliers interact – like Amazon, Uber, Lyft, Alibaba, etc.
  • Other alternatives?
  • National, overlay, high voltage, transmission grid.

Class 3.0, Electric Power System Technology

3.1 Traditional means for generating electric power

3.1.1 Fossil-fueled steam plants

-Efficiency: BTU’s to kWh

-Externalities: BTU’s to particulates, SO2, CO2, ash, mercury

3.1.2 Nuclear steam generating plants

3.1.3 Combustion turbines (jet engines)

3.1.4 Combined-cycle gas turbines with boilers

-Coal vs natural gas on CO2 production

-Combined cycle units with renewable sources

3.1.5 Internal combustion engines – diesel or gas powered

3.1.5 In-class demonstration of electric power production by steam

3.2 Renewable means for generating electric power

3.2.1 Wind turbines

3.2.2 Solar PV arrays



-Community solar gardens

3.3 Other alternatives for generation: geothermal, fusion, tides, fuel cells

3.4 Transmission lines

– Concept of 3-phase

– Capacity vs voltage, currents and line losses

– Overhead lines vs underground cables

– Superconducting cables

3.5 Distribution lines

– Bi-directional vs one-directional flow

Class 4.0,  Class Visit to a Combined Cycle, Electric Generating Plant, Faribault, MN

(To be Confirmed with Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, MMPA)

Class 5.0, Electric Power Industry Economics, Planning Imperatives and Regulation

5.1 Tangible (economic) factors in planning

5.1.1 Fixed and variable charges

5.1.2 Concept of levelized costs

5.2 Intangible considerations in planning

5.3 Electric utility’s “duty to serve” 24-hours per day and 7-days per week vis-à-vis the duty of the neighborhood, gasoline, filling station

5.4 The regulatory bargain:  The utility operates as a monopoly with a regulated (some would say guaranteed) rate of return on equity investments.  In return, the utility’s plans, investments in assets, tariffs to customers and dividends to shareholders are subject to regulation.

5.5 Utility has an incentive to increase investments in assets which produce additional net income and returns to shareholders.

5.5.1  Assets un-depreciated but abandoned (stranded) become economic liabilities for utilities, shareholders, customers and regulators.

5.5.2 Concept of “Sock it to the Man” vis-à-vis your grandmother’s retirement income.

Class 6.0, Introduction of Renewable Sources into the Traditional Electric Power System.

6.1 California Duck Curve

  • Excess of renewable energy in some hours, deficiency of energy at other hours.
  • Need for energy storage
    • Energy storage alternatives
      • Batteries: chemical, solid state, fluid flow
      • Battery capital costs – where are we now?
      • Pumped storage
      • Compressed air storage
      • Vertical weights
      • Inertia wheels
      • Superconducting coils

6.3 Net metering for customers with solar arrays or garden subscriptions

6.4 Tesla rooftop solar rental option – $50 per month.

Class 7.0, Visiting Speaker to Address Energy Storage, Rationale for a National, Overlay Transmission Grid, Regional Planning to Take Advantage of Daily Time Diversity

Class 8.0A, Introduction to Distributed Energy Resources (DER) as an operating tool to supplement energy storage. 

  • Willingness of customers to accept utility control of behind-the-meter appliances, heating/cooling apparatus and batteries?
  • Compensation to customers for use of their assets to supplement or replace grid supply?

Class 8.0B, Questions and Discussion

  • Impacts of continuing to use natural gas as a transition fuel in conjunction with renewable sources?
  • Willingness of the public to devote large land areas to solar arrays?
  • Wind turbine aesthetics, flicker and noise?
  • Disposal arrangements for abandoned solar panels and turbines?
  • Bird destruction by wind turbines?