Monday, May 16, 2016

California Renewables More Than 50 Percent

Subtitle: Renewables Not Crashing the Grid

Yesterday, 15 May, 2016, the renewable energy systems in California supplied more than 50 percent of the grid's needs for several hours during the mid-day period.  The figure to the right, from CAISO, California Independent System Operator, shows the relative contribution to the grid for each minute of the day, by energy source.  The two black lines are the same length, giving a visual indication that renewables exceeded all other energy sources during the middle of the day.  

The graph below shows the renewables as a fraction of total grid supply from 10:00 through 17:00 hours.  The heavy black line shows the 50 percent, or 0.5 fraction.   At 14:00 hours, the renewables almost reached 56 percent.   

It is notable that this was a Sunday, when grid demand is relatively small.  The day was also sunny and windy, allowing both solar and wind power to produce more than the average amount of power.  

It is also notable that zero grid disruptions occurred.  The grid functioned smoothly with more than 50 percent renewables for 7 hours consecutively.  

It can be done.  California is proof.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyrignt © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Ivanpah Solar Power Plant Ahead of Expectations

Subtitle: Broken Part Now Fixed And Output Soared

"NRG Says Massive California Solar Plant Now on Pace to Meet Goal," per Bloomberg News.  see link   The Ivanpah solar thermal power plant that uses thousands of mirrors to focus the sun's energy on a boiler atop a tower had some mechanical problems last year,
photo credit:  US DOE
but those are now diagnosed and made right so the plant is delivering as, or better than, designed.  

It is dumbfounding how so many renewable-energy opponents agree with having a military ship undergo sea trials, where systems are tested and verified, then repaired or altered where necessary to obtain the desired performance.   Yet, a first-of-a-kind solar thermal power plant is, according to them, required to produce per design from the first day of operation.  Otherwise, it is a sheer waste of money.    Clearly, there is a double standard at work.   Cooler heads prevailed in the Ivanpah solar project, with the California regulators understanding that a faulty mechanical part was identified and corrected and the plant's output would increase to the required amount.  

Now, as the sun pours down its free and essentially eternal energy into the California desert, the plant produces valuable electricity during the grid's time of greatest need, the mid-day peak.  

Earlier posts on SLB on the Ivanpah solar power plant are here and here

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

copyrignt © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved

Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant Losing Money - to Close

Subtitle:  Another Nuclear Plant Calls It Quits

Yet another US nuclear power plant is to close very soon, and once again inability to turn a profit is the reason stated. see link   The long-troubled Fort Calhoun nuclear plant has thrown in the towel, with plans to shut down permanently by the end of 2016.  This plant is the smallest in the US at approximately 470 MW, and is a single-reactor plant located on the Missouri River north of Omaha, Nebraska.   The losses are substantial at approximately $100 million per year, with officials reporting a loss of $30 per MWh produced.   The long-term outlook is not good, with natural gas prices low and wind power production increasing in the surrounding area.    Nuclear power plants, even ones that are paid for, cannot produce power as cheaply as the competition.  

From the article: 

"The nuclear plant at Fort Calhoun is simply too expensive to run when compared to other, cheaper forms of power, the Omaha Public Power District’s chief executive said Thursday. So it needs to shut down by the end of the year, he said."

To expect a new nuclear power plant to compete is sheer madness, as it also must pay for the capital investment.   If an existing plant cannot even cover its variable costs, a new plant has zero hope of ever making any money.    Even worse, the utility regulatory body would be derelict in their duty to provide power at a reasonable price to the consumers, if a nuclear plant was approved for construction. 

The Fort Calhoun nuclear plant is a poster-child for unrealistic optimism for nuclear power.  A few years ago in 2006, the plant's owners invested upwards of $400 million to replace major portions of the plant, including steam generators, reactor head, pressurizer, and some aspects of the steam turbine.   Such an investment is made with the hopes, and expectations, of the plant running for many years and bringing a profit to pay for the investment.   But, this plant was 33 years old then, but is now 43 years old, having started up in 1973.   The plant also had major problems with the river flooding, and a serious fire in 2011 that led to a three-year shutdown.   Today, the plant is losing money at the rate of approximately $100 million per year.   

The right thing to do for the consumers of Nebraska is to shut it down, begin the decommissioning process, and let the new era of cheap natural gas and wind-power continue to provide reliable, low-cost electricity.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

copyrignt © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Wind Energy Not Intended to Be Constant

Subtitle:  Wind Energy Supplements Other Forms

There is a massive misconception among the wind-energy detractors, one that should be readily apparent but is not.  The problem is the wind-energy detractors say that wind-turbines can never replace baseload, steady power plants such as nuclear, coal, or even gas-fired power plants.    That misses the point, entirely.   This post addresses this and provides a bit of history of wind power. 

Motor-sailer Yacht
Photo By David J. Shuler - Nordhavn Corporate Headquarters, CC BY 3.0,
The first point is that wind is not steady, at least not in most places where wind-turbines would and are being built.  This is nothing new and should be obvious.  From the earliest days of sailing, those in the boats knew that sometimes the wind blew nicely and sailing was easy, sometimes the wind stopped and either the ship stopped or sailors had to row, and sometimes the wind blew fiercely and at times capsized the ship.   On land, similar things occur with the wind, totally calm, a nice breeze, or a devastatingly strong force. 

Therefore, at least up until quite recently, electricity generated by wind-turbines has been a supplemental source of power, not a replacement for the baseload forms of generation.  More later on the innovations that have changed that.    Wind-turbines act to supplement the traditional forms of power generation. 

An analogy is to consider a a bicycle ridden at constant speed up a slight slope, as a load-following power plant of a gas-turbine design.  The power that the rider must input to the pedals corresponds to the fuel the power plant consumes.   However, when the bicycle reaches a point on the road where the slope is not quite as steep, less pedal-power is required to maintain speed.   The more gentle slope is analogous to the wind-turbines in operation, they make the gas-turbine power plant use less fuel.    A more exact analogy would be a bicycle being ridden on a road with a slope that changes from time to time.  The changes in slope correspond to changes in the wind speed.  A flatter or more gentle slope corresponds to stronger wind.  A steeper slope corresponds to a decrease in wind speed.  

The same analogy holds for solar energy, where strong sunshine produces less slope for the bicycle.  Clouds passing over the solar energy plant cause the gas-turbine plant to use more fuel as the solar plant's output falls.  This corresponds to a slightly greater slope the bicycle must ascend.  

Another analogy is a ship that has both an engine and sails.  The sails plus engine can be used to achieve a constant speed.  When the wind blows stronger, the engine throttle can be reduced, and vice-versa.  see photo above. 

Therefore, it can be seen that wind-turbines alone can not replace load-following or baseload power plants.  They can, however, reduce the fuel consumed.   Next, the options available to a utility grid-operator when wind-turbines or solar, or both, are supplying power to the grid. 

When the amount of wind-energy is small, under 5 percent, the grid operator typically does little more than he did before the wind-turbines existed.  The load-following capability of power plants designed to follow the load cope quite well.  However, when wind-energy reaches a substantial fraction of the grid's load, perhaps 30 percent or a bit higher, the grid operator must take steps to ensure grid stability when the wind suddenly stops, or the speed increases from almost zero to 25 or 30 miles per hour.   These issues are discussed at length in the electrical engineering professional journals.  

The key issue is response time, the time required for other generators to either reduce their output when the wind blows more strongly, or increase output when the wind dies.   This is where fast-response storage systems are valuable.  Technologies such as high-speed flywheels, batteries, and hydroelectric are fast-responding.  However, the first two are very expensive, or have been up to now.   A fourth technology was recently patented and obtained environmental permits to proceed, this technology is the ARES rail energy storage system.  see link.   

Also, improved batteries with lower cost are in development by BioSolar Inc, with prototypes for industrial testing due to be in service in second half of 2016.  see link 

Another option available to the grid operator is to de-energize some of the wind-turbines during high wind episodes, or gusts that give highly variable output.   However, where grid-scale storage is available, such as the above four technologies, the grid can be balanced by appropriately charging the storage systems.   Of course, the storage systems have a limit and once they are fully charged, some of the wind-turbines must be idled. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

copyrignt © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Renewable Energy Point and Counter-Point

Subtitle:  Debating the Merits of Renewable Energy

Recently I once again made a comment or two on Watts Up With That, WUWT, this time on a badly-researched piece involving city of San Diego, California's Climate Action Plan.  The CAP aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and essentially be 100 percent "green."  Installing solar panels is but one item in the list of things San Diego plans to do, but the WUWT article misleads by indicating that all energy would be from solar, all the time.  

A commenter there objected to my statements, and I responded as below.  The commenter, "markl" has his statements below in italics, my responses are in normal face.   This is fairly representative of the anti-renewable group, and it will be interesting if "markl" chooses to respond after being presented with inarguable facts. 

"markl" --  "You would be surprised at how many of us support solar and have panels installed."  -- Not a bit surprised, since the US just celebrated the 1 millionth solar installation.  

" It’s not “anything about renewable energy” I object to it’s the unsubstantiated claims being made and the ridiculous amount of money being thrown (literally) at the industry to make it work and along the way more environmental damage is occurring than what it’s replacing without any concern. Hypocrisy at the max."

Please point out any unsubstantiated claims I have made.   I cannot speak for anyone else, but my statements are based on facts and careful research.    As to ridiculous amounts of money being thrown at the industry, I wrote on this just the other day, showing the minuscule impact of subsidies on wind-turbine projects.  Solar is also subsidized to a minor extent.  The entire point of such subsidies is to provide incentive for private sector to develop, test, and improve the systems until they are economically viable on their own.  This is a legitimate purpose of government.  

As to environmental damage, one could argue that coal-mining creates immensely more damage than do all the wind-turbines in the US.  

 "It’s not about renewable energy but instead about supporting an ideology and eliminating fossil fuels and nuclear. Admit it. "   

I certainly agree that eliminating nuclear energy is a very good thing.  The nuclear industry had its moment in the spotlight, 50 years or more actually, and to show for it they barely achieved 11 percent of world's electricity production.  Nuclear essentially replaced oil-burning power plants.   No argument, that is a fact.   I don't agree that eliminating fossil fuels is a good idea, although I am aware there are people who think it is a good idea.   I am from the oil and gas industry, second generation.  Oil and gas provide irreplaceable benefits in the entire world's economy.   

Back to wind vs nuclear, it is a fact that nuclear energy in 1986, the year Chernobyl exploded and irradiated all of us, provided the identical amount of electricity world-wide as did all of renewable sources in 2014, just 28 years later.  That is a solid fact.  Wind is also the major provider of renewable energy.  In fact, wind-energy in late 2015 provided the same amount of electricity as did all of hydroelectric dams in the US.  Each provided approximately 5 percent of the entire US grid demand.  

"So far the renewable energy produced in the world doesn’t come close to replacing what has been decommissioned on either an energy or reliability basis and no amount of misinformation can change that fact."

Not clear what you mean by that, perhaps nuclear energy from the decommissioned wording.  As stated just above, renewables in 2014 equaled all of nuclear energy 28 years earlier in 1986.  For reference, see my blog post  see link   titled "Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster 30 Years After: Subtitle:  No More Chernobyls - Build Wind-Turbines and Solar Power."   

As to reliability, of course the power flows only when the wind blows.   That is why the present, economic solution is to have gas-turbine power plants operate in load-following mode.  However, as I stated on other comments, grid-scale batteries and the ARES rail energy storage system now provide viable, economic alternatives without many geographic limitations.  

"Used appropriately solar is a good addition to our energy mix but not a viable replacement unless its’ efficiency can be improved by an order of magnitude and stored in a cost conscious manner."

The concept of sole-sourcing energy is simply not valid, unless one speaks of hydroelectricity in a region such as near Niagara Falls or the Bonneville Dam.   On a national basis, we will have a mix of energy sources including hydroelectric, natural gas, coal for a few more years, nuclear for a few more years until the aging reactors are retired for good, and several forms of renewable energy.   It makes perfect sense for the sunny SouthWest to install solar-energy power plants, at large scale to reduce unit costs.  That is precisely what is occurring.   It also makes perfect sense to harvest a portion of the immense wind energy that flows through the middle of the US along the Texas-to-North Dakota corridor.

 "Wind has time and time again proved a failure in energy produced, cost to implement and maintain, and protecting the environment. You can support renewable energy but don’t try to put lipstick on the pig."

The facts show that wind-turbines have done exactly as was predicted: early versions had flaws that were identified, then corrected in later versions.  Today's wind-turbines are far more effective, more efficient, and much more economic than turbines of 30 years ago.  Today's modern wind-turbines achieve a capacity factor of 43 percent as the national average for the month of April (when wind is relatively strong).  The annual average capacity factor in the US is now 34 percent.   That figure will increase over time, just like automobile average miles-per-gallon increase over time, as older units are removed from service and newer, more efficient units are built.    It is also important to note that all natural gas power plants in the US operate at an annual average capacity factor less than that of wind, at 29 percent.  

Costs to operate and maintain wind-turbines are very low for new projects, and increase over time.  The O&M costs are approximately 0.5 cents per kWh in the first year or two, and increase to 2 cents per kWh after 10 years of operation.  You could look it up, or see my post at see link

As for protecting the environment, a wind-turbine does no more harm than a tall tree on a prairie.   A bird or two may get killed, and that is regrettable but so far unavoidable.    There are improved designs in the works that are much more bird-friendly.  I cannot say more on that topic. 

Renewable energy is not a pig in need of lipstick.  It is instead a racehorse that is beautiful to behold.  The systems work exactly as designed, producing power when the wind blows or when the sun shines as the case may be.  There were some poorly-vetted and ill-designed projects such as Solyndra, but Vestas, GE Wind, and Siemens all make very good products.   Billionaire Warren Buffet is no fool yet he spends billions of his dollars on one wind project after another.  

No amount of disinformation or denying the facts will change the facts.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

copyrignt © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved

California Solar Provides 5 Percent of Electricity

Subtitle:  Solar is Growing in Vacant Desert Land

A few facts on grid-scale solar energy in California, and other states.  This is from The US Energy Information Agency, March 2015.  see link  Title: "California first state to generate more than 5% of electricity from utility-scale solar."
California and other states Solar energy 

Excerpt:  "California has become the first state with more than 5% of its annual utility-scale electricity generation from utility-scale solar power, according to EIA's Electric Power Monthly. California's utility-scale (1 megawatt (MW) or larger) solar plants generated a record 9.9 million megawatthours (MWh) of electricity in 2014, an increase of 6.1 million MWh from 2013. California's utility-scale solar production in 2014 was more than three times the output of the next-highest state, Arizona, and more than all other states combined.

"Several large plants were phased into operation in California during 2014, including two 550 MW solar photovoltaic plants, Topaz and Desert Sunlight (Phases 1 and 2), as well as the 377 MW Ivanpah (Phases 1, 2, and 3) and the 250 MW Genesis solar thermal plants. In total, nearly 1,900 MW of new utility-scale solar capacity was added, bringing the state's utility-scale capacity for all solar technologies to 5,400 MW by the end of 2014."

And to those who argue that California also has the highest electricity prices in the US, that is simply incorrect.  California residential electricity price is approximately 17 cents per kWh in early 2016, with 8 other states having a higher price.   California's high prices are due in part to the large population (39 million people) and low electricity consumption per capita.  The utilities must bill more per kWh to pay for the infrastructure.   Peak demand is approximately 45,000 MW, while average demand is only 33,000 MW.  

The wind resources in California are fairly good, but are limited to few locations.  These are almost fully developed at this point.  However, the vacant desert land is enormous in extent, and has yet to have most of the free sunshine harvested and converted to inexhaustible electricity. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

copyrignt © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Wind Energy Subsidy in Perspective

Subtitle:  Wind Subsidy is Less Than One-Tenth of One Percent

Data from EIA for 2015
The subsidy for wind-turbine projects in the US is somewhat controversial, and has been the topic of a few articles on SLB.  This article takes the actual data for wind-turbine electricity and total electricity in the US in 2015 and puts the subsidy in perspective. 

The usual claim from the anti-wind pundits is that the US spends billions every year to subsidize an industry that is on life-support, and should be cut off from all subsidies.  

The reality is as shown in the pie-chart at the right, the average retail electricity price in the US in 2015 was 12 cents per kWh, and the wind subsidy made up 0.09 cents of that.   In percentage terms, wind subsidy is only 0.75 percent of the electric bill.   That is less than one part in one hundred; it is more like one part in 140.  

But, the US electricity market is huge, so the tiny subsidy actually does amount to approximately $4 billion in 2015.  That comes in the form of a tax credit on the federal tax bill for each of the qualifying wind-turbine owners.   Note that, if the business made no profit, there is no tax credit.  For a profitable enterprise like Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffet's company, the tax credits work quite well.  But, if a wind-turbine energy company breaks even or has a loss, they obtain no value from the tax credit.  Therefore, the maximum the government "paid out" would be the $4 billion.  In reality, it was likely less.  Also, tax credits are not a payment from the government to the company, they simply reduce the federal tax bill, so the government receives slightly less in tax revenues. 

Now for the numbers, with almost all data obtained from the US Energy Information Agency, the EIA.  Total wind-energy produced for 2015 was 190,127 GWh. Approximately 90 percent of that was obtained by wind-turbines that are 10 year old or newer.  Those wind-turbines, installed in the previous 10 years, receive the federal tax credit of 23 $/MWh.  On consistent basis, the wind energy was 190,127,000 MWh.   Total tax credits then is $3.9 billion (23 x 190,127,000 x 0.9 divided by 1 billion)

The total US electricity production in 2015 was 4 million GWH (4.087 million to be precise).  The average residential electricity price was 12 cents per kWh.   

However, the situation is far less dire than that shown above.  If everyone's electric bill increased by 0.75 percent, and the bill was $100 per month, the increase would be only 75 cents per month.   But, the money does not flow that way.   The consumer's tax bill does not increase to pay the wind subsidy.  

The federal government borrows money at the margins to pay for spending programs.  Much of the government revenue is from taxes, both personal and corporate, but another substantial part is from issuing debt instruments, or borrowing.  The wind subsidy of only $4 billion per year is borrowed from investors that purchase treasury bonds and other government notes.  The government pays only the interest on those bonds and notes, presently 2 percent per year.   Therefore, the true cost to the government for the wind subsidy is only 2 percent of $4 billion, or approximately $80 million.    In practical terms, the wind subsidy is almost nothing in a federal budget of $3.8 trillion.  

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

copyrignt © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved