Sunday, May 1, 2016

US Power Grid Transitioning

Subtitle:  Wind Energy Climbing Fast

A few things occurred recently that have already shifted the way power in the US is generated.  These are most certainly a preview of things to come.  This article explores some of the issues. 

A key point is that two things most certainly will occur over the next ten years: first, many nuclear power plants are reaching the end of their economic lives and will be shut down, probably 50 to 60 of the existing 100 reactors; and second, many of the coal-fired power plants will shut down due to inability to comply with environmental regulations, plus a lack of coal to keep running, as coal is expected to run out within 20 years in the US.   The power produced by those two categories must be replaced.  The question is, what energy source is ready, economic, and can be built within that time frame?

For a bit of perspective, 30 years ago the US power mix included the following, and the relative percentages of the total electricity provided:

US Electricity in 1986
Source     Percent

Coal           55.6
Nuclear           16.6
Hydro           11.8
Nat Gas           10.0
Oil                           5.5
Wind                    -  

Coal was the main energy source in 1986, with nuclear a distant second.    The situation has changed dramatically by 2015, 30 years later.

US Electricity in 2015
Source     Percent
Coal         33.18
Nat Gas         32.66
Nuclear         19.50
Hydro           6.14
Wind           4.70
Oil           0.70

Coal is still the main energy source, but only barely as natural gas is a very, very close second.  Nuclear has slipped to third position.  Wind has increased from almost zero in 1986 to almost the same percentage as hydroelectric.  Oil use has dropped to almost zero.  

US Electricity Generation by Resource Type -- EIA
Here is a graph of US power production since 2001, by energy source, from EIA.  The graph has a number of interesting aspects, including almost no increase in total electricity use (blue line) over the past decade.  

Notable items are the merging of the coal (brown) and natural gas (green) lines in 2015.  Also notable is the merging of the hydroelectric (purple) and wind (black) lines in 2015.  Finally, and a subject for another post, the nuclear (yellow) line is not at all constant but has substantial fluctuations.  

The output of wind energy nationwide has now grown to equal that of hydroelectric power.  The future will without a doubt see wind energy increase and surpass hydroelectric.   The
Add caption
next chart shows how wind energy production (orange line) has grown over the decades, along with hydroelectric power production (blue line).  The data is also from EIA, for the US only, and shows the growth of wind energy so that the two lines merge in 2015.   The future will almost certainly have wind energy surpassing hydroelectric, as there are no substantial increases in hydroelectric dam construction, but wind-turbines are being built at a rapid pace in many states. 

Similarly, the next chart shows the US electricity production from coal (brown line) and from natural gas (green line), with coal production declining recently as natural gas production increases to match that of
coal.   As more and more coal-powered plants are closed in the coming decades, and clean-burning natural gas power plants are built in greater numbers, natural gas-derived power will easily surpass that from coal. 

Future Energy Sources

As stated before on SLB, great changes are coming for the US electricity grid, and soon.  Environmental regulations that prohibit toxic air emissions, and a lack of long-term supply are driving the closure of coal-fired power plants.   Also, the simple passing of years is making the US nuclear plants exceed their 40-year design lives, and many are shutting down before that benchmark as they can no longer compete to produce power profitably in the market.   Being old, they would require massive capital infusions to retain the level of safety required by the NRC, but they have too few years of life remaining to recoup those costs.  In the next decade, one can expect to see dozens, perhaps 50 or 60 nuclear plants shut down in the US.    Presently, nuclear produces approximately 65,000 to 70,000  GWh/month from 100 operating reactors. 

Fortunately, the US has more than sufficient wind resources to meet the power demand, as nuclear and coal plants are retired.   Some critics assert that wind is too variable, too unreliable to meet the grid's needs, but there are several answers to that.  First, existing natural gas power plants operate at only 29 percent capacity on an annual basis, or 29 percent capacity factor (per EIA data).   On days that have less than peak loads, which typically occur only in the hottest summer months, the existing natural gas power plants can increase output.  More natural gas power plants are required, though that is but one option, to meet the demand on the hottest days.  Another option is grid-scale storage, which can be accomplished by offshore pumped storage hydroelectric (PSH), or by the new polyacetylene batteries that were announced recently.   Yet another option is to store off-peak power, no matter what produces that power, in shore-based PSH plants as the Japanese did on Okinawa Island.  That PSH plant uses the ocean as the lower reservoir, and pumps seawater up into an artificial, lined lake on higher ground near the shore.  


It must be noted that powering a grid with little coal and nuclear has already been done, with California an example, but there are others.  Presently, with only two reactors operating in California (at the Diablo Canyon plant), nuclear produces approximately 5 to 10 percent of the grid's needs.   As today for example, the California grid had a minimum demand at approximately 4:00 a.m. of 20 GW, and the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant was producing 2 GW, as it stubbornly refuses to reduce output even though demand is low.   During peak summer demand, which typically is approximately 45 GW, nuclear is a bit less than 5 percent.  Wind energy in California is modest, providing only approximately 15 percent of the grid's daily needs when the wind is strongest and demand is low, such as occurs in April weekends.  But, other states have much more wind as a percent of their overall power, with Iowa leading the nation at the moment at just over 31 percent of electricity produced by wind in 2015.  South Dakota had 25 percent, Kansas had 24 percent, and others are in double-digits.  

The future is more wind-turbines in states with sufficient wind resources (but not California, where there is much un-tapped solar in the desert).  The future is also more natural gas power plants.  The future also has far fewer nuclear and coal plants.  

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

copyrignt © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Cherry-Picking Wind Turbine Failures

Subtitle:  The Vast Majority of Wind Turbines Work Quite Well

One can only react with disappointment, and a bit of amusement, over the tactics that some people use to try to spread a false narrative.   Especially when the people, or person, involved purport to be objective and "follow the data."    One such blog is WUWT, WattsUpWithThat, which styles itself as "The World's Most Viewed Site on Global Warming and Climate Change."

I have read many articles on WUWT, and have written a few that were published there (about one dozen thus far).  At times, I have left comments and responded to the comments of others.  The blog owner, Anthony Watts, has done immeasurable good for the world, in my opinion.  He has investigated and published the incredibly sorry state of affairs with the US temperature measuring stations.  He has also helped to publicize the rather amazing feats of wrong-doing that occurred and are still occurring in the arcane world of climate science.  

However, Mr. Watts and I disagree on the subjects of renewable energy and nuclear energy.  He has told me, and has written, that nuclear is the way of the future.   That is clearly, in my view, not only not economic but not possible.  The economics are very clear, with the most recent effort at building a world-class nuclear power plant using two reactors of the EPR design and to be built in the UK at Hinkley Point.  That proposed plant is to cost US$26 billion, but the cost does not include the usual amounts for financing or interest on loans.  Instead, the French government is allowing EDF to sell shares of stock, with the government purchasing 3/4 of those shares to finance its portion of the power plant.  

 Power from Hinkley Point C is to be sold at the wholesale level for US$ 145 per MWh, or 14.5 cents per kWh.  That is far more than the price from other generators, but actually less than what a merchant nuclear plant would charge, having to add in financing costs.  If one added in financing costs over the 10 to 12 years of construction, the wholesale power price from Hinkley Point C would be 19 to 20 cents per kWh.   

The impossibility of nuclear energy powering the planet, long-term, is presented by Professor Derek Abbot in his paper published in IEEE.  Professor Abbot gives 15 excellent reasons why nuclear cannot be the energy source over the long term.  Chief among those reasons is the inability to recycle the irradiated alloy metals, and literally running out of metal to build new plants. 

But, what prompted this article is the piece on WUWT a few days ago ( see link) that showed a failed wind-turbine project at a small college in Illinois, Lake Land College.   It appears to me that WUWT has a tendency to publish only articles that highlight failures of wind energy.  With one exception, and that one is an article I wrote that was published there.  That positive article described the increase energy production from careful arrangement of vertical-axis wind turbines (VAWT) so that downwind turbines received stronger wind from those upwind.  see link to "Location location, location: Wind Turbine Power Output Increased 10x" from July 16, 2011. 

A quick search through the past 2 years of WUWT articles with the word "wind" shows zero articles in favor of wind energy, out of 50 articles.   A few of the articles had nothing to do with wind energy, but had some other context for the word.   Even excluding perhaps 10 articles on other uses for the word "wind", that leaves 40 out of 40 negative articles.  

The most recent article from a few days ago describes the short life and very low output of two tiny, 100 kW wind turbines at Lake Land College.   I left a brief comment, which is the basis for the points made below.   Excerpts from my comment are in quotes below. 

"This (WUWT) article appears to be yet again an example of confirmation bias at WUWT against any example of a renewable energy source that has a problem. We have seen featured on WUWT, just from my memory, a wind turbine that caught fire, a wind turbine being de-iced by a helicopter, a solar power tower project that actually works but is in the news for barely missing its estimated production volume, and now this on a small wind turbine that did not perform as expected." 

As mentioned just above, WUWT has a history of bringing out the examples of failure.  It is certainly cherry-picking the data to do so, though.  More on this a bit later. 

"Second, a bit of research shows that this wind project, two small turbines of 100 kW each, cost a bit above average for that size wind turbine at barely over $400,000 US for the both. What is glaringly missing from the article, and the commentary above, is that one of the wind turbines was installed with a defective rotor bearing, so of course it never performed to expectations. This fact is from another article on the college’s wind turbines, see below.

" “The 40-inch bearing is the cause of this disassembly, which is likely the result of a manufacturing error that came to light during the first months of the turbine’s operation,” explained Tillman (of Lake Land College). “We suspected this flaw was preventing the turbine from operating properly and Bora (the turbine manufacturer) confirmed our suspicions. We can now move forward to make the repair and get the turbine back in working order.” — source:  "     see link

Note that the WUWT article featured a misleading price for the turbines, citing a $2.5 million government grant, although at one point it did state that the turbines cost only 18 percent of that grant. 

"Third, the wind turbine manufacturer is Bora Energy, a very new company formed in 2010 that has only the Lake Land College project listed in its website news articles. It is very likely that the Bora company’s first project was these two wind turbines, as they were installed in 2012. It appears that Bora has a steep learning curve. Indeed, the failure of the Bora wind turbines is more of an outlier, and not the norm for the wind industry."

It also appears that these wind turbines were customized for Lake Land College, which would increase the opportunity for errors.  

"Fourth, the article mentions nothing at all about the US wind industry’s overall management of operating and maintenance costs. Readily available information from DOE shows annual average O&M costs of 0.5 to 1.0 cents US per kWh sold. However, as with most mechanical things, O&M costs increase with operating age. At 20 years, O&M for wind turbines is approximately 3 cents US per kWh. see my blog for “Wind Turbines Operations and Maintenance Costs: O&M is Key to Profitability” "   see link

And this is key to what WUWT does in regard to renewable energy.  In science, and indeed in matters affecting public policy, there is almost always a body of data to be considered.  It is bad science, resulting in bad policies, that considers only the unusual, the outliers in the data set.  For example, if 99 percent of the data leads to one conclusion, but only 1 percent to the opposite, why would policy makers focus only on that 1 percent?   In the US, we have thousands and thousands of wind-turbines operating as designed and as expected, with only a few miserable failures due to unusual circumstances.  As stated above, one of the turbines was installed with a defective rotor bearing, one of the main bearings that allows the blades to rotate around the generator housing.   Any engineer would be laughing at this point, as it is not rational to expect a wind turbine to perform with a defective bearing.   Yet, WUWT does not, to my knowledge, publish articles on the many successes of the renewable energy industry.  

Where are the articles showing that wind-turbines produced almost as much energy in 2014 in the US as did all the major hydroelectric plants?  Wind: 4.4 percent of total energy, hydroelectric, 6.3 percent. Surely it should be emphasized that wind energy receives only a very small subsidy of 2.3 cents per kWh sold - but only for the first 10 years of production - but the hydroelectric dams were built almost entirely with public funds (per DOE, 73 percent of hydroelectric power production is from government-owned dams).    

"What is indisputable is that utility-scale wind turbine projects work quite well, and the power flows when the wind blows. They have an average capacity factor of 34 percent in the US, which is actually better than all natural gas power plants at 29 percent, and barely less than the capacity factor for hydroelectric power plants at 37 percent.

"What is also indisputable is that renewable energy worldwide produced the same amount of electricity, 1520 terra-Watt-hours in 2014 as did all of the planet’s nuclear power plants in 1986 combined, the year Chernobyl exploded and spewed radioactive particles across the northern hemisphere. In that almost 30-year span, renewables grew from almost nothing to an annual production of 1520 tWh. Unlike nuclear power, though, the growth of renewables is very likely to continue at a very rapid pace."   -- (here ends the comment on WUWT)

Wind energy has quite a number of things going for it: unit costs are steadily declining and at a rapid pace.  It will be soon that wind-turbines require no more subsidies of any kind.   Examples of improvements in technology that will continue to decrease costs to build and install are taller support towers, larger unit sizes, and flexible blades that are oriented downwind of the tower.   The flexible blade concept (see link for SLB article on the Sandia National Laboratory concept) helps to reduce bearing wear and prolong turbine life.  The blade that is at the top, vertical position receives the strongest wind (usually) and has the most flexure and torque.  In contrast, the blade at 180 degrees opposite, at the bottom of the arc has the least.   With 3 blades the norm, the rotor bearing experiences unequal forces around the bearing surfaces.  However, a flexible blade would bend in the stronger wind at the top of the arc, thus reducing the forces.  

Taller support towers place the blades in wind that is typically stronger and more consistent.  This increases the turbine output, or the capacity factor.   

Larger unit sizes, as Sandia writes a 50 MW turbine, benefits from economy of scale and therefore lower costs to install.  

Next, there is the untapped resource in the US of offshore wind.  These winds are much stronger and much more consistent than onshore.  Projects are underway to produce electricity from offshore wind.  

Finally, there are major advancements in energy storage and dispatch on demand, to eliminate the difficulties of wind intermittency.   There are at least three different technologies for storing grid-scale quantities of wind-derived energy: advanced batteries, underwater pumped storage, and coast-line pumped storage.   Each has an energy loss, which is typically 20 percent.  

In conclusion, the editorial choices made at WUWT are clearly the right of the owner.  It is certain that in the areas of nuclear power, wind energy, and solar energy that those editorial choices are biased in favor of nuclear (it is hopeless), and against wind and solar (they both are enjoying rapid growth and favorable economies of scale).  

In contrast, here at Sowells Law Blog, SLB, I try to follow the valid data.  I insert the word "valid" because so much of what passes for data these days is not valid, but has been manipulated, distorted, cherry-picked, or otherwise tainted.   With my training and experience as a chemical engineer, one does not dare use tainted data, else toxic chemical plants explode with devastating consequences.  

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

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster 30 Years After

Subtitle:  No More Chernobyls - Build Wind-Turbines and Solar Power

The greatest nuclear disaster of all-time occurred 30 years ago next Tuesday, April 26.   I do not re-post my own articles, as a rule, however the article from Truth About Nuclear Power series from 2014 is posted below.  The article is about the Chernobyl explosion and nuclear fallout, describing what happened and the impacts.  

With 30 years distance, it is appropriate to review where we were then and where we are now in terms of our knowledge, our need for electricity, and the options we have.  

Then vs Now

In 1986, the world had essentially five technologies for electricity generation: coal, natural gas, nuclear via fission, oil, and hydroelectricity.   Some interesting statistics are available from EIA on electricity production world-wide: First, as much electricity from renewable sources was produced in 2014 as was produced by nuclear power in 1986, both at 1520 tWh for the respective years.  Yet, the renewable energy sources were almost zero in 1986, at 95 tWh.  

 Hydroelectric generation has almost doubled, from 1991 tWh to 3769 tWh in 2014.  Electricity from oil-burning has remained almost constant, at 1000 tWh.    Nuclear-based electricity increased by approximately 2/3, from 1518 tWh to 2417 tWh in 2014.  Electricity from coal almost tripled in the 30 years.   Electricity from natural gas increased by almost 7 times, from 750 tWh in 1986 to 4933 tWh in 2014.  

The interesting thing is to rank the electricity generation sources by relative amount of increase over almost 30 years (1986 to 2014):  

Oil                 --       0 percent increase (production remained constant)
Nuclear          --     67 percent increase
Hydroelectric  --   100 percent increase (production doubled)
Coal               --   200 percent increase (production tripled)
Natural Gas    --   600 percent increase (production increased 7-fold)
Renewables    -- 1500 percent increase (production increased 16-fold)

Options Available Today

The point of the above is that no longer are we, as the human race, constrained by electricity sources so that nuclear power must be a part of the mix.   With coal now known to becoming scarce, and mines running out of economically extract-able product within 20 years in the US and 50 years worldwide, the nations of the world must embark on a rational plan to replace the electricity production that formerly was based on coal-burning.   That is a huge task, with coal providing 39 percent of all the world's electricity in 2014. 

When one combines the task of replacing coal-fired plants with retiring and replacing the aging nuclear reactors that were built primarily 40 years ago, which is another 11 percent of world electricity, that is 50 percent, one-half, of all the world electricity production within the next 50 years.    The essential question is, what technology will replace one-half of the world's electrical power generation over the next 50 years?  

The lesson from Chernobyl is not that that particular technology was accident-prone, and will never be built again.  The lesson is that humans make errors.  Even nuclear power plant operators make errors.   The proof is not just in Chernobyl's explosion, where operators certainly made errors, but also in the massive meltdown of the Three Mile Island reactor in Pennsylvania, USA.  That meltdown was entirely due to operator error, making one bad decision after another.  Only pure, dumb luck prevented the core meltdown from rupturing the reactor pressure vessel.  

 Yet more proof exists in the triple-reactor meltdowns just 5 years ago in Japan at Fukushima Dai-Ichi.   Bad decisions at the design phase set the stage for nuclear plant operators to be unable to pump, thus circulate, cooling water to safely shut down after a predictable earthquake, and a predictable and foreseeable tsunami.  What kind of idiots put emergency generators in the basement of nuclear reactors, where flood-waters will disable them?  

Building more nuclear plants is not the solution.   In any event, it is impossible to design, obtain permits, and construct enough nuclear power plants in the 50 years.  For the US alone, replacing the coal-fired and aging nuclear power plants within 20 years requires approximately 320 new, 1,000 MWe nuclear plants.   Clearly, that is not possible given the licensing and construction requirements.  

World-wide, one can expect that constructing new coal-fired power plants will cease in a very short time-frame, most likely within 5 years.   No one will want to build a coal-fired plant that will run out of coal before the plant's effective life of 45 to 50 years is reached.  For coal reserves, see link

The best solution, then, is to continue the path already established over the past 30 years, with investing in renewable energy projects, especially wind-turbines where the wind is adequate, and solar where so much sunshine falls daily on either side of the Equator.   Intermittency issues are no longer a concern, with subsea pumped storage hydroelectric for storing either wind energy, or solar energy, for all consumers that are near the ocean.  For inland consumers, the new-generation battery storage systems recently announced in California hold great promise.   For subsea storage, see link.  For the new-generation battery, see link.   

Below is the original article on the Chernobyl disaster.  


Subtitle: Chernobyl Meltdown and Explosion

This article 20 begins five articles on what may be the most serious nuclear plant disasters and near-disasters: Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Fukushima, San Onofre, and St. Lucie.  Many 
Radiation Plume from Chernobyl
credit: BBC
others could be included, from countries around the world.  One reference lists more than 80 serious nuclear power incidents.   The US’ Nuclear Regulatory Commission lists 70 incidents in the past four years in the US alone that required the NRC to send a special investigation team to the plant, or an augmented investigation team.   The Chernobyl article begins with a brief summary or overview of the facts, taken from the NRC's "Report on the Accident at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station 1986," then commentary afterward.

Chernobyl Overview, from NRC Report, Section 4.1 (pg 124)

(quote) “The accident occurred during a test of the turbine generator system.  This test was designed to demonstrate that following a reactor trip, with the resulting loss of onsite power and isolation of the steam supply to the turbine, the rotating inertia of the turbine generator would be sufficient to generate enough electrical power to energize certain safety systems until the diesel generator system could be started and accept the electrical loads.  This test had been performed earlier at similar plants (Russian).  The specific purpose of this test was to determine if a new generator magnetic field regulator would maintain the voltage output from the generator for a longer period.

In the process of establishing the test conditions for the reactor, the operators brought the plant to an unstable operating condition.  However, for a number of reasons, the operators chose to run the test from this unstable condition.  To prevent the reactor from automatically shutting down, the operators purposely bypassed several systems important to safety.  The role of the operator in this accident is discussed in Chapter 5.

With the safety systems bypassed, the plant was in an unstable and vulnerable condition.  The most prominent parameter of this unstable condition was the positive void reactivity coefficient.  This coefficient allowed the reactivity to increase as the volume of steam increased in the core.  Other significant parameters included the low initial power level, low subcooling, low initial steam void fraction in the core, fuel burnup condition, and control system characteristics.  The design characteristics of the Chernobyl plant are detailed in Chapter 2.

The initiation of the test caused the steam volume in the core to increase.  Under the unique test conditions (for which the plant was not designed), and with the safety systems bypassed, a significant insertion [? Increase?] of reactivity resulted.  The resulting power increase produced additional steam voids which added reactivity and further increased the power.  Evaluations to date indicate the reactor was brought to a prompt critical condition.  Assessment of Soviet (and other) analyses also indicates that the energy deposition in the fuel was sufficient to melt some of the fuel.   The analyses to date suggest the following possible sequence of events.  The rapid expansion associated with melting, quickly ruptured the fuel cladding and injected fragmented and molten fuel into the coolant channel.  The interaction of the coolant with the hot fuel fragments produced steam very rapidly.  The high temperatures and rapid production of steam quickly over-pressurized the pressure tubes in the core region.   The pressure tubes then failed and over-pressured the cavity region around the graphite blocks.  Sufficient force was generated to lift the top plate off the reactor and possibly to fail the reactor building and eject core material.  This postulated sequence of events can be associated with the first “explosion” heard by operators at the plant.  A second “explosion” was reported to have occurred approximately 3 seconds after the initial one.

Various speculations on the source of this noise include a second criticality, a hydrogen detonation, or even an echo or reverberation. 

In summary, the event was caused by a combination of procedural and management deficiencies, human errors, and unique design characteristics. “  (end quote)   see link


For the non-technical readers on SLB, a brief deconstruction of the above is in order. The test was to determine if the generators had enough inertia to keep spinning and generate power, even though steam was shut off to the turbine, to keep emergency systems energized until the diesel-powered generators could be started and brought up to speed.  

The plan was to run the reactor at part-load, which would have tripped the existing safety systems into a shut-down.  The safety systems were therefore disabled.  However, the reactor load was far below the planned load.   The reactor went into a mode that had more steam bubbles than normal, which is dangerous because steam does not slow down fission products such as neutrons.  This is the "positive void reactivity coefficient" mentioned above.  Also, the operators pulled the control rods, almost all of them, out of the reactor.   The resulting power surge caused the reactor to go critical, which melted down part of the nuclear fuel and caused not only an explosion, but the graphite parts of the reactor to catch fire.   

Radiation Worldwide

The core explosion, fire, and residual heat from the burning reactor core (that lasted several days) released huge amounts of radioactive materials into the atmosphere.  The plume of airborne particles flew high above the Earth, in a westerly and northerly direction, and tripped radiation monitors in several countries as it circled the globe.   One of the first countries the plume reached was Poland on April 26 and 27, 1986.   Almost all of Europe was impacted with radiation levels many times higher than normal.  The radiation plume eventually reached almost every northern hemisphere country. 

Personally, I was working doing consulting engineering with a contract in West Germany near Dusseldorf.  I finished the initial visit by March 1 of 1986, then returned to the US to do the office work.  A second visit to Germany in July made me quite nervous, particularly in the food we ate while there.  Everyone was very upset over the radiation cloud that rained deadly particles down on the entire continent.  

From a nuclear power plant safety standpoint, the important point is that the nuclear power industry has always insisted that their power plants are safe.  Even after Chernobyl blew up, the argument was “well, that is a Russian design and nobody has any of those.  Besides, the operators went rogue and operated the plant improperly, which made it explode.  That can never happen here.”

The proper response is, “A nuclear plant can never be made fool-proof.  Fools are just too ingenious.”   As shown in part 16 of TANP, operators in western nuclear plants make plenty of mistakes, not only in design but in operation, training, maintenance, parts replacement, security measures, even mundane chores like tightening bolts to the proper torque. 

Health Issues

At Chernobyl, 28 workers died from acute radiation poisoning within 4 months of the explosion.  Many others have died since, but a direct link to Chernobyl radiation exposure is unclear.   The World Health Organization, WHO, estimates 240,000 workers were exposed to high levels of radiation while cleaning up the radioactive debris.  Another 346,000 people were evacuated and relocated away from the radioactive zone near the plant.  see link   

WHO states that greater incidence of thyroid cancer was caused by Chernobyl.   There also is almost a doubling of leukemia cases.    In addition, the radiation caused cataracts in the eyes, increased deaths from cardio-vascular disease, mental health and psychological trauma.  

UPDATE - 6/11/2014 

So much more could be written about the Chernobyl disaster.  In fact, an internet search turns up nearly 5 million websites with the term "Chernobyl."   Hundreds of books about Chernobyl have also been written.   Until the multiple-meltdowns at Fukushima, Japan in 2011, Chernobyl was the greatest nuclear disaster of all-time.  

From an institutional safety standpoint, Chernobyl refutes many of the nuclear proponents' arguments.  First, the plant was subject to regulations in its own country, the USSR.   International regulations apparently were largely ignored.  Who is to say that future nuclear power plant operators will not do something equally devastating, especially as nuclear plants are built in more and more countries?   

Nuclear apologists or proponents are fond of saying that modern plants are secure, have safety systems and backup systems, and have designs that would never allow such an event to happen again.  That is mere talk; as mentioned in the Conclusion below, it is only too easy for operators to disable safety systems or ignore warnings, and run the plant in manual mode.   What is also apparent from the NRC report linked above is the very, very rapid change from quasi-normal operation to reactor criticality, meltdown and explosion.  At Chernobyl, the change required only a few seconds.  Operators tried desperately to insert some of the control rods, but it was too late.  

It is also clear from the NRC even reports that many, if not all nuclear plants in the US run some of their systems in manual mode at times.  Nothing can be made to run forever, as parts degrade and fail and must be replaced or repaired.  A control system normally has an automatic mode and a manual mode, and only well-trained operators should be allowed to run the systems in manual mode.  

What is also apparent from Chernobyl is the industry did not speak out in a timely manner about what happened and the risk to other countries from the radioactive cloud that was headed their way.  It is true that the operators in the plant had more things on their mind right about then, if they were still alive after the explosion.   However, it was radiation detectors in other countries that first gave the alarm internationally.   The extent and magnitude of the event was not known for days.  The psychological impact on billions of people was not small.   What of the parents of small children, who needed to drink milk?  What worries did couples have about future children?  What worries did other people have about radiation sickness, or long-term illnesses such as thyroid cancer and other cancers?    

The next two articles in TANP discuss two more disasters involving core meltdowns: Three Mile Island and Fukushima.  In both instances, like at Chernobyl, a combination of bad design and human error caused major disaster.  Fukushima was a bit more complex because a natural disaster, and earthquake with tsunami initiated the events.  

-- end update


Nuclear power advocates insist that the plants are safe, that modern designs cannot have catastrophic meltdowns.  However, it is clear that human error can easily defeat the best designs, and natural events can overwhelm even the best operators.  Chernobyl operated quite safely until human plans and human errors created the enormous disaster that affected millions of people around the world.

--------------- End of 2014 article on Chernobyl ---------------

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

Wind Turbines Operations and Maintenance Costs

Subtitle: O&M Is Key To Profitability 

Operations and maintenance costs, O&M, are one of the major concerns of those who own and operate wind-turbine energy projects, along with wind speed and duration.   The chart below from US Dept of Energy shows actual O&M costs for dozens of wind projects, by year of initial operation.  (Source: US DOE 2014 Wind Technologies Market Report, Riser and Bolinger)

O&M Trend Line and Typical Revenue -- added by Sowell
With project revenues comprised of two parts, a Power Purchase Agreement, PPA, of typically 30 $/MWh, and Production Tax Credits, PTC, of 23 $/MWh, total revenue is as shown in the red line as 53 $/MWh.  PTC exist only for 10 years from initial operation, therefore revenues before 2005 would be only 30 $/MWh.   As can be seen from the black trend line, O&M costs increase with age so that at year 1995, which is 20 years from 2015, O&M costs essentially the same as revenue.  In other words, there is no longer any incentive to operate the average wind-turbine project.  

However, for projects that signed PPAs with higher values, such as the period from 2005 through 2010 where 45 to 51 $/MWh were typical, the projects will likely operate profitably up to and perhaps beyond the 20 year mark.  

There is typically much moaning and hand-wringing by the anti-wind crowd because they complain that wind-turbines are not turning whenever they happen to drive by.  One must ask if the wind-turbines in question are older than 20 years; if so, they are likely not turning because the costs to repair and operate exceed the project revenue.  

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

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Subsidies for Wind vs Nuclear Power Plants

Subtitle: Wind-Turbine Projects Thriving Despite Only One Subsidy - Nuclear Dead With Six

Much is written about subsidies for renewable energy systems in the US, in particular for wind-turbine systems and solar power systems.  One blog, WUWT, recently ran a cartoon that is supposed to highlight the subsidies that are bestowed upon wind-turbines.  The
Wind Turbines in US
cartoon shows an angry, broken wind-turbine with smoke rising from the nacelle, red stains on the blades, and a dead bird near the tower's base.  There are also what appear to be two bags of cash near the tower's base, with the cash blowing in the wind.    The little broken turbine is given a name, "Subsidy Sam."  

The reality of wind-turbines is shown in the photo at right, clean, bird-free, and silently producing power. 

What is indisputable is that wind-turbines presently have a very small subsidy from government to encourage their construction and operation.  The subsidy exists as a choice between a one-time rebate of 30 percent of the installed cost, and a production tax credit of 1.5 cents per kWh sold that is adjusted for inflation.  Most plant owners elect the production tax credit.  

However, what is conveniently overlooked by the anti-wind crowd is that nuclear power plants, their favorite form of power generation, has far more, and far more costly forms of government subsidies.  The chart below illustrates the many forms of subsidy that the two forms of power generation presently have. 

For US Plants, as of 2016
Even with all the subsidies for nuclear plants, only four reactors are presently under construction in the US, two each at Vogtle and at Sumner.   Meanwhile, thousands of wind-turbines have been installed in recent years, with more thousands on the way.  In 2015 alone, 8,000 MW of wind-turbine power was installed in the US.   The nuclear plants under construction will be lucky indeed if they are started up within the next decade.  Within that decade, it is probable that another 80,000 to 100,000 MW of wind-turbines will be installed. 

For more details on the multiple subsidies enjoyed by nuclear power plants in the US, see this link to an SLB article, "US Nuclear Plants are Heavily Subsidized."

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

copyrignt © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved

Thin-Film Solar PV - First Solar Inc Thriving

Subtitle: High Efficiency and Low Cost Yields Profits

For some time, it appeared that the Chinese move into silicon PV production would ruin any chances of companies in other countries having an ability to compete in the solar electricity market.  Among those almost-casualties is First Solar Inc., which was founded in 1999 and is headquartered in Tempe, Arizona.  (FSLR traded on NASDAQ)  The Company has approximately 100 million shares of stock outstanding valued at $61.54 at close of trading 4/22/2016.
Graphic by NREL, showing typical layers of a CdTe cell
 (note: no investment advice is intended, nor is any to be construed from the above publicly-available information.   Stocks are risky investments, and may go down in price as well as go up.  FSLR had an all-time high of $291 per share in 2008, and all-time low of $12.56 in 2012.)

A recent article in Chenected by AIChE describes the company and its thin-film technology for PV. see link  "Last month, the Tempe, Arizona-based company (First Solar) announced it had set a new record in its research lab for cadmium-telluride cell efficiency, at 22.1 percent."   Cadmium-telluride cells are thin-film (see link to NREL pdf, and photo at right)

Also, "First Solar just became the first thin film manufacturer to ship 1 GW of solar PV to India. Importantly, unlike many of its competitors, First Solar is also profitable, making $546 million in profit last year on $3.6 billion in revenue."
From WorldAtlas, light area in center shows Tropical Zone

Solar by thin-film technology aims to capture the solar market by out-performing the silicon-based PV wafers that have a higher efficiency but much higher cost.   Where land is abundant, and sunny, the appeal of thin-film PV is great.  For much of the world that has such a combination of little or zero electricity presently, abundant land, and adequate sunshine, thin-film PV is attractive.  This includes almost all of Africa, a large part of Brazil, almost all of the Middle East, India, Pakistan, southern China, southeast Asia, Indonesia, and northern Australia.   These areas all lie within the Tropics Zone north and south of the Equator. 

With affordable, battery-based electricity technology soon to be available from BioSolar and their modified polyacetylene battery, the solar PV systems can bring effective electricity round-the-clock to areas in need of electricity.  see link to "This Battery Is A Game-Changer."

More on CdTe cell technology, from NREL:  "CdTe-based thin-film solar cell modules currently represent one of the fastest-growing segments of commercial module production. This is due partly to the simplicity of the two-component absorber layer (i.e., CdTe contains only cadmium and tellurium) and the ability of bulk cadmium telluride source material (in the form of high-purity powders) to be reconstructed into the CdTe thin films needed to produce PV modules. During the 20+ years of research undertaken by the CdTe Group, much effort has been directed at producing CdTe structures that allow more light to penetrate the top layers of the device (the transparent conducting contacts and cadmium sulfide [CdS] layers) to achieve high efficiency. This understanding has been transferred to commercial processes for use in producing higher-performance modules."

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

Earthday 2016 - A Better Planet

Earthday, 2016.  A few observations on the US in 2016, compared to the first Earthday in 1970.   I started engineering classes at university in 1972, and was required to read Limits to Growth, the fatalistic, gloomy book by the Club of Rome that predicted nothing but terrible starvation, riots, wars, and choking pollution for mankind.   This article takes a look back at a few things that actually occurred in the 46 years since 1970 and the first Earthday.   Limits to Growth got everything wrong. 

Life expectancy is longer, 70.8 years in 1970 versus 78 years today.  Infant mortality is lower, murder rate per capita is lower, obesity is now a problem because food is cheap and in excess, pollution is far less, and most important, we survived the "new ice age" scare of the brutally cold winters of 1977, 78, and 79.  

We know now that nuclear power is unsafe and too expensive, after witnessing 5 reactors in 3 countries blow up or meltdown, releasing dangerous amounts of radioactivity worldwide.  Now, we have figured out reliable and low-cost wind turbines and solar PV plants to make economic, grid-scale electricity. Coal is running out, with 20 years remaining in the US and only 50 years worldwide, so we must rapidly transition 35 percent of our power production from coal to renewables. We now have cheap and dependable grid-scale energy storage.  

Oil is still cheap, and more than abundant -- $40 today is roughly $6 or $7 in 1970 -- and cars get much better gas mileage today, with 13 mpg in 1970 but 33 mpg in 2015. Gasoline cost at the pump was $0.36 per gallon in 1970, and after inflation, is about the same at $2.50 per gallon today.  Pollution per car is far less, after the oil refining industry developed improved gasolines and car makers were required to install catalytic converters.   Traffic fatalities are far fewer today, with 52,000 deaths in 1970 compared to 32,000 in 2013, yet there are far more vehicles with more miles traveled today.   The fatalities per million miles driven has fallen from 5.2 to 1.1 (per  NHTSA’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis).  

Natural gas is also cheap and more than abundant.  In 1970, natural gas was $0.59 per million Btu, the equivalent today of $3.60.   However, today's natural gas is much cheaper in inflation-adjusted terms, about half at $1.80 per million Btu.  

We have an entire industry devoted to recycling waste materials, including glass, aluminum, other metals, plastics, and paper.  Environmental laws and enforcement resulted in much cleaner air, waterways, and far less trash on public roadsides.  No-smoking laws now exist and are enforced in many states, with a complete ban on smoking in workplaces, restaurants, bars, and many public venues such as sports stadiums. 

It's a much better world in a lot of ways, with personal computers, smart phones, cellular telephone service, the Internet, and Amazon delivers. 

Happy Earth Day.

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

copyrignt © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved