Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Gone With The Wind - Nuclear Bye Bye

On, I had an interesting exchange over windturbines and the energy from them.  Most commenters were snarky, hostile, or condescending, but one, dbstealey, was as always very courteous.  I gave him a considered and thoughtful reply, reproduced below and posted here. 
Reply to dbstealey at 1:50 pm. 
Good evening, dbstealey.   I want to thank you for your kindness to me over the years that I have visited WUWT, especially in my earliest days several years ago.  You had a different handle then.  I appreciate your question above, and will try to give a thorough answer. 
You asked, “Would wind power even exist in commercial amounts if not for massive subsidies?” 
The short answer is, probably not.  But that is not a complete answer.  The answer must also ask, would nuclear power exist if not for massive subsidies?  Of course not.  Would General Motors?  Would Chrysler?  Would various other business entities exist if the government had not provided support in the form of subsidies, tax credits, bail-outs, low-interest loans and grants?  How many mortgage lending institutions received federal bail-out funds?
The question of government subsidies is one of encouraging an activity that the government deems to have, or be, a public good.  As just one example, home owners can deduct a portion of their mortgage payment and thereby pay less in taxes.  This, in theory, encourages home ownership rather than renting.   The simple fact is, the federal government and many states have decided that wind energy is an activity that has a social value, a public good.  Therefore, there are subsidies for wind energy projects typically amounting to a small percentage of the total investment, perhaps 30 percent.  There are also requirements that the utility purchase the power, among other requirements that I won’t list in detail here. 
Now, to consider the benefits of wind energy, and then the negative effects.  First, the benefits.  I want to preface this by saying that my considered opinion, based on my education, industrial experience, research, studies, feedback from live audiences in speeches, feedback from comments on my blogs (I have two blogs), and animated discussions with my friends and colleagues, is that commercial nuclear power plants are a net negative and should all be shut down as soon as possible.   Anything that advances that goal, without creating more harm, must therefore be supported.  Wind energy, especially land-based wind energy, advances the goal of shutting down nuclear power plants.  I will explain.
Because land-based wind blows primarily at night, during off-peak hours, utilities have an excess of power and usually reduce the price of off-peak power.  The lower power price is intended to attract more users.  Those who purchase off-peak power have a substantial benefit from the lower prices.  A side benefit, as I wrote above in a comment, is that some nuclear power plants cannot compete economically with the low off-peak power prices.   Older nuclear plants must invest in expensive replacement equipment such as steam generators.  That investment must have a revenue stream to provide a payout.  Low prices at night reduce the revenue stream to the nuclear plant and prevent the project from having an acceptable payout period.  Such uncompetitive nuclear plants are either already shut down or the operators have announced their imminent shutdown.  This alone is a reason to rejoice, and to support more land-based wind power.
Besides making nuclear power uneconomic, wind energy reduces consumption of fossil fuels – despite the futile arguments of the low-information commenters above.  Engineering facts trump religious-style belief, every time.  As an engineer who has practiced for more than 20 years world-wide in some truly dangerous process plants including oil refineries, petrochemical plants, natural gas plants, chlorine plants, hydrogen plants, and others, I have seen the results of sloppy reasoning, bad data, and actions based on belief rather than hard facts.  The results are usually an explosion and one or more human deaths.   I have no patience for those who refuse to critically examine the data, the data collection processes, any adjustments that are made to the data, the calculations made upon the data, and the conclusions drawn from the above analyses.   In my field, we get it right or people die.   It is just that simple. 
Reference was made earlier by the bleating sheep that Germany’s experience is that wind energy increases CO2 emissions.  I expect that was a very badly conducted study, as engineering logic proves otherwise.   I gave counter-references that show the opposite, both from NREL and Iowa.  It doesn’t really matter that the bleating sheep show their religious-style, bitterly clinging to their beliefs in the face of sound engineering reason.
The benefits of reduced fossil fuel consumption have nothing to do with reducing CO2 emissions.  It has everything to do with reduced costs to run a utility grid – if one does not burn the fuel, one does not have to purchase that fuel.  The savings should be passed along to the customers, if the utility regulatory agency is performing its job.   Reduced fossil fuel consumption also reduces toxic air pollutants, sulfur oxides (SOx) and nitrogen oxides (NOx).   It may also reduce emissions of particulate matter if coal-fired plants are part of the utility generating plant.  Reductions in toxic air pollutants is certainly a desirable goal. 
A further benefit of wind energy, especially land-based, is the eventual migration of people away from cities and into the plains states where wind energy is closer to home.  I won’t go into detail on the multitude of problems that arise from crowded urban life, and the equal multitude of benefits from small-town life.   However, to briefly illustrate, the exploitation of Niagara Falls and the hydroelectric power from that natural setting led to manufacturing locating nearby to take advantage of the abundant and cheap power.   As more and more wind energy systems are established across the middle of America, more and more businesses and industries will move to the power.   
A final benefit of wind energy is that conventional power plants require less cooling water as they consume less fuel.  Water is a precious commodity, and everything that can be done to reduce water consumption is a benefit.  Enough on the benefits.
The negative effects of wind energy are usually listed as too expensive, too unsightly (meaning somebody thinks they are ugly), deadly to flying creatures, too noisy, they are dangerous due to blades breaking apart, and of course, too unreliable.   In order, then, starting with too expensive.  The installed costs per MW have been steadily declining for years, and are expected to continue that decline as research is applied and better designs are proven.   A reference for those who want to verify the cost trends can be found in the California Energy Commission’s Comparative Costs of Central Station Electricity Generation, January 2010, Figure 3.   Onshore wind, as they call it, costs just under $2000 per kW in 2010 and is expected to decline 40 percent over the next 20 years, to about $1200 per kW.  In contrast, a Westinghouse AP-1000 nuclear power plant, single-reactor, costs $4000 per kW but is expected to rapidly increase to almost double to $7300 per kW in 20 years.  All those are in constant, uninflated 2009 dollars.   Of course, the nuclear plant costs are low-balled, as nobody in the US can build a nuclear plant for less than $8,000 per kW installed.  One suspects the CEC numbers are overnight costs only for the nuclear plant. 
The crucial point from the CEC study is that onshore wind’s levelized cost ranges between 6.5 and 8 cents per kWh, depending on wind speed and financing mechanism. Nothing else in the CEC’s entire list of generating alternatives comes close to those costs, excepting only geothermal and large hydroelectric plant upgrades.   Note that the wind levelized costs account for existing subsidies. One can add about 2 cents per kWh to obtain an un-subsidized levelized cost.    
Next, too unsightly (meaning somebody thinks they are ugly).  Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder.  I have seen many wind turbines in my life, and have yet to see an ugly one.  I also talk with people who enjoy the benefit of low-cost off-peak power, and they agree that wind turbines are beautiful. 
Next, deadly to flying creatures.  Flying creature deaths are a problem, but the problem is reduced by the use of monopole supports.  One wonders why the outcry over wind turbines but no similar outrage over electric power lines and equipment and the deaths they cause each year, not only to birds but to squirrels, and snakes.  I suppose that squirrels and snakes just don’t count for much in the minds of outraged wind-turbine haters.
Next, too noisy.  Noise is an interesting concept, and a great reason for the wind turbine haters to pounce.  I suppose that airport noise is not a problem for them.  Nor is the noise from close proximity to railroad tracks as trains pass.  Nor the noise from factories, especially when steam escapes.  The faux outrage is amusing, actually, especially when one considers that ordinances generally preclude locating the wind turbines anywhere close to people.  Certainly commuter trains and airports are far noisier to far more people. 
Next, the danger due to blades breaking apart.  No doubt, sometimes a turbine blade breaks.  I have not really followed this closely, but it seems doubtful that many people have been injured or killed by the flying blade.  Certainly, more people were killed by nuclear power plant disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima, than by the more than 40 years of wind turbine operation.
And finally, wind turbines are claimed to be too unreliable.  I first entered this thread with an account of proven energy storage that overcomes the unreliability issue.  The bleating sheep would have none of it, which is fine as it shows their ignorance.   Wind has always been known to be unreliable.  In some areas, it is far more constant and blows more strongly than in others.  Offshore the US north-east coast, and the US west coast have excellent wind, as I wrote above.  I personally have experienced strong and steady wind for many hours, days even, on the shore of Padre Island at Corpus Christi, Texas.  The wind is so steady that hang-gliders launch, then hover above the beach in a group, perhaps 50 to 100 feet up, carrying on conversations with those below.
On balance, then, wind energy is a fabulous means of providing electricity with zero pollution, it reduces fossil fuel use, and can be made reliable with appropriate storage.  The chief benefit at this time is it runs nuclear power plants out of business, causing them to be permanently shut down.  It also gives pause to those who would build a new nuclear power plant.    
Next, you wrote “Promoting wind power smacks of a belief that CO2 is bad. But CO2 is not bad. CO2 is not “pollution”. CO2 is good at current and projected concentrations, and more is better. Based on mountains of real world evidence, I believe that. Do you?”

I could not agree more that CO2 is not pollution, that CO2 is good at current and projected atmospheric concentrations, and more is probably better up to a point.  There are, for example, concerns over breathing impacts at elevated levels of 10,000 ppm.   I am on record in speeches and my blog, as against CO2-control measures such as California’s AB32, federal congressional efforts to curb CO2, and the EPA’s move to regulate CO2 and shut down coal-fired power plants.  I have detailed my views on my blog, where one of my posts was translated into German and posted on a German climate skeptic site.  If anyone cares to look, see “From Man-Made Global Warmist to Skeptic,My Journey”, (this was translated and posted into German), also “Warmists areWrong, Cooling is Coming”, and many other posts.  

The key to me is that the warmists violated the first rule of science and engineering when they began adjusting the temperature data.  One does not adjust data except in highly unusual and rare situations.  Outliers in a data set must be discarded, not adjusted to fit a pre-conceived value.  A far better approach would have been to use only pristine locations for temperature measurements.  That the scientists did not do this is obvious, and laughable to all practicing engineers.   

Next, you wrote “A warmer planet is also good. The fact is that the climate alarmist crowd has been wrong about everything. Every major prediction they have made has turned out to be flat wrong, from global warming, to ocean ‘acidification’, to disappearing ice caps, to sea level rise, and many, many other failed predictions.”

I agree.  In my blog post on Warmists are Wrong, I discussed many of those failed predictions, including no unusual sea level rise, no decreased polar ice, no increase in hurricanes, no rise in average global temperature, and no atmospheric hot spot.  I was pressed for time in that speech so I didn’t include other failures.   

Last, you wrote “When someone is wrong about everything, the question must be asked: “When will you admit that your original premise, and your subsequent beliefs, must be radically altered? Or, is being totally wrong now a good thing?”” 

Again, I agree.  That is a good paraphrase of the question I pose to the warmists. 

Let me conclude in this way.  In my considered, engineering-based opinion, nuclear power is a danger and a threat to the economic well-being of electricity consumers.  I have a special place in my heart for the poor, the elderly, those on fixed incomes, and those who barely scrape by month to month or even week to week. High electricity prices causes those vulnerable groups to choose between food, rent, and paying the electric bill.  That is simply wrong, in my view.  Nuclear power increases electricity prices by outrageous amounts, as I witnessed only too personally in the 1970s along the US gulf coast.  It is simply wrong to run them, or to build them, when there are so many better, cheaper, and less deadly alternatives available.  Today, the power plant of choice is a combined cycle natural gas-fired gas turbine plant, with low construction costs, high thermal efficiency of approximately 60 percent, low operating costs with low-cost natural gas at around $4 per million Btu, and very low water consumption for cooling. 

Since wind energy also forces nuclear power plants out of business, that alone justifies the subsidies. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq., BS Chemical Engineering, University of Texas at Austin.  

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