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Creating a New Myth

November 21, 2014

It’s undeniable that wind and solar are unreliable: When the wind stops blowing and clouds cover the sun, wind and solar don’t generate electricity.

This fact has caused defenders of wind and solar, such as energybiz magazine, to create a new myth:

Coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants are also unreliable.

Here is how ebergybiz magazine describes this new myth:

“Grid operators adapted familiar techniques over the past century for managing the intermittence of big thermal power plants that are unavailable 10% to 12% of the time.”

This is a blatant attempt to distort and misrepresent the facts.

All power plants are periodically shut down for scheduled maintenance.

These are planned and scheduled, so that grid operators know in advance when to bring other plants on line to replace the power lost during periods of scheduled maintenance.

Plants aren’t shut down for maintenance on a whim, or without adequate notice to plan for replacement power.

It’s true, base load plants do trip off-line, but it’s rare, so rare in fact that it’s newsworthy when it happens.

Scheduled maintenance typically requires 6 to 10 weeks of downtime every three years or so. During these periods, repairs are made to equipment and measurements are taken to determine the extent of wear on various components, e.g., turbine buckets and blades, boiler tubes and the insulation of generators. Other work typically includes periodic bore scoping of turbine rotors, inspection of all ancillary equipment and controls and, in the case of nuclear power plants, refueling of reactors.

These downtimes are also scheduled for the spring and fall when there is less demand for electricity.

Large steam turbine and generator

Large steam turbine and generator

I have personally participated in many such planned plant shutdowns. These shutdowns help ensure reliability and help prevent failures.

Planned and scheduled shutdowns of base load power plants are a far cry from the unplanned and unexpected stoppages of wind and solar, where the wind can suddenly stop blowing, and the sun can suddenly be covered with clouds.

Baseload power plants, i.e., coal-fired, natural gas and nuclear power plants, operate 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 52 weeks per year, except during periods of scheduled maintenance.

This is unlike wind and solar, where wind won’t generate electricity on hot summer days when power is needed for air conditioning, and where solar doesn’t generate electricity at night.

Wind and solar are unreliable and require gas turbines to be kept in spinning reserve, ready to quickly replace the sudden loss of electricity from wind and solar.

This need for backup is why a new myth about coal-fired, natural gas and nuclear power plants is being created.

The myth is designed to get people to believe that wind and solar are the same as base load power plants.

As the energybiz article proclaims:

“There’s no reason to suppose renewables’ integration costs are bigger [than for base load power plants].”

Why is it necessary to create this new myth?

Because wind and solar incur extra costs, required to keep backup power plants ready to go online when the wind stops blowing and the sun stops shining.

That’s the fact, so a myth is created to beguile people into thinking otherwise.

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Fortune Magazine Bias

November 18, 2014

Nestled in the middle of an article supporting wind energy and energy efficiency is a chart showing energy intensity.

The Fortune magazine article pits clean energy vs “dirty coal” in Ohio.

Note the adjective “dirty”.

The article is an excellent example on how biased reporting can be misleading.

Here are examples of bias from this article.

  • Effect of the shale gas bonanza on manufacturing is in dispute
  • Use of renewables would grow if carbon pricing were put into effect
  • Greater energy efficiency combined with renewable power is a powerful formula
  • The benefits of alternative energy are not evenly spread across manufacturing

Here’s why these statements from Fortune magazine are biased:

  • The low-cost of natural gas has benefitted everyone, including manufacturing companies. It’s not “somewhat” in dispute, except for those who wish to spin the issue.
  • Supporting carbon pricing is a clear indicator the author supports the idea that CO2 is causing global warming?
  • Categorizing “renewables and alternative energy” as “benefits” is contradictory to the facts, since renewables and alternative energy are more costly and unreliable?

A casual reader could easily assume that industry is on the bandwagon supporting renewables, and that industry has recently adopted energy efficiency measures to cut its use of energy.

Both would be bad assumptions. Both premisses are misleading.

Generalizing from Honda’s building two symbolic wind turbines on its property is hardly reason to infer that all U.S. industry is on the bandwagon for cutting CO2 emissions.

After all, Honda is a Japanese company bound by its country’s obligations for reducing CO2 emissions. And Honda’s retired energy and operations chief still heads the energy committee of the Ohio Manufacturers Association, which explains why the manufacturers association is opposing the Ohio Bill that would reduce renewable mandates.

Energy Usage Chart from Fortune Magazine

Energy Usage Chart from Fortune Magazine

Returning to the chart in the article, where the caption says:

“A look back at 30 years of energy use by U.S. manufacturers shows a peak in the mid-1990s. Gains in efficiency are helping to keep power use down.”

However:

  • The big dip in energy usage was actually caused by two recessions, not by efforts to improve energy efficiency. Energy usage is climbing back as the economy slowly improves.
  • Energy intensity measures the entire economy, not just manufacturing. The graph covers a period where the U.S. Economy was shifting to a service economy that uses less energy.

These charts have little, if any, relationship with alternative energy sources, such as wind or solar. Or that manufacturers have reduced their use of energy by suddenly promoting energy efficiency programs.

Energy intensity includes all forms of energy, oil and gasoline, natural gas, electricity (an energy carrier), chemicals (primarily derived from oil and natural gas) and nuclear power. Not just wind and solar.

Lower gasoline usage, for example, is the result of fewer miles driven and improving mpg, and this is part of the reason for lower energy intensity.

To include these graphs in an article describing how manufacturers are suddenly conserving energy and adopting renewables is misleading at best.

Manufacturers have always been seeking ways to cut energy usage and have consistently adopted energy improvements when they were cost effective.

It’s not a new phenomena brought about by fear of global warming or a need to cut CO2 emissions.

For example, adding capacitors to power lines to eliminate wattless energy has been done for decades. It’s not something new.

Industry has used fluorescent lighting wherever possible. Industry introduced energy efficient distribution transformers with grain oriented steel back in the ‘40s. The railroad industry switched from DC to AC-locomotives in the ‘90s. Managers up and down the line have been measured on their use of electricity, natural gas, etc., monthly and yearly, constantly comparing current with prior usage.

Local power plants, now referred to as distributed energy, have always been used when it was more economic to do so, such as when steam is required for various processes. Or, with the advent of server farms, a need for uninterruptible power.

Saving energy has always been important, and isn’t something that’s new because of efforts to cut CO2 emissions.

Once again, it’s extremely important to carefully read all articles contained in the media, including articles in business magazines that are supposedly business friendly.

Bias permeates virtually all the media, and readers who are not intimately familiar with energy issues can be mislead.

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Another Clean Energy Failure

November 14, 2014

Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) power plants were supposed to be an economical method for generating electricity, while removing 90% of the CO2 from emissions.

IGCC plants gasify coal, then separate the CO2 from combustible gasses, primarily hydrogen, and then burn the combustible gasses in a gas turbine, with the exhaust heat from the gas turbine used to produce steam for use in a steam-turbine generator.

IGCC Schematic from DOE Report

IGCC Schematic from DOE Report

This schematic illustrates the complexity of an IGCC power plant.

Two IGCC plants have been built in the United States, and one is under construction.

The plant, built by Tampa Electric Company in 1996, under an agreement with the Department of Energy (DOE), was the first IGCC plant built in the United States.

The Tampa plant was about half the size of the two newer plants and cost around $4,000 per KW, adjusted for inflation.

Tampa Electric cancelled plans for a second IGCC power plant.

The IGCC plant built in Edwardsport, Indiana, by AEP, cost around $5,340 per KW.
The plant under construction in Kemper County, Mississippi was originally estimated to cost $3,780 / KW.

The Kemper plant has been plagued by cost over runs. Costs have now ballooned to around $6 billion, or roughly $10,000 / KW.

For comparison purposes, a nuclear power plant costs approximately $6,000 / KW, while a natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) plant costs around $1,100 / KW.

In addition, the Kemper project completion date has been put off again.

And Kemper is only designed to capture 65% of the CO2, not the 90% required for a so-called clean energy facility.

Kemper, an IGCC power plant, can only be described as a spectacular failure.

The failure of Kemper, and the probability that CO2 will not be sequestered underground, at least in part due to the threat of earthquakes and the possibility that sequestered CO2 can escape to the atmosphere, means that this facet of the clean energy agenda has failed in its entirety.

Only wind and solar remain, and it’s highly questionable whether they can produce more than 20% of the nation’s electricity. Germany, with only 22% of its electricity produced by wind and solar, is having difficulty maintaining its grid and the reliability of its electricity supply.

IGCC power plants are not a viable clean energy alternative. Wind and solar may also not be viable alternatives, except as niche supplies, similar to geothermal.

 

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Geothermal Revisited

November 11, 2014

Enhanced Geothermal, referred to as hot rocks geothermal, or simply hot rocks, has been studied by MIT, but abandoned in Australia and Switzerland.

Periodically, an attempt is made to resurrect hot rocks for use in generating electricity.

The McClatchy Tribune recently reported on possible hot rocks development in California.

While traditional geothermal is a viable, but very limited energy source that only accounts for 0.4% of U.S. electricity supply, it may be helpful to review how geothermal works and why hot rocks is another pipe dream backed by extreme environmentalists.

Traditional geothermal uses three methods for generating electricity.

  • The direct steam method uses high temperature steam as it emerges from the earth to drive a turbine generator. These are the most cost-effective plants, but sites with steam are rare.
  • Most conventional geothermal systems draw high-temperature brine (above 400 °F) from the earth, and injects it into a low-pressure chamber where the super-heated water flashes into steam. The steam is used to drive a turbine generator.
  • For low temperature resources, binary cycle systems are used. Moderate temperature geothermal fluid is passed through a heat exchanger, where the heat is transferred to a fluid such as iso-butane which vaporizes. The vaporized fluid then drives a turbine generator.
Binary Cycle Geothermal Plant - From Geothermal Energy Association

Binary Cycle Geothermal Plant – From Geothermal Energy Association

As the McClatchy Tribune article noted, some existing traditional installations have trouble sustaining the system because the super-heated water supply is gradually depleted. Some geothermal operators have replaced the dwindling supply of water with treated water from sewage treatment plants.

Even though traditional geothermal plants can provide electricity at a reasonable cost, traditional geothermal cannot provide large amounts of electricity because there are too few suitable geothermal resources.

This is why hot rocks is proposed as an alternative.

Theoretically, hot rocks could produce huge amounts of electricity, and a 2006 MIT report gave impetus to the idea of using hot rocks for base load power generation. The MIT report concluded hot rocks was theoretically possible.

However, actual attempts to develop hot rocks have failed.

Groups, such as Greenpeace, have touted hot rocks as a revolutionary method for generating large amounts of electricity.

Unfortunately, the concept has turned into another pipe dream.

Hot rocks entails drilling two wells to depths reaching 10,000 feet or more, where there are high temperature rock formations. Fracturing techniques are used to open fractures in the rocks between the two wells. Water is injected down one well where it is converted to steam as it travels through the fractures in the hot rocks. The steam rises to the surface through the second well and is used to drive a turbine generator.

Geodynamics Limited in Australia has attempted to develop such installations since before 2003, and have drilled wells to depths of 14,500 feet. Subsequently, the wells have been abandoned, with various excuses given for the failure of the projects to produce electricity on a sustained basis.

An effort to develop hot rocks in Basel, Switzerland was stopped in 2006, when the project caused a magnitude 3.4 earthquake.

Efforts to develop hot rocks for producing electricity will continue. The Department of Energy (DOE) is funding research into hot rocks. DOE said, “The [$31 million] FORGE initiative is a first-of-its-kind effort to accelerate development of this innovative geothermal technology that could help power our low carbon future.”

Since the United States has ample supplies of natural gas and coal for generating electricity, there is no need to pursue hot rocks, where there is a history of failure, other than to satisfy those who believe fossil fuels cause global warming.

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A Pipe Dream

November 7, 2014

Cellulosic ethanol has been a pipe dream from the very beginning.

Cellulosic ethanol started to receive media attention around 2002. Iogen, an early proponent of cellulosic ethanol, completed its first demonstration plant in 2001. Now, having found the North American market inhospitable, Iogen has shifted its focus to Brazil where it plans to build a cellulosic ethanol plant using bagasse and cane straw.

Media articles in the early 2000s described cellulosic ethanol as the breakthrough needed to allow the United States to become energy independent. Later, when global warming became a media craze, it focused on using ethanol to cut CO2 emissions.

Congress reacted to the media outcry and established mandates for ethanol, i.e., a non-advanced biofuel, and cellulosic ethanol.

Cellulosic Ethanol Requirement

Cellulosic Ethanol Requirement

Agricultural interests, as well as the global warming and “clean energy” green lobbies supported these mandates.

Lobbyists have a political strategy involving two goals when supporting any new project.

  • Spread the benefits of any program across as many states as possible
  • Develop constituencies that support the program

The purpose of the strategy was to establish:

  • A Congress where members supported the program from a majority of states
  • Constituencies that would ensure the election of candidates supporting the program

An effort was made to have ethanol plants built in as many states as possible.

As a result, ethanol plants are located in 32 states, more than enough to establish a majority in support of ethanol mandates.

Ethanol plants in United States

Ethanol plants in United States

The main constituencies supporting ethanol are farmers, including those who also invested in ethanol plants, and big city “clean energy” greens.

These constituencies and the wide dispersion of ethanol plants will make it very difficult to eliminate ethanol mandates.

However, eliminating cellulosic ethanol should be easier, especially with the 16 billion gallon mandate that obviously exceeds any potential need for cellulosic ethanol in 2022.

Cellulosic ethanol involves fewer states with cellulosic ethanol plants, and less powerful constituencies. Constituencies supporting cellulosic ethanol include a few large corporations that invest in cellulosic ethanol, and big city “clean energy” greens. Whether farmers, other than corporate farms, will object to losing payments for the stover, i.e., corn stalks, used in making cellulosic ethanol, will need to be seen.

But now is the best opportunity to eliminate cellulosic ethanol mandates.

Eliminating the remaining ethanol mandates may require more time, and involve a program to phase them out while promoting corn exports.

Farmers invested in ethanol production because of the government’s mandate, and shouldn’t be left high and dry.

Eliminating cellulosic ethanol now, and then phasing out the mandate for ethanol could resolve this issue.

There never really was a need for ethanol or cellulosic ethanol.

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Ethanol 15%

November 4, 2014

Biofuel policy has been a field of dreams, where government policy mandated the use of a product that didn’t exist.

The EPA insisted that companies obtain waivers in the form of RINs, at a cost of millions of dollars, when they couldn’t use cellulosic ethanol because it wasn’t available.

Here is how the Wall Street Journal described “The Cellulosic Ethanol Debacle”:

“Congress subsidized a product that didn’t exist, mandated its purchase though it still didn’t exist, is punishing oil companies for not buying the product that doesn’t exist, and is now doubling down on the subsidies in the hope that someday it might exist. We’d call this the march of folly, but that’s unfair to fools.”

But now, the first large new plants are coming online, when there isn’t a need for the product.

  • Poet Inc. recently produced its first cellulosic ethanol at its new $275 million plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa. Poet Inc. received an $80 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
  • Abengoa Bioenergy, has just completed its $300 million plant in Hugoton, Kan. Abengoa received a $97 million grant and a $132 million loan guarantee from DOE.
  • DuPont Cellulosic Ethanol, expects to soon complete its $200 million, 30 million-gallon-per-year plant in Nevada, Iowa. DuPont has also received grants from DOE for cellulosic ethanol.

The following chart depicts the government’s mandates for biofuels, including cellulosic ethanol, in billions of gallons.

Cellulosic Ethanol Requirement

Cellulosic Ethanol Requirement

Because of the lack of cellulosic ethanol, the EPA reduced the amount required to be used in 2013 and 2014, but still required more cellulosic ethanol to be used than would be available, which resulted in the continued use of costly RINs.

These three new plants are able to produce around 0.0000006% of the mandated 16 billion gallons required in 2022.

And, the prospects are bleak for building more new cellulosic ethanol plants, so it will probably be impossible to meet the requirement for 16 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol in 2022.

The governments insistence on producing ethanol and cellulosic ethanol was based on four faulty assumptions:

  • Ethanol and cellulosic ethanol would reduce CO2 emissions
  • Gasoline consumption would continue to increase
  • Ethanol and cellulosic were needed for energy independence
  • They would be inexpensive to produce

Gasoline consumption has been decreasing, not increasing, which exacerbates the problem, since there is now too much ethanol (i.e., non-advanced biofuel) and cellulosic ethanol.

This has producers of cellulosic ethanol competing with ethanol producers, diminishing profits for all producers.

To help solve the problem of too much ethanol and too large a mandate for cellulosic ethanol, there has been a proposal to increase the amount of ethanol used in gasoline from 10% to15%.

In fact, the EPA has authorized using E15 in cars and light trucks for model year 2001 and later.

There is a debate whether E15 can be safely used in these newer cars, but there is virtually no debate that E15 is harmful to cars made before model year 2001.
So how might the EPA perpetuate requiring the use of ethanol and cellulosic ethanol? Perhaps, by requiring E15?

The average life of cars and light trucks is around 15 years, so it’s technically possible to claim, in the next few years, that the vast majority of cars in operation would be newer models supposedly capable of using E15.

The average age of cars and light trucks in 2014 is 11.4 years. By one estimate, in any year, 74% of cars between 11 and 23 years old are scrapped.

At what point will the EPA establish that E15 is mandated for all automotive gasoline usage? Will it be in 2017? Or 2020? … Because so many pre-2001 cars have been scrapped?

All four of the reasons for mandating the use of ethanol and cellulosic ethanol have now been discredited.

  • It’s questionable whether ethanol and cellulosic ethanol reduce CO2 emissions.
  • Less gasoline is being used, so there is less need for ethanol and cellulosic ethanol
  • The United States is now producing, thanks to fracking, large amounts of oil, which, in combination with Canada, is putting the United States on the road to energy independence
  • Ethanol and cellulosic ethanol require government subsidies and government mandates to make them viable

It should also be noted that there is less energy in ethanol than in gasoline, so a gallon of ethanol won’t take you as far as a gallon of gasoline, which increases the real cost of using ethanol.

There never really was a need for ethanol or cellulosic ethanol.

Mandating the use of ethanol and cellulosic ethanol was, and still is, a bad idea.

Requiring E15 so as to use the excess ethanol is a worse idea.

The next article discusses the politics behind ethanol and cellulosic ethanol, and will search for a solution … other than E15.

Note:
RIN refers to Renewable Identification Numbers. RINs are created by the producer or importer of the renewable fuel. The EPA has developed a system called the EPA Moderated Transaction System (EMTS) to manage RIN transactions. EMTS screens RINs and provides a structured environment for conducting RIN transactions.
A pdf describing the bureaucratic RIN system is available at http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/138383/bio03.pdf

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More Hot Air

October 31, 2014

When the EIA and AWEA calculate the cost of electricity produced by wind turbines, all the additional costs embodied in the production and transmission of electricity are ignored.

Because these costs are ignored, the LCOE (Levelized Cost of Electricity) from wind is purported to be nearly as low as the LCOE from coal and natural gas power plants.

It’s misleading to the point of being dishonest.

A good example of how costs are ignored is the proposal to build huge salt caverns in which to store compressed air that can be used to generate electricity using turbines.

The proposed storage installation will produce 60 MWh of electricity.

Once again, we are being driven to adopt an uneconomic proposal, at tax payer expense, because of a misguided fear of global warming.

The proposal to build salt caverns, compressor stations, turbine generators and a ten mile transmission line will cost $1.5 billion.

This cost should be added to the cost of generating electricity from the proposed wind farm, but it isn’t.

The wind farm alone, rated at 2,100 MW, without compressed air storage, will cost at least $4.2 billion, which is twice the cost of building natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plants rated 2,100 MW.

In addition, the NGCC power plants with a capacity factor of 85%, can produce 2.5 times as much electricity as the 2,100 MW wind farm that might, in Wyoming, have a capacity factor of 34%. The average capacity factor for land based wind farms is less than 30%.

The proposed system to produce electricity from wind, convert it to compressed air, then regenerate electricity from the compressed air, also wastes energy.

First, there will be an energy loss attributed to the compressors. At best, this will be a 10% loss for the compressor, but the compressor must be driven by an electric motor or gas turbine. If electricity is used, it will reduce the available electricity from the wind farm. If natural gas is used, it will consume energy and emit CO2.

Then there will be an energy loss when the compressed air is used in the turbine generators to generate electricity for transmission on the grid. Information on the type of turbine to be used is not available, so the amount of the loss can’t be established with certainty.

Only two compressed air energy storage (CAES) installations have been built thus far, one in Germany, the other in Alabama. The McIntosh CAES facility in Alabama, that went online in 1991, also incurs an energy loss when compressing the air. The compressed air is used as the air supply for natural gas peaking turbines, improving their efficiency, but still resulting in an overall energy loss.

Huntorf, Germany, CAES plant. Photo from DOE.

Huntorf, Germany, CAES plant. Photo from DOE.

The Huntorf CAES plant in Germany became operational in 1978, and essentially operates in the same manner as the McIntosh facility.

The sole reason for CAES is to compensate for wind energy being unreliable, because wind is intermittent.

Wind turbines either have to be backed up by gas turbines that can instantly replace the loss of electricity when the wind stops blowing, or have a method for storing the electricity produced by wind farms when it isn’t needed.

Batteries, pumped storage, fly wheels and CAES are different methods for storing energy that can be used to produce electricity, when its actually needed.

All storage is expensive and would increases the LCOE of electricity from wind if the costs were added to the cost of building the wind farms.

Wind energy advocates are intent on developing and building storage facilities, because it’s generally recognized that wind, combined with solar, can’t provide more than around 20% of the electricity on the grid.

Because of this, storage is becoming a big business with government subsidies. There is also an industry group, the Energy Storage Association, based in Washington, DC, that lobbies lawmakers and other groups in support of energy storage.

California, for example, is mandating that 33% of its electricity come from unreliable renewables by 2020, and has mandated that 1,300 MW of energy storage be built before then.

You’ll note that it is defined as MW rather than MWh, which makes the issue unclear as to how much storage is actually needed to allow the grid to function reliably when more than 20% of the electricity comes from wind and solar.

No matter what the requirement, storage is very expensive. None would be required if it weren’t that the government has mandated that wind and solar must be added to the grid.

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© Power For USA, 2010 – 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author, Donn Dears, LLC, is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Power For USA with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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