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Some Stories Transcend Time

March 25, 2014

It’s only rarely that you find a story that transcends time, in this case over a half century, and yet is still relevant today.

Such a story was published in this month’s edition of USNI Proceedings1.

The story begins by describing how hundreds of small parachutes, made from handkerchiefs, started falling from the ceiling of the Mormon Tabernacle, into the congregation below, while a 90-year old former pilot, “Hal” Halvorsen, stood on the stage before a standing ovation, where many in the audience had tear-streaked faces

“Hal” Halvorsen had been a pilot during the Berlin Airlift. On an early flight into Tempelhof Airport, “Hal” taxied the plane to where it could be unloaded, and then decided to walk over to the fence surrounding the airfield while the ground crew did its work.

At the fence, he saw German children staring through the chain-link fence at the planes and their cargoes of coal, food and medicine.

It was then “Hal” realized he could do more, a lot more to help raise the spirits of the children of West Berlin.

Germans watching airlift

Germans watching airlift

The Russians had blockaded West Berlin by cutting off all land routes, roads and rail, into the city. Only the air route remained open, and it was by this route that West Berlin, “an island of freedom in a great sea of communist misery”, was supplied with coal, food and medicine for nearly an entire year.

On his next flight into Tempelhof, “Hal” and his crew took the action “Hal” had decided upon at the chain-linked fence where he had given some candy to German children while talking with them.

His actions became widely known among other aircrews, and it wasn’t long before many other pilots and aircrews followed in “Hal’s” footsteps, throwing handmade parachutes with candy bars attached, from their planes as they approached Tempelhof.

Please read Uncle Wiggly Wings for the entire, heart warming story.

The Berlin Airlift started in June 1948, and ended in May 1949. It had been hugely successful and saved West Berlin from Russian aggression.

A strong President Harry Truman, risked a shooting war by standing up to Russian aggression when the United States had largely demobilized after WWII.

It was a gutsy call that rings true today as we again confront Russian aggression in the Ukraine.

 

  1. Uncle Wiggly Wings, by Lt Commander, Thomas J Cutler, USN, (retired).

 

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Lipstick on a Pig

March 21, 2014

Radical environmentalists, and even the coal industry, have been promoting the building of Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) power plants.

The coal industry has supported IGCC power plants because they can capture CO2 for sequestration underground, while allowing the use of coal.

Three such plants have been built in the United Sates, but mostly without the ability to capture CO2.

The cost of these plants is nearly the same as a new nuclear power plant, or around $5,500 per KW. This compares with $1,100 for a natural gas power plant.

Tampa Electric (TECO), for example, cancelled plans to build a second IGCC power plant because of its cost.

In addition, Carbon Capture and Sequestration, is rapidly becoming a lost cause for radical environmentalists. This is because of the cost of capturing CO2, and of doubts about whether CO2 can be locked, i.e., sequestered, underground, without leaking into the atmosphere, for centuries to come.

The high cost of IGCC plants, and the possibility that sequestration is a pipe dream, has led to a new proposal: “Polygeneration” power plants.

Power Magazine did a spread on “Polygeneration” power plants, extolling their potential virtues, but also outlining some of the problems of such a plant.

What are “Polygeneration” power plants?

They are IGCC power plants that also produce a product, such as chemicals by using the CO2 captured from the gasification process.

These plants would be more akin to an oil refinery than a power plant.

They would also cost a great deal more than the basic IGCC power plant.

As in a basic IGCC plant, the coal is gasified, becoming what’s termed syngas, where some of the gas, that is mostly hydrogen, is used to power a gas turbine, and where the CO2 is diverted to an adjacent chemical plant for producing fertilizers, methanol or other liquid and chemical products. The CO2 could also be used for enhanced oil recovery.

Schematic of Polygenration plant from DOE

Schematic of Polygenration plant from DOE

 

Theoretically, the products produced by the chemical plant from the CO2 feedstock, combined with the sale of electricity, would be sufficiently profitable to result in a satisfactory rate-of-return for the “Polygeneration” plant.

This type of plant hasn’t yet been built, but it’s being promoted as an alternative to traditional coal-fired power plants.

The EPA has essentially killed traditional, or even the most efficient ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plants, by establishing a rule that power plants can’t emit more than 1,100 pounds of CO2 per MW Hour.

With carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) becoming less and less likely, the radical environmentalists needed a new alternative for coal that would mask the devastating effect of the EPA’s war on coal.

The “Polygeneration” alternative holds out the promise that coal can still be part of the energy equation, which is politically pleasing … even though completely unrealistic.

It’s a basic engineering rule, as well as common sense, that complexity leads to less reliability and higher cost. An IGCC power plant is far more complex than a coal-fired power plant, and this proposal to attach a chemical plant to the IGCC power plant,  adds even greater complexity.

“Polygeneration” puts lipstick on the IGCC pig.

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Electric Vehicle Update

March 18, 2014

BEV, PHEV and plain HEV sales, in 2013, are shown here.

US Sales of Electric Vehicles, Including HEVs

 
Month

Hybrid (HEVs)

PHEVs & Extended Range Vehicles

Battery (BEVs)

Totals

January

34,611

2,354

2,022

38,987

February

40,173

2,789

2,616

45,578

March

46,327

3,079

4,553

53,959

April

42,804

2,735

4,403

49,942

May

48,796

3,209

4,545

56,550

June

44,924

4,169

4,573

53,666

July

45,494

3,499

3,943

52,936

August

53,020

6,407

4,956

64,383

September

33,576

4,477

3,650

41,703

October

33,565

6,367

3,733

43,625

November

36,085

4,903

3,930

44,918

December

36,155

5,020

4,770

49,945

Totals

495,530

49,008

47,694

592,232

Combined sales for PHEVs and BEVs in 2013, were 96,702 vehicles.

This compares with 2012 vehicle sales of 38,584 for PHEVs and 14,251for BEVs, or a total of 52,835 vehicles.

Therefore, in 2013: PHEV sales increased by 27%, while BEV sales increased a very respectable 235%.

It should be noted that Tesla accounted for approximately 18,000 of the 47,694 BEV sales in 2013.

Volt and Leaf pictures from DOE

Volt and Leaf pictures from DOE

While this growth would seem to reflect a positive scenario, the total number of PHEV and BEV vehicles is trivial, compared with the sale of all other vehicles, as well as the original projections of 1 million vehicles.

For reference, sales in 2011, essentially the first year for PHEV and BEV sales, were 7,671 PHEVs and 10,064 BEVs.

For the period 2011 thru 2013, PHEV sales were 95,263 vehicles, while BEV sales were 72,009 vehicles.

Total PHEV and BEV sales combined; for 2011 thru 2013, were only 167,272 vehicles.

This compares with Obama’s 2011 call for 1,000,000 EVs on the road by 2015. It’s also a very paltry payback for the $5 billion the government has spent pushing electric vehicles.

This brings us to an important distinction between HEVs, i.e., hybrids, and plug-in vehicles, because some news media and environmental groups are trying to restate Obama’s goal by including HEVs. With HEVs, total sales already exceed 1,000,000 vehicles.

An important distinction between HEVs and plug-in vehicles is that only Plug-in vehicles can travel extended distances on battery power. For example, HEVs can only travel around 2 miles on battery power.

Another distinction is that HEVs don’t use grid power.

Only PHEVs and BEVs use grid power to recharge their batteries.

Trying to include HEVs merely distorts whether PHEVs and BEVs are having a significant impact on pollution and CO2 emissions.

It also distorts the reality of paltry PHEV and BEV sales.

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End of Civilization as We Know It Part 2

March 14, 2014

While a terrorist attack on the grid or a Carrington Event would cause devastation, the ultimate effect would vary because of how the grid is organized, together with the extent of damage caused by the attack or event.

The grid itself is divided into three separate grids. There are the Western, Eastern and Texas Interconnections, isolated from each other.

Picture Courtesy of Nature

Picture Courtesy of Nature

 

Within the Eastern Interconnection and, to some extent the Western Interconnection, there are opportunities for isolating regions within each grid. The shades of grey provide a rough depiction of where regions of the Eastern Interconnection can be isolated from the others.

It should be noted that the regions extend into Canada.

It should also be noted that Europe and China have grids of varying degrees of sophistication and complexity.

A terrorist attack in the West could take down all of the Western Interconnection, but would not affect the Eastern or Texas Interconnections.

Since the greatest population is in the East, it should be expected that a terrorist attack would occur somewhere within the Eastern Connection. How the attack is executed would determine the extent of grid failure and whether the failure could be isolated within one or more regions.

A team, as small as six terrorists, could shut down much of the eastern grid.

A Carrington Event, however, would affect the grid differently, and much more profoundly.

It’s expected that a solar storm, equivalent to the Carrington Event, would destroy transformers in the northern half of the United States, including those supplying Canada’s largest cities.

It would also destroy transformers in Europe, and probably China and Japan. It would be, essentially, a worldwide event.

It will probably be possible to isolate the northern portions of the failed grid from the southern areas where transformers were not affected. This assumes that power generation equipment wasn’t harmed by the sudden collapse of the grid.

Isolating and restoring power to the southern portions of the United States might take a few weeks, while the northern cities would remain without power for a year or more.

Whether the government could prevent social collapse, including in the southern states, is problematic. How, for example, would the government either support, with food and water, 200 million people living in northern cities, or provide for their peaceful movement to southern states.

Some articles, such as in the Wall Street Journal, make comments about how transformers could be built overseas for the United States, but a Carrington Event would destroy the grids in Europe and Asia, so their factories would be building transformers for their use, and not for the United States.

The United States would have to rely on its resources, of which there are very few, perhaps four of five factories that could build large, extra high voltage power transformers.

Some say people should install generators, but natural gas for powering those generators won’t be available, since natural gas pipelines often rely on electricity to power compressors. Gasoline and diesel fuel also will be unavailable.

While a terrorist attack could be devastating, and might result in the destruction of the United States, a Carrington Event, or EMP from a high level nuclear explosion, would be more likely to end the United States as we know it.

H.R. 2417, 113th Congress, provides the process for identifying how to protect the grid from the effects of terrorist attack, as well as a Carrington Event or EMP.

A summary of H.R. 2417 states:

“Secure High-voltage Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage Act or SHIELD Act – Amends the Federal Power Act to authorize the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), with or without notice, hearing, or report, to order emergency measures to protect the reliability of either the bulk-power system or the defense critical electric infrastructure whenever the President issues a written directive or determination identifying an imminent grid security threat.”

And:

“Directs FERC also to order the ERO to submit reliability standards to: (1) protect the bulk-power system from a reasonably foreseeable geomagnetic storm event or electromagnetic pulse event (EMP); and (2) require entities that own or operate large transformers to ensure their adequate availability to restore promptly the reliable operation of the bulk-power system in the event of destruction or disability as a result of attack or a geomagnetic storm or EMP.”

H.R.2417 should be non-partisan, and Congress should act. Too much is at stake. A Carrington Event can happen at any time during any 11 year sun spot cycle. The outcome of such an event is well understood.

FERC issued new rules this past Friday, February 7, requiring utilizes to provide physical protection for “locations which, if badly damaged, could produce cascading blackouts or other widespread problems.”

FERC also asked the North American Electric Reliability Corp. to identify threats and establish physical protection standards.

These initiatives by FERC are a beginning, but lack some of the requirements of H.R. 2417, such as  requiring spare EHV transformers, and equally important, standards that would protect the grid from a Carrington Event or EMP.

H.R. 2417 is required to ensure the safety of the grid.

Protecting the 300 or so extra high voltage transformers, or having spares readily available, could make the difference between survival and annihilation.

 

 

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Perverted Logic

March 11, 2014

A recent Carnegie Mellon study concluded that making terrible investments is better than making merely bad investments.

This wasn’t exactly what the study had in mind, but it’s the only logical conclusion that can be drawn from the study.

We are truly living in George Orwell’s age of double speak.

Diagram of Social Classes Depicted in George Orwell’s Book, 1984

Diagram of Social Classes Depicted in George Orwell’s Book, 1984

Quoting from an article in the Pittsburgh Tribune, “The Carnegie Mellon University study concluded that in order to achieve the greatest gains from renewable energy sources, officials should not focus on the locations that have the greatest potential for capacity, but places where the highest number of people would benefit by offsetting the most pollutants.”

Lima Azevedo, an assistant professor at CMU’s Center for Climate and Energy Decision Making, said, “In many places in California or Arizona, the same solar panel will generate much more electricity than in Pennsylvania, given that the solar resource is much better at those locations.”

He went on to indicate that investing in solar and wind in areas where populations were largest would result in greater social benefit because of the larger populations.

But, it’s been clearly demonstrated that solar and wind in northern populated areas, such as Pennsylvania and New York, have worse economic outcomes then solar in Arizona or wind in Montana.

PV Solar in Arizona might have a payback of 14 years, while PV solar in Washington, DC, would have a payback greater than 32 years. See Solar-Induced Death Spiral.

According to the Carnegie Mellon study, it would be better to invest in PV Solar in, or around, Washington, DC, than in Phoenix, Arizona.

In other words, invest more money where it will have the worst economic payback.

In fact, the life of PV solar equipment may be around 25 years, so its cost would never be recovered in Washington, DC, or other northern areas, such as Albany, New York, where the payback period is 42 years.

While this may reduce per capita emissions, it wastes money.

This type of perverted logic is damaging to the economy, and results in making investments that drain money from the economy. It reduces investments in measures that could increase productivity, or efficiency and create more jobs.

One has to wonder why a university, such as Carnegie Mellon, would produce such a study.

Using social costs always distorts economics. A good example of this is trying to establish a social cost of carbon that essentially establishes a price on CO2 emissions.

The OMB has provided guidance to all government departments and agencies on using the Social Cost of Carbon when evaluating economic alternatives.

It’s only by applying this type of distortion that the Carnegie Mellon study can make any sense.

Which, of course, makes no sense, because even if the U.S cut its CO2 emissions to zero, worldwide CO2 emissions would still increase.

We are truly living in George Orwell’s age of double speak.

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End of Civilization as We Know It

March 7, 2014

A solar storm, similar to the one in 1859, known as the Carrington Event, could cause the grid to fail, cutting off electricity across the northern United States, from Boston to Seattle, for at least a year.

At least 200 million people would be without food and water, together with all the other essentials made possible by electricity. Cities, like New York, wouldn’t be able to control a population suddenly thrust into the dark for months on end, where many would be starving and desperate for survival.

It can’t be overemphasized that this would be a civilization destroying event.

A congressional committee has studied the effect of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) caused by a nuclear attack that would have the same effect on the grid as a large solar storm.

In April of this year, a terrorist attack on the Metcalf substation in Silicon Valley demonstrated the vulnerability of the grid to physical attack. Over 100 rounds were fired at the substation, causing 17 transformers to fail, but the failure was contained to the one substation.

This attack has brought the issue of grid safety to the fore and there is concern that the Metcalf attack was a prelude to a larger attack in an effort to bring down the grid.

High Voltage Transmission Lines, Photo by D. Dears

High Voltage Transmission Lines, Photo by D. Dears

 

My 2012 article, Geomagnetic Storm, described the Carrington Event and the threat to the grid.  When the Carrington Event occurred in 1859 there was no grid, and only the telegraph system was affected.

A report by Homeland Security said, “GICs (Ground Induced Currents) can overload the grid, causing severe voltage regulation problems and, potentially, widespread power outages. Moreover, GICs can cause intense internal heating in extra-high-voltage transformers, putting them at risk of failure or even permanent damage.” And, there are “300 EHV transformers in the United States” that are at risk.

Two recent solar storms, less than half the size of the Carrington Event, i.e. roughly 40%, occurred in 1921 and in 1989. The 1989 event caused the grid in Quebec, Canada to fail.

The primary threat from a Carrington Event is to the 300 EHV transformers that form the backbone of the high voltage transmission system on the grid. A report by the Wall Street Journal indicated that there were 2,000 high voltage transformers at risk from a terrorist attack1.

These EHV transformers can take nearly a year to build, and there are very few facilities that have the capability to build transformers of this size in the United States.

Protecting EHV transformers, or building spares to have on hand when there is a failure, is of utmost importance.

The House of Representatives held hearings on this issue on June 18, 2013.

H.R. 2417 establishes a process for determining the technical fixes required to protect the grid, and for their implementation.

H.R. 2417 states: “[establishing] reliability standards adequate to protect the bulk-power system from any reasonably foreseeable geomagnetic storm or electromagnetic pulse event.”

H.R. 2417 also provides for the “adequate availability of spare transformers.”

While no legislation can foresee every possible physical threat from terrorists, H.R. 2417 provides the process for identifying how to protect the grid from the effects of terrorist attack. While the attack on a lone substation in California didn’t bring down the grid, a series of such attacks, or the dynamiting of HV transmission towers, would create electrical disturbances that could cause the grid to fail.

This legislation can protect the United States from terrorist attack, and from a solar storm the size of the Carrington Event.

Without this legislation, civilization as we know it could end in the United States.

Certain factors will affect the extent of the damage from either a terrorist attack or a Carrington Event. Part 2, will discuss these factors.

 

Notes:

 

  1. The February 18, 2014 Wall Street Journal provided a comprehensive evaluation of the Metcalf shooting, including a quotation describing the extreme danger to the grid. Judge Jeanine Pirro also provided a comprehensive review of the Metcalf shooting on her TV program.

 

 

 

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Economic Opportunities and Rebates

March 4, 2014

There is considerable press about large improvements in energy efficiency resulting from utilities, and others, providing rebates for the purchase of energy efficient appliances. These rebates are largely mandated by government.

Energy Star appliances, for example, are pushed by Green groups and by the government. Energy Star appliances are more efficient, and paying more for an appliance may be worth the price … though that’s not certain.

Energy Star Report by EPA

Energy Star Report by EPA

 

Here is how one organization hypes energy efficiency1:

“Utility energy efficiency programs have yielded significant energy and economic benefits to the utility system and to ratepayers.”

But is this accurate?

Utilities have spent millions on rebates, yet I haven’t seen any evaluation on whether this money is well spent. The money used for rebates either comes from the utility, or from its customers in the form of higher rates for electricity. In either case, the money could have been used for other purposes that might have had a greater positive effect on the economy.

The basic question is:

Do rebates promote the purchase of more efficient appliances more effectively than relying on market forces?

This can be answered, at least in part, by examining improvements in energy efficiency from lighting in the residential sector, and then comparing these improvements with all the other improvements achieved from using rebates.

While this analysis isn’t perfect, it does shed light on the value of mandated rebates and the value of government mandates overall.

The analysis is based on a study of residential lighting from 2010 through 2012, and a report on the amount of electricity used for these same years2.

The residential lighting study established the amount of electricity used by Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) in the average residence, and the amount used for incandescent and other types of lighting, e.g. Halogen.

From this, it can be determined that CFLs resulted in a 20% reduction in the amount of electricity used for residential lighting during this period.

CFLs, however, were an incremental improvement on fluorescent lighting technology that had been in use for half a century. The real revolution in lighting is from Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs), a new lighting technology.

LEDs use half the electricity of CFLs and last for years, not hours. LEDs are flexible in terms of color rendering, in the use of controls and in how they are configured, i.e., single lamps or sheets of LEDs.

The cost of LEDs was initially high, making them unsuitable for most applications. The cost has fallen dramatically, and will continue to fall making them competitive with CFLs, especially when their longer life is considered.

The advent of LEDs will result in continued improvements in energy efficiency, until the residential lighting market becomes saturated.

It can be argued that these improvements in lighting are the result of a revolutionary technology driven by market forces … not energy efficiency programs.

And what has been the effect of rebates?

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated that residential usage accounts for 13% of total electricity consumption.

The EIA reported that the use of electricity for all purposes, between 2010 and 2012, fell by 71,193 Megawatt Hours.

At 13% of total electricity consumption, residential lighting consumed 187,942 Megawatt Hours of electricity in 2010.

The use of CFLs during this period resulted in a 20% reduction in residential usage of electricity, which amounted to 37,588 Megawatt Hours.

Therefore, the use of CFLs resulted in more than half of all improvements in energy efficiency, while all the energy efficient appliances, i.e., washing machines, driers, stoves, microwave ovens, air conditioning units etc. combined, had a smaller effect on improving overall energy efficiency in the residential sector3.

Since most appliances are purchased when they fail, and not because of a rebate, it can be argued that rebates are ineffective and that the money spent on rebates could have been invested in other areas having a greater positive effect on the economy.

While it’s true that the government, by mandating the elimination of incandescent bulbs, forced the adoption of CFLs, it’s also true that LEDs, because of their savings in electricity and long life, would have resulted in the eventual demise of incandescent bulbs without the government mandate.

The end result of the government mandating the elimination of incandescent bulbs was to accelerate the adoption of alternative lighting, with CFLs being an intermediate step that also resulted in considerable mercury being added to landfills.

 

 

Notes:

  1. American Council for Energy-Efficient Economy, ACEEE
  2. Department of Energy, Residential Lighting End-Use Consumption Study: Estimation Framework and Initial Estimates, December 2012. And the U.S. Energy Information Administration report, Table 7.6 Electricity End Use.
  3. 37,588 Mega Watt Hours divided by 71,193 Mega Watt Hours, equals 53%.

 

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