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Why Renewables Cost More

April 25, 2017

Aside from the fact that the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) is higher for wind and solar, there are many other operating costs that result in wind and solar being far more expensive than coal or natural gas for generating electricity.


This is a well-documented cost, where power plants, usually natural gas, must be kept in spinning reserve, ready to come online when the wind stops blowing or the sun stops shining. Wind and solar are unreliable, and must have back-up power ready to go on-line at a moment’s notice. First, there is the cost of natural gas to keep these units operating off-line, but secondly, there are the additional maintenance costs from the added wear and tear on these units.


Storage is required to minimize the effect of rapid ramping up of fossil fuel power plants when the sun sets, or as an alternative to keeping natural gas power plants in spinning reserve. The CAISO Duck curve illustrates what happens when the sun sets, and fossil fuel power plants must be rapidly brought on-line to meet demand. Storage could theoretically provide some of the power needed when the sun sets.

The cost of storage varies, but at a minimum is around $2,000 per KW, about the same as the cost of a new natural gas combined cycle power plant. A recent trial by Pacific Gas & Electric resulted in storage costs that were more than twice as large.

The CAISO Duck Curve illustrates the sudden ramping as renewables increase.

The CAISO Duck Curve illustrates the sudden ramping as renewables increase.

Transmission lines

The strongest winds, which are the best for generating electricity, are found hundreds, if not a thousand or more miles away from where the electricity is used. This requires building expensive transmission lines. While it’s true, new coal-fired or natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plants may also need new transmission lines, these power plants are located closer to where the electricity is used.

The Joint Coordinated System Plan determined it would cost an additional $80 billion to build the transmission lines needed if only half the nation used wind energy, where wind supplied only 20% of the power.

More recent is the Pathfinder wind energy project that requires a $3 billion investment in transmission lines. See, Absurd Cost of California Wind.


Coal-fired and NGCC power plants were built to operate as baseload plants operating continuously.

Because wind and solar operate intermittently, it’s necessary for these baseload plants to cycle up and down, following the constantly changing output from wind and solar plants. Cycling also results in an increase in the number of cold-starts and shutdowns.

Cycling puts an added strain on boilers, turbines and many other components of the transmission and distribution system. Thermal expansion and contraction is the main culprit. Different materials have different coefficients of expansion, so boiler tubing may expand more rapidly than the firewalls and other materials surrounding the tubing.

Ramping up when the sun sets, as described above, also causes this type of damage.

This damage increases maintenance costs. Utilities, such as Duke Power, are installing new monitoring equipment and attempting to develop new operating methods in an effort to minimize the damaging effects of transient temperatures.

Industry trade publications, such as Power Magazine and Turbomachinery International, are recognizing the damaging and costly effects of cycling.


All of these are operating costs: Operating costs that are borne by the utility and eventually paid for by customers.

They don’t include the social costs when there is a blackout, such as occurred in South Australia due to the unreliability of wind and solar.

Wind and solar are unreliable, and far more expensive than electricity produced by coal-fired and NGCC power plants.

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Coming soon: A new website and format.

Repetitive Failure

April 21, 2017

It’s astounding how the same tired message gets repeated decade after decade, yet is always wrong.

It raises a serious question.

How can large groups of people succumb to a message that is demonstrably wrong?

While that question can’t be answered quickly, the examples of these failed messages can be cataloged.

The original message was probably from Malthus, who claimed the world was headed toward disaster. His simplistic message was that population grew exponentially, while food production grew arithmetically. In his view, the starvation of millions was inevitable.

Marx was the next best known proponent of a society headed toward disaster, but his solution was socialism. By putting the output of society in the hands of workers, the workers would prevent negative outcomes because they shared in the outcome.

Unfortunately, millions of people died at the hands of their leaders before the extreme variant of socialism, known as communism, began to collapse.

Jump ahead to the mid to late 1900s, after the two great wars, and two proponents of Malthusian thinking emerged again.

The first, chronologically, was the publication of The Population Bomb, by Dr. Paul R. Ehrlich, in 1968.

Quoting from the first chapter:

“The battle to feed all humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash program embarked upon now.”

This forecast of mass death was wrong.

In 1972, the Club of Rome published The Limits to Growth. The Limits to Growth proposed that the world could not sustain growth because the world was running out of resources, especially oil.

The common denominator of all these forecasts was that the world lacked the resources to sustain growth.

This has now morphed into the issue of sustainability.

The United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development issued a report in 1987, known as the Brundtland Report, which was to unite people in sustainable development.

The precepts of Malthus, Erhlich and the Club of Rome were enshrined by the Brundtland Report, putting the world on notice that the world could not continue to grow unless it accepted the need to adopt sustainable development.

Splinter groups have sprung up to proselytize the need for sustainable development.

One such group is The Post Carbon Institute that publicizes the course:

“Think Resilience: Preparing Communities for the Rest of the 21st Century—a short online course to help get you started building a more resilient, sustainable, and equitable nation.”

Sustainability assumes the world is running out of resources.

But sustainability has a fundamental flaw: It ignores the human mind, the greatest resource of all.

A thorough vetting of sustainability

A thorough vetting of sustainability

Erhlich’s forecast of starvation was upended by the Green Revolution, led by Norman Borlaug, with the development of high-yielding grains.

Peak Oil, as espoused in the Limits to Growth, has been upended by the fracking revolution.

At every turn, whenever mankind confronts an obstacle, it develops alternatives that overcomes the obstacle.

Supposedly, we are running out of Lithium for batteries. But there has been a proposal to extract Lithium from wastewater produced by drilling operations. Only time will tell whether the process works, but the human mind is already working on how to solve the problem of Lithium shortages.

There is another common denominator to the ideas promoted by Malthus, Ehrlich, the Club of Rome and the United Nations Brundtland Report.

Sustainably requires leadership by the educated elites who will tell the ordinary person how to live.

For example, there was the UK proposal, as reported by the Daily Mail, where each person would be issued a plastic card with a fixed carbon allowance. Each time the person ate at a restaurant, bought gasoline or flew by plane, the carbon used would be deducted from the card. When the person’s allowance was used up, that person wouldn’t be able to do any activity that produced CO2.

There was the Waxman-Markey bill that would have required homeowners to insulate their homes to a prescribed level, with attainment recorded on their deed, and with a home efficiency rating label displayed on the building.

Sustainability is another false god that will leave billions in poverty while dismantling modern society.

Economic growth is necessary to maintain our standard of living, and to allow billions to evolve from poverty around the world.

We only need to look at history, i.e., Malthus, Ehrlich, and the Club of Rome’s, Limits to Growth, to see that the human mind is the ultimate resource, and that there are few, if any, real limits to growth.

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Coming soon: A new website and format.

Japan and China: Remarkably Clean Coal

April 18, 2017

The new buzzword for coal-fired power plants is HELE, an acronym for High Efficiency Low Emission.

According to a recent International Energy Agency (IEA) report, Japan’s 600 MW Isogo plant in Yokohama is probably the best in the world. It is an ultra-supercritical HELE plant, with emission levels comparable to a natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) power plant.

The IEA report compared coal-fired power plants around the world, and found, not surprisingly, that the United States lags far behind.

The average efficiency of U.S. coal-fired power plants is 33% HHV.

Japan leads the way with an average efficiency of 41.6% LHV. (Lower heating value (LHV) results in a slightly higher efficiency calculation than using higher heating value (HHV) that uses heat for vaporization, i.e., latent heat of vaporization, of the moisture in the coal.)

But, China is quickly commandeering the leadership position. While the average efficiency of its coal-fired plants is currently 38.6% LLV, the only type of coal-fired power plant currently being built are HELE ultra-supercritical plants. The 1,000-MW ultra-supercritical Guodian Taizhou II Unit 3, HELE plant, in operation since September 2015, has an efficiency of 47.8% LLV.

Reportedly, all coal-fired plants in China must be HELE plants by 2020, though that target may be hard to meet.

This will help mitigate air quality problems in China, but not resolve them because other sources of pollution, such as automobiles and industries, are major contributors of pollutants.

The United States has one HELE ultra-supercritical coal-fired power plant in operation.

John W. Turk, only U.S. ultra-supercritical power plant. Photo courtesy of SWEPCO.

J. W. Turk HELE power plant.
Coal handling equipment in foreground. Cooling towers emitting steam on the right.

The 665-MW John Turk Jr. ultra-supercritical plant in Arkansas achieves an efficiency of 42% HHV, and was built before the EPA established regulations limiting CO2 emissions that prevent building HELE ultra-supercritical plants.

The EPA rule established on August 3, 2015, prohibits any new or reconstructed plant that emits more than 1,400 pounds per MWh of CO2. While HELE plants can come close, they may not be able to consistently meet this regulatory requirement.

Japan and China are demonstrating that HELE coal-fired power plants are nearly the equal of NGCC power plants, in so far as pollutants are concerned, and that they can nearly meet the EPA CO2 regulation.

The United States has huge reserves of coal that can be used for generating low-cost electricity: Levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) that is roughly the same as NGCC power plants.

As long as natural gas prices remain below $3.00 per million BTU, NGCC power plants will produce the least costly electricity. But when natural gas prices are higher than $3.00 per million BTU, coal can be competitive.

Both produce electricity at far lower costs than either wind and solar.

With HELE ultra-supercritical plants now being built-in Japan and China, it would seem the United States should follow suit, so that the average American can benefit from low-cost electricity.

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Coming soon: A new website and format.

Electric Vehicle Industry Issues

April 14, 2017
tags: , , ,

First quarter sales of PHEVs and BEVs were robust. Given that PHEV and BEV sales continue to be tiny in comparison with all light vehicle sales, the questions remains: Will PHEVs and BEVs become mainstream over the next few years?

Data from Electric Drive Transportation association

Data from Electric Drive Transportation association

First quarter sales of PHEVs increased 57% year over year, while BEVs increased 35%.

These are significant increases.

However, several important issues need to be resolved, and there is a strong likelihood they will be resolved over the next two years, between now and this time in 2019.

  • How well will moderately priced BEVs fair in the market place? Both Tesla and GM are on the verge of introducing moderately priced BEVs, the Model 3 by Tesla and the Bolt by GM. These vehicles, with an MSRP of $35,000, are assumed to be competitive with comparably sized traditional vehicles.
  • Will Tesla, with the introduction of its Model 3, be on the road to profitability? Or will it become apparent that Tesla’s business model will fail? Tesla has yet to achieve profitability, has received over $400,000,000 from its sale of California Zero Emission credits, and has been bolstered by debt that is coming due over the next few years.
  • Will federal tax credits be eliminated? The $7,500 federal tax credit will reduce the cost of moderately priced BEVs to below $28,000, which could make them attractive for consumers.
  • Will foreign BEV sales, primarily in China, increase to the point that Tesla, GM and Ford can economically justify BEV and PHEV models?
  • Will fleet mileage requirements be increased from today’s 26 mpg, to 54 mpg in 2025? The Obama EPA rushed through efforts to lock-in the 54 mpg requirement, but it appears as though the EPA will readdress the issue. A reduction in gasoline mileage requirements would reduce the need for manufacturers to sell BEVs and PHEVs to meet average fleet mileage requirements.
  • Will California continue to receive waivers for environmental rules it wishes to implement that are more stringent than federal regulations?

Overview of different types of electrified vehicles:

  • BEVs are vehicles powered entirely by battery power.
  • PHEVs use the battery to travel the first 35 miles, then switch to an internal combustion engine to extend its range.
  • HEVs are essentially battery-assisted vehicles that use the internal combustion engine to power the car. Batteries don’t provide the motive power for the vehicle.

The media often includes HEVs in its analysis of electric vehicles. Larger HEV sales distorts the actual impact of battery-powered vehicles.

Range anxiety has been an important factor in consumer acceptance of BEVs. The Nissan Leaf has suffered from consumer concerns over being able to recharge the vehicle on longer trips.

It’s entirely possible we will see a bifurcation of the EV market, with PHEVs becoming predominant.

Rhetoric will no longer determine the fate of PHEVs and BEVs. Actual results should finally prevail.

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Coming soon: A new website and format.

Extolling Failure

April 11, 2017

Germany established its energiewende policy so as to cut CO2 emissions 40% by 2020, and 80%, or more, by 2050.

Fortune magazine praised Germany for taking “huge strides toward renewable power.”
They said: “From a technology perspective energiewende has already been a stunning success.”

According to the German AG Energiebilanzen, renewables accounted for 29.5% of Germany’s electricity production in 2016. This is higher than most countries, except for those that get most of their electricity from hydro.

Fortune magazine did note, however, that the costs have been huge.

While Germany has spent billions of dollars to subsidize wind and solar energy, the results have not been very good.

Courtesy of Strom-Report

Courtesy of Strom-Report

To achieve this penetration by renewables, Germany spent $26 billion in 2016 alone.

While the concept of energiewende goes back decades, it became institutionalized in 2000 with the establishment of feed-in tariffs for renewables with the Renewable Energy Act.

The cost of energiewende must include all the costs since 2000, so $26 billion is the tip of the iceberg. The cost since 2000 has been at least $100 billion, and is projected to reach over $500 billion by 2025, according to a report commissioned by the Düsseldorf Institute for Competition Economics (DICE).

It’s noteworthy that the average German is paying 3 to 4 times more than the average American for electricity.

German GHG emissions from 1990 to 2016 courtesy of Green Energy Wire

German GHG emissions from 1990 to 2016 courtesy of Green Energy Wire

The chart of GHG emissions prepared by Green Energy Wire shows that reductions have stalled over the past several years.

The level of GHG, as CO2 equivalents, in 2009 were 907 million tons, while they were 906 in 2016.

It’s also possible that things will get worse as Germany shuts down its remaining nuclear power plants by 2022.

The German Economic Ministry (BMWi) has warned the country is in danger of missing its 40% target, three years from now in 2020.

The real criteria for judging the success of energewende should be:

To what extent has Germany cut CO2 emissions?

The target is 40% by 2020, and 80% by 2050, below 1990 levels.

CO2 emissions have been cut by only 27% since 1990, with possibly half of these reductions being the result of East Germany’s collapse with its inefficient industries.

Measured this way, Germany’s 16 year-long energiewende efforts have been an expensive failure.

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Coming soon: A new website and format.

Amazing Progress

April 7, 2017

The media constantly touts dirty coal, but ignores the amazing progress that the United States has made in achieving clean air.

Compared to many parts of the world, including Europe, the United States has excellent air quality.

There was a time when air quality in the United States was terrible. Anyone who visited Pittsburg in the 1940s and ‘50s could attest to impossible living conditions due to bad air quality. The Denora, Pennsylvania, disaster brought these conditions to the forefront.

From Outside the Green Box: Rethinking Sustainable Development, by Goreham

From Outside the Green Box: Rethinking Sustainable Development, by Goreham

This graph shows the amazing progress that has been made in air quality in the United States.

And this map, from Berkeley Earth, compares the United States with many other countries in the world. It’s a view for the month of March, 2017.

From Berkeley Earth

From Berkeley Earth

Note that air quality in Europe, during March, was not as good as in the United States.

Note also the very bad air quality in China, which has been widely reported by the media.

Achieving air quality improvements in the United State has been very expensive, but the results have been, for the most part, worth the cost.

The question now is whether additional improvements can be made at a reasonable cost.

Improvement curves are asymptotic.

Simply stated, each incremental quantity of improvement costs more than the preceding incremental improvement. Or, the cost of improving air quality is exponential to the amount of improvement. Or, from a dictionary, “A curve and a line that get closer but do not intersect are examples of a curve and a line that are asymptotic to each other.”

The result? While improvements are possible, the air quality component being measured will never reach zero, no matter how much money is spent on making the improvements.

That’s why the science used for evaluating benefits is so important. And that’s why the science should be made public, so everyone can see it.

An excellent example of why it’s important for everyone to have access to scientific data is the issue of PM 2.5 particulates, and the extent to which they cause health problems.

Independent scientists were denied access to the reports the EPA used when calculating the effects of particular matter. At issue is whether particulate size has a bearing on risk. See, Ozone and 2.5 Particulates May Not Be Not Killing People.

Other issues also remain. For example:

Why are the number of asthma cases increasing, while air quality has been dramatically improved?

It’s clear from the Berkeley Earth map that the United States has achieved an outstanding level of air quality when compared with the rest of the world.

Germany, while spending billions of dollars on wind and solar, i.e, so-called clean energy, has air quality, based on the AQI, that tends to be poorer than in the United States.

Each element of air quality should be honestly evaluated using science that’s available to everyone. That is the only way we, as citizens, can be sure that the money being spent on air quality improvements is being spent wisely.


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Coming soon: A new website and format.

New in Urban Transportation

April 4, 2017

Urban centers, where concentrations of pollutants can be a problem, need to consider pollution from vehicles, buses and trains when deciding which transportation system to use.

For busses, the choice is between diesel, natural gas and electric, i.e., battery, propulsion.

The low-cost of natural gas in the United States favors natural gas-powered buses over diesels. However, the cost of natural gas in Europe and other countries is considerably higher which favors continued use of diesel buses.

This has resulted in proposals to use electric, i.e., battery-powered buses, as replacements for diesel buses.

Advances in technology will likely allow the use of battery-powered buses, but costs will remain the largest obstacle to their adoption.

In Geneva, Switzerland, one bus route with 12 buses is being converted to battery-powered buses with an interesting battery charging system. The ABB battery system uses 13 flash charging stations where bus batteries are given a flash charge within 20 seconds at each bus stop equipped with a flash charging station. Batteries are given a five-minute charge at the bus terminal.

ABB designed flash charging station at 13 bus stops.

ABB designed flash charging station at 13 bus stops.

The cost of this experimental electrification of 12 buses on a single bus route is $16 million.

Batteries are being designed to last for ten years.

While these battery-powered buses can maneuver around obstacles, such as road maintenance, they are still forced to follow an established route where flash charging stations are installed.

Natural gas-powered buses are able to follow different routes, which makes them more flexible.

The motivation for adopting battery-powered buses in Geneva, Switzerland, is to reduce CO2 emissions. CO2 emissions will be reduced by an estimated 1,000 tons per year, compared with existing diesel buses on this route.

The $16 million cost, which could be as much as $1 million per bus when compared with comparable diesel buses, seems like a high price to pay. However, it’s not possible with available information to determine the exact incremental cost. Even so, the cost is well over $1,000 per ton of CO2.

It would appear as though Geneva is paying far too much for its battery-powered bus system if CO2 is the main reason for installing the system.

A more objective evaluation would use the reduction in actual pollutants made by battery-powered and natural gas-powered buses when compared with their respective costs.

Various cities in the US are investigating the use of battery-powered buses that use a different charging system than Geneva’s fast charge system. New York City tested a BYD bus where charging took 4 hours at night when the buses weren’t in service. BYD is a Chinese corporation with facilities in California.

New York and other cities are focusing on cutting CO2 emissions.

There is no question that the initial cost of battery-powered buses is greater than buses powered by natural gas, so justification for using battery-powered buses is based primarily on cutting CO2 emissions.

Using CO2 emission reductions as the criteria for buying battery-powered buses can be misleading, since most of the electricity used to charge batteries comes from power plants that use natural gas and coal, both of which emit CO2.

Testing battery- and natural gas-powered buses should be done under actual operating conditions, over a sufficiently long period of time to establish true operating costs, including battery life. The cost of installing battery charging and NG fueling stations should also be included in the evaluation. It may be necessary, for example, to increase the size of the substation and distribution system feeding power to the battery-charging systems, which could be very costly.

A fixation on cutting CO2 emissions is costing tax payers a great deal of money, when it’s increasingly clear that CO2 is not the primary cause of climate change.

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Coming soon: A new website and format.