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China and Oil

May 26, 2015

China’s history is lost in antiquity.

Prior to the 19th century, China’s rulers did not think of China in terms of being a modern nation state … it was, instead, the central kingdom, a civilization due respect, if not fealty, from all who approached it. This contrasted with the West where, beginning with the treaty of Westphalia in 1648, western governments conducted trade and diplomacy based on rules governing actions between sovereign nations.

This difference in world views created a conflict based on perceptions when western navy’s confronted China in the 1800s.

China viewed itself as having a superior society where all other peoples were to recognize the Middle Kingdom as being superior in knowledge and culture. Neighbors were expected to recognize the blessings of acceding to the Middle Kingdom’s superiority. Suzerainty is the term that fits the situation before the arrival of western navies.

China’s view of the world worked well until the 1800s when Western powers with modern weapons intruded on the scene, disrupting the historic Middle Kingdom and sending it into political turmoil until recently.

Does modern-day Chinese leadership hold onto the classic view of China being everlasting, where the barbarians are to be assimilated by traditional methods of corruption?

Is China a civilization “pretending to be a modern nation state”?

Or do China’s leaders believe it is a modern nation state, conducting trade and diplomacy using the rules established by the West?

Since Deng Xiaoping, China has become an economic powerhouse: A member of the world trade organization, with favored nation status from the United Sates.

With economic development, China’s need for resources, such as oil and natural gas, have grown.

The Oil and Gas Journal reported, “In total, the South China Sea has about 11 billion bbl of oil and 190 tcf of gas rated as proved or probable reserves. These levels are similar to the amount of proved oil reserves in Mexico and about two-thirds of the proved gas reserves in Europe, not including Russia.”

China’s claim over the South China Sea appears to have originated in the modern era, as reported in a USNI proceedings article, and not in antiquity.

“In the 1930s China’s Republican government formed the Land and Water Maps Inspection Committee. … The committee reported in 1935 that in the South China Sea, China’s southernmost territorial feature is the James Bank, which sits about 50 nautical miles off the coast of Borneo, and that China’s maritime boundary should therefore extend south to 4 degrees North latitude.”

However, except for the brilliant maritime missions by Zheng He to the Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf and Africa, predating explorations by European nations, China has shown little historic interest in maritime affairs.

Regardless, China’s Ten Dash Line, specified in the 1930s, has delineated its claim on the South China Sea.

South China Sea and Key Straits

South China Sea Territorial Claim with key Straits

With oil and natural gas resources as a possible motive, China has asserted its claim over both the South and East China Seas. In addition, the three strategic straits (shown by arrows) between Sumatra and Malaysia, Sumatra and Java and at the East end of Java, restrict the flow of commerce between the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.

Though, not part of the current argument over the Spratlys, China views these passages as critical to China’s maritime interests.

This can be interpreted in different ways. One interpretation is that China is responsive to the concept of freedom of the seas, the American position. Alternatively, China could see the importance of these straits only from a military perspective.

Most recently the Spratly Islands, 600 miles from China’s coast, have become a cause for concern. The Spratly Islands are claimed by several countries, including China and the Philippines. Vietnam, Borneo and Malaysia also have various fishing and economic claims in the South China Sea.

With dredging, China has transformed a few rocks into an island with an airstrip. It appears to be reinforcing its claim of sovereignty over the South China Sea by establishing a physical presence where none existed before.

The United States has always believed in freedom of the seas, and China’s claim of sovereignty over the South China Sea has created a situation ripe for a military confrontation.

The United States Navy recently flew a reconnaissance mission over the Spratly Islands to reinforce its position that the South China Sea is an international waterway.

America’s allies are watching how the United States addresses this threat that also involves their interests.

China has said the rim of islands, stretching from the Senkaku (Diaoyu) Islands, north of Taiwan, southward, including the Philippines and Borneo, form a maritime defensive perimeter.

The defensive perimeters of islands defines China’s strategy of Anti-Access and Area Denial, which is to deny access to the South China Sea by the United States Navy.

Whether it is oil or territorial aggrandizement, China, by creating an airstrip on what was formerly a few rocks, has set the stage for confrontation.

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Tesla Powerblock and the Gigafactory

May 22, 2015

If Tesla BEVs and Powerwalls can’t use all the batteries being built in the gigafactory, can Tesla’s Powerblock save the day?

The factory was built to supply 500,000 Tesla vehicles yearly, but it’s very unlikely Tesla will reach sales of that magnitude in 2020.

The Powerwall product is virtually useless for homeowner PV rooftop installations, so only a few will be sold. The Powerwall isn’t going to use very much of the gigafactory’s capacity.

Whether the gigafactory is an economic success is likely to depend on the Powerblock using large numbers of batteries.

To start this quick analysis, let’s establish the capacity of the gigafactory after accounting for Tesla BEV sales in 2020, the year the gigafactory is to be in full operation.

Tesla’s BEV sales are elusive, but total sales in 2014 were approximately 18,000 vehicles.

Sales have been sluggish so far this year. Assuming a 30% growth rate between 2014 and 2020, sales in 2020 would be approximately 100,000 vehicles.

With sales of 100,000 BEVs in 2020, the gigafactory would have a remaining capacity for 400,000 additional BEVs.

Assuming the average battery size per vehicle is 70 kWh the remaining gigafactory capacity for batteries would therefore be 28,000,000 kWh, or 28 GWh(1).

The Powerwall will probably not be a large user of batteries, so total excess capacity is arbitrarily reduced to 27 GWh, which generously assumes 150,000 Powerwall units sold in 2020.

The excess capacity is available for usage in the Powerblock whose market is commercial and utility storage.

The Powerblock provides storage for the following commercial and utility applications.

  1. When time of day pricing is in place, which it is in California, commercial customers have an incentive to buy electricity from the grid during off-peak hours and store it for use later in the day, and avoid using expensive electricity during peak hours. For example, they may be able to buy electricity for 10 cents per kWh, and avoid having to pay 35 cents per kWh during peak periods.
  2. Utilities would use storage in combination with solar and wind to store electricity during the day for use in the evening to level out the load and help mitigate rapid ramping of fossil fuel power plants. See, The Duck Speaks.

California is the driving force behind storage requirements, so its market is the first to be served.

California has mandated that 1,350 MW of storage be provided, 50% by utilities and 50% by commercial or other applications, by 2020. This would seem to indicate the gigafactory will be late to the game, but the 2020 mandate is merely the tip of the iceberg if renewable mandates of 33% and 50% are to be met.

The storage mandate specifies MW, not MWh, so it’s not entirely clear how to compare gigafactory capacity in GWh with the MW mandate. Furthermore, it’s been impossible to ascertain with any degree of certainty the amount of storage required in California in MWh.

Tehachapi Storage Project Using 604,832 Li-ion cells. Photo by Southern California Edison.

Tehachapi Storage Project Using 604,832 Li-ion cells. Photo by Southern California Edison.

Two actual examples may provide some guidance as to whether the capacity of the gigafactory can be fully utilized every year.

The first example is Cargill that used one MW of storage to save $100,000 annually. Assuming $25,000 per unit for the Powerblock, total Cargill investment is estimated to have been $350,000. The payback of 3+ years is good.

The second example is the Tehachapi storage project by Southern California Edison (SCE) to accommodate wind energy. This installation was rated at 32,000 kWh. Based on available excess gigafactory capacity, Powerblock batteries could be provided for approximately 900 similar installations. The batteries for the Tehachapi project were supplied by LG Chem, a competitor of Tesla’s.

Another problem with making any assumptions about whether the Tesla gigafactory will be fully utilized is that there is competition from other battery suppliers.

The other batteries may be lower in cost or be able to provide storage without degrading the batteries. The Tesla Powerblock, for example, is rated at 5,000 cycles, which would indicate, under normal usage, the battery would have to be replaced after 15 years.

Meanwhile, flow batteries could last indefinitely.

The EosAurora battery cost is forecast to be $160/kWh compared with the Powerblock’s $250/kWh.

If sales of Tesla BEVs is greater than 100,000 units in 2020, it will, of course, reduce the factory’s dependence on storage applications.

The most that can be said at the moment is that Tesla’s success depends on four variables.

  • BEV sales
  • Battery sales to other automobile manufacturers
  • Powerwall sales
  • Powerblock sales

Given current trends in BEV sales and the likelihood of limited Powerwall sales, the future success of the gigafactory would seem to depend on Powerblock sales.

Arriving at a forecast for Powerblock sales will depend on determining the amount of total storage required in MWh for California and the other states using large quantities of renewables.

 

Article Note:
1: The specifications for the gigafactory call for 35 GWh of cell capacity, but at the same time 50 GWh of pack capacity. It’s not clear why these seemingly contradictory specifications are given, so the article proceeds on the basis of 35 GWh capacity.

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The Race is On

May 19, 2015

The Tesla has received all the publicity, but there is another zero emissions vehicle available, the Toyota FuelCell Vehicle (FCV), the Mirai.

The Mirai has an MRSP of $57,500, which is less than the Tesla’s 70D. (Tesla advertises a price of $57,500 AFTER all government credits and gas savings.)

The MSRP of the Toyota Mirai is unlikely to cover the cost of manufacturing the vehicle, meaning that the Mirai is a loss leader. As a loss leader, it can help Toyota meet California’s requirement for zero emission vehicles, while creating publicity for the brand.

Some comparisons:

Mirai

Tesla 70D

Range

300 miles

240 miles

Fueling time

5 minutes

30 minutes

Fueling locations

Very Few

425 Supercharger

 

Tesla advertises a network of supercharging stations across the country, while there are only 12 public hydrogen fueling stations in the United States.

Map of Tesla Super Charging Stations. From Tesla Web Site

Map of Tesla Super Charging Stations. From Tesla Web Site

Most hydrogen fueling stations are in California, which is logical since zero emission vehicles are supported by California with a mandate for their adoption.

The cost of producing hydrogen and a lack of fueling stations are the Achilles heel of FCVs.

There are approximately 160,000 gasoline stations in the united States.

Assuming that only one-third as many hydrogen fueling stations would be required to cover the country so that FCVs weren’t range restricted, approximately 50,000 hydrogen fueling stations would need to be built across the United States.

At $500,000 per fueling station, it would cost approximately $27 billion.

Just matching Tesla’s 425 supercharger stations would cost over $200 million.

Tesla Charging Stations. Photo by D. Dears

Tesla Charging Stations. Photo by D. Dears

Tesla’s supercharging stations are also less costly to build and can be located in buildings and parking garages, something hydrogen fueling stations wouldn’t be allowed to do.

In addition, hydrogen is expensive to produce. It’s also difficult to transport if it’s produced centrally, such as at refineries where most hydrogen is produced today.

Alternatively, electrolysis can separate hydrogen from water.

Since hydrogen produced at a central location can’t be transported in natural gas pipelines, as it corrodes the pipe, it must be transported by cryogenic truck to the fueling station.

When hydrogen is produced centrally for use in an FCV refueling station, it must be cooled to form a liquid. Refrigerating hydrogen uses approximately 25% of hydrogen’s energy content, which is one of the energy losses incurred with this scenario.

Hydrogen can be produced locally at a refueling station by using reforming or by using electrolysis to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Electrolysis, however, is expensive.

On balance, it would appear as though the battery electric vehicle (BEV) has the advantage over FCVs when it comes to refueling or recharging the vehicle.

Another disadvantage of the FCV is the cost and space utilized by the fuel tanks needed to store hydrogen.

Hydrogen Fuel Tanks As Shown On Mirai web site

Hydrogen Fuel Tanks As Shown On Mirai web site

These carbon fiber fuel tanks are obviously far more expensive than traditional gasoline fuel tanks.

The fuel cell stack costs far more than a traditional internal combustion engine, and probably two to three times the cost of the battery pack used by Tesla, though Toyota has not revealed the cost of the Mirai’s fuel cell.

On a side by side comparison, the Tesla BEV is probably less costly to manufacture.

While the BEV seems to have a clear advantages over the FCV, both are more costly and have less range than traditional gasoline powered vehicles.

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The Tesla Powerwall is Useless

May 15, 2015

Musk’s favorite phrase when trying to disparage something is to say, “It sucks.”

Should this crude term be applied to the Powerwall?

The Tesla Powerwall battery is to be used in conjunction with PV rooftop solar installations, and not for commercial or utility applications.

The 10 kWh Powerwall costs $3,500. Reportedly, it costs over $7,000 installed.

Can the Powerwall provide the following fundamental benefits?

  • Backup power for grid failures
  • Monetary savings by not using electricity from the grid
  • Demand response for shaving peak load
Tesla Powerwall

Tesla Powerwall

To be useful and worth the cost of installation, the Powerwall must be able to do at least one of these functions well.

Let’s examine each function to see whether the Powerwall provides the anticipated benefits.

Grid Backup

Essential household loads include:

  • Refrigerator-Freezer
  • Heating system blowers
  • Air-conditioning
  • Hot water heater (if electric)
  • Microwave oven

These are needed for any household to function at a basic level: The ability to cook meals, to keep food safely in a refrigerator/freezer, to maintain home temperatures that are safe, and to provide hot water and lighting.

These loads will vary by time of year and by whether the activity is provided by electricity.

During the summer the Powerwall can provide backup power for 2 to 3 hours. The air-conditioning load is large, so in the winter the Powerwall might be able to provide backup power for 5 – 6 hours.

Adding television usage would slightly decrease the length of time the Powerwall can provide backup.

While many utility interruptions are fairly short, less than an hour or two, the major outages are caused by ice storms, wind storms and hurricanes.

These outages last for several days, so a Powerwall unit cannot supply backup power for these outages.

If backup is to be provided for lengthy outages, the Generac, or equivalent, costing $4,000 and using natural gas, is a much better investment. It also provides backup for the short nuisance outages.

Objectively, the Powerwall is unsuitable for providing backup power.

Saving Money

Can the Powerwall avoid using electricity from the grid at night, after the sun goes down? If so, this might make a $3,500 investment in a Powerwall unit worthwhile.

Fully recharged, the Powerwall might be able to save $1.10 per day by providing power after dark, with a utility rate of 11 cents per kWh. This amounts to approximately $400 per year in savings, so it would take approximately 9 years to recover the Powerwall $3,500 investment. Or 18 years if the total cost of installation is included.

With a 30% rebate for batteries used in PV rooftop systems, the payback would be closer to 6 years, or 12 years if the $7,000 installed cost is used.

But why degrade the Powerwall battery to save on electricity usage when the owner of a PV rooftop system with net metering can sell the excess electricity from his PV rooftop system to the utility for the retail rate of 11 cents per kWh?

Or, if the utility only pays 5 cents per kWh, the real money saved by using the Powerwall battery to save on using electricity from the grid is actually 6 cents per kWh, not 11 cents. This increases the payback period to 14 years without including installation costs.

There is also some question as to how often the Powerwall battery can be fully discharged and recharged.

A payback period of 9 to 14 years, or 6 years with the 30% rebate, (not including installation costs) is terrible for a product that may only last 10 years.

Clearly, the Powerwall battery is not suited for storing electricity to avoid buying electricity from the grid.

Demand Response

Theoretically, utilities could group a large number of Powerwall batteries from homeowner PV rooftop installations, and install the necessary controls to use electricity from the batteries during peak periods.

This is obviously impractical since the homeowner would stop using solar power and start using power from the grid, offsetting any reduction of load that might be achieved by the utility drawing power from the Powerwall battery. The Powerwall battery can’t simultaneously serve two masters.

This differs from commercial and industrial customers in states where time of day pricing is used. In these situations the price for electricity can be very high during peak periods and commercial and industrial customers can avoid those high prices by using electricity from batteries they own.

Powerwall batteries cannot routinely provide demand response.

In summary:

The Powerwall battery is inadequate for providing backup power, doesn’t save much money and can’t contribute significantly to demand response.

What term does Musk use to describe an inadequate product?

 

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The Fraudulent 97% Consensus

May 12, 2015

The claim is repeated ad nauseam that 97% of climate scientists agree climate change is caused by increasing amounts of greenhouse gases (GHG), and that mankind is the cause. Atmospheric CO2 being the most recognized such gas.

There are two things wrong with the claim.

First, science isn’t decided by a consensus, or a committee. There are numerous instances where the consensus has agreed on a supposed scientific fact, only to have it overturned. Galileo is the most well known instance where one person overturned an existing consensus. More recently in 1983, Australian doctors Warren and Marshall determined that peptic ulcer disease was caused by bacteria, which overturned the prevailing consensus at that time.

The Oregon petition has over 31,000 signatures of engineers and scientists, over 9,000 of whom have Ph.Ds, stating that greenhouse gases, specifically CO2, are not the cause of global warming.

While this is impressive, and turns the 97% claim on its head, it is still not proof that CO2 isn’t causing global warming.

Only the scientific method can make that determination.

Second, the 97% claim itself is bogus.

The claim has at least two points of origin.

One of the papers behind the 97% claim is authored by John Cook, who runs the website Skeptical Science .com.

Here is Cook’s explanation of his paper, “Cook et al. (2013) found that over 97 percent [of papers he surveyed] endorsed the view that the Earth is warming up and human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause.”

The initial problem with his statement is that virtually everyone agrees that the Earth has warmed over the past 150 years, so the statement has no particular importance.

Also, most people involved in the debate agree that greenhouse gases play some role in the warming, but not the main role. Most scientists who disagree with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) believe the role of greenhouse gases is small.

Cook’s methodology is why the paper is bogus.

He took 12,000 scientific papers and had people categorize them according to how surely the paper’s abstract endorsed the global warming hypothesis.

For starters, this process was based on opinions, with no set formula for assessing how surely the papers conformed with the GHG hypothesis. An abstract is also not necessarily what a paper includes, or concludes.

The process also excluded papers by the same scientist, essentially cherry picking papers included in the sample. This means the sample was not random, an important aspect of any study.

For example, Dr. Richard Tol said, “Cook survey included 10 of my 122 eligible papers. 5/10 were rated incorrectly. 4/5 were rated as endorse rather than neutral.”

Dr. Tol’s papers were rated incorrectly, which, by itself would make the Cook claim invalid.

And Dr. Tol was not alone. Others made the same allegation. For example, Dr.

Nir Shaviv, said, “Nope . . . it is not an accurate representation.”

Friends of Science did an analysis of the 12,000 papers, and determined the following:

“The Cook et al study data base has seven categories of rated abstracts. “

  1. 65     explicit endorse, >50% warming caused by man
  2. 934 explicit endorse
  3. 2933 implicit endorse
  4. 8261 no position
  5. 53     implicit reject
  6. 15     explicit reject
  7. 10     explicit reject, <50% warming caused by man

“Papers in the third category which Cook alleges, “implicit endorse,” in reality make no comment on whether humans have caused warming. “

With 8,261 of over 12,000 papers taking no position on the issue, it’s impossible for there to be a 97% consensus.

The Cook 97% claim is invalid, and is largely meaningless anyway since the main area of dispute is the extent that GHG are causing climate change.

Another earlier claim was made by Naomi Oreske’s in Science Magazine: “For the first time, empirical evidence was presented that appeared to show an unanimous, scientific consensus on the anthropogenic causes of recent global warming.”

Scores of scientists reported that their papers were not included or misinterpreted in Oreske’s 97% conclusion.

Her claim was also debunked, when science writer David Appell put the question to her: “On 15 December 2004, she admitted that there was indeed a serious mistake in her Science essay.”

The constant repetition of the claim that 97% of climate scientists agree climate change is caused by increasing amounts of greenhouse gases (GHG) is misleading at best, and, in point of fact, is fraudulent.

Even President Obama has repeated the claim, adding that it’s “manmade and dangerous” … an embellishment on an already fraudulent statement.

The 97% claim is pure propaganda.

Pinocchio. Photo by D. Dears

Pinocchio. Photo by D. Dears

Using the invalid 97% claim to silence opposing views, is morally, and scientifically wrong. Perhaps, Pinocchio can attest to that.

When confronted by the claim, explain that it is fraudulent and has been disproven. Tell the person making the claim that there are over 31,000 engineers and scientists who have signed a petition stating that GHG are not the source of global warming, and while not absolute proof that GHG are not the cause, the petition dispels the idea that there is any consensus supporting the claim that 97% of climate scientists agree that GHG cause climate change.

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The Why and How of Carbon Capture and Sequestration

May 8, 2015

Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is becoming newsworthy again as the EPA’s clean power proposal is being contested in the court system.

The Wall Street Journal ran an article this week on CCS, but covered less than half the story. This is typical of the media, but the Wall Street Journal should know better.

CCS is seen as a way to cut CO2 emissions 80% to prevent a climate catastrophe.

Two steps are involved in the CCS process. The first step was not covered by the Wall Street Journal.

  1. CO2 from the burning of coal or natural gas is captured during the burning process or from the waste stream after burning has taken place. Alternatively, it is heated to form a synthetic gas from which the CO2 can be extracted.
  2. Captured CO2 is then compressed into a liquid, transported by pipeline to a geologic formation where the liquid CO2 can be injected into the ground and to the geologic formation where the CO2 can be entrapped.

Capturing CO2

Experiments have been conducted for capturing CO2 before, during and after combustion.

Integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) power plants cook the coal to form a synthetic gas from which the CO2 can be extracted, allowing the remaining gases, mostly hydrogen, to be burned in a gas turbine to generate electricity.

The coal industry has touted this process as clean coal. Unfortunately, after three such units have been built in the United States, their cost has been shown to be exorbitant at over $6,000 per KW, or about what it costs to build a new nuclear power plant.

Experiments have been done for capturing CO2 while coal is burned in a coal-fired power plant.

Experiments have also been done to capture CO2 from the waste stream of both coal-fired and natural gas power plants.

These experiments have demonstrated that coal-fired power plants must be derated by approximately 30% due to the parasitic loads required for capturing and liquefying the CO2. This means a coal-fired power plant with a rating of 300 MW is converted into a power plant rated 210 MW. In other words, 30% of the electricity generated by the coal-fired power plant is used to capture and compress the CO2.

Natural gas power plants will need to be derated by more than 30% because the waste steam includes less CO2, making it more difficult to capture CO2.

The end result is that a new power plant needs to be built every time three power plants are equipped to capture CO2, to replace the electricity lost from capturing CO2.

One can conclude that it’s possible to capture CO2 from coal-fired and natural gas power plants, but that the cost will be very high.

Sequestration

The captured CO2 must be disposed of underground. This involves transporting the liquid CO2 under high pressures, approximately 2.000 psi, to where it can be disposed of underground. This also was not covered by the Wall Street Journal article.

Transporting CO2 will involve building a series of 24 inch, or larger, pipelines across the United States to transport the liquid CO2 from approximately 400 coal-fired power plants. Additional pipelines would be required for natural gas power plants. The Pacific National Laboratory published a paper concluding that between 11,000 and 23,000 miles of new pipelines would have to be built.

These maps show where pipelines might be located in the United States and Europe.

USA CO2 Pipelines

USA CO2 Pipelines

 

EU CO2 Pipelines 2050

EU CO2 Pipelines 2050

Once transported to where it might be sequestered, the CO2 must be injected under ground into an appropriate geologic formation.

Carbon Sequestration Atlas of the United States and Canada

Carbon Sequestration Atlas of the United States and Canada

An atlas has been compiled of potential sites for sequestering CO2. While there are a few examples of where CO2 has been sequestered, e.g., the Sleipner gas field in Norway, Salah in Algeria and in Alberta Canada, none have involved the quantities of CO2 that would have to be sequestered if there was a serious effort to use CCS.

Currently, the largest underground sequestration operation is the Sleipner gas field where one million metric tons of CO2 are injected annually into the saline aquifer under the North Sea.

This compares with 1,800,000,000 metric tons, or 1,800 times the amount sequestered in the Sleipner gas field. This is the amount of CO2 that would have to be sequestered every year if 80% of the CO2 from U.S. power plants were to be captured and sequestered.

Not only is the quantity staggering, but there is no certainty that the CO2 would remain underground for the thousands of years needed to prevent a climate catastrophe, if the CO2 hypothesis is correct.

Other unresolved issues include:

  • Ownership of geologic formations
  • Legal liability if CO2 escapes or causes harm
  • Whether injecting liquid CO2 underground would cause earthquakes

The massive costs associated with CCS, and the uncertainty that the CO2 would remain sequestered underground for centuries leads to the conclusion that CCS is unrealistic.

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The Duck Speaks, Part 2

May 5, 2015

The general impact of renewables on the utility industry was discussed in Part 1, using Diagram 2.

Diagram 2, CAISO Duck Curve

Diagram 2, CAISO Duck Curve

While the Duck curve displays the over generation caused by renewables, the effect of renewables can better be seen by examining a load curve. Load curves actually vary by time of year and location, however this generalized load curve depicts the theoretical impact renewables will have on utility revenues … and the vital need for storage.

Load Curve

Load Curve

Conceptually, renewables displace electricity generated by fossil fuels during the day, so the area above the red line is no longer served by fossil fuel generated electricity. It’s displaced by renewables.

The position of the red line depends on the percentage of electricity generated by renewables.

The green vertical line depicts the sudden ramping up of fossil fuel generation assets as the sun sets and renewables no longer provide large amounts of electricity.

Theoretically, storage of electricity would extend the supply of electricity from renewable sources for a period of time, and have the effect of minimizing, or theoretically, eliminating, the sudden ramp up depicted by the green line. While storage solves the need to suddenly ramp up fossil fuel power plants, it also further reduces the electricity sold by the utility from fossil fuel sources.

Except for pumped storage, batteries provide the only realistic technology for large amounts of storage today. Storage by hydrogen, methane, compressed air (CAES) or thermal techniques are, at best, questionable … and probably unlikely in sufficiently large quantities.

Germany’s energiewende policy provides a real world example of what happens when renewables displace electricity that has traditionally been supplied by fossil fuel power plants.

German Load Curve at 60% Renewables

In 2012 only 22% of Germany’s load was supplied by renewables, as shown on this diagram by the areas in gold and blue.

Renewables are already displacing electricity from utilities, which is why E.ON and RWE, two of Germany’s largest utilities, are tying to divest themselves of all their fossil fuel power generation assets.

The red line depicts what could happen if the percentage of renewables increases to 60%, or more, as forecast by Germany’s energiewende policy. The area above the red line represents revenues lost to utilities from their fossil fuel generation assets.

While it’s impossible to predict the future, there appear to be only two possible outcomes in Germany.

Either:

  1. Electricity rates being charged to consumers, which already pay 4 to 5 times as much as do Americans, are increased substantially, perhaps double or triple today’s rates.
  2. The government nationalizes the electric utility industry and the grid, so that tax payer money is used to operate the uneconomic utility industry.

In the United States, California is leading the charge in mandating the use of large quantities of renewables. Elsewhere, 31 states have renewable portfolio standards (RPS) mandating that as much as 25% of electricity be from renewables.

Note in the United States, hydro is not considered to be renewable by most states, including California.

Perhaps it is time to consider why states are mandating the use of renewables?

It can’t be to lower costs to consumers, because wind and solar are both more expensive than generating electricity using natural gas or coal.

The Energy Information Administration predicts that four years from now, in 2019, the cost of electricity from the various renewable sources will still be higher than for natural gas:

  • On-shore wind, 8 cents per kWh
  • Off-shore wind, 20.4 cents per kWh
  • PV solar, 13 cents per kWh
  • Thermal solar, 24 cents per kWh

While electricity produced by natural gas will be 6.4 cents per kWh.

Note that the cost of wind and all forms of solar today are significantly higher than the costs predicted for 2019.

In other words, renewables are, and will remain, more costly than electricity generated by fossil fuels, even without adding the cost of backup generation for when the wind stops blowing and the sun stops shining, or the cost of transmitting wind generated electricity long distances.

Lower costs for consumers and industry are, therefore, not the answer.

The reason renewables are being forced onto the system is because they don’t emit CO2.

Even Musk, in his introduction to Tesla energy batteries, said that batteries and the sun would prevent catastrophic climate change by reducing CO2 emissions.

In other words, the utility industry is being threatened, and costs to consumers are being increased because of the government’s efforts to cut CO2 emissions.

The Duck curve, together with Germany’s real world experience, prove that renewables are not necessarily beneficial.

Renewables have the potential to destroy the utility industry and cause consumers and industry to pay much more for electricity, thereby depriving the economy of the benefits of additional consumer spending and investment by industry.

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