Sunday, October 26, 2014

Thoughts At 75000 Pageviews

Today the pageview counter at SLB turned over 75,000 pageviews, another milestone of sorts.   These views are from a bit more than 39,000 unique visitors from 143 countries. As always, it is amazing to see such numbers.  

Lately, the pace of pageviews has sharply increased.  That is most likely due to the 30-part series on Truth About Nuclear Power, TANP beginning in March and concluding in August.  Cumulatively, the TANP articles have almost 9,000 views to date, with the Summary article (part 30) and US Nuclear Plants are Heavily Subsidized (part 13) sharing the most views with just over 1,200 views each.   Nuclear plants typically are lauded by the industry and supporters as being cheap, safe, long-lasting, and reliable.  TANP articles shows the truth, that none of those claims are accurate.   New technologies under development are also touted by supporters (small reactors, fusion, thorium, and high temperature gas reactors), and these are shown in TANP to be hopelessly uneconomic or unsafe, or both.  see link to Article One of TANP. Links to all 30 articles are provided there. 

As my readers know very well, my views on man-made climate change are that the science does not support an alarmist view.  see link  That is based on a critical examination of the available data.  What is disappointing is that so many skeptics of climate alarmism are also nuclear power supporters.  How nice it would be if they applied the same scrutiny of climate data to the nuclear plant data.  It appears to me that the nuclear power supporters are being led by smooth-talking dis-informers.  An article on this appeared here:  see link

Also, another series is underway, this one on wind energy.  see link  There is much mis-information spread by the anti-wind group.  Truth About Wind Energy will dispel those myths and show why and how wind energy presently is providing valuable energy, and will in a few years be supplying reliable, low-cost, low environmental impact energy via grid-scale storage.  See link for additional SLB articles on wind energy. 

A few articles discussed coal as an energy source, (see link) concluding that coal is being used up much faster than in the past.  The grim consequence of this is that an economic and reliable replacement for forty percent of the world's electricity production must be found, tested, and proven long before the coal runs out.   The best candidates for coal replacement are renewable energy with grid-scale storage.  Candidates in this area include solar thermal, and offshore wind with submersible pumped storage.  Ocean current energy needs no storage, nor does energy from river mouth osmosis.  

A trio of legal-oriented articles from SLB were republished on other blogs, those being Are Climate Skeptics Legally Liable for Criminal Negligence (see link), Climate Science, Free Speech and Legal Liability (see link), and Prosecuting Those Who Force a Scientist to Resign (see link).  

It was also very interesting to rebut the false claims of the US President in his recent commencement speech to UC-Irvine (2014).  The President spoke on the urgency to combat dangerous man-made climate change.  see link   There is no man-made climate change, and therefore there is no urgency to combat it. 

Finally, it is is gratifying that several groups continue to request me to speak to them on various topics.   In the past three years, I have made formal speeches to Southern California Section of AIChE, to the student chapter of AIChE at University of California at Irvine, and the student chapter of AIChE at UCLA (University of California at Los Angeles).    I am very pleased that UCLA students have asked me to present a four-part series of lectures on approaches to the national student design competition.   See link for a list of recent speeches. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Nuclear Until Renewables Can Shoulder The Load - A Bad Idea

Subtitle:  Yet Another Lame Excuse To Prolong Nuclear Plant Lives

An article in Forbes (see link) is rather long-winded but finally gets to the point in the final paragraphs: 

"If we retire (carbon-free) nuclear plants prematurely, there is only one resource that can fill their place today. Gas-fired power plants (i.e. carbon-emitting) – with 40-year legacies – will step in to replace them. And those commitments, once made, cannot be easily undone."

Forbes correctly points out that solar and wind-powered energy technologies are improving rapidly, both technically and economically.  Therefore, Forbes argues, it is worth keeping the uneconomic, money-losing nuclear plants (see link) running for the additional years or even decades that are required to allow the "carbon-free" (their words) technologies to replace the nuclear plants.   To their credit, Forbes includes not only the power generation from wind and solar, but also grid-scale energy storage to allow on-demand, reliable power.  

Apparently, it is abhorrent to build gas-burning power plants, simply because they emit carbon dioxide from their stacks.   However, one must devoutly believe in the carbon-dioxide-emitted-by-man-is-overheating-the-planet nonsense to reach that conclusion.  Never mind that the climate alarmists have been proven wrong at every turn. 

What ridiculous analogies come to mind?  Should horses pulling buggies (and heavy wagons for commerce) have been subsidized, allowed to continue running by government decree, until electric cars became available and economic?  Should pocket pagers (remember those?) have been subsidized and required to be manufactured because flip-phones using cellular technology would someday be replaced by smart phones?  

Plus, what of the outrageous amounts of water for cooling that nuclear plants require?  It is known that a modern, gas-fired combined cycle plant, CCGT, uses one-fourth the cooling water of a nuclear plant.  Should those in water-scarce areas suffer for years, or decades, while the nuclear plant evaporates the fresh water?  Note, this is not a hypothetical:  the South Texas Nuclear Project (STNP) near Corpus Christi, Texas, does exactly that.  Texas has suffered through a prolonged and serious drought, with the primary storage reservoir, Lake Travis, sending water down the Colorado River to the plant while consumers along the river must not touch the water.   see link.   STNP has a small artificial pond to augment the river water, but that pond depends on seasonal rainfall.  Lately, the rain has not happened.  

Other nuclear plants in the arid areas have the same issue:  the cooling water is evaporated into the sky, where it could be used for human consumption.  

Forbes cites a nuclear industry group, apparently newly-formed, that is desperately trying to pitch nuclear plants as "good" because they are "carbon-free."  The group is Nuclear Matters.  This newest, lamest excuse can be added to the other excuses the industry makes for not shutting down the money-losing nuclear plants, one of which is "nuclear plants create jobs," still another is "nuclear plant closures will have a serious negative effect on the economy."  

The bottom line is this, as shown in a recent SLB article on the proposed and newly-approved UK nuclear plant at Hinkley Point, (see link), renewable energy plus grid-scale storage must beat US$ 12,000 per kW installed to beat the economics of a new, grid-scale nuclear power plant.  With large offshore wind turbines coupled to submerged spherical pumped-storage hydroelectric systems, the $12,000 critical threshold should be fairly easy to achieve or better.   Even more, the nuclear plants cannot follow the grid load, and if they did, their economics are much worse.  Meanwhile, the submerged pumped storage systems can easily follow the grid load.   

In conclusion, there is no need to keep the money-losing nuclear plants running.  The US should take full and immediate advantage of the strong offshore wind resources and work out the inevitable kinks in the submerged pumped storage systems. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California

copyright (c) 2014 by Roger Sowell -- all rights reserved

Sunday, October 12, 2014

UK Hinkley Point Nuclear Plant Heavily Subsidized

Subsidies for nuclear power plants are not just in the US.   This week, several sources report that UK's proposed Hinkley Point C plant, a 3,200 MWe nuclear plant, received a blessing from the EU Commission to obtain public funding - a form of subsidy.  See link for a BBC report.   (for more on US subsidies for its nuclear power plants, of which there are at least six different subsidies, see this link and this link). 

The Hinkley Point C plant will have two reactors, each 1,600 MWe, of the EPR reactor design that is currently such a fiasco in Finland at Olkiluoto. (see link)   To their credit, the BBC article admits the Hinkley Point C will require 10 years to first operation.  However, the plant life is also stated as 60 years, which is wildly optimistic. 

The subsidy for Hinkley Point C apparently takes the form of a high sales price for power at the transaction bar - the plant boundary.  The plant owner is guaranteed the equivalent of US 15 cents per kWh, approximately double the present rate for wholesale power in the UK.  

What is interesting is the quoted price to build the plant, at £24.5 billion (the equivalent of US$ 39.2 billion).   This equates to MORE than $10,000 per kW, at $12,250.   Again, this is precisely what SLB has maintained all along - a new nuclear power plant costs far more than the $4,000 some advocates maintain.  Instead, it will cost at least $10,000 per kW, and more likely $12,000 per kW.   Here we see at least a small beginning of honesty from the nuclear establishment.  

However, given the long, dismal history of nuclear plant schedule delays and cost overruns, it is to be expected that the Hinkley Point C twin reactor plant will take far longer than 10 years to startup, and will cost far more than US$ 39 billion.  It will likely require 15 years or longer, and $48 billion or even more.  

The poor people of the UK will foot the bill, as they have few choices but to buy the power.  However, with the higher and higher prices that will inevitably occur, it may be possible for some of the grid customers to unplug themselves from the grid.  There may be better, cheaper ways to produce their own electricity.  For an analysis of such ways, see this link.   In the year 2023 or perhaps later, 2030 as a more realistic startup date, the options for unplugging from the grid and self-generation will likely be more numerous and more appealing than what we have today.  

It will be a long, long time before Hinkley Point C begins producing power and its true impact will be felt.  One can only hope the resourceful people of the UK will rise to the occasion and replace as much power as possible to self-generate and save money.  

In another moment of rare candor, UK officials tried to justify the new nuclear plant by stating that there are few options available for providing reliable power.  They state that coal is nearly exhausted and would be unreliable if imported, natural gas also is in short supply and in danger of being cut off by selling nations (meaning Russia), and wind is too unreliable.  Solar in the UK area is not at all economically attractive, owing to the high latitude and cloudy weather.  (The UK, after all, is of the same approximate latitude as Hudson Bay in Canada)   

What, then, is left but nuclear?    One answer, of course, is offshore wind coupled to ocean-based storage systems that supply power on demand, quite reliably. (see link) By 2030, one expects that the offshore wind with storage to be well-proven and very attractive.    All the offshore wind projects must do to compete is beat US$12,250 per kW.  The energy is free, and many of the other very high costs of running a nuclear plant simply do not exist for wind-energy. 

Update - 10/13/2014:  UK wind resources offshore are quite good.  see link   -- end update. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California

copyright (c) 2014 by Roger Sowell -- all rights reserved

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Grand Game - Oil in Disarray

Subtitle: Precision Directional Drilling Causes Oil Price Decrease

It has been a while (four years) since I last wrote on the Grand Game, where renewable energy, nuclear power, oil, coal, and natural gas all compete for shares of the world's energy needs.  Previous articles on the Grand Game may be found here (see link).   This week has seen a flurry of articles on the weakness of OPEC, and the looming oil price collapse.   (see link for one of many such articles)

The reasons for the impending oil price reduction, or collapse as it may turn out, are fundamental economics of supply and demand.  Demand is stable or slightly falling, while world supply is increasing as US domestic oil production due to precision directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing brings more oil to the surface.   On a side note: hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking" as the media terms it, is not the key.  It does little good to fracture an oil-bearing formation if the oil well is vertical and pierces only a small part of the oil-bearing rock.  The key to the recent increased oil production is precision directional drilling, in which the oil well travels horizontally through the oil-bearing rock.   

Meanwhile, new cars are achieving ever-increasing miles-per-gallon ratings.  In the commercial aviation field, more and more ultra-efficient aircraft are flying, including Airbus' A380 and the Boeing 787.   However, the biggest influence is the increased oil production in the US.  

World oil price hit a low point this week, with the benchmark crude reaching $90 per barrel, representing approximately 10 percent decrease from recent prices.   It will be very interesting to see if OPEC members can reach some agreement on reduced production levels in an effort to increase or maintain price.  Or, perhaps the member countries will splinter and engage in a production war, each trying to sell as much as possible while prices plummet. 

On an editorial note, the price of oil has many ramifications.   The primary impact is on the cost of delivered goods since most goods move to their destination by petroleum-powered transport.  The transport usually takes the form of diesel-powered trucks and trains.  Also, ships and barges burn fuel oil.   Consumers who drive cars also enjoy reduced prices at the gasoline pump, leaving more disposable income in their wallets.   Industries do not burn much oil in modern times, and very little electricity is produced from oil so there is not much benefit for them.   

One of the major benefits is the price of natural gas, which in some instances is tied to the price of oil.  For example, Russia recently contracted to supply China with great quantities of natural gas, with the price of the gas being tied to the price of oil.    Since natural gas is used for electric power production, lower oil prices will have some impact on electricity prices. 

Long-term, OPEC has warned that low oil prices will create an oil shortage.  OPEC insists that few, if any, investments will be made into new production unless the price is obtainable to justify the spending.  

OPEC will meet again in November, 2014.   The results of that meeting should be interesting. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California

copyright (c) 2014 by Roger Sowell -- all rights reserved