Sunday, March 27, 2016

USCRN Shows Slight Warming in 2015

Subtitle:  El Niño Warmed Even the Pristine Sites

The US Climate Reference Network, USCRN, is the focus of my efforts to track continental US atmospheric (near-surface) temperature trends, as published earlier (see link) for the decade 2005-2014, inclusive.  This network of temperature measuring stations is far from cities, factories, and other artificial warming (or cooling) effects; they are located in sufficiently pristine areas that human influences are non-existent or negligible.  
Continental US Temperature Trends 2005-2015
source: NOAA and USCRN 

The year 2015 was, of course, one in which an unusually strong El Niño occurred.  The El Niño was expected to increase surface temperatures across the US as it also warmed much of the Pacific Ocean surface.   

The adjacent chart shows (in orange) the resulting temperature anomalies for what I refer to as the USCRN 55, for the 55 locations that have data that extends back to January 2005.   Note that the USCRN stations are relatively new and many of the stations came on-line in more recent years.   It is inappropriate to include short-duration records with those of longer durations, as it skews the results. 

The chart also shows (in blue) the temperature anomalies from NOAA's "climate at a glance" web site, see link,    It can be seen that both sets of anomalies closely correspond, but there are some significant differences. 

First, the similarities.  Both show a warming for 2015, as expected from the El Niño.  However, the 2015 result is not the warmest, as 2012 was warmer.   The anomalies are essentially identical for the years 2008, 2010, 2011, 2012. 2013, and 2014.  

Next, the differences.  It can be seen that the NOAA data are somewhat greater for the five years 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, and 2015. 

This is exactly what I, and many like-minded people have stated all along: the NOAA data shows warmer results when compared to the pristine, USCRN results.   This is certainly true for the brief period for which the USCRN has data.  What is also true is the NOAA data is consistently cooler in prior decades as a result of systematic adjustments.  

A note on the NOAA data, from their website:  "Data for the Contiguous U.S., statewide, Climate Divisions, Climate Regions, National Weather Service Regions, and Agricultural Belts come from the U.S. Climate Divisional Database, which have data from 1895 to the present."  This has the data from thousands of US locations, as adjusted by NOAA.  

Future results are very likely to show a cooling, and a rapid cooling as the El Niño converts into the La Niña mode.    What is known from recent history is the small sunspot cycle Number 20 peaked in approximately 1970 at 100 sunspots.   As that cycle came to its minimum, very cold winters occurred in 1977, 1978, and 1979. (see below for typical description of those winters)  Presently, sunspot cycle Number 24 is also trending down after its peak of approximately 95 sunspots. 

"For the first time since modern weather records began in the 1880s, a third consecutive
severe winter occurred in Illinois in 1978-1979. Seventeen major winter storms, the state's
record coldest January-February, and record snow depths on the ground gave the winter
of 1978-1979 a rank as the second worst statewide for Illinois, exceeded only by the prior
winter of 1977-1978 (18 storms, coldest statewide December-March, record longest lasting
snow cover). In the northern fourth of Illinois, 1978-1979 was the worst winter on

Severe storms began in late November and extended into March; the seven major storms
in January set a new record high for the month, the four in February tied the previous
record, and the four in December fell one short of the record. Fourteen storms also had
freezing rain, but ice was moderately severe in only two cases. High wind and blizzard
conditions occurred in only three storms (compared with eight in prior winter), suggesting
a lack of extremely deep low pressure centers. Most storms occurred with Texas lows,
Colorado (north track) lows, and miscellaneous synoptic conditions. The super storm of
11-14 January set a point snow record of 24 inches, left snow cover of more than 3 inches
over 77% of the state, and lasted 56 hours.

Snowfall for the 1978-1979 winter averaged 68 inches (38 inches above normal) in
northern Illinois, 40 inches (20 above) in the north central part, 32 inches (12 above) in
south central Illinois, and 31 inches (22 above) in southern Illinois. Record totals of 60 to
100 inches occurred in northern Illinois. The winter temperatures averaged 7.8 F below
normal in northern Illinois and about 7 below in the rest of the state. January-February
temperatures averaged a record low of 15.9 F, 14 degrees below normal, and prevented
melting between storms so that record snow depths of more than 40 inches occurred in 
northern Illinois."  -- Illinois State Water Survey, 1980 "Illinois Third Consecutive Severe Winter: 1978-1979," by Changnon, Changnon, and Stone. 

The USCRN pristine sites are the ones to track.  There is no need for adjustments to that data.   The pristine sites are very likely to show substantial cooling in the coming years as El Niño fades, the sunspot cycles weaken, and any carbon dioxide in the air simply fails to deliver the warming that False-Alarmists claim.  

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

copyright © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved

Saturday, March 26, 2016

California Grid and 40 Pct Renewable Energy - All Is Well

Subtitle:  Grid Not Collapsed - No Blackouts

Today 3/26/2016, the California grid is having a banner day with Solar energy, and the percentage of renewables on the grid is far above 30 percent.    Data in MW is shown below.  Data is from    see link 

Hour .....  Renewables .......Total Grid .....  Renewable Percent.........Solar .......... Wind

Noon         9814  MW              22,593                    43.4                            7188            735
1230          9930                      22,525                    44.0                            7315           719
1300          9846                      22,496                    43.8                            7309           640
1330          9758                      22,436                    43.5                            7310           534   
1400          9746                      22,453                    43.4                            7308           529
1430          9674                      22,557                    42.9                            7309           452
1500          9640                      22,747                    42.4                            7292           439
1530          9494                      22,858                    41.5                            7210           379
1600          9200                      23,143                    39.7                            6949           350

The reason for this post is to refute some nonsense published earlier this week, in which a former Commissioner on the California Energy Commission (who should know better) declared that California would never exceed 18 percent of grid power from renewable energy.  see link.    In 2014, per California Energy Commission, renewable energy amounted to 25 percent of all electricity sold in the state, and that does not include another 10 percent (approximately) from large hydroelectric generators.  

One could perhaps argue the semantics, of what is a renewable, or what time frame constitutes the evaluation period.  California has excluded large hydroelectric from the renewable definition, but small hydro counts.  The forms of renewable that count these days are solar (both PV and thermal), wind, geothermal, small hydro, biomass, and biogas.   Only the solar and wind are variable, as the others are remarkably constant.  

This post is also to refute what some so-called "experts" write over and over, that electric grids are too fragile to handle solar and wind energy when those exceed 30 percent of grid demand.   Clearly, that is simply false.   Solar, alone, is contributing more than 30 percent today in California, as at noon it was 31.8 percent, and at 1230 hours it was 32.5 percent.   Wind was small, at just over 3 percent, so the total at those two moments was a bit more than 35 percent.    It should be noted, and clearly, that the grid is operating quite well.  No reports of problems.  The CAISO, the grid operator, has issued no Flex Alerts, or warnings of any kind.  

Note that, in California, the highest renewable percentages tend to occur on weekends when demand is low, on sunny days when solar output is highest, and windy days when wind turbines are at highest output.   The end of March, the month of April, and part of May are the periods with the most wind.  However, the most solar energy occurs later in the year, in late June.  

Post will be updated as the day progresses.   Wind is expected to pick up as there is a wind storm predicted today along the California - Arizona border. 

Earlier posts on this topic include:

Wind-energy-increasing-in-us  see link
Gone-with-wind-nuclear-bye-bye  see link

UPDATE 1 - 4/17/2016:   Wind was stronger on Friday, 4/15/2016, along with fairly strong sunshine, providing a bit more than 11,000 MW during the noon hours.  This was a bit more than 44 percent of total electricity on the grid for several hours.  But, such a condition would have provided a bit more than 50 percent of the grid had this happened on a weekend with its reduced electrical demand.   As before, there were absolutely zero grid-based problems reported, no Flex-Alerts, no requests to curtail electricity use.  --- end update 1. 
Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California

copyrignt © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved. 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Eight Year Anniversary of SLB 2008-2016

Subtitle:  Eight Years of Law, Technology, Energy, and Science

It has been an amazing adventure to write SLB, read the comments and receive various feedback.   The first post was on March 16, 2008.  Today there are more than 300 posts.

The simple statistics, visitors from 148 countries, by more than 80,000 unique visitors viewing the blog more than 149,000 times.    Topics on SLB include nuclear power, climate change, renewable energy, oil, gas, and coal as energy, fresh water, legal cases, some aspects of the law, and various aspects of engineering.   SLB has had articles copied and published on other blogs, with two of those translated into German and published on German sites.  

The most widely-read articles include those on climate change and the Truth About Nuclear Power series of 30 articles.  Also in the top is the article where temperature trends for more than 80 cities in the US are displayed.  The lack of warming in smaller towns is obvious, as is the pronounced warming in big cities.  

It is quite satisfying to have written the 30 articles on Truth About Nuclear Power, and see so many of the points made there continue to occur in the real world.  As examples, long construction times and delays occur in almost every nuclear plant project, at Vogtle and Sumner in the US, and Olkiluoto in Finland, and Flamanville in France.  Cost over-runs also occur just as TANP states.   Nuclear plant subsidies also occur for floundering plants, just as TANP states.  The horrific meltdowns in Fukushima and cleanup efforts are a grim reminder of the frailty of nuclear plant designs and the power of Nature.   The multiple near-misses each year continue, with another ten serious safety issues having occurred in 2015, in the US reactors alone.   Small modular reactors continue to be a dream, as are all the other futuristic forms of nuclear power.   One Chinese plant with pebble bed uranium is supposed to start up in a year of two and it will be watched and written about on SLB.  

The climate change issue has been, and continues to be, much fun to watch and write about.  The False-Alarmists really have themselves boxed in, with their computer models failing badly when compared to measured temperatures.  My speeches on the topic mention this, and the utter failure of every calamitous outcome predicted by the false-alarmists.  Rising seas, melting polar ice, disappearing glaciers, snow vanished from the Earth, warming temperatures, increased hurricanes and stronger hurricanes, increased tornadoes and stronger tornadoes, the list of failed predictions goes on and on.  

It is also rewarding to observe the rise of the renewable energy forms, solar and wind in particular, and various storage technologies.  Knowing that coal production is very limited and will be exhausted within 20 years in the US, and 50 to 60 years world-wide, it is vital that the renewable energy be developed and matured rapidly. 

On the legal side, it is always a pleasure to assist clients with their legal issues.  It is also rewarding to make the effort and help shape the outcome of various US policies on the environment, energy, climate change regulations, and especially to hold various persons and entities accountable for their wrong-doing.  

There has been much written over the years on possibility of vast wars over oil, and over food, and over water.  What is not written about, as far as I know, is the looming catastrophe when electricity stops flowing as the coal resources expire.   The US’ policies must be made with this in mind, as it is one of the most important of all the issues at hand. 

One last comment on the reception SLB articles receive from some readers.  Apparently, they read only that I am an attorney, then immediately pre-judge and stereotype that information as just another know-nothing legal beagle.  The fact is, I am somewhat unusual in having a chemical engineering degree and three decades of world-wide experience both with operating companies and consulting.   The law degree and attorney license is in addition to those credentials.  Therefore, I have a very sound basis for the technical and economic arguments that I make.  see link to biographical sketch. 

My best to all who read SLB.  As always, comments are welcome and are moderated by me. 

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

copyrignt © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved. 

Ivanpah Solar Plant Capacity Improving

Subtitle:  Solar Capacity Factor Much Better than Nuclear

The Ivanpah solar power plant is in the news and on at least a few blogs, as the annual output has not quite reached the contract minimums.  The California Public Utility Commission, CPUC, extended more time, up to one year, for the plant owner to continue the start-up and fine-tuning of operations.  see link to WSJ article. 
Ivanpah Solar Plant, California
credit: US DOE

What is interesting is the type of comments, and the tone, from some commenters on the blogs.   Using WattsUpWithThat (WUWT) as one example, the tone and comments there deride solar power and call for the shut down of Ivanpah Solar.  Their reasons are quite interesting, given the pro-nuclear bias of many, if not most, of the commenters.  see link

The Ivanpah solar plant has not yet produced the output as required under the Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) that were made with those utilities that purchase the power.   It is notable that the plant is a first-of-a-kind for that technology and size, using thousands of heliostats (adjustable mirrors) to reflect sunshine from the desert floor onto three elevated solar boilers to produce steam.  The steam then runs conventional power plants (one per tower) that use unconventional, air-cooled condensers.   Per the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Invapah Solar produced 45 and 68 percent of required output in 2014 and 2015, respectively.  The plant started up in January, 2014 so those years mark the first two years of operation. 
US Nuclear Reactors - Average Capacity Factor

What is most interesting is the comparison to capacity factor of the US nuclear power plants in their early years.  Capacity factor in this context is the actual annual output of a plant divided by the design output and expressed as a percentage.   Thus, Invanpah Solar had a 45 percent capacity factor in 2014, and 68 percent in 2015, the first year and second year of operation.   Per the Nuclear Energy Institute, see link, the US nuclear reactors had 56 percent capacity factor in 1980, and only 66 percent capacity factor a decade later in 1990.   The US nuclear reactors finally hit 80 percent after another decade (approximately 1999), and leveled out at just over 90 percent from 2001.   In 1980, there were just over 50 nuclear reactors, with at least 10 reactors that had been running for at least a decade.   By 1990, there were just over 100 reactors running but still had only 66 percent capacity factor.   Clearly, the solar thermal plant at 68 percent in its second year is performing better than the entire US nuclear plant fleet did at 66 percent after 20 years operation. 

The double standard is quite obvious, with nuclear plants cheered, even though their capacity factors were dismal for more than two decades.    The solar thermal power plant is somehow different because it has not yet made full capacity after only two full years of operation.    It is a very good thing that the CPUC has sensible people making the decisions, and not the nuclear cheerleaders and solar nay-sayers that comment on WUWT. 

Another area of derision by the WUWT commenters is the Invanpah Solar's financing via a federal Loan Guarantee.  A federal loan guarantee also exists for new nuclear plants, which the WUWT commenters claim is ok for nuclear,  but bad for solar.   Their argument seems to be that the loan guarantee is only in play if the plant defaults, but if it succeeds there is no cost to the government.    Why that is bad for solar but good for nuclear is a complete mystery. 

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

copyrignt © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved. 

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Hinkley Point C Nuclear Plant in More Trouble

Subtitle: No Billionaire Investors Rushing To Write A Check

Well, this has got to sting, probably more than a little, for the nuclear cheerleaders who (falsely) claim that nuclear power is the cheapest way to produce electricity, and should be built world-wide just like France did: obtaining 80 percent or more of all electricity from nuclear reactors.   The fact is, the UK's much-trumpeted future nuclear plant at Hinkley Point C is in deep financial trouble even before the first shovel of dirt is displaced.   see link to a WSJ article from March 12, 2016,  titled "EDF Asks French Government for Aid for Hinkley Point Nuclear Plant."    (note: EDF is France's 85% state-owned electric company, Electricité de France SA)   

From the article:  "  (EDF CEO) Mr. Levy said EDF wouldn’t engage in the £18 billion ($25.89 billion) project unless it was able to secure necessary financial commitments from the state (France), which holds almost 85% of the utility."

And, here is the problem:  EDF already has debt troubles, and taking on more debt to build Hinkley Point C nuclear plant is seen by union members on EDF's board of directors to be simply too much debt.   EDF's credit-worthiness is under review, and the French company Areva that manufactures nuclear reactors is also having serious financial trouble.  Areva is reported to have lost money in each of the five past years.   Furthermore, the much-touted new-generation nuclear reactor design from Areva, the EPR, is not faring well in the commercial world.  Only two plants are building the behemoth (and it is huge), one in France and one in Finland.  Both projects are seriously in trouble, both far over budget and many years behind schedule.  SLB has articles on both the Flamanville, France, and Olkiluoto, Finland nuclear projects.     With those projects as the only two examples, and both miserable failures, the UK proposed project with the same EPR technology cannot hope to be built for the stated amount ($26 billion), and on schedule.    

Apparently, it requires something like sinking the national electric company (EDF in this case) to bring the economic truth out on modern, state-of-the-art nuclear power plants: they are far too expensive to construct and result in outrageous power prices to customers that are forced to buy the electricity.  see link to previous SLB articles on this topic. 

It is indeed interesting that of all the billionaires on the planet, none are reported to be rushing to the Hinkley Point C table to write a check for the £18 billion.  UK's billionaires include Reuben, Grosvenor, Grayken (Ireland), O'Brien (Ireland), Ratcliffe, Lewis, Barclay, Branson, Graff, Bruno Schroder (a banker), Calder, Dyson, Coates, and others, but none has stepped up to invest to the best of my knowledge.    Indeed, such absence of action gives one reason to wonder if nuclear plants are really all that great as an investment.   

In the case of proposed Hinkley Point C, power sold into the wholesale market is to be triple the price of that from existing power plants.  

The UK is indeed in a pickle.  Domestic coal has (almost) run out, so it must import the stuff.  Natural gas exists offshore in the North Sea, or UK could import LNG as required.  Nuclear is far too expensive (not to mention the always-present danger of meltdowns and radiation release).  Solar is not an option for the cloudy and rain-swept island.  Wind is indeed an option but requires massive storage systems to produce power reliably.   Fortunately, there is a long coastline so that under-sea pumped storage is quite handy. 

It appears that UK must turn to bio-renewables for at least part of its power, the human waste-to-syngas technology patented by Dr. Chan Park of UC-Riverside, and the municipal solid waste-to-syngas technology patented by Peter A. Nick and four other chemical engineers from California.  

UPDATE 1:  3-19-2016, it appears that the French government will approve funds for Hinkley Point C after all.  There may be some financial moves to make this possible.  One must admire the French, even in a doomed battle to provide work for their citizens in designing and building nuclear power plants.   Once the plant is under construction, the delays and cost over-runs will zoom the cost to build far past $32 billion, making it very likely the most expensive nuclear plant ever built.   The plant will operate at a loss, forever.  Time will tell, if and when this plant ever gets built and running, and if the financial reporting is transparent and accurate.  -- end update 1. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California
copyrignt © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved. 

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Fukushima Nuclear Meltdowns Five Years On

Subtitle: Fukushima Design Flaws Should Not Have Existed

 The 9.0-magnitude earthquake off north-eastern Japan on March 11, 2011 occurred five years ago to the day.  The 50-foot tsunami that followed the earthquake had devastating consequences to a large area in Japan, especially knocking out the grid power and disabling the emergency power to several of the six nuclear reactors at the Fukushima power complex.   As is well-known today, three of the reactors melted down, three containment buildings exploded, and great quantities of nuclear radiation were released into the air, the soil, and the ocean.   Radioactive water continues to leak into the ocean even today.  

SLB has a post from 2014 on the Fukushima nuclear disaster, titled "Fukushima - The Disaster That Could Not Happen."  (see link).   This is article 22 of the 30-article series on Truth About Nuclear Power (that presently has more than 21,000 pageviews). 
Fukushima nuclear reactors after meltdowns and explosions
March 11, 2011 (credit: ORNL)

While pausing to offer condolences to those who lost loved ones, and whose lives were changed for the worse, this article discusses a few additional aspects of what went wrong and what lessons should be learned. 

In simplest terms, sheer stupidity created the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns.   There are essentially no lessons that were taught that day, beyond what competent engineers already knew and know.   The lesson is: nuclear designers and advocates should not be trusted with the safety aspect of nuclear plants. 

First, it was well-known that a nuclear power plant requires a considerable water supply and means to circulate that water for cooling a reactor after a shutdown.   It was equally well-known that a loss of grid power could occur, in fact, that is the very reason that emergency generators are installed in nuclear power plants.   Fukushima had the emergency generators.  It was also well-known that diesel fuel is required to run the emergency generators.  Fuel was stored on-site, but only sufficient fuel for 8 to 10 hours for each reactor.  It was also well-known that Japan is prone to earthquakes and tsunamis.  In fact, some of the nearby areas have or had tsunami protection systems such as seawalls, and gates that could close to prevent water from entering a river valley.    So much for not knowing what to do if power is lost, and not knowing about earthquakes and tsunamis at Fukushima. 

What was incredibly wrong was the emergency generators and batteries were in the basement of the buildings, where seawater flooded them and made them inoperable.  

It was also a bad decision to design the plants to withstand a tsunami of only 20 feet, when it was well-known that earlier tsunamis were much higher.  The actual tsunami was approximately 50 feet high.   Historical tsunamis in Japan include one from 1896 that was 30 to 38 meters (100 to 130 feet); in 1933 the tsunami was 21 meters (70 feet approximately).   There can be no excuse for building Fukushima reactors to withstand a tsunami of only 20 feet.  

It should be noted that elevating the entire plant another 30 to 40 feet adds a trivial amount to the construction cost.   In the alternative, constructing a water-tight wall with appropriate openings also would add a trivial amount to the construction cost. 

From the ORNL paper referenced in the earlier SLB post, (see link), the tsunami design portion has strange wording that leads to even more unease about Japanese nuclear designs:

"At the target site, the height of the design tsunami should exceed all the
calculated historical tsunami heights.

 ...the design tsunami is compared with the historical records …. it is confirmed
the height of the design tsunami that is obtained in this paper is twice that of

historical tsunamis on an average”  --  (see p. 14 of the ORNL paper linked above)

Several things are wrong with this statement.  "At the target site," should not be used for the design basis, instead, "in the general area" would give a much safer design.   

Next, "should exceed all the calculated historical tsunami heights" should be "exceed all the actual historical tsunami heights."     There is, or should be, sufficient evidence in a long-populated country like Japan to know, not have to guess or calculate tsunami heights.    

Finally, "it is confirmed ... is twice that of historical tsunamis ON AN AVERAGE."  This is so wrong it beggars belief.  One does not design a plant to meet the average conditions, instead, one designs for the worst case.  

It is clear from the evidence that a nearby nuclear power plant, also part of the Fukushima complex, managed quite well during and after the earthquake and the tsunami.  That reactor was built on higher ground and had an emergency generator that functioned long enough.   

What is also abundantly clear is that nuclear industry professionals are not to be trusted with their assurances that reactors are designed, built, and operated safely.   There is a great need for independent, competent engineers to review the designs and actual construction, and especially the design basis, to identify problems such as existed at Fukushima and went undetected for decades.  

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

Copyright (c) 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

France Closing Oldest Nuclear Plant

Subtitle:  The Plant Did Not Reach 40 Years - Forget 60

Well, that has got to sting, at least to those nuclear cheerleaders who constantly repeat the (false) claim that nuclear plants last for 60 years.   France announced this week the closure of its oldest nuclear plant, after only 39 years of operation.    The reactor is at Fessenheim, near the border with Germany and Switzerland.  
Nuclear Power Plants in France
(Fessenheim at the top-right of figure)
source: Wikicommons

From the report, "Germany demanded that France close down Fessenheim following reports that a 2014 incident there was worse than earlier portrayed."  see link to news article. 

The French are committed to shutting down many of the country's nuclear reactors by 2025, thereby reducing the nuclear share of electricity from 75 percent to 50 percent.   

As written earlier on SLB, nuclear plants do not run for 60 years, despite claims that they do by the nuclear cheerleaders.    In fact, see link, nuclear plants require costly upgrades after 20 to 30 years, and certainly do by age 40.   The problem is one of safety and economics.  Safety requires the upgrades to worn and degraded parts.  However, the upgrades are so costly they do not achieve a return on the investment when the plant is shut down and retired from service a short time later for any of dozens of reasons.   At some point in the nuclear plant's life, it is simply throwing away money to invest in the upgrades necessary to keep the plant in compliance with safety standards. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq.
Marina del Rey, California  
Copyright (c) 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved