Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Nigeria Plans 4 Nuclear Plants for $80 Billion

Subtitle: Nigerian Nuclear Plants Most Expensive Ever at $16,600 per kW

"(First one, then t)hree other nuclear plants are being planned, which would take total capacity to 4,800 megawatts by 2035, with each facility costing $20 billion. The first Nigerian plant will be operational in 2025."  -- quote from Today.NG  see link

Nigeria, a producer and seller of crude oil, announced recently that it plans to build four nuclear power plants of 1,200 MWe each for an investment total of $80 billion.   The plant provider is Russia's Rosatom.  

The Nigerian Minister of Power pointed out "the project will make electricity cheap in the country, stressing that diversifying the nation’s energy mix would lead to the utilisation of the various forms of renewable energy sources in the country."

One wonders exactly how cheap electricity will be produced from nuclear plants that cost $16,600 per kW to build.   It is also a mystery how having nuclear plants would lead to installing renewable energy plants. 

This one goes on the list of projects to watch.   It will be interesting to observe the progress, the capital costs, and the on-line factors for these nuclear plants. 

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

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Coal, Wind, And US Energy

Subtitle:  Coal Falters as Wind Excels

Data from Energy Information Agency
Black line highlights 50 percent point - not a trend line
The long history of electric power production, and the pollution caused by that production, has always been a story of coal and all the others.    The abundant statistics show that coal provided more than 50 percent of US power for decades, from the mid-1950s until 2005 (see chart at right).  The decade of the 1970s had a bit less than 50 percent due to the ill-timed start-up of dozens of oil-fired power plants.   By mid-decade in the 1970s, nuclear power plants were producing approximately 10 percent of all US power, and oil-fired plants were shutting down after OPEC increased the price of oil in the early part and again at the end of 1979.  Coal was again on the rise, reaching the peak in the late 1980s of production as a percent of all US electricity. 

Meanwhile, an ominous warning came from some who (misguidedly) believed that oil and natural gas were in short supply and would soon be exhausted.  There were two opposing camps holding that belief, those who wanted nuclear power to provide the planet's electricity, and those opposed to nuclear and in favor of wind and solar power.  

A notable member of the believers of an oil and gas shortage was President Jimmy Carter, who infamously took to the TV in April, 1977 and warned us about the need to conserve energy.  He wore a sweater in the White House to emphasize the point.   He was, of course, very wrong.  There is more than abundant oil and natural gas world-wide, in fact, there is a glut that has driven prices down to a fraction of what they were in the Jimmy Carter days.  Improved oil and gas exploration and production methods, including precision directional drilling (PDD) and hydraulic fracturing have opened up oil and gas fields world-wide. 

The nuclear power industry of course came to an abrupt halt after the true dangers of meltdowns and explosions became obvious, first with the Three Mile Island meltdown, then the Chernobyl explosion.  Even with almost 100 percent government subsidy and indemnity from public nuclear radiation, the costs to make the plants nominally safe gave utilities pause. 

Meanwhile in all of this, the US environment became an issue and the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970.  However, coal-fired power plants were exempted from most of the provisions of the CAA by various means.  In practice, while other industries such as smelters, chemical plants, and refineries were required to install air pollution abatement systems, the coal-fired power plants did not.   This, as it turned out, was a mistake. 

Coal-fired power plants, and nuclear power plants enjoyed substantial profits while their chief rival, natural gas, was at a high price during the decades after passage of the CAA.  That was the time to spend some of the profits to install pollution reduction systems.  Now, when natural gas prices are low, coal-fired plants cannot afford the pollution reduction systems.   Also, the US EPA has finally closed the loopholes on coal-fired power plants and required them to reduce their air pollution. see link to "The Tragic Flaw of the Clean Air Act."   The response, predictably, is for the owners of the coal-fired power plants to close the plants.  (Note the rapid decline in coal percentage in the graph above, from 2005-2015; from 50 percent to 38 percent)  see link to  SLB article "Coal Power Plant Shutdowns Ahead of Pace in 2015: Gas and Renewables Replace the Coal Power."

The growth in wind power is also a key to the coal industry's woes.  Wind power also impacts the nuclear power industry, and not to nuclear's advantage.  It has always been known that windmills, and later wind turbines, can spin in the wind and do useful work.  Millions of windmill water pumps existed across the US, bringing water from wells to the surface so that cattle could drink.   Some of the first wind-turbines to produce electricity were installed in California's Altamont Pass near San Francisco.   The wind-turbines were expensive, however, and Altamont Pass is not a particularly good location, but it was one of the best in California.  

The next few decades show that wind-turbines were developed, tested, and improved.  These efforts were supported by modest government subsidies, typically 1.5 cents for every kWh produced, with the value adjusted for inflation.  Surveys of US wind potential revealed that there is enormous untapped wind energy, both onshore and offshore.  see link  to SLB article "Renewables in Outer Continental Shelf."  

 If a low-cost means to capture that wind energy could be found, and a means to store the energy then release it when needed, there would be no need to ever burn dirty coal or build dangerous nuclear plants again.  

Which brings us to today, where almost all of the requirements are in place.   The wind industry has developed larger and more economic turbines, so that it is now common to see 3 MW turbines onshore.  The first US offshore wind power project is installing 6 MW turbines, which are on schedule to start up in fourth quarter 2016.  There is an 8 MW turbine operating offshore in Europe.   Onshore wind economics are such that 5.3 cents per kWh is sufficient to entice owners to build.  Of that, 3 cents is from the utility and 2.3 cents is from government tax credits.   With additional cost reductions occurring annually, the tax credits are reduced to zero over the next five years.   Offshore economics are not as good as onshore, due to much higher costs to install the turbines in shallow ocean water.  However, the offshore wind is stronger and more steady so each turbine is more productive.  

The storage problem is also solved.  Many will scoff at that statement, but the reality is that technology has improved dramatically.  The four leading technologies for grid-scale energy storage are high-speed flywheels, pumped storage hydroelectric, advanced batteries, and rail gravity storage.  The first three are already installed in grid-scale service.  Pumped storage hydroelectric has been used for decades.  Batteries are in use on Santa Catalina Island offshore California.  There are better batteries forth-coming, an example of which is the halogenated polyacetylene battery from BioSolar Inc.   Finally, the low-tech gravity storage by ARES is under construction in Nevada.  There, electricity is drawn from the grid during periods of excess, such as with wind power at night, to send heavy electric trains up an incline of several miles length.   The electricity is produced when needed by sending the heavy trains down the incline with the brakes on, where the brakes are wheel-motor/generators operating in generator mode.  The efficiency is high, at better than 80 percent.  

Finally, pumped storage hydroelectric is no longer limited to those few locations with an elevated lake and a low-level lake within a few miles of each other.  Instead, engineers at MIT developed underwater hollow spheres to be positioned in the shallow ocean and near wind-turbine projects.  Electricity is used to pump sea water out of the spheres during night-time excess electricity production.  During the day when demand increases, water from the ocean flows through conventional hydroelectric systems into the spheres, producing power on-demand and in load-following mode.  

The result, for now, is what we see happening today.  Nuclear plants are shutting down due to the inability to compete in the wholesale electricity markets.  Very efficient natural gas power plants that use combined cycle gas turbines (CCGT), and low-cost wind power production have driven the price of electricity down below the point where nuclear power is profitable.  Several nuclear plants have announced closures due to this.  

Coal-fired plants are shutting down because they cannot afford the costs of air pollution control systems, again with low wholesale prices.  Coal also has the problem of limited resources, where low prices for coal have limited the economically recoverable reserves to less than 50 years worldwide, and approximately 25 years in the US.    One might wonder if this is a false shortage, as was the prediction related to oil and gas in the 1970s.  There are significant differences between coal reserves, and oil and gas reserves.   The primary difference is the cost to extract.   If a huge oil reserve is discovered, perhaps thousands of feet deep and offshore a few miles, it will be economic to drill and produce the oil.  ExxonMobil is doing exactly that with their huge oil field offshore Russia's east coast, the Sakhalin Island field.   This oil field required drilling more than 7 miles deep and with the drilling rig located on the island, more than 7 miles horizontally under the seabed.  

Coal cannot be economically mined under such conditions.  Per USGS experts, deep coal mines are uneconomic at more than 4000 feet from the surface.  Also, for surface mines, or near-surface mines, no more than 10 tons of overburden can be removed for each ton of coal mined. This limits coal production to far less than the known amount of coal in the world.  

Coal miners world-wide have a serious problem.  If they use efficient means of mass production, they mine through their reserves quickly.   Also, the efficient production reduces the cost of the coal, which reduces the amount of coal they can recover.   The best thing that could happen to coal miners is for natural gas to run short and its price skyrocket.   That may have seemed likely before the oil and gas industry perfected precision directional drilling and hydraulic fracturing.   From now on, the era of natural gas with low prices is here.  Coal mines are shutting down.  

Even more importantly, wind power reduces the amount of natural gas required in the gas-fired power plants.  As the saying goes, When the wind blows the power flows.   This reduces the demand for natural gas and reduces the demand-driven price.   Wind power also extends the lifetime of natural gas reserves.  

In a perverse way, the same holds true for nuclear power plants.   The more nuclear power that is installed, the less natural gas is burned in gas-fired power plants.  This, like wind power, reduces the demand for, and price of natural gas.  Nuclear power plants simply cannot compete with low-price natural gas.  

Even worse for nuclear power, there are now technologies to produce synthetic natural gas from carbonaceous waste products, such as the process developed and patented by Professor Chan Park of University of California at Riverside.  see link

Over the next few years, one can expect most of the nuclear power plants in the US to shut down due to unprofitable operations.  Also, more and more coal-fired power plants will close as they refuse to install costly pollution controls while knowing that their coal supply is limited to a few years.   CCGT power plants will be installed in great numbers, along with larger and more efficient wind-power projects across the great heartland of America where the wind is strong and free, from north Texas to the Canadian border.   

Offshore wind power projects will also increase, as the Block Island project offshore Rhode Island is but the first of many.  The success of the ARES gravity rail storage system in Nevada will open that technology to every place that has a suitable slope.  Surely the planners in UK will be pondering how to capture the wind there, store it in heavy trains on suitable slopes, and re-capture the power on-demand.   

A brief excursion on the OPEC moves over the decades, but this is a topic for its own article.  What better way for the Saudis to find out once and for all where the world's oil reserves are, than by temporarily increasing the price of oil so their competitors explored and drilled all over the world.  Even better, if the competition produced those new reserves to exhaustion, leaving OPEC firmly in control of oil.  That worked very well for oil in the North Sea and Alaska.  Alas, it will be a very long time before the oil in shale deposits is exhausted.  

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

copyright © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved

Monday, May 16, 2016

California Renewables More Than 50 Percent

Subtitle: Renewables Not Crashing the Grid

Yesterday, 15 May, 2016, the renewable energy systems in California supplied more than 50 percent of the grid's needs for several hours during the mid-day period.  The figure to the right, from CAISO, California Independent System Operator, shows the relative contribution to the grid for each minute of the day, by energy source.  The two black lines are the same length, giving a visual indication that renewables exceeded all other energy sources during the middle of the day.  

The graph below shows the renewables as a fraction of total grid supply from 10:00 through 17:00 hours.  The heavy black line shows the 50 percent, or 0.5 fraction.   At 14:00 hours, the renewables almost reached 56 percent.   

It is notable that this was a Sunday, when grid demand is relatively small.  The day was also sunny and windy, allowing both solar and wind power to produce more than the average amount of power.  

It is also notable that zero grid disruptions occurred.  The grid functioned smoothly with more than 50 percent renewables for 7 hours consecutively.  

It can be done.  California is proof.  

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

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Ivanpah Solar Power Plant Ahead of Expectations

Subtitle: Broken Part Now Fixed And Output Soared

"NRG Says Massive California Solar Plant Now on Pace to Meet Goal," per Bloomberg News.  see link   The Ivanpah solar thermal power plant that uses thousands of mirrors to focus the sun's energy on a boiler atop a tower had some mechanical problems last year,
photo credit:  US DOE
but those are now diagnosed and made right so the plant is delivering as, or better than, designed.  

It is dumbfounding how so many renewable-energy opponents agree with having a military ship undergo sea trials, where systems are tested and verified, then repaired or altered where necessary to obtain the desired performance.   Yet, a first-of-a-kind solar thermal power plant is, according to them, required to produce per design from the first day of operation.  Otherwise, it is a sheer waste of money.    Clearly, there is a double standard at work.   Cooler heads prevailed in the Ivanpah solar project, with the California regulators understanding that a faulty mechanical part was identified and corrected and the plant's output would increase to the required amount.  

Now, as the sun pours down its free and essentially eternal energy into the California desert, the plant produces valuable electricity during the grid's time of greatest need, the mid-day peak.  

Earlier posts on SLB on the Ivanpah solar power plant are here and here

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

copyright © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved

Fort Calhoun Nuclear Plant Losing Money - to Close

Subtitle:  Another Nuclear Plant Calls It Quits

Yet another US nuclear power plant is to close very soon, and once again inability to turn a profit is the reason stated. see link   The long-troubled Fort Calhoun nuclear plant has thrown in the towel, with plans to shut down permanently by the end of 2016.  This plant is the smallest in the US at approximately 470 MW, and is a single-reactor plant located on the Missouri River north of Omaha, Nebraska.   The losses are substantial at approximately $100 million per year, with officials reporting a loss of $30 per MWh produced.   The long-term outlook is not good, with natural gas prices low and wind power production increasing in the surrounding area.    Nuclear power plants, even ones that are paid for, cannot produce power as cheaply as the competition.  

From the article: 

"The nuclear plant at Fort Calhoun is simply too expensive to run when compared to other, cheaper forms of power, the Omaha Public Power District’s chief executive said Thursday. So it needs to shut down by the end of the year, he said."

To expect a new nuclear power plant to compete is sheer madness, as it also must pay for the capital investment.   If an existing plant cannot even cover its variable costs, a new plant has zero hope of ever making any money.    Even worse, the utility regulatory body would be derelict in their duty to provide power at a reasonable price to the consumers, if a nuclear plant was approved for construction. 

The Fort Calhoun nuclear plant is a poster-child for unrealistic optimism for nuclear power.  A few years ago in 2006, the plant's owners invested upwards of $400 million to replace major portions of the plant, including steam generators, reactor head, pressurizer, and some aspects of the steam turbine.   Such an investment is made with the hopes, and expectations, of the plant running for many years and bringing a profit to pay for the investment.   But, this plant was 33 years old then, but is now 43 years old, having started up in 1973.   The plant also had major problems with the river flooding, and a serious fire in 2011 that led to a three-year shutdown.   Today, the plant is losing money at the rate of approximately $100 million per year.   

The right thing to do for the consumers of Nebraska is to shut it down, begin the decommissioning process, and let the new era of cheap natural gas and wind-power continue to provide reliable, low-cost electricity.  

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

copyrignt © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Wind Energy Not Intended to Be Constant

Subtitle:  Wind Energy Supplements Other Forms

There is a massive misconception among the wind-energy detractors, one that should be readily apparent but is not.  The problem is the wind-energy detractors say that wind-turbines can never replace baseload, steady power plants such as nuclear, coal, or even gas-fired power plants.    That misses the point, entirely.   This post addresses this and provides a bit of history of wind power. 

Motor-sailer Yacht
Photo By David J. Shuler - Nordhavn Corporate Headquarters, CC BY 3.0,
The first point is that wind is not steady, at least not in most places where wind-turbines would and are being built.  This is nothing new and should be obvious.  From the earliest days of sailing, those in the boats knew that sometimes the wind blew nicely and sailing was easy, sometimes the wind stopped and either the ship stopped or sailors had to row, and sometimes the wind blew fiercely and at times capsized the ship.   On land, similar things occur with the wind, totally calm, a nice breeze, or a devastatingly strong force. 

Therefore, at least up until quite recently, electricity generated by wind-turbines has been a supplemental source of power, not a replacement for the baseload forms of generation.  More later on the innovations that have changed that.    Wind-turbines act to supplement the traditional forms of power generation. 

An analogy is to consider a a bicycle ridden at constant speed up a slight slope, as a load-following power plant of a gas-turbine design.  The power that the rider must input to the pedals corresponds to the fuel the power plant consumes.   However, when the bicycle reaches a point on the road where the slope is not quite as steep, less pedal-power is required to maintain speed.   The more gentle slope is analogous to the wind-turbines in operation, they make the gas-turbine power plant use less fuel.    A more exact analogy would be a bicycle being ridden on a road with a slope that changes from time to time.  The changes in slope correspond to changes in the wind speed.  A flatter or more gentle slope corresponds to stronger wind.  A steeper slope corresponds to a decrease in wind speed.  

The same analogy holds for solar energy, where strong sunshine produces less slope for the bicycle.  Clouds passing over the solar energy plant cause the gas-turbine plant to use more fuel as the solar plant's output falls.  This corresponds to a slightly greater slope the bicycle must ascend.  

Another analogy is a ship that has both an engine and sails.  The sails plus engine can be used to achieve a constant speed.  When the wind blows stronger, the engine throttle can be reduced, and vice-versa.  see photo above. 

Therefore, it can be seen that wind-turbines alone can not replace load-following or baseload power plants.  They can, however, reduce the fuel consumed.   Next, the options available to a utility grid-operator when wind-turbines or solar, or both, are supplying power to the grid. 

When the amount of wind-energy is small, under 5 percent, the grid operator typically does little more than he did before the wind-turbines existed.  The load-following capability of power plants designed to follow the load cope quite well.  However, when wind-energy reaches a substantial fraction of the grid's load, perhaps 30 percent or a bit higher, the grid operator must take steps to ensure grid stability when the wind suddenly stops, or the speed increases from almost zero to 25 or 30 miles per hour.   These issues are discussed at length in the electrical engineering professional journals.  

The key issue is response time, the time required for other generators to either reduce their output when the wind blows more strongly, or increase output when the wind dies.   This is where fast-response storage systems are valuable.  Technologies such as high-speed flywheels, batteries, and hydroelectric are fast-responding.  However, the first two are very expensive, or have been up to now.   A fourth technology was recently patented and obtained environmental permits to proceed, this technology is the ARES rail energy storage system.  see link.   

Also, improved batteries with lower cost are in development by BioSolar Inc, with prototypes for industrial testing due to be in service in second half of 2016.  see link 

Another option available to the grid operator is to de-energize some of the wind-turbines during high wind episodes, or gusts that give highly variable output.   However, where grid-scale storage is available, such as the above four technologies, the grid can be balanced by appropriately charging the storage systems.   Of course, the storage systems have a limit and once they are fully charged, some of the wind-turbines must be idled. 

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

copyrignt © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Renewable Energy Point and Counter-Point

Subtitle:  Debating the Merits of Renewable Energy

Recently I once again made a comment or two on Watts Up With That, WUWT, this time on a badly-researched piece involving city of San Diego, California's Climate Action Plan.  The CAP aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and essentially be 100 percent "green."  Installing solar panels is but one item in the list of things San Diego plans to do, but the WUWT article misleads by indicating that all energy would be from solar, all the time.  

A commenter there objected to my statements, and I responded as below.  The commenter, "markl" has his statements below in italics, my responses are in normal face.   This is fairly representative of the anti-renewable group, and it will be interesting if "markl" chooses to respond after being presented with inarguable facts. 

"markl" --  "You would be surprised at how many of us support solar and have panels installed."  -- Not a bit surprised, since the US just celebrated the 1 millionth solar installation.  

" It’s not “anything about renewable energy” I object to it’s the unsubstantiated claims being made and the ridiculous amount of money being thrown (literally) at the industry to make it work and along the way more environmental damage is occurring than what it’s replacing without any concern. Hypocrisy at the max."

Please point out any unsubstantiated claims I have made.   I cannot speak for anyone else, but my statements are based on facts and careful research.    As to ridiculous amounts of money being thrown at the industry, I wrote on this just the other day, showing the minuscule impact of subsidies on wind-turbine projects.  Solar is also subsidized to a minor extent.  The entire point of such subsidies is to provide incentive for private sector to develop, test, and improve the systems until they are economically viable on their own.  This is a legitimate purpose of government.  

As to environmental damage, one could argue that coal-mining creates immensely more damage than do all the wind-turbines in the US.  

 "It’s not about renewable energy but instead about supporting an ideology and eliminating fossil fuels and nuclear. Admit it. "   

I certainly agree that eliminating nuclear energy is a very good thing.  The nuclear industry had its moment in the spotlight, 50 years or more actually, and to show for it they barely achieved 11 percent of world's electricity production.  Nuclear essentially replaced oil-burning power plants.   No argument, that is a fact.   I don't agree that eliminating fossil fuels is a good idea, although I am aware there are people who think it is a good idea.   I am from the oil and gas industry, second generation.  Oil and gas provide irreplaceable benefits in the entire world's economy.   

Back to wind vs nuclear, it is a fact that nuclear energy in 1986, the year Chernobyl exploded and irradiated all of us, provided the identical amount of electricity world-wide as did all of renewable sources in 2014, just 28 years later.  That is a solid fact.  Wind is also the major provider of renewable energy.  In fact, wind-energy in late 2015 provided the same amount of electricity as did all of hydroelectric dams in the US.  Each provided approximately 5 percent of the entire US grid demand.  

"So far the renewable energy produced in the world doesn’t come close to replacing what has been decommissioned on either an energy or reliability basis and no amount of misinformation can change that fact."

Not clear what you mean by that, perhaps nuclear energy from the decommissioned wording.  As stated just above, renewables in 2014 equaled all of nuclear energy 28 years earlier in 1986.  For reference, see my blog post  see link   titled "Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster 30 Years After: Subtitle:  No More Chernobyls - Build Wind-Turbines and Solar Power."   

As to reliability, of course the power flows only when the wind blows.   That is why the present, economic solution is to have gas-turbine power plants operate in load-following mode.  However, as I stated on other comments, grid-scale batteries and the ARES rail energy storage system now provide viable, economic alternatives without many geographic limitations.  

"Used appropriately solar is a good addition to our energy mix but not a viable replacement unless its’ efficiency can be improved by an order of magnitude and stored in a cost conscious manner."

The concept of sole-sourcing energy is simply not valid, unless one speaks of hydroelectricity in a region such as near Niagara Falls or the Bonneville Dam.   On a national basis, we will have a mix of energy sources including hydroelectric, natural gas, coal for a few more years, nuclear for a few more years until the aging reactors are retired for good, and several forms of renewable energy.   It makes perfect sense for the sunny SouthWest to install solar-energy power plants, at large scale to reduce unit costs.  That is precisely what is occurring.   It also makes perfect sense to harvest a portion of the immense wind energy that flows through the middle of the US along the Texas-to-North Dakota corridor.

 "Wind has time and time again proved a failure in energy produced, cost to implement and maintain, and protecting the environment. You can support renewable energy but don’t try to put lipstick on the pig."

The facts show that wind-turbines have done exactly as was predicted: early versions had flaws that were identified, then corrected in later versions.  Today's wind-turbines are far more effective, more efficient, and much more economic than turbines of 30 years ago.  Today's modern wind-turbines achieve a capacity factor of 43 percent as the national average for the month of April (when wind is relatively strong).  The annual average capacity factor in the US is now 34 percent.   That figure will increase over time, just like automobile average miles-per-gallon increase over time, as older units are removed from service and newer, more efficient units are built.    It is also important to note that all natural gas power plants in the US operate at an annual average capacity factor less than that of wind, at 29 percent.  

Costs to operate and maintain wind-turbines are very low for new projects, and increase over time.  The O&M costs are approximately 0.5 cents per kWh in the first year or two, and increase to 2 cents per kWh after 10 years of operation.  You could look it up, or see my post at see link

As for protecting the environment, a wind-turbine does no more harm than a tall tree on a prairie.   A bird or two may get killed, and that is regrettable but so far unavoidable.    There are improved designs in the works that are much more bird-friendly.  I cannot say more on that topic. 

Renewable energy is not a pig in need of lipstick.  It is instead a racehorse that is beautiful to behold.  The systems work exactly as designed, producing power when the wind blows or when the sun shines as the case may be.  There were some poorly-vetted and ill-designed projects such as Solyndra, but Vestas, GE Wind, and Siemens all make very good products.   Billionaire Warren Buffet is no fool yet he spends billions of his dollars on one wind project after another.  

No amount of disinformation or denying the facts will change the facts.  

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

copyrignt © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved

California Solar Provides 5 Percent of Electricity

Subtitle:  Solar is Growing in Vacant Desert Land

A few facts on grid-scale solar energy in California, and other states.  This is from The US Energy Information Agency, March 2015.  see link  Title: "California first state to generate more than 5% of electricity from utility-scale solar."
California and other states Solar energy 

Excerpt:  "California has become the first state with more than 5% of its annual utility-scale electricity generation from utility-scale solar power, according to EIA's Electric Power Monthly. California's utility-scale (1 megawatt (MW) or larger) solar plants generated a record 9.9 million megawatthours (MWh) of electricity in 2014, an increase of 6.1 million MWh from 2013. California's utility-scale solar production in 2014 was more than three times the output of the next-highest state, Arizona, and more than all other states combined.

"Several large plants were phased into operation in California during 2014, including two 550 MW solar photovoltaic plants, Topaz and Desert Sunlight (Phases 1 and 2), as well as the 377 MW Ivanpah (Phases 1, 2, and 3) and the 250 MW Genesis solar thermal plants. In total, nearly 1,900 MW of new utility-scale solar capacity was added, bringing the state's utility-scale capacity for all solar technologies to 5,400 MW by the end of 2014."

And to those who argue that California also has the highest electricity prices in the US, that is simply incorrect.  California residential electricity price is approximately 17 cents per kWh in early 2016, with 8 other states having a higher price.   California's high prices are due in part to the large population (39 million people) and low electricity consumption per capita.  The utilities must bill more per kWh to pay for the infrastructure.   Peak demand is approximately 45,000 MW, while average demand is only 33,000 MW.  

The wind resources in California are fairly good, but are limited to few locations.  These are almost fully developed at this point.  However, the vacant desert land is enormous in extent, and has yet to have most of the free sunshine harvested and converted to inexhaustible electricity. 

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

copyrignt © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Wind Energy Subsidy in Perspective

Subtitle:  Wind Subsidy is Less Than One-Tenth of One Percent

Data from EIA for 2015
The subsidy for wind-turbine projects in the US is somewhat controversial, and has been the topic of a few articles on SLB.  This article takes the actual data for wind-turbine electricity and total electricity in the US in 2015 and puts the subsidy in perspective. 

The usual claim from the anti-wind pundits is that the US spends billions every year to subsidize an industry that is on life-support, and should be cut off from all subsidies.  

The reality is as shown in the pie-chart at the right, the average retail electricity price in the US in 2015 was 12 cents per kWh, and the wind subsidy made up 0.09 cents of that.   In percentage terms, wind subsidy is only 0.75 percent of the electric bill.   That is less than one part in one hundred; it is more like one part in 140.  

But, the US electricity market is huge, so the tiny subsidy actually does amount to approximately $4 billion in 2015.  That comes in the form of a tax credit on the federal tax bill for each of the qualifying wind-turbine owners.   Note that, if the business made no profit, there is no tax credit.  For a profitable enterprise like Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffet's company, the tax credits work quite well.  But, if a wind-turbine energy company breaks even or has a loss, they obtain no value from the tax credit.  Therefore, the maximum the government "paid out" would be the $4 billion.  In reality, it was likely less.  Also, tax credits are not a payment from the government to the company, they simply reduce the federal tax bill, so the government receives slightly less in tax revenues. 

Now for the numbers, with almost all data obtained from the US Energy Information Agency, the EIA.  Total wind-energy produced for 2015 was 190,127 GWh. Approximately 90 percent of that was obtained by wind-turbines that are 10 year old or newer.  Those wind-turbines, installed in the previous 10 years, receive the federal tax credit of 23 $/MWh.  On consistent basis, the wind energy was 190,127,000 MWh.   Total tax credits then is $3.9 billion (23 x 190,127,000 x 0.9 divided by 1 billion)

The total US electricity production in 2015 was 4 million GWH (4.087 million to be precise).  The average residential electricity price was 12 cents per kWh.   

However, the situation is far less dire than that shown above.  If everyone's electric bill increased by 0.75 percent, and the bill was $100 per month, the increase would be only 75 cents per month.   But, the money does not flow that way.   The consumer's tax bill does not increase to pay the wind subsidy.  

The federal government borrows money at the margins to pay for spending programs.  Much of the government revenue is from taxes, both personal and corporate, but another substantial part is from issuing debt instruments, or borrowing.  The wind subsidy of only $4 billion per year is borrowed from investors that purchase treasury bonds and other government notes.  The government pays only the interest on those bonds and notes, presently 2 percent per year.   Therefore, the true cost to the government for the wind subsidy is only 2 percent of $4 billion, or approximately $80 million.    In practical terms, the wind subsidy is almost nothing in a federal budget of $3.8 trillion.  

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

copyrignt © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved

Two More Nuclear Plants to Shutdown in US

Subtitle:  Another One Bites The Dust

It does not come as a surprise.  Two more aging, money-losing nuclear plants, this time in Illinois, are threatened to be closed if government does not provide even more subsidies.  Per the Wall Street Journal see link, Exelon is to close the Clinton and the Quad Cities nuclear power plants if the legislation is not passed.   UPDATE 6/2/2016: - Clinton to close on June 1, 2017.   Quad Cities to close one year later, June 1, 2018 -- RES. 

"According to Exelon, Clinton and Quad Cities have lost more than $800 million over the past six years. . .  Exelon said some nuclear plants are at risk of closing because wholesale energy prices are at a 15-year low. "

These two join the list that includes Pilgrim, and FitzPatrick nuclear plants that were subjects of recent articles on SLB and their imminent closure.   In every case, the reasons given are the same: the nuclear plants are losing money and are unable to compete in the electricity market.  


What is more interesting about the Clinton nuclear power plant is that it is only 29 years old, which is relatively young for a retiring nuclear plant.   The plant started operations in 1987.  (It will be barely 30 years old upon shutdown in 2017) 

Quad Cities

The Quad Cities nuclear power plant is 43 years old, having started operations in 1973.  This age is much more typical of the nuclear plants that shut down.   (It will be 45 years old upon shutdown in 2018, making it the grand old man of US nuclear power.   If it makes it that far, that is. ) 


In the big picture, one can expect that an average of 5 to 6 nuclear power plants will shut down each year over the next two decades.  This is based on the age of the nuclear power plants, their inability to run profitably, and the high cost to modify the plants to increase revenues.   

The US nuclear reactors are approximately 35 years old on average, with many reactors past 40 years.   With the revolution in electricity generation brought about by low-price for natural gas, which is now less than $2 per million Btu, and tremendous increases in wind-turbine electricity, wholesale power prices are very low.  Wind-turbine energy now (as of early 2016) matches and sometimes exceeds the electricity produced by hydroelectric dams.  In this market, many nuclear power plants run at a loss, as Exelon stated above: $800 million loss over the past six years. 

The nuclear plants, perhaps, could be modified with sufficient ingenuity and money to operate more profitably.  The major problem to such a plan is the short life after the modifications are made.  One could, for example, invest $400 to $800 million in a nuclear plant to uprate it, or produce more power.   Some plants have done this.  The twin-reactor plant in California at San Onofre tried to do this a few years ago, with disastrous results.  The new equipment, four high pressure steam generators, developed leaks and sent radioactive steam into the skies above Southern California.   Both reactors were then permanently shut down.  But, even if the modifications work as planned, the plant owners have only a few years to recover the investment before the plant is shut down due to other parts requiring replacement.   Nuclear plants were designed for 40 years of operation.  Even though the NRC typically grants every request to extend the operating license to 60 years, the plants must continue to meet all safety requirements.  

Cries for Subsidy

The cries for more subsidies are falling on deaf ears, which is as it should be.  Nuclear power plants already enjoy more subsidies than any other industry one can name.  As written before on SLB, nuclear plants in the US have at least six forms of government subsidy, indemnity from harm from radiation releases, government guaranteed construction loans, protection from most lawsuits during construction, safety regulations relaxed to allow plants to continue to operate, laws passed to obtain construction funds from existing consumers, and direct payment of 2.3 cents per kWh for all power sold for the first 10 years from a new nuclear power plant.   Now, the plant owners are threatening plant closure if more subsidies are not provided.  (6/2/2016, the legislature failed to pass any new subsidies for the nuclear plants, so they are to close as stated above. ) 


Shutting down nuclear power plants will become routine, common-place.  The growth industry will be nuclear plant decommissioning.   It is expected that 50 to 60 nuclear reactors will be shut down and decommissioning started over the next decade.   Between 30 to 40 more plants will be shut down in the subsequent decade.  

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

copyrignt © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved

Friday, May 6, 2016

Gravity Grid-Scale Storage System Using Trains

Subtitle:  A New Approach to Grid-Scale Energy Storage

There are several different technologies for storing electricity, or the functional equivalent, at grid-scales.  The most common is pumped storage hydroelectric, also the list includes batteries of various designs, super-capacitors, high-speed flywheels, compressed air energy storage, and molten materials of various compositions.  

A new system caught my attention this week, by Ares North America see link,  that uses excess power from the grid to power
Figure from Ares' Biological Assessment Report (2016) 
electric locomotives pulling heavy rail cars up a hill to a holding yard.  When power is needed on the grid, the locomotives and train of heavy cars rolls back down the hill to another storage yard.  The downhill journey has the brakes on, with the brakes being electric motor/generators that operate in generator mode.   The company has patents for the system. 

The first project received environmental approval about one week ago, and is to be built in Nevada just west of Las Vegas near the town of Pahrump.   The project is to have 50 MW capacity, but only 12.5 MWh of storage.   The local grid is the California Independent System Operator, CAISO.  Ares Nevada will provide load-leveling to CAISO.  

The train has two electric locomotives and rail cars loaded with a large concrete block for weight.  Power is provided via an overhead catenary system.   A bit of quick math shows that, for a 5.5 mile long track, and one train, the train speed is approximately 20-25 mph.  One must allow some distance for stopping at each end.  

Advantages of such a system are readily apparent, compared to other forms of energy storage.  No water is required, nor is a lake at a high elevation and another at a low elevation.   An Ares gravity storage system can be built anywhere there is a sufficient slope.  Those who advocate for wind-turbines in the UK, for example, may be having a look over the various hills and low mountains in that country.   Spain may also have a keen interest.  Germany, too, although the mountains are far from the industrial areas. 

Ares also lists advantages as no emissions, no fossil fuels required, no water required, no hazardous wastes produced, no harmful extraction of minerals, and no adverse decommissioning required to restore the land.  The system is also claimed to be easily scalable and expandable, and cost approximately 60 percent of a similar-sized pumped storage hydroelectric system.   

I would add these advantages: nothing to blow up, no dams to burst with fatal flooding, no danger of catching fire, no wildlife harmed, slow speed, quiet operation, no high pressure to leak or blow out, and well-proven principles. 

This appears to be a viable solution to grid-scale energy storage.   It is one to watch.  It would be useful in areas where wind-energy is great at night during periods of low demand.  One can easily imagine such systems all along the Front Range of the US Rocky Mountains, with the high end in the foothills, and the track running east into the plains.  The great wind corridor in the US, from north Texas to the Canadian border, could have the wind energy stored when necessary via the gravity storage systems, then returned to the grid as needed.  

As engineers would say, That's pretty slick. 

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

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Gas Turbine Power Plant - Low Cost and Renewable Friendly

Subtitle: CCGT at One-tenth That of Nuclear

A few weeks ago, Siemens AG announced the award of an $800-plus million turnkey contract to supply a Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) power plant to produce 940 MW for Lordstown, Ohio.   The new power plant is to have a 2-1 configuration, with two gas
Aerial view of a CCGT near Houston, TX
with 2 gas turbines (upper right) and 1 steam turbine
Dedicated cooling tower is at lower left
turbines supplying heat to a heat recovery steam generator that provides steam to a steam turbine.  Each gas turbine and the steam turbine have their own generators.  From the news release (see link):

"Siemens will deliver a complete power plant solution for the (Lordstown) facility, which will feature the record-breaking H-class (gas turbine) technology designed for fast, flexible operation to support renewable integration. The scope of supply includes two gas turbines, one steam turbine and three generators. Slated for operation in summer 2018..."

A bit of math shows that the plant's capital cost is approximately $900 per kW, which is less than one-tenth that of a new nuclear power plant (those costing upwards of $10,000 per kW).   The construction time is also a bit more than two years, which compares more than favorably to a nuclear power plant that typically requires ten years or more.    This power plant is essentially the same size as a new nuclear power plant, with 940 MWe compared to a Westinghouse AP-1000 of 1100 MWe.  

And importantly, the CCGT plant will achieve a bit more than 60 percent thermal efficiency.  The heat rate (LHV) is 5690 Btu/kWh.  

Also, the plant will have design and control system features to provide load-following so that renewable energy systems can be more easily integrated into the grid.    In the Ohio-Pennsylvania region, the renewable energy is mostly wind-turbines. 

The plant is located between Cleveland, Ohio and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania near the states' border.  The local grid is the PJM, a major grid on the US East Coast.  PJM has wind-turbine resources that can produce in excess of 5,000 MW.  see link to PJM website.

This is exactly as predicted on SLB. (see link)  This is the future of Midwest and East Coast generation, as coal power plants are retired, nuclear power plants are retired, and CCGT with wind-turbines are installed.  

UPDATE:  The installation of CCGT for power production is nothing new; that is not the point of this article.  Such plants have been built for decades, including the one in the photo above, which was built in 1980 in a chemical plant near Houston, Texas.  The pictured CCGT actually has a much higher thermal efficiency of more than 80 percent because the steam to the chemical plant is provided from the steam turbine.    

This article is primarily a reference to show to the nay-sayers (and they are legion) that modern CCGT plants are being ordered and built, they cost less than $1000 per kW, they do have 60 percent or higher efficiency, and they are specifically designed to complement the variable output of wind-turbines.  

One minor point was corrected in this update: the CCGT for Lordstown's construction period is a bit more than 2 years, not a bit less.  --- end Update. 

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

copyrignt © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Real Hockey Stick Graph - Wind Power

Subtitle: US Wind Power Increasing Rapidly 

There is a discredited graph in climate science that purports to show the past 1000 years of Earth's global average temperature was very flat, until the past 40 years more or less, when a large upturn occurred.  The long unchanging period is supposed to look like the handle of a hockey stick, with the upturned portion appears to be the blade.  

However, a valid hockey-stick graph is shown at right, which is the past few decades of grid-scale electric power produced in the US from hydroelectric dams (blue line) and from wind-
turbines (orange line).   The significance of this graph is that wind-turbines now produce a significant portion of the total power to the grid, an amount equal to that of hydroelectric dams.   Future wind-turbine installations will add to the wind's contribution, so that it exceeds the hydroelectric contribution.  

For those who say that wind energy is too small to matter, it is growing rapidly.  If wind is too small to matter, then perhaps hydroelectricity is also too small to matter.   Both represent approximately 5 to 6 percent of the total power generated in the US.  

For those who complain that wind energy is subsidized, the reality is that wind turbine projects receive only a small subsidy, of 2.3 cents per kWh sold for the first 10 years of operation. Wind-farm owners must put up their own money or borrow the money to purchase and install the turbines, lease the land, pay for operations and maintenance, and collect the electricity and connect to the grid.    In contrast, more than 70 percent of all hydroelectric dams and generation plants were built entirely with federal funds, a 100 percent subsidy.  Yet, nobody complains that hydroelectric power should be stopped.  

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

copyrignt © 2016 by Roger Sowell, all rights reserved