Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Where environmentalists did need to change their tune


Nuclear power proponents keep saying that environmentalists should sing a nuclear tune, and a few enviros agree. Personally I remain "meh", maybe even moreso (moremeh?) over the years as the price of renewables and storage keep dropping. I know that nuclear power cost breakthroughs are scheduled for South Korea and China, but we've all heard that one before.

What did need to change among environmentalists was the attitude towards transmission lines. A generation ago, part of being an environmentalist meant fighting the unnecessary, industrializing, and ugly lines pretty much wherever they went.

They aren't any prettier than they used to be, but times they are changing:
Back before anyone talked about climate change or clean energy, fights over new high-voltage electric transmission lines were pretty black and white: Power companies were for them while environmental groups were not.   
But debate over the proposed Badger-Coulee Transmission Line through the scenic hills and valleys between La Crosse and Madison shows how much the energy landscape is changing. 
While many living near the potential route of American Transmission Company's 345-kilovolt line remain steadfast against it, the project is drawing support from groups like Renew Wisconsin, which say the line will ease the delivery of wind power from Iowa and Minnesota into major population centers to the East.
This isn't to say enviros don't fight or shouldn't fight transmission lines anywhere - right thing in the right place still applies - but there's a recognition by environmental groups of the value of getting renewable power from where it's generated to where it's needed. It's always windy somewhere. The sun is somewhat less generous but the power can still be moved 2000 km from the sunniest to least sunny locations (or even where the sun's not in view). Environmentalists recognize this and have so for a number of years.

It's valuable to recognize there has been a change in tune, where required. It's also been done with no fanfare, a quiet change in campaigns. Maybe that's the way change really happens.

45 comments:

Fernando Leanme said...

The problem I see is the huge gap in engineering/económics knowledge between Eloi and Moorlocks. You Elois need to hit the books, and stop listening to quasi religious quackery by the likes of Mann, Oreskes, et al. They are know nothings in the energy fields.

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

You tell em, Fernando, everybody knows that coal didn't come from the sun. Or even a distant star now long gone. What a nutty idea. Photons! Whoever heard of such a thing.

Greg said...

What limits the power transmission density? (In this case defining power density as power divided by width of land that has to be cleared.)
Basically I'm asking "How do we get the most power transmission for the least environmental disruption?"
Does HVDC or some other not-yet-commonly-used technology improve the picture?

Russell Seitz said...

No man is an island-- OpenID 8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df should take his superconducting horsewhip and drive the retirees out of Florida to make room for more silicon to drive the desal plants of San Diego.

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

It won't be all silicon single crystal in the future, Russel, it will also be things like carbon, phosphorus, sodium and zinc, etc, a few atoms thick. There will still be a need for silicon glass though.

I think Florida is safe from the two dimensional scourge. We have deserts.

KAP said...

"It's always windy somewhere". Yes, but how many "somewhere"s do we need, and how many powerlines (that stand idle when "somewhere" isn't windy)?

Take a regular six-sided die, and let's call it a wind farm. A big one, big enough to power a city. Say, 5 GW @ $2/W = $10 billion. Throw the die, and if it comes up 1 or 2, we have power, but a 3, 4, 5, or 6 and we don't. No problem, because it's always windy somewhere. So we buy another die for another wind farm, put it far enough from the first so that their windfields are uncorrelated (~250 km). Now we roll both dice, and the probability of being without power drops from 67% to 44%. But it's always windy somewhere, so just buy another die. And another one. And another one.

How many dice do we need to buy to equal the 90% uptime of a nuclear plant? SIX. And each die costs more than the previous one, because if more than one of the dice are 1 or 2, we throw away that unneeded energy. That drives the capacity factor of wind down, and drives the costs up by an equivalent amount. By the time we build windfarm #6, it's costing more than twice as much as the first one.

And then there's the cost of the powerlines themselves to consider. The most recently completed overland HVDC lines in North America are the 1 GW East Alberta and West Alberta lines, which came in at $1.7 and 1.8 billion for lines of 217 and 300 miles. Work out the numbers for those six windfarms, and it's not pretty.

In human history, all jurisdictions that have decarbonized their grids have done so with the same formula: hydro and geothermal where available; wind/solar up to their curtailment points (or less, but no more); and nuclear for the rest. Anything else is a waste of time and money.

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

Can you tell me what other non carbon sources of energy there is?

An inquiring mind wants to know.

magmacc said...

If retired fossil fuel lightweights like Fernando and his silly comments are the best the so-called skeptics can come up with, it's time to blow the whistle and send the losing team home.

Game over.

EliRabett said...

Same issue in Germany. The proposal is to build three transmission lines from the north (where there is lots of wind) to the south where only the blow hards are.

David B. Benson said...

KAP --- Well stated.

Brian, I fear your understanding of electric grids and the reliability thereof is insufficient. For example, only hydro, which might be pumped in part, offers the capacity to replace a long period of no wind. Other storage is simply to expensive. As for transmission lines, it can take over 2 decades for the route planning and permitting in the western USA. In addition there are the costs as mentioned in a prior comment.

Brian said...

KAP/David - you might try critiquing this then:

http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate2921.html

"Carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation are a major cause of anthropogenic climate change. The deployment of wind and solar power reduces these emissions, but is subject to the variability of the weather. In the present study, we calculate the cost-optimized configuration of variable electrical power generators using weather data with high spatial (13-km) and temporal (60-min) resolution over the contiguous US. Our results show that when using future anticipated costs for wind and solar, carbon dioxide emissions from the US electricity sector can be reduced by up to 80% relative to 1990 levels, without an increase in the levelized cost of electricity. The reductions are possible with current technologies and without electrical storage. Wind and solar power increase their share of electricity production as the system grows to encompass large-scale weather patterns. This reduction in carbon emissions is achieved by moving away from a regionally divided electricity sector to a national system enabled by high-voltage direct-current transmission."

Adding storage as a possibility could also help, a lot.

As for two decades to get permitting, a cite would be interesting, esp. for an average rather than worst-case scenario. And I think this is one issue that might be easier now than two decades ago - they won't be fighting enviros as much.

Brandon R. Gates said...

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df,

I think Florida is safe from the two dimensional scourge. We have deserts.

A few years back, it was 10,000 sq. miles of solar PV panels in Arizona, New Mexico and other reliably sunny spots would generate the same electrical power on the US grid. A more current estimate comes by way of Elon Musk:

http://fusion.net/story/129075/elon-musk-reminded-everyone-last-night-how-little-land-would-be-needed-to-power-the-u-s-with-solar/

According to the second graphic ...

https://fusiondotnet.files.wordpress.com/2015/05/arearequired1000.jpg

... assuming 20% conversion efficiency, 2,000 hours per year of sunlight at 1,000 W/m^2 average (seems HIGH?), the 2008 estimate of actual electrical use, 366,375 km^2 or 141,458 mi^2 (just under the area of California) would have done it to power the whole world, using only 0.25% of total land area. I figure the cost of buying the panels (retail) comes in at just under $6 trillion, NOT installed or with any of the other goodies to hook 'em into the grid. Seems a bunch of money, but that works out to $855 per person using a 6.725 billion population estimate as of 2008. Amortized across a 20 year useful lifetime (0% interest rate b/c I'm feeling lazy) that's $43/person year.

Just gotta figure out how to store the stuff when the sun isn't shining, or moving it to places where the sun doesn't shine much at all ... the storage problem being a big reason Mr. Musk is doing these estimates to begin with.

I still like nukes for baseload power better, especially if they can go where transmission lines already exist.

What I really want is geothermal. All options need to be on the table.

BBD said...

Does HVDC or some other not-yet-commonly-used technology improve the picture?

No. You still need lots of grid extensions if you have a highly distributed, wide footprint, low density energy source such as wind or solar. HVDC just reduces transmission loss over longer distances.

* * *

Brian

A (few) academics aside, *nobody* believes that high penetrations of renewables into the energy mix can be achieved without very significant amounts of utility-scale storage - millions of km of extremely expensive HVDC interconnectors notwithstanding.

A renewables-heavy grid is going to be borderline prohibitively expensive and will in all likelihood require considerable demand-side regulation, which is politically toxic. Worse, there is no market-ready utility-scale storage technology. There are no properly costed engineering proposals (including grid interconnection, grid extension and storage) - only highly misleading rhetoric based on the falling cost of SPV panels. Grid planners are well aware of these issues, as, increasingly, are government ministers. Hence the general lack of real action.

Fernando Leanme said...

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df and other Eloi: I don't write as a "skeptic", unless "skeptic" refers to skepticism about whether you know what you are talking about. The sheer ignorance about existing fields of knowledge about which you evidently know very little about simply makes you spin around in circles.

The eventual response to a looming energy crisis will require a low cost energy storage device to over one renewables' intermittency. Super grids aren't a viable answer without storage.

Carbon capture and storage using mechanical men's isn't feasible. The only workaround is biological means via geoengineering.

We must fill the future oil and gas energy supply gap, this will require nuclear power.

And you really need about 30 years of study and work to get to know what I do that's applicable to the energy problem. Given your ages, you never will, so try to understand you are way out in lala land, and just repeat "we need a cheap battery, we need a cheap battery".

BBD said...

Brandon G

What I really want is geothermal. All options need to be on the table.

Limited to relatively small areas by underlying geology *and* it's not an instantaneous renewable. The subterranean heat reservoir is finite in capacity and can (will) be depleted by continuous use. Yields then drop off (some discussion and numbers).

BBD said...

Brandon

... assuming 20% conversion efficiency, 2,000 hours per year of sunlight at 1,000 W/m^2 average (seems HIGH?)

Wrong, really. Musk is a shyster. Here's a much more realistic assessment of SPV potential based on real data (see Tables 1 - 3). Probably worth reminding that SPV at NH mid-latitudes needs at least a 4x area overbuild to compensate for winter. Talking annual averages is horribly misleading as it papers over the winter drop-off in output and *increase* in demand. Recall that the overall plan requires replacing FFs with electricity for domestic heating which produces a real headache.

JamieB said...

KAP's dice analogy is not well stated. A wind farm isn't either generating at full capacity or not generating at all. The vast majority of the time it's generating, it's just that it's generating at less than its rated capacity so that it averages out to (say) 30% for onshore and 40% for offshore. But yes, sometimes a wind farm will generate next to nothing and that needs to be dealt with either through transmission from windier places, storage, low capacity factor conventional plant.

KAP's curtailment argument is also overly simplistic. We are moving into a future of far more dynamic demand with much smarter appliances and, most importantly, large numbers of EVs which will be dispatchable. Add dispatchable electric water heating and the need for curtailment will drop dramatically.

David B. Benson said...

Brian --- I know something of several instances of the long permitting time before transmission line construction. For one, look at the Boardman, Oregon, to Hemingway, Idaho, project, still hoping to actually start construction in 2020. That's only about 500 km. For another, search for data about the Wyoming wind power to Southern California HVDC project. For a third, which might go faster, Wyoming wind power to Hemingway, Idaho.

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

You will just have to excuse me or forgive me Fernando when I don't believe a word you say. I'm wondering myself why I even bother to read the crap you say, but I have to look at your comment before I dismiss it entirely without reading it, and then move on to the next comment.

http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.nanolett.5b02427

Brian said...

FWIW, one of the many bad arguments against nuclear power IMO is that it takes too long to build. It's not like we won't have a problem with climate change in 20-40 years, so if something is more of a long-term solution then that's just a reason to get started.

The better argument is that the length adds to the cost of nuclear. I suppose that's also potentially true for transmission, but it's a matter of costing things out. The difference between now and in the past is that there now are enviros supporting transmission under some circumstances.

Anyway, I don't see length of time for development, by itself, as a prohibiting factor.

The other factor I haven't seen much discussion about is that hydropower should switch from being baseload power to being power storage. I know there's a cost involved - hydropower is cheap so utilities want to max out on it - but it's worth it. Yes it's done somewhat now, but it could be done a lot more.

BBD said...

Brian

The other factor I haven't seen much discussion about is that hydropower should switch from being baseload power to being power storage. I know there's a cost involved - hydropower is cheap so utilities want to max out on it - but it's worth it. Yes it's done somewhat now, but it could be done a lot more.

Typically, river dams provide baseload and artificial reservoirs (pumped hydro) are used for storage. The former, constantly refreshed by natural flow, is ideal for baseload; the latter, 'charged up' by surplus from eg. wind generation, for smoothing renewable intermittency and slew.

As I understand it, the potential for dam-based hydro is largely already exploited and anyway, there are real environmental issues with throwing up a multitude of dams - as you know. The problem with pumped hydro is the enormous scale - and cost - required to provide enough storage to compensate for intermittency in even fairly modest wind fleets.



Brandon R. Gates said...

BBD,

Wrong, really. Musk is a shyster.

Damn. Glad I read the fine print and at least questioned it. I should have done more vetting, mea culpa. Your comments on storage, grid expansion and false hopes sold on plummeting SPV panels are equally depressing.

We've discussed geothermal before, I didn't like what MacKay had to say then either. Living as close as I do to the largest geothermal installation in the world (Geysers, CA) might make me more of a hopeful believer than is prudent.

I saw recently that wind is vastly outpacing solar in the US. On this one, perhaps I should listen to the market ... noting that while the wind is always blowing somewhere, it isn't always blowing where and when we most need it.

Nukes are all but required to shoulder most of the demand it seems.

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

I too look forward to flying on BBD's new resusable launch vehicle and driving BBD's new car straight off the factory line. Awesome work BBD!

Brian said...

BBD - no reason why river dams can't be used for power storage instead of baseload. You use solar and wind when available and release less water from the dams, creating power storage that can be used when renewables are running low.

The Pacific Northwest gets a huge percent of their power from hydro - they could do a lot more solar and wind and then make that hydro capacity available as storage (or released to the grid elsewhere, California already gets a decent chunk of it).

There are some environmental and flood protection constraints on how much you can vary the flow, but within those constraints there's a power storage capacity that we could use.

BBD said...

Brian

The Pacific Northwest gets a huge percent of their power from hydro - they could do a lot more solar and wind and then make that hydro capacity available as storage (or released to the grid elsewhere, California already gets a decent chunk of it).

I don't know enough about the numbers ('a huge percent') to go forward. What I can say is that if the Pacific Northwest ramps up renewables, it will need an ever-larger energy source to compensate for the resulting intermittency and slew. At some point, export capacity will be curtailed.

David B. Benson said...

Brian --- Idaho Power had been counting on completing the Boardman, Oregon, to Hemingway, Idaho, transmission line by 2013,allowing 210 years for planning and permitting. When it became clear that was unlikely they had to buy a 500 MWe combined cycle gas turbine to cover the impending shortage.

Read what Nuscale Power claims; building their nuclear power plants in 40 months free order to ongrid.

The Pacific Northwest is down to 50% hydro; that is the figure for my utility. BPA cannot provide load balancing services for more wind. Wind power sent to California is unbalanced. The balancing agents used are dispatchable generators in California.

David B. Benson said...

10 years, not 210.

David B. Benson said...

BPA Balancing Authority Load and Total Wind, Hydro, and Thermal Generation, Near-Real-Time
http://transmission.bpa.gov/business/operations/wind/baltwg.aspx

While I haven't the time to go into details, most of the BPA dams are run-of-the-river, having very little storage capacity. The major storage dam is Grand Coulee and with 6 GW of generation to fiddle with Lake Roosevelt can fill and be run through the generators in just 6--8 weeks. Alternatives to the operations illustrated in the graphic are basically impossible given all the commitments BPA has to deliver power and at the same time protect the salmon runs.

As for solar, this is the Pacific Northwest. Only rich showoffs are inclined to install any.

Kevin O'Neill said...

David Benson writes:"As for solar, this is the Pacific Northwest. Only rich showoffs are inclined to install any."

I assume you mean to imply that it's too cloudy and rainy for solar to be practical in the Pacific northwest. This is a common misconception. Although this might seem counter-intuitive, solar panels on a rooftop in cool, foggy San Francisco produce only one percent less electricity than one in nearby Sacramento, where it’s sunny and hot.

BBD said...

Kevin O'Neill

solar panels on a rooftop in cool, foggy San Francisco produce only one percent less electricity than one in nearby Sacramento, where it’s sunny and hot.

I am always interested in real-world solar data - can you link to your source for this figure? Thanks.

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

Hey BBD, are you that freakin stupid and lazy that you can't cut and paste his statement into a search bar? Have you ever done any real research in your life?

Mal Adapted said...

LSoRC:

"arrghblargl..."

Ah, when one gets tired of reasoned debate, a bracing blast of open hostility is so refreshing!

Brian said...

David - the figure I saw for the Pacific Northwest is 80% hydro. That can vary, I assume.

Thanks for that BPA graph. You're saying given current power constraints they can't export more, right? Well, produce more wind and solar. As for solar, it's not very cloudy east of the Cascades, it's not very cloudy west of them for the summer, and clouds only somewhat diminish power production.

I would be interested in SF producing only 1 percent less than Sacramento. That sounds overoptimistic to me - OTOH, heat can also be a problem for solar panels, so that's a balancing factor.

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

"open hostility is so refreshing!"

Especially when it is so earned and so deserved. This is how I go about it. I either type or copy the words into the search bar, I hit the enter key, I open my eyes, look at the screen and read the words.

It works for me. Your mileage may vary.

BBD said...

8c

Especially when it is so earned and so deserved. This is how I go about it. I either type or copy the words into the search bar, I hit the enter key, I open my eyes, look at the screen and read the words.

It works for me. Your mileage may vary.


Then *you* can provide the link, since your google-fu is so good.

TIA.

BBD said...

Brian

You're saying given current power constraints they can't export more, right? Well, produce more wind and solar. As for solar,

Perhaps I haven't made myself clear. If you have more wind and solar, you need a concomitantly expanded reserve source of energy to compensate for intermittency and slew. So what you propose simply cannot work from the POV of a grid planner constrained to ensure continuity of supply at all times.

BBD said...

cont...

What I can say is that if the Pacific Northwest ramps up renewables, it will need an ever-larger energy source to compensate for the resulting intermittency and slew. At some point, export capacity will be curtailed.

You cannot export what you either do not have or cannot release because it is part of your permanent reserve capacity.

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

"Then *you* can provide the link"

How authoritarian, lazy and stupid of you.

BBD said...

How authoritarian, lazy and stupid of you.

Blowhard. And caught out handsomely. Next time will be worse.

8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...

Coming from somebody who can't seem to be able to select a bit of text and then right click 'search Google for', and THEN demands somebody else do it for him, now that's impressive. I have not seen anything that lame since the usenet.

Andrew said...

My rooftop array (SW UK) has a roughly 6 fold variation from winter to summer; even light cloud has a noticeable effect, and thick cloud brings is down 80-90%.

Seasonal variation is a bigger problem in many ways than daily variation for solar, because it outstrips any feasible storage.

And yes, heat can be an issue, even in the UK. Admittedly about 2 days a year.

David B. Benson said...

Even in Hydro-Rich Northwest Coal Still Major Power Source
by April Baer, OPB

coal about 40%, hydro the same.

David B. Benson said...

In Oregon.

David B. Benson said...

Using data from the BPA planning arm, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council about 65% of the power in the Pacific Northwest is from hydro.

David B. Benson said...

My mid February power and natgas bill was just over $150 with close to a third each for natgas, electric resistance heat and usual electricity consumption. In the summer only the third portion occurs, smaller since less lighting is required and there is no air conditioning.

This is typical although newer construction does not use resistance heating. Anyway, at these typical Pacific Northwest rates solar PV is going to compete?

It would be different if there were a fee for carbon dioxide emissions. Then more nuclear power plants would make sense around here as electricity consumption is highest in the winter and would be even more so as people once again install resistance heaters.