Wednesday, March 09, 2016

The Lancaster exception

I volunteered at The Business of Clean Energy Symposium last Friday, the second annual conference focusing on Community Choice Energy (also called Community Choice Aggregation). CCE could be seen as a hybrid of private and publicly owned power:  the private utility continues to own transmission, distribution and billing, but the community decides and buys the (usually much-cleaner) energy that the private utility will transmit. The three existing CCE programs in California include your typically liberal Bay Area, Marin and Sonoma Counties, and also the solidly Republican city of Lancaster in Southern California.

I've wondered how some issues like criminal justice reform become less politicized over time. Criminal justice was far more politicized and partisan in the 1990s then climate change was, and now the reverse is true. I'm guessing one element isn't so much an admission of wrongdoing by one party as it is a reinvention and taking independent leadership by conservative Republicans (combined, maybe, with willfully ignoring the many years of leadership on the progressive side). I'm still not sure why Lancaster acted differently from other Republican areas. And maybe I'm oversimplifying - a number of red states have strong renewable energy programs. We need much more of this, though, and hopefully we'll get it.

All California CCE programs emphasize low-carbon power, locally-produced energy, and they usually match or slightly beat the cost for private utilities. I'm on the board of Carbon Free Mountain View, working to establish a CCE in Silicon Valley later this year. I've helped with a similar effort in San Mateo County that's also near completion, and a third effort in San Jose is getting off the ground. A lot is happening, and that's just my local area.

Some other notes from the symposium, after the jump:

  • By 2020, about 20% of eligible California residents will get power from CCEs. This is no longer just an experiment.
  • Emergency preparedness is my hobbyhorse - CCEs can promote power storage and microgrids which can help tremendously during short or long-term emergencies. Most CCE people, even the professionals, haven't thought much about this, but I did encounter a few who have.
  • Locally-generated power is a main medium-term focus of CCE, along with promoting electric vehicles.
  • Electrifying all transportation in California would double electricity demand.
  • Sonoma Clean Power is working on a program to vary the rate at which people can charge their EVs according to available power - while this isn't vehicle-to-grid, it's a tiny step in that direction.
  • My note - a major advantage of CCEs is the amount of experimentation they can do, free of the bureaucracy of the giant private utilities. 
  • Financing is tricky and a major cost - the CCEs try to avoid exposing local communities to credit risk, so getting loans for brand new, unrated government agencies isn't easy. In the long run though, CCEs could get cheaper financing than private utilities because of tax-advantaged municipal bonds. Exciting tax analysis, right? Could be the most important issue discussed in the symposium, though.
  • Power storage has two elements - dealing with daily variability and seasonal variability. The former is obviously the easier one, and the latter is going to be a big challenge.
  • Overbuilding to handle variability in renewable energy has obvious costs - one scenario showed that 20% of the daily energy produced by renewable power would have to be curtailed (unless stored somehow) to make sure that capacity is available at other times.
  • My note - as usual, California is an island. We know very little about what anyone is doing outside of our state.
  • Speakers saw no problem getting to 90% zero-carbon sources in 20-30 years. Getting that last 10% would be tricky, though.



Will the establishment of Carbon Free Mountain View entail deporting the indigenous fife-forms, or merely sequestering them ?

David B. Benson said...

I strongly encourage building nuclear power plants which then run at maximum power except during the replenishment intervals. The excess power is used for desalination and pumping.

In particular, Nuscale will soon have their units licensed and the electricity ought to price out at US$90/MWh, about.

Yes, I know this means changing California law...

Anonymous said...

"The company claims it can shut down and continue cooling itself indefinitely in the event of a catastrophe"

Mr. Benson, you are out of your freakin mind. So how's that multiverse thing working out for you? Have you inducted any new cult followers in your church yet?

Mike Dombroski said...

@32:20 Michael Shellenburger calls for saving the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant:

Anonymous said...

Let me come right out and say it. Most of you people, judging by your comments, are bat shit fucking insane. It makes me think there there must be some kind of long term low level lead contamination in your water supply. This is a generational problem that is now showing up in all levels of science, education, public administration and in the military. Good luck with your planet. My advice to you, distill your water before you drink it.

Kevin O'Neill said...

Dangerous global warming will happen sooner than thought – study

Actually not that shocking. They predict 1.5C by 2020 (seems we're already there) and 2C by 2030 (reached that already for NH monthly - though not global).

Envisions a 6-fold increase in energy usage per person by 2050. If these projections are even close to being right, then unless we go on a war-production footing for renewables, someone better start building nuclear plants or just throw in the towel and admit we're screwed.

Anonymous said...

We're already there, just take a look at the entire east coast today.

I guess a quantum initiative never occurred to anybody in science.

I can hear it now, DFT calculations don't work, technobabble, woo woo physics. It will never fly, man will never go to the moon, what the hell do you mean, my flight was cancelled by weather. I want my seat!

Polite gate agents. Whoever heard of such a thing!

BBD said...


You are in denial. Get a grip. Look at the bloody numbers FFS. Anti-nuclear activism is a luxury we can no longer indulge ourselves with. Time has run out.

Fernando Leanme said...

Does Carbon Free Mountain generate power?

Anonymous said...

Then tell me what happens during the zombie apocalypse when the Russians punch a bunker buster through your containment vessel.

Or anyone else for that matter. The design proposed by Mr. Benson is ludicrous, ANYONE would be able to take that out. Some kid down the block. You just don't have a grip on human behavior in a lead saturated world, BBD. These people are now in corporate management.

Small fifth generation reactors for Ceres and the asteroid belt. Sure. But for a planet overpopulated with religious nuts worshiping some guy dress up in funny clothes and an old lady with inbred children? Not. Especially not when quantum physics and reusable cryogenic launch vehicles can easily get the job done in no time.

Too bad Lamar Smith drank all that leaded water and breathed all that leaded air from a very early age and now gets all the press. Keep proselytizing. You will recruit more members into your church and will enjoy a tax free government subsidy for a long time to come.

Unknown said...

One thing I don't get about the 'we need nuclear to prevent global warming' crowd, They keep saying we don't have time to do it with renewables, but nuclear takes longer, costs more, and to ramp up nuclear to what we need would take even longer. We (both US and worldwide) don't have the trained nuclear crew to come anywhere close to the production rate needed. To ramp up to what we need will take decades. But the push for nuclear is that we need to do something now? How does that even work?

Anonymous said...

It doesn't work. That's just their dogma and doctrine of their cult of negative entropy. They're just trying to recruit new members. Anything to prevent the quantum physics revolution they are unable to stop. The mere thought of an open society where any child's quantum computer can crack their encryption is microseconds is enough to put the fear of nature in them. Their gravy train has been disrupted and they know it.

BBD said...

James Lovejoy

They keep saying we don't have time to do it with renewables, but nuclear takes longer, costs more, and to ramp up nuclear to what we need would take even longer.

'They' is not me. What I have said - many, many times here - is that the most efficient path to decarbonisation will be the one that uses all low-carbon technologies, deployed as and where appropriate. Trying to push nuclear off the table at this stage is as stupidly short-sighted as trying to push renewables off the table.

To ramp up to what we need will take decades.

So what has been achieved in China is impossible and did not happen?

Come on. Less rhetoric, more thought, please.

Anonymous said...

China in particular, and southeast asia in general, remains the most polluted and overpopulated regions of the planet. Quite an accomplishment. Such optimism!

Anonymous said...

"As of December 2015, the People's Republic of China has 31 nuclear reactors operating with a capacity of 26.7 GW and 21 under construction with a capacity of 21.1 GW. Additional reactors are planned, providing 58 GW of capacity by 2020. China's National Development and Reform Commission has indicated the intention to raise the percentage of China's electricity produced by nuclear power from the current 2% to 6% by 2020 (compared to 20% in the United States and 74% in France). Nuclear power contributed 2.4% of the total production in 2014 – 123.8 billion kWh. However, rapid nuclear expansion may lead to a shortfall of fuel, equipment, qualified plant workers, and safety inspectors."

It would also be helpful if you could do some basic research BBD.

That took a whole second.

BBD said...

So that's about 30GW additional capacity in five years. Took me 3 seconds to work that out...

Anonymous said...

That's a miracle! The world is saved then. At that rate they will be completely nuclear by 2100. Of course, North Korea, South Korea and Japan will be nuclear wastelands, but that's the price for progress!

GRLCowan said...

Seitz: they'll be drummed out of town!

"Their gravy train has been disrupted" — i.e. the speaker can't imagine anyone not being on the take.

Anonymous said...

Hey Graham, how's that boron thing working out? Is it borene? Or borogene? One word, my friend. Boron nitride.

Brian said...

Fernando - Carbon Free Mountain View is an advocacy group only, with no power to sell. Hopefully the CCE when set up will buy power locally. I know one of our members has solar on his roof- maybe he's hoping to make the big bucks from that, but I kind of doubt it.

Russell - I kind of like indigenous fife-forms.

David B. Benson said...
gives an overview of this SMR. Nuscale thinks these units will require 40--48 months from start to power-on-grid.

No, I doubt that 100% nuclear is the best way to proceed, but 10--20% appears to me to be about the minimum which is acheivable in a low greenhouse gas producing grid.

Unknown said...

So what has been achieved in China is impossible and did not happen?

No. What China has achieved is just what I said. It will take decades to get China's nuclear to even the percent of electricity generation that the US has.

By 2020 China expects nuclear to be 4% of electricity, with the amount (not the percent) of nuclear electicity doubling every 10 years. That sure seems like it's taking decades to ramp up nuclear.

Anonymous said...

There is no new technology in what you propose, Benson, you are just turning one big potential disaster into a whole bunch of much easier to create mini disasters, and then placing them everywhere, where any disgruntled new kid on the block can pry open the lid and bork them.

That's not going to be pretty in a post apocalyptic lead soaked world filled with religious nuts in possession of a wide variety of prybars.

David B. Benson said...

Factory built is new technology in an important way.

BBD said...

James Lovejoy

So what has been achieved in China is impossible and did not happen?

No. What China has achieved is just what I said. It will take decades to get China's nuclear to even the percent of electricity generation that the US has.

So what? That isn't a reason for not including nuclear in the bid to decarbonise China. The objective is to get rid of *carbon*, not nuclear.

By 2020 China expects nuclear to be 4% of electricity, with the amount (not the percent) of nuclear electricity doubling every 10 years. That sure seems like it's taking decades to ramp up nuclear.

Actually, that's really not true. From slow beginnings and a much later start than France or the USA (the first Chinese plant (Daya Bay 1 & 2) was only grid connected in 1994) to a major ramp-up post 2000, China reached 26.9GW in 2016. That's a hell of a lot of low-carbon energy on line in just over 20 years with lots more to come. Projected capacity is 58GW by 2020. ~100GW projected by 2030. More than 200GW by 2050, and so on.

Remember, the objective is to get rid of carbon as fast as possible.

* * *

We might ask ourselves why China has elected to use all available low-carbon technolgies instead of renewables only. The answer obviously being that China realises that the fastest pathway to decarbonisation is the one that uses *all* low-carbon technologies. It's also hard evidence that Chinese engineers don't see a way of expanding non-hydro renewables fast enough to compensate for ditching nuclear. After all, renewables are supposed to be so much cheaper and faster to deploy etc... This really does bear thinking about for a moment.

We do not now have the luxury of just throwing nuclear away. Scrap the Chinese nuclear build-out and that's 58GW of fossil fuels still burning in 2020. It's brutally simple: anti-nuclear rhetoric = more carbon.

Anonymous said...

Sure, blog commenters are holding up the nuclear industry. Who knew.

BBD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BBD said...

[Previous comment edited for waffle:]

Misinformation should be avoided.

Mal Adapted said...

LSoRC, if your position is that we're all f*cked and there's nothing anyone can do but die childless, I'm inclined to agree with you. But what do you gain by endlessly taunting anyone who clings to hope? Is it just that misery loves company?

IMHO, the human capacity for optimism has adaptive value, in the strict neo-darwinian sense. Those who choose to become parents must have "faith" that Earth will remain habitable by their descendants (long enough for a habitable replacement planet to be found, at least), even when the odds appear unfavorable. My pseudonym reflects my conviction that evolution is a game in which the only reward for winning is to stay in the game, and that by declining to reproduce, I've opted out of the game. I'm not crazy enough to think I can persuade everyone else of that, though. In any case I'm willing to carry on as though I might be wrong, but YMMV.

Anonymous said...

I guess you missed the part where I AM doing something about it, and where I have clearly outlined EXACTLY what you have to do about it. Let me summarize my thoughts and activities for you, since you haven't seen fit to visit my own blog or read my own essays on the subject of human survival on this particular terrestrial planet at this particular time.

0) Immediate global ban on weapons production and wildlife hunting.

1) Immediate reductions in global population by the taxation of churches, the government institutionalization of science instead of religion, and the widespread promotion of contraceptives, for instance, latex.

2) Immediate decarbonization of the global economy through solar, hydro and wind power using advanced quantum physics in the form of atomic and molecular monolayer heterostructures and topological physics.

3) Immediate improvements in global energy efficiency through superinsulation and cogeneration processes, and quantum physics.

4) Immediate drawdown of atmospheric carbon dioxide using excess energy produced by the increased energy efficiency and reduced costs of the aforementioned improvements alternative energy technologies by quantum molecular heterostructures. Production of carbon based products using the reduced carbon from such processes, such as structural insulation, diamond and graphene films, etc.

5) Immediate implementation of reusable cryogenic propulsion and launch vehicles. Immediate rechartering of NASA to space development and colonization and the transfer of all other activities to NOAA.

6) Immediate implementation of space development and colonization in order to accelerate the implementation of the aforementioned technologies, not merely idiotic flags and footprints missions to Mars. The immediate transfer of the terrestrial economy to space.

I thought I was being REALLY clear on this. Please feel free to point out where I have not performed all due diligence on any of these topics over the last forty years or so. Consult my CV and Bio if necessary. Thanks in advance.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I'm sorry, I missed one in that list. How about this.

-1) The immediate retroactive legalization of drugs.

That should stop yet another unnecessary lost and debilitating war.


OpenID 8c7793aa-15b2-11e5-898a-67ca934bd1df said...
Sure, blog commenters are holding up the nuclear industry. Who knew.

How do you expect to go on staging hold-ups after your blog bans guns?

Anonymous said...

Did I say 'ban guns', Russell? I thought I said ban the production of weapons. Anybody with a 3D printer will be able to print up a gun.

Packs of wild dogs, Russell. Zombies. You need to stay safe.

Reading comprehension, Russell. It helps, trust me.

Mal Adapted said...

So, LSoRC, we're all f*cked. Since nothing of what you propose has any prospect of being accomplished in a timeframe relevant to the current, urgent requirement for prompt AGW mitigation, that is. Perfectly clear, thanks.

I appreciate your outline of your plan, honestly, and I even support some of your proposals on an "if only" basis. If that's all you've got, though, I'll skip your blog, and go on arguing for a tax-and-dividend on fossil fuel production, with a Border Tax Adjustment on imported goods. Lots of ways to do it wrong, and it has a limited scope at best; but it's at least remotely possible it will happen while I'm still alive. If not, at least the buck won't pass to my offspring, of which I have none.

Meanwhile, you might want to consult a medical professional about your spleen.