Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Renewable Energy and Creative Construction

One of the weirdest flips in an exceedingly weird year has been the usual suspects going into complete meltdown about there now being extended periods where there is so much renewable energy from wind and solar and hydro that they are not just giving it away, they are paying you to take some of it.

Electricity has become like zucchini at the end of the summer, when gardeners leave a few hundred pounds on your doorstep, ring the bell and run.  Remember when the fusion and fission folk were talking about too cheap to meter, it's now a "problem" for renewables.

In any case, when there is money blowing in the wind somebunny will make money while the sun shines, and indeed this is a classic capitalist system opportunity, that somehow all the Randians and Trumplets let alone your average garden variety Bret Stephens don't appear happy with.  If there is a price differential arbitraging the electricity price is a great way to get rich and the technologies already exist.

There has always been a price differential between wee hours of the morning and the peak demand daylight hours, a differential that many industries have taken advantage of.  The guys with the green plastic eyeshades are no bunny's fools
Kentucky Electric Steel spends a lot of time and money trying to control our electric bill, over $2 million spread over the past eight years. This has reduced energy intensity from 743 kWh per billet ton in 2002 to 480 kWh per billet ton today. That represents an annual savings of over $600k with just our night-time operations; the savings would be even more if we ran during on peak hours, except that the higher power cost would eat them up! 
Aluminum smelters in Germany are already lapping up some of the freibier by using the molten metal as an energy storage medium from whose cooling they can draw power
By varying the rate at which the metal is produced, the plant will be able to adjust the power consumption of the 290-megawatt smelter up and down by about 25 percent. Trimet can soak power from the grid when energy is cheap. It can then resell the power when demand is at its peak. The company can temporarily reduce its power consumption by slowing the electrolysis, cutting the energy drain.
Using stored thermal energy is really old technology.  Ice houses that lasted through the desert summer have existed like forever in Iran and storage of heat from the summer to use in the winter is also a Canadian reality (tip o the ears to Andy Skuce )
The first of its kind in North America, DLSC is heated by a district system designed to store abundant solar energy underground during the summer months and distribute the energy to each home for space heating needs during winter months.
For decades large building have built tons of ice at night when electricity is inexpensive and used the ice to cool the building during the day.  Going by the name of ice storage air conditioning, the technique is now moving into residential units.  Eli first became aware of it in the context of labs using large ice systems for to supply coolants for lasers.  Storage heaters are also coming back driven by the low cost of renewable thermal.

So the next time your electric provider tries to leave some zucchini on your doorstep, smile and use it to charge your batteries, heat or cool your house or some other creative construction.


Anonymous said...

Electricity has become like zucchini at the end of the summer, when gardeners leave a few hundred pounds on your doorstep, ring the bell and run

I'm sure there are countries where that doesn't happen, but it's been a rare year when either my or my neighbor's small garden didn't produce a bumper crop. That sinking feeling when you open the heavy paper bag that's been handed you with a pasted-on smile (fresh tomatoes? fruit? corn?) only to see more of the insipid green cylinders.

Of course that cheap surplus off-peak power can eventually heat homes on winter nights and charge cars year-round. I wonder how long our contrarian friends will manage to keep this particular denial ball in the air?

KAP said...

One man's price is another man's revenue. How many investors would put up a wind turbine on a grid where negative pricing for electricity is common when the wind is strongest? Nobody, absent significant government subsidy or requirement to do so.

And this is the whole issue: wind and solar inevitably competes with itself, driving wind and solar prices (and therefore revenues) down to unsustainable levels. The snake eats its own tail. The hundred-percenters will at this point raise the banner of storage; but the cost (and cost-benefit ratio, and EROI) of storage are invariably ignored while they tell the world how cheap RE has become. It's a shell game, and too many keep falling for the con.

VRE absolutely requires dispatchable backup, and the more VRE on the system, the more dispatchable backup is needed. There is simply no way around this equation. The current system can absorb a significant amount of VRE only because we already have that, but it's mostly in the form of natural gas. So the critical climate question becomes: what is the non-fossil dispatchable backup that we absolutely require in order to put more VRE on the system? (And here, "more" means anything above the curtailment level).

If you're not including nuclear in your thinking at this point, you're missing the boat. Numerous studies, including e.g. the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project, point the way: the cheapest, fastest way to decarbonize the grid (and society) is simply: hydro and geothermal where available; solar and wind up to the curtailment point; and nuclear for the rest.

Eli Rabrtt said...

In this nuclear is look squirrel. RE low prices at peak r because demand has not built up to cover supply. Market will rebalance in a short time. This is one of those problems that capitalism solves

JamieB said...

" and wind up to the curtailment point; and nuclear for the rest."

And where is the curtailment point? With more flex in our demand, we could soak up vast amounts of VRE. A few hundred thousand EVs represents about a GW of demand that could be aggregated and made available to grid controllers. A similar number of immersion heaters also represents a GW.

Nuclear reduces the potential for VRE in the system (it does seem that new nuclear can flex a bit to accommodate it though) and with the way VRE (and storage) prices are heading vs the way new nuclear prices are heading, I just can't see something with as long a lead time and lifetime as large nukes being a sensible bet.


Magmac, having won Gold with the largest zuccini in the the history of the Dukes County Agricultural Fair, the Republican proprietors of Squbnocket duly left it at the vacationing Clinton's gate house, where ,rumor has it , it took two platoons of Secret Service and Special Forces to whittle the preosterous vegetable into salad extender and ratatuoillle.

The Clintons failed to send a thank-you note, forever sealing their electoral fate.

This was a decade after the fall in which Freeman Dyson plalaced a surplus coil copper pipe placed in a disused Princeton outdoor swimming pool, which he had bulldozed full of snow that winter. Run through the Physics Department's radiators, the 0 c meltwater cooled the place admirably through the next summer for the cost of one tank of bulldozer diesel.

EliRabett said...

Eli admirers the lettersmithing of nuclear bombers.

Fernando Leanme said...

Your post has a problem: it glosses over the fact that having excess renewable energy for short periods of time isn't a positive outcome. In a sense, it's as if you brag because you can drink a bottle of vodka in three hours.


Fernando, any car that burns American gasoline does that in an hour .


Maddox might rule in favor of Tyndall, but Maddox was Welsh, look you .

Multiplying scientific intuition by prose quality Freeman may well be the best living scientist-writer, and certainly the most universe-disturbing.

Canman said...

If any economical battery storage is developed, it might be better used to keep nuclear plants running at an optimal level.

How will markets treat VRE? I suspect that states and countries that subsidize it'll be played for suckers. Industry will locate in areas with reliable base load and get a slight bonus from buying surplus VRE that has to be dumped during peak periods. Check out this tweet by Steve McIntyre responding to tweet by Naomi Oreskes praising wind power:

4Q2016: Ontario paid $425MM for unneeded windpower from govt cronies, dumping for $5MM to NY and Michigan. Fiasco.

Anonymous said...

So Canman thinks the battery industry is uneconomical? Battery manufacturers and their shareholders may disagree with your assessment of the value of their stocks. Why do you hate the free markets Canman?

JohnMashey said...

See Stanford Energy System Innovations (SESI).
It's well worth spending an hour on (Free) tour, ~every other Thursday,just book.

Among other things, ti can respond quickly to price fluctuations in converting electricity into hot and/or cold water.

KAP said...

Eli, and JamieB,

The "market" cannot re-balance unless retail consumers are exposed to the wholesale price of electricity, and that's quite unlikely to happen. Commercial consumers are simply unable to demand-shift in any meaningful way (because the hours of stores are not flexible). Industrial consumers might demand shift, by requiring their employees to work odd hours on very short notice (perhaps when the buses aren't running) -- but industrial consumers are already being offered the lowest possible prices, to keep industrial jobs in the community. That makes it unlikely that the price break they might get would be worth the schedule-juggling required to get it. So the bulk of demand-shifting burden will necessarily fall to household consumers, which are paying the highest energy prices. And those are exactly the people who have the least amount of time, effort, and capital needed to track a constantly shifting electricity price.

The widespread belief that nuclear cannot load-follow is a pernicious myth invented by the anti-nuclear (fossil-industry funded) propaganda machine. The fact is that a nuclear plant can ramp as fast as a combined-cycle gas plant (turbines don't care where the heat comes from.) Nuclear routinely load-follows on US Navy ships and subs, and nuclear routinely load-follows in France. It's true that nuclear in the US doesn't load follow, but that is because it's always cheaper to turn off the fossil plants first when demand falls. The use of nuclear as baseload-only is an economic decision, not a technological constraint.

Beakers said...

Beakers. - A key application for cheap renewable and/or nuclear power could be fixing N fertiliser. The industry has followed cheap gas (that was previously flared, demonstrating that there is nothing new in low or zero pricing) to the middle east - The Norwegian owned Yara used to be called Hydro after its power source, but as they needed to expand was drawn away by cheap gas, first to the former USSR then to the Gulf States. Projects have been looking at displacing the massive centralised factory production with small plants that run intermittently when the power is cheap. Particularly interesting for farmers on loess soils who use anhydrous ammonia, the plant does not even have to process the fertiliser into prills. Sadly, anhydrous ammonia injection is a bit smelly and dangerous here in the stony UK.
Its a good way of mopping up excess power from intermittent renewables and/or inflexible nuclear, displacing gas consumption, and with the prospect of the ammonia also being used for energy storage.


The Sec Nav should conspire with the Secretary of energy take a bite out of the national debt by plugging all the nuclear subs & carriers in port into the local grid , and opening up some shrimp farms alongside to consume the warm outwash to cut the naval seafood bill by couple of gigawatt hours a week.

JamieB said...

KAP, I'm not familiar with the situation in the US but over on this side of the pond industrial and commercial demand side response potential is currently thought to amount to a useful 3GW reduction / 2GW increase. On the other hand we have an average hot water demand of around 9GW (80TWh/yr), 80% of which is domestic hot water and around half of which could be supplied by electricity. Coincidentally our passenger car fleet would also lead to a roughly 9GW average demand if electrified.

For reference our average electricity demand is about 34GW (300TWh/yr).

Fitting a smart thermostat that can take a price signal to hot water cylinders would be a simple measure and all an electric vehicle owner would need to do is simply plug in when they park and leave it to an algorithm to optimise the charging based on wholesale price, value from balancing services provided and desired range. No monitoring would be required in either case.

Whatever your preferred future grid mix, these sorts of technologies are inevitable in a largely electrified future. Even if you think nuclear is going to dominate, we can't have a load of electricity demand from air con / space heating / hot water / electric vehicles etc (not to mention the usual energy using products) dropping on to the grid in an uncontrolled manner.