The more Electric Cars people drive the greater the Stress on the Electric Grid

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 16th, 2014

Week in Review

Have you ever noticed your lights dim when your air conditioner starts?  They do because when an electric motor starts there is a momentary short circuit across the windings.  Causing a great inrush of current as they start rotating.  Once they are rotating that inrush of current drops.  During that surge in current the voltage drops.  Because there is no resistance in a short circuit.  So there is no voltage across a short circuit.  And because everything in your house goes back to your electrical panel that momentary voltage drop affects everything in your house.  Including your lights.  The lower voltage reduces the lighting output.  Momentarily.  Once the air conditioning motor begins to rotate the short circuit goes away and the voltage returns to normal.

Air conditioners draw a lot of power.  And during hot summer days when everyone gets home from work they cause the occasional brownout.  As everybody turns on their air conditioners in the evening.  Stressing the electric grid.  Which is why our power bills rise in the summer months.  For this great rise in demand causes a corresponding rise in supply.  Costing the power companies more to meet that demand.  Which they pass on to us (see Electricity Price Surged to All-Time Record for March by Terence P. Jeffrey posted 4/16/2014 on cnsnews).

The average price for a kilowatthour (KWH) of electricity hit a March record of 13.5 cents, according data released yesterday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That was up about 5.5 percent from 12.8 cents per KWH in March 2013.

The price of electricity in the United States tends to rise in spring, peak in summer, and decline in fall. Last year, after the price of a KWH averaged 12.8 cents in March, it rose to an all-time high of 13.7 cents in June, July, August and September.

If the prevailing trend holds, the average price of a KWH would hit a new record this summer.

All-electric cars are more popular in California than in Minnesota.  Because there is little cold and snow in California.  And batteries don’t work so well in the cold.  AAA makes a lot of money jumping dead batteries during cold winter months.  So batteries don’t hold their charge as well in the winter.  Which is when an all-electric car requires more charge.  For the days are shorter.  Meaning that at least part of your daily commute will be in the dark and require headlights.  It is colder.  Requiring electric power for heating.  Windows fog and frost up.  Requiring electric power for defogging and defrosting.  It snows.  Requiring electric power to run windshield wipers.  Slippery roads slow traffic to a crawl.  Increasing the time spent with all of these things running during your commute.  So the all-electric car is more of a warm-weather car.  Where people who don’t live in sunny California may park their all-electric car during the worst of the winter months.  And use a gasoline-powered car instead.

As those on the left want everyone to drive all-electric cars they don’t say much about the stress that will add to the electric grid.  If everyone switched to an electric car in the summer it would be like adding a second air conditioner at every house.  Especially after work.  When everyone gets home and plugs in.  Causing an inrush of current for an hour or so as those discharged batters recharge.  A discharged battery is similar to an electric motor.  As it’s the current flow that recharges the battery cells.  There’s a high current at first.  Which falls as the battery charges.  So summer evenings will have a lot of brownouts during the summer months.  As the added electric load will greatly stress the electric grid during the evenings.  A demand that the power companies will have to supply.  At the same time they’re replacing coal-fired power plants with less reliable renewable forms of power generation.  Such as solar farms.  Which will be fast running out of sunshine as these cars plug in.

If people switch from gasoline to electric power in their cars en masse the average price for a kilowatt-hour will soar.  It’s simple economics.  Supply and demand.  The greater the demand the higher the price.  And there is little economies of scale in power production.  Because more power requires more fuel.  And the kicker is that even people who don’t drive will have to pay more on their electric bills when people switch from gasoline to electric cars.  And their gas bills if gas-fired turbines provide that peak power demand.  Raising the price of natural gas.  Making everyone pay more.  Whereas only drivers of gasoline-powered cars are impacted by the high cost of gasoline.

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Man arrested for Stealing Electricity for his Electric Car

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 7th, 2013

Week in Review

A bankruptcy judge just ruled Detroit can file bankruptcy.  Dealing a blow to the union workers and pensioners who will see their benefits cut.  A lot.  But in so doing Detroit may be able to do something it hasn’t been able to afford in a long time.  Turning the streetlights back on.

A lot of these streetlights have burnt out lamps.  Some are damaged.  While others have been shut off to cut costs.  Because the electric power to light these is a large cost item.  Even in Britain some cities are turning their streetlights off during parts of the night because they just can’t afford to keep them on all night long.  Which puts a silly incident like this into a new light (see Why Did This Man Get Arrested for Charging His Electric Car? by Tyler Lopez posted 12/5/2013 on Slate).

Early last month, a police officer approached Kaveh Kamooneh outside of Chamblee Middle School in Georgia. While his 11-year-old son played tennis, Kamooneh was charging his Nissan Leaf using an outdoor outlet. When the officer arrived, he opened the unlocked vehicle, took out a piece of mail to read the address, and let a puzzled Kamooneh know that he would be arrested for theft. Kamooneh brushed the entire incident off. Eleven days later, two deputies handcuffed and arrested him at his home. The charge? Theft of electrical power. According to a statement from the school, a “local citizen” had called the police to report the unauthorized power-up session.

The total cost of the 20 minutes of electricity Kamooneh reportedly used is about 5 cents…

Are political attitudes toward environmentally friendly electric vehicles to blame..?

Contrary to popular belief the ‘fuel’ for electric cars is not free.  It takes fuel (typically coal, natural gas, nuclear, etc.) to generate electric power.  Which is why we all have electric meters at our homes.  So we can pay for the cost of generating that electric power.  Therefore, this guy was stealing electric power.  Even if he lived in the city he stole from.  Because current taxes don’t pay for electric power.  People pay an electric bill based on their electric usage.  As shown on an electric meter.

This illustrates a great problem we will have if large numbers of people switch to electric cars.  This will place a huge burden on our electric generating capacity.  Have you ever placed your car battery (in a standard gasoline-powered car) on a charger when you had a dead battery?  If so you may have noticed the voltage meter on the charger barely move.  Because a dead battery places a ‘short-circuit’ across the charger.  Causing a surge of current to flow through the battery.  Recharging the plates.  As the charge builds up the current starts falling.  And the voltage starts rising.  Imagine great numbers of people plugging in their depleted batteries at the same time.  It will do to the electric grid what air conditioners do to it in the summer.  As a bunch of them turn on the lights dim because of that current surge going to the air conditioners.  Leaving less power available to power the lights (and other electric loads).

Air conditioning was such a problem that utilities placed a separate ‘interruptible’ meter at homes.  So that during the summer when the air conditioner load grew too great the utility could shut off some air conditioners.  To reduce the demand on the generating systems.  People lost their air conditioning for periods of time.  But they got a reduced electric rate because of it.

As more people add an electric car to the electric grid it will strain generating capacity.  And raise electric rates.  To get people to use less electric power.  If demand far exceeds supply electric rates will soar.  Perhaps causing a lot of people to look for a free ‘plug-in’ to escape the high cost of electric power.  Transferring that cost to others.  Like cash-strapped cities who can’t afford to leave the street lights on all night.

Few have thought this out well.  Getting more people to use electricity instead of gasoline at the same time we’re trying to replace reliable coal-fired power plants with intermittent wind and solar farms is a recipe for disaster.  In the form of higher electric bills and rolling blackouts.

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Spain’s Massive Investment in Solar Power has Greatly increased the Cost of their Electric Power

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 24th, 2013

Week in Review

People think renewable energy is the answer to all our energy problems.  But that isn’t quite so.  In fact, all it does is increase the cost of our electric power.  For sunshine and wind may be free.  But the equipment to harness the energy in sunshine and wind is not free.  It is very, very expensive.  And you need a lot of it.  You will not see one wind turbine service the power needs of one metropolitan area.  You may see a wind farm providing a small percentage of the electric power needs of a large metropolitan area.  And only when the wind blows.

Wind can blow day or night.  But it can also NOT blow day and night.  While solar panels will not work at all at night.  So you have massive investments to install renewable energy generation capacity.  And there will be times when they will provide no power.  So what do you do?  What do you do when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine?  You turn to old reliable.  The electric grid.

This is why renewable energy is so costly.  It cannot replace our fossil-fuel power plants that can provide reliable power day or night in any type of weather.  It can only supplement what we call our baseload power.  Like our beloved coal-fired power plants.  One of the most cost-efficient ways to produce reliable electric power.  Which the power companies have to still run and maintain day and night.  For those who don’t have a wind turbine or a solar array providing their electric power.  And to light up the night.  So instead of one cost-efficient power generation system we have two systems.  One cost-efficient and one cost-inefficient.  And those who invested heavily into renewable energy are now having to deal with these very real problems (see Out Of Ideas And In Debt, Spain Sets Sights On Taxing The Sun by Kelly Phillips Erb posted 8/19/2013 on Forbes).

With so much sunshine at its disposal, Spain has aggressively pursued the development of solar energy: over the past ten years, the government has made significant advances in pressing solar energy and is one of the top countries in the world with respect to installed photovoltaic (PV) solar energy capacity.

It might, however, be too much of a good thing. Spain is generating so much solar power, according to its government, that production capacity exceeds demand by more than 60%. That imbalance has created a problem for the government which now finds itself in debt to producers. And not by a little bit. The debt is said to have grown to nearly 26 billion euros ($34.73 billion U.S.).

So how do you get out of that kind of debt? You propose incredibly onerous taxes and fines, of course. And you do it on exactly the behavior that you encouraged in the first place: the use of solar energy panels. That’s right. Spain is now attempting to scale back the use of solar panels – the use of which they have encouraged and subsidized over the last decade – by imposing a tax on those who use the panels…

…many residents in Spain generate enough electricity from solar that they get paid to selling the excess energy back to producers. This, it turns out, is a problem. The government is putting a stop to that, too: as part of the reform efforts (read: desperate measures), there will be a prohibition on selling extra energy.

If the power companies are providing all the power at night they have to maintain their power plants.  And their power distribution system.  Which means they even have to trim the trees away from their overhead power lines from people who use solar power during the day.  Nothing changes for the power companies.  Except that they can’t sell as much power as they once did.  So their costs of producing power remain the same.  But their revenue has fallen.  Forcing them to operate at a loss.  Or find other ways to replace their lost revenue.  Which they have to.  Because they must have the same capacity available during the day that they have at night.  Even if they aren’t selling as much power during the day as they are at night.  And the last thing they want to do is buy excess power back from homeowners with solar panels on their house when they’re producing their own power that they can’t sell.

Baseload power plants like coal and nuclear take time to bring on line.  They have to produce the heat that boils water into steam.  Then superheat the steam to remove all water from it.  So the steam can spin the generator turbines without damaging the vanes on the turbine.  And once they start these plants up they run these systems at full capacity where they produce power most cost-efficiently.  During peak demand they may bring on some gas-fired turbines that can start and produce power quickly.  And add them to the grid.  When the peak subsides they can shut down these gas-fired turbines and let the baseload generation carry the remaining load.

The Spanish government invested heavily into solar power for whatever reason.  It’s ‘free’ power.  It’s ‘clean’ power.  Or it was just a good way to create a lot of jobs.  But what Spain has now is a surplus of peak power generation during the day that doesn’t eliminate the need to maintain baseload power generation during the day.  Creating a surplus of electric power during the day no one wants.  While requiring power companies to maintain their baseload power during the day so they can provide power at night.  Incurring great costs on the power companies.  Which must be passed on to the same people who paid for the renewable energies subsidies.  The electric power consumer.

This is a classic example of a Hayekian malinvestment.  Friedrich Hayek of the Austrian school of economics said this is what happens when governments interfere with free markets.  They make investments to produce what they think is best while the market demands something else.  The market demanded low-cost electric power.  Which baseload power plants (coal and nuclear) provided.  But the government intervened and subsidized the more costly solar power.  This bad investment—or malinvestment—has only increased the cost of electric power for the Spanish consumer.  And now the Spanish have a big problem on their hands.  What to do with this surplus of peak power no one wants to pay for?  And how to replace the lost revenue of the power companies so they can cover their costs?  Two problems they didn’t have until the government intervened into the free market.

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Even though Solar Panels and Natural Gas Home Generators allow us to Disconnect from the Grid we Shouldn’t

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 21st, 2013

Week in Review

I remember losing power for a couple of hot and humid days.  The kind where you stick to everything because you’re just covered in sweat.  Making it almost impossible to sleep.  But I was able to borrow my father’s generator.  So I would not have to suffer through that insufferable heat and humidity.  While I was able to run my refrigerator, turn the lights on and even watch television I could not start my central air conditioner.  Even when I shut everything else off.  It was large enough to run the AC.  But it was just not big enough to start it.  I tried.  But as I did that inrush of current (about 40 amps) just stalled the generator.  Which could put out only 30 amps at 240 volts.  So even though I had a 30 amp generator to start an air conditioner that was on a 20 amp circuit breaker it wasn’t big enough.  Because of that momentary inrush of current.  So I suffered through that insufferable heat and humidity until the electric utility restored power.  And I never loved my electric utility more than when they did.

Now suppose I wanted to go to solar power.  How large of a solar array would I need that would start my air conditioner?  If one square inch of solar panel provided 70 milliwatts and you do a little math that comes to approximately a 950 square-foot solar array.  Or an array approximately 20 FT X 50 FT.  Which is a lot of solar panel.  Costly to install.  And if you want to use any electricity at night you’re going to need some kind of battery system.  But you won’t be able to run your air conditioner.  For one start would probably drain down that battery system.  So it’s not feasible to disconnect from the electric grid.  For you’re going to need something else when the sun doesn’t shine.  And because there can be windless nights a windmill won’t be the answer.  Because you’re going to need at least one source of electric power you can rely on to be there for you.  Like your electric utility.  Or, perhaps, your gas utility (see Relentless And Disruptive Innovation Will Shortly Affect US Electric Utilities by Peter Kelly-Detwiler posted 4/18/2013 on Forbes).

NRG’s CEO David Crane is one of the few utility CEO’s in the US who appears to fully appreciate – and publicly articulate – the potential for this coming dynamic.  At recent Wall Street Journal ECO:nomics conference, he indicated that solar power and natural gas are coming on strong, and that some customers may soon decide they do not need the electric utility. “If you have gas into your house and say you want to be as green as possible, maybe you’re anti-fracking or something and you have solar panels on your roof, you don’t need to be connected to the grid at all.”  He predicted that within a short timeframe, we may see technologies that allow for conversion of gas into electricity at the residential level.

If you want carefree and reliable electric power you connect to the electric grid.  Have a natural gas backup generator sized to power the entire house (large enough to even start your central air conditioner).  And a whole-house uninterruptible power supply (UPS).  To provide all your power needs momentarily while you switch from your electric utility to your gas utility.  Well, all but your central air conditioner (and other heavy electrical loads).  Which would have to wait for the natural gas generator to start running.  Because if you connected these to your UPS it might drain the battery down before that generator was up and running.  No problem.  For we can all go a minute or two without air conditioning.

So this combination would work.  With solar panels and a natural gas generator you could disconnect from the electric grid.  But is this something we should really do?  Not everyone will be able to afford solar panels and natural gas generators.  They will have to rely on the electric utility.  Some may only be able to afford the solar panels.  Staying connected to the grid for their nighttime power needs.  But if our electric utilities cut their generation and take it offline permanently it could cause some serious problems.  For what happens when a day of thunderstorms blocks the sun from our solar panels and everyone is still running their air conditioners?  The solar panels can no longer provide the peak power demand that they took from the electric utility (causing the utilities to reduce their generation capacity).  But if they reduced their generation capacity how are they going to be able to take back this peak power demand?  They won’t be able to.  And if they can’t that means rolling brownouts and blackouts.  Not a problem for those with the resources to install a backup generator.  But a big problem for everyone else.

We should study any plans to mothball any baseload electric generation.  For renewable sources of energy may be green but they are not reliable.  And electric power is not just about comfort in our homes.  It’s also about national security.  Imagine the Boston Marathon bombing happening during a time of rolling blackouts.  Imagine all of the things we take for granted not being there.  Like power in our homes to charge our smartphones.  And to power the televisions we saw the two bombers identified on.  We would have been both literally and figuratively in the dark.  Making it a lot easier for the bombers to have made their escape.  There’s a reason why we’re trying to harden our electric grid from cyber attacks.  Because we are simply too dependent on electric power for both the comforts and necessities of life.  Which is why we should be building more coal-fired power plants.  Not fewer.  Because coal is reliable and we have domestic sources of coal.  Ditto for natural gas and nuclear.  The mainstay of baseload power.  Because there is nothing more reliable.  Which comes in handy for national security.

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With a Great Trust in Technology Germany may go all Green in Power Generation

Posted by PITHOCRATES - April 7th, 2013

Week in Review

In 2003 one power plant went off line for maintenance in Ohio.  As their electrical load switched over to other power lines the extra current in them caused them to heat up and sag.  Coming into contact with some tall trees.  And the electric power flashed over to the trees.  This surge in current opened some breakers and transferred this electric load to other cables.  Overloading these lines.  More breakers opened.  More lines disconnected.  And with the electric load switching around it caused some electric generators to spin a little wildly.  So they disconnected from the grid as designed to protect themselves.

Eventually this cascade of failures would cause one of the greatest power outages in history.  The Northeast blackout of 2003.  Affecting some 55 million people.  And taking 256 power plants offline.  Apparently there was a software bug in the computer control system that didn’t warn them in time to rebalance the grid on other power sources before this cascade of failures began.  Once the event was over it took a lot of time to bring the power back online.  Three days before all power was restored.  Because you have to reconnect generators slowly and carefully.  As you are connecting generators together.  If these generators are not running in phase with each other fault currents can flow between them.  Damaging them and starting another cascade of failures.

So the electric grid is a very complex network of generators, cables, switches and computer control systems.  The more generation plants added to the grid the more complicated the switching and the computer controls.  Which makes having large-capacity power generation plants highly desirable.  For it reduces the complexity of the system.  And their large power capacity makes it easier for them to take on additional loads when another plant goes offline or a cable fails.  It provides a safe margin of error when trying to balance electric loads between available generation.  In Germany, though, the politics of green energy may take precedence over good engineering practices (see Linked Renewables Could Help Germany Avoid Blackouts by Paul Brown and The Daily Climate posted 4/5/2013 on Scientific American).

Critics of renewables have always claimed that sun and wind are only intermittent producers of electricity and need fossil fuel plants as back-up to make them viable. But German engineers have proved this is not so.

By skillfully combining the output of a number of solar, wind and biogas plants the grid can be provided with stable energy 24 hours a day without fear of blackouts, according to the Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy and Energy System Technology (IWES) in Kassel.

For Germany, having turned its back on nuclear power and investing heavily in all forms of renewables to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions, this is an important breakthrough…

Kurt Rohrig, deputy director of IWES, said: “Each source of energy – be it wind, sun or biogas – has its strengths and weaknesses. If we manage to skillfully combine the different characteristics of the regenerative energies, we can ensure the power supply for Germany.”

The idea is that many small power plant operators can feed their electricity into the grid but act as a single power plant using computers to control the level of power…

The current system of supplying the grid with electricity is geared to a few large producers. In the new system, with dozens of small producers, there will need to be extra facilities at intervals on the system to stabilize voltage. Part of the project is designed to find out how many of these the country will need.

The project has the backing of Germany’s large and increasingly important renewable companies and industrial giants like Siemans.

If you are a heavy electric power consumer in Germany you might want to build your own power plant on site.  For if they go ahead with this they are going to create one complex and costly monster.  Which is why IWES and Siemens no doubt are on board with this.  For it would give them a lot of business in a recession-plagued Eurozone.  But the amount of switching and computer controls to make this work just boggles the mind.

Just imagine a night of high winds that shuts down all wind farms.  Which is something a wind turbine does to protect itself.  You can’t switch over to solar at night.  So you will have to switch that load over to the remaining power lines that are connected to active generation.  Heating those wires up.  Causing them to sag.  Perhaps flashing over to a tall tree.  If these lines disconnect from the grid will those small producers be able to pick up the demand?  Or will they disconnect to protect themselves from an overload?  Once the event is over how long would it take to bring all of these generation sources back in phase and back online?

If they move forward with this chances are that the Germans are going to learn a very painful and costly lesson about green energy.  It may make you look like you care but it won’t keep the lights on like a coal-fired or a nuclear power plant can.  Which they may learn.  The hard way.

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India leads the world in Wind and Solar Power but turns to Nuclear Power for Serious Power Generation

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 19th, 2013

Week in Review

By 2012 India had about 1,045 MW of solar power capacity connected to their electric grid (see Year End Review of Ministry of New and Renewable Energy posted on the Press Information Bureau, Government of India website).  Available when the sun shines.  India had about 18,320 MW of wind power capacity attached to their electric grid.  Available when the wind blows.

In July of 2012 India suffered the largest power outage in history.  Approximately 32,000 MW of generating capacity went offline.  Putting about half of India’s population of 1.22 billion into the dark.  Which her solar and wind capacity was unable to prevent.  So even though they’re expanding these generating systems guess what else they’re doing?  Here’s a hint.  You don’t need as much land to make this power.  And a little of it can create a lot more electric power than solar or wind can (see Areva says India keen to start using EPR reactor by Geert De Clercq posted 1/17/2013 on Reuters India).

Negotiations about the sale of two French nuclear reactors to India are at an advanced stage and Indian authorities are keen to start using French nuclear technology, reactor builder Areva (AREVA.PA) said on Wednesday…

The World Nuclear Association expects India’s nuclear capacity will grow fourfold to 20,000 megawatts by 2020 from just under 5,000 MW today, making it the third-biggest market after China and Russia…

The third-generation European Pressurised Reactor (EPR), conceived following the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, has a double containment wall and a “core catcher” to contain core meltdown. Its 1,600 megawatt capacity is the largest on the market…

The planned site for the EPR reactors in Jaitapur – on the subcontinent’s Arabian Sea coast, 400 km south of Bombay and 230 km north of Goa – could receive up to six nuclear reactors, though at the moment only two EPRs are under consideration.

If you do the math that one site in Jaitapur will be able to produce 9,600 MW.  They’ve been building solar power for a decade or more and have only brought that capacity up to 1,045 MW.  That one nuclear power site will produce 9.2 times the power produced by all the solar power they’ve built to date.  And it doesn’t matter if it’s day or night.  That nuclear power will always be there.

To produce that additional 15,000 MW of nuclear power will only require building two nuclear sites like at Jaitapur.  To get this additional capacity they could double their wind power installations to add another 18,320 MW.  Of course if they did that power would only be available when the wind blew.  Which is why they are installing nuclear power.  Because it’s easier, less costly and more reliable.  And with good reliable power some 610 million people may avoid another power outage like that in 2012.  Or they can build more solar and wind.  And continue to set more records for power outages.

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FT142: “Solar and wind power would take the longest to restore after a devastating weather event.” —Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 2nd, 2012

Fundamental Truth

Neither Snow nor Rain nor Heat nor Gloom of Night Stays the Production of Electric Power from Coal

What’s the best way to generate electric power?  This is not a trick question.  There is an answer.  And there is only one correct answer.  Coal.  A coal-fired power plant is the best way to generate electric power.  Coal-fired power plants can run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  You never have to turn them off.  They can produce an enormous amount of power for the given infrastructure.  You can put these power plants anywhere.  Where it’s snowy and cold.  Where it’s bright and sunny.  Where it’s cloudy and rainy.  It doesn’t matter.  Coal-fired power plants are like the US Postal Service.  Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays the production of electric power from coal.

Coal is a highly concentrated form of energy.  Burning a little of it goes a long way.  This is why one coal-fired power plant can add over 2,000 megawatts to the electric grid.  And why about 600 coal-fired power plants can provide over half of our electric power needs.  Coal is one of the most abundant fuel sources in the world, too.  In fact, America has more coal than we can use.  This high domestic supply makes coal cheap.  Which is why coal-produced electric power is some of the cheapest electricity we have.

The only thing that will shut down a coal-fired power plant is running out of coal.  Which doesn’t happen easily.  Look around a power plant and you will see mountains of coal.  And conveyor systems that move that coal to the firebox that burns it.  You’ll probably see more coal arriving.  By unit train.  Trains with nothing but coal cars stretching a mile long.  By river barge.  Or Great Lakes freighter.  Making round-trip after round-trip from the coal mines to the power plants.  We’ve even built power plants near coal mines.  And fed those plants with coal on conveyor systems from the mines to the power plants.  Trains, barges and freighters use self-contained fuel to transport that coal.  And electric power energizes those conveyor systems.  Electric power that comes from the power plant.  Making it difficult to interrupt that flow of coal to our power plants.  Onsite stockpiles of coal can power the plant during brief interruptions in this coal flow.  When the lakes freeze they can get their coal via train.  And if there is a train wreck or a track washout they can reroute trains onto other tracks.  Finally, coal-fired power plants are least dependent on other systems.  Whereas a natural gas-fired power plant is dependent on the natural gas infrastructure (pipelines, pumps, valves, pressure regulators, etc.).  If that system fails so do the natural gas-fired power plants.

Solar Panels produce low DC Currents and Voltages that we have to Convert to AC to Connect them to the Electric Grid

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays the production of electric power from coal.  But they sure can interrupt solar power.  Which won’t produce much power if there is snow or rain or night.  Giving it one of the lowest capacity factors.  Meaning that you get a small fraction of useful power from the installed capacity.  Wind power is a little better.  But sometimes the wind doesn’t blow.  And sometimes it blows too strong.  So wind power is not all that reliable either.  Hydroelectric power is more reliable.  But sometimes the rains don’t come.  And if there isn’t enough water behind a hydroelectric dam they have to take some generators offline.  For if they draw down the water level too much the water level behind the dam will be below the inlet to the turbines.  Which would shut off all the generators.

Of course, hydroelectric dams often have reservoirs.  These fill with water when the rains come.  So they can release their water to raise the water level behind a dam when the rains don’t come.  These reservoirs are, then, stored electric power.  For a minimal cost these can store a lot of electric power.  But it’s not an endless supply.  If there is a prolonged draught (or less snow in the mountains to melt and run off) even the water level in the reservoirs can fall too low to raise the water level behind the dam high enough to reach the water inlets to the turbines.

Storing electric power is something they can do with solar power, too.  Only it’s a lot more complex.  And a lot more costly.  Solar panels produce low DC currents and voltages.  Like small batteries in our flashlights.  So they have to have massive arrays of these solar panels connected together.  Like multiple batteries in a large flashlight.  They have to convert the DC power to AC power to connect it to the grid.  With some complicated and costly electronics.  And any excess power these solar arrays produce that they don’t feed into the grid they can store in a battery of batteries.  And as we know from the news on our electric cars, current battery technology does not hold a lot of charge.  Barely enough to drive a 75 mile round-trip.  So you’d need a lot of batteries to hold enough useful power to release into the grid after the sun goes down.

Storms like Sandy would wipe out Solar Arrays and Wind Farms with their High Winds and Storm Surges

When a 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit Japan in 2011 the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant suffered no damage.  Then the storm surge came.  Flooding the electrical equipment with highly conductive and highly corrosive seawater.  Shorting out and destroying that electrical equipment.  Shutting down the reactor cooling pumps.  Leading to a partial reactor core meltdown.  Proving what great damage can result when you mix water and electric equipment.  Especially when that water is seawater.

Hurricane Sandy hammered the Northeastern seaboard.  High winds and a storm surge destroyed cities and neighborhoods, flooded subway tunnels and left tens of millions of people without power.  And they may be without power for a week or more.  Restoring that power will consist primarily of fixing the electric grid.  To reconnect these homes and businesses to the power plants serving the electric grid.  They don’t have to build new power plants.  Now if these areas were powered by solar and wind power it would be a different story.  First of all, they would have lost power a lot earlier as the driving rains and cloud cover would have blocked out most of the sun.  The high winds would have taken the windmills offline.  For they shut down automatically when the winds blow too hard to prevent any damage.  Of course, the high winds and the storm surge would probably have damaged these as well as the power lines.  While shorting out and destroying all of that electronic equipment (to convert the DC power to AC power) and the battery storage system

So instead of just installing new power lines they would have to install new windmills, solar arrays, electronic equipment and storage batteries.  Requiring long manufacturing times.  Then time to transport.  And then time to install.  At a far greater cost than just replacing downed wires.  Leaving people without electric power for weeks.  Perhaps months.  Or longer.  This is why using coal-fired power plants is the best way to generate electric power.  They’re less costly.  Less fragile.  And less complicated.  You just don’t need such a large generating infrastructure.  Whereas solar arrays and wind farms would cover acres of land.  And water (for the wind farms).  And storms like Sandy could wipe these out with their high winds and storm surges.

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India wants to Burn U.S. Coal in their Coal-Fired Power Plants if the Americans are Foolish Enough not to Burn it in Theirs

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 6th, 2012

Week in Review

India is one of the leaders in solar and wind power.  They have one of the world’s largest solar power plants.  Charanka Solar Park.  Adding about 200 megawatts to the electric grid.  When the sun shines.  India has about 15,000 megawatts worth of installed windmills.  When the wind blows they provide about 2% of India’s electric power.  India also has about 37,000 megawatts of hydroelectric power.  Which provides about 20% of their total electric power.  When the rains come.  So the Indians are serious when it comes to renewable energy.  Of course, they know that solar and wind power are more novelties than serious providers of electric power.  No, the big daddy of electric power in India?  Coal (see Tata Power scouts for overseas coal assets by Malini Menon posted 10/4/2012 on Reuters).

Tata Power (TTPW.NS) is looking for more overseas coal assets, a top executive said, joining the growing number of companies in the energy-hungry nation looking to secure supplies abroad amid a widening domestic shortfall.

“We are continuously looking at the other geographies and today, the options are the U.S., Colombia and Africa,” Managing Director Anil Sardana said, pointing to logistics, cost and sustainability of contracts…

Coal accounts for two-thirds of power production in India, which is struggling to meet the demands of a fast-growing economy and increasingly affluent population of around 1.2 billion people.

With all that investment in solar and wind power coal-fired power plants still provide about two-thirds of all electric power.  Which means coal and hydro provide close to 90% of all their power.  And solar and wind account for less than 10% of their electric power generation.  When the sun shines and the wind blows.

So the Indians want to buy U.S coal.  As do the Chinese.  You know who doesn’t want to buy U.S. coal?  The U.S. government.  They don’t want any Americans buying American coal.  And are aggressively trying to shutter coal-fired power plants.  Because of global warming.  Even though in all likelihood someone will burn that coal.  It just won’t be Americans.  So instead of China and India suffering rolling blackouts it will be the US.  Because of an energy policy dominated by environmental alarmists.

The Indians know they need coal-fired power plants.  The Chinese know they need coal-fired power plants.  But for some reason the Obama administration and his political base don’t understand that we need coal-fired power plants.  Perhaps they will when those power hungry server centers suffer rolling blackouts and shut off their online activities.  Perhaps they will only appreciate reliable coal after they lose all the comforts of life they take for granted.  Pity they aren’t as smart as the Indians and the Chinese.

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Coal Mines, Steam Engine, Electric Motor, Coal-Fired Power Plants, Water Pumps, Ventilation Fans, Strip Mining, Draglines and Coal Washing

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 12th, 2012

Technology 101

The Steam Engine pumped Water from Mines allowing them to go Deeper as they followed Veins of Coal

Petroleum is the lifeblood of advanced economies.  It propels our airplanes, ships, trains, trucks, ambulances, air ambulances, fire trucks, cars, etc.  It moves everything.  Our sick and injured.  Our families.  Our food.  Our goods.  The raw materials that build the world we live in.  You would not recognize the world if we removed petroleum from it.  There would be no aviation.  No emergency vehicles that could respond in minutes.  No family car.  But we could still have ships and trains.  Because before petroleum there was coal.

Before the Industrial Revolution we used animals to move people and things.  We were using fuels for other things.  But not to move people and goods.  Until there was a problem getting that fuel.  The British were mining coal near the coast.  But there was a problem.  As the coal veins they mined moved under the sea they filled with water.  Limiting how far they could follow those veins.  They had a pump.  Driven by a crude steam engine.  But it just didn’t do the job very well.  Until a man came along and improved it.  James Watt.  Who improved that crude steam engine.  And changed the world.

The steam engine pumped water from coal mines allowing them to go deeper as they followed veins of coal.  But the steam engine had other uses.  They could power a drive shaft in a factory.  Allowing us to build factories anywhere.  Not just by moving water that drove a waterwheel.  And using a steam engine to move a train allowed us to connect these factories with other factories.  And to the stores in the cites that bought the things they built.  Steam-powered tractors replaced the horse and plow on the farm.  While steam locomotives brought coal from distant coal mines to our homes we burned for heat.  Coal was everywhere.  We had a coal-based economy.  And a coal-based life.  The more we used the more we had to mine.  Thanks to the coal-fired steam engine we could mine a lot of it.  And did.  It powered the Industrial Revolution.  And powers our modern economy today.  Because coal even powers the engines that replaced the steam engines in our factories.

The two largest Electrical Loads in a Coal Mine are the Water Pumps and the Ventilation Fans

We’ve replaced the steam engines in our factories with the electric motor.  Instead of having a main drive shaft through the factory and a system of belts and pulleys we put an electric motor at each workstation.  And connected it to the electric grid.  Greatly increasing our productivity.  And the electric power to drive these electric motors came predominantly from coal-fired power plants.  Coal has never been more important in the modern economy.  It provides about half of all electric power.  Followed by natural gas and nuclear power at about 20% each (though natural gas is on the rise).  Hydroelectric dams provide less than 10% of our electric power.  And everything else provides less than 5%.

Just as the steam engine made mining more efficient so did electric power.  Mines can go deeper because electric pumps can more efficiently pump water out of the mines.  And large fans can circulate the air underground so miners can breathe.  As well as disperse any buildups of methane gas or coal dust.  Before they can explode.  Which is one of the hazards of mining a flammable and, at times, explosive material.  The hazard is so real that you will not find ventilation fans inside the mine.  You’ll find water pumps deep in the mines.  But not the ventilation fans.  Because if there is a fire or an explosion underground they’ll need to protect those fans from damage so they will still be able to ventilate the mine.  For if the mine fills with smoke surviving a fire or an explosion will matter little if you cannot breathe.

The two largest electrical loads in a coal mine are the water pumps and the ventilation fans.  Mines consume enormous amounts of electric power.  And most of it goes to fighting the water seepage that will fill up a mine if not pumped out.  And making the mines habitable.  Electric power also runs the hoists that haul the coal to the surface.  Transports miners to and from the mines.  And runs the mining equipment in a confined space without any hazardous fumes.  As critical as this electric power is to survive working in such an unfriendly environment more times than not the power they use comes from a coal-fired power plant.  A plant they feed with the very coal they mine.  Because it’s dependable.  That electric power will always be there.

Coal will always let you Charge your Electric Car Overnight and Surf the Web in the Morning

But we just don’t mine coal underground.  We also dig it up from the surface.  With strip mining.  Most of the coal we use today comes from great strip mines out West.  Where they use mammoth machines called draglines to scrape away soil to get to the coal.  And then they scrape out the coal.  These machines are as big as ships and actually have crew quarters inside them.  They even name them like ships.  They operate kind of like a fishing rod with a few minor differences.  Instead of a rod there is a boom.  Instead of nylon fishing line there is a steel cable up to two inches in diameter.  And instead of a hook there is a bucket big enough to hold a 2-car garage.  The operator ‘throws’ the bucket out by running it out along the boom.  Then drops it in the dirt.  Then drags the bucket back.  The massive scale of the dragline requires an enormous amount of power.  And the power of choice?  Electric power.  Often produced by the very coal they mine.  Some of these machines have electric cables even bigger around than the cables that drag their buckets.  At voltages of 10,000 to 25,000 volts.  Drawing up to 2,000 amps.

These draglines can mine a lot of coal.  But it’s a lower-quality coal than some of our eastern coal.  Which has a higher energy content.  But eastern coal also has a higher sulfur content.  Which requires more costs to make it burn cleaner.  In fact, before any coal ships today we wash it to remove slate as well as other waste rock from the coal.  And it is in this waste rock where we find much of the sulfur.  So the washing makes the coal burn cleaner.  As well as raise the energy content for a given quantity of coal by removing the waste that doesn’t burn.  There are a few ways they do this.  But they all involve water.  Therefore, at the end of the process they have to dry the coal by spinning it in a large cylindrical centrifuge.  So a lot happens to coal between digging it out of the ground and loading it on a unit train (a train carrying only one type of cargo) bound to some power plant.  And chances are that it will go to a power plant.  For our coal-fired power plants buy about 80% or so of all coal mined.  So if you see a coal train it is probably en route to a coal-fired power plant.

Coal created the modern world.  And it powers it to this day.  From the first steam engines that dewatered mines to the coal-fired power plants that power the massive server farms that hold the content of the World Wide Web.  Yes, coal even powers the Internet.  As well as our electric cars.  For only coal will be able to meet the electric demand when everyone starts plugging their car into the electric grid overnight.  Because solar power doesn’t work at night.  And wind power is even less reliable.  For if it’s a still night you’ll have no charge to drive to work in the morning.  But if you plugged into coal you’ll always be able to charge your electric car overnight.  And surf the web in the morning.

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Australia to build 20 Megawatt Solar Farm in Canberra that may Provide 3.6 Megawatts of Useful Electric Power

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 8th, 2012

Week in Review

Australia is working hard to save the planet.  They’re building a new solar farm that will be the biggest in all of Australia.  Allowing the environmentalists to feel good.  But it will do little if anything (see Canberra to get Aust’s biggest solar farm posted 9/5/2012 on 9NEWS).

International solar power company Fotowatio Renewable Ventures (FRV) will construct and operate the 20 megawatt facility, the ACT Government announced on Wednesday…

ACT Environment Minister Simon Corbell said the solar farm would be able to power 4400 more Canberra homes with only a $13 annual increase to all householder power bills.

Canberra, Australia, is located at about 35° south latitude.  Which puts it between the Tropic of Cancer and the Antarctic Circle.  So the sun never gets directly overhead.  The Tropic of Capricorn at about 23° south latitude (above Canberra) being the cutoff point for that.  Which means Canberra gets about 6 hours or less of sunshine during the months of May, June and July.  The month of December sees about 9.4 hours of sunshine each day.  On average their mean daily sunshine is approximately 32.1% each year (about 7.7 hours of sunshine out of the 24-hour day).  According to the same website linked to above their mean number of clear days averages to about 27.5% each year.

When you factored these together (as well as blowing dirt, bird droppings, etc.) you can understand why the capacity factor for solar power is only about 18% of the total possible output over a period of time.  So that 20 megawatt rated solar power plant may only provide about 3.6 megawatts of useful electric power.  Which would be the equivalent of power for maybe 300 homes (with a 100 amp service at 240 volts).

Their claim of powering 4400 homes is questionable.  If you divide that 20 megawatts by 4400 homes and then divide that number by 120 volts you get 37.88 amps.  Which is just over two fully loaded 20-amp circuits.  Or just over three fully loaded 15-amp circuits.  Take a look in your electric panel in your house and see what that will get you.  If you have a typical panel you probably have 20 circuits.  Divided up between 15-amp and 20-amp circuits.  With maybe a 2-pole breaker (240V) for an electric stove or central air conditioning.  So that 37.88 amps at 120 volts isn’t going to power a lot in anyone’s house.

This new power plant will add to the electric grid during those few daylight hours.  But it will be all fossil fuel-powered plants powering these homes once the sun sets.  Unless they add a lot of equipment to store excess power when the sun does shine to use when it doesn’t shine.  But if a typical house uses more than 37.88 amps at 120 volts (or 18.94 amps at 240 volts) there probably will be no excess power to store.  Meaning this new solar power plant will have little impact on the electric grid.  It will just cost the electrical consumer more.  While making little if any impact to the carbon footprint of their fossil fuel-powered plants.

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