India turns to Renewable Energy and Abandons Coal, causing one of the World’s Worst Power Outages

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 5th, 2012

Week in Review

India suffered a massive power outage that left some 600 million Indians without power.  Stranding train travelers.  And trapping miners underground.  Not to mention leaving people to swelter in 100+ degree Fahrenheit temperatures.  In one of the most humid climates to ever grace our planet.  Some buildings had backup generators.  Including hospitals.  But these were few.   Most just suffered.  One wonders how this can happen in one of the biggest emerging economies.  India is, after all, one of the BRICS.  And being that the modern economy runs on energy it leaves one scratching their head.  If India has such a burgeoning economy where is their electricity production (see India: More than 600 million without power in biggest blackout ever by Rick Westhead posted 7/31/2012 on the Toronto Star)?

 While India has been aggressively trying to encourage investment in renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power, critics say it rarely upgrades its electrical grid. India has missed every annual target to add electricity production capacity since 1951, Bloomberg reported.

Oh.  They’ve been pouring millions into renewable energy to save the planet while they in essence have left their country plugged into the lamp post on the corner.  Here’s an interesting fact.  India just recently switched on the world’s largest solar photovoltaic power plant.  They are also a leader in wind power.  So they are working hard to remove their carbon footprint.  While their economy, and their people, starve for reliable electric power.  Let’s go to Bloomberg for more details (see Ambani, Tata ‘Islands’ Shrug Off Grid Collapse: Corporate India by Rajesh Kumar Singh and Rakteem Katakey posted 8/3/2012 on Bloomberg).

About 1.6 trillion rupees ($29 billion) spent by companies including Tata Motors and billionaire Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL), to quarantine their plants from the national grid is shielding India’s biggest users of electricity from disruptions. Sixty years of missed investment targets, transmission losses and theft is prompting factories to build their own plants boosting costs in a nation that suffers from the fastest pace of inflation among BRIC nations…

Five of India’s biggest electricity users generate 96 percent of their requirement, according to their annual reports.

India’s electric power is so unreliable that large consumers of electricity have to produce their own.  We call it captive power.    They generate it.  They keep it.  Which is only fair as they paid a fortune to generate it.  Which, of course, they pass on to their customers.  Via higher prices.  Which just adds to the inflation.

India has missed every capacity addition target since 1951, underscoring the urgency behind Singh’s effort to boost investment in power. As much as $300 billion, or 30 percent of the total spend planned on infrastructure, over the next five years is on the electricity sector, according to Planning Commission Member B.K. Chaturvedi.

The network in Asia’s third-largest economy loses 27 percent of the power it carries through dissipation from wires and theft, while peak supply falls short of demand by an average of 9 percent, according to India’s Central Electricity Authority. Some 300 million people in India, or one in every four, remain without links to the grid and the number will still be about 150 million by 2030, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency.

The blackout engulfed as many as 19 of the South Asian country’s 28 states on July 31, with more than 100 intercity trains stranded on the second day…

They have been failing to meet demand since 1951?  Wow.  What a horrible track record.  Yet they can build the world’s largest solar photovoltaic power plant.  Even though their electric grid can’t transmit the insufficient power that they can produce.  And what’s astonishing is one in every four people doesn’t even have electricity.  This in one of the strongest emerging economies.  A country that is capable of doing so much better.  Full of people deserving so much better.  But they leave the electric grid to the elements.  While they spend a fortune to build the world’s largest solar photovoltaic power plant.  That can only “power a medium-sized city’s worth of homes.”  What a catastrophic misuse of investment capital.  No wonder large consumers of electricity are building their own generating capacity.

Companies plan to set up more than 33,000 megawatts of new captive power capacity and applications for approvals are pending with various state agencies, Rajiv Agrawal, New Delhi- based secretary of the power producers’ lobby said on Aug. 2. Some of these stations may not be set up because of a shortage of coal supplies, he said…

The pace of growth in generation has failed to keep up with demand because of a shortage in coal and natural gas supply, and deficient monsoon rains.

The world’s second-most populous nation suffers from frequent power outages that can last as long as 10 hours, amid summer temperatures of as high as 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) in the capital, New Delhi. Power supply shortages shave about 1.2 percentage points off the nation’s annual growth, according to the Planning Commission…

This is what happens when you demonize one of the most energy-rich and reliable fuels.  Coal.  To reduce your carbon footprint.  Saving the planet may come at the cost of killing people.  Forcing people in an advanced society powered by electricity to go without electricity frequently.  Coal-fired power plants are the backbone of baseload power.  Those plants that run 24/7 to produce a steady stream of power to meet most of our needs.  These efficient heat engines can spin steam turbines forever as long as we feed them coal.  And a large coal-fired power plant can power everything in a region full of large cities.  Not just the homes in a medium city.

Subsidized electricity to farmers is also exacerbating electricity-supply bottlenecks, discouraging producers from adding capacity. India deliberately abandoned metering power supply for agricultural irrigation in the 1970s, as part of a strategy of switching to new high-yield crops, which required regular water supplies, Miriam Golden of the University of California and Brian Min of the University of Michigan said in a report published in April…

The Reserve Bank of India refrained from raising its benchmark interest rate on July 31 amid the slowest pace of growth in almost a decade and raised its inflation forecast to 7 percent from 6.5 percent, citing rising food prices and lack of roads, ports and power plants…

A dry monsoon season is a double whammy.  The lack of rain has lowered levels in the reservoirs at hydroelectric dams.  Reducing the amount of power they can produce.  On top of that the dry weather has forced farmers to irrigate their lands.  Using free electricity.  Which doesn’t discourage them in any way from sucking power off the grid.  Adding to the strain of the grid.  Doing their part in causing power outages.  Adding to inflationary pressures.  And loss in GDP.

This is a horrendous energy policy.  But you know who would approve of it?  President Obama.  For he is trying to do the same thing in America.  Shutter the coal industry and replace it with renewable energy.  He’s even cool on nuclear power.  Which is something the Indians are planning to expand to meet their exploding electrical demand.  Nuclear power.  So their horrendous energy policy is bad.  But it’s still a bit more sensible in one area.  They aren’t trying to shutter nuclear power, too.  Which happens to be one of the other most energy-rich and reliable fuels.  Joining coal to provide the backbone of baseload power.  Where a government will have it, that is.

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The Problem with Building Car Batteries is that People aren’t Buying Electric Cars

Posted by PITHOCRATES - June 22nd, 2011

The Dot-Com Bubble and Green Energy

Bill Clinton has all the answers.  He knows how to fix the economy.  How to fine tune it so it purrs.  Just like he did during the dot-com boom and bust (see It’s Still the Economy, Stupid by Bill Clinton posted 6/19/2011 on Newsweek).

When I was president, the economy benefited because information technology penetrated every aspect of American life. More than one quarter of our job growth and one third of our income growth came from that. Now the obvious candidate for that role today is changing the way we produce and use energy.

But most of it was just an illusion.  It was a bubble.  There was an explosion in dot-com companies trying to be the next Microsoft.  Investors bid Stocks up into the stratosphere.  Alan Greenspan called it irrational exuberance.  It wasn’t healthy economic growth.  It was only a bubble.  And the bubble eventually popped.  As they always do.  And with the bubble went a lot of those jobs.

Of course, when he says energy, he doesn’t mean drilling for oil.  He means green energy.  As in batteries.  For all those electric cars the president is urging GM to build.

On the day President Obama took office, the U.S. had less than 2 percent of the world market in manufacturing the high-powered batteries for hybrid or all-electric cars. On the day of the congressional elections in 2010, thanks in large part to the cash—incentive policy, we had 20 percent of global capacity, with 30 new battery plants built or under construction, 16 of them in Michigan, which had America’s second—highest unemployment rate. We have to convince the Republican Congress that this is a good thing.

One thing Bill Clinton is right on is the similarity between information technology and green energy.  One was a bubble.  And the other is sure to be one, too.

The Biggest Problem of Electric Cars is the Battery

The all-electric car is an elusive dream.  Hybrids have had some moderate success.  Because they come with a backup internal combustion engine that makes up for all the shortfalls of an all-electric car.  The battery (see Better Batteries Will Save the World by Farhad Manjoo posted 6/21/2011 on Slate).

If we had batteries that matched the price and performance of fossil fuels, we would not only have cleaner cars, but we might be able to remake much of the rest of the nation’s energy infrastructure, too. Wind and solar power are generated intermittently—sometimes the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine—and batteries can moderate that volatility. Stores of batteries placed in the electric grid could collect energy when the sun shines or when the wind blows and then discharge it when we need it. Not to put too fine a point on it, but you might say that the future of the world depends on better batteries—a better battery would alter geopolitics, mitigate the disasters of climate change, and spur a new economic boom.

This glosses over an important point that few discuss.  Batteries are not energy.  They store energy.  Energy that we have to create.  And right now, because we don’t have a massive infrastructure to store energy when the wind does blow and the sun does shine, that leaves fossil fuels.  Which means there is no net saving in carbon emissions if we start driving electric cars.  This just transfers the pollution our cars emit to the power plants.  Most of which use the most polluting of all fossil fuels.  Coal.  So going all electrical in our cars may actually increase pollution.

This aside there are other problems with batteries that make gasoline a better choice.

The fundamental problem with batteries is the existence of gasoline. Oil is cheap, abundant, and relatively easy to transport. Most importantly, it has a high “energy density”—meaning that it’s phenomenally good at storing energy for its weight. Today’s best lithium-ion batteries can hold about 200 watt-hours per kilogram—a measure of energy density—and they might theoretically be able to store about 400 watt-hours per kilogram. Gasoline has a density equivalent of around 13,000 watt-hours per kilogram.

The only reason electric cars might one day compete with cars that rely on internal combustion is that gasoline engines are highly inefficient; nearly all of the energy stored in gasoline is lost to heat. But gasoline makes up for that flaw with another advantage: When your car’s out of gas, you can refill it in a few minutes. With today’s electrical infrastructure, batteries need many hours to recharge. There’s some hope that we might one day install fast-charging stations across the country, but the researchers Fletcher interviews point out that this is a daunting challenge. The battery in today’s Tesla roadster needs about four hours to charge. If you wanted to charge that battery in 15 minutes, you’d need a 200-kilowatt electric substation feeding the charging station. “Your house takes 1 kilowatt,” one expert tells Fletcher. “If you want to have something like a gasoline fuel station that is all electrical, you’re talking about multimegawatts of power at that station. And I just don’t see that happening.”

It’s that energy density of gasoline that lets you sit in rush hour traffic in February with your lights on and your heater keeping you toasty warm.  And alive.  But should you run low on gas you can always take 10 minutes and fill your tank.  Then you can rejoin that rush hour traffic.  And sit in it.  With your lights on.  And your heater still keeping you toasty warm.  And alive. 

The other nice thing about gasoline is that it’s pretty safe to handle.  Most gas stations in America are self-serve.  People pump gas without a second thought about safety.  For an electrical ‘quick’ charge, though, you’re playing with electrical energy that typically only skilled electricians work with.  After extensive safety training.  And while wearing special protective clothing and gear.  Probably not the kind of thing you want your daughter playing with on her way home from the big game.  Unless she is a highly skilled electrician.

In theory, the lithium-air battery could store 11,000 watt-hours per kilogram, which makes it, Fletcher says, “the best chance battery scientists have to beat gasoline.” A lithium-air battery could allow a car to drive 500 miles before recharging. With that range, you wouldn’t need a nationwide system of quick-charging stations. You could drive pretty much wherever you wanted all day, and then recharge your car at night.

But lithium-air is the cold fusion of the battery world—a would-be game-changer that has the unfortunate downside of being impossible to achieve (probably).

There is a battery technology out there in the research and development stage.  But it’s a long way from a manufacturing plant.  Right now the electric car is far inferior to the gasoline-powered car.  And if you want a car to take you to and from some place safely, you’re probably buying something with a gasoline engine.  A car where you can use the heat and switch on the lights without worrying if you’ll have enough juice to make it home.  And that’s just something the internal combustion engine will always be able to do better than the all-electric car.  Get you home.

Electric Cars not Selling Well

With Bill Clinton convinced that car batteries for electric cars are an important part of our economic revival, let’s take a look at some electric car sales numbers.  I mean, if everything is contingent on these things, let’s just make sure people are buying them to support this battery economy.  Before we build more plants that may end up building something people don’t want to buy (see Sales update: Nissan Leaf hits 573, Chevy Volt at 493 in April posted 5/3/2011 on Autoblog).

The latest cumulative U.S. sales totals for the plug-in duo, since launching in late 2010, has the Volt leading the pack with 2,029 units sold, while the Leaf comes in at 1,044. Year-to-date, Volt sales stand at 1,703, while Nissan says Leaf production had, as of April 15th, hit nearly 8,000.

And it doesn’t look like people want to buy these electric cars.  Nissan built 8,000 Leafs and only sold 1,044 of them.  That’s pretty bad.  There appears no point in building them anymore.  Not with a backlog of just under 7,000.  And with 87% of all Leafs built sitting unsold, there’s no point in building batteries for more of these cars.

Okay.  Let’s take a closer look at the Volt to see how viable a business model that is (see Will GM’s 2011 Chevy Volt Evolve Or Become A Costly Dead End? by George Parrott posted 6/20/2011 on Green Car Reports).

While the 2011 Chevy Volt will find its way to between 10,000 and 15,000 U.S. buyers, that’s far from enough volume to make any car a production success–or to make it profitable.

Most mainstream car models must sell 100,000 or more units a year to produce black ink.

No point in making batteries for these cars either.  No one’s buying them.  Other than then environmentalists.  Or rich people who can afford a toy car that they can take out for show while using their real internal combustion engine car to commute to work and take on vacations.  And it’s a money hole for GM.  Not exactly what they need while coming out of a ‘bankruptcy’.  If they’re smart they’d give up on the Volt before they have another round of financial problems.

The Irrational Exuberance of Green Energy

There’s a similarity between information technology and green energy.  And that similarity is irrational exuberance.  The market for all those dot-com companies was illusionary.  As is the market for electric cars.  So it makes little sense in building more batteries for cars people aren’t buying.

Adding batteries to our electric grid will be an enormous investment of tax dollars to improve the efficiency of some of the most inefficient energy sources.  Wind.  And solar.  Besides, for anyone who has suffered through multiple power outages each year, do you really want to add more complexity to the electric grid?  Something else that lightning can strike?  Something that is so complex that can’t be repaired or replaced as easily as a downed wire?  I shudder to think about waiting for that power restoration.

The point of green energy is twofold.  To get us off of expensive foreign oil.  And to stop global warming.  But the green energy solution is going to cost us more in the long run than foreign oil.  And with the science telling us sunspot activity may be heading towards a Maunder Minimum, we’re probably going to see some global cooling coming our way.  Not warming.  So what’s the point?  We don’t need green energy right now.   Especially if it costs more than foreign oil.  And we don’t need a bubble of green energy jobs to come back and bight us in the ass when that bubble pops.  As all bubbles do.

We use a lot of oil.  We should build on that.  For now.  Create some good, high paying jobs in the oil business.  Drill for more oil.  And bring it to market.  To meet a soaring demand.  You see, that’s an economic model that works.  Meeting demand with supply.  It works.  Always has.   And always will.

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Anti-Nuclear Crowd yearns for Chernobyl in Japan

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 13th, 2011

Enough of Exploiting Japan’s Disaster for Political Gain

First it was an environmentalist saying global warming caused the 8.9 magnitude earthquake.  A sure grasping of straws in their quest to move man back into the cave.  Then it was anti-nuclear power Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts, the senior Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, who said we should learn from Japan’s near Chernobyl-like disaster.  And move back into the cave.  And now it’s Senator Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, chiming in (see “Put the brakes” on nuclear power plants: Lieberman by Will Dunham posted 3/13/2011 on Reuters).

“I don’t want to stop the building of nuclear power plants,” independent Senator Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said on the CBS program “Face the Nation.”

“But I think we’ve got to kind of quietly put, quickly put the brakes on until we can absorb what has happened in Japan as a result of the earthquake and the tsunami and then see what more, if anything, we can demand of the new power plants that are coming on line,” Lieberman added.

Put the brakes on?  What, he wants to slow down from the breakneck speed we’re building new nuclear power plants and bringing them on line?  That’s going to be pretty hard to do considering the speed we’re going at.  I mean, when was the last time we built a nuclear power plant in the United States?

It’s not about what happened at the Fukushima Power Plant, it’s about what hasn’t Happened

We’re missing the big picture here.  The nuke plants didn’t kill or wipe out cities yet.  Like the earthquake-tsunami one-two punch has.  Let’s not lose sight of that little fact (see Nuclear Overreactions posted 3/14/2011 on The Wall Street Journal).

Part of the problem is the lack of media proportion about the disaster itself. The quake and tsunami have killed hundreds, and probably thousands, with tens of billions of dollars in damage. The energy released by the quake off Sendei is equivalent to about 336 megatons of TNT, or 100 more megatons than last year’s quake in Chile and thousands of times the yield of the nuclear explosion at Hiroshima. The scale of the tragedy is epic.

Yet the bulk of U.S. media coverage has focused on a nuclear accident whose damage has so far been limited and contained to the plant sites. In simple human terms, the natural destruction of Earth and sea have far surpassed any errors committed by man.

So in the grand scheme of things, the Japanese nuclear plants are minor players in this great tragedy.  Even that embellishes their role.  Much of Japan lies in waste.  Because of the earthquake and the tsunami.  The nukes so far have been innocent bystanders in the death and destruction.  But it’s all we focus on.  Even though they haven’t really done anything yet.  But under the right set of circumstances that don’t currently exist…they could.   So we use the big ‘what if’ to further shut down the already shutdown American nuclear power industry.  Why?  Simple.  Because congress can’t place a moratorium on earthquakes or tsunamis.

So back to that question.  When was the last time we built a nuclear power plant in the United States?

But more than other energy sources, nuclear plants have had their costs increased by artificial political obstacles and delay. The U.S. hasn’t built a new nuclear plant since 1979, after the Three Mile Island meltdown, even as older nuclear plants continue to provide 20% of the nation’s electricity.

So Senator Joe Lieberman wants to tap the breaks on a car that’s been parked and in the garage since 1979.  How does he do it?  Where does the genius come from?

No coal.  No oil.  And now no nukes.  Translation?  No power.  I guess we should practice our hunting and gathering skills.  Because we’re going to need them when we move back into the cave.  Of course, we’ll have to eat our food cold.  You know.  Carbon footprint.  From those foul, nasty, polluting campfires.

In America, Coal, Oil and Nuclear Power all Wear Black Hats

Some in Congress just love the planet so much.  They want to get rid of coal and oil and replace them with clean energy.  Which means nuclear power.  Because windmills and solar panels just won’t produce enough power.  Especially when they want us all driving tiny little electric cars that are going to suck more juice off our strained electrical grid.  And just how strained is our electric grid?  Remember the Northeast Blackout of 2003

High summer currents caused power lines to sag into untrimmed trees.  As lines failed some power plants dropped off the grid.  This strained other power plants.  And other power lines.  More lines failed.  More plants dropped off the grid.  This cascade of failures didn’t end until most of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Ontario lost power.  It was huge.  And if you experienced that hot, stifling, August blackout, you know that windmills wouldn’t have helped.  There was no breeze blowing.  And solar panels wouldn’t have helped you sleep at night.  Because there’s no sun at night.  No.  What would have helped was some big-capacity power generation.  Like a coal plant.  An oil plant.  Or a nuke plant.

Energy demands increase with population.  And with electric cars.  We need more generation capacity.  And the only viable green solution is nuclear power.  And now we’re dilly dallying about the dangers of clean nuclear power because of what didn’t happen in Japan (see Japan Does Not Face Another Chernobyl by William Tucker posted 3/14/2011 on The Wall Street Journal).

Rep. Ed Markey (D., Mass.), a longtime opponent of nuclear power, has warned of “another Chernobyl” and predicted “the same thing could happen here.” In response, he has called for an immediate suspension of licensing procedures for the Westinghouse AP1000, a “Generation III” reactor that has been laboring through design review at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for seven years.

Talk about the irony of ironies.  The Soviet-era nuclear reactor at Chernobyl was the most dangerous ever used.  That reactor went ‘Chernobyl’ because of its design.  A graphite core that caught fire.  And no containment vessel that let plumes from that fire spread radioactive fallout throughout western Russia and Europe.  If the Soviets had used the type of reactor that’s getting all the media attention in Japan, there would have been no Chernobyl disaster.  And now the irony.  Rep. Markey wants to suspend licensing of the world’s safest nuclear reactor (the Generation III) by citing the world’s most dangerous reactor that Japan doesn’t even use. 

But facts don’t matter when you’re just against nuclear power.  No matter how safe the Generation III design is.  Or the fact that it doesn’t even need cooling pumps. 

On all Generation II reactors—the ones currently in operation—the cooling water is circulated by electric pumps. The new Generation III reactors such as the AP1000 have a simplified “passive” cooling system where the water circulates by natural convection with no pumping required.

Despite this failsafe cooling system, there are calls to stop the licensing.  To put the brakes on.  To move back into caves.  All because of what didn’t happen at Fukushima.  What didn’t happen at Three Mile Island.  But what did happen in a Hollywood movieThe China Syndrome.  (But that’s a whole other story.)

If a meltdown does occur in Japan, it will be a disaster for the Tokyo Electric Power Company but not for the general public. Whatever steam releases occur will have a negligible impact. Researchers have spent 30 years trying to find health effects from the steam releases at Three Mile Island and have come up with nothing. With all the death, devastation and disease now threatening tens of thousands in Japan, it is trivializing and almost obscene to spend so much time worrying about damage to a nuclear reactor.

What the Japanese earthquake has proved is that even the oldest containment structures can withstand the impact of one of the largest earthquakes in recorded history. The problem has been with the electrical pumps required to operate the cooling system. It would be tragic if the result of the Japanese accident were to prevent development of Generation III reactors, which eliminate this design flaw.

Looking at Japan with Awe and Reverence

Japan has been nuclear since 1966.  They now have some 53 nuclear reactors providing up to a third of their electricity.  Yes, Japan lies on the Ring of Fire.  Yes, Japan gets hit by a lot of tsunamis.  And, yes, they now have a problem at a couple of their reactors.  But the other 50 or so reactors are doing just fine.  Let’s stop attacking their nuclear program.  So far they’ve done a helluva job.  And the Japanese know a thing or two about nuclear disasters.  They lived through two.  Hiroshima.  And Nagasaki.  Which make Chernobyl look like a walk in a park.  If anyone knows the stakes of the nuclear game, they do.  And it shows.

We should be looking at Japan with awe and reverence.  If they can safely operate nuke plants on fault lines and in tsunami alley, then, by God, we should be able to do it where things aren’t quite as demanding.  And should.  It is time we put on our big-boy pants and start acting like men.  Before we give up on all energy and move back into the cave.  And down a notch or two on the food chain.

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