Week in Review
The news on our green energy initiatives sounds good. We’re importing less oil. And adding more and more wind power. If you’re a proponent of green energy you no doubt are pleased by this news. But if you understand energy and economics it’s a different story. You’ll think the country is moving in the wrong direction. Ultimately raising our energy costs. Without making much of an impact on carbon emissions. And just because we are exporting gasoline doesn’t mean we’re on the road to being energy self-sufficient (see The Renewable Boom by Bryan Walsh posted 10/11/2013 on Time).
Earlier this year, the U.S. became a net exporter of oil distillates, and the International Energy Agency projects that the U.S. could be almost energy self-sufficient in net terms by 2035.
This is not necessarily a good thing. Being a net exporter of oil distillates. It means that US supply exceeds US demand at the current market price. That’s an important point. The current market price. The US has been in an anemic economic recovery—though some would say we’re still in a recession—since President Obama assumed office. During bad economic times people lose their jobs. Those who haven’t are worried about losing theirs. And they worry about the uncertainty, too, about the cost of Obamacare. So people are driving less. And they are spending less. Because they have less. And worry about how much money they’ll need under Obamacare. So they’re not taking the family on a cross-country vacation. Some are even spending their vacation in the backyard. The so called ‘staycation’. No doubt the 10 million or so who disappeared from the labor force since President Obama assumed office aren’t driving much these days. So because of this US demand for gasoline is down. And, hence, prices. Even though gasoline prices are still high and consuming an ever larger part of our reduced median family income (also down since President assumed office), gasoline prices are higher elsewhere. Which is why refineries are exporting their oil distillates. To meet that higher demand that has raised the market price.
But the biggest source of new electricity in the U.S. last year wasn’t a fossil fuel. It was the humble wind. More than 13 gigawatts of new wind potential were added to the grid in 2012, accounting for 43% of all new generation capacity. Total wind-power capacity exceeded 60 gigawatts by the end of 2012—enough to power 15 million homes when the breeze is blowing.
These numbers do sound big for wind. Like it’s easy sailing for wind power to replace coal. But is it? Let’s look at the big picture. In 2011 the total nameplate capacity of all electric power generation was 1,153.149 gigawatts. So that 13 gigawatts though sounding like a lot of power it is only 1.127% of the total nameplate capacity. Small enough to be rounding error. In other words, that 13 gigawatts is such a small amount of power that it won’t even be seen by the electric grid. But it gets even worse.
We used the term ‘nameplate capacity’ for a reason. This is the amount of power that this unit is capable of producing. Not what it actually produces. In fact, we have a measure comparing the power generation possible to the ‘actual’ power generation. The capacity factor. Which measures power production over a period of time and divides it by the total amount of power that the unit could have produced (i.e., its nameplate value). Coal has a higher capacity factor than wind because coal can produce electric power in all wind conditions. While wind power cannot. If the winds are too strong the wind turbines lock down to protect themselves. If the wind is blowing too slowly they won’t produce any electric power.
The typical capacity factor for coal is 62.3%. Meaning that over half of the installed capacity is generating power. Some generators may be down for maintenance. Or a generator may be shut down due to weak demand. The typical capacity factor for wind power is 30%. Meaning that the installed capacity produces no power 70% of the time. And it’s not because turbines are down for maintenance. It’s because of the intermittent wind.
So coal has twice the capacity that wind has. Does this mean we need twice the installed capacity of wind to match coal? No. Because if you tripled the number of wind turbines in a wind farm they will still produce no power if the wind isn’t blowing. In this respect you can say coal has a capacity factor of 100%. For if they want more power from a coal-fired power plant they can bring another generator on line. Even if the wind isn’t blowing.
You could say wind power is like parsley on a plate in a restaurant. It’s just a garnishment. It makes our electric power production look more environmentally friendly but it just adds cost and often times we just throw it away. For if coal provides all our power needs when the wind isn’t blowing and the wind then starts blowing you have a surplus of power that you can’t sell. You can’t shut down the coal-fired power plant because the wind turbines don’t produce enough to replace it. You can’t shut down the wind turbines because it defeats the purpose of having them. So you just throw away the surplus power. And charge people more for their electric power to cover this waste. Like a restaurant charges more for its menu items to cover the cost of the parsley the people throw away.
Tags: capacity factor, Coal, demand, electric power, electric power generation, electricity, energy, gasoline, gasoline prices, green energy, market price, nameplate capacity, Obamacare, oil, oil distillates, power generation, President Obama, supply, wind, wind power, wind turbines
Week in Review
One thing we learned from Breaking Bad was to respect the chemistry. And that’s what batteries are. Chemistry. The kind of chemistry that’s a little on the dangerous side. Unlike gasoline. Which we can store relatively safely in tanks under our cars. Where little chemistry goes on inside our gas tanks. To use that gasoline to power our cars we have to do a couple of things. We have to aerosolize it. Combine it with oxygen. Compress it. Then ignite it. Then and only then does it release its incredible energy. Producing great heat in the engine. But not the gas tank. Which needs no cooling system. It’s a little different in an electric car.
In a battery the chemistry is all local. It produces electricity—and heat—where the chemicals are stored. In the battery. One of the problems with electric cars is their limited range. And you fix this problem with bigger and more powerful batteries. That can produce a lot of electricity—and heat—as they charge or power the car. Making battery cooling a requirement for safe battery use. To keep those chemicals under control. But sometimes these chemical reactions go out of control. Causing fires as cars re-charge in their garages. Causing fires that grounded the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner. And this (see Hot Wheels! Tape of Tesla Fire Has Stock Tanking by Dan Berman, Hot Stock Minute, posted 10/3/2013 on Yahoo! Finance).
Tape of a Tesla (TSLA) on fire is giving new meaning to the term “hot wheels.” The video was shot on Tuesday after a Model S sedan went up in flames…
In an e-mail sent to The New York Times, Tesla spokeswoman Elizabeth Jarvis-Shean wrote that the fire was caused by the “direct impact of a large metallic object to one of the 16 modules within the Model S battery pack.” The e-mail went on to say, “Because each module within the battery pack is, by design, isolated by fire barriers to limit any potential damage, the fire in the battery pack was contained to a small section in the front of the vehicle.”
Contained to a small section? It looks like the fire engulfed the whole car. All because of some metal debris thrown up from the roadway. Of course, a way to protect against something like this in the future is to add a metal shield that can take a direct hit without damage. Adding a thick piece of metal under the car, though, adds weight. Which, of course, reduces range.
This is a problem with electric cars. Improving safety results in a reduction in range. Because it adds weight. It adds weight, too, with gasoline-powered cars. But one full tank of gas can hold a lot more energy that all the batteries can on an electric car. And when you run out of gas all you have to do is stop at a conveniently located gas station and fill up. Which takes about 10 minutes or so. Unlike a recharge of an electric car. Which can take anywhere between a half hour (with a high-voltage fast charger) to overnight in the garage plugged into a standard outlet. Which is why electric cars are more of a novelty. Those who have them typically have other more reliable cars for their main driving needs. For though gasoline-powered cars catch fire, too, when they’re not on fire you know you’re going to get home.
Tags: batteries, battery, battery pack, chemistry, electric car, electricity, energy, fire, gas, gas tanks, gasoline, heat, Model S, range, Tesla
A Swing is a Pendulum that loses Energy due to Air Resistance and Friction
Remember what it was like to swing on a swing? You sat down on a seat supported by two chains that connected to a bar above you. When you were real young your mom or dad may have pushed you to get you started swinging back and forth. As we got older we didn’t need Mom or Dad anymore. We just pushed back with our feet. Picked up our feet. Pulled back on the chains as we swung forward. As our forward momentum petered out we swung backwards. Until that backward momentum petered out. As we swung forward again we’d pull back on those chains again. Until we began to fly.
Well, not fly literally. But we’d swing back and forth, getting pretty high before we started swinging back in the other direction. Going pretty fast as we swung through the bottom. We could do this for hours because it hardly took any effort. Most of the work was done by gravity pulling our weight back down to the ground. Gravity made us go faster as we swung towards the bottom. And slowed us down after we passed through the bottom. Which is why few kids, if any, were ever able to wrap the swing around the overhead bar like in the cartoons. As they could never build up enough speed to escape the pull of gravity.
But we could maintain that back and forth motion almost forever. The only thing stopping us was a bathroom break. Stopping to eat. Stopping to go to bed. Or stopping because we got bored. If we sat still on the swing the distance we swung back and forth would get smaller and smaller. Coming to a full stop if we let it. Why? Because the swing loses a lot of energy. Though kids are small they catch a lot of air. This air resistance slows down their motion. There is friction where the chains connect to the overhead bar. And with two chains our pulling would be uneven and twist the swing from side to side. Creating more friction in the chain as the links twist against each other.
A Constant Period at Small Amplitudes makes the Pendulum Ideal for Timekeeping
The pendulum is probably the closest we’ve come to achieving perpetual motion. In ideal conditions where there was no friction or air resistance the back and forth motion (oscillation) of pendulum would go on forever. Even in the ideal conditions it would still take an energy input to begin the oscillation. But even though we can’t create the ideal conditions for a pendulum we can get close enough to make the pendulum do useful work for us.
The parts of a pendulum are a suspended weight (bob) and a pivot point. The weight of the bob and the distance between the bob and the pivot determine the distance the pendulum travels (amplitude). One swing back and forth is one period. The greater the amplitude the greater the period and the slower the oscillation. The smaller the amplitude the smaller the period and the faster the oscillation. The greater the distance between the bob and the pivot the greater the period and the slower the oscillation. The smaller the distance between the bob and the pivot the smaller the period and the faster the oscillation.
Pendulums with small swings have a very useful feature. The period will remain the same even if the amplitude does not. So the effects of friction and air resistance will be negligible for small swings. Making the pendulum ideal for timekeeping. Such as in a grandfather clock. Where the bob is suspended on a long rod from the pivot. That oscillates in small swings back and forth. When this period is one second it can advance a minute hand one minute with 60 periods. And with gears and cogs connecting the axle of the minute hand to the axle of the hour hand 60 revolutions of the minute hand will move the hour hand one hour. Gears and cogs make the minute and hour hands move. But it’s the pendulum that actually keeps time with its constant period. With one other element.
Early Marine Chronometers replaced the Pendulum with a Wound Spiral Spring in the Escapement
So what actually makes the hour and minute hands move? Gravity. Wrapped around one of these axles is a cable. At the end of this cable hanging down in the clock body is a weight. Think of a fishing rod when a fish strikes. The fish will pull the line out of the reel until you start reeling it in. This is what gravity does. It pulls that weight down pulling the cable off of the main drive axle causing it to spin. But it doesn’t spin out of control. In fact, it moves in very short, discrete steps. Because of the escapement at the heart of a pendulum clock.
An escapement is a gear and a locking mechanism. The locking mechanism attaches to the pendulum and looks a little like an inverted letter ‘V’. As this rocks back and forth with the pendulum it moves two teeth (at each tip of the ‘V’) into and out of the gear. As it rocks one way one tooth moves out of the gear. Releasing it and allowing the gear to turn. At the same time the other tooth moves into the gear. Locking it and stopping the gear from turning. When the pendulum swings the other way the locking tooth releases, allowing the gear to turn. Until the other tooth moves into the gear and locks it again. This happens with every swing of the pendulum, giving it that characteristic tick-tock sound.
Before the pendulum clock the existing mechanical clocks of the day were accurate to about 15 minutes a day. The pendulum clocks, though, were accurate to within 15 seconds a day. Making it the most accurate time piece for about 300 years until the advent of the quartz clock around 1930. One of the drawbacks of the pendulum clock was that it needed to be stationary. Which made it poorly suited for ships which could get tossed around in rough seas. Which was a problem. For telling time was crucial for navigation. As ships traveled away from the coastline they needed to find their position on a chart. They could use a sextant to find what line of latitude (north-south location) they were at. But to determine what line of longitude (east-west location) they were at they needed an accurate time piece.
Early marine chronometers used an escapement. But replaced the accurate pendulum and weight with a less-accurate wound spiral spring. Which found their way into wristwatches. Before there were batteries. They weren’t as accurate as a pendulum clock. And you had to wind them up every day whereas a grandfather clock will keep time for about a week. But a spring allowed miniaturization. And the ability to tell time when you didn’t have the ideal conditions a pendulum requires. Such as on a ship navigating across rough seas.
Tags: air resistance, amplitude, bob, chronometers, energy, escapement, friction, gear, grandfather clock, gravity, hour hand, locking mechanism, marine chronometers, minute hand, navigation, oscillation, pendulum, pendulum clock, period, pivot, spiral spring, spring, timekeeping, tooth, weight, wound spiral spring
Our First Energy Storage Devices helped us Kill each other in Battle
There’s something very important to today’s generation. Stored energy. It’s utmost on their minds. As they are literally obsessed with it. And get downright furious when they have none. Because without stored energy their smartphones, tablets and laptop computers will not work. And when they don’t they will disconnect them from the Internet. And social media. A fate so horrible that they carry spare batteries with them. Or a power cord to plug into an electrical outlet or cigarette lighter in a car.
Energy storage devices go back millennia. Of course, back then there was no Internet or social media. People just talked to each other in person. Something unimaginable to today’s generation. For it was a simpler time then. We ate. We procreated. Sometimes talked. And we killed each other. Which is where that energy storage comes in.
An early use of energy storage was to make killing each other easier. Early humans used rocks thrown by slings and spears thrown by hand in hunting and war. But you had to get pretty close to your prey/enemy to use these things. As the human body doesn’t have the strength to throw these things very far or hard. But thanks to our ingenuity we could use our tools and make machines that could. Such as the bow and arrow.
The Bow and Arrow and the Crossbow use Tension and Compression to Store Energy
We made early bows from wood. They had a handgrip and two limbs, one above and one below the handgrip. Attached to these limbs was a bowstring. The limbs were flexible and could bend. And because they could they could store energy. The archer would draw back the bowstring, bending the two limbs towards him. This took a lot of strength to bend this wood. The farther the archer pulled back the bowstring the more strength it took. Because it was not the natural state for those limbs. They wanted to remain unbent. And were ready to snap back to that unbent position in a fraction of a second. Much quicker than the archer pulled back the bowstring.
As the limbs bent the inside of the limb (towards the archer) was under compression. The outside of the limb (facing away from the archer) was under tension. The compression side was storing energy. And the tension side was storing energy. Think of two springs. One that you stretch out in tension that will snap back to an un-stretched position when released. And one that you push down in compression that will push back to an uncompressed position when released. These are the two forces acting on the inside and the outside of the bending limbs of a bow. Storing energy in the bow. When the archer releases the bowstring this releases that stored energy. Snapping those limbs back to an unbent position in a fraction of a second. Bringing the bowstring with it. Very quickly. Launching the arrow into a fast flight toward the archer’s prey/enemy.
The stronger the bow the more energy it will store. And the more lethal will be the projectile it launches. Iron is much harder to bend than wood. So it will store a lot more energy. But a human cannot draw back a bowstring on an iron bow. He just doesn’t have the strength to bend iron like he can bend wood. So they added a couple of simple machines—levers to turn a wheel—at the end of a large wooden beam to draw back the bowstring. At the other end of this beam was the iron bow. What we call a crossbow. With the wheel increasing the force the archer applied to the hand-crank the iron bow slowly but surely bent back. Storing enormous amounts of energy. And when released it could send a heavy projectile fast enough to penetrate the armor of a knight.
The Mangonel uses Twisted Rope to Store Energy while a Trebuchet uses a Counterpoise
Most children did this little trick in elementary school. The old rattlesnake in the envelope trick. You open up a large paperclip and stretch a small rubber band across it. Then you slide a smaller paperclip across the taut rubber band. And then you turn that small paperclip over and over until you twist the rubber band up into a tight twist. Storing energy in that twist. Slip it into the envelope. And let some unsuspecting person open the envelope. Allowing that rubber band to untwist quickly. With the paperclip spinning around in the envelope making a rattlesnake sound.
We call this type of energy storage torsion. An object that in its normal state is untwisted. When you twist it the object wants to untwist back to its normal state. On the battlefield we used this type of energy storage in a catapult. The mangonel. Which used a few simple machines. We used a lever inserted into a tight rope braid. In its normal state the lever stood upright. A lever turned a wheel a cog at a time to pull the large lever down parallel to the ground. Twisting the rope. Putting it under torsion. Storing a lot of energy. When they released the holding mechanism the rope rapidly untwisted sending the large lever back upright at great speed. Sending the object on it hurling towards the enemy.
The problem with the mangonel is that it took a long time to crank that rope into torsion. Another catapult did away with this problem. The trebuchet. Perhaps the king of catapults. This was a large lever with a small length on one side of the pivot and a large length on the other side of the pivot. Think of a railroad crossing arm. A long arm blocking the road with a counterweight at the other end. We balance this so well that we need very little energy to raise or lower it. The trebuchet, on the other hand, is not perfectly balanced. It has a very heavy counterweight—a counterpoise—that in its normal state is hanging down with the long end of the lever pointing skyward. They pull the long end of the lever down close to the ground. Pulling up the counterweight. Attached to the far end of the lever is a rope. At the end of the rope is a rope pouch to hold the projectile. When released the counterweight swings back down. Sending the long end of the lever up quickly. With the far end traveling very quickly. Pulling the rope with it. Because the length of the rope adds additional distance to the lever the projectile travels even faster than the end of the lever. Which is why the stored energy in the hanging counterweight can launch a very heavy projectile great distances.
Tags: archer, arrow, bow, bow and arrow, bowstring, catapult, compression, counterpoise, counterweight, crossbow, energy, energy storage, energy storage devices, lever, machine, mangonel, pivot, rope, store energy, stored energy, tension, torsion, trebuchet, wheel
Week in Review
The world’s population is growing. And it’s threatening our food supplies. Or so say the experts on population. But what’s interesting is that the populations in the advanced economies of the world which are generally food exporters have fallen. Apart from the United States these countries are having so few babies that they won’t be able to replace their parent’s generation. So these countries will see a decline in population. Yet the world’s population is growing. So who’s growing the world’s population? And threatening the world’s food supplies?
Primarily the less-advanced economies. The food importers. Like the countries of Africa. Afghanistan. Yemen. And the Palestinian Territories. Many of which have the lowest life expectancies. And the highest child mortality rates. So, the countries that can feed the world aren’t having enough babies to replace the current generation. While the countries that have the highest fertility rates are also suffering from the shortest life expectancies due to those high child mortality rates. So it’s hard to see where the food crisis is.
Once upon a time food was so scarce that famines were commonplace. A lot of wars were fought to prevent famine. One of the reasons Adolf Hitler invaded the Soviet Union was for food. To make Europe’s breadbasket, the Ukraine, a part of the Third Reich. Today the advanced economies have so much food that they’re making gasoline out of it. So if there is any food shortage it must be manmade. And anything manmade can be unmade. But until we do food prices will rise (see Food prices forecast to treble as world population soars by Steve Hawkes posted 7/21/2013 on The Telegraph).
Professor Tim Benton, head of Global Food Security working group, added there could be shortages in the UK in the future as the emerging middle class in south-east Asia sparks a revolution in “food flows” such as the trade in grain and soya around the world…
The shock forecast came as the chief executive of Tesco, Philip Clarke, warned the era of cheap food was over because of the forecast surge in demand.
In an interview over the weekend, the supermarket chief said: “Over the long run I think food prices and the proportion of income spent on food may well be going up…”
Food inflation in the UK has been running around 4 per cent for much of the year, and is among the highest in the EU after poor harvests last year and the rising cost of feed.
Here’s a thought. If food is becoming so scarce why don’t stop using it for energy? Let’s use fossil fuels that we can’t eat for energy. And use food for food. By mandating that we add ethanol to gasoline we diverted corn from the food chain already suffering from a depleted corn crop thanks to Midwest droughts. Raising corn prices. And meat, poultry and dairy prices. As cows and chicken eat corn. So if we stop artificially raising the price of corn feed we stop raising the price of everything downstream of corn in the food chain. Crazy talk, I know. But sometimes you just have to think outside of the box.
And here’s another thought. Let’s do everything we can to bring energy costs down. Let’s drill for more oil. Let’s build that Keystone XL pipeline. Let’s frack like there’s no tomorrow. Because high fuel prices cause high food prices. Everything we grow and raise has to travel great distances before landing on our kitchen tables. By tractor, by truck, by train by ship. Means of conveyance with internal combustion engines that burn a petroleum product. From the farm to the silo to the grain elevator to the rail terminal to the mill to the food processing plant to the wholesale distributor to the grocery store. Every mile of every trip from the farm to our kitchen table burns a petroleum product. Every mile we burn fuel bringing food to our tables adds to the price tag in the grocery store. Higher fuel costs even reduce what families can spend in those grocery stores. For the higher gas prices are the greater amount of their paycheck go into their gas tanks. Leaving less to buy food with.
And speaking of energy let’s dig up that coal and use it for what it’s best for. Burning. To produce steam. To spin turbines. That spin electric generators. And let’s end the war on coal. And make it less costly to generate electric power. Because when food isn’t moving it’s using electric power. For electric power runs our grain elevators, our mills, our food processing plants, our wholesale distributors and our grocery stores.
There are a lot of manmade causes making food scarcer and more costly. If we care about feeding the world we should focus on the manmade causes. For we can do something about those. Unlike a drought. But petroleum and coal can even lessen the impact of the occasional drought. We can ship food from areas not suffering from drought to areas suffering from drought. And we can use the electric power generated from burning coal to store food surpluses in refrigerated warehouses.
The only food crisis we have is manmade. Or, rather, government-made. Where government officials take more and more control of the private economy to fight the myth of manmade global warming. Whose solution to save the planet is a simple one. Save the planet. Kill the people.
Tags: child mortality rates, Coal, corn, drought, electric power, energy, energy costs, famine, fertility rates, food, food chain, food crisis, food prices, food supplies, food surpluses, fuel prices, gasoline, grocery store, life expectancies, petroleum, population, population is growing
If you want to Destroy an Industry and Kill Jobs all you have to do is Raise the Cost of Labor
What happened to American manufacturing? The Industrial Revolution swept through the United States and made America an industrial superpower. By the beginning of the 20th century the United States became the world’s number one economic power. Immigrants poured into this country for those manufacturing jobs. Even though some of these jobs may have come out of a Dickens novel. Because being able to eat had it all over starving to death. And in America, with a good factory job, you could put food on your family’s table.
Most of those manufacturing jobs are gone now. Why? What happened to the once booming textile industry? The once booming steel industry? The once booming automotive industry? Unions happened to them. That’s what. These jobs were so horrible and unfit for humans that unions stepped in and organized them. But the jobs never got better. Based on the ever more generous union contracts they kept demanding. Increasing the cost of labor more and more. Which chased the textile industry out of the country. And much of the steel and automotive industries as well.
Is there anything we can learn from this? Yes. If you want to destroy an industry, if you want to kill jobs, if you want to damage the economy, all you have to do is raise the cost of labor. The largest cost to most businesses. Which is why many businesses have been replacing people with machines. Advanced machines. Computer-controlled machines. Robots. Because they can work 24/7. They’re never late. Never hung over. Never out sick. They don’t take lunch. And they will work as fast as possible without ever complaining. This is why businesses like machines. For they let them lower their costs. Making them competitive. So they can sell at prices lower than their competitors. Allowing them to remain in business.
Uncompetitive American Manufacturers go to Emerging Economies where they can be Competitive
Labor is a big cost of business. Especially in an advanced economy. With a high standard of living. Where people own houses and cars. Where those houses have central heat, air conditioning, televisions, sound systems, kitchen appliances, washers and dryers, etc. These things cost money. Requiring paychecks that can afford these things. As well as pay for clothes, groceries, gasoline, utilities, etc. Common things in an advanced economies. But not all that common in an emerging economy. Where factory workers aren’t accustomed to those things yet. And don’t demand paychecks that can pay for those things. Yet.
Still, people in developing economies flock to the new factories. For even though they are paid far less than their counterparts in advanced economies these factory jobs are often the highest paying jobs in their countries. And those who have these jobs have a higher standard of living than those who don’t. Even when the occasional factory burns to the ground or collapses killing everyone inside. As sad as that is. But if you want to eat and provide for your family these factories often offer the best opportunity.
So this is where American manufacturing jobs go to. Where labor costs are lower. Allowing business to stay competitive. Because if they can’t be competitive no one will buy what they are selling. And without any revenue they won’t be able to pay their suppliers. Their employees. Or their energy costs. Another large cost of business. Especially for manufacturers.
Unions and Regulatory Costs haven’t made Emerging Economies Uncompetitive Yet
A lot of houses today come with a 200-amp electric service. Assuming a house uses about 100 amps on average that comes to 24,000 watts (100 amps X 240 volts). Now consider a large manufacturing plant. Like an automotive assembly plant. That can have anywhere around 8 double-ended unit substations. Which are pieces of electrical distribution equipment to feed all of the electrical loads inside the plant. Each substation has two 13,800 volt 3-phase primary electrical services. If you’re looking at one you will see the following from left to right. A 600-amp, 15,000 volt switch, a transformer to step down the 13,800 voltage to 480 voltage, a 480-volt main switch, a bunch of 480-volt switches to feed the electrical loads in the plant, a ‘tie’ switch, another bunch of 480-volt switches, another 480-volt main switch another transformer and another 600-amp switch.
The key to a double-ended unit substation are the two 480-volt main switches and the tie switch. Which normally distributes the connected electric load over the two primary services. With both 480-volt main switches closed. And the tie switch open. If one service fails because a car knocks down a cable pole these switches will sense the loss of that service. The 480-volt switch on the side of the failed service will open. And the tie switch will close. Feeding both sides of the unit substation on the one live primary service. So each primary service carries half of the connected load. Or one primary service carries the full connected load. Assuming each unit substation uses 600 amps on average (2 services at 300 amps or 1 service at X 600 amps) that comes to approximately 13,194,070 watts (600 amps X 13,800 volts X √3 X .92 PF). Where we multiply by the square-root of 3 because it is three phase. And assume a 0.92 power factor. If a plant has 8 unit substations that comes to 105,552,562 watts. Which equals approximately 4,398 houses with a 200 amp service. Now to further our crude mathematical approximations let’s take a typical electric bill for a house. Say $175 on average per month. If we multiply this by 4,398 that comes to a monthly electric bill for this manufacturer of about $769,654. Or $9,235,849 per year.
So here is another way to destroy an industry, kill jobs and damage the economy. By increasing the cost of electric power. Which is already a very large cost of business. And ‘going green’ will make it even more costly. As the Obama administration wants to do. With their war on coal. The cheapest source of electric power we have. By increasing regulations on coal-fired power plants. Even implementing some kind of a carbon tax. To punish these carbon emitters. And to subsidize far more costly green energies. Such as solar. And wind. Going from the least costly to the most costly electric power will greatly increase a business’ electric utility costs. Easily adding 15%. 30%. 40%. Or more. A 40% increase in our example would increase the electric utility cost by $3,694,340 each year. If a plant has 1,200 workers that’s like adding another $3,000 per worker. And we’ve seen what higher labor costs have done to companies like General Motors. Chrysler. And the textile industry. By the time you add up all of these new regulatory costs (Obamacare, green energy, etc.) businesses will be so uncompetitive that they will have to follow the textile industry. Out of the country. To a country that will let them be competitive. Such as an emerging economy. Where unions and regulatory costs haven’t made them uncompetitive. Yet.
Tags: advanced economy, American manufacturing, Carbon, Coal, competitive, cost of labor, double-ended unit substation, electric bill, electric power, emerging economy, energy, energy costs, factory, green energy, industry, jobs, labor costs, machines, manufacturing, manufacturing jobs, manufacturing plant, primary services, substation, textile industry, unions, unit substation, workers
Things that Absorb Energy can Cool Things Down and Things that Radiate Energy can Warm Things Up
When two different temperatures come into contact with each other they try to reach equilibrium. The warmer temperature cools down. And the cooler temperature warms up. If you drop some ice cubes into a glass of soda at room temperature the warm soda cools down. The ice cubes warm up. And melt. When there is no more ice to melt the temperature of the soda rises again. Until it reaches the ambient room temperature. The normal unheated or un-cooled temperature in the surrounding space. As the soda and the air in the room reach equilibrium.
When two temperatures come into contact with each other what happens depends on the available energy. Higher temperatures have more energy. Lower temperatures have less energy. For heat is energy. Things that absorb energy can cool things down. Things that radiate energy can warm things up. And this is the basis of our heating and cooling systems in our buildings and homes.
Boilers burn fuel to heat water. A furnace burns fuel to heat air. The heated water temperature and heated air temperature is warmer than the temperature you set on your thermostat. When this very hot water/air circulates through a house or building it comes into contact with the cooler air. As they come into contact with each other they bring the air in the space up to a comfortable room temperature. Above the unheated ambient temperature. But below the very hot temperature of the heating hot water or heated air temperature.
Heating and Cooling Buildings consume up to Half of all Energy on the Planet
Large buildings have air handling units (AHU) that ventilate, heat and cool the building’s air. They’re big boxes (some big enough for grown men to walk in) with filter sections to clean the air. Coil sections that heat or cool the air as it blows through these coils. A supply and a return fan to blow air into the building via a network of air ducts. And to suck air out of the building through another network of air ducts. And a series of dampers (outside air, exhaust air and return air).
To keep the air quality suitable for humans we have to exhaust the breath we exhale from the building. And replace it with fresh air from outside of the building. This is what the dampers are for. The amount they open and close adjusts the amount of outside air the AHU pulls into the building. The amount of the air it exhausts from the building. And the amount of air it recirculates within the building. Elaborate computer control systems carefully adjust these damper positions. For the amount of moving air has to balance. If you exhaust less you have to recirculate more. Otherwise you may have dangerous high pressures build up that can damage the system.
It takes a lot of energy to do this. Buildings consume up to half of all energy on the planet. And heating and cooling buildings is a big reason why. Because it take a lot of energy to raise or lower a building’s air temperature. And keeping the air safe for humans to breathe adds to that large energy consumption. If you stand outside next to an exhaust air damper you can understand why. If it’s winter time the exhausted air is toasty warm. If it’s summer time the exhausted air is refreshingly cool.
An Energy Recovery Wheel is a Circular Honeycomb Matrix that Rotates through both the Outside & Exhaust Air Ducts
In the winter large volumes of gas fire boilers to heat water. Electric water pumps send this water throughout the building. Into baseboard convection heaters under exterior windows to wash this cold glass with warm air. And into the heating coils on AHUs. Powerful electric supply and return fans blow air through those heating coils and throughout the building. After traveling through the supply air ductwork, out of the supply air ductwork and into the open air, back into the return air ductwork and back to the AHU much of this air exhausts out of the building. That returning air is not as warm as the supply air coming off of the heating coil. But it is still warm. And exhausting it out of the building dumps a lot of energy out of the building that requires new energy to heat very cold outside air to replace it. The more air you recirculate the less money it costs to heat the building. But you can only recirculate air so long before you compromise the quality of indoor air. So you eventually have to exhaust heated air and pull in more unheated outside air.
Enter the heat recovery unit. Or energy recovery unit. There are different names. And different technologies. But they do pretty much the same thing. They recover the energy in the exhaust air BEFORE it leaves the building. And transfers it to the outside air coming into the building. To understand how this works think of the outside air duct and the exhaust air duct running side by side. With the air moving in opposite directions. Like a two-lane highway. These sections of duct run between the AHU and the outside air and exhaust air dampers. It is in this section of ductwork where we put an energy recovery unit. Like an energy recovery wheel. A circular honeycomb matrix that slowly rotates through both ducts. Half of the wheel is in the outside air duct. Half of the wheel is in the exhaust air duct. As exhaust air blows through the honeycomb matrix it absorbs heat (i.e., energy) from the exhaust air stream. As that section of the wheel rotates into the outside air duct the unheated outside air blows through the now warm honeycomb matrix. Where the unheated air absorbs the energy from the wheel. Warming it slightly so the AHU doesn’t have use as much energy to heat outside air. It works similarly with air conditioned air.
Many of us no doubt heard our mother yell, “Shut the door. You’re letting all of the heat out.” For whenever you open a door heated air will vent out and cold air will migrate in. Making it cooler for awhile until the furnace can bring the temperature back up. It’s similar with commercial buildings. Which is why a lot of them have revolving doors. So there is always an airlock between the heated/cooled air inside and the air outside. But engineers do something else to keep the cold/hot/humid air outside when people open doors. They design the AHU control system to maintain a higher pressure inside the building than there is outside of the building. So when people open doors air blows out. Not in. This keeps cold air from leaking into the building. Allowing people to work comfortably near these doors without getting a cold blast of air whenever they open. It allows people to work along exterior windows and walls without feeling any cold drafts. And it also helps to keep any bad smells from outside getting into the building.
Tags: absorb energy, AHU, air handling unit, air quality, boiler, cooling, damper, ductwork, energy, energy recovery unit, energy recovery wheel, equilibrium, exhaust air, furnace, heat, heat recovery unit, heating, heating coil, heating hot water, honeycomb matrix, outside air, pump, radiate energy, return, return-air, supply, temperature
(Original published December 21st, 2011)
A Waterwheel, Shaft, Pulleys and Belts made Power Transmission Complex
The history of man is the story of man controlling and shaping our environment. Prehistoric man did little to change his environment. But he started the process. By making tools for the first time. Over time we made better tools. Taking us into the Bronze Age. Where we did greater things. The Sumerians and the Egyptians led their civilization in mass farming. Created some of the first food surpluses in history. In time came the Iron Age. Better tools. And better plows. Fewer people could do more. Especially when we attached an iron plow to one horsepower. Or better yet, when horses were teamed together to produce 2 horsepower. 3 horsepower. Even 4 horsepower. The more power man harnessed the more work he was able to do.
This was the key to controlling and shaping our environment. Converting energy into power. A horse’s physiology can produce energy. By feeding, watering and resting a horse we can convert that energy into power. And with that power we can do greater work than we can do with our own physiology. Working with horse-power has been the standard for millennia. Especially for motive power. Moving things. Like dragging a plow. But man has harnessed other energy. Such as moving water. Using a waterwheel. Go into an old working cider mill in the fall and you’ll see how man made power from water by turning a wheel and a series of belts and pulleys. The waterwheel turned a main shaft that ran the length of the work area. On the shaft were pulleys. Around these pulleys were belts that could be engaged to transfer power to a work station. Where it would turn another pulley attached to a shaft. Depending on the nature of the work task the rotational motion of the main shaft could be increased or decreased with gears. We could change it from rotational to reciprocating motion. We could even change the axis of rotation with another type of gearing.
This was a great step forward in advancing civilization. But the waterwheel, shaft, pulleys and belts made power transmission complex. And somewhat limited by the energy available in the moving water. A great step forward was the steam engine. A large external combustion engine. Where an external firebox heated water to steam. And then that steam pushed a piston in a cylinder. The energy in expanding steam was far greater than in moving water. It produced far more power. And could do far more work. We could do so much work with the steam engine that it kicked off the Industrial Revolution.
Nikola Tesla created an Electrical Revolution using AC Power
The steam engine also gave us more freedom. We could now build a factory anywhere we wanted to. And did. We could do something else with it, too. We could put it on tracks. And use it to pull heavy loads across the country. The steam locomotive interconnected the factories to the raw materials they consumed. And to the cities that bought their finished goods. At a rate no amount of teamed horses could equal. Yes, the iron horse ended man’s special relationship with the horse. Even on the farm. Where steam engines powered our first tractors. Giving man the ability to do more work than ever. And grow more food than ever. Creating greater food surpluses than the Sumerians and Egyptians could ever grow. No matter how much of their fertile river banks they cultivated. Or how much land they irrigated.
Steam engines were incredibly powerful. But they were big. And very complex. They were ideal for the farm and the factory. The steam locomotive and the steamship. But one thing they were not good at was transmitting power over distances. A limitation the waterwheel shared. To transmit power from a steam engine required a complicated series of belts and pulleys. Or multiple steam engines. A great advance in technology changed all that. Something Benjamin Franklin experimented with. Something Thomas Edison did, too. Even gave us one of the greatest inventions of all time that used this new technology. The light bulb. Powered by, of course, electricity.
Electricity. That thing we can’t see, touch or smell. And it moves mysteriously through wires and does work. Edison did much to advance this technology. Created electrical generators. And lit our cities with his electric light bulb. Electrical power lines crisscrossed our early cities. And there were a lot of them. Far more than we see today. Why? Because Edison’s power was direct current. DC. Which had some serious drawbacks when it came to power transmission. For one it didn’t travel very far before losing much of its power. So electrical loads couldn’t be far from a generator. And you needed a generator for each voltage you used. That adds up to a lot of generators. Great if you’re in the business of selling electrical generators. Which Edison was. But it made DC power costly. And complex. Which explained that maze of power lines crisscrossing our cities. A set of wires for each voltage. Something you didn’t need with alternating current. AC. And a young engineer working for George Westinghouse was about to give Thomas Edison a run for his money. By creating an electrical revolution using that AC power. And that’s just what Nikola Tesla did.
Transformers Stepped-up Voltages for Power Transmission and Stepped-down Voltages for Electrical Motors
An alternating current went back and forth through a wire. It did not have to return to the electrical generator after leaving it. Unlike a direct current ultimately had to. Think of a reciprocating engine. Like on a steam locomotive. This back and forth motion doesn’t do anything but go back and forth. Not very useful on a train. But when we convert it to rotational motion, why, that’s a whole other story. Because rotational motion on a train is very useful. Just as AC current in transmission lines turned out to be very useful.
There are two electrical formulas that explain a lot of these developments. First, electrical power (P) is equal to the voltage (V) multiplied by the current (I). Expressed mathematically, P = V x I. Second, current (I) is equal to the voltage (V) divided by the electrical resistance (R). Mathematically, I = V/R. That’s the math. Here it is in words. The greater the voltage and current the greater the power. And the more work you can do. However, we transmit current on copper wires. And copper is expensive. So to increase current we need to lower the resistance of that expensive copper wire. But there’s only one way to do that. By using very thick and expensive wires. See where we’re going here? Increasing current is a costly way to increase power. Because of all that copper. It’s just not economical. So what about increasing voltage instead? Turns out that’s very economical. Because you can transmit great power with small currents if you step up the voltage. And Nikola Tesla’s AC power allowed just that. By using transformers. Which, unfortunately for Edison, don’t work with DC power.
This is why Nikola Tesla’s AC power put Thomas Edison’s DC power out of business. By stepping up voltages a power plant could send power long distances. And then that high voltage could be stepped down to a variety of voltages and connected to factories (and homes). Electric power could do one more very important thing. It could power new electric motors. And convert this AC power into rotational motion. These electric motors came in all different sizes and voltages to suit the task at hand. So instead of a waterwheel or a steam engine driving a main shaft through a factory we simply connected factories to the electric grid. Then they used step-down transformers within the factory where needed for the various work tasks. Connecting to electric motors on a variety of machines. Where a worker could turn them on or off with the flick of a switch. Without endangering him or herself by engaging or disengaging belts from a main drive shaft. Instead the worker could spend all of his or her time on the task at hand. Increasing productivity like never before.
Free Market Capitalism gave us Electric Power, the Electric Motor and the Roaring Twenties
What electric power and the electric motor did was reduce the size and complexity of energy conversion to useable power. Steam engines were massive, complex and dangerous. Exploding boilers killed many a worker. And innocent bystander. Electric power was simpler and safer to use. And it was more efficient. Horses were stronger than man. But increasing horsepower required a lot of big horses that we also had to feed and care for. Electric motors are smaller and don’t need to be fed. Or be cleaned up after, for that matter.
Today a 40 pound electric motor can do the work of one 1,500 pound draft horse. Electric power and the electric motor allow us to do work no amount of teamed horses can do. And it’s safer and simpler than using a steam engine. Which is why the Roaring Twenties roared. It was in the 1920s that this technology began to power American industry. Giving us the power to control and shape our environment like never before. Vaulting America to the number one economic power of the world. Thanks to free market capitalism. And a few great minds along the way.
Tags: AC, AC power, alternating current, belts, belts and pulleys, better tools, capitalism, controlling and shaping our environment, converting energy into power, copper wire, current, DC, DC power, direct current, Edison, electric, electric motors, electrical generators, electrical power, electrical power lines, electrical resistance, electricity, energy, energy conversion, engine, factories, factory, free market, free-market capitalism, generator, horse, horsepower, light bulb, motors, moving water, Nikola Tesla, plow, power, power lines, power transmission, pulleys, reciprocating engine, reciprocating motion, resistance, Roaring Twenties, rotational motion, steam, steam engine, steam locomotive, Tesla, Thomas Edison, tools, transformers, voltage, waterwheel, work
Week in Review
That carbon tax is so popular in Australia that they are buying television ads to explain how good it is. Good for the environment. And good for the consumer. As they get a cleaner environment. Not a bad deal considering the only people paying these carbon taxes are those filthy, polluting electricity producers. And they deserve to pay this tax as a penalty for polluting the environment (see More costly carbon tax ads set for TV by Andrew Tillett Canberra posted 10/18/2012 on The West Australian).
A fresh round of carbon tax compensation TV advertisements could hit the airwaves, a Senate Estimates committee has heard.
Bureaucrats from the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs told the hearing this morning a third phase of the campaign was being considered.
The first series of ads began in May and controversially failed to mention that extra payments going to households were to compensate them for higher living costs caused by the carbon tax.
Then again, it is the consumers that have to pay the higher electric rates those carbon taxes cause by increasing the cost to the electricity producers. So they take a lot of wealth from the electric utilities. Throw a little to the consumer stuck paying the higher electric rates to shut them up. Sort of forget to tell them that it was their fault for those higher rates in the first place. And use the rest to pay for their out of control government spending. Which is what a carbon tax is for. Because in this day and age with developed economies and welfare states it costs a whole lot more than it once did to buy votes.
Governments love taxing energy because people simply cannot live without consuming energy. Which is why the US had their cap and trade (though they failed to implement it. So far). The Europeans have their emissions trading scheme. And the Australians have their carbon tax. Which are all just more elaborate ways to transfer wealth from the private sector to the public sector. And has nothing to do with reducing carbon emissions.
Tags: Australia/New Zealand, carbon tax, electricity, energy, government spending, higher electric rates
We use Diesel Fuel in our Ships, Trains and Trucks to move Food from the Farm to the Grocery Store
People don’t like high gas prices. When the price at the pump goes up more of our paycheck goes into the gas tank. Or, more precisely, in everyone’s gas tanks. For even if you don’t drive a car when gas prices go up you’re putting more of your paycheck into the gas tanks of others. Thanks to oil being the lifeblood of our economy. And unless you’re completely self-sufficient (growing your own food, making your own clothes, etc.) everything you buy consumed some petroleum oil somewhere before reaching you.
Gas prices go up for a variety of reasons. The purely economic reason is the market forces of supply and demand. When gas prices rise it’s because demand for gasoline is greater than the supply of gasoline. Which means our refineries aren’t producing enough gasoline to meet demand. And the purely economic reason for that is that they are not refining enough crude oil. Meaning the low supply of gasoline is due to the low supply of crude oil. Which brings us to how high gasoline prices consume more of our paychecks even if we don’t drive. The reason being that we just don’t make gasoline out of crude oil. We also make diesel fuel.
Diesel fuel is a remarkable refined product. It just has so much energy in it. And we can compress an air-fuel mixture of it to a very small volume. Put the two together and you get a long and powerful power stroke. Making the diesel engine the engine of choice for our heavy moving. We use it in the ships that cross the ocean. In the trains that cross our continents. And in the trucks that bring everything to where we can buy them. To the grocery stores. The department stores. To the restaurants. Everything in the economy that we don’t make for ourselves travels on diesel fuel. Which is why when gas prices go up diesel fuel prices go up. Because of the low supply of oil going to our refineries to refine these products.
Oil is at a Disadvantage when it comes to Inflation because you just can’t Hide the Affects of Inflation in the Price of Oil
And there are other things that raise the price of gasoline. That aren’t purely economical. But more political. Such as restrictions on domestic oil drilling. Which reduces domestic supplies of crude oil. Political opposition to new pipelines. Which reduces Canadian supplies of crude oil. Special ‘summer’ blends of gasoline to reduce emissions that tax a refinery’s production capacity. As well as our pipeline distribution network. Higher gasoline taxes. To pay for roads and bridges. And to battle emissions. The ethanol mandate to use corn for fuel instead of food. Again, to battle emissions. All of which makes it more difficult to bring more crude oil to our refineries. And more difficult for our refineries to make gasoline. Which all go to adding costs into the system. Raising the price at the pump. Consuming more of our paychecks. No matter who is buying it.
Then there is another factor increasing the price at the pump. Inflation. When the government tries to stimulate economic activity by lowering interest rates they do that by expanding the money supply. So money is cheaper to borrow because there is so much more of it to borrow. Hence the lower interest rates. However, expanding the money supply also causes inflation. And devalues the dollar. As more dollars are now chasing the same amount of goods and services in the economy. So it takes more of them to buy the same things they once did. One of the harder hit commodities is oil. Because we price oil on the world market in U.S. dollars. So when you devalue the dollar it takes more of them to buy the same amount of oil they once bought.
Oil is at a particular disadvantage when it comes to inflation. Because you just can’t hide the affects of inflation in the price of oil. Or the gas we make from it. Unlike you can with laundry detergent, potato chips, cereal, candy bars, toilet paper, etc. Where the manufacturer can reduce the packaging or portion size. Allowing them not to raise prices to reflect the full impact inflation. They still increase the unit price to reflect the rise in the general price level. But by selling smaller quantities and portions their prices still look affordable. This is a privilege the oil industry just doesn’t have. They price crude oil by a fixed quantity (barrel). And sell gasoline by a fixed quantity (gallon). So they have no choice but to reflect the full impact of inflation in these prices. Which is why there is more anger about high gas prices than almost any other commodity.
Perhaps we can lay the Greatest Blame for the Current Economic Malaise on the Government’s Inflationary Monetary Policies
Current gas prices are hitting record highs. And this during the worse economic recovery following the worst recession since the Great Depression. Gas prices and the unemployment rate are typically inversely related to each other. When there is high unemployment people are buying less gasoline. This excess gasoline supply results in lower gas prices. When there is low unemployment people are buying more gasoline. This excess demand for gasoline results in higher gas prices. These are the normal affects of supply and demand. So the current high gas prices have little to do to with normal economic forces. Which leaves government policies to explain why gas prices are so high.
Environmental concerns have greatly increased regulatory policy. Increasing regulatory compliance costs. Which has greatly discouraged the building of new refineries. And making it very difficult to build new pipelines. Which tax current pipeline and refinery capacities. A problem mitigated only with their restriction on domestic oil production. The current administration has pretty much shut down oil exploration and production on all federal lands. Reducing crude oil supplies to refineries. These environmental policies would send gas prices soaring if the economy was booming. But the economy is not booming. In fact the U-6 unemployment rate (which counts everyone who can’t find a full time job) held steady at 14.7% in September. So an overheated economy is not the reason we have high gas prices. But the high gas prices may be part of the reason we have such high unemployment.
Perhaps we can lay the greatest blame for the current economic malaise on the government’s inflationary monetary policies. Inflation increases prices. Especially those things sold in fixed quantities priced in dollars. Like oil. And gasoline. The price inflation in refined oil products is like a virus that spreads throughout the economy. Because everyone uses energy. Especially the food industry. From the farmers driving their tractor to work their fields. To the trucks that take grain to rail terminals. To the trains that transport this grain to food processing plants. To the trucks that deliver these food products to our grocery stores. From the moment farmers first turn over their soil in spring to the truck backing into to a grocery store’s loading dock to consumers bringing home groceries in their car to put food on the table fuel is consumed everywhere. Which is why when gasoline prices go up food prices go up. Because we refine gasoline from the same crude oil we refine diesel fuel from. Oil. Creating a direct link between our energy policy and the price of food.
Tags: crude oil, devalue the dollar, diesel, diesel engine, diesel fuel, dollar, domestic oil drilling, domestic supplies of crude oil, economic activity, emissions, energy, environmental policies, food prices, gas prices, gasoline, high food prices, high gas prices, inflation, inflationary monetary policies, interest rates, money supply, oil, petroleum oil, pipeline, price at the pump, price of gasoline, prices, refineries, refining, ships, supply and demand, trains, trucks, unemployment, unemployment rate
« Previous Entries