Washington DC is Literally Full of Explosive Stinky Gas

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 19th, 2014

Week in Review

One of the riches places to live in the United States is in the Washington DC area.  And you know what you can do to rich people?  You can increase their utility rates.  Because whatever they charge a rich person is going to be able to pay it.  Easily.  In fact, they won’t object to rising utility rates.  For they have so much they wouldn’t want to deny pensions and health insurance to the working people.  At least they wouldn’t want to be seen as denying pension and health insurance to the working people.  So they don’t complain about rising utility rates.  Which is probably why stuff like this happens (see D.C. Full of Gassy Leaks, Researchers Say by Alan Neuhauser posted 1/17/2014 on US News and World Report).

Nearly 6,000 natural gas leaks were discovered beneath the streets of the nation’s capital last year when a team of researchers from Duke and Boston universities surveyed all 1,500 miles of the city’s roadways, according to an article published Thursday in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

A dozen were leaking enough methane to explode, while others were letting off enough gas to fuel from two to seven homes…

On average, pipelines across the country lose about 1.6 percent of the natural gas they transmit. The pipelines in D.C., by contrast, were losing about 4 percent of their gas. These findings, Jackson says, highlight “the opportunity to fix them.”

Gas leaks?  So what.  Just raise the utility rate.  It’s easier.  And less costly.

Public utilities are highly regulated.  They just can’t raise their rates.  They need the approval of government to do that.  The problem with these public utilities is that they are very close to the people that regulate them.  Who often approve high rates in exchange for something nice from the utility to show their appreciation.  It’s this kind of cronyism that brought satellite television into the market to compete against cable television.  Because cable television companies had some real sweetheart deals that were gouging the consumers.  Now the cable companies have a lot of competition.  And they have to be a lot more creative in how they charge their customers today.

Competition makes everything better for the consumer.  Where there is no competition you get high utility rates.  And a lot of explosive natural gas leaking up from buried pipelines.

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Wind Power for the People and Fossil Fuel for Gold Mines and Hospitals

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 1st, 2013

Week in Review

Energy firm RWE just backed out of a £4 billion ($6.6 billion) offshore wind farm.  The Atlantic Array project in the Bristol Channel.  Because of higher than expected costs.  And lower than expected government subsidies.  Meanwhile a new power plant was delivered in the Dominican Republic this year.  A nation that shares an island with Haiti surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.  With a lot of sea wind to spin wind turbines.  Just as they filled the sails of the colonial powers’ ships centuries ago.  But they didn’t build a wind farm (see Quisqueya I & II, Dominican Republic posted on Wärtsilä).

Sometimes, one plus one does not equal two. The 25,000 inhabitants of Quisqueya, a small town close to San Pedro de Macorís, in the Dominican Republic, know so.

In September 2011, Barrick Gold Corporation acquired a majority share in a soon-to-be-opened gold mine, some 100 kilometres away from the Dominican capital, Santo Domingo. As soon as the mining company understood the needs of their new power-hungry mine, they decided to place an order for a state-of-the-art Wärtsilä power plant. The way in which Barrick, its host country and Wärtsilä would cooperate for the greater good came to exceed the initial expectations of any of the three involved parties and strike gold in an unforeseen way.

The Quisqueya project is a rare combination of two power plants. Due to clever project design it satisfies not only the gold mine’s power needs, but also those of the local population, who often deals with blackouts and an unstable power grid. The dual function came to be as the largest utility in the country, EGE Haina, decided to jump on the boat of efficient and  reliable power generation, turning the initial project to a synergetic effort where the total value exceeds the sum of its parts.

While Quisqueya I is owned and used by Barrick Gold, its twin sister Quisqueya II is run by EGE Haina. Although ordered by different parties, the plants are being built on the same site and together form the largest power plant complex in the world ever delivered by Wärtsilä at the time of the order, setting a new standard for the 21st century power plants. As an outsider, you cannot clearly draw a line between the power supplied to the mine and that supplied to the local community, nor between the corporate profit and the social one. Quisqueya I & II is a beautiful example of how a sensible and responsible utilization of natural resources can directly improve a community’s way of life.

Both Quisqueya plants will feature Wärtsilä Flexicycle™ combined cycle technology and operate on 12 Wärtsilä 50DF dual-fuel engines each. The primary fuel is to be natural gas with liquid fuel as back-up, and the combined output from the two plants will be 430 MW. Wärtsilä’s scope of supply for the Quisqueya power plant includes full engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC). The power plant will have a net efficiencyof 48 %, which is an astonishingly high figure in tropical conditions, with soaring humidity and temperatures above 35°C.

Lucky are the people living near this power-hungry gold mine.  Because it gets top of the line electric power.  That furnished by fossil fuels.  Which can burn no matter what the winds are doing.  Keeping this gold mine in operation.  And giving the people around it reliable electric power.  And if the winds stop blowing these people will still have their power.  And if a hurricane blows through it may down some power lines.  Which can be replaced to restore electric power.  Whereas if a hurricane takes out an offshore wind farm power will be out a lot longer.  Either until they rebuild those very expensive wind turbines (probably requiring huge green tariffs to cover the costs of building this wind farm twice).  Or until they build a new power plant that uses a fossil fuel.

Interesting when a power plant is to power a million homes like the Atlantic Array project in the Bristol Channel a government looks to spend $6.6 billion for unreliable power.  But when a power plant is furnishing something that produces revenue and economic output they don’t build a wind farm power plant.  No, when they need to count on that electric power to be there they turn to fossil fuels.  For the same reason hospitals don’t put wind turbines on their roof for backup electric power during a blackout.  They use backup generators that burn a fossil fuel.  Because they need to count on that electric power to be there.

Fossil fuel is reliable.  While wind power is not.  Which is why governments use fossil fuels for gold mines and hospitals.  And wind power for the people.  Because governments can screw the people to meet silly green power targets with little blowback.  Because, hey, it’s for the environment.

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Green Energy Policies raise the Cost of Heating this Winter in Canada

Posted by PITHOCRATES - October 19th, 2013

Week in Review

‘Manmade’ global warming is not science.  It’s politics.  Where those on the left secure their liberal base by pushing costly green energy policies that increase our electric bills (see Ontario electricity rates rising due to Liberal mistakes, opposition says posted 10/18/2013 on CBC News Toronto).

The governing Liberals’ politically motivated interference in the energy sector is hurting ratepayers who are trying to conserve electricity, Ontario’s opposition parties said Friday…

The price for off-peak power will rise by 7.5 per cent for a kilowatt hour, while peak hour rates will rise by four per cent, the board announced Thursday…

It’s another sign that the energy system under the Liberals has become an “expensive mess,” said Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.

Cancelling two gas plants in Oakville and Mississauga — which the province’s auditor general says will cost taxpayers up to $1.1 billion — to save Liberal seats is driving up prices, he said, just like putting wind turbines in communities that don’t want them, then paying to get rid of the surplus power…

The OEB said the Nov. 1 increase is based on estimates for the coming year that include more generation from renewable sources along with a higher price for natural gas.

Sunlight and wind may be free.  But the massive infrastructure to pull the energy from sunlight and wind is not.  That infrastructure is very, very costly.  Because you need a lot of it to produce useable energy.  Unlike a coal-fired or gas-fired power plant.  These plants are very costly.  But they produce so much electric power that the cost per unit of power produced is negligible.  The fuel (coal and natural gas) being the greater cost.   Of course, that’s only when they are running at capacity and people are buying what they produce.

Those two power plants would have produced inexpensive electric power.  Now not only are they going to be replaced with renewable sources the cost of that massive renewable infrastructure has to be added to the people’s hydro (electric utility) bill.  With renewable sources providing a fraction of what coal and gas provide the cost per unit from renewable sources is very high.  Requiring taxpayer subsidies.  And if that wasn’t bad enough because of the intermittent nature of wind those coal-fired and gas-fired power plants have to produce power even when the wind is blowing so it’s there when the wind isn’t.  Creating surplus power.  Very expensive power that no one is buying.

If only manmade global was real.  For if it were we could raise the temperature during the winter so we wouldn’t have to spend so much on costly and polluting power to heat our homes.  Why, the warmer winters would even make it easier for our wildlife to find food.  That’s right.  With manmade global warming everyone would be a winner.  But it’s not.  So we have more and more expensive heating bills to look forward to.

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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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Electricity, Heat Engine, Superheated Dry Steam, Coal-Fired Power Plant, Geothermal Power Plant and Waste-to-Energy Plant

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 7th, 2012

Technology 101

(Originally published August 1, 2012)

Geothermal Power Plants and Waste-to-Energy Plants each produce less than Half of 1% of our Electricity

We produce the majority of our electricity with heat engines.  Where we boil water into steam to spin a turbine.  Or use the expanding gases of combustion to spin a turbine.  The primary heat engines we use are coal-fired power plants, natural gas-power plants and nuclear power plants.  The next big source of electricity generation is hydroelectric.  A renewable energy source.  In 2011 it produced less than 8% of our electricity.  These sources combined produce in excess of 95% of all electricity.  While renewable energy sources (other than hydroelectric) make up a very small percentage of the total.  Wind power comes in under 3%.  And solar comes in at less than 0.2% of the total.  So we are a very long way from abandoning coal, natural gas and nuclear power.

Two other renewable energy sources appear to hold promise.  Two heat engines.  One powered by geothermal energy in the earth.  The other by burning our garbage.  In a waste-to-energy plant.  These appear attractive.  Geothermal power appears to be as clean as it gets.  For this heat isn’t man-made.  It’s planet-made.  And it’s just there for the taking.  But the taking of it gets a little complicated.  As is burning our trash.  Not to mention the fact that few people want trash incinerators in their neighborhoods.  For these reasons they each provide a very small percentage of the total electric power we produce.  Both coming in at less than half of 1%.

So why steam?  Why is it that we make so much of our electrical power by boiling water?  Because of the different states of matter.  Matter can be a solid, liquid or a gas.  And generally passes from one state to another in that order.  Although there are exceptions.  Such as dry ice that skips the liquid phase.  It sublimates from a solid directly into a gas.  And goes from a gas to a solid by deposition.  Water, though, follows the general rule.  Ice melts into water at 32 degrees Fahrenheit (or 0 degrees Celsius).  Or water freezes into ice at the same temperature.  Water vaporizes into steam at 212 degrees Fahrenheit (or 100 degrees Celsius).  Or steam condenses into water at the same temperature.  These changes in the state of matter are easy to produce.  At temperatures that we can easily attain.  Water is readily available to vaporize into steam.  It’s safe and easy to handle.  Making it the liquid of choice in a heat engine.

Today’s Coal-Fired Power Plant pulverizes Coal into a Dust and Blows it into the Firebox

A given amount of water will increase about 1600 times in volume when converted to steam.  It’s this expansion that we put to work.  It’s what pushed pistons in steam engines.  It’s what drove steam locomotives.  And it’s what spins the turbines in our power plants.  The plumes of steam you see is not steam, though.  What you see is water droplets in the steam.  Steam itself is an invisible gas.  And the hotter and drier (no water) it is the better.  For water droplets in steam will pit and wear the blades on a steam turbine.  Which is why the firebox of a coal-fired plant reaches temperatures up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (about 1,650 degrees Celsius).  To superheat the steam.  And to use this heat elsewhere in the power plant such as preheating water entering the boiler.  So it takes less energy to vaporize it.

To get a fire that hot isn’t easy.  And you don’t get it by shoveling coal into the fire box.  Today’s coal-fired power plant pulverizes coal into a dust and blows it into the firebox.  Because small particles can burn easier and more completely than large chunks of coal.  As one fan blows in fuel another blows in air.  To help the fire burn hot.  The better and finer the fuel the better it burns.  The better the fuel burns the hotter the fire.  And the drier the steam it makes.  Which can spin a turbine with a minimum of wear.

In a geothermal power plant we pipe steam out of the ground to spin a turbine.  If it’s hot enough.  Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of geothermal wells that produce superheated dry steam.  Which limits how many of these plants we can build.  And the steam that the planet produces is not as clean as what man produces.  Steam out of the earth can contain a lot of contaminants.  Requiring additional equipment to process these contaminants out.  We can use cooler geothermal wells that produce wet steam but they require additional equipment to remove the water from the steam.  The earth may produce heat reliably but not water.  When we pipe this steam away the wells can run dry.  So these plants require condensers to condense the used steam back into water so we can pump it back to the well.  A typical plant may have several wells piped to a common plant.  Requiring a lot of piping both for steam and condensate.  You put all this together and a geothermal plant is an expensive plant.  And it is a plant that we can build in few places.  Which explains why geothermal power makes less than half of 1% of our electricity.

We generate approximately 87% of our Electricity from Coal, Natural Gas and Nuclear Power

So these are some the problems with geothermal.  Burning trash has even more problems.  The biggest problem is that trash is a terrible fuel.  We pulverize coal into a dust and blow into the firebox.  This allows a hot and uniform fire.  Trash on the other hand contains wet mattresses, wet bags of grass, car batteries, newspapers and everything else you’ve ever thrown away.  And if you ever lit a campfire or a BBQ you know some things burn better than other things.  And wet things just don’t burn at all.  So some of this fuel entering the furnace can act like throwing water on a hot fire.  Which makes it difficult to maintain a hot and uniform fire.  They load fuel on a long, sloping grate that enters the furnace.  Mechanical agitators shake the trash down this grate slowly.  As the trash approaches the fire it heats up and dries out as much as possible before entering the fire.  Still the fire burns unevenly.  They try to keep the temperature above 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit (about 538 degrees Celsius) .  But they’re not always successful.

They can improve the quality of the fuel by processing it first.  Tearing open bags with machinery so people can hand pick through the trash.  They will remove things that won’t burn.  Then send what will burn to a shredder.  Chopping it up into smaller pieces.  This can help make for a more uniform burn.  But it adds a lot of cost.  So these plants tend to be expensive.  And nowhere as efficient as a coal-fired power plant (or nuclear power plant) in boiling water into superheated dry steam.  Also, raw trash tends to stink.  And no one really knows what’s in it when it burns.  Making people nervous about what comes out of their smoke stacks.  You add all of these things up and you see why less than half of 1% of our electricity comes from burning our trash.

This is why we generate approximately 87% of our electricity from coal, natural gas and nuclear power.  Coal and nuclear power can make some of the hottest and driest steam.  But making a hot fire or bringing a nuclear reactor on line takes time.  A lot of time.  So we use these as baseload power plants.  They generate the supply that meets the minimum demand.  Power that we use at all times.  Day or night.  Winter or summer.  They run 24/7 all year long.  Natural gas plants add to the baseload.  And handle peak demands over the baseload.  Because they don’t boil water they can come on line very quickly to pickup spikes in electrical demand.  Hydroelectric power shares this attribute, too.  As long as there is enough water in the reservoir to bring another generator on line.  The other 5% (wind, solar, geothermal, trash incinerators, etc.) is more of a novelty than serious power generation.

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Crude Oil, Separators, Pipelines, Cathode Protection System, Pump Stations, Tank Farms, Refineries, Distribution Centers and Gas Stations

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 26th, 2012

Technology 101

Pipelines Crisscross the Country carrying Raw Crude Oil to Refineries and Refined Petroleum Products Out

Do you know what the most fascinating thing about the gasoline you burn in your car?  Only a few weeks earlier it was raw crude oil in the pores of rock deep underground.  The oil business is a remarkably efficient business.  Remarkable machines, pipelines and refineries have made getting gasoline into our cars a fast and speedy process.  But it hasn’t come cheap.  Those machines, pipelines and refineries are incredibly expensive.  Which is a power incentive to move and process that crude oil quickly.  From oil underground to gasoline in you gas tank.

And that process begins at the wellhead.  Because what comes out of that well is not pure crude oil.  What comes up the well is a frothy mixture of oil, gas and salt water.  They have separators located at or near the wellheads to separate this mixture into its components.  Getting the gas out of the oil is easier than getting the water out.  This often requires additional processing.  They can ‘dry’ the oil by cooking the water out.  Heating the oil (by burning some of the previously separated gas) in a container sends the oil to the top where it floats on the water.  The water pulled out of the well and separated from the oil is not clean enough to pour into a river or stream.  So they pump it back from whence it came.  Into another well.  Where it can help force more oil up to the surface.

They pipe the oil mixture from the wells in an oil field to these separators.  Pipelines from the separators carry the processed oil (and natural gas) to pipeline terminals.  Where they feed into a main pipeline that carries the oil to a refinery.  (Natural gas does not need refining and simply enters the pipeline system that distributes natural gas to end users).  Pipelines crisscross the country carrying raw crude oil to refineries.  And refined petroleum products out.  Sending jet fuel to airports.  Diesel fuel to railroad fueling yards.  And gasoline and diesel to the distribution centers that feed our local gas stations.

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline holds about 9 Million Barrels of Oil inside the Pipeline at any Given Time

There is a lot of political opposition to pipelines.  They say they are an environmental disaster waiting to happen.  In truth there have been few pipeline disasters.  For two reasons.  It takes an enormous investment to get oil out of the ground.  So any leaks in a pipeline would greatly reduce the return on their investment.  Secondly, oil is flammable.  Any pipeline leak could light the fuse to a powerful explosion.  Which would reduce their return on investment far more than just a leak.  So they make these pipelines out of high-strength steel with welded joints.  They even x-ray the welds to detect any defects.  Because any lost oil is lost profit.  Which means any accident that hurts the environment will hurt them in the pocketbook.  So they will protect the environment because that is the best way to protect their investment.

Steel corrodes.  Especially when in contact with the earth.  In fact, the chemical interaction of the elements in the soil with the steel in the pipeline acts like a battery.  Creating small electric currents that can accelerate the corrosion process.  So they cover these steel pipelines in layers of tar-like material and an insulation wrapping.  In addition to this they install a cathode protection system.  Where another more corrosive material is placed in contact with the pipeline so it corrodes instead of the pipeline.  Or they install an active system where they bury anodes underground along the pipeline and attach a DC power source.  They connect the positive terminal of the power source to the anode system.  And the negative terminal to the pipeline (the cathode).  This current can prevent the galvanic action that can accelerate the corrosive process.

Oil is thick and viscous.  It doesn’t flow easily.  So they need big (diameter) pipelines.  And lots of pumps to push this oil to a refinery.  Even under high pressures this oil moves leisurely along at about 3-5 miles per hour.  But it doesn’t have to move fast.  Not once we fill these pipelines with oil.  Because new oil pumped into the pipeline at one end pushes out oil at the other end.  And when it does it pushes out a lot of oil.  In fact, our pipelines hold far more oil than all our storage tanks at all our refineries.  The pipeline that crosses Alaska (the Trans-Alaska Pipeline) is about 4 feet in diameter and 800 miles long.  If you do the math that comes to about 9 million barrels of oil inside the pipeline at any given time.  By comparison a modern large oil tanker can carry up to 2 million barrels of oil.

We burn Gasoline in our Cars that mere Weeks Earlier was still Underground in the Porous Matrix of Rock Formations

There are pump stations about every 60-100 miles along a pipeline.  These pumps suck a lot of energy to pump that viscous fluid.  But it is still more cost efficient than shipping that oil by truck or rail.  These pumps usually have a roof over them.  But no walls.  To prevent any buildup of explosive vapors from accumulating.  Which is one of the drawbacks of dealing with petroleum oil and its products.  Especially the stuff we eventually pump into our gas tanks.

At pipeline terminals, refineries and tanker ports there is a backup of oil waiting to enter a pipeline.  Or to be refined.  So we have to store it.  In tank farms.  Where tidy rows of squat round tanks with floating roofs (to prevent any buildup of explosive vapors) hold enormous amounts of oil until the next stage in the oil processing system is ready for it.  But not for long.  These tank farms at our refineries hold maybe 2 weeks worth of oil.  Not much.  But enough.  You see, oil doesn’t sit still for long.  For it takes about two weeks for oil on average to travel from the wells through the pipelines to the tank farms at our refineries.  So as the refineries draw down this oil in the storage tanks new oil arrives to replace it.  In a continuous, wondrous process.  That ends at the gas station.

Refined petroleum products leave the refineries pretty much the way they arrived.  In a pipeline.  The refined products are thinner and less viscous.  So the outbound pipelines are smaller in diameter.  After refining they pump gasoline into another tank farm.  These tanks feed another pipeline network.  These pipelines eventually terminate at distribution centers.  It is here where tanker trucks fill up to replenish the underground tanks at our local gas stations.  The gas entering these distribution centers is the same.  The different gas stations will add their own additives at this point to differentiate their gas from their competitors.  Then we pump it into our car.  And then enjoy the American experience of travelling the open road.  Burning gasoline that mere weeks earlier was still underground in the porous matrix of rock formations.

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Environmentalists shut down Cheap Electricity from Coal-Fired Power Plants and sends US Coal to China

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 23rd, 2012

Week in Review

Environmentalists don’t like energy.  Because it pollutes.  So they actively fight against energy.  To reduce pollution.  And to save the planet.  No matter the costs.  They don’t care how much they increase the cost of electricity for the American consumer.  Or how unreliable they make our electric supply (see Analysis: Coal fight looms, Keystone-like, over U.S. Northwest by Patrick Rucker, Reuters, posted 9/23/2012 on Yahoo! News).

Call it the Keystone of coal: a regulatory and public relations battle between environmentalists and U.S. coal miners akin to the one that has defined the Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline.

Instead of blocking an import, however, this fight is over whether to allow a growing surplus of coal to be exported to Asia, a decision that would throw miners a lifeline by effectively offshoring carbon emissions and potentially give China access to cheaper coal.

The environmentalists stopped the Keystone pipeline.  Because they didn’t want that Canadian tar sands oil coming into the US.  Bringing down the price of gasoline.  Which would only encourage people to drive more.  They have encouraged shutting down our coal-fired power plants.  Perhaps our least costly and most reliable source of electric power.  Because we have an abundance of coal in America.  For unlike oil we are not dependent on any foreign sources for our coal.  Coal gives us true energy independence.  If it weren’t for the environmentalists, that is.

Tough new Environmental Protection Agency limits on power plant emissions are often blamed, along with low natural gas prices, for the drop in domestic coal use, but burning the black rock in Asia will have the same impact on the atmosphere…

With nearly 9 percent of U.S. coal furnaces set to go dark in the next four years and more utilities moving to natural gas, the 100 billion tons of coal still locked in the region need to reach new markets or face being frozen in the ground.

The environmentalists would rather that coal stay in the ground.  If they can’t have that they’d rather the Chinese get it for their energy needs than the Americans.  Even though according to the environmentalists it doesn’t matter who burns that coal.  For those emissions will make it into the atmosphere whoever burns that coal.  And if that’s true the US should burn that coal.  Not China.  We should not give up what energy independence we have.  Besides, we’re never going to please the environmentalists.

They don’t like coal.  They don’t like fracking that gives us cheap natural gas because it may pollute nearby water tables.  They don’t like nuclear power because of the chance of a nuclear accident (which has happened a couple of times in the 50-60 years we’ve used nuclear power to generate electricity).  They don’t like hydroelectric dams because they disrupt the ecosystem.  So what do they like?  They sort of like wind power.  If it doesn’t kill too many birds.  They do like solar power.  And some other renewable sources that provide a negligible amount of electric power today.  The things they like, though, will never be able to produce enough electric power to meet our energy needs.  Especially if everyone starts driving electric cars.

So while our energy costs rise and we endure more power blackouts as we shut down more reliable coal-fired power plants and replace them with windmills and solar panels China will be enjoying the power our coal will produce for them.  Is this fair?  It is if you’re an environmentalist apparently.

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The Army is looking to use Unreliable Renewable Energy to provide Reliable Energy Security on their Installations

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 12th, 2012

Week in Review

The Army Corps of Engineers is following orders and going green.  Putting their installations at greater risk of electric power interruptions.  Even though the reason to go green was the complete opposite.  To minimize power interruptions.  As well as to lower costs (see Army’s Logic for Developing Wind and Solar Energy Makes No Sense by Daniel Kish posted 8/10/2012 on U.S. News & World Report).

The Army Corps of Engineers recently put out a request for proposal for renewable energy developers to build energy facilities on Army bases. The Army says building renewables such as wind and solar on Army bases will promote “energy security,” however this claim fails to acknowledge the inherent problem of reliability with intermittent sources of energy like wind and solar…

It is important to remember that under our system of civilian control of the military, political appointees direct the branches of the military to carry out administration policy, and the military salutes and carries out the orders. It would appear that politicians working to promote renewables is the reason the Army is making this move, because its proposal would essentially accomplish the opposite of what it says it intends to do…

The mission of the military is to kill people and break things.  And to deter others from killing Americans and breaking American things.  Two assets that have been very good at meeting these objects in the military’s arsenal are the B-52 bomber and the nuclear-powered sub.

Have you ever seen a B-52 take off?  A whole wing of B-52s in a Minimum Interval Take-Off (MITO)?  Their engines leave behind a thick black fossil-fuel-made cloud.  Yeah, that’s right.  Air pollution.  And those subs?  They use nuclear power because it lets those subs stay under water forever. The only thing that brings them up is the fuel the sailors need.  Food.  The B-52 pollutes.  And the nuclear sub uses the fuel the Left hates over all other fuels.  Radioactive fuel.  So given the choice the military will pollute and risk The China Syndrome in their subs.  Why?  Because the B-52 and the nuclear sub are the best assets for the mission.  And they will keep using them until their civilian commanders order them not to.  Just like they have ordered these Army installations NOT to use the best power source available but one that matches the current administration’s green agenda.  Unreliable renewable energy.  To help fight global warming.  A battle outside the mission of the military.  And will only weaken the military in their ability to fulfill their mission.

Wind or solar would make power production on military bases more secure if disruptions to the grid only happened when the wind was blowing or the sun was shining, and that will obviously not be the case…

Despite the fact that wind and solar are not reliable sources of energy, the Army’s request for proposal explicitly calls for proposals for wind and solar (see pages 6, 7 among others). Hammack’s [Assistant Secretary for Installations, Energy, and the Environment] argument that producing wind and solar on Army bases with increased “energy security” does not hold water, since the obvious alternatives, coal, and natural gas, are abundant in the United States: The United States has over 450 years of coal at the current rate of consumption, for example…

The Army also claims that the purpose of the renewable energy projects is to shield Army bases from electricity price hikes. But like the energy security argument, the Army’s assertion that its proposal will save money is rooted in fallacy. One of the reasons electricity prices are rising is because of regulations imposed by the Obama administration, and the Army could simply ask Congress to waive them for the military if high prices were the only issue at hand.

If you’re worried about cost you can make the electricity a coal-fired power plants produce less expensive by ending their war on coal.  But they won’t do that.  So it’s not about cost.  Besides, wind and solar power are some of the most expensive sources of power out there.  Yes, the fuel is free (wind and sunshine), but the infrastructure to capture it and use it is vast.  And costly.  Because each unit that captures these fuels is small.  So you need a lot of them to equal a fraction of what a coal-fired power plant can produce.

Electricity powers a hospital.  Without it their emergency rooms and intensive care units would go dark.  And people would die.  Because it is so crucial they have redundancies.  They will have a row of primary switchgear (4,800 volts or higher) fed by two different feeders going back to two different substations.  There will be an equal number of circuit breakers on each side separated by an open ‘tie breaker’ in the middle.  They will evenly (approximately) split the electrical load of the hospital on either side of the tie breaker.  Dividing the load evenly across the two primary feeds.  However, if one feed goes down (tree falls on wire, substation explodes, etc.) the breaker going to the down line will open and the tie breaker will close.  Putting the entire hospital on the one good primary feed.  It can do this because they size both primary feeds large enough to carry the full load of the hospital.

But redundancy doesn’t end there.  If an electrical event is great enough to take out both primary feeds the hospital will have backup generator power available as well.  Powered in most cases by on-site diesel fuel.  Some may use natural gas but they have to prove the reliability of their gas service.  As the last line of defense in a power outage, they want backup generator power self-contained and independent of all other municipal power sources.

This is redundancy.  And wind and solar simply do not provide this.  They are unreliable.  And they cannot carry the full electrical load of a hospital.  Or other large consumers of electricity.  At most these supplement baseload power.  They can’t replace it.  If these installations want true energy security, true power redundancy, they would be better off installing a diesel-powered turbine with onsite diesel storage for when their electric grid goes down.  Or a natural gas-powered turbine with a reliable (not connected to the local gas supply but a high pressure main) and secured gas feed to the base.  In other words, if they want true energy security they’d better be willing to pollute the air like a wing of B-52s taking off in a MITO exercise.  Because if you want true energy security you are going to have to pollute.

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France uses Renewable Energy to offset a Decline in Nuclear Power Generated Electricity

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 4th, 2012

Week in Review

France may be moving ahead in renewable energies but they are only a sideshow to the major electricity producer.  Nuclear power.  In the grand scheme of things there is only one renewable energy that is a serious player.  Hydroelectric power.  Which is picking up the slack during some planned outages at their nuke plants (see French utility EDF sees profit up 4.6 percent as renewable energy offsets lower nuclear output by Associated Press posted 7/31/2012 on The Washington Post).

Electricite de France saw profits rise 4.6 percent in the first half of the year as growth in renewable energy offset lower nuclear output…

The increase in profits and sales came despite more planned outages at nuclear plants — and also unexpected extensions of those outages — this year than last. The company’s chief financial officer Thomas Piquemal said those issues should be resolved by August.

Hydropower, which struggled last year, and other renewable energies made up the difference. Excluding one-off charges, the group’s net income grew 10.3 percent.

Executives said that the group’s better-than-expected results were also due to a reduction in costs.

One would almost get the impression that the French, too, are abandoning nuclear power in favor of renewable energy sources.  To save the planet.  Well, they are pursuing renewable energy sources.  But they’re not abandoning nuclear power.  Because they can’t.  Taking a look at French electricity production explains why.  (These numbers are pulled from Table 6 in The French wholesale electricity, natural gas and CO2 markets in 2010-2011 and Part V in THE FREN CH ELECTRICITY REPORT 2010).

(Note: The variation is in electricity produced.)

Nuclear power produces the majority of French electricity.  About three-quarters of it.  And they were increasing their nuclear capacity in 2010.  And of all their electricity sources nuclear power is operating nearest full capacity.  Of all the nuclear reactor capacity they installed 74% is producing electricity.

The next largest producer of electricity is hydroelectric power.  And it only produces 12.4% of all electricity.  Of all the generating capacity of hydroelectric power only 31% actually produced electricity.  So more than two thirds of hydroelectric dam capacity sat idle.  Hydroelectric power increased 9.9% in 2010 “as a result of changes in the availability of water resources and the use of reservoirs” according the French Electricity Report.  Which means hydroelectric power is only as good as the volume of water behind those dams.  And once they build those dams it’s up to the weather to snow in the winter (in places that have winters with snowfall) and rain in the the spring, summer and fall.  With more than two-thirds of installed capacity sitting idle either it hasn’t rained or snowed enough in the mountains.  Or that water is being diverted for other uses.

The next largest producer of electricity is natural gas producing 5.5% of the total.  Because of the speed they can bring a gas turbine on line we often use these to handle peaks in demand.  So they don’t run all of the time like the nuclear power plants that provide the baseload.  Based on these numbers the baseload handled the electrical demand most of the time as these gas turbines only produced at 42% of their installed capacity.

After natural gas comes coal at 3.5% of the total.  A 7.6% drop from the previous year.  With 72% of installed capacity sitting idle.  A basic shuttering of the coal industry to make way for renewable energy.

Wind power produced 1.7% of all electricity.  An increase of 22.2% from the previous year.  So they’re increasing wind power.  But it’s almost statistically insignificant.  Worse, of the installed capacity only 24% is producing electricity.  That’s because they can only produce electricity when the wind blows.  But not too fast.  Or too slow.  Only a narrow band of wind speeds can produce electricity at the same frequency (typically 50 Hertz in Europe) that matches the grid.

And solar power produced a statistically insignificant 0.1% of the electricity total.  And this is a 281.6% increase over the previous year.  But of the total installed capacity only 34% of it produced electricity.  Because it is sometimes night.  And sometimes cloudy.  Which is why it will be difficult to get a large percentage of our electricity from solar power.  The fuel may be free.  But it’s just not always there.  Also, photocells are semiconductor devices that produced low DC currents.  So you need a lot of solar arrays to produce useable power.  And additional electrical equipment to convert the DC power into AC power.  And more if you want to store power during the day to use at night.  So even though the fuel is free solar power can be very expensive.

So nuclear power isn’t going anywhere in France.  It’s too reliable.  And it’s just too prevalent.  To replace that capacity would require enormous amounts of money.  Which just isn’t that prevalent during a European sovereign debt crisis.

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Electricity, Heat Engine, Superheated Dry Steam, Coal-Fired Power Plant, Geothermal Power Plant and Waste-to-Energy Plant

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 1st, 2012

Technology 101

Geothermal Power Plants and Waste-to-Energy Plants each produce less than Half of 1% of our Electricity

We produce the majority of our electricity with heat engines.  Where we boil water into steam to spin a turbine.  Or use the expanding gases of combustion to spin a turbine.  The primary heat engines we use are coal-fired power plants, natural gas-power plants and nuclear power plants.  The next big source of electricity generation is hydroelectric.  A renewable energy source.  In 2011 it produced less than 8% of our electricity.  These sources combined produce in excess of 95% of all electricity.  While renewable energy sources (other than hydroelectric) make up a very small percentage of the total.  Wind power comes in under 3%.  And solar comes in at less than 0.2% of the total.  So we are a very long way from abandoning coal, natural gas and nuclear power.

Two other renewable energy sources appear to hold promise.  Two heat engines.  One powered by geothermal energy in the earth.  The other by burning our garbage.  In a waste-to-energy plant.  These appear attractive.  Geothermal power appears to be as clean as it gets.  For this heat isn’t man-made.  It’s planet-made.  And it’s just there for the taking.  But the taking of it gets a little complicated.  As is burning our trash.  Not to mention the fact that few people want trash incinerators in their neighborhoods.  For these reasons they each provide a very small percentage of the total electric power we produce.  Both coming in at less than half of 1%.

So why steam?  Why is it that we make so much of our electrical power by boiling water?  Because of the different states of matter.  Matter can be a solid, liquid or a gas.  And generally passes from one state to another in that order.  Although there are exceptions.  Such as dry ice that skips the liquid phase.  It sublimates from a solid directly into a gas.  And goes from a gas to a solid by deposition.  Water, though, follows the general rule.  Ice melts into water at 32 degrees Fahrenheit (or 0 degrees Celsius).  Or water freezes into ice at the same temperature.  Water vaporizes into steam at 212 degrees Fahrenheit (or 100 degrees Celsius).  Or steam condenses into water at the same temperature.  These changes in the state of matter are easy to produce.  At temperatures that we can easily attain.  Water is readily available to vaporize into steam.  It’s safe and easy to handle.  Making it the liquid of choice in a heat engine.

Today’s Coal-Fired Power Plant pulverizes Coal into a Dust and Blows it into the Firebox

A given amount of water will increase about 1600 times in volume when converted to steam.  It’s this expansion that we put to work.  It’s what pushed pistons in steam engines.  It’s what drove steam locomotives.  And it’s what spins the turbines in our power plants.  The plumes of steam you see is not steam, though.  What you see is water droplets in the steam.  Steam itself is an invisible gas.  And the hotter and drier (no water) it is the better.  For water droplets in steam will pit and wear the blades on a steam turbine.  Which is why the firebox of a coal-fired plant reaches temperatures up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit (about 1,650 degrees Celsius).  To superheat the steam.  And to use this heat elsewhere in the power plant such as preheating water entering the boiler.  So it takes less energy to vaporize it.

To get a fire that hot isn’t easy.  And you don’t get it by shoveling coal into the fire box.  Today’s coal-fired power plant pulverizes coal into a dust and blows it into the firebox.  Because small particles can burn easier and more completely than large chunks of coal.  As one fan blows in fuel another blows in air.  To help the fire burn hot.  The better and finer the fuel the better it burns.  The better the fuel burns the hotter the fire.  And the drier the steam it makes.  Which can spin a turbine with a minimum of wear.

In a geothermal power plant we pipe steam out of the ground to spin a turbine.  If it’s hot enough.  Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of geothermal wells that produce superheated dry steam.  Which limits how many of these plants we can build.  And the steam that the planet produces is not as clean as what man produces.  Steam out of the earth can contain a lot of contaminants.  Requiring additional equipment to process these contaminants out.  We can use cooler geothermal wells that produce wet steam but they require additional equipment to remove the water from the steam.  The earth may produce heat reliably but not water.  When we pipe this steam away the wells can run dry.  So these plants require condensers to condense the used steam back into water so we can pump it back to the well.  A typical plant may have several wells piped to a common plant.  Requiring a lot of piping both for steam and condensate.  You put all this together and a geothermal plant is an expensive plant.  And it is a plant that we can build in few places.  Which explains why geothermal power makes less than half of 1% of our electricity.

We generate approximately 87% of our Electricity from Coal, Natural Gas and Nuclear Power

So these are some the problems with geothermal.  Burning trash has even more problems.  The biggest problem is that trash is a terrible fuel.  We pulverize coal into a dust and blow into the firebox.  This allows a hot and uniform fire.  Trash on the other hand contains wet mattresses, wet bags of grass, car batteries, newspapers and everything else you’ve ever thrown away.  And if you ever lit a campfire or a BBQ you know some things burn better than other things.  And wet things just don’t burn at all.  So some of this fuel entering the furnace can act like throwing water on a hot fire.  Which makes it difficult to maintain a hot and uniform fire.  They load fuel on a long, sloping grate that enters the furnace.  Mechanical agitators shake the trash down this grate slowly.  As the trash approaches the fire it heats up and dries out as much as possible before entering the fire.  Still the fire burns unevenly.  They try to keep the temperature above 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit (about 538 degrees Celsius) .  But they’re not always successful.

They can improve the quality of the fuel by processing it first.  Tearing open bags with machinery so people can hand pick through the trash.  They will remove things that won’t burn.  Then send what will burn to a shredder.  Chopping it up into smaller pieces.  This can help make for a more uniform burn.  But it adds a lot of cost.  So these plants tend to be expensive.  And nowhere as efficient as a coal-fired power plant (or nuclear power plant) in boiling water into superheated dry steam.  Also, raw trash tends to stink.  And no one really knows what’s in it when it burns.  Making people nervous about what comes out of their smoke stacks.  You add all of these things up and you see why less than half of 1% of our electricity comes from burning our trash.

This is why we generate approximately 87% of our electricity from coal, natural gas and nuclear power.  Coal and nuclear power can make some of the hottest and driest steam.  But making a hot fire or bringing a nuclear reactor on line takes time.  A lot of time.  So we use these as baseload power plants.  They generate the supply that meets the minimum demand.  Power that we use at all times.  Day or night.  Winter or summer.  They run 24/7 all year long.  Natural gas plants add to the baseload.  And handle peak demands over the baseload.  Because they don’t boil water they can come on line very quickly to pickup spikes in electrical demand.  Hydroelectric power shares this attribute, too.  As long as there is enough water in the reservoir to bring another generator on line.  The other 5% (wind, solar, geothermal, trash incinerators, etc.) is more of a novelty than serious power generation.

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