Solar Farm dislocates Desert Tortoises – a Threatened Species

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 15th, 2014

Week in Review

The problem with renewable energy sources is that they take up a lot of real estate.  To save the environment they must take a big footprint in that environment.  And big things cost a lot of money.  Such as solar farms.  Or wind farms.  Even though the ‘fuel’ is free.  Sun.  And wind.  Which is why free solar and wind power is some of the most costly power.  And if that wasn’t bad enough we also have to evict some of the indigenous life from their natural habitat (see Sunflower mirrors power California’s desert farm by Rowan Hooper posted 2/13/2014 on New Scientist).

IT TAKES a couple of seconds to work out what’s going on in this photo. You’re looking at a pair of heliostat mirrors – sunflower-like reflectors that turn to track the sun during the day. These are just two of hundreds of thousands such mirrors arranged in the Mojave Desert in California, all part of the Ivanpah solar power project.

Their job is to concentrate the sun’s rays onto boilers located on three central towers, turning water into steam that drives turbines. The site (below) covers 14 square kilometres and will produce at least 377 megawatts of electricity, not much below the summer output of a typical nuclear power station in the US and enough to power 140,000 homes in California…

The project has been controversial. Native American groups have objected, claiming it will impact burial grounds. The project was also held up while desert tortoises – a threatened species – were relocated away from the Ivanpah site. It highlights the fact that even renewable energy projects can have some adverse environmental impacts.

Hundreds of thousands of mirrors?  That must have cost a pretty penny.  I wonder what happens when the desert winds blow sand onto those mirrors.  Either making them dirty and less reflective.  Or dulling them by the natural sandblasting of the blowing sand that has worn away solid rock in the dessert.  Making them less reflective.  Requiring periodic cleaning of these mirrors.  And their replacement over time.  Thus making a very costly power generation system even more costly.

If we’re not hacking eagles to death with wind turbines we’re kicking another threatened species from its home.  Neither of which happens when we burn coal in a coal-fired power plant.  While there is only a theory that these coal-fired power plants are harming the wildlife on the planet it is a fact that renewable energy is.  So one can only conclude that wildlife like eagles and desert tortoises prefer coal-fired power plants over solar and wind power.  Which isn’t harming them.  As is evidenced by their being around after centuries of burning coal only to suffer harm from solar and wind power.

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Nuclear Power is Green but Governments prefer Wind Power because its More Costly

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 30th, 2013

Week in Review

To save the world from global warming we have to go to a low-carbon energy economy.  Say goodbye to coal.  And hello to solar.  And wind (see Energy firm RWE npower axes £4bn UK windfarm amid political uncertainty by Terry Macalister posted 11/25/2013 on The Telegraph).

Britain’s green ambitions have been dealt a blow as a big six energy company has pulled the plug on one of the world’s largest offshore windfarms, with the political storm enveloping the industry threatening the multibillion-pound investments needed to meet emissions targets and head off a looming capacity crunch.

Weeks after warning that the government was treating environmental subsidies as a “political football”, the German-owned RWE npower is pulling out of the £4bn Atlantic Array project in the Bristol Channel because the economics do not stack up.

The move comes as figures show that energy firms reaped a 77% increase in profits per customer last year, due to bill increases that the big six say are partly due to government green levies…

The Renewable Energy Association (REA), which lobbies for more low-carbon power, said government infighting over subsidies was causing deep uncertainty in the industry…

“We need assurances from George Osborne in the autumn statement about where we stand,” said a spokesman for the REA. “Nick Clegg says one thing about the green levies, Michael Fallon [the energy minister] another…”

RWE indicated that the government might have to raise green subsidies – and thus increase bills or the burden on the taxpayer – after admitting that technical difficulties had pushed the price up so far that it could not be justified under the current subsidy regime.

But RWE has already pulled out of a £350m nuclear-power project, is selling its DEA North Sea oil business and last week disposed of part of its UK gas and electricity supply arm. Developers have been warning for some time that they would need more subsidies from the government if ministers were to realise low-carbon energy targets.

RWE was in partnership to build that nuclear project.  Which cost in total £696m.  Or 17% of the cost of the £4bn Atlantic Array project in the Bristol Channel.  Which they say will power one million homes.  Of course, that would be only when the wind is blowing.  But not blowing too fast.  For there is a small window for safe wind speeds these turbines can generate power at.  Giving them a low capacity factor (the amount of power they could produce over a period of time at full nameplate capacity and the actual power they produced over that period).  About 30% in Britain.  Whereas nuclear power is about 90%.  Which is why we use it for baseload power.  Because it’s always there.  Even when the wind is blowing too slow.  Or too fast.  So that Atlantic Array wasn’t going to provide reliable power for a million homes.  In fact, on a calm day it will provide no power to any home.  Which begs the question why spend £4bn for unreliable power when you can spend £696m for reliable power?

Worse, wind power requires government subsidies.  So much that companies won’t build wind farms unless they get government subsidies.  Something you don’t need to build a nuclear power plant.  And to rub salt in an open wound those subsidies are paid for with levies on the family utility bill.  Or higher taxes.  Forcing these families to get by on less.  While these green energy firms are seeing rising profits.  Because of the money the government takes from the households and gives to the green energy firms in the form of subsidies.  Which begs another question.  Why charge the British people so much more for clean energy when they can get it for far less from nuclear power?  At 17% of the cost for the Atlantic Array project?

When it comes down to it renewable energy is crony capitalism at its worst.  Huge transfers of money from the private sector to the public sector.  Where they turn around and give to their friends in green energy companies in the form of lucrative contracts and fat subsidies.  After taking some off the top for their expenses, of course.  If it wasn’t they’d be building less costly and more reliable nuclear power plants to be green.  Instead of building these green elephants all over the place.

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Environmentalists hate American Bald Eagles and Urge the Building of Eagle Killing Machines

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 23rd, 2013

Week in Review

We have spent billions building wind farms all over the world.  To fight the rise of manmade global warming.  By replacing dirty, filthy, polluting, carbon-producing, global-warming-generating coal-fired power plants.  Which haven’t replaced many if any coal-fired power plants.  Because we still need those coal-fired power plants to provide electric power when the wind doesn’t blow.  Or blows too strong.  Making the whole wind power industry a costly joke.  Well, a costly sad joke.  As those great spinning killing machines are killing some of our most precious natural resources.  American Bald Eagles (see Energy company to pay out $1m over eagle deaths at wind farms by AP posted 11/23/2013 on The Telegraph).

The U.S. government for the first time has enforced environmental laws protecting birds against wind energy facilities, winning a $1 million settlement from a power company that pleaded guilty to killing 14 eagles and 149 other birds at two wind farms in the western state of Wyoming.

The Obama administration has championed pollution-free wind power and used the same law against oil companies and power companies for drowning and electrocuting birds. The case against Duke Energy Corp. and its renewable energy arm was the first prosecuted under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act against a wind energy company…

An investigation by The Associated Press in May revealed dozens of eagle deaths from wind energy facilities, including at Duke’s Top of the World farm outside Casper, Wyoming, the deadliest for eagles of 15 such facilities that Duke operates nationwide. The other wind farm included in the settlement is in nearby Campbell Hill…

A study in September by federal biologists found that wind turbines had killed at least 67 bald and golden eagles since 2008. That did not include deaths at Altamont Pass, an area in northern California where wind farms kill an estimated 60 eagles a year.

Until Friday’s announcement, not a single wind energy company had been prosecuted for a death of an eagle or other protected bird – even though each death is a violation of federal law…

Wind farms are clusters of turbines as tall as 30-story buildings, with spinning rotors as wide as a passenger jet’s wingspan. Though the blades appear to move slowly, they can reach speeds up to 170mph at the tips, creating tornado-like vortexes.

Flying eagles behave like drivers texting on their cellphones; they don’t look up. As they scan for food, they don’t notice the industrial turbine blades until it’s too late…

Once a wind farm is built, there is little a company can do to stop the deaths. Some firms have tried using radar to detect birds and to shut down the turbines when they get too close. Others have used human spotters to warn when birds are flying too close to the blades. Another tactic has been to remove vegetation to reduce the prey the birds like to eat.

As part of the agreement, Duke will continue to use field biologists to identify eagles and shut down turbines when they get too close. It will install new radar technology, similar to what is used in Afghanistan to track missiles. And it will continue to voluntarily report all eagle and bird deaths to the government.

Here’s a thought.  Instead of spending billions to build wind turbines.  And additional God knows how much more for radar technology and human bird spotters to shut down the wind turbines when birds are near.  Or razing the earth to kill the ecosystem for the wildlife that eagles feed on.  Instead of doing these things why not just use coal-fired power plants?  After all, what do you think will provide our electric power when radar or those human spotters shut down those wind turbines?  That’s right.  Coal-fired power plants.

Of course the environmentalists hate the modern industrial world.  And using energy to raise our standard of living.  They’d like to go back to a time when we grew our own food.  And spun our own clothing.  For them the modern world is an obscene abomination to them.  With America being the worst.  As we are the most advanced nation in the world.

It’s bad enough the environmentalists are raising the cost of electric power with their renewable energy nonsense.  But they’re also killing American Bald Eagles.  Sure, the glorious American Bald Eagle may not be as important to them as a forest rodent (preventing the cutting of firebreaks in forests to prevent the spread of forest fires) or delta smelt (shutting down the irrigation pumps in California’s Central Valley that provides much of our food), but they are a living creature, too.  And should be allowed to live freely in their habitat.  Then again, perhaps they don’t care about the American Bald Eagle.  As it is America’s national bird.  And they just hate America so much that they hate our national bird, too.

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Wind Turbines versus a Coal-Fired Power Plant

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 26th, 2013

Economics 101

The Diameter of a 6 Megawatt 3-Blade Rotor is Greater than two 747-400s parked Wingtip to Wingtip

One of the largest coal-fired power plants in the world is in Macon, Georgia.  Plant Scherer.  Whose furnaces consume some 31,000 tons of coal a day.  Producing 3,500 megawatts of electric power.  Enough to power three good sized American cities.  A few million households.

One of the largest offshore wind turbines available on the market is 6 megawatt.  Which is huge.  One blade can be as long as 250 feet.  A typical 3-blade rotor can have a diameter of just over 500 feet.  To get a feel of this magnitude the wingspan of the world’s most common jumbo jet, the Boeing 747-400, is about 211 feet.  Which means one blade of a 6 megawatt wind turbine is longer than the wingspan of a Boeing 747-400.  And the diameter of a 3-blade rotor is greater than two 747-400s parked wingtip to wingtip.

A 6 megawatt wind turbine requires a tower of about 300 feet tall.  So the blades can spin without hitting the ground.  Which is about the same height of a 20 story building.  And if it’s an offshore turbine you can add another 2 stories or so for the tower below the surface of the water.  So these things are big.  And tall.  Some of the largest manmade machines built.  And some of the most costly.  It takes a huge investment to install a 6 megawatt wind turbine.  That can only produce 0.171% of the electric power that Plant Scherer can produce.

There is a Small Window of Wind Velocities that we can use to Generate Electric Power with Wind Turbines

So how many 6 megawatt turbines does it take to match the power output of Plant Scherer?  Well, to match the nameplate capacity you’ll need about 584 turbines.  If we install these offshore in a line that line would extend some 56 miles.  About an hour’s drive time at 55 mph.  Which is a very long line of very large and very costly wind turbines.

We said ‘nameplate capacity’ for a reason.  If 584 wind turbines were spinning in the right kind of wind they could match the output of Plant Scherer.  And what is the right kind of wind?  Not too slow.  And not too fast.  These turbines have gear boxes to speed up the rotational speed of the rotors.  And they vary the pitch of the blades on the rotors.  So the turbine can keep a constant rotational input to the electric generator.  If the wind is blowing slower than optimum the blades can catch more air to spin faster.  If the wind is blowing pretty strong the blades will turn to catch less air to spin slower.

In other words, there is a small window of wind velocities that we can use to generate electric power with wind turbines.  Too slow or no wind at all they produce no power.  If the wind is too great the blades turn parallel to the wind.  So the wind blows across the blades without turning them.  They also have brakes to lock down the rotors in very high winds to prevent any damage.  So if a storm blows through 584 offshore turbines they’ll produce no electric power.  Which means they can’t replace a Plant Scherer.  They can only operate with a Plant Scherer in backup.  To provide power then the winds just aren’t right.

The more Wind Turbines we install the more Costly our Electric Power Gets

Now back to that nameplate capacity.  This is the amount of power a power plant could produce.  It doesn’t mean what it will produce.  The capacity factor divides actual power produced over a period of time with the maximum amount of power that could have been produced.  A coal-fired power plant has a higher capacity factor than a wind turbine.  Because they can produce electricity pretty much whenever we want them to.  While a wind turbine can only produce electricity when the winds are blowing not too slow and not too fast.

So, if the winds aren’t blowing, or if they’re blowing too strongly, it is as if those wind turbines aren’t there.  Which means something else must be there.  Something more reliable.  Something that isn’t weather-dependent.  Such as a Plant Scherer.  In other words, even if we installed 584 turbines to match the output of Plant Scherer we could never get rid of Plant Scherer.  Because there will be times when those windmills will produce no power.  Requiring Plant Scherer to produce power as if we never had installed those wind turbines.  And because it takes time to bring a coal-fired power plant on line it has to keep burning coal even when the wind turbines are providing power.  So it can be ready to provide power when the windmills stop spinning.

Wind may be free but 584 wind turbines cost a fortune to install.  And this investment is in addition to the cost of building, maintaining and operating a coal-fired power plant like Plant Scherer.  All of which the consumer has to pay for.  Either in their electric bill (adding a surcharge for ‘clean energy investments’).  Or in higher taxes (property tax, income tax, etc.) that pays for renewable energy grants and subsidies.  Which means the more wind turbines we build the poorer we get.  Because we have duplicate power generation capacity when a single power plant could have sufficed.

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

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 24th, 2013

Week in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Britain will have to add New Nuclear Power Plants to their Renewable Energy Mix to meet Demand

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 25th, 2012

Week in Review

Coal-fired power plants produce reliable and inexpensive electric power.  But they pollute too much for those on the left.  So they want to replace them with renewable energy sources.  The leading two being solar power and wind power.  Which require a lot more infrastructure to produce the same amount of electric power.  Making these sources very, very expensive.  So no one builds these unless they are highly subsidized by the taxpayers.

But they have other problems besides their high costs.  The sun doesn’t always shine.  And the wind doesn’t always blow.  Which means you can’t replace all coal-fired power plants with these renewable sources.  You also need something that can produce electric power when the sun doesn’t shine.  And the wind doesn’t blow (see Britain to Encourage Both Nuclear and Wind Power by STANLEY REED posted 11/23/2012 on The New York Times).

The British government on Friday announced far-reaching changes in energy regulation designed to encourage development of renewable energy and nuclear power while ensuring the country could meet its electricity needs.

The changes will gradually quadruple the charges levied on consumers and businesses to help support electricity generation from low-carbon sources, to a total of about £9.8 billion, or $15.7 billion, in the 2020-21 fiscal year from £2.35 billion currently.

The government forecasts that the new price supports will add 7 percent, or about £95 a year, to the average household electricity bill. Currently, such charges add 2 percent to energy bills, or £20 a year…

Electricity generated from cleaner sources like nuclear and offshore wind is much more expensive than power generated by coal- or gas-fired plants. Companies will invest in clean energy only if given substantial incentives. The government hopes to attract £110 billion in energy investment through 2020…

Others said they were appalled by support for new nuclear installations. While nuclear plants are low carbon emitters, they bring risks of accidents as well as the unresolved problem of what to do with spent fuel.

Stephan Singer, head of energy policy in Brussels for the World Wildlife Fund, said his organization was “fundamentally opposed” to price supports for nuclear power…

Britain intends to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050 compared with 1990 levels. Until now, wind power has been the main beneficiary of government intervention. Now the government has come to believe that while building more nuclear plants would be costly and controversial, they will be necessary to reach emission targets.

This is the price of going green.  Higher electric bills.  And more nuclear power plants.  For there are no renewable sources that we can build that can provide baseload power.  Power that is there 24/7 regardless of time of day or weather conditions.  Hydroelectric power could but pretty much all the good rivers have already been dammed.  Which lives only one emissions-free energy source.  Nuclear power.  With all the baggage it comes with.  Safety issues.  Spent fuel issues.  Terrorist issues.  Things you don’t have to worry about with a coal-fired power plant.  That’s why they provide the majority of our electric power.  There just isn’t anything else that can do it as well.

But because a coal-fired power plant may put into the atmosphere dangerous emissions over their operating lifetime equal to a volcanic eruption or two the environmentalists won’t have them.  No.  They’d rather you have higher electric bills.  And suffer more power outages.  Of course, they may change their tune once their Internet access becomes spotty due to those power interruptions.  But until then expect higher electric bills.  To fund those new windmills and nuclear power plants.  The costly renewable energy that will replace your beloved coal-fired power plants.

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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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Australia’s Labor Party getting Sensible in not Closing Down Coal-Fired Power Plants?

Posted by PITHOCRATES - September 8th, 2012

Week in Review

Australia is moving towards a green energy future.  They’ve implemented a carbon tax.  And they’re moving ahead with closing coal-fired power plants and replacing them with renewable energy power plants.  Such as the International solar power company Fotowatio Renewable Ventures’ new 20 megawatt solar power facility.  Soon to be Australia’s largest solar power plant.  Which, at a capacity factor of 18%, will put up to 3.6 megawatts of useful electric power onto the electric grid.  Something that will only add $13 annually to all householder power bills.  And with new solar power plants coming on line like this they can afford to pay to shut down those dirty coal-fired power plants (see Govt breached faith on power stns: Greens by AAP posted 9/5/2012 on the Herald Sun).

Energy Minister Martin Ferguson on Wednesday announced Labor had abandoned plans to pay some coal-fired power generators to shut down, under its so-called contract for closure program…

“The whole point of addressing global warming through an emissions trading scheme is to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuel and to renewable energy,” Senator Milne said.

“Shutting down some of the dirtiest coal-fired power stations was at the heart of what we are trying to do.

Politics aside Australians are lucky Labor abandoned their plans.  Let’s look at just one of those dirty coal-fired power plants.  Say, the Liddell Power Station.  With four (4) 500 MW units that can produce 2,000 megawatts of electric power.  With a capacity factor of about 90% (for a coal-fired power plant) that comes to 1,800 megawatts of useful, reliable power.  So, to shut down the Liddell Power Station you would need 500 of the Fotowatio Renewable Ventures’ new 20 megawatt solar power facilities.  Which is a lot.  And about 499 more than they are planning to build.  Do you see a potential problem with this plan of closing coal-fired power plants?  To help clarify let’s do the math.  If one of these plants adds $13 annually to all householder power bills 500 plants will add $6,500 annually to all householder power bills.

The problem with green energy is that it can’t produce as much power as coal can.  They may feel good about doing their part to save the planet but in the process they may cause recurring power blackouts as they starve their nation of electric power.  To the point that people may start dying as the diminished electric capacity can’t run the waste water treatment plants.  Their hospitals.  Or their food processing industry.  Not to mention people suffering these rolling blackouts in their homes.  Spoiling the food in their refrigerators.  Their sewers backing up raw sewage because there is no electricity to run their sump pumps.  And people unable to run their home medical devices.

Saying you want to save the planet may make you feel good.  It may even impress your friends.  But advanced countries need electric power for the necessities of life.  Beyond relaxing in your air conditioning.  Watching television.  Or charging your battery for your smartphone.  Saying you want to replace coal with renewable energies is one thing.  But doing it is another.  Because we consume a lot of electric power.  Which is why we turned to coal in the first place.  Because coal is a high-density energy source.  A little of it goes a long why.  Which is why one coal-fired power plant can produce 1800 megawatts of electric power while a nation’s largest solar power plant can only produce 3.6 megawatts of useful electric power.  Coal can and will take care of us.  Something solar power simply can’t do.

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Clean Renewable Energy leaves India Vulnerable to more Massive Power Blackouts

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 25th, 2012

Week in Review

Hydroelectric power is the king of renewable energy.  The fuel is free.  It doesn’t burn.  It doesn’t pollute.  It’s quiet.  They can produce power when the sun doesn’t shine (unlike solar power).  And they can produce power when the wind doesn’t blow (unlike wind power).  Their reservoirs make scenic lakes and wildlife areas.  And after they’re built they don’t need a complicated infrastructure or masses of workers running around acres of land to keep them running.  They really only have one drawback.  You have no control over that free fuel (see More Power Blackouts Expected In India by Kenneth Rapoza posted 8/20/2012 on Forbes).

Between lackluster rainfall during monsoon season and a nasty political imbroglio in the capital city, India seems to be going back to the past.

And now, the northern states, including Delhi, could face power outages yet again as three small hydroelectric power stations have been shut down.  Combined, they run about 3,000 megawatts of electricity. Electricity generated at those power plants is distributed to 28 per cent of Indian households.

At the end of last month, back to back power outages gave way to power surges that unleashed quite a bit of chaos for over 600 million people affected.  In the last week of July, around 360 million people lost power in northern India due to excessive demand and a shortfall in hydropower. On July 31, power resumed in Delhi only to fail again the next day, with the chaos spreading to Calcutta and other parts of eastern India.

This is why reliable coal-fired power plants typically provide the majority of baseload power requirements.  The minimum amount of power we consistently use throughout the year.  Because a coal-fired power plant can also produce power when the sun doesn’t shine or when the wind doesn’t blow.  And they can even produce power when the monsoons don’t come.  You can call coal Mr. Reliable when it comes to power generation.  Old Faithful.  Mr. Dependable.  The Life Saver and Comfort Giver.  No matter the heat or humidity a coal-fired power plant will say, “Give me coal and I will keep your lights on and your air conditioners running.  In your homes.  In your hospitals.  In your restaurants.  Wherever you go.  Whatever your needs.  To help you back to good health.  Or so you can simply relax at the end of a hot, humid and exhausting day.  Give me coal and I will provide for you.”

But, alas, the government of India is trying to reduce India’s carbon footprint.  And is pursuing wind and solar power.  In fact they have just connected the world’s largest solar power plant to their electric grid.  Gujarat Solar Park.  Covering some 11 sites spread over 3,000 acres.  Putting some 600 megawatts onto the grid.  Replacing about 20% of what those three small hydroelectric dams were putting on the grid.  That is, the world’s largest solar power plant can only produce what three small hydroelectric dams can produce.  And that’s only when the sun shines.  An incredible investment of capital that did not prevent in any way the back to back massive power failures that left 360 million people without power.  Which is more than the entire population of the United States.  Which is about 314 million.  Just to give you an idea of how big this power failure was.

Just think what that massive investment in solar power could have done in the northern states of India.  Instead of tilting at windmills.  The global warming boogeyman.  They could have rebuilt the electric grid.  Added a coal-fired power plant or two.  And paid for who knows how much coal.  Had the Indian government done that the good people of India probably would not have suffered through back to back power outages.  Not with Mr. Reliable on the scene.  Who laughs at large power loads.  Because he can produce power every hour of every day of every season.  The way people like their power.

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The Australian Carbon Tax is Confusing and Angering a lot of ‘Green’ Utility Customers

Posted by PITHOCRATES - August 12th, 2012

Week in Review

The American Left wanted a carbon tax.  The program they kicked around before dying was referred to cap and trade.  The idea was to cap carbon emissions by forcing polluters to buy certificates to pollute.  Those who pollute below their certificates could sell their pollution certificates (i.e., trade) to someone who pollutes over their certificates.  Simple, yes?  Well perhaps a real example of a carbon tax program will clarify how a carbon tax can work (see Green energy customers paying carbon tax by David McLennan posted 8/9/2012 on The Canberra Times).

Several Canberrans have complained to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission that ActewAGL is charging the carbon tax on its Greenchoice scheme, an economist says…

“ActewAGL understands that this is confusing for many customers and paying the carbon price for a green energy product goes against the grain of common sense. But this isn’t a straight forward matter, and ActewAGL certainly does not benefit from this scheme,” she said.

“In a nutshell, green power is a voluntary government-accredited program that enables customers to purchase renewable energy for their homes, when they actually make that voluntary purchase of green power, they are supporting the product of electricity from renewable sources over and above mandatory government targets that are set by the government. So you cannot separate the electrons; the energy doesn’t directly feed into your home, it is added into the electricity grid … on the customer’s behalf…”

The carbon tax is currently set at $23 for each tonne of carbon emitted and is charged to polluters, but is generally passed on to customers.

Mr Grudnoff said ActewAGL’s Greenchoice scheme – which he takes part in and broadly supports – was too complex and convoluted.

He said that people on a Greenchoice 100 plan – whereby all the electricity they used was “displaced by green sources”, according to the ActewAGL website – should not have to pay the carbon tax…

“When a customer purchases Greenchoice, they pay for the retail rate of electricity that comes from the grid. Then they pay for what we call a large generation certificate, which is a certificate that comes from Greenpower accredited renewable energy generators, such as wind and solar farms,” she said.

“They are two different schemes, so the price of that certificate that we purchase, hasn’t been impacted by the carbon price. So that Greenchoice premium, as we call it, has not been affected by the [carbon price], that is a separate transaction, and the customers still have to pay for that component…”

“When customers opt for Greenchoice, the extra amount they pay is invested in renewable energy generation from sources like mini-hydro, wind power and biomass. Depending on the plan a customer chooses, ActewAGL purchases a certain amount of renewable energy on the customer’s behalf. This can be a percentage of the electricity they use, or a fixed amount each day. In either case, that amount of renewable energy is added to the electricity grid on the customer’s behalf. This helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the generation of electricity from fossil fuels,” the report said.

I don’t know how I can make it any clearer.

Anyway, this is what we have to look forward to if they revive cap and trade.  It may not be the same type of program.  But it will be about as simple and straight forward as this is.  And by simple and straight forward I mean anything but.

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