Saturday, September 20, 2014

(Natural) Gas Warfare - Another Great Diversion


In honor of the efforts of those in the big Climate March this weekend (http://peoplesclimate.org/march/) and the almost sure to follow disappointment, betrayal, co-optation as well as the derision and depression that is surely to come afterwards to those brave participants, how about a nice picture of something that can remake the future, one turbine at a time? And we wish you the best of luck in your efforts - we hope you at least make it onto the evening news on Sunday. Picture from http://www.vestas.com/en/media/images.aspx#!turbines of a German array when winter was still possible…

As for that wind turbine, it is the one thing that really puts fear and anger into those pushing natural gas as the temporary answer to so many of our energy problems (as in, the perceived lack thereof of Ngas). They really don’t care much about PV’s - in their minds, money spent on PVs is just less money for wind turbines - even though they may not be happy about them. After all, for every million dollars expended in the US for PVs, on average only 292 MW-hr of electricity will get made in a year (at $4.5 million per MW of PV capacity, 15% average efficiency - see https://openpv.nrel.gov). That will (on average) displace the combustion of about 2.375 million standard cubic feet of natural gas (methane) in a year (42% average thermal efficiency), with a bulk value of about $9144/yr at the present gas price of $3.85/kcf. In NY State those PV’s will only make 214 MW-hr/yr - not as much sun gets through the clouds around here, so a megabucks worth of installed PVs only displaces $6706/yr worth of methane at present prices in NY State.

That same $1 million would produce 1753 MW-hr/yr (40% efficiency, $2 million per MW of capacity installed) - though the minimum size that makes sense is now around 1.7 MW capacity these days. So that commercial turbine will displace 6 times as much natural gas for the same $1 million in much of the country, or 8.2 times as much Ngas in NY State (almost $55.000/yr worth of methane). Now, if you are in the business of trying to sell as much methane as you can as fast as you can either because it could soon get really pricey (and then wind sourced electricity becomes cheaper than gas sourced electricity) or it might be forced by bad economics or (unlikely) good climate policy to stay put in the ground, you might not oppose PV so much, because you will certainly sell a lot more Ngas (at least for electricity production) if people choose to install PV’s instead of wind turbines. So if you had a trace of strategic planning capability and were of the conniving sort, you would not really oppose PV installations too much, but instead you would put all your efforts into blocking wind turbines, because you could sell more Ngas in North America that way in the next decade while supplies still exist which can be extracted at prices that undercut wind turbines. In other words, PVs are pretty good for the gas biz, because money spent on them means money NOT spent on commercial scale wind turbines in today’s zero sum arrangement.

But aside from causing Global Warming and a big mess when fracking is employed to get it out of the ground, methane can also lead to all kinds of financial fraud and actual warfare over the huge piles of money to be raked in from selling mass quantities of it. And for a lot of people in places where actual winters exist, at present, methane extracted from underground deposits is what both keeps people warm and keeps the electricity grid functional, supplying considerable amounts of the electricity of many countries, such as the US, Canada and Great Britain.

There are four present big conflicts in the world where one of the central causes or major factors of these wars is natural gas, and in particular, how to get the methane from the gas field to paying customers. These are in Libya, Syria, Afghanistan and the Ukraine, though that potential also exists in Algeria, Eurasian former Soviet Republics (FSU), Iraq, Iran, offshore of the eastern Mediterranean Sea (Gaza, Israel, Palestine, Syria) due to the Leviathan field discovery in some deep waters, and a burgeoning spat between China and Japan over disputed oceanic reserves. And it turns out that ONE cure for these social and mental diseases (wars, psuedo-wars, spats) is commercial scale wind turbines, so there also is the war ON wind turbines which has Global Warming as its “minor” consequence. And that is sort of a war on anyone or any living critter on the planet. But since they don’t vote and don’t have money (a bird or a bacteria just has no use for the finer things in life….), they have no say in these issues. And since lots of money is involved, we get to involve the taproot of evil, a combination of money, greed, money lust, nationalism, historical gripes of epoch proportions, power over others, dominance, submission, gambling, epic corruption, religion, fear of starvation, fear of thirst, and fear of not having they money that can buy everything from good health to awesome sex to really bad sex, not to mention promulgating genetic code that are of dubious quality from a mental health standpoint. Quite a batch of gumbo  here…, but since the Golden Rule is “those who have the gold make the rules”, well, you know it’s going to get ugly. And then there are those minor conflicts such as in Nigeria, East Timor, Angola, Equatorial Guinea…..

Some particulars on these wars and “conflicts”:
1) Afghanistan has been in play since the 2000 to 9-11-2001 time period, when the Enron Corporation needed a huge flow of gas to go to a 2.2 GW gas to electric plant that they had built in India. Negotiations between the repressive Taliban and US companies such as Unocal and other international entities were being conducted to transmit FSU gas via Afghanistan to both Pakistan and India, especially to the Enron power plant. And the plans still remain, even though the opportunity went up in smoke on 9-11-2001…

2) Libya has gas pipelines that connect its former colonizer, Italy, with gas often derived as a by-product of oil, as well as a a large number of new fields have been located offshore of Libya with BP as the primary player in these (gee what could go wrong…). Before former dictator Qadaffi was removed via a concerted set of activities, Libya was exporting 2 mbd of oil and a 1 bcfd of gas - but with the dictator gone, chaos and jihaists of all sorts (paid by Qatar and others) now reign and jockey for position. Libya still has about 60 billion barrels of high quality oil buried in the ground, and a lot of gas, so a lot of southern Europe’s financial prospects rest on order being restored in that region. And if Italy can’t get that gas from Libya, well, it has to pay more for stuff obtained elsewhere…

3) The Ukraine has gone from being an exporter of gas to the Soviet Union to a “transit country” (the gas fields onshore are mostly tapped out by now). There are several major gas lines that connect Russia’s vast gas supply with central Europe and thus central Europe’s money. In the last 20 years, most of the Ukraine’s income and wealth generation has been in either fees for gas transit (along with a cut of the gas transmitted), agriculture, gas based chemicals and weaponry for Russia. Most of the massive “transit fees” have been stolen by the “oligarchs” in the Ukraine, and now there is little to show for it. The US-European originated coup this spring has degenerated into both a military conflict and a way to massively impoverish EVEN MORE of most of the Ukraine’s people. The vast gas supplies in the Black Sea near Crimea are now forfeited to Russia, and as winter approaches, no money and no gas are going to be a very cruel combination - perhaps crueler than the Ukranian Nazi’s who are consolidating power from the oligarchs who think they can control them. Should things go even worse, a large segment of Europe will have their gas held hostage by the Nazis/oligarchs coalition which hates Russia and is hated by Russia (the Russians just don’t like Nazis after WW2). However, while it is normally money that smooths over things/does the talking, things are now up in the air, and money might not calm these profound disputes. Several million people could starve or freeze this year if some compromise by the oligarchs with Russia and the Europeans is not arrived at soon….

4) Syria’s conflict began shortly after a plan to export gas from Qatar via Saudia Arabia via Syria through Turkey and to Europe was rejected in favor of the Iran-Iraq-Syria plan by Syria’s Baathist Party leadership. The present chaos of ISIS is a “Made in Qatar/Saudia Arabia/USA” mess (check out this most awesome article on ISIS - http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alastair-crooke/isis-wahhabism-saudi-arabia_b_5717157.html), with all sorts of Sunni extremists waging a mercenary war that may get out of control. It may also turn into a Sunni-Shia bloodbath, where the ancient conflict is settled for once and for all. But it is the ability to transmit massive quantities of methane to Europe that is at the root of this; the religion and other turf wars are just the icing on the cake. Also of interest is the Leviathan gas field that parallels the eastern Mediterranean coast (but is in deep waters) - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leviathan_gas_field. While only a mere 25 trillion cubic feet of gas, this IS 2 billion cubic feet per day for over 34 years. And there is enough oil to keep Israel supplied for some time…. and Israel in the intrigue of this battle in Syria. 

In many cases, oil is also involved, as oil and methane often come from the same hydrocarbon deposits. In some cases, the country in question doesn’t even have the gas, but they have a location between where the gas is and where the use that also has money is. This is because methane is somewhat special, as it generally needs pipelines to get it to customers; otherwise very expensive cryogenic liquid methane transportation SYSTEMS need to get purchased and installed. These systems include the liquefaction facility ($5 billion minimum), LNG tankers and LNG storage/gasification units (also $5 billion minimum), and the ability to finance these facilities, too. And then there is the safety aspect - you can’t put LNG facilities in places where really ticked off people are going to use weaponry or other nefariousness to blow these up, or to even threaten to blow them up - explosions that would be like a small nuke going off (but at least no radiation fallout). Pipeline systems (the installed pipe and gas compressors) are cheaper, but there is the issue of trolling. Lots of money is at stake, and lots of people want a cut of the action when all that is needed is the right of transit and not much else. And did corruption get mentioned? Sometimes it’s a fine line between just compensation and shakedown, and isn’t Switzerland a nice place to keep the proceeds? Then there is the issue of banking and how to move all that cash from customer to pipeline troll and supplier… as well as how to finance these deals.

It used to be that the methane that was found when searching for crude oil, or that came along with crude oil, was a real pain - and probably the leading cause of oil wells blowing up. And it still happens - the Macondo well that BP might get dinged for an additional $18 billion blew up because the pressure of the crude (which was about 50 wt% methane). But methane in the form of “natural gas” soon displaced “City Gas” (a mix of hydrogen, carbon monoxide and a some methane) that was made in “Gas Works” by reacting red hot coal with water/steam, and “natural gas” is definitely an improvement on City Gas…. After all, in winter it gets cold in a lot of places in the Northern Hemisphere, and methane can mean the difference between freezing to death and staying warm… Methane can also power up a big part of a manufacturing society, and while cheap energy is cheap, lots of wealth (fairly or unfairly distributed) can be generated. Half of the ammonia (which means a major portion of the protein content in food) used in the world comes from hydrogen made using methane - it’s so much easier to use than coal. For North America and Europe, no ammonia means no food for much of the present population….

By now, most of Europe and North America get most of their residential heating from natural gas, which tends to be anything but clean, but if you have the money for it and have access to it, you can stay warm in the winter. Otherwise, you can use propane or fuel oil, but those tend to be more expensive. And for those in rural regions, wood is often an alternative or a supplement to fossil fuels. One of the more expensive other approaches is electric resistance heating. For those paying 18 c/kw-hr for their delivered electricity (as in a state like NY), this is $53/MBtu (hey, at least it is 100% efficient….). Fuel oil at $4/gal delivered is still around $26/MBtu, and correcting for an 85% efficient furnace, you get $31.40/MBtu. Propane is a bit cheaper, but not that much… Meanwhile, delivered natural gas is around $10/MBtu delivered these days, which translates into $11.76/MBtu once furnace inefficiencies are taken into account. Price data approximately from http://www.nyserda.ny.gov/Energy-Data-and-Prices-Planning-and-Policy.aspx

North America is essentially a separate world with respect to natural gas from Asia-Africa-Europe, and is still temporarily in a “gas glut” which is slowly fading away as the big drilling boom of 2006-2009 gets “digested”. Most of the wells recently drilled were based on fracking, most have rapid depletion rates, and since less than 25% of the number of wells drilled per year  for gas is the present drilling rate (versus 2008), this indigestion will soon pass. Most wells now drilled in the US are for fracking based oil, which also makes a lot of methane, but those too will rapidly deplete. However, the price of oil makes such drilling possible, and the by-product methane can add to profits. But in this temporary glut where most gas wells drilled are money losers or certainly not epoch money makers like they are SUPPOSED to be and where huge losses are still getting racked up (see http://srsroccoreport.com/condition-red-fracking-is-destroying-oil-gas-companies-balance-sheets/condition-red-fracking-is-destroying-oil-gas-companies-balance-sheets/), there is no longer much tolerance for lack of profits. Most gas only wells or prospects for wells are no longer “bankable”. The bottom lines are: 

1. Nothing has changed in America….. there’s always another sucker born every minute.
2. Spot price of methane on 9-11-14 was $3.85 per thousand standard cubic feet (kcf = MBtu)

So gas is still pretty cheap, at least in major pipelines. Residential rates… not so much…

But in Europe, where 500 million relatively affluent people live in places that still have actual winters, methane prices are north of $11/MBtu in major pipelines. And while there are some decent methane fields (Netherlands, North Sea) in Europe, most methane used gets imported. That comes by pipeline (Algeria, Libya, Russia) and by Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) tanker (Qatar, especially), and while most European countries try real hard to build up big underground stashes (except Great Britain), the stash only goes so far. And then there is India, China and Japan, where methane prices are quite high (Japanese prices are near $17/MBtu), where most imported material arrives via LNG tanker. India and Iran make a natural connection, as do the FSU countries to the north of Afghanistan, but that requires a solution to the potential Iranian nukes issue, a cessation of the Pakistan-India spat and a cessation of Pakistan’s efforts to add Afghanistan to THEIR empire building efforts (via the Taliban-Pakistan security (their CIA-FBI equivalent)). Pipelines require that adjacent countries and customer-suppliers at least be civil to each other and overlook various differences in return for the money made by supplying product or right of way. And while the power of lots of money over long time periods can be great, it can’t do miracles and overcome many severe hatreds (such as the Shia-Sunni or the Muslim-Hindu eternal wars).

The essence of the “methane trade” is to connect customers with money (such as Europeans, Japanese) and natural gas suppliers via pipelines. The supplier and customer are then connected at the hip, so to speak, and it is both of their interests not to rain on the other’s parade. Pipelines are a long term commitment, and the pipelines, compressors and gas/oil fields are a big investment which need to be repaid - such as via steady supplies and reasonably stable prices. LNG systems (tankers, liquefaction, storage/gasification facilities) are an even more massive investment. Much to the dismay of financial speculators, a lot of the gas is sold via long term contracts, especially from Russia. The one area that is NOT connected to either the money stashes in northern Europe or India, China and Japan to any great extent is the Persian Gulf, and the world’s biggest stash of methane is in the southern part of the Persian Gulf. This field is shared by Qatar and Iran (North Dome/South Pars) and it holds close to 1800 trillion standard cubic feet of methane, as well as lots of valuable ethane, propane and butane (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Pars_/_North_Dome_Gas-Condensate_field). Production in Iran is now around 18 billion scfd, and in Qatar production is over 23 billion scfd. This filed is amazingly productive, wells are unlikely to go dry for decades, production costs are really cheap, and the combined production (41 bscfd) is similar to that of the entire U.S. (~70 bscfd from 540,000 wells). This field is a license to print money….

But so much of the cost is tied up in compressing an liquifying the methane… if only there were pipelines to connect the monied customers with that methane. And pipelines could easily go to India, Pakistan and China, too…

While the North Dome/South Pars is the world’s biggest gas field, there are a lot of massive fields in Iran, Iraq, and especially Russia, as well as some ex-USSR countries (the “‘Stans”) and Algeria (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_natural_gas_fields). But this gas is useless unless it has paying customers, or else it gets converted into either ammonia or methanol, for which shipping by tanker is easy. In some cases, it can get converted to petroleum (Qatar's Pearl facility) but those are fabulously expensive….. In the meantime, in North America most of the prime gas fields are already tapped out, many of the smaller offshore fields in the Gulf of Mexico are getting tapped out, and so fracking has come to fill the void. But fracking wells don’t last decades (they are generally 90% or more used up in less than 5 years. Having to frack for gas means that you will soon be importing LNG and will be one of many customers competing for the fabulous Persian Gulf supplies of methane.

So those who control the flow of gas to dependent (whether to power industry, make electricity or provide the citizenry with heat) countries have a lot of power…. unless there is competition to the Ngas biz. And so far, a combination of getting more efficient and wind turbines ARE the competition to natural gas, with biomass and solar thermal heating being nice supplements to the wind turbines. Nothing else comes close to filling the void that will be left when the gas supplies start to diminish in terms of rate of supply. At least in places like the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and almost all of Europe.

So the race is on - will the easy to get at methane get used up in North America before Climate Sanity becomes a dominant thing? Will this country start tapping its awesome and really low cost to produce wind based electricity, or will that opportunity get royally tubed? Will the same nut jobs who brought us the Iraq War disaster (many are still employed in the US State Department - they are often called “neo-cons”) get us into wars in the Middle East or Ukraine or other “Gas states” such as Kazakistan over methane, or will it be done the old fashioned way - over oil? Time will tell, but gettingg active - no matter how futile it all seems - is what has to be done, no matter how distasteful it seems. Otherwise, no pretty winter pictures of wind turbines, because there won’t be winters with snow to them any more… And while that may sound enticing, it isn’t - think Frankenstorm Sandy, but amped up with a rising ocean level that turns a lot of NY State’s money machine - NY City - into a none too valuable fish farm…

Monday, September 8, 2014

A “What If…..?” Election of Potential Consequence


Somewhere in Ontario spins the cure for the Common Global Warming…. while in NY a Gov spins and spins to the point where he loses sight of the good that could happen while he cavorts with our new Feudal Overlords, such as the WNY branch (The Jacobs family) in pursuit of campaign megabucks. Meanwhile, what passes for a press is also spinning tales of their relevance while they report so little of consequence that even reporting on that scandal loses its relevance, as it is SO boring by now. Hey, maybe if they ask real nice and don't report a word, they too can party with WNY defacto royalists, or is it royalty...?

NY State has a primary election on September 9, 2014 that has the potential to do a lot of good things with regards to economic, social and environmental justice, like no one can really believe. But, this being NY State, just because the potential exists for good, that does not mean that the more twisted and “Dark Side” of life in the form of our present Governor will not triumph. After all, one of the more resounding messages that came from the “Occupy!” happenings was right out of a Star Trek movie - “Resistance is Futile” came the message from the powerful. “Mess with us and just see what happens…”. “Now run along and accept your fates”. “Maybe if you are lucky, you too could join the lucky few in the 1%”. “And quit moping about the crumbs you get, because WE could just as easy take them away, and impose of Republican on you, or worse….”. Yes, all this and more from many of  the Democratic Party machines and it’s statewide standard bearer, Andrew Cuomo.



You know, the dude (our Gov) took in over $80,000 from the Koch Heads, and these guys just about NEVER give money to Democrats. And if you think that money does not come with strings (that are spider web sticky), well, you have not been paying attention to what is referred to as the Kochtapus (http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2011/04/04/207816/kochtopus/). That is a complicated array of interwoven front groups, companies, lobbyists and alliances of the extremely well off who now want to rule the roost in the USA, and they not only have the money to do this, they now have the WILL to do this. Of course, their goal is to achieve their rule by the use of proxies, and they purchase politicians much like they also purchase companies or large swaths of land in Alberta under which a lot of Tar Sand Sludge resides. And if they have to rent or purchase Democrats to do this, well, “ya gotta do what ya gotta do….” It’s such a NY State of Mind….

So the proverbial David in the NY Primary election is Zephyr Teachout, a law professor from Fordham University in NY City, and former campaign coordinator for Howard Dean. She is representing the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, a supporter of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and author of a recent book on political corruption, especially the “psuedo-legal” or somehow actually legal kind as well as the stuff that on rare moments actually does send some pol up the river. The book -  Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin's Snuff Box to Citizens United - (http://www.amazon.com/Corruption-America-Benjamin-Franklins-Citizens/dp/0674050401/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1410228889&sr=1-1) - sort of defines what she is up against with her opponent - the 30 Million Dollar Man - Andrew Cuomo. Andrew is the Goliath in this tale, and a lot of his campaign money came from the wealthy and corporate side of town. Much like the tale of Faust, one can only wonder at what parts of himself he had to trade for that money, money that would normally go to the Republicans. In some ways, he is like the worlds best bank thieves (ISIS (and only that aspect of that group) - they robbed the banks in Mosul of at least $US 450 million IN CASH) - he truly is poaching from the wealthy, and diverting money that should flow to the “R’s”.

So, despite some socially libertarian moves (gay marriage, “Safe Act”) and common sense stuff that is Heresy to most Republicans these days (Frankenstorm Sandy was probably made worse by Global Warming, and we need to cut back on fossil fuel usage), he has fought any serious redistributive stuff like raising marginal income tax rates on millionaires and billionaires in NY and using that revenue to do infrastructure like passenger rail, pumped hydro, NYPA owned wind farms, new NYPA owned cross state transmission lines, etc. In other words, not much to mess with the profits of this, and especially of our Petroleum Overlords, who have such a perpetual fountain of money these day while so many of us are hooked on petroleum via our cars. Nor did he ever throw any Banksters of note in The Can while he was NY AG, and he does seem ever so friendly to the Overlords of Gambling (Wall Street). But, he does propose further financial emaciation of the poor and mentally infirm via spreading Casino Gambling (a Poor Tax if there ever was one) across NY State.

So, A Democrat in Name Only. His strategy has been to hide from the woefully underfunded Zephyr, most definitely afraid of debating her. And maybe this is his only play, since she is proposing:

- Banning fracking in NY State
- Raising Taxes on the wealthy
- Actually doing something about political corruption
- Employing people with the revenue raised by taxing the rich
- Ending Prohibition of marajuana, which is also a massive tax on poor people
- Lots of other Occupy concepts, such as renewable energy development, mass transit and things that reduce fossil fuel usage as well as perpetuate natural gas usage/addiction
- More funding for public education
- Raising the minimum wage in NY
- Net Neutrality, especially thanks to her running mate, Tim Wu

In this NY primary, not many registered Democrats within NY will bother voting - why when Cuomo has the money and is calling in all the favors which he has banked over these many years? In theory, it should not even be a contest. But, of the 10% of Democrats who might actually vote, Zephyr only needs 50% + 1. These voters tend to be the liberal and progressive wing of the party, and many have just had it with “Republican Lite”. Such as with "Idiot Economics" like “cut taxes (mostly on rich people) and this will stimulate economic growth” that are the definition of Austerity, a proven way to MAXIMIZE the bad effects of a Recession, prolong its agony and above all, shovel more gigabucks to the “1%”. Some other names for this moronity are “trickle down” economics, which most of us experience as “get tinkled upon” economics. Mathwise, when economic demand is low and the rich won’t spend anymore than they are already porking out upon, and they see no decent investment possibilities because the unwashed rabble that is the majority does not have the spending power to maintain economic demand, well that’s when the government is needed to STIMULATE economic demand. And unlike the Fedreral Government, NY State can’t print money, though they could start up a state bank (like North Dakota has) and loan out money at low long term rates (back-stopped by new taxes on the super rich). Lots of bonds to build actually worthwhile stuff that private industry won’t build, at least at decent prices/costs - notably pumped hydro facilities and wind farms and mass transit systems that cut petroleum usage. Projects like these could employ lots of people, that stimulates demand, and by staunching the money bleed that comes from exporting money from NY State to import fossil fuels (notably oil products and methane), that would help by recycling money within NY instead of from it. We could even massively fund ground sourced heat pump installations in rural NY (where more often than not propane and fuel oil are used for heating, which is a super dreadful drain and strain upon our economy).

But nothing doing with Cuomo. Such projects compete with the rentier profits so many of his defacto owners are now making money on, or hope to. And he can’t have that, as where else would those oh so bountiful campaign contributions come from?

But from the wind turbine viewpoint, Cuomo is such a massive under-performer - it’s like he swallowed a giant handful of “non-performance” pills, or else he had an operation that removed his conscience and then some. We should be installing at least $2 billion worth of turbines every year in NY, and maybe more like $5 billion worth (with that, we might even get some manufacturing in that segments). Instead, very little has been done, and of that, most was planned many years ago, long before he ascended the proverbial throne. For example, Ontario will go from 2.5 GW to close to 5 GW installed of wind turbines in the next couple of years, and most of that is LOCALLY MADE. That’s a cool $5 billion worth of direct investment… Instead, we have such timidity that it also seems as if he is in the tank for the natural gas pushers who are tapping Pennsylvania (Fracksylvania) and making such a mess of things (unless you actually like radium tainted roads and roadsides…).

So who are you gonna call to get a lot of these installed, so we can replace the soon to close 48 year old Ginna nuke without resorting to still more fracking based methane…? Well, it certainly has not appeared to be Andrew Cuomo…..



Opinions in this tale of the electoral long shot are the author's own, and not authorized by anyone....

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Renewables and What Really Matters to Make Them Happen

Here are a recent set of three articles that anyone who cares about a better world should read (how’s that for a recommendation?):




Some Pertinent Quotes

“This suggests, once again, that selecting market mechanisms to set electricity prices (rather than regulating them) is not technology-neutral: through their price-setting mechanisms, deregulated markets are structurally more favorable to fossil-fuel-based generation sources than are publicly regulated price environments.”

“At this point, the conclusion on the cost of wind power (ignoring externalities and network issues, which are discussed below) is that it seems to be broadly in the same range as the cost of traditional power sources (nuclear, gas, coal), but that the costs of these different technologies have a profoundly different relationship to electricity prices.”

“The cost of wind is, simply put, what it is actually necessary to spend to generate the electricity. The word 'cost' usually refers to the long-term average cost of such production over the useful life of the wind turbines (also referred to more specifically as the levelised cost). Studies across the years from unimpeachable sources such as ExxonMobil from their Energy Outlook (http://corporate.exxonmobil.com/search?search=Energy%20outlook) or EDP, from a more recent presentation suggest that wind power currently costs $90/€70 per MWh, making it quite close to what the traditional generation sources (nuclear, coal, gas) cost, with or without any carbon accounting.”


These three articles show that the politics of energy economics trumps most everything else, and that the pricing system for electricity greatly determines what technologies will grow/rise to the top and which ones become irrelevant. There are exceptions, like the use of fuel oil, which became far too expensive to use to make electricity (at least 15 c/kw-hr before profits are added in at $3/gal bulk fuel prices), and nowadays oil is used only in emergency situations. If US methane prices were the same as in Europe) prices for natural gas in Europe are near $11/MBtu, or $11 per thousand cubic feet), electricity made by natural gas fuels facilities would cost over 9 c/kw-hr at their cheapest (prices would be higher when profiteering is taken into account, and natural gas would also be a “has been technology”. BTW, prices like that are what is needed by MOST fracking wells used to make natural gas in this country (but this is a different thing than considering where most natural gas in the US is produced from). But without that extra gas from “marginal wells”, gas prices in the U.S. and Canada should actually be higher that $11/MBtu anyway….

The choice of what technology is chosen is also a short term versus a long term debate. Wind energy has no fuel costs associated with it, and “balancing costs” (such as the need to use pumped hydro when winds are slow and demand for electricity is high) only add less than 0.5 c/kw-hr (often half of that). Almost all the cost of wind sourced electricity is devoted to paying off the initial investment. But with coal and gas burners, not much of the cost of making electricity is concerned with paying off the investment or for any on-going improvements (which allow coal burners to last over 70 years or more). Most of the cost of electricity production is fuel. With coal, there is some possibility of long term price prediction, though that is not a given anymore. But the wild card is methane in North America, and pretty much only in North America. In Europe, Japan, India and China, bulk methane prices are between 2 to 4 times what North American prices now go for, and natural gas is only a minor player in electricity markets - it is more valuable as a chemical raw material or for heat. In those places, coal still rules, and it is a wind versus coal competition.

The US and Canada have massive wind resources - low cost wind sourced electricity could be made in quantities several times what is actually now consumed (and since consumption must equal production and storage, and not much is stored, we only need to make a small fraction of what could be made). This is actually pretty unique in the world. But because of the incessant and insane focus on short term returns above all else as well as Casino based pricing systems (such as NYISO, where “ya never know” is the future pricing moto), well, we can’t even tease a decent fraction of a tiny fraction of our potential. 

By the end of next year we will, on average, make around 25 GW of wind based electricity, on a yearly average basis. But we now should be at more like 250 GW, which would be around half of what this country now consumes, on average. Yet that is less than 5% of a conservative estimate of our high grade (fast wind) onshore potential. Add in offshore wind (easily another 2500 GW on a delivered basis), and low wind speed turbine (easily 2500 GW of potential on a delivered basis) based onshore electricity… well, way more than we will ever use, and all at affordable electricity prices not much different than what we are presently paying for. This could easily employ 5 million people (1 million in direct manufacturing and installation, 4 million in “multiplier effects). So it’s also a massive economic stimulus that occurs when we transition from pollution based electricity to renewable mostly wind based electricity.

And that is probably why this approach is not chosen. It would employ too many Americans. How’s that for a Labor Day message, brought to you by Corporate America and Corporate World. And if too many Americans could get employed, why, they might even be able to reverse the trends in income inequality and all the associated inequalities that go along with that for the ride. Can’t let the peasantry get uppity now, can we? So it’s best to ignore wind energy, and get distracted by some shiny new bauble like ISIS, the Ukraine, Syria (and other natural gas wars), or maybe even whose pictures got “stolen” and splashed around the internet in a thoroughly distracting manner…


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