Thursday, June 25, 2015

World Wind Day and Economic Roadkill


Picture from http://www.evwind.es/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/wind-energy-EWEA.jpg of some really TALL turbines somewhere in Europe on a foggy day. You can also see the very tops of some major high voltage transmission towers (pretty tall in themselves) which are dwarfed by the turbine towers. In Europe, wind turbine towers of 135 to 149 meters (up to 489 feet) in height are getting more common - ones made of at least some or all reinforced concrete. For tall towers supporting that weight of the nacelle and staying rigid so that the flexing blades don’t take a whack out of the tower just can’t happen using steel for the tower - even 1” thick steel is too elastic. But, that’s where things are heading in places where the technology can profitably develop…. which unfortunately is not in the USA to the extent many would like to believe….

Last week was World Wind Energy Day (June 15), a “holiday” sponsored by the European Wind Energy Association http://www.ewea.org/globalwindday/. Now, this is a PR holiday, but it is designed to get the public aware of and talking about wind turbines, what they can do, who they can employ and what it all means. And the industry and advocates of wind energy in particularly and renewable energy in general can celebrate what has been accomplished to date and perhaps speculate on what can be done with them in the future. There has been a lot of good accomplished so far, despite some pretty fierce opposition from the nuke, coal and methane pushers who seem so immensely better politically connected that those in the wind biz. If this aspect of renewable energy is to go further, it’s also going to have to do a lot better than it has been doing in the political realm. After all, with the correct politics, some really crazy subsidies can go into effect that make the most whacked technology (like nukes) seem viable - nukes being the prime example. Or perhaps energy generation approaches with drastically different costs can be priced identical with the differences covered by subsidies so that it appears that all are equally expensive. In the short term, politics trumps economics and politics determines what makes money and what does not. And it can get messy.

So far, the world is closing in on 400 GW of wind turbine capacity, and that will represent an investment of roughly $US 700 billion. At the end of 2014 installed capacity was around 370 GW (http://www.gwec.net/global-figures/graphs/) and last year over 51 GW (about $US 80 billion to $US 100 billion) were put up. That’s not too shabby. Imagine what could be done if most governments really tried to push this technology instead of being cheerleaders for nukes, gas and coal and generally the equivalent of brakes with respect to wind turbines…. And as some of the cumulative graphs show,  exponential growth is still going on…..

But the problem is, this rate of wind turbine deployment is TOO SLOW. And it could be done SO MUCH FASTER. There could be SO MANY MORE PEOPLE EMPLOYED in making the stuff that goes into wind turbines.  A LOT MORE CO2 pollution could be avoided, with attendent climatic and ecological consequences minimized. All that is both great for business and great for workers and communities where people live and try to make a living. And once installed, this wind based electricity causes essentially no pollution. Depending on what type and where they are installed, all of the energy expended in making and installing them is paid back in electricity generated in 4 to 16 months. And once they are generating, these turbines don’t need any cooling water nor do they make air pollution, including particulates that might cause Alzheimers (http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2015/05/air-pollution-dementia-alzheimers-brain) but do cause lung and heart disease, radiation that causes cancer and weakens immunity to all kinds of ailments not to mention acid rain, heavy metal poisoning as well as the CO2 pollution that is severely messing with our planet’s climate and energy balance.

Plus, you you can install more delivered electricity for a given cost with wind turbines than any other form of renewable energy (especially now that all the good hydroelectric sites are pretty much tapped out). ESPECIALLY IN THE USA. So if you only have $3 trillion to spare to power up our country with renewable electricity, you could easily do this within a decade while putting around 5 million people to work both directly and indirectly. And NO imports are needed to do this, either, though for all practical purposes, the technology to make and install wind turbines of the correct size and wind speed to rotor diameter ratio  and tower heights is imported from Europe. It would take well over $15 trillion to do that with PV, not to mention the much larger buffering/storage issues. In general, wind turbines make SOME electricity at least 80% of the time, while PV (especially fixed orientation solar) generally makes it less than a third of the time and less than a quarter of the time in the non-desert parts of the country.

And there is room for both, as long as people understand that PV is more of a “make work” for somebody arrangement than is wind turbines. That’s because electricity made from PVs is between 5 to 10 times more costly than from wind turbines. Of course, in the US that tends to be very difficult to comprehend because of who REALLY PAYS for the installation of PV. When up to 81% of a PV system is paid by somebody else (generally those who cannot take tax deductions/tax credits - in other words, the bottom half of the income distribution) and 73% of a wind turbine installation is (eventually) paid for by somebody else, well, those tend to be some really bent incentives. For some it actually benefits those with a lot of money to have higher priced renewables because that leads to greater amounts of tax avoidance. For wind, at least there is an incentive to generate as much power as possible (the PTC is 2.3 c/kw-hr of electricity sold - no sales, no tax avoidance potential). 

Anyway, how about $2 trillion for turbines and $5 trillion for PV, with roughly $500 billion for pumped hydro electrical energy storage…? The wind turbines/pumped hydro provides job creation and affordable electricity, while the PV provide jobs but jacks up the price of electricity in a steady and predictable manner. This way, electricity is not cheap and is thus less likely to get wasted on useless and valueless things, like that wall sized TV….

Right now this country has many pressing issues, but a closely related set of them is the lack of useful and especially decent paying jobs that really is coupled to a lack of renewable energy systems manufacture and deployment. Without the real wealth creating jobs, economic demand remains pathetic and lackluster, and Federal, State as well as local governments (whose incomes are tied to the performance of the economy and especially the number of people in the middle class) get starved for revenue. In turn, investments in what makes life livable (water, sewer, transportation, schools) do not get made or only get done at a fraction of the rate that they should be done. That in turn minimizes job creation on these public improvements, also helping to minimize economic demand. This gets to be a vicious spiral - also called an economic death spiral. Less economic demand leads to fewer investments which leads to fewer jobs which results in less economic demand…. One of the consequences is a “Sea of Money” that is looking for profitable investments and which generally cannot find them, which is why interest rates for large quantities of money are essentially zero - the ZIRP = Zero Interest Rate Policy. And example of this is explained in this article - http://wolfstreet.com/2015/06/24/goldman-equifax-face-wall-streets-nightmare-generation-millennials/

All investments are not the same. A massive investment in energy efficiency and swapping out depleting and polluting fossil fuel usage for renewables actually avoids future price shocks (both up and down) caused when energy prices drastically gyrate (most recessions are initiated to a big extent by sharp price rises in oil, natural gas and/or electricity). Recessions then drop energy usage which crashes prices and slows production of fossil fuels until supply and demand temporarily equilibrate. But since fossil fuel prices are generally unrelated to the actual COST to produce much of this supply, it tends to be things other than the average cost to produce fossil fuels that sets off a price spike. A large investment is renewables - especially those renewables with the lowest energy production cost - provides actual competition to fossil fuels (notably natural gas and coal) and lowers the demand for them and keeps the price and especially the profitability in them low to nonexistent. Renewables also employ more people per dollar invested than does a similar investment in coal and methane production - especially if those renewable systems are actually Made in USA.

We need something like 10 million jobs ASAP in this country to restore economic demand. And we need to restore economic demand in sectors of the economy that do not consume addition fossil fuels. For example, investing in mass transit that is electrically powered (mostly suitable for urban regions) creates a lot of short term jobs (construction and manufacturing), some permanent jobs, creates a demand for electricity and allows people and things to be transported with using petroleum, which we still import to the tune of $200 billion per year. That $200 billion/yr is also probably worth at least a 4 million job net loss to this country in itself. So even if the mass transit projects only knock back imports by 2 million bbls/day, that’s still a good thing. On the other hand, building more roads so that more cars and truck can roll across them consuming even MORE petroleum or at least NOT SHRINKING PETROLEUM USAGE - that is not the definition of a good investment….

The lack of a massive renewable energy effort is a crime in many ways - environmentally, climate, politically and especially economically. In effect, it leaves millions of people in this country as economic roadkill, at best, stalemated, at worst, preying on or hoping to get lucky over a few crumbs of the economic pie that they can grab or obtain. Of course, if they wanted to be successful in a life of crime, they would do the white collar thing - banking, investment, hedge funds, money laundering and financial consulting offer so many lucrative opportunities with a minimal probability of getting caught - the “too big to fail is also too big to jail” con is now a major sector of the US economy. And few of these criminal fraud schemes will produce investments in renewables - most of them actually make sure that long term mild yielding investments in renewables never occur. Or the returns to crime are just so much faster/bigger than those from renewables that renewable investments barely happen at all, and not in the quantity needed, either. It5’s the renewables version of Gresham’s Law (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gresham%27s_law) - bad money drives out good money. A corollary is that bad investments (fraud/money laundering, real estate scamming, petroleum, coal, government insured nukes, suburbia) crowd good ones.

So, despite all the marvelous technological improvements in renewables, we need to stop placing faith in the idea they can undercut pollution based energy on price. Fossil fuels are what we run the military on, and what we go to war over (does anyone go to war over prime wind resource sites, or deserts for solar energy? Did not think so…). Nukes are where the vital part of mass produced atomic weaponry comes from. Prices can be set via crooked means too easily, especially in ways that favor those already rich from and continuing to get rich from pollution based fuel usage. If this generation wants to stop being economic roadkill, it’s going to have to get political about where jobs get created and what is considered valuable to do. As a society, we cannot survive without energy - maybe we can get by with less, but not “none”, at least for the vast majority of people. And the beauty of renewables in general and wind energy in particular is that job creation, wealth creation and energy production all come together at a price that can be afforded. And we don’t even need to go to war to steal somebody else’s energy, either. But that’s a different sort of “roadkill”….., and about as original as Wile Coyote’s sole goal in life, which was to catch that infernal Roadrunner. And how did that work out? Over and over and over again..... Anyone for a new oil and/or natural gas based war....?





Monday, June 1, 2015

A Graph That Says So Much


Figure 2-1 from a recent US Department of Energy Publication “Enabling Wind Power Nationwide” - http://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2015/05/f22/Enabling-Wind-Power-Nationwide_18MAY2015_FINAL.pdf 

Recently the US Department of Energy (DOE) published a couple of wind turbine related publications — “Enabling Wind Power Nationwide” (above link) and “Wind Vision Report” (http://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/WindVision_Report_final.pdf). Both more or less coincided with the annual American Wind Energy Association annual meeting, convention and exposition (just concluded) which was held in Orlando, Florida this year. Odds are, this was not an example of fortuitous coincidence. If you are interested in renewable energy, future economic activity or how the US is likely to obtain electricity once all the existing nukes shut down due to old age (as they will not be replaced with new nukes) and the demise of most of the fracking sourced methane industry due to too much darn fraud, these are just the ticket.

What the graph in Figure 2-6 nominally states is that the Levelized Cost of Energy (in this case, produced electricity) has more or less “flatlined” after dropping drastically from around 50 cents/kw-hr to around 5 cents/kw-hr. The shape of this cost curve is known as an exponential decay, and in economics this is the sign of a technology that has achieved “maturity”. Future declines in cost are not likely to come about from technological improvements (such improvements will keep the costs from rising, however); lower costs of electricity production from wind energy now are most likely to happen via reductions in the cost of FINANCING such projects. Actually, the technology aspect can be seen in this graph, which uses a lot of the same information (from the Wind Vision report):



And at present, there is simply NO competing renewable energy technology for delivering electricity in mass quantities anyway near the quantity AND price that Low Wind Speed Turbines (and commercial scale modern wind turbines) can make electricity. Elsewhere in the two reports, the installed capital costs of wind farms are discussed (page 6 of “Enabling…”) and the average in this country (2013) was $1.63 million per MW of capacity. Compare that with the US average for PV (http://openpv.nrel.gov) for the last year ($3.33 million/MW) and then compare average efficiency (delivered MW-hr/yr per MW of capacity) (32% for wind and 15% for PV (http://physics.ucsd.edu/do-the-math/2011/09/dont-be-a-pv-efficiency-snob/), though this is LOCATION SPECIFIC). On a completely average basis, PV electricity should be 4.35 times as expensive as wind turbine electricity before maintenance costs (1 c/kw-hr for wind turbines) are factored into the cost of energy equation. And in no way is that remotely competitive. Other renewable electricity sources may be cheaper (hydroelectricity, especially), but that option has mostly been tapped out in this country, and it is now irrelevant and becoming more so due to Global Warming induced climate changes in many parts of this country. Geothermal heat to electricity and tidal energy also works only in some spots in the continental US, as does “solar thermal to electricity” and biomass (which requires water to grow stuff and which is inappropriate in deserts and semi-deserts.

So of the two renewable energy approaches which have the capability to power up the country many times over, there is a more expensive form (PV) and a less expensive form (commercial scale wind turbines). In much of the US PV is much more than 4.4 times the delivered capital cost, simply because the actual probability of sunlight shining through clouds/rain/fog/snow is less than 50% and or the wind resource is just so darn awesome (most of the Great Plains, notably Kansas and Nebraska). Of course, the advantage of renewables over pollution sourced approaches to electricity manufacture (coal, methane, nukes) is that renewables don’t deplete, they don’t undergo catastrophic meltdown disasters and that CO2, CH4 and certain poisons (radon, mercury, sulfur and nitrogen oxides, carcinogenic and other diseases causing dusts) are not hurled into the atmosphere. But once the renewables versus non-renewables debate is concluded, there is the question of WHICH renewables to use.

In the US, essentially ALL electricity manufacture is subsidized to some extent via avoided taxes and the avoidance of paying “external costs”. Probably the worst offender of the external cost subsidy rackets is the nukes via avoidance of the trash disposal costs (after all, there is no POLITICAL solution to that which someone won’t hate and be adversely affected by) and via avoidance of “catastrophic meltdown insurance” costs. After all, the empirical probability of a catastrophic meltdown somewhere in a world with about 400 operating nukes is once per 10 years. The US has about 100 of those, and almost all of them are between 30 to 50 years old. These are now entering the “old age” catastrophe mode. Coal has all kinds of avoided costs that add up to around 12 c/kw-hr if CO2  pollution was properly costed at ~ $80/ton and the health effect of coal combustion based particulates were accounted for, and there definitely is a depletion factor for at least Appalachian coal. As for methane, well, how long can it be sold for less than the cost to produce it, especially once the Marcellus “sweet spots” get tapped out? And there are those climate altering effects of CH4 leakage/emanations and CO2 pollution, which so far this year have almost got the attention of most “climate ignoramuses” in Texas and Oklahoma. Those three electricity generation approaches - coal, methane and nukes - are now the economic equivalent of “dead men walking” and SO 20th century, too. Maybe a good name for them would be “Zombie technologies”, though zombies are probably eraser to kill off……

Subsidies also tend to be a two way street, and they definitely encourage dependency. With the dependency often comes higher installed costs. For example, the average installed cost of the 130 MW (7749 installations) of PV capacity in put up in NY State since June 1 2010 (when the flood of pusedo-slave labor made PVs was in full swing) is $5.7 million per MW of capacity (https://openpv.nrel.gov/search?state=NY&zipcode=). That’s $742 million worth of practice. Those are roughly twice what they are in Australia, where labor costs are quite similar. By and large, that difference is in the management and regulation aspects - in other words, local installation company owners tend to take a very big cut of the action. In fact, roughly 43% of the installation cost is “margin and financing” while installation labor is 11% and the actual PV panels themselves are 16% of for the US, and in NY these numbers are even worse. For this report, read it and weep (page 4):
http://www.rmi.org/Knowledge-Center/Library/2014-11_RMI-AustraliaSIMPLEBoSFinal 

Since so much of the PV installation costs are subsidized (in NTY State they can amount to more than 18 c/kw-hr for 20 years, versus 2.8 c/kw-hr for wind turbines (PTC and MACRS as pro-rated over 20 years)), what’s the incentive to cut costs? After all, the higher the installed price, the greater the tax avoidance possibilities….. Furthermore, with so few US PV manufacturers and so many installers, the emphasis on PV manufacture as a source of profits and employment vanishes, especially since imports either directly from slave labor lands (China) or indirectly (Taiwan PV modules use made in China PV cells) have effectively removed profits from the picture. A lot of PV manufacturing is state or national government owned in China, and the goal of these entities is to employ people, to consume coal based electricity and to earn foreign exchange revenue, even if local taxpayers are partly picking up the tab. Perhaps that is why there are so few remaining US PV manufacturing facilities that continue to operate….

Of course, having millions of house, apartment, office and business rooftops is a socially and environmentally desirable thing to do, although the ramifications of all those hundreds of billions of dollars tied in in efforts that provide NO FINANCIAL GAIN, PROFIT or TAXABLE INCOME and which would, if current trends persist, result in the avoidance of HUNDREDS OF BILLIONS OF DOLLARS in TAXES paid really need to be thought out. Then there is the question of who is going to provide the energy storage for those PV systems which will tend to make most of their electricity in the 6 hours per day (9am to 3 pm) of maximum possible solar irradiance, at least on sunny days. It may actually be better if some pif those PV panels are pointed west or southwest (gets more afternoon sun) even though the maximum PV output for stationary panels always comes from panels oriented due south. Do owners of afternoon oriented panels get compensated for their less than optimum PV orientation? If not, then PV generation will always max out at noon, even though electricity demand tends to max out between 4 and 7 pm…. And who pays for the storage that buffers PV output with electricity demand? What about the extra transmission and distribution wiring needed when generation only is significant for 6 hours a day, if at all? Such questions are irrelevant when “PV penetration” is low, but when it starts getting above 10% of the rated capacity of a region, these questions become quite relevant.

And who eats the extra costs…? For example, governments will either have to raise taxes and/or cease doing what is asked of them when their electricity costs rise. Businesses either have to eat the costs or raise prices when the cost of their delivered electricity rises. In Europe, Germany’s policy of sticking residents with the added cost of renewables (mostly PV) while large businesses get electricity without the renewables adder is considered a subsidy in its own right. It turns to that the added costs due to onshore wind, biomass and biogas are barely noticeable - should they have to also subsidize PV, especially when there are so few manufacturing jobs associated with PVs in Germany any more?

Few businesses - especially ones in competitive sectors of the economy - want to raise their costs of production, and few can afford that. The same logic applies to local governments (school districts, municipalities, villages, towns, cities, counties and even states. For businesses, it is a zero sum game - added costs get balanced by reduced wages to employees, lower profits and resulting lower tax revenues paid by them to local, state and Federal governments, and higher probabilities of going out of business. Those businesses that are most electricity intensive (notably manufacturing, which is the core wealth creation source for this country) get hit the worst and thus they are the least likely to select PV as their main source of electricity. Instead, PV gets reserved for those who can afford it, those with defacto monopolies (Google) or those whose profits reside from exploitation of defacto slave labor - such as Apple Computer. For those in competitive businesses, the lowest cost renewable option - wind power - would be their only renewable option. However, almost all businesses in NY State don’t even do that option - they tend to go with the “default options” - mostly nukes and methane.  They chose pollution based electricity generation, as it is the lowest cost short term solution. The same applies to local governments and school districts that are still feeling the lash of “Austerity”.

A classic example of this is NY State’s electricity buying habits. One of the biggest consumers of electricity in NY State is the SUNY/CUNY system. Based on the SUNYAB (28,000 students) consumption rate of ~ 22 MW, the 450,000 students of SUNY and CUNY probably create a demand for ~ 350 MW on an average basis. Since all of NY’s wind farms last year made ~ 400 MW on average, having these institutions collectively use only wind power would double the use of/demand for wind power. But this would mean that extra money would need to be spent to pay for electricity that has a generated cost greater than the present NYISO Casino price ($28.52/MW-hr at 10:53 on 6-1-2015, or 2.852 cents/kw-hr). Essentially no electrical generation entity other than NYPA (hydropower) can be profitable at such prices. Thus, if SUNY/CUNY were to buy wind power, their operating costs would rise, and it would be either taxes on SOME NY’ers (billionaires anyone? or more likely, anyone BUT billionaires) or tuition rises that would allow this to happen. The idea that SUNY and CUNY can magically increase costs, not receive additional state taxpayer money, still continue with bloated high level administrative salaries and not decrease other wages is just ludicrous. And so, one of the biggest consumers of pollution sourced electricity paid with taxpayer money (and all tuition money is taxpayer money once it is paid to SUNY/CUNY) continues along on its merry way. And if you raise this, the overpaid administrators (or the occasional underpaid ones) will point to some trivial purchase of “out of state RECs” at bargain basement prices, too. That ~ 350 MW of year after year market demand could leverage $2.6 billion in additional investment, as well as massive “tank you’s” from Quebec, Ontario, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania (where turbines and their major components - blades, steel, towers and gearboxes - are made). After all, we just install them in NY (that’s only $500 million out of the $2.6 billion investment), but it is better than nothing….

But, back to the graph at the top of this article. What does it ALSO say? Well, in no uncertain terms, it says that the cost of an installed turbine just is not related to the rate at which wind turbines are installed in this country. It does NOT say that making them more expensive or less expensive will affect the installation rate, though more expensive turbines theoretically should slow down the installation rate. And even though the real production cost electricity from a turbine is roughly 25% or less - and in NY, close to 12% of the real cost of PV electricity - than PV based electricity and that PV is now a “competitor” to wind based electricity, well, this graph says that such facts are meaningless. This is because OTHER factors are far more important than the actual cost of production with respect to the rate that wind turbines are installed in the US. Odds are these are political, initially, as well as “competition” related - wind actually CAN compete with methane sourced electricity, more wind based electricity means less need to use methane to make electricity, and it has effectively killed off the need for ANY new nukes (and that is a good thing!) or new coal burners (also a good thing!). Of course, “compete” is not really definable, as no one actually knows what the price of methane will be for the next 25 years (on average, probably a LOT higher than it is right now), and without a knowable price, you can’t compute what the actual long term price of methane source electricity will be over such a time period.

Right now wind turbine provide an average of 20 GW of electricity, and by the end of 2016, that number will be 25 GW. That will avoid the consumption of about 1.8 trillion standard cubic feet of methane each year for electricity production, which is around 6.8% of present US consumption. If US consumption seas to rise by that much, what would methane prices be 28.5% higher over “medium long term” when the price elasticity of demand is -0.24, and 59% higher in the “short run” where the price elasticity is -0.11 (http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/54232/1/MPRA_paper_54232.pdf). To translate this into dollars just for electricity, this is roughly a 29% increase in generated electricity prices, worth around 1 c/kw-hr. That may not sound like much, but that would suck $40 billion/yr out of electricity consumers and dump that money into the owners of methane producing wells. But most methane is sold for heat or chemical purposes (about 70% of methane sales/30% of methane gets used to make electricity). The net effect of now wind turbines would be to suck roughly $130 billion out of residential, business and governmental methane customers (methane users) and dump into into the gaping maw of methane producer owners. Which these days happens to be a lot of Hedge fund speculators who own corporate bonds that have been becoming increasingly valueless, along with the advice of these “Hedgies”.

And yes that would suck, big time. You could easily induce a recession with that kind of arrangement - indeed, most recessions in the last 40 years have been initiated by fossil fuel “price shocks”. And since the total amount of money invested to date in US wind turbine installations is around $130 billion….. well, our SOCIETY and the vast majority of its people gets a 1 year payback on its wind turbines. And yes, you also won’t find that in the top graph, either, nor will you find the reasons why the cost to produce electricity is unrelated to the rate that they are installed. The actual reasons why there is no empirical connection between electricity production cost from wind turbines and the installation rate of wind turbines is both dirty politics and “hockey on the boards/no holds barred economics”. Because in this country if you have money odds are you can buy desired short term political outcomes. And with those political outcomes, you can affect and effect what makes a profit, what gets defined as “investment grade” and where money gets invested, even if it loses tremendous amounts of shareholder value, year after year. Right now and for the last 6 years, natural gas has been a tremendous money loser, and it has often/generally been sold for below what investors were told it would sell for. As a result, hundreds of billions of dollars of corporate now junk rated bonds were sold, all on the promise that oil and methane sales revenue (in many cases, not very distinguishable from each other) would pay for dividends, pay the interest on bonds, cause stock values to go up and thus give investors a nice profit and then some with essentially no risk at all.

Oops. Brought to you by the bankers, financial advisors and others that practice “rip their face off” (a term Goldman Sachs investment advisors use nowadays to describe what they will do to many of their CLIENTS) investment strategies, and who also facilitated The Great Recession….. Check this out from September of 2014 - before the rout in oil prices had really got noticed…http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2014/09/shale-fracking-ponzi-scheme.html


But anyway, what the top graph DOES say is that if you want to increase the rate at which the lowest cost form of renewable electricity generation is deployed in this country and in the process, replace “obsoleting” other approaches to making electricity, any faith in traditional economics (the low cost provider will prevail) is sadly misplaced. Low cost has very little influence. Odds are, you should look to the political realm for solutions. And while that may be (= IS) disturbing, well, apparently that where the solution to pollution resides…… as low production cost approaches seems to be a losing theme…

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

NY’s Slacker Wind Energy Growth - A Bug or a Feature?


An image of the largest farmer (significantly) owned wind farm in the world - Agrowind, The Netherlands, which is finally nearing completion. Picture from Enercon’s “Windblatt” 2015 1st Issue:
 http://www.enercon.de/p/downloads/WB_012015_GB.pdf. The onshore portion of the wind farm consists of 38 x 7.5 MW Enercon E-126 turbiness on 135 meter tall concrete towers. The offshore portion (to be located about one to two kilometers offshore in the lake) will consist of 48 x 3.6 MW Siemens SWT-3.6-120 wind turbines. To get an idea of the scale, that tower is 443 feet (135 meters) tall and made of reinforced concrete sections - steel is too flexible for the masses/forces involved. The tip of the blade at its highest position is around 650 feet above the ground. These are not the kind of renewable energy system easily hidden...

The Agrowind project (http://www.nopagrowind.nl/) is an example of a “can do” mentality, large version. After all, nothing quite says Green Energy like wind turbines that can be seen for 40 miles on a clear day. It happens to be the biggest wind project in the Netherlands, but there also are a very large number of smaller and medium sized arrays in that country, plus a few big ones. Even though the Netherlands rests on THE biggest methane resource in all of Europe - the Groningen natural gas field (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groningen_gas_field) and it could totally power up its electricity needs with this methane, it chooses another path, saving the Groningen for export income and industrial chemistry. However, The Netherlands is no longer looking to natural gas as their main energy source (fossil fuel fields do deplete and get emptied over time....). The country is also very flat, and some parts are below sea level. As the ocean levels rise (and they are doing that as both surface waters warm and the Greenland/Antarctic ice caps melting/glaciers (such as those in the Alps in Europe) melt), the flat land parts of Northern Europe and the 100 million or so people residing on them are going to be adversely affected, both in terms of a danger to lives and money. There are literally trillions of dollars worth of very pricey real estate about to get converted to much lesser valued fish farms….. And the way around that fate, if there is one, is to make electricity via renewable means, as well as to quit using pollution based approaches to do that. Besides, once Groningen gets emptied, maybe having something in place to replace what methane is needed for would be a wise idea…

We have that same problem in NY State (except for methane fields of a commercially viable quality). Our most valuable real estate and more than 2/3 of the population of the state, most of the wealth of the state/in the state is tied up in the NY City metro/Long Island region. A 20 foot rise in water levels renders NY City inoperable - and that probably also goes for a 2 foot rise, because adding 2 feet of ocean level onto a storm surge will flood the subway and several million homes. Do that enough times and why bother fixing it. Instead, people and businesses will move elsewhere, but not necessarily within those parts of the state (like upstate) that do not flood via rising sea levels. And since most of upstate/rural NY lives off of the incomes generated in the NY City region, well, one definition of Stupid is to generate electricity and heat homes, offices, schools and businesses in a way that speeds up the drowning of the NY City region.

Roughly half the land area of NY State could be part of a wind turbine array. If but one turbine suited to the wind regime in NY State (which is NOT one of those Enercon’s, as those are “fast wind” speed turbines) was put on an average of every 2 square miles, that could provide enough electricity for all of NY State and then some. Couple this with pumped hydro for electrical energy storage plus the existing hydropower now operating and it becomes even easier to power up NY renewably. This could also be a jobs program like none seen since World War 2 and the twenty years after that, only this would build the world up, not destroy it. And instead of exporting the multiple billions of dollars to out of this state for heat and electricity plus importing the mass poverty that comes with exporting money in such quantities, we could practice money recycling and the job/economic growth that comes with such activity.

Actually, NY needs Low Wind Speed Turbines en masse (not fast wind speed turbines), ones suited for average wind speeds in the 6 to 7 meters per second range at 100 to 135 meters above the ground (the Agrowind site has 9 m/s average winds at 135 meters above the ground, c/o the North Sea). Only that rate of turbine deployment is simply not happening at the scale needed and in the time frame required. We need to come up with at least 16 GW of average delivered electricity within a decade to replace the gas burners and nukes but which would allow NY state to be largely heated with either biomass or electricity powered ground sourced heat pumps. Excuses and superstitious beliefs like “we don’t have enough money to do this in a decade or less” that are the evil hard core basis of neoliberalism or conservative thought now rule the roost. Money that goes to fund a positive actual real capital improvement/upgrade that does not perpetuate fossil fuel consumption (roads and airports, for example) can be created at a whim by banks, by wealthy people, by NY State government (bonds) and of course, by the Federal Government, but of course, that is simply not being allowed to occur. The beauty of the wind turbine investment is that it IS the lowest cost non-pollution way to produce 16 GW and more of delivered electricity in NY, and it is future payments for the electricity delivered by these over their 25 year lifespan (or more when repaired/replaced) that pay for the upfront investment. In a way, they become self financing, and in a world where negative interest rates are not that far off (and now exist in much of Europe), they represent a very decent long term investment. And things like not exporting tens of billions of dollars per year (which will be the norm once the present bubble petroglut based on fracking pops in the near future) is a nice added touch; after all, each gigabuck per year exported to import methane from Fracksylvania probably represents close to 15,000 jobs in NY State not created. Stuff like that adds up. And keeping methane demand low keeps methane prices low, and that happens when wind turbines displace gas fired electrical generation. That could be worth close to $50 billion to $100 billion per year right now in the country, just by displacing 1.5 trillion cubic feet of methane consumption as a result of making 20 GW with wind turbines nationwide.

In the next 18 months, close to $25 billion in new turbines will be installed in our country. Ones like Warren Buffett’s 400 MW wind project in Nebraska (the windiest state in the nation), which will also employ Low Wind Speed Turbines, but in high wind regions of Nebraska (which is most places in Nebraska) - see http://oilprice.com/Alternative-Energy/Renewable-Energy/Warren-Buffett-Betting-Big-On-Wind-Energy-In-Nebraska.html. Those will probably average 55 to 60% of their rated capacity, and that will make Berkshire Hathaway Energies a lot of money, even in a part of the country where electricity is almost as cheap as dirt. As for NY State, maybe all of $200 million will get spent in the next couple of years on wind energy; all the jobs generated will be construction ones, and after that, not much. Meanwhile, in the Quebec and Ontario, close to $2 billion per year will be invested in wind electricity through 2016, each. So why does NY State go the wimpy route? Why the urgent activity of drowning the NY City metro region though intense neglect? Why the mirage of spending a billion or so on solar PV which for the same money could make 8 times more electricity and put so much more of a hurt on the fracking for methane biz?

In fact, is NY’s horrid renewable energy approach a bug or a feature? Is the intent to prop up methane demand for the next decade so that a few NY banksters and their friends can scam gullible investors out of the oil and gas money? Does that game ever get old? Does the fun derived from defunding and defrauding investors (suckers) ever get boring? 

Next time you hear of politicians waxing poetically about some trivial deployment of renewables (such as NY’s PV program, or the pathetically small (though at least it is SOME) wind turbine deployment), think about the Dutch farmers who are now co-owners of this very impressive half billion dollar investment in a viable future. Oh, and guess where the best onshore winds are in NY State? If you said the south coast of Long Island and the shores of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, well, you win a prize. And while the exact turbines in the picture cannot go in NY (Enercon REFUSES to sell in the USA, though a lot of theirs are deployed in Ontario and Quebec), lots of other companies would love to do an Agrowind type project and deploy some coastal and near coastal projects with their turbines. That the vast gulf between what could be and what will be in NY over the near future is not a thing to be proud of. Maybe holding those responsible for this inactivity by insisting they live along the ocean and STAY living there when the waters rise - well that might change some views and what can get accomplished. Nothing like the fear of drowning to motivate an end to destructive behavior and evolve into leadership that is not destructive and the equivalent of playing violins on the deck of the Titanic.

But surely there have to be better ways to instill decent behavior than that? So what are your views as to getting things done and not just talking till the proverbial cows come home and almost all the money that can get extracted from the fracking hellholes in Fracksylvania have been tapped dry? How can our political leaders get motivated? Or replaced with ones who can get motivated?

Anyway, the waters in NY City harbor are rising. And time’s a wasting. We really don’t have forever to do an electricity swap-out (pollution based to renewables). And then there is the opportunity cost involved, as well as the hundreds of thousands of NY residents who could be gainfully employed, but who won’t be ifs present trends persist/keep on “progressing” at current rates. Is having a coastline devoid of wind turbines worth drowning out 10 million people from their homes, and pushing NY State into an economic basket case condition? Well, we have about a decade to find out, maybe less. It would be nice to not see that dystopia come to pass…

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