Sunday, April 25, 2010

Some Fossil Fuel Subsidies in the Electricity Biz

We have seen a good example of how a process called Demand Destruction works - the use of oil for electricity production in the U.S. It used to be fairly common to burn oil and make electricity, either in a regular boiler (especially using Bunker Oil, which is basically only good for boiler fuel) or a jet engine/combined cycle system, especially in NY State. But due to the high price relative to coal and natural gas... by a factor of almost 10 times the thermal cost of coal ...well, using oil to make electricity is not a real moneymaker these days. It just costs too much to use oil products to make electricity, given the current price of oil these days - crude seems to be centered in on $85/bbl, and fuel oil is above $2.20/gallon in 100,000 gallon barge lots. Besides, oil is too valuable for use in transportation, where coal and natural gas really can't be currently used to any significant extent.

That's how Demand Destruction is supposed to work. If the price gets too high for some good or service, customers will either switch to a lower cost substitute, or else do without. Unfortunately, demand destruction can be pretty harsh in many cases - for example, what if the cost of food and water gets too high for some people? -There are no alternatives to food - just different kinds of foods - and it's not possible to do without food and water for long. In the end, most people will pay or do anything to get food and water - the alternative is to perish, alias be "demand destructed".

In NY State, there are two other fossil fuels other than oil that are used to make mass quantities of electricity - coal and natural gas. Unfortunately, their use, like oil's, causes significant problems that are completely not covered by the price that is charged for these fuels. Coal has significantly more external costs than does methane (Ngas) - a result of messier mining, particulates, acid gasses and heavy metal particles given off by combustion, as well as more CO2 pollutant per unit of energy produced by combustion. Extracting methane can also be messy, there may be contaminants in the gas, and there is the greenhouse gas pollution caused by methane leaks and more of that CO2 pollution. Coal is also a lot less expensive than Ngas, and while coal prices seem likely to remain constant for some time, Ngas prices are set to rise just to get to the point where the marginal price covers the cost to extract and the industry/banking sector/investor profit norms - that price is near $10/MBtu these days. However, current Ngas bulk prices are around $4.20/MBtu, and around $5.50/MBtu as delivered to a generation facility. Meanwhile, coal nationwide is averaging around $2/MBtu on a thermal basis.

There are very few new coal burning power plants in the U.S. - most are old, and no longer have significant capital costs - those facilities have long since been paid off. As a result, the marginal cost to make electricity is largely the cost of the coal. For a facility that is 40% efficient, at $2/MBtu (~ $48/ton of 12,000 Btu/lb coal), the marginal electricity production cost would be near 1.47 cents/kw-hr, or $14.70/MW-hr. Incorporating labor, taxes and miscellaneous expenses means that in NY, a price near 2.75 c/kw-hr is required so that it can be sold at 3 c/kw-hr. At this price, Ngas is too expensive to compete with coal. And, if less coal gets consumed, prices for coal actually would drop, just like they would rise if demand for domestic coal goes upwards.

The two main external costs NOT paid for in that prices are airborne particulates/acid gases/poisonous heavy metals (especially mercury), and then CO2 pollution. According to the Physicians for Social Responsibility in their report "Coal's Assault on Human Health", the health cost of coal combustion alone was ~ $62 billion in 2005, or about $62/ton of coal combusted (about 1 billion tons/year are consumed in the U.S.). There are also lots of "premature deaths" associated with the money cost, but unless those are rich people, they just don't seem to count for much - a very bad situation indeed. It's the "what is the cost of a human life" coupled to "which human" argument, which has no scientifically valid answer - that is all about human judgments, philosophy, religion, ethics...

In 2009, the US electricity output from coal averaged 1.884 MW-hr per ton of coal, and 0.937 billion tons were consumed to make 1785 GW-hr/yr of electricity. This gives the air pollution cost of electricity form coal of about $32.91/MW-hr. In 2009 the average price of coal used for electricity was ~$42/ton, and at ~ $2/MBtu of coal, the fuel cost for a plant operating at 40% would be about $17/MW-hr. The pollution cost is twice the fuel cost, and roughly equal to the price charged for generated electricity in WNY in 2009. Cute...

However, now comes the CO2 pollution cost estimate. For example, in 2007, CO2 pollution from U.S. coal combustion was 2.154 gigatonnes (= 2.369 billion tons/yr), and US coal production was 1.28 billion tons/yr; 92.65% of the coal use was done to make electricity (or 1.18 gigatons of coal used to make that quantity of electricity). That makes about 2.19 gigatons of CO2 pollution from the burning of coal to make electricity. The amount of electricity made from coal was 2016 gigawatt-hrs. This makes about 1 ton of CO2 pollution per MW-hr of electricity production, nationwide. In NY, the ratio is about 1.28 MW-hr per ton of CO2 pollution - due to the use of higher heat content coal.

The "social cost" of CO2 pollution was estimated to be $85/ton by the Stern Review (UK) - this is the downside costs (environmental effects of climate alteration by the CO2 pollution from all fossil fuels). Multiplying $85/ton of CO2 by 1 ton CO2 pollution per MW-hr gives a nationwide cost of about $85/MW-hr for coal derived electricity, or 8.5 cents/kw-hr.

Note: In NY State and some other U.S. Northeastern states, there is a program called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a sort of "semi-volunteer" system that puts a price on CO2 pollution from fossil fuel combustion. The latest results can be seen at Unfortunately, CO2 pollutant prices in the RGGI Auction are DECREASING, not increasing - the last price was (Auction 7, 3-10-2010) $2.07/ton to $1.87/ton, down from a high of $3.51/ton (Auction 3, 3-18-2009). And since current prices are less than 1/40 th (~ 2.3%) of the $85/ton "Social Cost", there is essentially no disincentive to additional CO2 pollutant dumping into our atmosphere. The RGGI Auction is acting like a "chump change shakedown", providing some sort of cover to politicians and corporate/state polluters while doing nothing to raise coal and Ngas prices sufficient to cause a change in behavior/less CO2 pollution from electricity production. Oh well...

The sum of particulate matter and CO2 pollution would be 3.3 c/kw-hr and 8.5 c/kw-hr, or 11.8 c/kw-hr. These external costs dwarf the marginal price to produce electricity from coal (about 1.2 to 1.8 c/kw-hr), and also the average price required to profitably to produce electricity from a fully paid off coal production facility. The costs of operating a coal plant with all external costs paid would probably be neat 14 c/kw-hr.

For Ngas based electricity production, burning 1 MBtu makes about 122.5 lbs of CO2. It turns out for a facility that is 50% efficient, 6.824 MBtu is needed to make 1 MW-hr, also resulting in 0.418 tons of CO2 pollutant. And, at an average price of about $4.20/MBtu (Henry Hub for today) plus $1.30/MBtu for delivery (subtotal = $5.50/MBtu), the cost to make that electricity would be about 5.25 c/kw-hr. Adding in the $85/ton of CO2 Social Cost, (an extra 3.55 c/kw-hr), and a new total electricity price with externals added in would be 8.8 c/kw-hr.

But, the current low price of methane is just a sucker play, as eventually it will have to rise to near $10/MBtu, the current marginal price needed to keep that last billion cubic feet/day in the US supply mix. And that marginal gas supply is being done more and more with "non-conventional gas" like tight shale gas, which is not cheap to do - see Fracking ( and see also Marcellus Shale Fracking) - gas from such wells depletes at significantly faster rates. Hydrofracked Ngas is more difficult to get at and costs a lot more to produce (it's also a lot messier, and more environmentally damaging), and prices north of $10/MBtu will be needed to developed this fossil fuel resource (right now these are "loss leaders" - money losing initially in the hope that overall Ngas prices will rise to the point where fracking is quite profitable). By the way, when fracking shale gas sets prices of $10 to $12/MBtu, all Ngas tends to get priced at this level - even that which only costs $3/MBtu to produce, and this will make "conventional" Ngas EXTREMELY PROFITABLE. Companies and individuals with ownership of "conventional gas" stand to reap incredible profits, but the question is whether they can hold on long enough to reap such profits/receive such prices for already discovered Ngas.

Anyway when delivered Ngas prices rise above $11.30/MBtu, electricity made from such Ngas will be more expensive than from Ngas priced at $5.50/MBtu. At $11.30/MBtu, the required electricity break-even price would be 9.2 c/kw-hr/ Add in the CO2 pollution cost of 3.55 c/kw-hr and the new electricity from Ngas cost of production would be 12.75 c/kw-hr. At such prices, wind turbines are starting to look like a bargain. And remember, Ngas prices will keep trending upwards, because future fields will be harder to exploit/tap, smaller and deplete faster than the easy to find bigger fields found and drained in the past. Meanwhile, the cost of production of electricity from wind turbines will... stay the same.

As for the Marcellus Shale Ngas, nature has thrown us another ringer... the shale layer also seems to have a significant uranium content. And one of the radioactive decay products from U238 (as it eventually converts to stable, non-radioactive lead - Pb 206) is radium, and that in turn converts to radon, which is a chemically inert gas ("noble gas"). Radon is a nasty one as far as humans are concerned, because it can be inhaled into the lungs. The most common radon radioisotope has a half-life of about 3.8 days, and it decomposes into Polonium 218 by emitting an alpha particle (a very energetic helium nucleus). This is like letting loose a cancer causing shotgun blast in tissue; the alpha particle gets slowed down by molecules in the lung rapidly, but in the process all kinds of ions and disrupted molecules get made, and this can (and has been shown to) lead to lung cancer. So any "hot gas" will have to be stored somewhere for a sufficient amount of time (for example, in 76 days, only one part in 2^20 (or 1 in a million) of those radon atoms would still be present. While this may seem trivial, it is not, since you don't want to be in a house with a gas stove venting that radon into a sealed house in the winter. Even tiny amounts of Rn can be quite nasty. So add the storage and "cooldown" of "Marcellus Hot Gas" to the cost of doing business, since large scale storage of Ngas is also expensive.

When prices for coal and Ngas derived electricity also incorporate the external costs (and there are more such costs, and also many subsidies like gas well depletion allowance and "coal cleaning" - another Federal subsidy), onshore wind turbines turn out to be lower cost ways to make electricity in most of NY State, and much of the U.S. If just the particulate matter and CO2 pollution costs for coal, and the CO2 pollution/proper waste disposal of hydrofracking wastes for Ngas were incorporated into the price of these fuels, the relentless process of Demand Destruction would take place, and these two polluting forms of electricity production would fade away. But, since these external costs are NOT incorporated in the price of these fuels - and legions of lobbyists are highly paid to make sure those externals remain external to the price of coal and Ngas usage - well, these are looked upon as economical ways to power up our country and world with electricity. A variation on the REAL Golden Rule - them that has the gold gets the best shot at making more gold - and not the "Do-Gooders Golden Rule" of "do unto others as you would unto yourself".

This Real vs. Do-Gooders Golden Rule conflict is central to the current global warming argument (and that also applies to energy security, peak oil, peak Ngas, etc). And don't think for even a nanosecond that the likes of Exxon-Mobil, Massey Energy or Koch Petroleum will let their gaze stray from the externalities issue. Their aim is to keep those external costs external from the price of their moneymaking fossil fuels. And it looks like they are doing a fine job on that one.


Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Great Lakes States and the 2010 US Wind Map - 1

The new US Wind Map for 2010 has some pretty nifty features for the public that the old one never had. In addition, nice colors... It can be found at, and there is also a link to a spreadsheet on this page that describes both the selection process for the "what is allowable area" question for each state, and also the methodology used to come up with these numbers. By and large, these are conservative (cautious) values employed.

There is a lot of potentially good news with this information for NY State. In effect, the state can be more than self-sufficient in electricity JUST through onshore wind turbines, and all at REASONABLE generation costs. Add in offshore wind and Long Island Sound tidal, mix in some pumped hydroelectric energy storage, and integrate with the Canadian Maritimes, Quebec, the Bay of Fundy, the rest of New England, Ontario and the nearby wind rich regions of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio... and there is NO NEED for nukes, coal burners with CCS or mega photovoltaic projects that will break the piggy bank, even if those PV panels are made in the semi- or real slave labor regions of China and "imitation China countries", where workers wages are "lower than low". Those nuke options being touted as "necesssary" may really be a reflection of the prejudices and preferences of people, institutions and companies that stand to benefit financially, and who also have this religious-like conviction that nukes are the way to go (but where, like down the drain...?).

The colored 2010 US Wind Map is interactive, and clicking on a particular state will send you to another page, and on each page is both a state map and also a graph - for example, here is one for NY State - This chart shows the effect of both raising the tower height of the wind turbine, and also the quantity of wind turbine capacity that could be tapped at varying wind turbine energy yields. For NY State, there are essentially no areas onshore where wind turbine outputs would be expected to be greater than 40% for the "standard" turbine. This is quite a contrast from a windy state like Minnesota (which has lots of "purple", "red", "orange" and "brown" = decent wind speeds at 80 meter heights on its map). In that midwest-Great Lakes hybrid state, about 175,000 MW of wind turbine capacity where expected yields would be more than 40% at 80 meters were found - or 70 GW on a delivered basis. Even at a 35% yield - still pretty decent by current standards - the estimated amount of installable capacity of this state is 375 GW, or about 131 GW on a delivered basis. Just Minnesota's land capacity alone could supply - on average - ALL of the Great Lakes states and provinces with electricity using "standard" turbines at an 80meter height and greater than a 35% gross output. ALL ELECTRICITY for NY, Pa, Ohio, Indiana, Mich, Illinois, Wisconsin AND Ontario.

For NY State (with 19.4 million people), the US Wind Map shows how important a development (now commercially available) known as Low Wind Speed Turbines (LWST) will be for onshore electricity production. There are even some LWST units slated for offshore - two examples being the Vestas V112 x 3 MW (112 rotor diameter) and the Siemens 120 meter rotor x 3.6 MW units. For NY, our maximum potential for a standard turbine (like the GE 1.5 MW x 77 meter unit with an 80 meter tower - the GE 1.5 sl) at a 30% output and 80 meter tower heights is estimated to be 8.4 GW, using up to 4.1 % of the land area. However, going to 100 meter tall towers raises the potential usable area (land where gross outputs of such turbines would be more than 30%) significantly - and also the combined output - to 17.4 GW delivered basis (NY average usage in 2009 was less 15.8 GW, and about 2.9 GW of that is hydro). And since their model had a turbine "density" of 5 MW capacity per square kilometer (about 12.8 MW capacity per square mile), the land area where such 100 meter high turbine towers could be placed is about 9.1% of NY State, versus 4.1% for 80 meter tall towers. But, if the allowable "yield" is dropped to 25%, the combined state output could be over 28 GW - and up to 20% of the state could have economically viable wind turbines installed. However, a LWST can get a 32% output from winds that would only provide a standard unit with a 25% output. So even the 28 GW output could be considerably improved on (about 32 GW).

The difference between a 25% and 30% output is about 2 c/kw-hr, cost-wise and also price-wise. That appears to be the price NY customers would need to pay to "go renewable, and go all the way renewable". Food for thought..... and certainly significantly lower cost than with new nukes, new coal burners/natural gas burners with CCS, and especially photovoltaic solar systems.

Of course, not all of that 32 GW of delivered potential is needed, at least at present (but to replace the natural gas used for heating residential and commercial facilities, it might be needed). At present, NY uses about 15.8 GW (2009 numbers) of electricity, and of that about 2.9 GW (average delivered basis) is hydro power, and about 0.35 GW (average delivered basis) comes from already installed wind turbines. Thus, NY needs a bit less than 12.5 GW (we also have some biomass based electric power production) of renewables to replace the 12.5 GW of polluting sourced electricity (nukes, coal, natural gas, oil). And if NY went all renewable, some wind power would need to be stored via pumped hydro to make up for peak usage or times when demand is above what the wind can supply, and some tapped from neighboring states and provinces, requiring up to another average 1 GW of supply (pumped hydro storage is only about 80% efficient, so to store and deliver 4 GW, 5 GW would need to be supplied). Thus, about 14 GW of wind on a delivered basis (45 GW capacity at 30% output) would be needed for the time being. And at present and in the likely future, the investment in 45 GW of onshore capacity would cost around $90 billion. And if 2 GW of tidal were delivered from Long Island Sound (also at least the same cost of a delivered electricity basis), then 2 GW of delivered wind ( 6.7 GW capacity at $13.4 billion cost) could be avoided. And any offshore wind installed would also mean less on shore wind needs - though offshore is about 1.5 times as costly on a delivered basis as onshore wind.

While that may seem like a lot of money to invest ($9 billion/yr for 10 years), it is a bargain compared to nukes and solar PV. Based on 2009's RFP by Ontario Power Generation, likely costs were $10.8 billion per GW of capacity, or about $12 billion per GW of average delivered electricity (assume 90% uptime). That would require about $150 billion for close to 14 x 1 GW of new nukes, with electricity likely to cost more than 20 c/kw-hr, and with the first electricity delivered in about 1 decade from the day of the initial order. But, for PV with an installation cost of around $50 million per MW (average delivered basis), and a need for about 14 GW to supply an average of 12.5 GW (no light at night, so some storage is needed), about a $700 BILLION investment would be needed, delivering it at around 60 to 70 c/kw-hr or more.

Meanwhile, back to the Great Plains. Most of Minnesota's wind energy is concentrated in the less populated western zone, especially the southwestern "Buffalo Ridge" region, where a subtle rise in altitude going from west to east causes a significant (15% to 20%) increase in the average wind speed over this essentially very flat and by now, treeless (it is extensively farmed, however) region. Since the power output is proportional to the cube of the wind speed, a "standard" wind turbine in Minnesota's windy areas would put out 1.2 * 1.2 * 1.2 = (1.2)^3 = 1.728 times as much electricity per unit of time as would one in a "standard" less windy area (which is about 6.5 m/s at 80 meters in this study). In many areas, wind speeds averaging 8.5 m/s (1.3 times the 6.5 m/s standard) have been measured and are being tapped by wind turbines - potentially delivering more than 2.2 times the output (1.3 cubed) - although usually there is some loss in efficiency as wind speeds shift to such higher average levels.

This all relates to dollars and cents, but not necessarily "sense" in a Global Warming, Earth Day way. Let's assume that a "standard" wind turbine is a GE (or equivalent) 1.5 MW wind turbine on an 80 meter tall tower using 77 meter rotor diameters costs about $3 million installed. The operational cost of this unit in a 6.5 m/s windy zone or a 8.4 m/s zone, in terms of delivered electricity (or cents/kw-hr, $/MW-hr) is the sum of all expenses per year divided by the amount of energy produced per year. If yearly expenses were identical, and one chugs out twice as much electricity per year as the other, then production costs would be about 50% lower for the windy zone turbine than for the "standard zone" turbine. So if economic logic had much to do with where our nation's electricity was made...Minnesota would be sitting pretty.

But, most people in the U.S. do not live in the Great Plains (odds are, water resources would be severely constrained if the NYC metro region moved to southwestern Minnesota), and, in the near future, are not likely to do so. Instead, it would be much easier to bring the electricity to the NYC metro region (Philadelphia to Boston) via high voltage direct current (HVDC) lines, and utilize some pumped hydro storage in the Western part of Lake Superior rather than to move 10 million people to where the electricity potential generation happens to be situated. For example, consider the Ludington Pumped Hydroelectric Storage Facility as a model. The Ludington (Michigan) pumped hydro facility only uses a 300 ft drop, and it is rated at ~ 1.0 GW for a day for an 832 acre pond (cost in the 1969-1973 era was $350 million). Lets say a new Ludington unit for Lake Superior would be $1 billion. 20 of them = 20 GW reserve for 24 hours = $20 billion also would mean lots of construction jobs, as well as lot of value added manufacturing of HVDC stations and transmission line equipment and pumped hydro facilities. A set of 20 lines x 1500 miles is only $90 billion, and this would deliver 24 GW to the always power starved NYC metro area, with it's ~50 million residents/electricity consumers. To supply the 24 GW input and ~ 22 GW delivered, "only" 60 GW of wind capacity would be needed, costing around $120 billion ($138 billion for 35% outputs).

For such an arrangement, $120 to near $140 billion of wind turbines and $110 billion worth of transmission/storage would be needed. Note that the transmission equipment and energy storage equipment is about the same cost as the installed wind turbine costs. This roughly doubles the cost of the delivered electricity. And it basically removes the incentive for such a massive transmission line upgrade, because for the same cost, wind turbines better suited to the more moderate wind speed resources of the northeast could be installed (pumped hydro potential in NY is essentially humongous, and the same goes for Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Western Mass and especially Pennsylvania). But instead of pouring the investment into western (and largely uninhabited) Minnesota (which means JOBS-YRS by the millions), why not pour those jobs into places like NY State? Besides, with at least 1 million unemployed people in NY begging for work, wouldn't locating the electricity production/storage/significantly lower transmission expense projects where the workers are/customers are make more sense? And then there is the money flow aspect to things - when money is exported from NYC to Minnesota, that means that the money is not recycled in the NY economy. In effect, NYC money is bled from the NY State economy (11 GW at 11 c/kw would be about $10.6 billion/yr; 11 GW would be the NYC/Long Island portion of the "metro NYC" region).

So, for the western portion of Minnesota, and perhaps the once largely frozen northern parts of that state, getting connected with NYC via HVDC lines would be a huge windfall - that is, as long as NYC had real money to trade for this electricity. Odds are, most people in Minnesota would hardly see any of this - the wind plantations and transmission lines/storage systems would probably be owned "remotely", so only some "money crumbs" of property leasing, some service jobs and PILOT styles taxes would extract any (as in a small percentage of the gross - about 1 to 2%) of the $11 billion/yr electricity sales into the local economy. And of course, the vast majority of the economic value - the roughly 4 million job-yrs associated with the manufacture of the turbines and HVDC/storage systems, plus the installation of them - is really the main prize in this arrangement. Obviously, trading manufactured items in NY (remember what manufacturing was?) for electricity would be important. Otherwise, time to export people FROM NY State/NYC BY THE MILLIONS to wherever those manufacturing and construction jobs would occur.

Of course, there is an obvious compromise, especially if one looks at all of the Great Lakes States data from the new US Wind Map. It turns out that both Illinois, Indiana and Ohio also have humongous wind energy resources, and NY, Michigan and Wisconsin could be more than self-sufficient on a net basis. Add in offshore (Michigan and Ontario rule in that regard, especially if "deep offshore" technologies are employed - and NY also has a sizable offshore potential in Lake Ontario, Lake Erie and in the Atlantic off of Long Island), and there is even less need for imports from the Great Plains. Obviously, due to it's size, Ontario has more than enough wind resource for itself, too, with plenty to spare. And more importantly, Ontario actually has the economic arrangement (Feed-In Laws via the Green Energy Act) to actually implement renewable electrical self-sufficiency and then some for itself. Very little of the awesome wind energy potential could be economically developed in the Great Lakes region under current arrangements in non-Ontario regions, largely due to a lack of a Feed-In Law or some other stable and logical pricing system. And it's even worse for NY State due to it's "NYISO" system in conjunction with a slightly decreased electricity demand (The Great Recession at work, resulting in so many who don't work) that gives us collapsed (generated) electricity prices - no wind energy development is likely without direct state intervention, as well as non-existent NY State money.

Wind generated electricity becomes "baseload" whenever a large number of commercial arrays can be deployed over a large area. The area from Minnesota to NY is a large area, one which also has significant electrical energy storage possibilities - after all, there is water, it's not a desert, and many areas are hilly/mountainous, and located net to sufficient quantities of water to make pumped hydro a possibility. It turns out that it would be best to install wind turbines suitable for the particular wind resource throughout this region, and connect them up with a decent enhancement to the current grid, as well as some long distance HVDC lines and also pumped storage. This will allow massive job creation in this region, and avoid the definitely economically ruinous and potentially nation-ruining "nuke option" (after all, just one "oops" can trash a country, or at least anyone downwind for a thousand miles). The 16 "new nukes" proposed for NY State in the "UV Plan" (part of NY's attempt to drop CO2 pollution to 80% of 1990 values by 2020) will cost more than $160 billion in just up front 2010 dollars, and deliver polluting (the rad waste garbage disposal site WILL BE at the location of the nuke reactor, after all) electricity for more than twice the price of land based wind turbines.

In fact, there is so much wind energy potential in just the Great Lakes States (a similar potential for the Canadian Maritimes/southern Quebec), the real question is what to do with all this potential. One option might be to use renewable liquid fuels based on hydrogenating CO2 and/or N2 as a "variable demand" load. That is, H2 production (about 45 MW is needed to make 1 ton/hr of H2) could be varied as the excess wind derived electricity varies and the non-electrolysis electrical load varies. Reacting H2 with CO2 to make fuels like ethanol, methanol and gasoline/kerosene/diesel is easy to do - but at current oil prices, not economically feasible. However, oil prices are apt to quadruple in the next decade (that's the low estimate based on what happened in the 2000-2009 time period) as the consequences of the early stages of Peak Oil come about. Some of the H2 could also be used to make NH3 (to help grow the biofuels that will be needed to PARTLY replace the crude oil that the US will no longer be able to afford in the near future), and partly as a fuel by itself. In addition, an ever increasing use of electric cars will also be able to buffer daily and weekly wind derived electricity variations, supplementing pumped hydro.

Anyway, that's an Earth Day set of options to consider. What's your idea of how to make electricity without CO2 pollution or nukes? And what's your ideas of how to power up transportation for people and goods in a way that does not produce CO2 pollution, rad waste that only some demented souls want (there's a Bomb in there somewhere...) and not use crude oil or natural gas (which are going away faster than most suspect, due to the inability to AFFORD them...).. As part of your thinking, please consider studying the US Wind Map of 2010. It's your tax dollars ate work....

Also, please consider the 2008 EPA report card (the Executive Summary is at this link: on US Global Warming. You're never too old to self-educate... and you also don't need to wait until it's too late to read the darn thing. That report shows what we need to do to improve - and also to eliminate about 5 gigatons of CO2 pollution ASAP, and then work on the remaining 1 gigaton that will be harder to remove (like cement manufacture - though reducing the CO2 off-gas with H2 would be a start, and better than belching it into our atmosphere that tends to double as a trash-bin for CO2).


Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Green NY State Climate/Energy Plan

Here is a link to the whole presentation - one that was made for the PowershiftNY 2010 session held on the Amherst Reservation campus of SUNY Buffalo - see It's a 34 pager, but like a lot of Powerpoints, an easy read and besides, there are lots of pictures.

I recently found out about a NY State Climate Action Plan (NYCAP), being formulated by the NY State Climate Action Council. Here is the website: There is a fair amount of readings that can be done about the attempt to define how NY State will be able to get by on emitting less than 20% of the currently emanated CO2 pollution by 2050. And there is some debate on whether that is "too late"; maybe the target date should be a lot earlier, as proposed in the WDGU "prep" for the COP-15 session in Copenhagen in December of 2009 - see Unfortunately, only a microscopic portion of American's ever read the "Solving the Climate Dilemma: The Budget Approach" paper; maybe that was why many Americans were so clueless about the positions of so many other countries, and also clueless as to why they were often so angry at our country, and not just our government. It's like American's never bothered to do their homework, and come the test, well, we flunked badly. But, a lot of people in a lot of countries - some who even bothered to read it - also failed miserably, and (especially China and India's leaders) also behaved badly, if that's any consolation....

Anyway, the NYCAP (basis "vision" document can be found here: is so far based around 3 scenarios - a "Yellow", "Deep Blue" and "Ultraviolet" (UV) plans, which have increasing nuclear content as the photon wavelength shrinks/energy goes up. Of the plans, only the UV gets NY to where the target is - 80% less CO2 pollution than was made in 1990. Like many such documents, it is a work in progress, and a work by committee, with many of the members being "volunteered" to work on this in their spare time. This completed document (target date near December 2010) will not please everyone - and may please very few (mostly nuclear reactor proponents), as how NY will tolerate up to 16 new reactors by 2050 is not really well defined (cost ~ $160 billion at present prices, but before the interest costs on the loans are added in). But, since the goal was to meet the 80% reduction in CO2 pollution rate... well, mission sort of accomplished. They also appear to be overly optimistic on keeping oil prices lower than are indicated by the 2000-2009 trend (average of 14%/yr, or doubling about every 5 years). And they also appear to be very optimistic on natural gas pricing - maybe they assume no price equivalency with oil. Finally, the Blue and UV plans anticipate 4 to 8 x ~1 GW high temperature gas cooled nukes primarily dedicated to making H2 gas from water via "unproven" high temperature steam electrolysis with the heat and electricity provided by the nukes.

All three plans also assume that electricity prices from photovoltaic systems will drop at a fast clip from present levels (the SUNY Buffalo 1.1 MW unit that is being provided free of charge by NYPA (well, there may be a cost... nothing ever seems to be free anymore) would need around 62 c/kw-hr just to break even using commercial loan rates, and on an honest (= no subsidy) basis). Many members on the Power Supply "TWG" have the unwarranted view that prices for wind will steadily keep dropping - an empirically untrue statement when one considers things from 2005 onwards, but true over the period of 1980 to 2005. Maybe they also like the Jethro Tull album "Living in the Past", too - it's a nice album, after all. Or maybe they are unaware of this graph, but perpetually optimistic:

Source = pg 3

The same graph shape applies to PV's. Once things drop to a certain price, then the manufacturing and installation prices tend to rise more or less with inflation. In the case of PV systems, electricity is a major cost of production - and as electricity prices rise, so will PV prices. Here is the recent installed cost trend trend for PV's:

and from
These graphs of wind turbines and PV systems have the same exponential decay curve that tends to flatten out over time following some steep initial price drops. For PV, some invoke Moore's Law, but that relates to how much stuff can be done on a given area of semiconductor (smaller "wire" size, now less that 65 nanometers (nm) in width, with the limit being about the size of the photon wavelength used to etch our patterns or implant ions/atoms on the chip; "purple" light has a wavelength of around 410 nm. But, at least wind turbines don't have to worry about quantum tunneling. You had to ask, right?

In all 3 plans, PV panels are estimated to provide an average of 11.4 GW of output, from about 100,000 GW-hr/yr produced. Since an average output of 12.5% over the initial 20 years of operation would be a good yield (starting off at 13.9%, with 12.5% in 10 tens, and output decaying to 11.25% at the end of the next decade), this implies installing 103 GW of PV capacity with storage (80% efficiency). At an installed cost of around $6 million/MWp (MW peak capacity), or $6 billion per GWp, the installed cost would be north of $680 billion. While this would provide a lot of work for NY'ers IF the PV systems were made in NY State, there was no guarantee of this, since PV panels made using actual or psuedo-slave labor conditions would possibly be a less expensive way to go. The $680 billion price tag, even over a 20 year time period, might cause more than a few to wonder where this money would come from, especially if some of the economic consequences of Peak Oil start coming into play in the post 2015 time period.

Anyway, one graph that was not considered was recently publicized by the National Renewable Energy Lab in their new and improved US Wind Map study, which was done by AWS Truewind of Albany, NY. Here is the key NY graph:

(also page 20 of the presentation (see link above) or It assumes using wind turbines that get a 30% gross output when the hub height wind speed is 6.5 m/s - very similar to that of a GE 1.5 MW x 77 meter rotor diameter wind turbines (more of this kind has been installed in the U.S. than any other model, at present). The estimated average output would be around 8.4 GW using about 4.5% of new york lands to put wind turbine arrays on, at a wind turbine density of about 8.5 of these per square mile (12.8 MW/mile^2, or 5 MW capacity per square kilometer). Note: the graph starts at 25% gross output, and increases in 5% intervals, so a 8.4 GW output corresponds of 26 GW of capacity. The amount of land involved would be about 2032 mi^2, or about 4.5% of NY land area.

However, when 100 meter tall towers are used, the 30% gross output now corresponds to 17.4 GW of average output, or 58 GW of capacity. These could now occupy up to 6800 mi^2 of land, or about 15% of NY land area. This would be about 39,000 of these wind turbines. In conjunction with 4 GW of hydroelectric, and presumably some new pumped hydroelectric energy storage, this should be able to keep NY's electric (and in the future, only highly efficient CFLs, Metal Halides, Sodium vapor or LED lights would be used) lights on. 58 GW of wind turbine capacity would cost about $116 billion to install (maybe a bit less for volume discounts...?). Thus, for 17% of the cost of a PV system, 152% of the delivered electricity could be provided just by onshore wind turbines. Any offshore wind farms would mean that less onshore units would need to be installed, or else those installed could be spread out more, resulting in less "wind shadow", and higher yielding electricity outputs.

But, this graph gets better. There are now a set of commercially available wind turbines known as "Low Wind Speed Turbines", or LWST (this was a research project at NREL (see here and here), but the European wind turbine companies are way past the R&D stage on them). For example, a Vestas V-100 x 1.8 MW unit would have a 38% gross output from 6.5 m/s winds. Thus, only 25,000 of these would be needed to supply the same energy output as 38,000 standard GE units on 100 meter towers.

According to claims by Enercon, their massive E-126 unit with a 135 meter tower would have 2.3 times the net energy output per square mile versus the standard GE 1.5 MW x 80 meter high tower. Thus, to supply 17.4 GW, about 8700 of these would be needed, again occupying about 4.5% of NY land area.

Anyway, the point is, combinations of new, high efficiency wind turbines that employ taller towers and that have been optimized for NY style wind conditions could readily supply ALL of NY's electricity using presently commercially available units located ONSHORE. Add in offshore wind (this could also supply most or all of NY's electricity), the 4 GW of hydro and 2 GW of tidal...and there is no need for natural gas and coal fired generators, or ANY nukes, or large quantities of ultra-expensive PV (though some urban PV would fit in for those that could afford it/utilize the generally peak power production). And this could be done at lower cost than new nukes or new coal burners arranged to stash their CO2 trash (also called CCS). And since wind produces approximately twice the number of jobs per billion dollars of investment... in this day and age, that would be considered a positive aspect for wind energy, given high current and projected future unemployment levels.

And as for that nuke cost, or the at least ten year lag time between ordering one and getting it on-line - try this article on for size:

As it turns out, there IS a huge competition for "baseload power" between geographically distributed arrays of wind turbines and nukes. It's either one OR the other. And given the rationing of capital that is now occurring and will become more pronounced as Peak Oil becomes more pronounced, the smart way would be to go with the wind. But, if you "loves the nukes", and also "loves d Bombs", well, as long as there is endless access to Other People's Money, nukes will be seen in a good, bluish light. Nothing like that Cherenkov glow, after all. Maybe that was the source of the inspiration for the "Deep Blue" in the NYCAP.

The H2 would be used to power fuel cell cars - now also deemed a "dumb idea" by the Department of Energy. This is because fuel cells are very expensive, don't work when it is much below freezing, and expensive H2 is also a pain to deliver and compress for the customer car (generally 5000 to 10,000 psig was envisioned). It turns out to be easier to deliver electricity to a battery powered car. And any H2 from this nuke dream would also be very expensive - much more so than just taking electricity from wind turbines and water and then electrolyzing the water to H2 and O2. However, the H2 still has to get to customers, and H2 is "corrosive" to conventional pipeline steel - causes "hydrogen embrittlement" - and is energy intensive to compress and transport. A better idea would be to convert H2 into fuels by reaction with CO2 or N2 - using the carbon and nitrogen atoms as "hydrogen carriers", which would also allow existing cars and trucks to be used with liquid fuels. But, some dreams die hard. However, George Bu$h 2, ex-Resident (Evil) of the White House, and a person of negligible scientific knowledge as well as even less respect for science was all for H2 fuel cells (as long as the H2 could be made using either natural gas, coal, petroleum coke or nukes). That should have been a hint to put a stake in the heart of the "H2 fuel cell car" idea right then and there. However, the economics will also do the same thing as a wooden stake.



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