Thursday, April 14, 2011

Nukes - "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime"

It's a great saying: "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime". And it applies to nuclear power in major ways, even if the crime of epic-scale poisoning or wasted investment on a massive scale was or was not "intentional". Or if some yahoo uses a nuclear weapon, or a nuke as a weapon, or if a yahoo country does the same. All that money down the drain that was put into a weapon(s) that can't be used unless self destruction of that person, that country (including the people in that country) is seriously considered a possibility. In the case of a nuclear war, the destruction of "our species" has to be considered via a massive "first strike" and/or via the retaliation by those who got nuked, weren't happy about it, and had the means and wherewithal to effect this retaliation. Who would even want to consider crap like that as a template for our future? And what if the crime was intentional? Is there a difference to those rapidly killed by poisoning or eventually by being "cancered", as to whether it was an accident or deliberate?

The title saying implies that there actually is sufficient punishment to fit "nuke crimes", whether those are intentional or accidental. But let's just consider a part of the "eye for an eye" ultimate punishment scenario. What if there is no sufficient punishment to fit such crimes against people, our species, our ecosystem and all that or who live within it? Does a deterrence in the form of negative consequences for causing or allowing a nuclear horror to be caused exist under such circumstances? The Chernobyl disaster (25 years ago on April 25, 2011) has killed about one million people (see via radioisotope poisoning (especially via cancers due to decay of isotopes like medium duration Cs137 and Sr92, or the short-lived ones like I-131). Or what about the effect on those born after the event, often many years after the event, who are often afflicted with genetic alterations (generally not for the better, either). For example, a very noticeable decline in health, ability to think, and ability to resist diseases that would normally be much less severe has been observed. In much of the Ukraine and Belarus (where about 56 million people live), the percentage of "normally healthy" children has dropped from 90% (before) to less than 20% (the present case). But don't worry, no connection there, now move along.....

And to help out in matters of fogging up the issue, it was against official Soviet/Ukraine/Belarus and Russian government policy to even acknowledge death by radiation and radiation induced tissue damage for 5 years after the event, and to make scarce any historical data. Over 240,000 "liquidators" (often USSR military personnel) were exposed to more than 10 mSv doses - which is 7 times "background", and some a lot more. There was a lot of bravery and tremendous sacrifice by these "liquidators" (up to 900,000 "volunteers") in building the containment structure around Chernobyl as well as cleaning up the "hot spots" of belched out reactor core that was spewed significantly in a 50 km radius (though not in a uniform manner). Over 500 million people (mostly in Europe) were dosed by Chernobyl Unit 4's contents in 1986. Fun, wow.

How do you take the people who screwed up on that dreadful day, and kill them tens of thousands of times, over and over again and again, as retaliation and as a lesson to those who might screw up in the future in nuclear matters? You can't - even "made for movies" zombies don't have that much recuperative stamina. And what about their bosses - shouldn't they also "get the business", too? Odds are, the ones at the plant who did the dire deed are long since dead and gone via acute does of ionizing radiation. So what if it was painful (and radiation poisoning is reputed to be a really bad, really painful way to die). The fact is, there is no justice obtained from such a horrid event when the perp(s) bite(s) the big one, no balancing of the proverbial scales of justice from this crime. Even if the perp(s) of the crime(s) suffer incredibly, it doesn't make it right. However, the thought that there actually are really severe negative consequences to those who own such facilities if a bad "oops" occurs is a requirement of "behavior modification" for the owners of nukes/nuke materials and is needed to minimize the probability of an "oops" - accidental or deliberate, it does not matter - from taking place. Sorry won't cut it.

The same goes for Fukushima 1, Fukushima 2 and Fukushima 3, plus the spent fuel rods in Fukushima 4; combined, this too is now a "7" on the disaster scale (same as Chernobyl). And guess what, there are higher numbers than "7", and that is not exactly something to look forward to, not at all.

So, you can't do the time, when the nuclear based crime you committed is so nasty that you need to be killed thousands of times over, since by definition, you only die once. Well, that poses some interesting philosophical questions, even in states like Texas, where a lot of people seem to revel in the cruelty that is their capital punishment fetish, especially those in leadership positions and those leading political parties or those who are elected/selected officials.

But for nukes, odds are, the owners will be rich, and most probably, corporations, with a collection of really rich people owning the majority of voting and controlling stock. And while a corporation is composed of people, well, those entities often tend to act a bit psychopathic, devoid of that human characteristic called empathy. Why put an entity devoid of empathy (as in the question, "What if it happened to me?") in charge of a nuke or several nukes, when all that entity craves is ever greater quantities of money. That corporation (just like most big corporations) will proceed to rent and/or purchase politicians/leaders of society (some of whom are owners of that corporation or related ones) who will aid in the additional "smooth and profitable operation" of the money making portions of that corporation. That's how they behave, that's what they do, whether they make baby food or operate nukes. As that other saying goes (Molly Ivins was a strong proponent of this one) - "a shark's gotta eat".

Of course, it is not very often that questions such as the punishment for misbehavior or "accidents" - who gets it and what form should it take - about nukes are posed. And a lot of effort has gone into making things that way (keeping the public "fat, happy and quiet"), and it is not until a "wake up event" happens that such uncomfortable thinking is ever allowed in public discussion. But, with 3 partial core meltdowns all resulting from an event not of human making interacting with a human made "accidents waiting to happen" nuclear power complex, maybe it's time that these societal questions get confronted. As for answers..well, it's not like it's a question of what is the sum of one and minus two..., let alone what is the fourth root of the answer to that equation. These questions are of the more human variety, laden with moral and value judgments. All kinds of human behavior by all kinds of humans with all kinds of motivations are involved in this problem of nukes, and to add more spice to the gumbo, lots of money is also involved.

Why Nukes?
Nuclear reactors (nukes) originally came into being as part of the U.S. war effort, and were made to mass produce nuclear bomb fuels (especially plutonium and tritium) as well as to understand what makes a bomb functional, how to make more nukes, more weapons grade material and possibly come up with other uses for them, such as powering nuclear powered submarines. But, things went off towards the loony bin with a vengeance, because soon both the U.S. and the USSR had weapons out the wazoo; enough, as it turned out, to alter the climate of the earth and with a very high probability, eliminate all human (and most mammalian) life off of the surface of the planet. And that fate could be accomplished with only a tiny fraction of those weapons actually used. The most notable stabilizing strategy was called MAD - Mutually Assured Destruction - a Freudian Slip if there ever was one. Very large fractions of both the U.S. and USSR economies were devoted to nukes and nuclear weaponry as well as nuclear weapons delivery. Eventually atmospheric, space based and underground Bomb testing was ended, and by treaty, too, for these two countries. But, by now there are 9 nuclear armed countries - US, USSR, England, France, China, India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea - so the genie is out of the bottle, so to speak. The technology to make a Bomb is pretty old by now, too, and worst of all, it is KNOWN that they HAVE been made, and thus they CAN been made.

Nuclear science can be incredibly seductive, and the energy released by nuclear fission is quite incredible. Just imagine, so the thinking goes, that we could tap this power for... electric power, or thermal power, or both. Virtually limitless (well, in retrospect, there are limits) power, and maybe it would be too cheap to meter, so why bother? And look, no need to worry about all the air pollution that results from burning coal, oil and natural gas, depletion of those fossil fuel resources and especially no CO2 pollution given off with respect to boiling water (to spin a turbine/generator). You may as well line up all of this years Sports Illustrated Swimsuit models and dangle them as bait in front of a bunch of shy, horny and emotionally frustrated scientists, militarists and bankers/business people (usually male, at least in the 1950's). Resistance would have been futile, and besides, what was the alternative?

The first seriously scaled nukes were used for military purposes - to power nuclear weapons manufacturing complexes (in the U.S., at places like the Hanford and Savannah River "reservations") and then later for nuclear submarines and then ships like aircraft carriers. For subs, there may be no practical alternative, even if the main use was to tool around the ocean, underwater, in a craft loaded up with Bomb tipped missiles. By the 1960's commercial scale nukes were under construction (the first went online in 1957 at Shippingport, Pa, near Pittsburgh). Of course, there are still lots of interconnections between a "civilian" reactor and the military parts and aspects associated with The Bomb. By now, there are 104 operating nukes in the U.S., loads of them overseas (USSR, France, Japan especially), and some are even retired (the original one in Pennsylvania, and ones in Michigan, Maine, and NY, for example).

The lure of nukes - a Siren Song
Many claim that nukes are the only way that we can maintain a large electrical production and electricity based society without the byproduct CO2 pollution that comes from burning fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum coke (pet coke), natural gas (methane) and oil. On the basis of less air pollution (CO2, coal ash particles), less radiation spewed about (radon, burned up uranium present in trace amounts in coal), less acid gas (SO2, NOx), fewer quantities of poisonous heavy metals (Hg, Pb, As, etc) thrown out the smokestack, and fewer coal mining deaths (accidents, black lung disease), nuke proponents claim that nukes are less harmful than coal. Plus, they also claim that nukes are an inexpensive way to make electricity - especially if governments pick up the R&D tab, provide low risk financing/grants, ignore proliferation, ignore/subsidize/legislate away the trash disposal problems and legislate away the cost of the nuke risks (where that is defined as the cost of an "oops" times the probability and/or actuality of an "oops"). Thus, it is the lesser evil argument (it's either nukes and/or coal, or no electricity) which they state as a fact and which justifies nuke derived electricity. And given our current population levels and population density, perhaps it might be better than the "not much electricity at all" scenario, which would probably involve a significant "population level readjustment" to survive on a significantly lower energy usage.

Add to that the questions of who is advocating for nukes, how they came to that belief in nukes, the fact they they believe their belief in nukes is factually - and definitely not a religious-like "faith" - based, the "more logical view", as well as the social, economic, political and scientific circles that they "abide in", and things become quite clear. After many years of study, as well as probably decades living with their nuke beliefs and advocating for them, change to a different way of thinking about energy, how it is used and how it can be made at a price we could live with is for most in this set, very difficult. Part of this nuke advocacy comes from our weapons program, where trillions of dollars (especially in today's dollars) were spent setting up the entire scientific-industrial-political-economic complex of nuclear materials preparation and weapons systems manufacture, which has employed millions of people, just in the U.S. At one time, the U.S. Government directly and indirectly funded massive amounts of scientific research on a wide variety of topics - anything even remotely nuclear connected - and much of chemistry, physics, aeronautics, computers, math, mechanical and electrical engineering, biology, and medicine had some nuclear connection. That's partly how allies and friends can be bought,

And besides, as another saying goes, you've got to break some eggs to make an omlette. Stuff happens, and in the pursuit if a better society, accidents will happen. Besides, they hardly ever happen with nukes. Forward progress is not necessarily painless, nor a straightforward path..

The Fork in the Road
However, there are lots of recent advances in renewable energy generation, and in the use of electricity to do things and get things done that show that the "lesser evil" theory for nukes is incorrect. Furthermore, if we had spent the same money and used the same talents that were used to perfect and mass produce The Bomb, ways of delivering it, and to design, make and install nuke reactors as we did on renewable energy, we could have done a much more (or all) renewable energy path, and a lot earlier, too. And odds are, electrically powering up America with renewable energy would employ more people, be less threatening to our collective human existence and produce different incentives to accomplish a wide variety of things than would our "nuclear option". It also could produce differing ways and places to live, versus what we have today. Perhaps a lower average level of energy gluttony (and far too often, we/many of us actually enjoy energy gluttony in an addictive-like manner) than we currently live with would have been the result of a more renewable energy based society.

As an example, the recent developments in wind turbine design and manufacture need to be considered (not the only way to proceed with renewable energy, but a very visible one). The combination of large scale manufacture and installation of wind turbines with pumped hydroelectric (where there are a combination of hills and water) or compressed air storage (where there are no hills and/or available water) could have been supplying most of our electricity since the 1970's, if there ever was a serious effort to do this. But, there never was an epic scale R&D push for renewable energy, nor was there ever the financial incentive (like Feed-In Laws) to do such development. Of all countries, both the U.S. and Canada have awesomely over-sized wind resources compared to even present usage rates - combined, something like 40 times the present consumption level of electricity. The technology to convert water to hydrogen via electricity has been commercially practiced since the 1920's, as has the hydrogenation of nitrogen (Bosch-Haber ammonia synthesis). Hydrogenation of carbon monoxide/dioxide mixtures has been used to make methanol for many decades, and the oil technology known as "Platforming" (platinum based hydrogenation) has also been commercialized for many decades. We could have been making synthetic fuels from hydrogen and CO2 for some time, but because fossil fuels and valuable intermediates like ammonia were so cheap via hydrocarbons and/or coal, why bother? And we could have been making electricity via non-polluting approaches on a much more massive scale, but because nukes and coal burners were so "cheap" (actually, made cheap via government intervention and manipulation), again, why bother? By the way, while there does appear to be competition between coal burners and nukes, there is also a lot of cooperation; many of the same companies supply the goods, technologies, construction and finance expertise for both approaches to electricity manufacture.

So, we now have "blown the rent money", or at least a lot of it, on the equivalent of losing horses at the track - trillions of dollars (present dollars) for nukes, coal and natural gas for much of our electricity, and oil for transportation energy. But it needn't have been that way. And rather than go down this existing loser future pathway any more, we still can change to a renewable energy based society. There is NO valid technical reason why we can't do that, even if existing technology NEVER improved (and that just won't ever happen, as there are strong commercial incentive for improvement, notably in Europe). The reason why nukes have proliferated and why they continue to be so massively subsidized are political. The reason that renewables such as wind are financially not viable in the U.S. even though the actual cost of electricity made by wind turbines versus a new nuke is LESS via the wind turbine, even if some serious nuke subsidies are ignored (i.e. not counted as a cost), are also political. A sensible pricing policy for renewable energy for a country is also a political decision.

Of course, what happens when there is a "wind spill" or a "tower meltdown"? In general, a few million dollars goes down the drain, and the output of that turbine (not the wind farm in which the turbine was a part) is no longer available. But, a lot of the parts of the defunct turbine can be reused, and only very rarely for such a rare event is anyone hurt. What happened at the Chernobyl and Fukushima events - also pretty rare but no where nearly rare enough - can happen again, and it will, as sure as the sun will shine tomorrow (may be obscured by clouds, but it will shine, nevertheless). Nor is the acute poisoning of just a few million people the worst case event, not by a long shot. The sad truth is that we have been lucky so far in our endeavors with nukes, let alone with The Bomb that spawned all those nukes, and which in turn are indispensable to the mass production of atomic weaponry.

Will anyone in the US who owns nukes, or is in charge of managing nukes literally put their and their family's lives on the line for their money makers? That is, if an "oops" happens and a lot of bad stuff ( = poisonous radioactive material) gets away from its contained state, will they agree to a very public death by their money maker - radiation? Perhaps a massive does of X-rays, high energy electrons, or by an injection of polonium or radium containing serum, enough to be fatal in less than an hour? While this effort (to paraphrase Carl Hiassen in the book/movie "Striptease") at "going Old Testament on their ass" may seem uncivilized, perhaps it is only when these owners and the upper management have an intense and justifiable fear of a really horrid fatal fate should something bad happen that the probability of a nuke mishap will be minimized. But even fear cannot stop the inevitable - that over time, some event, or more likely a combination of events, will occur that leads to a nasty reactor mishap. And you can't stop the inevitable, maybe delay it, but it is inevitable, after all. Over time, a finite probability of a nuke event will manifest itself as a nuke event. So far, we have had 6 partial core meltdowns of commercial scale facilities since 1967, and a new crop of event probabilities (old age related accidents/leaks for facilities more than 40 years old) is coming into view. Add to that corporate ownership of many of these old power plants and a really strong desire to maximize output and thus maximize revenue above all other concerns, and that is not a pleasing picture to gaze upon.

So, to wrap it up, there is no way to do the time for the crime of Chernobyl and Fukushima like events. And there are alternative to using nukes that don't also instigate Global Climate warp-out via CO2 concentrations in our atmosphere that are inexcusably and atrociously too high. But, the price may be slightly higher immediate electricity bills or significantly higher ones, depending on which renewable options are pursued (PV panels and batteries in Northern Quebec are not going to be cheap..) and where they are installed. And odds are, in exchange for a future in which you can be guaranteed that mass poisoning via radioactive isotopes getting unleashed is going to happen, you might have to look at how your electricity is being made. But can we "man up" or "woman up" to this?

Sure we can. But the big question is not whether we can, it's if we will.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The New Big Boys - Technology Moves Along

The wind industry has apparently taken the next big leap in the race to produce lower cost electricity, and lots of it. On land, this has been via the Low Wind Speed Turbines (LWST), which have a higher swept area to generator size ratio and also utilize taller towers to catch faster winds. But offshore, some very impressive leaps in technology have been recently announced. The first pair of these came recently at an offshore wind industry exhibition in Europe, where the action in this business segment is pretty impressive

Last week, Vestas announced that it would be making and marketing a 7 MW wind turbine with 80 meter long blades - its V164 - see This was recently followed by Nordex's N150 - a unit with a 150 meter, swept area, featuring a direct drive permanent magnet generator and 73 meter long blades. Both of these units feature slimmed down nacelle in terms of mass, permanent magnet generators and very long blades - ones that are close to twice as long as the ones on the GE 1.5 MW turbines at the Sheldon and Wethersfield wind farms that are located in the hills on the western edge of Wyoming County, NY. And since the mass of the blades tends to be proportional to the 2.4 power of the length, the mass of these longer blades could be as much as 5.3 times as much as the with the smaller GE units that were installed in 2008. These blades experience many forces and stresses that are much more than linearly related to the length, they have to flex more, and top top it all off, they have to be economically made. While they may contain high strength materials in some parts (carbon fiber, for example), such materials are very expensive (carbon fiber retails for around $20/lb). The bulk of these will be made from epoxy resin (maybe 75% of the mass), fiberglass (~ 20 wt%), sometimes wood fiber (Vestas) that can add strength and flexibility, perhaps 1 wt% carbon fiber and some high strength steel/copper wire (grounding). In addition, these materials need to reliably assembled into the desired arrangement, and the arrangement (design features as well as the aerodynamic shape) is also a key to these blades (which behave like large airfoils, = airplane wings). If their V80 blade (39 meters = 128 feet long and 7.15 tons each) was merely geometrically scaled up to the 80 meter length, the blade would weigh 40 tons. However, the new long blades probably weigh about half of that value.

These Vestas and Nordex units are just being targeted to the North Sea/Baltic Sea/North Atlantic regions, where average wind speeds are in the range of 8.5 to 10.5 m/s at hub heights, and where waves can often reach 60 feet in height (20 meters) or more. It is cold, wet and really windy, with the word "treacherous" often applied to the waters. But, in just one 60 km x 60 km patch of water to the east of Norway, or to the north of Scotland, most of Europe could be electrically powered up. And now that nukes have been written off as the energy equivalent of venereal disease, only less desired, by Germany's people, offshore is where it's at, energy-wise. These units are so big that getting the parts to the installation site is possible only by ship and barge. That 80 meter long blade is 262.4 feet long.... and moving that over a road is just going to be an exercise in futility. Odds are, the blade manufacturing site will be located right next to a port, where they can be put directly onto the transport vessel.

The Vestas turbine still uses a gear speed increaser, but the generator is said to be a "lower speed" version, so this turbine falls into the domain of "multi-brid", a hybrid of a gearless and traditional geared design. A normal Vestas turbine uses a 3 stage gear speed increaser to go from about 10-20 rpm blade rotation to near 1200-1800 rpm generator rpm (V80 through V100 models). The recently announced V112 unit (8.1 to 19.1 rpm) uses a 4 stage gear speed increaser to allow the generator to spin fast enough to be an efficient energy converter. But, the problem with gearboxes is that they weigh a lot (10 to 20 tons), they are a prime point of failure (seals leak, bearings wear out, etc), and there is an energy penalty associated with them (3 to 5% loss). The more stages that are present, the more the gearbox weighs and the greater the energy loss. For units that only need 2 stages, there is less energy loss, and the gearbox weighs less, so the nacelle weighs less, and the tower mass can be reduced somewhat. In manufacturing systems like a wind turbine, mass costs money, and a low mass unit can mean a lower cost to manufacture them. Furthermore, the main low speed shaft can be more than 12" of solid metal, needed to transmit the torque from those very long blades to the gearbox/generator. Each stage magnifies the rotation rate by close to 30, though they differ depending on the manufacturer.

But, generators need to operate on the basis of the number of magnetic poles crossed per second, and if this value is too low, they become inefficient. For example, a 4 pole generator at 1800 rpm means that the poles (in the moving rotor and the stationary stator) cross 120 times per second. If a two stage unit is used instead of a 4 stage, the output of this gear speed increaser would be 148 rpm, not 1800, and the generator would only be crossing magnetic fields (poles) close to 10 times per second, which would not be good for performance for complicated reasons. However, if the generator had 48 poles instead of 4 poles, it could perform nicely. And this is why multi-pole generators can work nicely. Such units are a compromise between the enormous size and diameter needed for a gearless unit operating between 6 to 20 rpm and the high speed gear increaser/high speed 4 or 6 pole generator, which is sort of small in size only a few tons plus cooling units for the generator.

The ultimate in energy efficiency is to just get rid of the gear speed increaser altogether, which is what Enercon has done for decades. In their large (as in 7.5 MW generators), which can 30 feet in diameter, the generator can have 108 poles in it. These Enercon units do not use permanent magnets, and these are all electromagnetic (wrapped wire) units. The new Nordex offshore unit - see - goes with a direct low speed, multi-pole generator, but with a permanent magnet generator. For this, the moving part (rotor) is composed of numerous permanent magnet segments, and as these spin, they pass by the induced magnetic fields of the stationary part (stator) that are made with electromagnets. The advantage of these permanent magnet generators is that they do not consume electricity generating the electromagnetic field in the rotor (yes, that consumes energy), and a lot of problems associated with a concept called "reactive power" are not as much of a problem. If you like trigonometry that uses the square root of minus one (called i for the math-inclined), check our "reactive power" in wikipedia, for starts; otherwise, avoid it at all costs.

Siemens, the second largest electricity company (or maybe as big as General Electric) in the world bought up the Bonus wind turbine company of Denmark a few years ago, and they have invested serious money and talent into expanding that highly regarded wind company's product line. Last year more Siemens offshore wind turbines were installed than any other company's (right now most offshore wind turbines are either Siemens or Vestas units, though that is changing). Their biggest offshore sellers are the 2.3 MW one for really fast winds (Horn Rev 2, Nysted 2) and the 3.6 MW 107 meter rotor diameter unit. They have recently began installing their 3.6 MW x 120 meter rotor unit, which is better suited to waters slightly less windy than a howling gale, on average. Siemens is also investigating gearless offshore units. The company now has a commercial scale gearless unit (S-101 x 3MW), and some of these will be installed in the U.S. later this year. They recently expanded this to a LWST unit - the SWT-2.3-113, a 2.3 MW unit with a 113 meter rotor diameter - see Like the Nordex unit, it features a permanent magnet rotor.

The GE offshore unit (4 MW) is also based on a permanent magnet gearless design; GE bought up the Scanwind company of Norway as a short cut to get back into the offshore market (there are 7 x 3.6 MW units installed off of Ireland (Arklow Bank) operating now, installed about 5 years ago), but that line of business was never pursued. However, since offshore wind in Europe has hit the magic take-off spot, money and expanding markets have talked, and GE responded. Rumor has it that the mini-farm to be installed 3 miles offshore from Cleveland will be the new GE-Scanwind units.

In a related item, GE has announced that new hybrid towers are now available for their 2.5 MW series of turbines (104 meter rotors). These are based on a lower concrete tower part and an upper ~ 60 meter steel section that gets bolted onto the concrete part. The lower concrete part is especially rigid, and is needed to avoid the blades hitting the tower when the steel section vibrates/flexes too much. To avoid these vibrations, lower steel sections would have to be incredibly thick and possibly too large in diameter to fit under bridges and overpasses during truck or rail transport. The taller tower allows faster wind speeds to be tapped for a given site.

Gamesa, a Spanish company with extensive manufacturing operations in Pennsylvania has also introduced two new onshore units, and set up an offshore R&D effort in Virginia (next to the Chesapeake Bay) in conjunction with Northrup-Grumman (shipbuilding), who would handle the water based foundation part. The offshore unit would be a 5 MW x 128 meter rotor diameter unit. Their onshore units are based on a 4.5 MW generator size, with either a 136 meter rotor diameter (66 meter blade length) (G-136) or the G-128 version (62 meter blade length). Gamesa has made these so that they can be shipped over land by truck and rail, and has spent a lot of engineering time on making this possible.

While some may lament the trend towards the bigger, taller and more expensive per turbine trend, well, not much can be done about that. These units either lower the cost of the electricity produced for a given application (onshore or offshore) or else they allow a larger part of lands to be used to make wind derived electricity. For example, less than 13% of the U.S. land area has an average wind resource of 6.9 m/s at 80 meters above the ground. And most of those regions are located far from heavily populated areas (in grid parlance, "load centers"). The recently announced LWST units (Vestas, Nordex, Siemens, RE Power, for starts) now allow wind derived electricity to be made at a reasonable cost for more than 50% of the land area in our country that is not covered by the 13% of high wind speed regions. In fact, this opens up a lot of NY land area. But, more important, these units could be installed in the U.S. southeast, which is classified as a not very windy zone. In particular, areas near the Gulf of Mexico shoreline from Louisiana to Virginia could be used, as well as a lot of flat land regions and some hilltops. Hey, maybe the twin nukes proposed at the Savannah River (nuke weapons complex) can now be canned, and something more sensible used to make electricity. After all, that is the third worst spot in the U.S. to put a nuke, as there are some nasty earthquake faults intersecting at the junction of North and South Carolina and the Atlantic Ocean.

Besides, one can always ask for more expensive electricity, made by smaller wind turbines. Or really expensive electricity, made via photovoltaics... thought so. So the trend towards minimal electricity production cost in a competitive market keeps on rolling. Even in the U.S., with it's bizarre and byzantine renewable energy/polluting energy pricing systems riddled with loads of subsidies for the politically well connected, especially those nukes!

But, maybe the Vogtle reactors are really named after the Vogons, of "Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy" fame - see The Vogons are bureaucratic in the extreme, and they are also bad tempered, but once started on a project (such as the expansion of hyperspace lanes through places where planets like ours are presently located), they see it through to the end. And the penalty for changing to a more sensible arrangement than two new nukes in an earthquake/tsunami hotspot might indeed be a combination of lots of forfeited money and some really bad Vogon poetry dumped on the unsuspecting nuke project developers and financeers. Here, check it out... ... it's reputed to be the third worst poetry in the entire Universe!!!


Monday, April 4, 2011

Peak Oil and Wind Power in NY for 2011-2031

At the 2011 Eastern Community College Social Sciences Association, a report and presentation were submitted on the topic of how NY can avoid being on the wrong side of two "new" Horsemen of the Apocalypse (I guess that other four were not up to the task) - Peak Oil and Global Warming. Well, Global Warming will take a global effort, but we all have to do our part; as for Peak Oil, this one is a very serious and more urgent (in that it will hit before Global Warming maxes out in it's effects). The full report can be found at the GrowWNY document library (, energy and climate section), or via, and there is an attached presentation for those who like more graphics and fewer words - see

This is a bit of a "good news - bad news" scene. If Peak Oil is not dealt with sensibly, we won't really have to worry about the consequences of Global Warming much, as we won't have much of a society left to consume mass quantities of energy. It's a bit like the plot line from a "Mad Max" movie, and this is coming far faster than you have been told by the press and our political/business/societal leaders.

There, does that get your attention? Good. The problem is not so much the rate at which the world is extracting crude oil (basically, well aged versions of T-Rex and "T-Rex food"), but the rate at which exportable oil is being sold. The quantity of exported oil is equal to oil produced minus domestic consumption, and oil exporting countries are using increasingly large fractions of the total oil they produce domestically. This is described by the "Export Land Model" (ELM); at present, world oil prices to importing countries are largely set by the rate at which oil is exported. Domestically produced oil, in much of the world, does not play much of a role in setting the world oil prices (different qualities/varieties of crude have differing prices).

On the other hand, Peak Oil also poses a serious economic opportunity, as millions of jobs can be created to deal with a world powered by more renewable energy and essentially no oil. But, for the U.S., in such a future, this won't be a finance sector driven economy anymore....

In this report, one possible solution for electricity and one for liquid fuels (they are somewhat integrated) are given that are appropriate for NY State. The idea was to show that it IS possible to have a non-pollution based energy supply for NY's people, and it will hopefully get you thinking. Who knows, maybe you'll use this to come up with a better idea. Anyway, look, no nukes, no coal, no Marcellus (and other sourced) natural gas needed to make electricity. And look, no more need to import gasoline and diesel oil to driven ourselves and our goods and products around/move them to and fro.

So, here is the summary of it:


· Global Warming and Peak Oil are related items

· Oil combustion and oil consumption related infrastructure (e.g. cars, sub-urbs, car-centric shopping centers/malls, etc) are major emitters and/or causes of CO2 pollution, the major cause of Global Warming

· Global Warming and Peak Oil have different time scales for noticeable effects and the timing of their impacts will often differ

· Global Warming is mostly a weather, climate, rainfall, and ocean level phenomena, plus the effects of those on humans and their societies

· Peak Oil is mostly an economic phenomena, and transportation (of goods and people) related

· Peak Oil is a liquid fuels problem – liquid fuels have unique properties

· Peak Oil is really a Peak World Oil Export problem for the U.S.

· World Oil Exports have been declining since 2006, despite significant price increases for exportable oil (world oil price(s))

· The Export Land Model predicts a rapid decline in the oil to be exported to the U.S./importable by the U.S. in the next decade

· World crude oil production is more or less presently at maximum levels; world oil production rates can only decline from this peak from now on

· Increases in oil prices will NOT lead to significant (or any) increases in world oil production rates, contrary to conventional economic theory

· Increases in oil prices will NOT stop the decline in the available quantities of oil available for export, and can only slightly influence it

· Countries now importing oil face significant economic and societal challenges varying from quality of life to survival issues unless they cut back/eventually eliminate their imports of crude oil/refined crude oil

· In the next decade, countries with fewer to no oil imports will tend to do better than those with significant and continuing oil importation needs

· Life (and especially a civilized life) in the U.S. can go on without oil importation, but changes will be needed in how we transport people and goods for a civilized standard of living and a high population density (i.e. near present population levels) to continue.

· Changing our country’s energy sourcing/usage to stabilize our climate/minimize CO2 pollution is a major economic growth opportunity

· Changing our transportation system (of goods and people) to one compatible with initially no oil importation and eventually no crude oil usage is also a major economic growth opportunity

· Renewable energy costs/required real prices for that energy (electricity, fuels, heat) vary with type and location, and mostly will be higher than are present pricing levels for pollution based approaches (coal, oil, natural gas, nuclear), often because the external costs for polluting energy are largely not presently incorporated into present prices

· Renewable energy prices need to be based on the cost to produce this energy and (often) some reasonable profit (return on the investment of these renewable approaches) to be and become economically viable

· “Carbon Prices”, alias forms of CO2 pollution taxes/fees, are unlikely to be significantly effective at stimulating renewable energy development via rising the prices of pollution sourced energy to the required extent

· To be effective, CO2 pollution taxes must be raised significantly before some renewable energy sources become lower cost; the resulting much higher energy prices will induce adverse economic consequences and will collapse the political viability of “carbon prices”, even when price rebates are given to individual consumers (cap and dividend system)

· Basing renewable energy prices on the present (and usually highly subsidized) prices for polluting energy will lead to minimal installation rates of renewable energy and minimal replacement rates of polluting energy production/fossil fuel consuming facilities for the next decade

· Without major capital investments/job creation in the U.S., the present “jobless economy” will soon collapse as a result of more frequent and more intense oil price shocks and/or Global Warming induced weather/climate changes/disasters often in confluence with banking and other financial “panics”

· Job creation investments that result in greater oil/pollution based energy usage are outrageously wasteful forms of investment – in effect, they really represent consumption, not investment

· The present “jobless recovery”, with the 25 million unemployed and/or underemployed citizens in the U.S. is really a “meta-stable, sub-optimal economic equilibrium” of the kind predicted by John Maynard Keynes when “gambling bubbles” pop and an inadequate government stimulus is employed to counteract the collapse in the private sector economic activity (demand); such arrangements can exist for considerable lengths of time

· Significant investments in renewable energy and in ways to minimize and/or eliminate oil usage may be the ONLY way for the U.S. to climb out of the current “jobless recovery”; so far, these efforts have been fairly insignificant and impressively sub-optimal

· Failure to institute sensible pricing policies such as Feed-In Laws will lead to insignificant Green Energy investments/Green Job creation, with dire future economic and societal prospects for the vast majority of people in this country

· Failure appears to be the present “default option” with respect to Green Energy/Green Jobs, and to avoid failure on epic (i.e. 1930’s Great Depression and worse) scales will require changes to renewable energy pricing systems/investment policies

· Our present governmental, economic, political, media and societal leaders tend to live comfortably and/or extravagantly under the present “future failure regime”, and they appear to be well insulated against poverty and deprivation; their personal motivation to change such an arrangement is minimal, as they are “doing fine” under the present arrangement

· Whether and how our societal leaders will allow change (to a Green Energy and Green Jobs based one) to occur that may diminish their status or the status of their “tribe” and their grasp on economic/political power is of key importance to our collective future well being; just because it is the logical thing to do for the vast majority of people does not mean that it will occur, as the prime decisions are apparently being done by a tiny minority of our population

And here is the conclusion:

However, NY could also choose a path of financial, and hence societal, ruin, based on continued fossil fuel addition/consumption, until the exceedingly high cost becomes too onerous for most NY residents. We could go “full tilt stupid” and attempt to provide 28 GW delivered electricity with 30 GW of new nuclear plants (capacity basis) at a cost way north of $450 billion (eventual cost would be $15 billion per delivered GW), only to run out of usable and affordable uranium, and to find that only terrorist states will accept the spent fuel rod trash (only to return it in less than desired manners..). In any case, with the majority of NY’s 19 million residents destitute and cold every winter, near starvation most of the time, something like bubonic plague ravaging the meager relics of a public health system on a regular basis, there just seems to be so little in favor of the “Business as Usual” (BAU) way of arranging our life. The Green Jobs/Green Energy scenario seems so much more preferable… It does not seem conceivable that any degree of fairness or equity can come from the BAU as Peak Oil slams us in the next decade, and then Global Climate Change comes in for the knockout punch via the decomposition of the Greenland Icesheets and the drowning of much of Long Island/NY City when ocean levels rise rapidly by 30 feet.

So how can social science prepare us for what needs to be done – sensible pricing for renewable energy? Without setting prices for renewable electricity and fuels on the basis of the cost to produce this electricity and liquid fuel, renewable energy will remain a trivial shadow of what it could be, and a money-losing proposition, for good measure. Until renewables get made financially viable and freed from all kinds of confusing subsidies (also used for polluting energy to an even greater extent), there seems to be little possibility that NY State can hold its own. And the probability that we can “gently slide” back to peasant based agriculture, also seems extremely remote. Or that we can gently slide to a low energy lifestyle with 20 million inhabitants mostly destitute due to a lack of viable employment/lack of affordable energy also seems remote. If we slide, it will be mostly likely be quite fast, and quite brutal, just like NY winters without heat or much food.

Actually, it seems so trivial – pass a Feed-In Law, and start installing onshore and offshore wind farms and pumped hydroelectric energy storage facilities, ASAP. Issue bonds to do some of these (such as the pumped hydro facilities), while for others, let the private industry route work where it can. But, trivial or not, the fact remains that under the present pricing systems for both electricity and biofuels, renewables are still money losers when prices are set by old, established polluting energy systems which, in the case of oil, have essentially run their course, and will soon no longer be affordable by most NY residents. One would suppose that education of the public would be the key, but since corporate owned media in the state show close to zero inclination to push for sensible pricing, that option is mostly closed. Furthermore, many in the “liberal” and “environmental” organizations of note still pursue the “CO2 pollution tax” (“carbon pricing”, “cap and dividend”. etc) route to raising pollution based energy prices to the point where renewables are less expensive. Unfortunately, since median NY family incomes shrank in the last decade (and the percentage shrinkage increasing as income decreased), this becomes a de-facto tax on average NY’ers, and one of little consequence to the upper 10% and upper 1% ruling class. They also assume (incorrectly) that renewable energy prices will drop significantly, to the point where CO2 pollution taxes of significant magnitude can be avoided – also a grand illusion. Thus, most “name brand” environmental and liberal organizations propose solutions that are no solutions, or which will be most regressive on those with the least income. Many of these same so-called liberal leaders fail to recognize that a revived manufacturing sector is the key to economically reviving the economic prospects of MOST NY’ers (and not just the predator class), And perhaps this is due to a combination of social class, where they get their money from and the fact that so many work in or with or know people who work for the “predator class”, and the inability of the liberal /environmental “leadership” to comprehend what actual manufacturing is and can be and why it is so important; they swallow the “knowledge based society” theme hook line and sinker, and fail to realize where wealth really comes from, other than by financial machination.

Actually, the idea of pushing the main problem of viable societal change that leads to a more equitable society, and one with a more ecologically and environmentally sustainable/sensible society onto “price systems for renewable change” may be shocking to many. But, without sensible pricing, the Green Jobs/Green Economy possibility seems to morph into a mirage. Without some kind of financial incentive for workers and opportunity hungry companies, the political changes needed for a Green Jobs/Green Economy seem even more improbable than they may be even with sensible renewable energy pricing systems. Even the recent horrendous set of THREE nuclear reactor partial core meltdowns might not be enough to foreclose the nuclear option, since that has been (and will be) pushed hard by its advocates as a cure for CO2 pollutionless electricity, hydrogen and “homegrown energy”. The positive lure of huge economic growth, profits, employment and numerous benefits to society vanishes without the economic viability that comes from sensible pricing systems for renewable energy that are based on the actual cost to make this renewable energy. Pricing renewables based on whatever non-renewable energy is priced at (and with the non-renewables often loaded with huge governmental subsidies and permission to avoid risk (like nuclear accidents and Global Warming consequences) seems like buying a first class seat on the Hellbound Train.

And so, can “sensible renewable energy pricing” be used as an organizing feature? Probably not, but a successful progressive social movement will need to have this as a central end result. It may need to be the sales job of a century, and not just to the general public, but to those who are the dominant voices in the progressive movement, and those who are the present “progressive leaders”.

Maybe have some rock concerts pushing Feed-In laws as the organizing theme. After all, to quote the boys from Led Zepplin;

“Cryin’ won’t help you, prayin’ won’t do you no good

When the levee breaks, mama you got to move…”



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