Friday, February 24, 2012


The recent additions to the Steelwinds site - six new Clipper C96 units known officially as "Steelwinds 2" in Lackawanna and Hamburg. Picture from At the "christening", lots of positive reviews, even from those formerly skeptical, as well as some very decent winds off of Lake Erie.

If you would like to read how more non-polluting electricity could be made along with the jobs that go into making them (about 15.5 job-years per million dollars invested) and not just installing them, a great "Green Paper" recently has been written by Bill Nowak. It is called "a CLEAN FIT" - the title being the acronym for Clean Local Energy Available Now - Feed-In Tariffs. FIT pricing systems have proven to be the most effective way to simultaneously deploy renewable energy systems, innovate renewable energy systems and create jobs from their manufacture while at the same time producing electricity at lower real costs lower than any other renewable energy approach tried to date. In many countries, the benefits of these developments significantly outweighs the minor added expense (on a price basis) just in monetary terms. Needless to say, we don't have such a renewable energy pricing system in NY, and with predictable results, such that we have much room for improvement ....

Oh yes, there is also the icing on the cake - electricity made without pollution, and in significant amounts, too. In our country, we avoid the consumption of over 1 trillion standard cubic feet per year of natural gas (out of around 24 tcfy) via wind turbines, or about 4.2% of all natural gas consumed, and we now supply 2.4% of the electricity made in this country (which is slightly different than the amount consumed in this country). Wind turbines installed to date in the US now average 14 GW (14,000 MW) output on a delivered basis (out of 440 GW made in USA in 2011), which is equal to all the pollution sourced electricity (nukes, coal, natural gas, fuel oil) made in NY State. And this is despite one of the craziest sounding renewable energy financing systems cooked up by highly overpaid but very clever people, whose best argument for its continuance is that it is better than nothing. And without existing subsidies or something better (like FITs), at least 40,000 people who work in the wind biz (about half of them) are going to get axed when the existing Federal subsidies evaporate on midnight, December 31, 2012. Consider that as "Pumpkin Time", where Cinderella's nasty, evil sisters win, and happiness is only found among the rulers of natural gas by fracking and coal companies...

So, here's one link to this very well written paper:
Odds are, there will be others. And if you like it, pass it along to your friends and neighbors, or maybe to the occasional idealogue who acts like Homer Simpson in the "Blinky the Fish" episode (well, it can't hurt, can it?). As you may recall, Homer, a nuclear plant operator, was none too fond of renewable energy, but when news of his son's catch got on TV, Mr. Burns (and don't think of radiation burns here - just a coincidence) gets invited to a surprising dinner. But Marge saves the day....

It won an Environmental Media Award in 1991 for being the best television episode of the year with an environmental message. It is a classic, especially in how it depicts those who try keep the consequences of a nuclear "oops" - in this case, a pretty mild one - under wraps. But unlike what usually happens in real life, this time the good side prevails.... BTW, those turbines are absolutely guaranteed to never melt down in a Fukushima and Chernobyl style. In around 25 years when these units get retired, more than 75% of the old components in these will be recycled.

The fourteen modern, commercial scale wind turbines south of Buffalo are seen every day (assuming there is visibility in the daytime, and that is not always a sure thing around here) by hundreds of thousands of people each day. There are no reported ill effects, though someday someone will be gawking out their car window while driving by and forget to watch where they are driving - I guess that can be blamed on the wind turbines by those so inclined to do so. And yet, no increase in teenage unmarried OR married pregnancies can be correlated to the presence of the "Lackawanna 10 + Hamburg 4". Nor have they induced aliens from another world to come down from above and request that title to WNY be ceded to them due to the presently incompetent human management of the area. Nor have transformational hopes for a significantly better world been realized, despite the fondest wishes of many - instead, those turbines just are spinning around 80% of the year, and maxing out around 15% of the time. And they make for pretty nice neighbors - often better than some of the human ones around these parts. Nor have many (or any?) been inspired by the sight of the turbines to come up with the winning Loto numbers, at least yet. However, like trying to figure out future what electricity prices in WNY will be, or what the winning numbers would be, ya never know....

Nope, instead, some significantly wealthy "tax investors" have plunked down roughly $75 million to buy and install these. If they play their cards right, they will be able to avoid paying around $50 to $60 million in taxes that they would otherwise have to pay over a 10 year period. But, this is strictly legal, scrupulously so, and it is how prices are dropped from what they would otherwise need to be (around 8 to 9 cents/kw-hr). Of course, someone has to make up for the tax avoided by those well off investors, and that is generally not other well off people.. But, since present electricity prices in WNY are 2.5 cents/kw-hr for GENERATED electricity, no new investment in generation of electricity BY ANY METHOD will do anything but lose copious amounts of money until prices rise back to their historic average of around 6 c/kw-hr unless some kind of assistance/subsidies are involved. The collapse in electricity pricing is a result of the Great Recession as well as the recent bubble in natural gas production, especially by the gas collected as a by-product of oil production that gets added to what is made via the ill-considered fracking frenzy. This lack of market discipline would have made John D. Rockefeller (founder of the Standard Oil monopoly and its greatest descendant/offspring/spawn as well as now the worlds biggest and most profitable corporation, Exxon-Mobil) very upset. But, such is life in the 21st century, and it turns out the fracking for methane only is now an expressway to bankruptcy - all the frackers are heading for "oily shale regions".

These wind turbines will make 35 MW under ideal conditions, where surface winds are around 18 mph and winds at 80 meters (262 ft) are blowing at more than 25 mph. In theory, these would produce 38% of their output if they were not so closely spaced together, which would be around an average of 13.3 MW. In 2010, the original 8 had an average output of around 27%, or around 5.4 MW, though there was some problems with the made in Brazil blades cracking that probably contributed to a lower value than was expected. Who knows, maybe the newer blades were made in this country. The nacelles are made in Iowa, the towers of the original 8 were made in Tennessee, and most of the approximately 8000 parts that went into them were also sourced in this country. These machines not only generate electricity, they also make jobs in a manner similar to the auto industry. We only wish that a lot of those jobs could be local ones....

NY has the potential to totally power up, electrically speaking, using a combination of wind turbines and pumped hydroelectric storage systems. But, just because we have that potential does not mean that we will do it, or create the humongous number of jobs needed to make and install roughly 25,000 commercial scale turbines. And with about 5,000 more (offshore of Long Island and in the Great Lakes), we could replace almost all of the natural gas used for heating homes and offices in this state via electrically powered heat pumps - maybe less with better insulation and passive solar thermal designs. But while that is "science fiction" futuristic thinking, without FITs, it is simply an outlandish fantasy - the electricity made without pollution and hundreds of thousands of jobs.

But since every step to a better life begins with that initial foot put forward... check out the paper. Then don't just get mad at the difference of what could be and what is - get active. I'm sure you can think of a way...


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

2011 - The World of Wind part 2

From - a picture of the Horns Rev 1 wind farm on a rare sunny day in the array.

The Horns Rev 1 wind farm was completed on December 11, 2002 - at 160 MW, it is still one of the bigger offshore efforts built to date. It is now a bit over 9 years old, going on 10 this year. This was a PILOT PROJECT - a big Research and Development project (one of two for that time period the other was Nysted 1 in the Baltic Sea) put on by the Danish government and private developers. Over $US 40 million was spent on ecological research for this project to see what its effects were in this very windy part of the Danish coastline, noted for intense winds, fishing and lots of shipwrecked vessels dating back to Viking times. Average output from this "semi-primitive" array of 80 x 2 MW wind turbines (only 2 MW!) averaged around 43% of rated capacity, or around 600 GW-hr/yr ( The average output is around twice that of onshore NY State wind turbines of the rated capacity, which is pretty good for a 160 MW wind farm crammed into a twenty square kilometer area (5000 acres). The losses due to the wake effect are about 20%, but this had to be balanced with the added cost of the underwater 33,000 volt electric cables (between the towers and the transformer substation that boosts the voltage to 150,000 volts before it is sent onshore and other factors. See for the performance of all Danish offshore wind arrays - the average is near 40%, and is this low due to a number of "close to shore" complexes.

The Horns Rev 2 windfarm (209 MW) was recently installed (completed in late 2009) and has a rated output of over 46%, but it is located 19 miles offshore with an even better average wind resource, and is spread out over a larger region, using turbines with 10 years of additional improvements versus HV1 - see Another factor that gets a higher yield is the power ratio (swept rotor area divided by generator rating) of HV2 (2.95 m^2/kw) versus HV1 (2.51 m^2/kw).

from - a rare scenic day at the Horns Rev 2 wind farm

While at one time this was novel, today is is ROUTINE. In fact, Vestas (maker of the wind turbines for HV1) rarely makes the V80 style of turbine anymore - it is pretty small, after all, at least by modern standards. And a lot was learned and improved upon from the HV1 project. For example, instead of relying on sub-contractors to provide most of the key parts, Vestas now makes their own blades, gear systems, generators and transformers - it is a way to make sure that when critical parts are made, nobody skimps on quality. Oh well, live and learn... Anyway, happy B'day, HV1!

The worldwide results for 2011 in the wind turbine category are now in, and can be seen at[tt_news]=340&tx_ttnews[backPid]=4&cHash=f4d1217bad and Last year about 41 GW was made/installed and that represents an investment of roughly $US 66 billion. That brings the total capacity up to 238 GW, and the average delivered electricity made at well over 50 GW - or about 50 x 1.1 GW (rated) nukes. This is way past the realm of a trivial form of electricity generation... In general, wind sourced electricity is between 5 times (poor wind resource, sunny region) to more than 20 times (strong wind, poor solar insolation) less expensive than is PV based electricity, though obviously that is location specific. So, if getting more energy out per delivered unit of investment is important, that should rate. However, if getting more jobs created per delivered unit of energy is important (and in some countries, it is), there are more spendthrift ways to invest money in the renewable energy biz...

The leading manufacturer/installer was China at 16 GW, but that bears special mention, because almost all of those installed wind turbines are unconnected to a grid. Much like their highways that are rarely used, wind turbines in China are primarily about consuming steel, concrete, and labor, and not much about electrical generation, though that may change at some day, especially if they raise their quality of product. China has one of the lowest capacity factors for wind turbines of any country, and that is not because of a poor wind resource. These problems have been noted for some time: For the last year that statistics are available (2009), the average capacity was approximately 16% if it is assumed that the 12.5 GW installed in 2009 was only operation for about half of the year. However, China has also targeted wind turbines as an export product; since they serve little use for internal to China electricity. Almost all turbines installed in China are made in China by Chinese companies who have licensed, stolen and often based their turbines on European technology, though people being people, some improvements are inevitably made despite connection between turbine manufacture and the economic well-being of the organizations who "own" them - often both the maker and owner of the installed turbine is the Chinese government in some form or another.

In most other countries, those who own turbines need to get paid by selling electricity, and the money received by sales of electricity pays back investors and bankers/those who loaned money to the project developer. The situation in China would result in massive bankruptcies. The U.S. installed 6.8 GW of now turbines - about 40% of what China did in 2011 - but the US turbines were immediately put into operation. The total installed capacity is close to 47 GW in this country. Nominal efficiency was almost 27%, but if this was prorated over the year, US turbines averaged around 30% net of capacity or about 16.5 GW (almost 2.4% of the electricity made in this country). The amount installed in 2011 was about the same as was put into service in 2010, and about 70% of that installed in 2009 and 2008. Due to the impending end of the Federal subsidies at the end of 2012, a large surge of installations is expected in 2012, followed by essentially none for 2013. Canada also had a significant year, with 1.3 GW of new installations (mostly Alberta, Ontario and Quebec), bringing their total to almost 5.3 GW. In both countries, a significant portion of the capacity was made in North America. A major effort at tapping the "wind tunnel" in Oaxaca in southern Mexico has started, where incredible average winds exist (354 MW added, total now 873 MW), as well as in NE Brazil (also very windy due to trade winds), where 583 MW was put into service, raising their total to more than 1.5 GW.

Europe installed a bit more than 10 GW, and this was distributed in a significant manner across 6 countries (Germany, Spain, Italy, France, Great Britain and Sweden). Also of note was the 750 MW worth of offshore arrays installed in northern Europe (860 MW installed worldwide). Europe continues to be the technology leader and major wind turbine export originator. The total installed capacity is now 96.6 GW of capacity in Europe, and they appear to be well on their way to supplying 20% of Europe's electricity by 2020.

Another major force in the wind biz is India, via Suzlon and their foreign owned subsidiary, RE Power (German based). India installed over 3 GW of new units, bringing their total to more than 16 GW. Japan installed very few wind turbines last year, though since most of their nukes have been shut down forever, that may soon change. South Korea announced a massive offshore wind effort in 2011. Significant new efforts are scheduled for Egypt, kenya, Souh Africa, Morocco, Australia and New Zealand, too.

For 2012, the installation rate will be similar to that of 2011 - perhaps fewer units installed in China, more in Japan, significantly more offshore of Europe and in North America. At this rate, the US and Canada will be supplying over 3% of their electricity by the end of 2012. In both Iowa and South Dakota, the wind content in the grid will be above 25%, similar to Denmark's. Except for China, grid bottlenecks do not seem to be a limiting factor. The effect of the Fukushima disaster has yet to be felt in the wind industry, but this is likely to raise overall demand for wind turbines and lessen demand for nukes except in those countries that also desire to be nuclear weapons producers. The spike in "world market" coal prices due to the buying rates of India AND China will also be strong motivators for turbine installations in coming years, except in the U.S.

Due to China's insistence on extracting maximum value from the rare earths used to make permanent magnet generators (PMGs), the PMG trend is apparently not growing as fast as was anticipated, and this is also not giving the Chinese any advantage, either. Several rare earth mines outside of China are also scheduled to open in the near future, but until then no significant cost advantage goes to PMG generator based turbines. The impending collapse of the North American wind market will also limit the need to do innovations. Low Wind Speed Turbines (LWST) that utilize towers taller than 80 meters will also become more common in the U.S. until the end of 2012 arrives. By the end of 2012, the electricity made by wind turbines in the U.S. will be equivalent to the usage of 1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas per year, or about 4% of present gas usage. Oddly enough, this will help depress the price of natural gas by lowering the consumption rate of natural gas, and will accentuate the effects of the collapse of gas pricing in North America on gas drilling efforts.

However, the wind business is likely to get no credit for this, and will be blamed for low prices by the oil and gas industry. This sets up an interesting political dynamic, because the oil and gas industry is capable of much more lobbying than the wind business, and this will put more pressure on Congress to delay the approval on any subsidies to the wind industry, such as the MACRS and PTC/ITC/Section 1603. The low gas prices will also keep the price of electricity low, and this will also remove a lot of the motivation to install more wind turbines (as wind turbines compete with gas in electricity production). Until the present excess in gas production relative to gas usage is used up (about a 2% excess of supply relative to demand), the gas price collapse will continue. For NY State, this may be a blessing, as this gas glut also trashes the motivation to go on a fracking spree.

So who says life has to be simple and non-convoluted?


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Climate Ignorance


And yeah, it's a "two-fer" - using all that gasoline to drive a few tons of metal around for one relatively tiny person by comparison not only cranks up demand for imported oil and thus bleeds our country something silly money-wise, but the by-product of burning oil products is CO2 pollution. Do this hundreds of millions of times a day around the world and there is some serious giga-tonnage (one gigaton is a billion tons) of CO2 pollution tossed up into the air. Do it long enough at rates faster than the ocean can absorb the CO2 (the ocean is the main "sink" for CO2) and the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere rises to the point where the temperature starts rising. When that happens the ice that has been stashed away in Greenland and Antarctica as well as the minor amounts stashed as glaciers onshore start melting and, for the ice-sheets, sliding into the ocean. That causes ocean levels to rise, and a whole lot of trouble, too, especially for humans. It's sort of fitting - those who cause the mess get nailed by their own stupidity - but it's more complicated, and the victims usually don't cause the problems, or at least most of the ones they are about to get nailed with - many of the perps are dead and gone by the time the effects are in full bloom, or at least reasonably apparent.

So, perhaps a little review is in order. Let's start with the planetary energy balance, of which 99.95% comes from the sun and the rest is "internal" (alias geothermal). Here's the macro version of the Navier-Stokes Equation, or in this case, the planetary heat balance:

Accumulation = Energy In - Energy Out

Energy leaves our planet by radiating infared photons (averaging around 10.06 microns, centered at corresponding to an average temperature of around 288 K = 15 C = 59 F), but at these temperatures, there is a big range of wavelengths in action, and the ones near 14.3 micron (CO2 and CH4 absorbances) are important - see and Energy comes in from the sun whose source temperature is around 5780 K = 5507 C = 9947 F (kinda toasty, eh?). At steady state, Accumulation = 0. If it is made more difficult to radiate heat into space (such as by altering the composition of our atmosphere), then higher surface temperatures will be needed to raise the "Energy Out" to the point where it matches "Energy In". Similarly, if radiating heat to space is made easier (again, by altering the composition of the atmosphere), Accumulation will be negative and surface temperatures of our planet will drop until a balance is re-established. Small changes in the solar radiation output can also have similar effects.

Since the great dinosaur wipe-out from the meteor crash in the Gulf of Mexico around 65 million years ago, the earth was kept nice and warm by higher CO2 concentrations, and partly this was caused by India (then a big island in the Indian Ocean) moving northwards, and in effect, digging up a lot of CO2 and methane (CH4) that had been buried in the ocean mud (sort of like a snow plow). But 25 million years ago it slammed into the Eurasian land mass (about 25 million years ago), and this sprouted the Himalayan Mountains in an alkaline part of the earth's crust. As rains eroded this alkaline earth, the waters flowed into the Indian and Pacific Ocean, and this alkali (limestone, dolomite, soda ash) reacted with the CO2 in the air/dissolved in the ocean, and the result was a gradual lowering of the CO2 content of the atmosphere, allowing infared radiation to radiate out at greater rates, and eventually lowering the temperature of the planet's surface. Soon, Antarctica became ice covered, along with the Arctic Ocean and Greenland; the increased ice cover reflected more light/heat, adding to the process.

The two pertinent physical laws at play are the Beer-Lambert absorption law (Beer''s Law as most chemists name it) and Planck's Blackbody Radiation Law (Nobel prize in 1904). There are also cycles of solar activity and eccentricities in the earth's orbit that slightly alter the "Energy In" aspect, but these are well understood. In addition, there are "lag times" due to the heat stored in the ocean, the rate that the ocean can absorb CO2, extent of ice-cover and the effects of the occasional volcano or many which dump sulfates into the air (causing cooling). There are now several accurate computer models of climate, all of which serve as the underpinning of weather models. The discovery of the "Ozone Hole" phenomena (chlorofluorocarbons, organobromine, organochlorine and methyl iodide compounds causing ozone to be decomposed on ice crystal surfaces in the stratosphere) has also helped in the understanding of the planetary energy balance. And while more climate science R&D should be done, that is no excuse not to act on what is already known....

Anyway, here are the results:
1. Surface Air Temperature:

2. Average Ocean Heat Content (water surface temperature proxy):

3. The models - one example of "The Hockey Stick" and this was before it gets worse in the 2000 to 2012 era):

4. And here is the anthropogenic (human caused) CO2 mass input data:

Houston, maybe we have a problem here.... ya think?

But then, so many say, "So what". Besides, there is no evidence of this being a problem... Wrong!
Here is just one of a whole lot of "paleoclimate" studies showing that a big surge in CO2 gives really significant changes in climate, ice coverage of earth's surface and ocean levels: It's a bit of a read, but compressed as best as can be done (it's a big subject...).

Well, when facts get in the way of bigotry, stupidity, short term profits and general corporate whoredom (well, at least on behalf of fossil fuel extractors and the present day Republican Party), time to "go Rogue", or, as pointed out in this awesome parody, "go Rouge":,_An_American_Nightmare

From the good folks at "De Smog Blog", comes a disturbing tale of "enforced ostrich behavior" where a group of evil intentioned types wish to perpetuate lies in the classroom of American children by trying to "instill doubt" with respect to climate science on aspects where there is no doubt except that of the fantasies of "denialists", and pass off lies as "contrary opinions", or else outright ban the teaching of any climate science: and further explained here:
After all, if "the truth will set you free", but the truth is never taught to American Children, will they ever really be free other than being free of the truth? Ah yes, it is truthiness (, in action, but with malicious intentions......

And we have small time local punksters, some free of charge and doing it because they wish to be contrarian, or else so far gone that they believe that dumping CO2 into our atmosphere at a furious rate is a right inferred by God to humans to bring on "End of Days" and Biblical Armageddon, while others do trolling for the money. Whenever somebody writes a letter to the editor expressing concern at how we humans (and in particular, the corporate/governmental leaders of the U.S.) are trashing the climate control system of our planet, out comes the Trolls. Out comes derision, lies, "weasels", and such twisted logic it would make a pretzel jealous. The main point is to get nasty with those concerned about our future well-being, and in effect, to "nasty out" such subversive (at least to pollution based profiteers) expressions of opinion. Here is one example:

No wonder Climate Concerns in the U.S. are at an all time low...

So, here's the response, and perhaps a cure for this "Davenport Malady":

This opinion and the denialism from one critic/troll (Rich Davenport) is a classic example of what has been repeated all across our country. Facts are just fodder and excuses to twist other facts and lies into quite the toxic little gumbo, where the goal is presumably a stalemate. And do this long enough, and nothing gets done till it is too late. Add to this the current Republican Party national trend (see "Republicans Undiscover Fire", where ignorance and anti-science of some professions (except when it comes to petroleum geology, armaments and and some aspects of nukes, for example) reigns supreme, and we have a whole lot of ugly on a stick, with big ramifications. But remember, the goal of these trolls is really stalemate for a while, another 10 to 20 years of fossil fuel sourced energy allowing some to live large until both supplies get scarce and get really expensive by today's standards (and for oil, that's saying a lot). Then there is the CO2 waste product's impacts on the climate, too, when it gets just too darn obvious to ignore. Of course, a lot of the trolls (mostly oldish geezers, anyway) will be in retirement or post-retirement mode anyway, so if the climate version of The Rapture comes about, why should they care. Their work is done.... Mission Accomplished....

So how do we deal with the "immune to facts, immune to the scientific method" crowd? They are pretty frustrating, and they seem to either have media dominance, or have adapted to our "dumbed down" media where 15 seconds of face time is all there is, in between commercials and sports stories.

Odds are, money and jobs trumps their ignorance. After all, when the vast majority in this country are seeing a real decline in both wealth and income, and the means to skirt such an unwanted situation can't really be had anymore in sufficient numbers, people should be receptive to such approaches. In a lot of Europe, even in places ruled by conservatives who are trashing the world and their own national/regional governments/economies with delusions of "expansionary austerity", Green Jobs and associated renewable energy are a big hit and quite popular. Even when these raise prices for electricity a bit and gasoline/diesel a lot.

But that connection has not been successfully made in the U.S. Our present present wimped-out incentives for renewables (scheduled to end Dec 31, 2012) and punitive proposed dis-incentives for coal (rarely petroleum, it seems, which is the leading cause of both CO2 pollution and money/wealth export in this country) are not working to the extent needed, either, nor is it doubtful they even could.

So, maybe instead of playing defense, we need to play offense. Instead of raising prices on all pollution sourced electricity, just raise prices for the renewable sourced electricity and allow them to operate at profitably. Instead of raising mass transit fares, lower them, and add a very slight fee to gasoline (about 1 cent per gallon per month for one year, hardly noticeable at today's prices). Or raise Mitt Romney's marginal income tax rate (and that of his fellow one percenters). But, get back to a focus on using less petroleum, domestic or imported, and by all means, drop that imported oil bill to zero ASAP. And let's get the idea that we also have to be using LESS natural gas every year, not the same or more each year. As for nukes, well, Fukushima and high prices for new nukes have turned that into a zombie technology.

People employed in and associated with Green Jobs/Green Economy will be unreceptive to the trolls "stalemate strategy" on Climate and Energy. But with so few employed in Green Jobs, well, that allows the trolls to exercise far too much trouble. This "chicken or egg - which comes first?" conundrum, where the chicken seems to predominate, needs to be made a thing of the past.


Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Natural Gas Trickster Problem


Many decades ago, natural gas (methane, fossil fuel form, alias Ngas) was proposed as the fossil fuel "bridge" between coal and a nuclear future. But then that nuclear future morphed into an ever more renewable energy one as nukes "came out of the closet" to reveal their darker side (extremely expensive, perpetually in need of various subsidies, prone to catastrophe on occasion). And of course there is no separating nukes from The Bomb, from which they were spawned. So, exit nukes, and apparently, exit renewables, as here comes fracking sourced natural gas (Ngas)... You mean, not a bridge but instead more of a destination? Were those Ngas use "bridge concept" promoters, er, stretching the truth a bit? Oh Noes !!!!

Basically, the Ngas producers want to get their customers good and hooked, so they can extract maximum revenue from them. This is no different than any other capitalists in the energy biz, but Ngas is a bit special. It is a pain to transport across oceans, and very capital intensive/expensive to do so, which means that Ngas extracted on a given continent isolated by lots of water is best used on that continent. But, on land or on islands near land, gas is easy to transport via pipelines. Storage of Ngas is also possible, but also expensive and a pain, too. Unlike oil, Ngas is not easily used in transportation, and since most cars, trucks, ships and planes are based on liquid fuels; it is easier to convert the Ngas to liquid fuels than convert present transportation users into Ngas users. So, the oil products have a solid lock on transportation energy, but oil and Ngas can compete for stationary applications.

Or, used to, but since oil is so much more pricey these days, oil has experienced "demand destruction" except in rare cases. The use of oil for heat and power generation in areas where there is also access to Ngas is pretty much extinct in the US these days... For example, the going spot price for Ngas is around $2.50/MBtu (MBtu = Million British Thermal Units, roughly 1000 standard cubic feet), but at $100/bbl, oil in bulk is around $17.50, or 7 times the thermal equivalent price.

But, Ngas is no longer needed to make electricity OR heat. In WNY, the combination of hydropower, wind turbines, pumped hydroelectric storage and biomass can replace both coal, Ngas AND nukes as sources for electricity. And as for heat, electricity can also supply it, and if groundwater based heat pumps are used, at an equivalent price, too. So do we really need that Ngas, especially given all the nasty that gets done to get some Ngas? No. And then there are those infernal price spikes that happen with the Ngas supply/demand mix, and which can throw huge regions into bankruptcy (think California during the Enron crimewave in the 2000-2001 era) when those who own the Ngas put the greed into overdrive and try to collect a record fortune in a record amount of time....

So, if you don't like fracking (and a lot of people in NY State don't, especially as one becomes more informed about it), don't support fracking with YOUR money! We often vote with how we spend our money, and in the case of Ngas and electricity, that is definitely the case. Besides, the wind turbine-pumped hydro-groundwater based heat pump approach can put far more people to work manufacturing and installing these than will occur with continued addiction to Ngas as our source of home and work heating. And if you continue to use Ngas ad infinitum, fracking is going to happen. If you want to be sensible and not stupid as well as frivolous, and you want to oppose/stop fracking in NY State, then we need to take steps to reduce Ngas usage in NY State every year. Insulate, "solar thermalize", live in reasonable sized housing, manufacture AND install solar hot water heaters, manufacture AND install groundwater heat pump systems and insist that our government tax dollars are not wasted on Ngas heating (schools, offices and buildings can be heated using heat pump systems, too, and at lower long term cost, too). That's how you stop fracking! Quit being so 20th century about heating and electricity production. Join the freaking 21st century...!

Ngas is easy to use in stationary applications (furnaces, kitchens, power plants), and burning Ngas into CO2 and water vapor plus heat can be done with a minimum of non-CO2 pollutant generation. But, there is that darn CO2 pollution aspect, and any leaks of methane are immensely a Global Warming problem due to the intense infared raditation absorbance by methane at the 14.4 micron wavelength in the electromagnetic spectrum. There are many historical periods where giant eruptions of methane from oceans (where it gets stored under cold and pressure as "methane hydrates") are suspected of leading to serious temperature spikes which then set off other "feedbacks", including more CO2 pumping into the atmosphere. The half life of methane in our atmosphere is around 10 years, and after 68 years, a molecule of methane emitted has the same global warming potential as a molecule of CO2; after 68 years, over 99% of the methane emitted all those years ago has been changed into CO2 by the action of UV radiation from the sun and oxygen in the air.

Thanks to some really clever advertising campaigns, whenever the phrase "natural gas" is uttered or read, the word "clean" almost automatically pops up. This is untrue - Ngas is not clean and getting/delivering Ngas also can be a bit messy or really messy, depending on how it is done. Yes, coal is usually "dirtier", but is that really saying much? But then this is advertising - after all, is the right brand of beer or booze going to entice that supermodel to take home an average income and a bit overweight dude and do historically anomalous wonders to said dude? Right....

In North America, "conventional Ngas", which used to and sometime still does come pouring out of the ground in copious quantities with relatively little effort expended is now getting to be more of an exception than the rule. Nowadays, more and more Ngas is produced as a by-product of oil production or else via "unconventional" means - from ground that has really limited permeability or in the case of a lot of shales, with the permeability and porosity more like a brick. The Ngas deposit has to be "stimulated" and fracking seems to be the least costly approach (a nuclear bomb was once tried by the US Government (Operation Plowshare, see but guess what, the Ngas recovered was too "hot" to handle - gee whiz, who could have predicted that one....?). But in addition to being expensive and yielding relatively little Ngas per well drilled compared to the mother-lodes of the past, it's also messy, it "leaks" a lot of methane into the air and then what to do with the spent fracking fluids and "produced water" that is often saturated with hydrocarbons in the shale? And then there are the active ingredients used in the fracking fluid "formulations", or what about co-produced toxic heavy metals and the associated radon produced from some shale gas deposits? if it costs money to treat and/or dispose of the unwanted stuff, that comes out of profits....

Here is an example of a "good" conventional North American gas prospect - a field with 60 trillion cubic feet of methane reserves, where 60 wells would allow 2 billion cubic feet per day to be produced for decades (at least 82 years), at roughly 33 million cubic feet per day per well (1 trillion cubic feet per well). A typical fracking well makes maybe 1 billion cubic feet in a 4 year timespan, after which it "drips" out the last 2 % of the stash. But, that conventional field is located at the McKenzie River delta (Canada, on the Arctic ocean coast). And the cost of a pipeline has doubled to $25 billion, due to the permafrost in Northern Canada going soft due to Global Warming and making pipeline design and construction an ever worsening nightmare. Doh! But, that's where the "good fields" are, in remote and/or dangerous to get places. The BP spill (April, 2011) in the Gulf of Mexico at 60,000 bbls/day of crude that was 50 wt% methane was belching out 192 million cubic feet per day of methane from ONE out of control well. That also would have been a "decent" find, but it's located in 5000 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico almost 100 miles from the coast.

BTW, here are a couple of great articles on the recent natural gas price collapse, written by some very knowledgeable people in the profession. They are worth the read:

Fracking means that we are going after the dregs of Ngas of the remaining supplies. It's Alice in Wonderland, where we run faster and faster just to stay in place, until it is no longer possible when the Ngas reserves run out. We don't have to wait until the oil and Ngas companies have extracted the maximum quantity of wealth from their "hosts" - it's customers. Now would be a smart time to start making the change.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Wanted: A Mission for 1.8 Million USA Engineers

An Enercon E126 x 7.5 MW wind turbine, installed and operating in Austria (one of a pair of them). Image from Even though this turbine model is a few years old, it is still one of the most advanced wind turbines made anywhere in the world. And this company has THE best reputation as far as quality goes. The original design was first built in 2004 (Emden, Germany as the "E-112 x 4.5 MW"), and it has been "tweeked" up to 7.5 MW and a 126 meter diameter rotor. Each of the three 61.5 meter long blades per turbine are transported in two parts and assembled on the erected tower/nacelle. These are the most aerodynamically efficient ones installed to date, partly due to the "winglets" on the end of the blades which keep air from "spilling off" as noise/useless turbulence. The unit is a direct drive (no gears) and the generator stator is over 10 meters (32.8 ft) in diameter; the generator unit weighs over 240 tons. Since steel is too flexible to use for the 135 meter tall tower (443 feet), the tower is made from reinforced concrete sections (in one of the larger factories in the world) that are assembled into a 2800 ton unit on a foundation weighing about 2500 tons (1200 cubic yards). But, since the nacelle is so far above the ground (so as to take advantage of winds that are stronger in the 198 to 62 meter zone above the ground) and there are no gears, this is one of the quietest (at ground level) wind turbines operating anywhere. Designed and manufactured in Germany, these are among the most visually stunning wind turbines presently in existence (note the door size, left hand side on the dark green band). However, these are designed to make money for their owners and not just for looks, and there is a lot of competition in Europe for wind turbine sales.

There are now 35 of these operating or under construction in Europe, and another 98 ordered, but with several hundred E-126 units (plus some smaller E-101 x 3 MW turbines) likely to be installed in northern Sweden in what will be the largest onshore wind farm - an estimated 1101 turbines in total - when complete (~ 4 GW capacity - see These units in Sweden will be installed in a boreal forest that requires a tall tower height to reach optimal wind resources in forested areas (trees severely degrade wind speeds in the 0 to 100 meter height above ground range because the leaves and branches resist the flow of moving air past them (high surface roughness)).

And you cannot buy these in the USA, not because no one would order them (these probably would cost around $US 20 million each installed), but because the owner refuses to sell them in what can be be charitably described as a deranged renewable energy pricing system that we in the USA still consider to be better than nothing (and lots of justification for the nothingness comparative standard, too). More information on the E-126 can be found here: or at

These turbines have been made possible because of the German Feed-In Tariff (FIT) system, where turbine owners are allowed to sell their electricity product for the cost to produce it plus a reasonable, socially determined profit rate. It is the ability to sell the reliable annual output of turbines like this that allows low cost financing for their purchase, which then drops the installed cost of these compared to what happens when no fixed price for electricity and possibly no stable incentives exist. After all, if you want to kill off the wind turbine business it is pretty easy - just maximize the insecurity in electricity pricing for ALL sources of electricity (usually gas turbines and government subsidized coal and nuke plants become the "winners"). In much of Europe, there are no government subsidies for renewable energy generation, especially in the form of avoided taxes. However, the avoided tax approach is used extensively in the USA, even though it delivers the least amount of delivered electricity at the highest cost and in the most regressive manner (usually poor and middle class people get stuck paying the taxes which are avoided via credits and deductions given to developers). But, better than nothing is still a winning argument....

Anyway, by providing a market for renewable electricity in a very competitive manner, a market for renewable energy generation equipment is created. And as a result, people and companies buy units like the E-126, and in doing so they create lots of new jobs and business opportunities, as well as pollution-free electricity that allows for less gas, coal and nuke generation to be used. And given a market that is somewhat predictable in sales volume, companies that make renewable energy equipment can go and improve on previous models and invent new ways to make and install these, which is how the E-126 came about - with NO government R&D (though some government funding was used to develop a crawler crane big enough to install models like this (a Terex 1600 ton model with a boom as long as a football field, including the end zones -> Oh well, try getting THAT message out, even to some environmental organizations like the NRDC....

The Punch Line:
In our country, if renewable energy, and especially electricity derived from wind turbines, was an economically viable business not dependent on the "kindness of strangers" so to speak (tax credits, grants, and tax deductions accumulated by "paper losses" like rapid depreciation combined with interest on loans), we also could be designing awesome wind turbines like the E-126. After all, we have the most awesome wind resource of any country with more than 30 million people in it (Canada's wind resource is also similar to ours). The US wind resource is capable of powering between 20 to 30 times the amount of electricity we now consume (depends on how the offshore resource is evaluated, and it could be more than 40 times if West Coast deep water winds can be tapped). But, you really only need two times our present electricity usage to completely displace natural gas, nukes, coal and most petroleum used for transportation, so why push it?

And it turns out that the US now has 1.8 million unemployed or underemployed engineers among the 25 million or so Americans that also fall into that zone of "not employed but employable" or "employed at a fraction of their potential" - often part time jobs that don't require a pair of college degrees in order to do them well. Here is a link describing the breakdown ( and here are the "read it and weep" numbers:

U.S.-BORN INDIVIDUALS WITH ENGINEERING DEGREES (under age 66) (based on most recent American Community Survey by the Obama Administration itself)

101,000 -- U.S. engineers looking for a job who can't find any work at all

244,000 -- U.S. engineers who have dropped completely out of the labor market

1,470,000 -- U.S. engineers who are working but no longer as engineers

Kind of a waste of talent, ya think? Actually, President Obama sort of "did a Romney" (i.e. "stepped in it, big time" and "open mouth, insert foot") in a town hall meeting when a respondent asked why we are importing engineers when so many home grown ones can't find work in their chosen field. I guess us 1.8 million "economic discards" should send our resume to President Obama so that he "gets it" and does not do "another Romney", again, though how he and he aides could be so clueless.....

In case that's not enough outrage (though polite), here's some more:

The answer why so many engineers can't find engineering work is pretty simple - most of us are/were tied to the real (as in manufacturing) economy, or else work for local governments (which have been successfully targets by the Republican "Austerians" (about half a million local government workers have been laid off due to the collapse of local government revenues since the Great Recession struck). In the recent past, over 50,000 American factories have been closed down, and several million people in the USA have lost their jobs. Those factories all needed engineers as a part of the workforce. And then there are the companies supplying those factories with services and goods, such as energy efficiency improvement approaches and devices, civil engineering upgrades, etc, and this also employed a lot of engineers. Then there is the category of "sales engineer"; no factory to sell to, no sales. There is also the R&D part, normally only a small fraction of engineers, but one which provides a new flow of products and ideas that spawns future work, or work that can take the place of things that become obsolete. And when communities become poorer because the source of the wealth and income produced in that community goes belly up, less tax revenue means less local and state governmental services, such as roads, sewers and water system, where lots of engineers get employed. The twin fates of factories and engineers are pretty tightly intertwined. The death of manufacturing in the computer and cellphone business in the US is also rather disturbing.... It's almost unethical to suggest people go to college to get engineering degrees with the goal of getting a job - instead, engineering degrees are just a good "base knowledge' that can be used to work in a Repo office, a Bail Bonds business or as a grocery store clerk. Uggh....

So, how do we go about getting jobs for engineers in our country? Well, it would help to actually have a viable market for the products that are made and which could use some improvement, too. That Enercon E126 got designed and manufactured because there was a market for the electricity made by that wind turbines. And the factories that had to be designed and then built to make this machine and ones like it (including the cast concrete tower sections in a 300,000 square meter building (about 3.23 million square feet), its components, for reliably and cost-efficiently making the products from that factory and to make the parts of the factory, all started with a demand for a product. It's like this - no problems to solve is a really big problem for engineers, as the "solution" to that predicament is unemployment.

So, you want Green Jobs (and especially Green Engineering jobs, which are in high demand by college students, but far too rare)? Create a demand for the "Green Product"in this case, electricity from "Green Machines" such as the E-126 and similar systems. This is why renewable energy Feed-In Laws (Feed-In Tariffs (FITs) come from these) are so important.... Once people start associating that which dominates their existence - which is the money they earn in order to pay their bills, buy food, shelter, clothing, health care and energy - with renewable energy, you've come a long way.

As of the end of 2012, NY will have an estimated 1820 MW of installed wind turbine capacity. About $3.6 BILLION was spent on the turbines and installation of them (about $2.6 billion on the machines themselves and $1 billion on the construction). Construction by its nature is temporary for any given project, but that is not so for the manufacture of these. Only a couple hundred manufacturing jobs have been created in NY State to supply, on net, what $2.6 billion was spent on. Truly a Jon Stewart (Comedy Channel) "Win The Future" (alias WTF) moment! We could do far better than this, as something like 40,000 job-years in direct employment went elsewhere, but not to NY State. Anyway, in order to improve on the less than 5% batting average, some political muscle and effort is going to have to be expended on politicians of all stripes, and also environmental groups of all sorts, too. But, ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

Anyway, my 2 cents worth. What's yours? And BTW, when you put an engineer to work making a better world, you also put a lot of other people to work, too.... Till then, if you know of an unemployed or underemployed or "mis-employed" engineer, have them send their resume to President Obama c/o the White House. We don't want him falling for the con that we need to import engineers from around the world to do what could be done with the homegrown varieties, given the number who could be doing such jobs already here...



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