Thursday, February 28, 2013

Natural gas, not renewables, drives historic emissions declines

How does Rhodium claim that solar and wind had a greater impact than gas, even though the EIA shows that gas increased last year ten times more than wind, and nearly one hundred times more than solar? By using improper assumptions, and inventing a bizarrely indirect way of measuring what matters.
First, Rhodium invents a counterfactual emissions growth trajectory from 2005 to 2012, calculating the respective emissions reduction from slower economic growth, changes in energy intensity of the economy, and decarbonization of the US energy supply. They assume all emissions reductions from 2005-2012 resulted from slower or negative GDP growth relative to their counterfactual and decarbonization of the energy supply — none of the emissions reductions are due to decreases in the energy intensity of the economy, which they claim was too minor in the "vehicle, buildings and industry" sectors of the economy.
But this completely ignores the energy intensity effect in the power sector. Switching from coal to gas not only reduces the carbon intensity of the energy supply, but also reduces the energy intensity of the economy, since cheaper gas forces shut-down of less efficient coal-fired power in favor of more efficient combined-cycle gas turbines (combined cycle plants have about twice the thermal efficiency as coal plants). It is due to this effect, along with economy-wide sectoral shifts and increased end-use efficiency in other sectors, that Climate Central and the Energy Information Administration find energy intensity declined about 10% in 2012 under 2005 levels.
Read the entire article at The Breakthrough Institute:

Monday, February 25, 2013

Silicon Valley Shifting to Power Grid After Solar Sours

Silicon Valley Shifting to Power Grid After Solar Sours - Bloomberg:
Silicon Valley investors that helped build the solar industry are shifting cash into electricity-grid technology and energy-storage developers after bets on panel manufacturers failed to pay off.
Companies including VantagePoint Capital Partners and Khosla Ventures are stepping up funding for systems to manage electricity, which are typically less capital intensive than solar-panel factories. Venture capital and private-equity financing for renewables dropped to its lowest in at least six years in 2012, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“We continue to push energy efficiency, which is less capital intensive and allows a company to get into a very big market by improving existing infrastructure rather than having to build a new way of delivering power,” said Neil Suslak, a managing partner at Braemar Energy Ventures. “Efficiency and capital-light deals are the flavor of the month.”
Continue reading at Bloomberg:

Nuclear: Less CO2 than solar, hydro, biomass

Nuclear: Less CO2 than solar, hydro, biomass | SmartPlanet:
Graphic From source article
The chart is a “lifecycle” analysis that takes into account CO2 emitted not only during electricity generation, but also by the mining, manufacturing, construction and other processes it takes to get a power plant up and keep it running.
It’s no surprise that coal and natural gas tower above the others. But some of the other marks might raise a few eyebrows. “Renewable” power sources solar PV and biomass are both more CO2-intense than nuclear, as is hydro. Nuclear is on a par with geothermal, and virtually the same as wind.
The chart was presented earlier this month by Nobel-winning Stanford University physicist Burton Richter, at a “Science Day” hosted by French utility EDF in Sausalito, Calif. It’s not new - it was first put together by a group of PhDs from the University of Wisconsin in 2002. But its findings still hold true (note, however, that it does not include “tidal” or “solar thermal” - I’d be interested to see those and others added to the comparison).

Nuclear: Less CO2 than solar, hydro, biomass | SmartPlanet:

Study suggests real-world generating capacity of wind farms at large scales has been overestimated

News today that Harvard professor David Keith is noting the potential for electricity generation from wind is less than thought - dropping off after 0.5 watts/meter, and likely not exceeding 1 watt/meter.
Keith should have been more prominently in the news recently for stating Enbridge had demanded the removal of an academic from the energy research centre at the University of Calgary (here).
Enbridge owns the Kingsbridge wind project in Ontario - which I wrote on, critically, here

Study suggests real-world generating capacity of wind farms at large scales has been overestimated:
Keith's research has shown that the generating capacity of very large wind power installations (larger than 100 square kilometers) may peak at between 0.5 and 1 watts per square meter. Previous estimates, which ignored the turbines' slowing effect on the wind, had put that figure at between 2 and 7 watts per square meter.
In short, we may not have access to as much wind power as scientists thought.
An internationally renowned expert on climate science and technology policy, Keith holds appointments as Gordon McKay Professor of Applied Physics at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and as Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. Coauthor Amanda S. Adams was formerly a postdoctoral fellow with Keith and is now assistant professor of geography and Earth sciences at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
"One of the inherent challenges of wind energy is that as soon as you start to develop wind farms and harvest the resource, you change the resource, making it difficult to assess what's really available," says Adams.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Alternative fuels such as thorium in existing reactors

“As Candu reactors are very fuel efficient and very adaptable, this is a way to get started on some of this expansion of the fuel cycle”

Alternative fuels such as thorium in existing reactors? China ‘can do!’ - The Weinberg Foundation:
CANDU reactors at Qinshan (image from source article)
Many advocates of thorium say that the optimal way to deploy it would be in entirely different reactor designs such as high temperature liquid molten salt reactors and pebble reactors that depart radically from conventional lower temperature water-cooled schemes.

Pragmatists say it would be best to start by burning it in existing reactor designs that already have regulatory approval. One such test is about to start in Norway.

Candu’s CANDU reactor counts among the conventional category, albeit it uses “heavy water” (water with a high concentration of hydrogen isotope called deuterium) as its coolant, as opposed to the far more common ordinary water, also known as “light water.”

China already operates two grid-connected CANDU reactors that burn natural uranium (CANDU is already something of a fuel alternative in that it does not require enriched uranium as do most of the world’s operating 430-plus commercial electricity generating reactors), at its Qinshan site about 90 miles southwest of Shanghai.

China’ China National Nuclear Corp. and Candu recently completed a successful two-year test of bundles of alternative fuel in those reactors, in which the bundles operated alongside conventional fuel in the same reactor. The alternatives included thorium as well as uranium “waste” recovered from light water reactors. It also included depleted uranium left over after uranium enrichment.

The success of those operations has helped pave the way for what Candu calls the Advanced Fuel CANDU Reactor (AFCR), which would burn nothing but recovered uranium, depleted uranium and thorium.
Read the entire article at The Weinberg Foundation

Small Modular Reactor Deal between B&W and TVA

Small modular nuclear generation by 2022?

WASHINGTON — The Tennessee Valley Authority will pay Babcock & Wilcox, a nuclear equipment company, to complete extensive design work and apply for permission to build a new kind of nuclear plant, a “small modular reactor,” at a site in Oak Ridge, Tenn., the T.V.A. and the company announced on Wednesday.
The two entities did not disclose the value of the contract, which will be paid in part by the Energy Department under a program to encourage nuclear innovation. The announcement is a step forward in a program that advocates hope will develop a new class of nuclear plants that can be mostly built in a factory, shipped by rail or barge, deployed quickly, and sold around the world, especially in places where the power grid could not handle a big plant....

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Volkwagen's German facilities consume more power than Jamaica

... and they generate 63% of it themselves - a share they are increasing as the car industry turns away from the German grid

BMW Adds Wind Power to Sidestep Merkel’s Power Bill - Bloomberg:
Daimler this year plans to open a 17 million-euro gas-fired plant to supply power and heat at its truck factory in the western city of Woerth. The company says the plant reduces energy costs about 26 percent and carbon-dioxide emissions 15 percent versus its previous supply deal.
Volkswagen, whose German facilities consume more power than Jamaica, this year will inaugurate a 70-megawatt gas-fired station at a component plant in Kassel. Europe’s largest carmaker may add at least five more generators in coming years, according to Raimund Wunder, the head of power-plant unit Volkswagen Kraftwerk GmbH.
“We’re planning to expand our own generation step by step,” Wunder said. “This gives us access to a secure energy supply and makes us more independent.”
Backed by facilities like a 300-megawatt coal-fired station at its Wolfsburg headquarters, VW already generates 63 percent of the 4.3 terawatt-hours it consumes in Germany annually. VW also saw a business opportunity in the trend toward energy independence, teaming up with clean-energy company LichtBlick SE to offer an at-home generator that consumers can use to produce their own power."

Continue reading at Bloomberg:

German eyes turn to grid charges that capture more value from embedded, mainly solar, generators

A new post to the German Energy Blog indicates the fairness of charging for connection to the grid by consumption of electricity delivered over the grid is increasingly problematic:
... it was necessary to review the grid charges system with regard to investment costs into the grids that were avoided avoided due to decentralised input into the grids and an equal payment of grid charges by all grid users, BNetzA and vzbz said in their joint press release. Every user who relied on the security and quality of the grids had to contribute evenly. With a growing amount of decentralised generation this was, however, not the case anymore, since grid charges did not have to be paid for self-consumed electricity and a decentralised input into the grids."
The topic communicated in the German Energy Blog was covered by economist Severin Borenstein in "The Private and Public Economics of Renewable Electricity Generation"

Knowledge is (Less) Power | Smart Meter must read

A important read on what is required to make utilizing smart meters intelligent for consumers.
The Energy Institute at Haas (University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business) is, in my opinion, home to the most intelligent commentary on economics in electricity markets.

Knowledge is (Less) Power. | Energy Economics Exchange:
Information is power. We know from a number of Opower type studies that shaming reduces consumption slightly. Matt Kahn told us that liberals can be shamed into conservation more easily than conservatives. From a policy perspective this is of limited use as we neither could nor should assign political preferences in the name of energy conservation. What we can do however, is provide people with real time consumption data. That fancy PG&E smart meter in the back of my home should be unlocked so I can have an app on my phone tell me in real time how much electricity and gas my house is using. The cost of that app would be lower than the $40 in home display and have a payback period of weeks or months rather than the 7 years of the display.
Please Read the entire article at Energy Economics Exchange

The study referenced in the post is Knowledge is (Less) Power: Experimental Evidence from Residential Energy Use

Whose Meter Is It: Dopey Ontario and Smart Meters is a recent entry I wrote on my original content blog

Monday, February 18, 2013

Two decades too long: regarding renewables and nuclear

Geoff Russell's latest contribution on the Brave New Climate blog is an excellent read for us nuclear advocates, although a little unsettling for us committed carnivores ...

Two decades and counting… « BraveNewClimate:

For the past 20 years, there has been a competitive cacophony about the urgency of climate change by Governments and environmentalists around the world but very little action. The emission reductions supposedly generated by the 1997 Kyoto protocol have in fact been measurably less than the increase in imports of emission intensive products by countries in the first world from countries in the third world. Many countries have simply out-sourced their emissions. This comprehensive failure has accelerated the urgency of substantive action.
During virtually all of these two decades, the French have been generating electricity using nuclear reactors at a CO2 emission rate of about 80 grams per kilowatt hour, compared to the global average of over 500. Australia has a worst-in-class level ofabout 850 grams CO2 per kilowatt hour. The French completely transformed and grew their electricity generation infrastructure over a two decade period in the 1970s and 80s. The spur was oil prices rather than climate change, but the lesson remains. A fast affordable move to low carbon electricity is possible. The French did it. The Swiss did it. The Swedes did it. It isn’t the total solution to our climate problems, but it would be a bloody good start.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Cutbacks to existing contracts rattle Europe's renewables proponents

There have been a number of stories over the past couple of weeks on changes to wind and solar payments on existing contracts.

Germany is attempting to control electricity costs after it's EEG, considered a renewables' surcharge, jumped to over 5 euro cents/kWh in this, a German election, year.  This despite the relatively small contribution of wind (8%) and solar (5%) to total 2012 electricity generation in Germany (bdew figures).
The German Energy Blog explains proposed changes to the EEG, with perhaps the biggest surprise being a straight 1.5% cut in payments on existing contracts.  German Renewables groups proposed alternatives (Bloomberg) essentially to stop excluding industry from paying for renewables (industry has benefitted from falling market rates as costs were increasingly transferred from market pricing to the feed-in tariff's fixed rates), and the government cutting back on it's tax haul.
Regardless of the choices in controlling consumer cost, it's a lot of effort for 13% of supply.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Electricity Costs Rise in New England likely indicative of a growing problem

The New York Times has an important report that includes the growth of natural gas generation in the electricity sector, the removal of other capacity, and cold winter temperatures putting a high demand on natural gas for space heating.

Electricity Costs Rise in New England, Which Relies on Natural Gas -
Electricity prices in New England have been four to eight times higher than normal in the last few weeks, as the region’s extreme reliance on natural gas for power supplies has collided with a surge in demand for heating.
Chart from IESO January 2013 Monthy Report
Frigid temperatures and the snowstorm that hammered parts of the Northeast last week have revived concerns about the lack of alternatives to natural gas. Many plants that ran on coal or oil have been shuttered, and the few that remain cannot be put into service quickly enough to meet spikes in demand. The price of electricity is determined by the price of gas.
Last year, natural gas provided 52 percent of New England’s electricity, and that share is expected to grow. Gas is generally cheaper than other energy sources, and the lower costs have spurred the retirement of aging coal generators and nuclear reactors. The six-state New England region and parts of Long Island are the most vulnerable now to overreliance on gas, a vulnerability heightened by a shortage of natural gas pipeline capacity, but officials worry that similar problems could spread to the Midwest.
“We are sticking a lot of straws into this soft drink,” said William P. Short III, an energy consultant whose clients include companies that move and burn gas. “This is a harbinger of things to come in New England, as well as New York.”
Continue reading at the

Hydro One 2012 Year-end Results: A skeptic's report

Hydro One released Year-End Financial Results (.pdf) on Valentine's Day.

The highlights (from the press release):
  • "net income for the year of $745million and revenues of $5,728 million"
  • "...continued with the implementation of our entity-wide SAP information system platform"
  • "Bruce to Milton Transmission Reinforcement Project was placed in service"
  •  "raised $1,085 million in debt financing"
  • "recognized once again by Corporate Knights Magazine as one of Canada’s Top 50 Corporate Citizens"
  • "During the year, we paid $370 million in dividends to our shareholder, the Province of Ontario, and $197 million in payments in lieu of corporate income taxes to the Ontario Electricity Financial Corporation."

Toshiba Invests in Smart Grid

I've written critically about Ontario's inept actions in pursuit of a smart grid, but that doesn't mean there aren't serious actions being pursued elsewhere. 
Texas is a hot-bed of grid activity (and competitive markets both for generation and in the retailing of electricity) so it isn't surprising Toshiba found a company to purchase there to attempt to integrate a demand-side technology solution with their supply-side products.

Weekly Smart Grid Roll Up: Toshiba Buys Consert - Forbes:
...Toshiba‘s ambitions for Cosert are likely to reach beyond the home automation market.
The VPP platform complements Toshiba‘s μEMS micro energy management system, a supply-side load control application that manages the electric grid based on real-time consumption monitoring. The μEMS system relies primarily on distributed energy systems like solar PV and fuel cells to manage the electric grid. By contrast, the VPP is a demand response platform that manages load on the demand side to create capacity and other products for electric utilities."
Read the entire article at Forbes:

Monday, February 11, 2013

DOE Charts Progress for FutureGen 2.0

Power magazine reports on a U.S. carbon sequestration project that is moving to the next implementation phase.

DOE Charts Progress for FutureGen 2.0 :: POWER Magazine:
FutureGen 2.0, a government-backed project that involves the upgrade of a coal-fired power plant in Meredosia, Ill., with oxy-combustion technology to capture 90% of that plant’s carbon emissions and then sequester them underground, has entered its second phase, the Department of Energy (DOE) said on Monday.
The DOE said the project’s first phase was complete. It included technical and financial milestones like the identification of a sequestration site in Morgan County, Ill., preliminary characterization and test drilling, and a commitment from the Illinois Commerce Commission to cover the FutureGen 2.0 project’s output under its power purchasing plans. A cooperative agreement announced on Wednesday with the FutureGen Industrial Alliance that kicked off the second phase would build on these achievements to begin preliminary design, preconstruction and engineering for the retrofitted, near-zero-emission coal-fired power plant.
Continue reading at POWER Magazine:

Friday, February 8, 2013

Germany EEG distribution data shows regressive character of feed-in tariff

The German Energy Blog reports that the richest state in Germany is the largest net benefactor of the renewables' feed-in tariff (FIT) scheme.
While Germany's richest states lament the transfer of funds to poorer jurisdictions (particularly the capital city-state), Bavarians look to be more than compensated by the transfer of wealth from electricity ratepayers to their feed-in contract recipients, presumably primarily wealthier landowners.
The largest loser in the renewables game is, predictably, the most densely populated state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW).
Bavaria regularly has periods where solar output exceeds demand, yet solar only supplies about 8% of it's annual demand, while nuclear power currently supplies over 50%.  Despite the transfer of wealth to wealthy Bavarian solar FIT holders, greenhouse gas emissions won't be positively addressed as natural gas use in the generation of electricity is expected to soar due to the nuclear phase-out.

BDEW: Bavaria Greatest Receiver of EEG Tariff Payments, NRW Greatest Payer « German Energy Blog:

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Ontario's Finances as Minister resigns

On Twitter reports are that retiring Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan is deflecting questions of Ontario's record debt levels by noting record federal debt levels.
I suggest the data shows Ontario, and provinces in general, are adding debt quicker than the federal government; Ontario's share of all provincial debt hasn't moved much for 8 years (Ontario performed poorly during the early McGuinty years when Greg Sorbara was finance minister), but the Ontario debt is a much higher percentage of the federal debt over the same time.  That trend actually goes back to the end of the Peterson era in 1990-91.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Northern Manitoba dams in doubt

Moribund demand and cheap natural gas are now threatening Manitoba's plans for increased hydro capacity. 
Quebec also announced the cancellation of hydro projects today, citing a current context of surplus supply

Northern dams in doubt - Winnipeg Free Press:
Conawapa dam rendering (from source article)
The Selinger government wants the Public Utilities Board rate watchdog to tell it if there's a better alternative to Manitoba Hydro's proposed northern Keeyask and Conawapa generating stations.
The two dams will cost more than $13.4 billion and are key to Manitoba Hydro's ambitious plan to sell more surplus power to the United States."
But there's a catch.
Since Hydro unveiled its plan, the U.S. economy went into a tailspin it's only now coming out ot and new American drilling uncovered a wealth of untapped, cheap natural gas.
The shine of two new massive dams isn't as shiny as it once was.

Busting a wind boom in Spain

Record output from Spain's wind turbines is being accompanied by new government regulatory action reducing price support to renewables.

Wind energy in Spain sets record: CBC
The Spanish Wind Energy Association said wind energy accounted for 25 per cent of all electrical production in January, more than both coal and nuclear power.
"The Spanish economy has gained 3 euros for every one euro invested in incentives for wind farms," the association said in a blog post, adding that the fossil fuels needed to generate the same amount of electricity would have cost $406 million.
Or, more likely, not.
Spain's unemployment rate has reached 26% and is still rising, with another 132,000 unemployed in January alone.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Just How Polluted Is China Anyway?

Updated February 3rd

Originally I post Vaclav Smil's article only, but the Oil Drum has since posted "Tech Talk - Coal Power and Air Pollution."
The article provides some historical perspective on air quality issues addressed in the United Kingdom and the United States, while noting the probems may be more "less tractable to solution" in India and China.

Immediately after the Second World War, Britain needed the coal to power the reconstruction of the country, but during the time I was in college it was already clear that the days of unrestricted mining were over and that the transition to other fuels had already begun. It was not the air pollution in Leeds that was the driving force for the regulations, however, but more likely the presence of similar smogs in London and the South where those who governed the country lived. The major legislation began after the Great Smog of 1952. In a four-day period at the beginning of December, the combination of a fog, an inversion in the immediate atmosphere, and the increased use of coal fires to provide additional warmth generated a smog that is blamed for the immediate death of around 4,000 people and a strong influence on the consequent death of some 8,000 others.
I bring this up because the air pollution in both Beijing and in New Delhi is reaching levels where the government is beginning to move to help abate the immediate problem. In both capitals it is a combination of vehicle exhaust and power generation that is driving the problem, whereas back in the UK fifty and sixty years ago, vehicular exhaust was not nearly as much of a problem as burning coal. Yet I suspect that although these problems in Asia are not yet at the levels they reached in the UK, that they may be less tractable to solution.

Read the entire article at the Oil Drum

Canada reaps Ontario’s whirlwind: Ontario's FIT and the WTO

I found this article, by executives at the C.D. Howe Institute, to be the best overview of the problematic nature of Ontario's feed-in tariff program's domestic content provisions which have been found in violation on Canada's commitments as a member of the World Trade Organization.

Canada reaps Ontario’s whirlwind | FP Comment | Financial Post:
...with the December 2012 reports of the WTO panels, one dealing with a complaint by Japan and another by the European Union about the local-content requirements embedded in FIT contracts, yet another (supply-managed?) chicken hatched by the Green Energy Act came home to roost.
Countries whose industries might have expected to sell their proven and affordable equipment to Ontario’s expanding green-energy suppliers predictably threw, well, a fit, and took Canada to the WTO over measures that no one, not even Canada, claimed were non-discriminatory vis-à-vis the foreign producers. And Canada’s federal government necessarily, if wearily, got involved because, as a signatory to the WTO, it is the entire country that is on the hook, and it must defend provincial policies that are accused of running afoul of international trade rules.
Canada, of course, would and should complain in the same way when governments abroad discriminate against competitive Canadian producers. For allowing comparative advantages to play out — generating better income possibilities for all — is at the core of the trade liberalization that most of the world’s countries have sought to promote through the WTO.
And that, in turn, is what makes a federal case out of Ontario’s green electricity follies. 
Read the entire article at the Financial Post