Monday, September 30, 2013

Stories from the web, fakes in the MSM: professionalism, and its opposite

Some recent stories that deserve connecting; including news from sources on the web, and fake news in Toronto's most popular newspaper.

The most important story, in terms of the themes I write on most often, reported on the devaluation of existing generators with the introduction of new capacity

Challenging Power Market Hurting Plant Valuations | Power Magazine
Pressures on competitive power markets have fueled substantial declines in plant valuations over the past five years, with coal plants taking the brunt of the damage. That’s the conclusion of a new report from financial services firm Fitch Ratings released on Wednesday.
Gas-fired plants, both combined cycle and combustion turbine, saw comparatively smaller declines, 17% and 14%, respectively. Spark spreads have narrowed in most regions despite the fall in gas prices. However, there was a wide disparity in plant valuations in gas, with some plants—the newest and most flexible, in areas where substantial renewable generation places a premium on flexibility—actually increasing in value.
The smallest drop was in renewables, where hydropower assets saw a negligible 1% drop, and wind assets fell only 5% (the geothermal plants analyzed by the report fell 47%, but this represented only a handful of assets).
The article is important as a source of news; but I think the conclusions drawn from the facts could be better.  Subsidizing intermittent sources during a period of stagnant demand lowers the valuation of other generating assets; less so if the sources are dispatchable, so mostly devaluing high-capital cost sources with low operating costs, which include not only the frequently cited nuclear, but large hydro and geothermal too.

Speaking of geothermal...

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Ed Miliband: Labour would freeze energy prices

There are lots of reasons to be skeptical of claims made by Britain's Labour party leader Ed Miliband  - recent price increases are far more likely to be due to the actions during years of Labour rule than the recent couple under the coalition; but it is interesting he would single out the regulator for abolishment.

BBC News - Ed Miliband: Labour would freeze energy prices
"... vowed to abolish energy watchdog Ofgem and replace it with a new regulatory regime that ensures customers get a "fair deal".
"We will legislate for this in our first Queen's Speech and it will come into effect in 2017," the Labour leader told activists."
"But in the meantime I am not willing to just stand by. So the next Labour government will freeze gas and electricity prices until the start of 2017.
"Your bills will be frozen, benefitting millions of families and millions of businesses. That's what I mean by a government that fights for you, that's what I mean when I say: Britain can do better than this.
"The companies won't like it because it will cost them money. But they have been overcharging people for too long because of a market that doesn't work. It is time to reset the market."

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Fighting against the Capacity Trap in the U.K.

An abstract problem is becoming more real around the world; jurisdictions procuring displacement sources of energy and ensuring them first rights to the grid are struggling to maintain significant capacity of reliable sources to meet demand requirements.

Picture from source article
Energy companies are to be paid ten of millions of pounds to keep old power stations on standby amid mounting fears of blackouts.
They will be paid to mothball, rather than demolish, power stations taken out of service.
The plans come as oil and coal plants are being closed due to European Union directives, which have been introduced to cut emissions that scientists have said lead to climate change.
The move is being planned after Ofgem, the energy regulator, warned of electricity shortages within the next three years.
Ofgem said the measure was needed because new wind farms and nuclear plants have not been built in time to replace the oil and coal power stations being phased out.
Critics of wind power said turbines were flawed because they do not generate electricity when there is little wind, while plans for nuclear power stations have yet to reach the construction stage.
Continue reading at the Telegraph


Friday, September 20, 2013

Engineers: wind and solar "are displacement sources"

From the The Ontario Society of Professional Engineers (OSPE) ...

President's Perspectives: Energy policy must acknowledge engineering facts |OSPE
In advance of the call for submissions for the Ontario Long Term Energy Plan, Greenpeace/The Pembina Institute issued a new report titled "Renewable is Doable.” The main points in the report are that nuclear investments are costly, inflexible and discourage renewables and conservation, while renewables are flexible and affordable.
We at OSPE understand that messages like these capture the public imagination. We all agree, for example, that efforts around conservation and the reduction of greenhouse gases (GHGs) are important. At the same time, engineers understand that there are technical realities that simply don’t support the call to cancel investments in nuclear in favour of bringing more and more renewable online, which will actually serve to increase GHG emissions.
There are several technical issues that this report misses:
  • without storage, variable renewables (solar and wind) are displacement sources
  • variable renewables in Ontario often displace gas, nuclear and hydro
  • there is no mention of the significant rise in GHG emissions when nuclear is reduced
  • displacement sources are only worth the displaced fuel costs, not the total cost of the alternatives
  • there is no mention that the refurbishment and new build at Darlington will indeed provide flexible nuclear
  • there is no discussion of the very high cost of storage needed to keep GHG emissions low without nuclear

U.S. EPA again moves, again questionably, to regulate emissions from power plants

"CCS is a technology that is feasible, and it's available today...It's been demonstrated to be effective, and its being actually constructed on real facilities today." -Gina McCarthy, U.S. EPA

There's a lot of stories on today's announcement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding the regulations it will be introducing to control emissions from new power plants.
Here are some from my favoured sources - and my observations.

EPA moves to limit emissions of future coal- and gas-fired power plants | The Washington Post
The limits in the proposed rule will be difficult for any new coal plant to meet without incurring the substantial costs of additional technology to limit carbon dioxide output or developing new methods of cleansing emissions. The industry almost certainly will challenge it in court.
Utility companies with large coal fleets already are preparing to challenge the rule, if it is finalized, on the grounds that the agency is requiring pollution controls that have not yet been “adequately demonstrated” in the marketplace.
Joseph Stanko, head of government relations for the law firm Hunton & Williams, said the EPA’s reliance on “federally funded demonstration projects” as the base for its new standard “is illegal, it doesn’t ‘adequately demonstrate’ technology for normal use.”
NASA sent men to the moon with federal funds. That doesn’t mean municipalities and companies can do it...”
Emphasis added
Similar plans to regulated emissions were pulled last year, reportedly due to concerns about the legality due to the lack of carbon-capture-and-storage (CCS) in existing facilities

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A FRAC door seen, and painted green

Environmental Defense, a gaggle of gas companies, and the University of Texas at Austin...

The news:
Drilling for shale gas through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, appears to cause smaller leaks of the greenhouse gas methane than the federal government had estimated, and considerably smaller than some critics of shale gas had feared, according to a peer-reviewed study released on Monday.
The study, conducted by theUniversity of Texas and sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund and nine petroleum companies, bolsters the contention by advocates of fracking — and some environmental groups as well — that shale gas is cleaner and better than coal
The study’s connection to the petroleum industry — among its sponsors and financiers are Shell, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, Exxon Mobil and Chevron — may lead some to question its objectivity, some outside experts said.
Previously the news (aka "why the University of Texas at Austim"):
Industry money and questionable ethics contaminate UT Austin fracking study | Scientific American | June 24, 2012

Michigan and New York’s best friend – Ontario

This article is a collaboration between Parker Gallant and myself.
It appears on the Energy Probe site, but is reproduced in full here, with a slightly different graphic.

Michigan and New York’s best friend–Ontario | Energy Probe:
The press releases flowing from the Ministry of Energy offices have been many over the past several years claiming a variety of wonderful things despite the mundane attributes of the electricity sector.
One such release of January 12, 2012 claimed Ontario earned $13 million by exporting our surplus power in December 2011 and that it “keeps costs down” for ratepayers. It also said 20,000 jobs had been created and that the GEA was on track to create 50,000 jobs by the end of 2012.   Fast forward a year and a half and a June 20, 2013 press release about the revisedSamsung contract claimed the GEA had created just 31,000 jobs.
The latter claim indicates that the target was missed by at least 19,000 jobs. We now know that most of those jobs were short term construction jobs to erect wind turbines and install solar panels. We no longer see press releases that claim we earn money from selling our surplus power to the likes of Michigan and New York perhaps because the Auditor General in his 2011 Annual Report stated that “from 2005 to the end of our audit in 2011, Ontario received $1.8 billion less for its electricity exports than what it actually cost electricity ratepayers of Ontario.”  When you examine the Independent Electricity System Operator’s data you quickly learn why the Ministry no longer brags about earning revenue from exports or keeping costs down for ratepayers.  The exporting of our surplus power was the subject of a joint article over two years ago but the impact at the time was at a lower dollar level.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Mooks against MOOCs: fighting for education with silver spoons

This is my first September with two children in university.
It's not cheap - and not expected to be - but this is probably the most offensive time of the year as it's bookstore time ("money is evil" and "ouch" were reports I received).

Meanwhile, I've been trying out MOOC offerings (massive open online courses) - and learning more than I think I would in a lecture and hard copy world.

So this caught my attention.

High-Profile MOOC Prof Dumps Coursera |
A professor who was trumpeted as early evidence of MOOC’s acceptance and success in top schools, will pull his course off the Coursera site, saying that he now worries that online courses will be used to justify cuts in state funding for universities.
“I’ve said no because I think that it’s an excuse for state legislatures to cut funding to state universities,” Professor Mitchell Duneier told The Chronicle of Higher Education. “And I guess that I’m really uncomfortable being part of a movement that’s going to get its revenue in that way.”
Continue reading at

In 'THAT' way?

The utilization of modern technological and pedagogical tools to provide better value and open up educational opportunities affordably way?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Is an economist allowed to oppose the XL pipeline?

California is currently on the leading edge of US climate policy, as its AB 32 goals could reduce CO2 emissions by about 75 mm tons in 2020, and maybe 200 mm tons over the next 7 years, relative to business as usual. There is also a lot of excitement about the economic potential of the Monterrey shale formation yielding up to 15.4 billion barrels of oil, or about 6 billion tons of CO2. Put these together for a moment. The carbon content of the oil contained in those reserves is about 30 times the amount that will be “saved” under AB 32.
Wealthy countries and jurisdictions have focused on reducing their consumption of fossil fuels because, for the most part, they consume more than they import. It’s also easier to sell those policies as helping consumers save money. The fact that producers lose money is a lot easier to swallow if those producers live somewhere else. If we really want to be consistent though, opposing the XL pipeline means feeling very uncomfortable about binging on the Monterrey Shale. If we are capping the CO2 from the oil we are bringing into California, we need to apply the same policy to the oil that would be shipped out.
Read the entire article at the Energy Economics Exchange

Thursday, September 12, 2013

U.S. EPA's New Plans for regulating Coal-fired Power Plants

Background: the EPA has long been on the cusp of introducing regulations for coal-fired power plants, which previous plans delayed for fear they were structured in a way that would make them susceptible to being struck down in court.

EPA Plan to Curb New Coal-Fired Power Plants | Wall Street Journal (subscription)
After the resistance last year, many observers had expected the administration to tone down its rule and possibly create a path for new coal plants using existing technology.
But a person who has seen a recent version of the revised rule said it would propose an emissions limit of 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour for coal plants and 1,000 pounds per megawatt hour for large gas-fired plants. Last year's version was only slightly different, setting a 1,000-pound limit for both types of plants.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Apps to set the scene, introduce conflict, and resolve - for scientists?

I encountered too many related stories on the web yesterday not to post something attempting to connect them, including a Dot Earth blog post on storytelling including an app for story building, a Ted Talk including an app for developing Ted Talks, and the article I wrote.

My own Ways to estimate Ontario's losses on electricity exports
... despite a difference in big numbers, all the methods tell the same tale.
Graphics are probably a tool increasingly used to try and move communication away from abstract numbers.

Stories, we are told, are another.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Brussels fears European 'industrial massacre' sparked by energy costs

EU Industry commissioner warns on energy pricing - and natural gas pricing (notably this article includes the impacts note threatened industries that require gas as a feedstock for their product - not necessarily their energy).

Brussels fears European 'industrial massacre' sparked by energy costs - Telegraph
"We face a systemic industrial massacre," said Antonio Tajani, the European industry commissioner.
Picture from Ontario Wind Resistance 
Mr Tajani warned that Europe's quixotic dash for renewables was pushing electricity costs to untenable levels, leaving Europe struggling to compete as America's shale revolution cuts US natural gas prices by 80pc.
"I am in favour of a green agenda, but we can't be religious about this. We need a new energy policy. We have to stop pretending, because we can't sacrifice Europe's industry for climate goals that are not realistic, and are not being enforced worldwide," he told The Daily Telegraphduring the Ambrosetti forum of global policy-makers at Lake Como.
"The loss of competitiveness is frightening," said Paulo Savona, head of Italy's Fondo Interbancario. "When people choose whether to invest in Europe or the US, what they think about most is the cost of energy."
A report by the American Chemistry Council said shale gas has given the US a "profound and sustained competitive advantage" in chemicals, plastics, and related industries. Consultants IHS also expect US chemical output to double by 2020, while Europe's output will have fallen by a third. IHS said $250bn (£160bn) in extra US manufacturing will be added by shale in the next six years.
Read the entire article at the Telegraph

Sunday, September 8, 2013

this is smart: "an incinerator for our hard earned dollars"

Parker Gallant, who I frequently have the good fortune of collaborating with, has a new article inspired by his experience with smart meters.

Parker Gallant: Hydro One and Ontario Energy Ministers–smarter? You judge | WIND CONCERNS ONTARIO: On WordPress:
...Tyler Hamilton (the “expert” commentator as noted by Alicia Johnston in e-mails recently released by the government and commented on by Tom Adams) wrote an article for the October 7, 2010Toronto Star. The article was all about “smart meters” and the wonders they would perform for all of the ratepayers in Ontario. It contained quotes from an IBM “technology consultant” including this one: “ ‘Right now, Ontario is a world leader in the smart grid and smart meter systems,’ he explained. ‘Dozens of utilities around the world are watching what’s going on here. In a way, we have become a micro lab for the rest of the world.’”
...power utilities around the world must now be laughing up their sleeve at the wasted money Ontario’s ratepayers are forced to absorb. The “microlab” referenced by the IBM technology consultant has turned out instead to be an incinerator for our hard earned dollars!
Please read Parker Gallant's full article at WIND CONCERNS ONTARIO

Parker's writing on smart meters inspired me to take a look at some data for the past couple of years.  The data I'm looking at is the the system operator's (IESO), and, to a lesser extent, Hydro One's.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Australia elects Abbott ... and Palmer

Australia's ABC reports, "Kevin Rudd has appeared before his supporters in Brisbane to concede defeat to Tony Abbott and the Coalition."

A great day for AGW deniers?

Maybe.  Only followed the election lightly from afar, but it seemed it was largely a "Seinfeld" election, with the global political handlers union again staying largley unified in ensuring campaigns are no time to talk about ideas.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

"Greeen" Energy Expense explained: "everything on the ice cream menu"

There are a number of posts on the excellent German Energy blog regarding the energy policies of parties participating in the German election campaign - the parties just aren't providing much substance (basically arguing on ways to cut energy taxes to hide real cost increases for a little while).
So to der Spiegel ...

The political world is wedged between the green-energy lobby, masquerading as saviors of the world, and the established electric utilities, with their dire warnings of chaotic supply problems and job losses.
Even well-informed citizens can no longer keep track of all the additional costs being imposed on them. According to government sources, the surcharge to finance the power grids will increase by 0.2 to 0.4 cents per kilowatt hour next year. On top of that, consumers pay a host of taxes, surcharges and fees that would make any consumer's head spin.
Former Environment Minister Jürgen Tritten of the Green Party once claimed that switching Germany to renewable energy wasn't going to cost citizens more than one scoop of ice cream" 
Interesting to see Herr Tritten's name in the article
Minister Altmaier - picture from Spiegel Online
Ontario's Minister of Energy championing the Green Energy Act, George Smitherman, famously claimed, "about 1% per year of additional rate increase associated with the bill’s implementation over the next 15 years."

Sounds like a scoop of ice cream, and it sounds like a calculation done as a canned sales pitch instead of one with any validity.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

"Energy overpriced, not needed": power deals cut

"If we don't need to buy this electricity right now or within the next couple of years, it seems the right thing to do for ratepayers is not buy it"
That from the provincial energy minister

[province] to cut 10 power deals... - CBC News:
At least 10 contracts with independent power producers will be cancelled and another nine will be put off as [province] looks for ways to cut costs for rate payers ...
[The Minister] said the province has 130 electricity purchase agreements, and in the 19 cases the companies had not met their contractual obligations.
He disputed suggestions the cancellations were a policy shift away from the goals outlined in the Clean Energy Act or support for independent power producers.
"If we don't need to buy this electricity right now or within the next couple of years, it seems the right thing to do for ratepayers is not buy it".