Saturday, March 19, 2016

Weekly roundup:ISO's, CSP, nuclear, at the Post,

Solar thermal troubles, no plans for new nuclear, big overbuild due to variable renewable electricity sources (vRES)...

Things from around the web that caught my attention this week included the article I co-wrote with Tom Adams being the first story at the top of the National Post home page for a couple of hours Thursday.

There's a lot I could ramble on about connected to the article, but the one I'll pick to emphasize is communication. It was terrific to collaborate with Tom Adams. Our histories are different, with me being perceived as pro-nuclear, and Tom not so much. My favourite comment received regarding this week's column was "Never thought I would "like" an article (co-)authored by Adams."

Well, there's reason to like most of the posts at

On the nuclear topic...

The Midwestern Independent System Operator (MISO). 
This is a big system, with an annual peak demand of around 100 gigawatts. This past week they released a slide deck, "Results for MISO’s Mid-Term Analysis of EPA’s Final Clean Power Plan"

The following slide struck me for reasons I've marked in red:
  • allowing more transmission does not reduce the need for natural gas fueled generating capacity
  • to get 213 TWh a year more wind and solar the transmission grid must be greatly expanded and the combination of "losses" and "curtailments" rises 97 TWh

This is indicative of the rapidly shrinking return on investment experienced as the market penetration of intermittent generators expands. I see the slide as one more reason to value wind and solar output at either the cost of fuel to generate the same power with natural gas - because the capital and operating costs of the dependable system are not displaced by wind and solar generators - or at nothing at all (if it's line losses, curtailments or dumped on neighbours).

It was a rough week for concentrated solar power (CSP). Once again California's Ivanpah power plant was begging for, and being granted, an extension to get its production up to the its power purchase agreement commitments, while the New York Times was reporting Spanish Solar Company Abengoa Faces Reckoning:
Saddled with debt from its expansion, the company is scrambling to avoid what would be the largest bankruptcy in Spanish corporate history. Creditors and shareholders are taking the company to court as losses mount and crucial financial support disappears.
The company’s changing fortunes, from industry darling to financial invalid, are an extreme example of the challenges facing players in the renewable energy business.
Clean-energy technologies will play a crucial role as countries try to meet the ambitious targets set by the United Nations climate accord last December. But many of the technologies underpinning renewables are proving economically unsustainable in the short term, particularly with oil prices declining and governments reducing incentives.
... its solar thermal projects ["Abengoa now accounts for more than a quarter of the five gigawatts produced worldwide by solar thermal plants"] have been slow to turn a profit and generate little income in the interim, amplifying its cash squeeze.
Funny how the short term is challenging for explicable reasons, but for wind and solar the long term are inexplicably well defined.

The New York Times article ended ridiculously with, “The problem of Abengoa is not the failure of a sector, far from it...We really hope policy makers don’t start mixing up cost and value.” 

That mixing up started years ago - and continues unabated.

I wrote this in the fall of 2011 - as CSP projects were being converted to photo-voltaics (PV), implying policy-makers may very well by harming CSP:
...The promise of concentrated solar power (CSP) is a far better ability to meet demand, and therefore much increased value over the more ubiquitous, and cheaper, photovoltaics (PV).   However, when jurisdictions are either run by feed-in tariffs (FiTs), or... Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), we are starting to see the replacement of more valuable supply, meaning capable of meeting a demand need, with cheap intermittent sources  - most apparent as PV replacing CSP projects (see here and here).   Ontario's FiT program is predominantly a program for solar PV, and Industrial Wind Turbine (IWT), projects.  Neither of which provides valuable output.
Lastly I'll note Ontario's system operator also released a slide deck last week. My tumblr blog has some Notes on IESO Supply/Demand outlook to 2035. Like MISO they notes don't show any hint of new nuclear builds to address emissions; unlike MISO emissions are shown as growing as renewable expansion continues while nuclear contracts.

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