Windpower

Sunday Train: Making An Energy Revolution

Writing for Politico, "Energy Visionary" Vaclav Smil writes in Revolution? More like a crawl:

Undoubtedly, the U.S. is experiencing two notable energy transitions, from coal to natural gas and from fossil fuels to new renewables in electricity generation. These shifts are welcome because they promise to bring cleaner and less carbon-intensive supplies. But they cannot be rapid, and they bring their own technical, economic and social challenges. Energy infrastructure is the world’s most elaborate and expensive, and the longevity and inertia of many large energy enterprises make it impossible for any large, complex national system (to say nothing of the global level) to reconfigure itself even in three or four decades.

And the statement is, on its own terms, quite certainly correct. Yet I support calls for a "pedal to the metal" transition to low and no carbon, sustainable energy as a policy approach that we shall have to be pursuing in order to achieve what must be done. So, what gives? Is Vaclav Smil correct? And if he is, in what sense is he correct?

Topic: 

Column: 

0

Sunday Train: The Two Transitions to A Renewable Electricity Supply

The topic for this week's Sunday Train was brought to my mind when I listened to the Energy Gang podcast. They were discussing the question of whether "CSP (that is, concentrated thermal solar power) is dead", and the always entertaining, but not uniformly informative, "energy futurist" Jigar Shah declared that "CSP is dead" (segment starts 30:29), backing the claim up with a set of bullet points that fell far short of supporting the claim. And listening to the set of bullet points, it seemed to me that he was talking in the context of the phase of the transition to renewable energy that we are presently in, and ignoring the phase of the transition that we will have to pass through if we are to survive as a national economy and national economy.

In short, he seemed to be talking more as an energy presentist than an energy futurist, claiming that there was no plausible position for solar CSP power based on both the technology currently rolled out for a technology that is experiencing rapid development, and in the context of renewable energy being added to an energy system which is untenable over the long term.

But I do not mean to single out Jigar Shah, since as I have recently been exploring various discussion spaces talking about various issues in the roll-out of renewable energy, cross-talk between the different phases of the transition to renewable energy seems to be commonplace. So what I wish to write about this Sunday afternoon is the "Two Transitions" to renewable energy: the Current Transition and the Next Transition.

Topic: 

Column: 

0

Sunday Train: The Era of Reverse Pumped Hydro

In a sense, Sunday Train has been mentioning reverse pumped hydro before the Sunday Train actually existed. In 2007 at Daily Kos, in "Driving Ohio on Lake Erie" (reprinted in 2012 at Burning the Midnight Oil), reverse pumped hydro was mentioned as one technology for smoothing the variability of Lake Erie offshore wind. In 2008 on Docudharma, talking about what we could do if we pursued serious goals, as opposed to "predicting" what "they" are "likely to do", I mentioned it again. I mention it again in The Myth of Baseload Power. And it features in the description of where Biocoal would fit into among dispatchable renewable energy in Unleashing the Political Power of Biocoal.

But one thing that Sunday Train has not done is to give a closer look at the current state of play of reverse pumped hydro in the United State, what are the regulatory obstacles that stand in the way of greater development of reverse pumped hydro, and what can be done to sidestep or overcome those regulatory obstacles. Evidently, I must have been saving all of that for today, for placement below the fold.

Topic: 

Column: 

3

Sunday Train: Portfolio Theory vs the Myth of Intermittent Wind Power

This last week, in the comment section of the EnergyCollective, I saw the same myth that I have seen time and time again regarding wind power:

Fact 1: renewables are aleatorically intermittent, and so unreliable.

Fact 2: due to Fact 1, they cannot provide energy when it is needed, but only when and in the quantity they can

Fact 3: users have to get energy when they need it, not when it is aleatorically provided

Fact 4: to date, there is no storage system that can be useful for a complex industrial society

Fact 5: due to facts 1 to 4, renewables need to have a back up system that can cope with the needs of the users.

Fact 6: that back up system cannot be just stopped and then put to generation in a few seconds or minutes, and usually have to generate at low efficiency to maintain the back up at call point, generating added costs, besides the usuals as maintainance, lost profits, complex distribution grid, etc.

... not surprisingly ending with climate crisis denialism in "Fact" 8, since the name of the game here is clearly not arguing by starting with facts and seeing what conclusion you arrive it, but rather is myth creation and propagation in support of an already selected conclusion.

While many people don't know what "aleatorically" means, many would actually share the misconception that windpower is an intrinsically intermittent resource. However, for wind power, the "Fact 1" is in many cases "Falsehood 1". Even though individual wind turbines are intermittent, for many wind resource regions, it turns out that a substantial share of wind power is not intermittent at all, in either their "by chance (aleatorically) and unpredictable" component or their "by chance (aleatorically), though predictable" component.

Topic: 

Column: 

3

Sunday Train: The Myth of Baseload Power

In Baseload power is a myth: even intermittent renewables will work, Mark Diesendorf, Asst. Professor and Deputy Director of the Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of New South Wales (Australia), writes:

The old myth was based on the incorrect assumption that base-load demand can only be supplied by base-load power stations; for example, coal in Australia and nuclear in France. However, the mix of renewable energy technologies in our computer model, which has no base-load power stations, easily supplies base-load demand. Our optimal mix comprises wind 50-60%; solar PV 15-20%; concentrated solar thermal with 15 hours of thermal storage 15-20%; and the small remainder supplied by existing hydro and gas turbines burning renewable gases or liquids. (Contrary to some claims, concentrated solar with thermal storage does not behave as base-load in winter; however, that doesn’t matter.)

Topic: 

Column: 

3

Sunday Train: Powering the Steel Interstate

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

The fundamental objectives of a national Steel Interstate project are two-fold:

  • Reducing CO2 emissions; and
  • Pursuing Energy Independence

The importance of reducing CO2 emissions as a step toward sustainability ought to require no elaboration. It has, of course, been elaborated on in previous Sunday Train essays, and likely will be again, but this Sunday, I will leave it as read. The importance of reducing grossly wasteful oil consumption in long haul freight transport follows directly from the position of the Transport sector as the number two emitter of CO2, and the opportunity presented by long haul electric freight rail to operate at about 20 times the energy efficiency per ton-mile as long haul truck freight.

The importance of Energy Independence for a sustainable economy may not be as widely understood, but it is as fundamental. For an economic system to be truly sustainable, it must be reproducible. That is, it must be sustainable even if adopted by all countries in the global community. That is why simply importing energy from others to cover the massive gap between our country's biocapacity and our country's ecological footprint is not, in fact, sustainable. It cannot be reproduced all around, because then there is no "somewhere else" to go get the energy.

Indeed, to be truly sustainable, a country such as ours, with twice the average biocapacity per person, ought to have the capacity be a net energy exporting country. So Sustainable Energy Independence is not even an ultimate target: it is the immediate goal to pursue, on the path to the ultimate target.

And with about a fifth of our petroleum consumption going for long haul truck freight, getting even half of our long haul truck freight onto Steel Interstates would cut our petroleum consumption by about a tenth. That is roughly 7% of our oil consumption and up to about 3% of our CO2 emissions (depending on the power source), so its a one-in-fifteen slice of oil independence and a larger than one-in-forty slice of carbon neutrality.

The topic for today is the flipside of the Steel Interstate proposal: the Electricity Superhighways, and how they offer the chance to substantially increase the size of the carbon neutrality slice.

Topic: 

Column: 

0
Subscribe to RSS - Windpower