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Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Is the Tesla Model X the Hummer of electric cars?

Another Tesla goes up in smoke. I've written about some of the other incidents here and here.

When I built my electric bicycle back in 2007, I had been waiting for a battery that was less volatile than what had been available. I didn't want to risk having a fireball under my seat. Tesla traded volatility for power density.
2007 cell phone photo of Hummer and Cherokee

I think electric cars are great for all kinds of reasons, which is why I bought one in 2011. But like any car, they are not created equal, and as marketers begin the process of differentiating them to get us to buy them, that inequality will grow and diversify as it has for conventional cars. And for any fellow electric car enthusiasts out there who think electric cars are going to make a significant dent in carbon emissions in the foreseeable future, read Robert Rapier's article on that subject. Even a strongly biased study by the UCS shows that electric cars, on average, presently produce about half of the emissions of conventional cars in a cradle-to-grave analysis. Eliminating fossil fuels (instead of nuclear) from our energy mix will improve that over time.

Way back in 2007 when I was blogging for Grist, I took a picture with my cell phone (note the low resolution of cell phone cameras back then) of a Hummer parked next to a Cherokee. I drove a Cherokee at the time. I wrote a short blog post about it titled Not all SUVs are created equal:

...I spotted a yellow Hummer parked next to a yellow Cherokee (the original SUV) the other day. The contrast was startling. Status seeking has a natural tendency to escalate. You know the end of a fad is near when it finally spawns a ridiculous monstrosity like the Hummer.

Leaf delivering stuff to a yard sale

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

First Annual Clean Energy Forum at the Columbia (nuclear power) Generating Station

Photo Credit Utilities Service Alliance

I was recently invited to attend the first annual Clean Energy Forum, hosted by Energy Northwest in Richland, Washington, which included a tour of the Columbia Generating station.

The Tour

We were greeted at the security gate by three polite security guards who inspected the bus and checked our photo IDs against a list. This level of security isn't unique to nuclear power stations. You would have to go through a similar procedure to take a tour of Hoover dam. We also had to leave our cell phones on the bus (which would also be the case should you ever get the chance to take the highly recommended Boeing, Everett factory tour).

Next, we had to pass through metal detectors very similar to the ones I had to walk through at the airport. Between the airports and tour, I passed through metal detectors four different times on this trip.

We were given radiation dose badges (to document that exposure levels were well-below any amount that could possibly affect health).

We saw the control room mock-up where crews are trained to staff the real control room. They ran through a simulated core shutdown from an earthquake (including a shaking floor and emergency lighting), which took only a few seconds to complete. It looked complex but I doubt that there were many more gauges, lights, and switches in that control room than you would find in a 747 cockpit (between 365 and 970 of them, depending on model). Because a control room does not have to fly, the gauges and switches were quite large and widely spaced in comparison.

 Photo of 747 Cockpit National Air and Space Museum

Friday, July 29, 2016

Robert McCullough writes third antinuclear op-ed piece this month

Photo Columbia Nuclear Power Station via Tri-City Herald
Here we go again. First McCullough gets an op-ed in the SeattleTimes. Next, he posted essentially the same thing in an op-ed in the Oregonian, which was rebutted by the operator of the nuclear power station, and now, the Oregonian gives him yet another op-ed, where, for the most part, he repeats the same rebutted arguments for a third time.

We should all cross our fingers that McCullough does not get hired by an anti-airliner organization (in addition to the antinuclear organization that already commissioned him) to tell airlines how to run their business. Think about it. A jet airliner uses turbines to move passengers in a similar way that solar thermal, natural gas, geothermal, and nuclear power stations use turbines to make electricity.

The operating costs certainly are not the same for an aging 747 and a brand new 737. But there are very good reasons why a given airline will keep its aging fleet of 747s. Based on the simple cost of operation and maintenance, McCullough might tell an airline operator to retire its older 747s. But do you really think he would know better than the airline operator (or grid operator)? Not a chance. He's a hardcore antinuclear economist using smoke and mirrors to attack one of the biggest sources of low carbon energy in the state.

"As I write this response, the on-peak prices for electricity in fiscal year 2021 is $31.30/megawatt-hour (MWh) and the off-peak price is $25.05/MWh [note that wind receives a $23.00/MWh subsidy]. The Columbia Generating Station's cost forecast for December 2021 is $49.60/MWh."

I'm a big fan of solar, but as I write, the world's cheapest unsubsidized solar photovoltaic power price in very sunny Texas is purportedly $57.10/MWh,(1) 15% higher than the Columbia Generating station. In general. PG&E paid $200.00/MWh for electricity from the Ivanpah solar thermal power station last summer.(2) Why isn't McCullough calling for their closure?

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Mark Jacobson thinks a desert ecosystem usurped by mirrors is a beautiful thing

Photo Ivanpah Solar Thermal via US Fish and Wildlife Service

I disagree.
Above is Jacobson's Twitter response to my comment: "...what is beautiful about displacing natural desert ecosystems with mirrors?" Below is my response:

Bird scorched by Ivanpah solar thermal power station

Update 7/17/2016 below:

Mark responded with a pointless remark and got one back:

The term "Twitter debate" is an oxymoron (i.e, you can't debate someone using Twitter). Attempts to use it for debate would make good material for a modern Monty Python skit not unlike the classic Department of Arguments skit:

Monday, July 4, 2016

Our future is in low carbon energy, not just green (whatever that means) energy

Columbia Nuclear Generating Station in Washington State
 Cross-posted to Energy Trends Insider.

Robert McCullough has an Op-Ed in the Seattle Times titled "Our future is in green energy not aging, costly nuclear plants" that rebuts an earlier Op-Ed by James Moss supporting Washington State's single nuclear power station. McCullough:

"I read James Moss’ recent Op-Ed with interest and some amusement. The interest reflects whether Washington’s aging and very expensive nuclear plant is a good use for our energy dollars. Moss is doing a good job for his union constituents and takes a position I normally support. Sadly, we may not be on the same side regarding the costs."

I read Robert McCullogh's Op-Ed above with interest and some amusement.

Which got me to wondering who these Northwest clients might be? Neither the Times article nor the study he references says. But based on the Wikipedia article about this power station, I'm pretty sure I know who it is:

In December 2013, Robert McCullough, ... published an analysis of the economics of Columbia Generating Station commissioned by Physicians for Social Responsibility, a group that advocates eliminating the use of nuclear power.

Shouldn't the Times have divulged that information so readers would know he was being paid by a well-known antinuclear energy group? And don't let the group's name (Physicians for Social Responsibility), which is an argument from authority, fool you. It would be a big mistake to ask a physician to fix your brakes. I'm married to a physician. I know a lot of physicians. Physicians don't know any more about nuclear energy than any other lay person ...maybe less.

His antinuclear bias is further exposed by his repetition of old, dog-eared, antinuclear talking points. Below I will show you where he isn't being completely accurate with us using my tried and true (and mostly arbitrary) veracity score system with a rating of ten defined as a cold hard fact all the way down to one, which can be defined in any number of colorful ways.