Touch here for mobile friendly version

Sunday, July 9, 2017

David Roberts--Solar saving lives while intense battles rage across the country as batteries neuter attempts by utilities to attack it!

Figure 1 NREL Study Results

David Roberts has recently published two new somewhat obtuse energy articles:
The first is a rehash of a joint 2016 Berkeley Labs and National Renewable Energy Lab study touting the benefits of solar titled The Environmental and Public Health Benefits of Achieving High Penetrations of Solar Energy in the United States [When Compared to Coal and Natural Gas, But Not Nuclear]. And keep in mind that solar in the U.S. makes up roughly 0.4 percent of total energy consumption at this point in time.

Like any study, it has its biases, and like any study, the results are largely the result of assumptions chosen. Read The 44% Nuclear, 35% Renewables, 21% Natural Gas Low Carbon Grid and Bounding the Renewables-Nuclear Debate (also see Figure 1).

When talking about water use, they assumed that concentrated solar will use dry-cooled technology (which uses an order of magnitude less water than a typical wet-cooled system). Why would the authors conclude that only solar would do that when there are no laws in place mandating it and if there were laws, why would they not apply to other power systems?

And because nuclear has no more emissions than solar, shouldn't the title have ended with "When Compared to Coal and Natural Gas ...But Not Nuclear?" Nuclear's environmental impact as far as water is concerned is no worse than solar thermal and much, much, less than hydro.

And when it comes to impacting wildlife, the Ivanpah solar thermal power station (killing about 14 birds a day on average and built on intact desert tortoise habitat) is far worse than even coal per unit energy.

The study claims that solar will have saved Americans about $660 billion dollars in health care costs (thanks to emissions reductions) by 2050 (assuming a 27% penetration by then).

If true, that means nuclear, which has been displacing coal for over half-a-century, has already saved a lot more than that. Interesting that you never see the likes of Roberts, the NRDC, Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, or the UCS making this point about nuclear.

The study also claims that solar is already saving the equivalent of about 5¢/kWh in annual environmental and health (clean air) benefits, which seems to defy common sense considering that solar in the U.S. makes up only roughly 0.4 percent of total energy consumption at this point in time.

But again, if true, that means nuclear has been saving you the equivalent of about 5¢/kWh for decades already.

Missing from the study are life cycle environmental costs. See Figure 2 and read Are we headed for a solar waste crisis?

Figure 2
 Also, see Figure 3 and read New study finds solar households produce 30% to 60% more electronic waste than non-solar households.

Figure 3


Figure 4
I ran my own numbers to get a feel for raw materials (Figure 4), and they jibe nicely with those shown in Figure 2.

And if you think his first article was not particularly insightful, he takes it to another level in the next one titled Utilities fighting against rooftop solar are only hastening their own doom--Batteries are going to make rooftop solar invulnerable.

The article is based on an analysis by McKinsey & Company.

Disconnecting from your electrical utility would be a lot like disconnecting from your water or sewer utility in that you would be wholly responsible for the expense and time-consuming hassle of building and maintaining your own well and septic systems. Solar panel systems, especially with storage, are not maintenance free, or cheap (feasibility varies wildly by location). And if you don't believe me, go get an estimate to install a system large enough to displace all of your electricity use.

And if you don't put a new roof on at the same time you install them, you'll find yourself paying a small fortune to have them removed and then reinstalled when you put a new roof on later. And finally, once the net metering subsidy fades away, the panels will very likely never pay themselves off (see Figure 5).
As they get cheaper, batteries make sense for more commercial applications. As new markets for storage grow, demand for batteries increases. As demand increases, economies of scale kick in and batteries get cheaper. Rinse, repeat.
This pretty much goes without saying for just about anything, until the cost finally flattens out. Things like water heaters, cars, and dishwashers are no longer getting cheaper. But regardless, batteries run up against the laws of thermodynamics in that charging and discharging them will always incur a roughly 20%-30% energy and therefore financial penalty. If the energy you used to charge them cost you $100, the cost of the energy from the battery may be roughly $130. And batteries require the use of a charging system, which adds to system costs as well.
The whole analysis is interesting, but I want to focus in on the way batteries will affect rooftop solar. Across the country, intense battles are being waged as utilities push back against the rapid spread of rooftop solar. The existential crisis they hoped to avoid by slowing rooftop solar is going to slam into them twice as hard once batteries enter the picture.
Riiiight, so why no "intense battle" when Germany finally reduced its solar subsidies? See Figure 5.

Figure 5: TWh/year Source 2017 BP Statistical Review

This "intense battle" is his framing of the inevitable resistance from solar panel owners and the solar industry to the end of net metering and feed-in subsidies. Subsidies are meant to be temporary government assists to test the economic waters of different ideas. The electric car subsidy is a simple example, and one day, it will have to end because it is a transfer of wealth from those without electric vehicles (or solar panels) to those who have them. I capitalized on that subsidy when I bought my electric car and may do it again before it ends.

Solar has been added to grids by politicians, not engineers. Scrambling to accommodate them has been the job of engineers, not politicians. Imagine being in charge of an enormous, complex machine (the grid) that has to reliably provide all power demanded 24 hours a day when one day, consumers incentivized by massive subsidies begin to randomly install panels that sporadically add energy to the grid at the whim of the weather. We have friends in Maui who are not allowed to add solar to their home because the network can't handle it, but in David's eyes, it's because the evil utility is attacking rooftop solar.
Batteries, McKinsey reveals, are going to scramble those battles, making them effectively unwinnable for utilities. Cheap batteries neuter utility attacks on rooftop solar.
Riiiight ...attacks on rooftop solar. The McKinsey report says no such thing. What McKinsey actually said:
The grid is a long-lived asset that is expensive to build and maintain. Fixed fees for grid access are unpopular with consumers, and regulators are therefore not particularly keen on them, either. However, imposing fixed fees could ensure that everyone who uses the grid pays for it.

People are used to paying for the energy they use. But as more and more customers generate their own energy, the access to the grid for reliability and market access becomes more valuable than the electrons themselves.
In other words, even with solar panels on your roof, you are still going to pay a significant monthly charge just to be connected to the grid. The less electricity you buy, the higher your grid fee.

Dave found a conspiracy theory on the internet many years ago that, in his eyes, explains why, in his eyes, all utilities everywhere resist renewable energy projects. It appears over and over again in his articles. It's in this article if you're curious. In a nutshell, they resist them in the quest for profitability ...not unlike why solar and wind farms are built in the first place. Nobody knows the meaning of profitability better than Warren Buffet who once said:
I will do anything that is basically covered by the law to reduce Berkshire’s tax rate,” Buffett told an audience in Omaha, Nebraska this weekend. “For example, on wind energy, we get a tax credit if we build a lot of wind farms. That’s the only reason to build them. They don’t make sense without the tax credit.
Dave continues:
That’s because batteries allow customers to circumvent utilities’ two primary tools for slowing the spread of solar.
Riiight ...slowing the spread of solar. Except, again, McKinsey says no such thing. They suggest the following:
This [batteries] presents a risk for widespread partial grid defection, in which customers choose to stay connected to the grid in order to have access to 24/7 reliability, but generate 80 to 90 percent of their own energy and use storage to optimize their solar for their own consumption.
Because consumers still very much need the utility to provide grid services, they will have to be charged for them regardless of how much electricity they buy.

McKinsey goes on to say:
Full grid defection—that is, completely disconnecting from the centralized electric-power system—is not economical today. At current rates of cost declines, however, it may make sense in some markets earlier than anyone now expects. Of course, economics alone will not dictate how much and when customers choose to disconnect from their utilities. For example, another important factor is confidence in the reliability of their on-site power.
Translation: Some day, in very sunny places with mild climates near the equator, where there are no seasonal storage requirements, some people may start to disconnect from the grid by installing panels, batteries, a charging system, and for periodic spates of cloudy, rainy days that would exceed their battery capacity, a generator (see Figure 6). For everyone else, there will always be that government regulated cooperative called utilities run by experts capturing the economy of scale for the lowest possible prices.

Figure 6


Below are links to other articles where I do a form of peer review for some of David's articles because VOX isn't interested in promoting public discussion of their content under that content in comment fields.


David Roberts Asks, "Is 100% Renewable Energy Realistic?"--Part 1

David Roberts Asks, "Is 100% Renewable Energy Realistic?"--Part 2

David Roberts Thinks "Solar is Winning"--Still Antinuclear

David Roberts on Illinois Passes Huge, Bipartisan Energy Bill--Still Antinuclear

David Roberts concedes that the progress of wind and solar have been over hyped ...blames television

DavidRoberts of Vox, on Exploiting "Clean Energy (whatever that is)" Rifts

DavidRoberts on Coal Company Environmental Remediation

DavidRoberts of Vox (formerly of Grist) -- Not "Pro-nuclear"


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The 44% Nuclear, 35% Renewables, 21% Natural Gas Low Carbon Grid

Typical Rube Goldberg machine with its many attendant assumptions and potential failure nodes
Proposed coast-to-coast  HVDC super-grid with its many attendant assumptions and potential failure nodes

Would a continent-sized super HVDC grid be a Rube Goldberg machine writ large?

Back in the day, you would have been hard-pressed to find an article on the internet critical of biofuels. We should all be driving biodiesel or cellulosic ethanol powered cars by now. Politicians at the Federal level from both sides of the aisle saw this as an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone; buy votes from the farm belt, implement a permanent farm subsidy. So, in the end all we have left is the government mandated consumption of corn ethanol. Ethanol made out of corn now replaces roughly 10% of gasoline use. Not quite what everyone was hoping for. Governors and mayors also jumped on the bandwagon with similar dismal results.

Because Seattle is too small to grow its own biodiesel, the goal was to at least source it from Washington State, but for economic reasons, it ended up coming from Canada. So, in the end, there was a transfer of wealth going on from Seattle to Canada for its canola-based biodiesel, which is why all of the biodiesel stations have since disappeared. A similar situation arises with the generation of electricity.

Dozens of studies and white papers supporting biofuels were being pumped out (no pun intended) at the height of the craze. I see all of this as a potential analogy for what we're witnessing today with wind and solar.

The latest low carbon energy system research seems to have given up on storing excess wind and solar generated electricity in a form that will be used to create electricity later (minus the 20%-30% lost from storing and retrieving it) when there is demand for it.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Bounding the Renewables-Nuclear Debate

Figure 1: From NREL Renewable Electricity Futures Study

Very few people out there are arguing for a 100% nuclear future, and most are not arguing for a 100% renewable future. When we toss the extreme views out, the debate is over how much of what.

If you bound your debate to electricity generation in 2017 in a given geographical area, say, Seattle, you get:

Hydro 87.3%
Nuclear 4.7%
Wind 3.1%
Coal 2.1%
Natural Gas 1.3%
Biogas 1.1%
Other 0.4%

Not bad. Who said you can't cost effectively decarbonize with renewables (when 87% comes from hydro)? Doing that with wind and solar, on the other hand, remains an untested hypothesis.

If you bound your debate to electricity generation in 2050 in the continental United States you might get what you see in the lower half of Figure 1 above, which encapsulates the four-volume mega-study from the National Renewable Energy Lab to replace 80% of our electricity generation with "renewable" sources.

If you can't trust the NREL to come up with a competent study biased to favor renewable energy, who can you trust?

Some things to note about that study:

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Do We Have the Tools to End the Fossil Fuel Age?


I turned a comment I made under The Energy Endgame: We AlreadyHave the Tools to End the Fossil Fuel Age into a post. The article was written by “Tyler Norris [who] served as a Special Advisor to the U.S. Secretary of Energy in the Obama administration. Until May 2017, he was a Director at S&P Global Platts/PIRA, a market intelligence consultancy, where he co-led the firm’s cleantech practice.”

There is no indication that he has any engineering background, which may explain why he does not understand basic concepts like baseload and LCOE verses system costs.

The author’s arguments rest on an untested hypothesis. There is no evidence that the world can be powered with renewables alone. From a peer-reviewed study in Science Direct:

While many modeled scenarios have been published claiming to show that a 100% renewable electricity system is achievable, there is no empirical or historical evidence that demonstrates that such systems are in fact feasible.

Of the studies published to date, 24 have forecast regional, national or global energy requirements at sufficient detail to be considered potentially credible. We critically review these studies using four novel feasibility criteria for reliable electricity systems needed to meet electricity demand this century.


Eight of 24 scenarios (33%) provided no form of system simulation. Twelve (50%) relied on unrealistic forecasts of energy demand. While four studies (17%; all regional) articulated transmission requirements, only two scenarios—drawn from the same study—addressed ancillary-service requirements. In addition to feasibility issues, the heavy reliance on exploitation of hydroelectricity and biomass raises concerns regarding environmental sustainability and social justice.

The author continues:
Baseload goes bust
Norris doesn’t seem to understand the definition of baseload, which is the minimum level of demand on an electrical grid over a span of time. Most certainly, that is not going to “go bust.” He’s parroting an old antinuclear argument that never did make any sense but continues to bounce around the internet echo chamber. You can provide baseload in any number of ways; including, but only in theory, the use of wind and solar if you have enough storage and/or an intercontinental HVDC super grid.
That’s why it’s essential to preserve and extend as many existing nuclear plants as possible and continue making long-term public investments in advanced nuclear and carbon capture technology, even if their scale-up is less than likely -- and even if the United States government doesn’t lead.
He is right about keeping existing nuclear power stations open, but there is no need to wait for even more advanced nuclear to deploy more nuclear. Nuclear power station designs being built today are perfectly adequate; safe, and if built by the right company, highly economically competitive. Carbon capture is a canard that is distracting from the conversation.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Amory Lovins's Comments on a Fred Pearce Post

I recently stumbled on a comment by Amory Lovins under an article by Fred Pearce at Yale 360 called Industry Meltdown: Is the Era of Nuclear Power Coming to an End?

360 holds every comment for moderation, which tends to thwart any meaningful dialog but that's a little better than no comment field at all (VOX), and much better than CleanTechnica's method of systematically censoring comments and commenters who have viewpoints that differ from that of the moderator. Watch for his confirmation bias and the backfire effect--a term that describes how people will cling ever more, ah, heartily, to a strongly held belief when confronted with facts that dispel it. There is very little difference in that respect between creationists and anti-nuclearists like Lovins.
Assuming that not all edits and comments will appear or will appear in a timely fashion, I thought I'd throw them into an article. From Lovins:
In the first five years after Fukushima, Japan has displaced 70% (64% without GDP renormalization) of its previous national nuclear output with electricity savings, renewables, and a bit of other distributed generation.

Your link is broken and your source which states that its mission is to “establish a society based on renewable energy,” is suspect. 

From Bloomberg:

From 2011 through 2013, Japan’s trade balance worsened by a cumulative 18.1 trillion yen ($169 billion), estimates Taro Saito, director of economic research at the NLI Research Institute in Tokyo. Of that amount, 10 trillion yen, or 55 percent, came from energy imports.

$169/3 = $56.33 billion
55% OF $ 56.33 billion = $30.98 billion.

2016-2011= 5 years.

5 years x $31 billion/year = $155 billion dollars lost to fossil fuel costs as a result of antinuclear fear mongering that has closed Japan's nuclear. How many nuclear power stations would that have paid for in that brief period?

(Note that my original comment had misinterpreted the $169 billion as being for each year instead of the cumulative total).

The uptick in coal-fired generation ended in 2013

Coal use was 10 percent higher in 2015 than in 2009 (source: BP statistical review).

…and was more than entirely due to record net power exports (particularly to France) as renewables helped drive German wholesale power prices well below French ones. (Data in German…)

Data in German? Wholesale prices drop when wind or solar create a glut on the market (because it has little value). Exporting that glut to areas without wind or solar is a way to minimize damage to the finances of your own domestic power producers (who have bills to pay).

Beware of the many press reports about German CO2 that confuse the power sector with the whole economy. The notion that Germany substituted lignite for nuclear power or built backup capacity for "intermittent" renewables is nonsense…

Beware of those who want you to believe that German emissions would not have been less had they closed coal instead of nuclear. Roughly 40% of German electricity still comes from coal.

The French Academy's "common-sense" claims are a throwback to the 1990s, ignoring extensive European analysis and experience in achieving high renewable electricity shares (e.g. in 2014, as a fraction of total annual domestic consumption, 46% in Spain, 50% in Scotland, 59% in Denmark, 64% in Portugal) without adding backup capacity or bulk storage, and with superior reliability.

 From the Breakthrough Institute:

When wind oversupply would crush their energy market, they export it to other grids that have little wind. So what happens when those grids have as many wind turbines as Denmark? Denmark won't be able to export it. So, in other words, because Denmark is part of the Nordic Synchronized Area, it isn't really supplying 40% of the energy to that Nordic grid with wind. It's supplying about 10%.

Denmark just happens to use most of that wind because the turbines are located in Denmark and closer to the sources that use their electricity. The game's over once the other countries in their grid get as much wind as they have. And that's the point. They will likely stop wind development far short of Denmark because they don't want to be crushed by their own wind causing oversupply. They will use Denmark wind, i.e., Denmark is only supplying about 10% to the grid it is part of. This is also true for the other countries in your list.

Indeed, the ultrareliable former East German utility 50Hertz in 2015 got 49% of its electricity from renewables, three-fourths of them variable (PV and windpower), and its CEO says it could readily go to 60–70%, still without adding bulk storage.

Indeed …but growth of the non-intermittent renewable sources (biomass and hydro) as well as solar are grinding to a halt in Germany which leaves wind as the only source with much potential for further growth. Note that wind currently supplies only about 2% of Germany’s total primary energy consumption.


John Finnegan's cited blog endorsing certain nuclear operating subsidies is puzzling because it tracks only carbon, not also dollars. It therefore overlooks the opportunity to reinvest a distressed nuclear plant's saved operating cost into several times more energy efficiency (or cheap renewables), thus saving both carbon and money by closing the nuclear plant

What I find puzzling is the lack of evidence that high penetrations of sporadic energy sources decrease the electric bills for citizens. Your above comment rests on the assumption that they do.

 

Nuclear advocates' claim that closing a reactor always means burning more fossil fuel is worth examining but is clearly untrue in Japan, Germany, and even Vermont, where the uptick in gas-burning lasted only a year: NE-ISO's 2014–16 nuclear output loss was 91% offset by renewables and hydro-dominated imports, and another 69% by reduced sales.

Japan? Nuclear output dropped 158 TWh while the combination of wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, and biomass only increased 42 TWh (data per 2016 BP Statistical Review). The increase in renewables did not offset the much greater loss of nuclear. And if the rest is from energy conservation, then clearly reductions would have been even greater had nuclear not been shut down.

Germany? Like I said earlier, beware of those who want you to believe that German emissions would not have continued to decline had they closed coal instead of nuclear. Roughly 40% of German electricity still comes from coal.

Vermont? Your comment about Vermont appears to say that 91% + 69% = 160% of nuclear power was replaced by renewables plus hydro power (which is a renewable) along with reduced sales. But a reduction in emissions from energy efficiency would have existed with or without replacing one zero carbon source (nuclear) with others. Certainly, few nuclear plants can be replaced by hydro and if that is really the case in Vermont, it must have been excess hydro not being used by somebody else already or hydro taken from some other user who has had to replace it with something else, low carbon or not.
Grid integration of variable renewables has at least ten flexibility options, not only in supply but also demand (efficiency and flexibility), and not only in bulk electrical storage but also in thermal storage (in buildings' thermal mass, hot water, cold water, ice), hydrogen, and distributed storage worth buying anyway (such as bidirectional smart-charging electric vehicles).

Why did you say “variable renewables” when you mean wind and solar? And why have these options not scaled up in the decades you have been promoting them? Why will they suddenly scale up a few orders of magnitude in the next few decades just because wind and solar need them? And if they are feasible, why couldn’t nuclear baseload charge all of these storage devices at night when demand is low to minimize the need to run gas power plants in the day, and why haven’t they already capitalized on all of this theoretical profitability already?

Well-designed systems running largely or wholly on renewables will need no added backup capacity and little or no bulk storage…
You are confusing untested hypothesis with facts. And again you said renewables when you meant wind and solar.

…that's the costliest option, so it would be bought last, not first, we needn't wait for it, and the market isn't waiting.

We already know that hydro works without need for backup. Don’t know what you mean by “the market isn’t waiting.” Remove wind and solar subsides and growth would come to a standstill, as happened in Germany with reduction of the solar feed in tariff.

Shellenberger's claim about land use is wildly off.
Your renewable energy footprint paper should be used to teach classes about confirmation bias.
Material per TWh by Russ Finley at Biodiversivist.com