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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Talking Your Book

Well, Iran shot its missile in the sky, but did not manage to hike oil much, which is reflective of caution amongst the traders. And there should be skepticism. US demand is still running along lower at least 2.5% below 2007 judging by the 185 day average.

There is an interesting discussion going on at Photon Courier and Chicago Boyz regarding the Pickens Plan. One should read it at least to understand why Pickens $150 bbl price prediction does amount to talking his book.

One of the things that makes me laugh until tears run from my eyes is the unstated presumption in the Green Extravagance camp that anyone who favors stuff like corn-based ethanol isn't advocating their own economic interests while every oil company mogul is. Does anyone really believe that Archer McDaniels isn't spreading some cash around? The US has just bought into the corn-based ethanol doohickey with outstandingly tragic results for the world's poor people, not to mention causing our own poorer people considerable pain. Do we really need to repeat our mistake?

I say that one should look at Europe and their attempts. The UK is trying, but the numbers don't look good. By 2005 Germany, which has installed a lot of wind farms, was experiencing skepticism about the replacement potential on the grid. The Lodge report is available here, and is worth reading for an alternate look. The bottom line is that for the UK, at least, trying to go as heavily into wind power as they intend is going to be extraordinarily expensive, in part because they will still have to add standard power plants to offset down periods. Here's an excerpt from the paper about Denmark's experience:
DENMARK IS Europe’s most-wind intensive state. With a population of 5.4 million, it has over 6,000 turbines that in 2002 produced electricity equal to 19% of what the country used. In theory, at peak output, the Danish wind farms could account for nearly 64% of Danish peak power demand.

However, not a single conventional power plant has been closed in the period that Danish wind farms have been developed. Because of the intermittency and variability of the wind, conventional power plants have had to be kept running at full capacity to meet the actual demand for electricity and to provide back-up.7

Furthermore, the Danes have found that it is not practical for large baseload plants to be turned on and off as the wind dies and rises: indeed, the quick ramping up and down of those plants, such as coal, would actually increase their output of pollution and carbon dioxide (the primary greenhouse gas). Baseload stations have to keep running so that they can ‘shadow’ wind turbines due to their intermittency. So when the wind is blowing perfectly for the turbines, the power they generate is usually a surplus and sold to other countries at an extremely discounted price; or the turbines are simply shut off. According to the Copenhagen newspaper Politiken, wind met only 1.7% of Denmark’s total demand in 1999.8 And in 2003, for example, 84% of western Denmark’s wind-generated electricity was exported (at a revenue loss). Denmark’s grid accepted only 3.3% of electricity generated by its vast wind farms.9 This has undermined the “green” credentials of Danish wind farms. For example, the Danish grid used 50% more coal-generated electricity in 2006 than in 2005 to cover wind’s failings. The increase in the demand for coal, needed to plug the gap left by underperforming wind farms, meant that Danish carbon emissions rose by 36% in 2006.10
It also has resulted in extremely expensive power for the Danish people. At times of low wind, sometimes the turbines are drawing more electricity than they are producing! So basically the Danes ended up running two energy production systems side by side, and they can't really turn off the standard enough to get most of the gains.

If you really want to cut carbon emissions, solar can help but nuclear power is an absolute necessity. It's not that wind power can't help, but when you try to scale it up to account for a much larger percentage of supply it seems like you increase your problems and vulnerabilities.

I looked into wind turbines for the farm. The bottom line was that it would never pay. They don't produce when wind is low or too high, they are not capable of surviving hurricanes and twisters, and they need yearly maintenance. Solar was a better option.

PS: As I look at various temperature indices, I become more and more skeptical that carbon is a significant danger to the climate. Nonetheless, if you think it is, you had darned well better not be building wind turbines and then burning more coal in plants than before you built them. This is an interesting check of various inputs I ran at Wood For Trees:

Everything is graphed as a 10 year mean. The red line is Mauna Loa CO2. The purple line is HadCrut temps, and the short blue line is UAH satellite lower atmosphere temps for comparison. You can see that over the last 10 years the measured temperature is taking a nosedive. The long green line is sunspot activity (SIDC-SSN) which is a pretty good proxy for irradiation, and the long light blue (aqua) line is PDO, or Pacific Decadal Oscillation.

When both PDO and sunspot activity rise or fall, it appears that temperatures rise or fall, but generally with a slight delay. When PDO rises but sunspot activity falls, it looks like the sunspot activity overcomes PDO. I guess if I squint and stare at the Earth in the Balance logo long enough, I can claim that carbon slowed the transition to cooling once PDO and sunspots went negative, but then I look at the amplitude of the coordinated rise of PDO and solar, think of the oceans' capacity to store heat, and I cannot argue too passionately even for that. With solar activity still at a relatively high level and the oceans slowly giving back some of their accumulated heat, we should have seen a lag. And we do know that the oceans are cooling, which means that the effect of other changes may now amplify.

I cannot make myself see CO2 as a primary climate driver, so I am not sure that the entire world will be worrying about it in ten years, because this is what a 5 year mean looks like:

In theory, even if the sun continues on its current unprecedented modern minima we should have gained a few years of relatively moderate temperature because of higher GHG in the atmosphere. We should see cooling, but a slower cooling because we've got more CO2 in the atmosphere. What should happen is that as it gets cooler, water vapor content in the lower atmosphere should lessen, which basically opens up a gap that lets the CO2 retain a little more energy. In theory.

In practice, this is what the climate has been doing over a longer time frame (20 year means):

Good info about wind power, MOM.

The energy problem must be looked at in components. The first is fuel for transportaion. Oil is king here and will be for another 25 years. Even if a practical electric car was developed this year, it will take 15-25 years to switch from gas/diesel to all electric. There will also have to be a whole new industry for recycling /disposing of batteries. Not to mention all the new genearting capacity that needs to be built. Fuel for airplanes and big cargo ships will be oil based much longer than for autos/trucks.

Second is electric generating capacity. Wind, solar, nuclear, geothermal, and hydro-electric are the clean, renewable fuels. Wind and solar both have the same problem. They are intermittent, and thus need back up. Hydro is one source that is detested by the greens, but could be further exploited in this country if teh objections could be overcome. Isaw an article about clean coal. Right now it is more of a dream than a reality, but some people are working on it. Anyway, nuclear and hydro are the sources that look most practical at this point.

Then there is energy for heating and cooling buildings. Presently a combo of gas/heating oil/ electricity are used. Much has already been done with better insulation, sealing, and windows. Lower thermostat temps. are possible if people can't pay higher prices. I think geothermal heat pumps are the heat source of the future, but they are presently expensive and hard to retrofit. Solar, both active and passive can work in sunny climates, but still requires a backup source. More work needs to be done in this area, as natural gas will eventually run out.

It makes the problem less complex and more rational if it is broken down into the different components.
jimmy j..."Hydro is one source that is detested by the greens"..true. And there's some interesting history there.

In the 1930s, both the American New Dealers and the Soviet Communists were very proud of their hydroelectric projects, and viewed them as symbols of the new, progressive era they wanted to bring about. Also, in the U.S. there was an "neotechnic" movement, led by scholars such as Lewis Mumford, who wanted to displace "paleotechnic" energy (coal/steam) with environmentally-friendly electricity made with hydropower.
Jimmy - the NE could do a lot with hydroelectric if the enviros would allow it.
Regarding the fluctuations in solar power production, see


Essentailly, sunlight's thermal possibilities (not photovoltaic), when combined with an efficient thermal storage medium, makes continuous power production practical and competitive.

One such facility is in operation in the Mojave today. Others are under contract.

Interesting they skirt the whole issue of costly photovoltaic media.
David, Thanks for the historical footnote. Interesting hwo attitudes and "revealed truth" changes.

Here in the Pacific NW we have unused hydro capabilities that the Greens won't allow to be used. Several dams on the Columbia have space for several more turbines, but are blocked by the Endangered Species Act. Salmon, you know. The dams have been there a lot longer than the declines in the salmon runs. The Fish and Wildlife people, who are now mostly greens, refuse to correlate salmon run declines with over-fishing. The runs began to decline shortly after the introduction of computer controlled purse seining and at about the same time they gave the Indians the right to catch all the fish they wanted. But no, it's the dams that are causing it and they aren't satisfied with just not adding more generators. No, now they want to tear them all down.

In Switzerland they have many small hydro plants to provide power to small areas. They are expensive to build, but once they start operating they produce clean inexpensive, relatively trouble free power for a long time. We could do the same thing here in any mountainous area with a decent supply of water.
One of the nice things about a wind/hydro mix is that unlike most base load power plants, it is relatively quick and easy for a hydro installation to increase or decrease power output. Hydro makes a good balancing base load for wind power, for reasonably low amounts of wind. Essentially you release less water when the wind is high, and more when the wind ebbs.

Except when you get double the normal annual snowfall in the Pacific Northwest, and MUST release water. Oops! See the link:

Companies running very large data centers, especially companies whose name starts with "G", are selecting locations near hydro faciities: see Frankly My Dear, I Do Need a Dam. There's also some interest in taking advantage of the geothermal in Iceland.

I'd guess that the same thing will happen if solar-thermal turns out to be practical, or if we ever build more nuclear plants.
Oil will get priced high enough that we will look seriously at alternatives. Coal is cheap, and coal fired power plants can feed electric cars, but the irony of driving what amounts to a coal-fired car in the 21st century should be noted. I am a non-believer re CO2 as a serious driver of temperature, but would note that if temperatures are back in the falling portion of the cycle, higher CO2 levels would aid agricultural production, which will surely decline when temperatures drop.
Two points:

First, CO2 is a problem for reasons other than global warming. Ocean acidification is one; the other is that at least some plants become less able to fight off insects (even as they become more attractive). That said, I don't urge panic, I do urge drilling (lots of it) as well as nukes and everything else that we can make work.

Second, on wind's variability: the more farms your have (and the wider the area over which you can move the power) the less correlation there will be between the output in your various plants. Also, natural-gas fired gas turbines or combined-cycle plants can respond fairly quickly to peaking loads. We haven't had to engineer them to deal with the more rapid variability of wind, but since we haven't tried I'll assume that we can do better than we are doing now, and perhaps we can even refit existing plants for more rapid peaking.

If you have stored-heat or stored-pressure/stored-heat solar, you can adjust the rate at which you draw energy out of the collection/storage system to adapt to changing wind generation.

And if new coal plants are built as gassification/combustion plants instead of direct combustion, they can be designed to store and release fuel gas to match peaking load (just as with natural gas-fired gas turbines).
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