The Myth of Intermittent Renewable Electricity

I tire of this canard.  So here’s the end of it.  If anyone can show evidence that the information presented here is incorrect, then please do so.  Handwaving and “nuh uh” won’t cut it.

 So what is the canard?  “Wind and solar power cannot provide continuous, smooth electricity.  For that reason, we will always need a ‘base load’ power supply, be it nuclear, coal or gas.”

 Why do people say this?  Well, it’s common sense.  The wind only blows sometimes and the sun only shines sometimes.  Yet, we need electricity almost all the time.  How can that possibly work?  I need lights at night, yet there is no sun?

Well, yes, it does make common sense to think that way.  This is why common sense is practically useless when considering things beyond one’s immediate actions and area.

The wind is always blowing somewhere and the sun is always shining somewhere.

 The model of the electrical utility that we have grown up with just doesn’t work anymore.  Used to, each town had a power plant.  Then the town’s power grids were connected and, to get economies of scale, larger and larger power plants were built to supply larger and larger areas.  If one broke, then because they were all interconnected, the others on the grid could take the load.

Oh wait… that’s exactly what will happen with renewables too.  When the wind is not blowing in Dallas, the wind is blowing in Phoenix.  When it’s cloudy on the coast, the wind is usually blowing the most.  You see, it’s all interconnected. 

Will there be problems?  Probably.  But it’s not like fossil fuels don’t have their issues too?  How about the rolling blackouts of Texas in early 2011 when a pair of fossil fuel plants’ water intakes froze, shutting them down.  Oops.  How about when an entire town’s water pipes froze (northern Wisconsin) when gas and electricity were shut down for a couple of weeks?  Eek, northern Wisconsin, middle of winter, shudder.

 Now that we’ve got the myth that fossil and nuclear never go down and leave us stranded out of the way.  What can renewables actually do?

 There are five methods to alleviate electricity concerns from renewable power.  Interestingly, you can actually do some of them at your own home, ensuring that you have power for when you need/want it.

 Interconnected Geographically Distributed Renewables

We’re talking about the entire country now.  We’re not talking about power in Denver or Colorado, we’re talking about utilizing the resources available to the entire country.  Take a look at a typical weather map of the US.  The sun is almost always shining in Arizona and New Mexico.

 Combined with wind power, at even a 20% capacity factor, it would be relatively easy to provide the base load for an electrical grid. 

 Yes, there are times when the sun is gone for several days and wind stops for several days, even weeks.  But the total electricity available to the grid will remain.  It’s called excess capacity.  If you need 500 GW, you don’t build a 500 GW power plant.  You build two 300 GW plants or one 600 GW plant.  When you need to take a generator off-line for maintenance, you don’t disrupt the entire electrical system.

 It’s the same with wind and solar.  We can do this, because wind and solar are cheaper than nuclear.  $20 billion will buy you one 3.4GW nuclear reactor.  $20 billion will also buy you almost 20GW of wind turbines.  If you use a capacity factor of 20%, that’s still 4GW, more than the nuclear plant.  Spread them out into 1GW farms over a large (hundreds of kilometers) area and you have constant power.

 OK, but you want more.  I can accept that.  Let’s see what else we can do.

 Use additional power sources

I mentioned this briefly, but wind probably will not be the entirety of the energy solution.  Solar will not be the entirety of the energy solution.  Hydro won’t either.  But combine them…

 When is wind usually the weakest?  When there’s a large high pressure system in the area.  But high pressure results in no clouds… unfiltered, direct sunlight powering solar cells.  Heck, why not mount solar cells on wind turbine towers?

Why not put solar cells on mall roofs and cover the parking lot in solar cells?  That’ll also mean your car would be cooler when you get in.

 Managing Demand

Would you raise your thermostat from 70F to 75F during the summer if you got a $100 gift card each month you did so?  I sure would (of course, my thermostat is set between 75F and 80F anyway).  Americans are generally pretty wasteful of electricity.  A smart home could determine if no one was watching TV and turn it off.  A smart home could determine that everyone was asleep and turn all the lights off. 

 This way of managing demand can even extend to businesses.  In fact, electric companies do this right now.  They offer electricity very cheaply at night.  Operators of electric arc furnaces operate mostly at night because of the cheaper electricity.  So this practice is already in operation right now.

 It’s basically a system of saying, there is x electricity available, if you want it, be prepared for it to cost extra.  Some people will pay it.  Some people won’t.

 Storage

It’s a stormy day, the wind turbines are spinning, producing almost full capacity, but no one needs electricity for their AC units.  Where does the excess power go?

 Store it.  Use the power to compress air and use the compressed air to drive a turbine when more electricity is needed.  Use batteries in your home to power appliances when wind and solar availability is lower.  Use the excess to crack water into hydrogen and oxygen, and then run those products through a fuel cell to produce electricity later.

There are many ways to store power, both at a national and individual level.  Once everyone gets pure electric plug-in vehicles, there’s a ready supply of batteries in an emergency.  Fly-wheels, capacitors, pumped storage, oh my.

 Solar thermal plants even retain enough heat to provide ‘solar power’ through the night.

 Smart Grids and Grid friendliness

The smart grid and system interconnectedness is some pretty interesting technology and it will get more and more advanced as time goes on.  We’re seeing what modern networking can do with cell phones (google “color app”).  What could this do for electricity?

 Well, what if, in the case of lower than normal electricity production, the utility could shut down all the interior lights, instead of shutting down entire grids?  You could still work, just with minimal lighting.

 Smart grids are very much about monitoring the entire electrical system, including distribution and use. 

 Grid friendliness is another interesting concept.  Large, centralized power plants cannot be shutdown and restarted quickly (and when I say quickly, I mean in days, not hours or minutes or seconds).  So the coal and gas plants run all night, even though everyone is asleep.  This is very wasteful.  Sure, they run at lower output, but they can’t ramp up from dead cold to full power, when everyone switches on their coffee pots at 6:00AM.  Storage systems can.

 In a world of varying demand, large intensive systems with no storage would be a worse option than smaller, distributed systems with storage.

Final Notes:

Let’s go back to our comparison between what to buy for $20 billion dollars.  A nuclear plant or wind farms?  What if, you bought $16 billion worth of wind farm and spent the remainder on storage.  Now, you have a max capacity of only 16GW and an average capacity if about 3.2 GW (about the same as the nuclear plant) and you have $4 billion dollars worth of electricity storage.  I don’t know that anyone has done a scaled up study on what $4 billion in batteries, compressed air, or any of the other storage systems would look like, but I suspect it would be A LOT OF STORAGE.  Maybe enough to see the entire system through a day or two lull…

 Oh wait, it’s all out there on the internet.  A $4 billion dollar electrical storage facility will be built in Mexico.  It will store about 1 GW of electricity. (http://www.renewableenergyworld.com/rea/news/print/article/2010/12/4b-1gw-nas-energy-storage-project-goes-to-mexico)  

 So, for the price of one nuclear reactor, you get almost the same amount of electricity in wind turbines (yes, they are cleaner and there is no possibility of accidents) AND a 1GW storage center.

Some of these systems are already in place.  But with a little extra tech, they could way less disruptive than what we have now.  Some of the systems are currently being developed.  Some of these will need a little time to be deployed.

Will it be expensive, sure it will.  We have to rebuild the entire world’s electrical supply and distribution system.  But, let’s just face reality here.  Even if you think global warming isn’t happening, you still have to consider pollution and the simple fact that fossil fuels will run out sooner or later.  It’s unfortunate that many pro-fossil fuel guys don’t care what happens in the future as long as they have what they want.

You’ll hear all about how renewables can’t do this and can’t do that.  Yet, renewables, wind and solar, are doing it.  They are being built, they are being used, they are economically viable systems.

Change is hard to deal with.  But let’s at least let go of this myth that renewables can’t power us by themselves.  They can and they will.  After Japan, if anyone thinks that the US will ever build another nuclear plant, they are just deluding themselves.  [No it wasn’t nearly as bad as the news claimed.  But this is a case when news hype might work in favor of renewable power.]

 ______________________________ 

Resources for Further Review:

http://www.grist.org/article/study-shows-transmission-costs-for-big-wind-is-low

 http://www.princeton.edu/~ssuccar/recent/Succar_NETLPaper_May06.pdf

 http://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy07osti/40674.pdf

 http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/winds/aj07_jamc.pdf

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23 Responses to The Myth of Intermittent Renewable Electricity

  1. Scott says:

    BUT THINK OF THE BIRDS! <_<

    I kid, I kid. Interesting article. I've heard that line many times (renewables not reliable enough, etc.), and figured it was probably false, but was otherwise pretty agnostic. Very cool. It seems that the major hurdle here won't be providing good evidence that renewables are viable, or even superior, but convincing Congress and others that the switch needs to be made (or, more precisely, motivating them to legislate the switch). Big Oil (god I feel dirty using that term…) isn't exactly wanting for money or for political influence, after all.

  2. ogremkv says:

    I know the feeling about using ‘Big Oil’, but it seems like the US government is taking note. There are a couple of big projects in the work on US soil.

    I think that the majority of people want clean energy. Like I said, you can take global warming out of the picture entirely and renewables are still better in terms of pollution and making the US energy independent (which can only be a good thing).

    And I think a lot of people are getting tired of $3.50 a gallon gas, while the oil companies are raking in billions in profit every quarter and still getting subsidies.

  3. The Founding Mothers says:

    Go on, be a devil, include tidal power as well, then see where the naysayers are…

  4. All we need to do is build completely new grids, expropriating the property rights that people currently have in the existing ones, build huge and inefficient means of storing electricity that have never been tried on a large scale, and relinquish control over our appliances to the utilities (what do you think the “smart grid” MEANS), and wind power is in the bag, apparently.

    I’m disappointed, Ogre, I thought you were really going to research this for yourself, and not seek out only what confirmed your prejudices. And I am seeing a lot numbers and units thrown around with no context–not to mention few details on costs of building energy storage, efficeincy of reclaiming it, etc.

    What’s in the news right now? In the Pacific Northwest, it’s the unusual amount of snowpack melting this spring. All the hydroelectric power is running at full capacity and water is even running through spillways as it can’t be used. Even with the Columbia Generating Station (a nuclear plant) shut down for the outage, there is no physical way to put all the wind energy on the grid.

    No big deal right, they’re still getting their generating subsidy. Well, it’s not enough, because not all their power is not being bought they don’t get the additional subsidies for selling the power. So they are suing Bonneville Power Administration to force them–the taxpayers–to buy power that no one can currently use, so that the taxpayers can pay them AGAIN with the subsidy.

    http://www.windturbines.net/news/BPA-details-7-wind-curtailment-in-Northwest-pda
    http://www.oregonlive.com/environment/index.ssf/2011/04/bonneville_power_administratio_2.html
    http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/smackdown-wind-vs-washington-state-grid-operator-over-renewable-integration/

    Now you wrote about how when the wind is low, solar is bound to be high–but what you left out, is that hydro and wind are POSITIVELY correlated, so that when you have high production of one you have high production of the other–and since hydro is used to balance wind–another factor left out of your post–it’s very difficult to get them both on the grid at the same time , as our experience in the Pacific Northwest over the last decade has proved. Seems kind of important to mention that, don’t you think? We wouldn’t want to selectively quote pros and cons, would we–especially since large-scale solar power does not currently exist, whereas large scale hydro power certainly does.

    Incidentally, what does “stores 1 GW of energy” mean? Maybe I slept through physics class when I was getting my Ph.D. in physics but I vaguely remember that GW is the RATE of energy consumption/production, not actual energy. It’s like saying you have a gas tank that stores 50 mpg–that doesn’t tell me if it holds a teaspoon or a hogshead.

    In your hypothetical example of wind + storage > nuclear plant, you leave out key details. How quickly can the storage be brought on and taken off line? How efficiently does it release stored energy? What is the rate at which this energy can be put on the grid? How much does it cost to store 1 kw-hr (STRANGELY lacking from you post)? Are there going to be baseless environmental lawsuits that will increase the price dramatically beyond this price, as nuclear, hydro, and even solar generating have to put up with?

    Yes, yes, with all the futuristic advances and blank checks from the taxpayers we can have all this stuff in 50 years, or 20, or 100–more details that are missing.

  5. OgreMkV says:

    Come on Gabriel, we’ve been over this. We both know that the system for generating AND transmission of electricity in the US is hopeless outdated. There are large scale solar plants being built, right now. Spain has two production solar thermal (see my blog post about them). Pflugerville, TX is getting a production solar PV plant. I’ll fully grant that solar and wind aren’t up the same 6% of the nations energy that hydro power is. Except that Wind power has half the installed capacity as hydro and is increasing dramatically.

    As far as the complaints about large scale hydro vs. large scale anything else. I’ll grant that right now that is true. However, we really can’t build anymore dams. All the rivers are pretty much used up. There isn’t anything else. On the other hand, every building in the country can have solar panels installed. Yes, it’s expensive. So what, I’d rather pay more for clean energy than have cheaper energy that destroys the planet. Oh wait, I’m paying the exact same price (9.5 cents per kWhr) for wind power that everyone else is charging for coal and natural gas. Nevermind. BTW: In some of my other power related posts, you will find complete breakdowns of costs, including things like the transmission costs, total life cycle costs and fuel costs. It’s there. Read.

    Whether it’s a good idea or not (and I know you and I have differing opinions about this), the reality is, there will be no more nuclear power plants built anytime in the foreseeable future.

    The complaint about the transmission system. Simply put it applies to any power generation system. The grid has to be overhauled completely, regardless of whether we go to pure renewables, nuclear, fusion, antimatter, whatever. The NE US blackout and the recent Texas brownouts are proof that the current system doesn’t work.

    As far as storage… this has been answered several times in this blog. Super-capacitors are already being used. Solar thermal can be used to provide power for up to 14 hours without additional solar energy being applied (this is that working system in Spain).

    I know I didn’t answer all your questions. I honestly don’t have the time. All this information is available for you if you want to look it up. It’s not hard. It’s just your personal beliefs leading you to think it can’t be done. Well, I’m sorry, but it is being done. Right now, all over the world. It’s being done and it’s working.

  6. Yes, let’s talk about storage, Ogre. And unlike your response to me, mine has numbers in context.

    Industrial flywheel storage is everything you dream of, I concede, except for the cost: $1000 / kW-hr. The cost for pumped hydro is $10 / kW-hr.

    http://fgamedia.org/faculty/afirouzi/ENGR600/lesson07/reading/Cost%20Analysis%20of%20Electricity%20Storage.pdf

    1 American uses about 4 kW-hr in a day. To store that much energy, you need $4000 worth of flywheel storage.

    To store that much water behind a dam costs $40. To store the equivalent in gasoline (at 20% efficiency, 2 L), you need a JAR. To store the equivalent in coal (at 20% efficiency, 3 kg) you need a BOX. To store the equivalent in uranium (20% efficiency, 1 mg) it fits under a microscope.

    You don’t see the vast difference? That difference in orders of magnitude in expense is just to be waved aside? And when your wind plant that produces, on average, 1 GW is producing 4 GW because of the weather, you need BILLIONS OF DOLLARS WORTH OF STORAGE AVAILABLE EVERY HOUR. Because it’s FILLING UP, you see. (3 GW overage* 1 hr * $1000/kWhr).

    It’s being done and it’s working.

    It is being done on a TRIVIAL SCALE, at VAST EXPENSE. Yes, anything will “work” if little is expected of it and enough money is thrown at it. You can say the same for creating antimatter and sustatining fusion–these things “work” and are being “done”, too.

    It’s not enough to assert that the improvement is possible, or demonstrate that it is. You have to show that the improvement is WORTH THE COST. And that’s where you have failed in these discussions. Because you know almost nothing about how power is generated. As do I, I concede, but I know enough to know what I don’t know, AND enough to ask the right questions.

    Let me offer this example–your howler about storage in “GW” on the Mexican facility. I’ve had enough experience to know that REAL experts talk about power AND energy–scam artists like Blacklight Power (google them, they are a hoot, except that they steal) talk about producing “50,000 MW” and neglect to mention that it lasted for 1/1000th of a second.. But the source you cite does NOT say how much energy the Mexican facility will store: only how much “power”, which is a physically meaningless statement. 1 GW can’t power ANYTHING if it only lasts a fraction of a second. And not only is your source ignorant of the distinction, and doesn’t realize its getting a snow job, this raised no alarms in YOUR mind. It never occured to you, “Hmm, how long would that facility put out 1 GW–that seems like an important thing to know.”

    So I found it out for you: 6 HOURS worth of storage.

    http://www.ngk.co.jp/english/products/power/nas/principle/index.html.

    $4 billion / 6 GWhr = $670 per kWhr. Cheaper than flywheels, granted, but not much, and hundreds of times more expensive than hydro storage or coal.

    So after this revelation, will you PLEASE stop dismissing out of hand the things I am trying to get you to look at? But what would I know about power and energy, I’m just a PHYSICIST.

  7. Incidentally, I looked for other reports on the Mexican facility: not one, of the ten I checked, had anything to say about the amount of energy stored, though some of the commeters picked up on it. All of the bloggers seems to have worked from Rubenius’s press release without asking this question.

    Does that sound like critical thinking to you?

  8. OgreMkV says:

    Yes Gabriel, congratulations you’re a physicist. It doesn’t mean that you are immune to argument from authority and bias.

    As far as storage… hmmm 6 hours. Do you have a back up power supply on you computer? How long does that last? About 15 minutes? Then what’s the point. it sounds like it should be totally useless from what you’re saying. But it’s not.

    And no, you don’t need billions of dollars of storage every hour, not with a decent grid. You only need a small amount of time until either other systems ramp up, more sun or wind becomes available, or excess power can be drawn from other locations.

    And yet, despite all these expenses all these things are being done by for-profit companies. With the expectation of making money. Maybe it is through subsidies. Doesn’t much matter, it’s being done.

    So, what would you have us so. Congratulations, you are now in charge of energy production in the US, what do we do? Return to coal? Build more hydro plants? Build more nukes?

    Very simply none of those are viable solutions. Anything that produces pollution and carbon dioxide is not a solution. There are no more good candidate rivers to dam up. Oh sure, we could build a few small ones, but hydro will never be more than 6% of the energy production portfolio. Nuclear plants will simply not happen, not politically not publicly. There just isn’t anything else.

  9. OgreMkV says:

    I can’t speak for journalists. That’s why I try to do the math. As you have pointed out, I’m not an expert.

  10. OgreMkV says:

    Hey Gabriel. Im reading the paper you gave me a link to. I’m somewhat confused.

    In your comments, you are claiming that the cost for pumped hydro is $10 per kilowatt hour. yet on page 533, the authors say that pumped hydro only adds $0.05 per kilowatt hour.

    A battery storage system designed to operate 250 d/year with
    one 8 h charge/discharge cycle per day adds US$0.18–0.64 to
    the cost of electricity at 2006 prices. A system that charges and
    discharges twice a day on a 4 h cycle adds about US$0.07–0.57.

    So I’m a little confused by your claims here.

    Finally, from the conclusion

    These costs are between 3 and 12 times the cost of conventional
    pumped hydro storage. Pumped hydro capacity now
    equals 3% of the total world generating capacity, evidence of its
    economic viability. Suitable sites for new pumped hydro facilities
    are, however, limited. If the costs of battery and flywheel
    technologies continue to decrease, then, their operating costs
    will someday approach that of new pumped hydro.

    So, people, being people are looking at the technologies and actually doing something with them, including making them better. Would you have us not work on them at all?

    Your other link fails to mention anything other than the technology involved in the batteries. (Which, the Russian storage system for the Olympics and the another facility don’t use anyway. They are using super-capacitors.)

    So, if you don’t mind, would you mind actually stating your position and explaining why you think so?

  11. Then what’s the point. it sounds like it should be totally useless from what you’re saying. But it’s not.

    Once again, you fail to distinguish “practical” from “possible”. What makes sense for individual, occasional home use does necessarily work for a large industrial economy. Pointing out that it works in one case tells you nothing about whether it works in the other. It’s exactly like saying that each home should have its own coal plant-after all they work just fine to power a city.

    with a decent grid. You only need a small amount of time until either other systems ramp up, more sun or wind becomes available, or excess power can be drawn from other locations.

    How much time is “a small amount”? You don’t say, you wave your hands and DECLARE it to be small, citing a “decent” grid which does not exist. The grid has to balance AT ALL TIMES. Over the course of a whole year maybe wind power averages out over the whole US, but springtime is at the same time for everyone. How can you confuse the AVERAGE balance with the INSTANTANEOUS balance? For large parts of the year large parts of the country will have excess or too little at the SAMETIME, for a period of WEEKS. If we only need, “a small amount”, how much is that in GW-hr? We already have 3% of our total generating capacity in hydrostorage–over 1000 GW-hr–and we currently use it all. Are you talking about building at least that much more of this new storage that costs 10 or 100 times more per unit? 1000GW-hr*$1000/kwHr = one TRILLION dollars.

    So, what would you have us so. Congratulations, you are now in charge of energy production in the US, what do we do? Return to coal? Build more hydro plants? Build more nukes?

    Build more nukes and dams, exactly. I know that you’ve DECLARED them to be politically unaccpetable, but as the true cost of wind power comes out I DECLARE that will change, which I have as much right to do as you. We don;t give the ignorant a veto over teaching evolution and we won;t give them a veto over nuclear power.

    In your comments, you are claiming that the costfor pumped hydro is $10 per kilowatt hour. yet on page 533, the authors say that pumped hydro only adds $0.05 per kilowatt hour.

    I see what you did there, and I am selectively bolding it so that we can all see it. You’re comparing apples and oranges. The cost per kwhr and the cost ADDED per kwhr are entirely different things.

    Did you read the tables? That’s where the figures for storage per kWhr come from. Table II, in the row labeled “Unit costs for stored units ($/kWhr)”. The “added costs per kW-hr” figures you site are a different calculation–once you’ve built it you can factor it in to the price of electricity over a term of years. But see, we have thousands of MW-hr stored in reservoirs ALREADY–that’s the “3%” you quoted. But we don’t have any flywheel storage to speak of, you see. So if we want it, we have to spend $1000 for every kW-hr we build. Of course you can ACCOUNT for the cost by spreading it out over the amount of energy stored in it, but that’s not what I was talking about. Would you buy a car from me if I told you it would only add $1 per mile to the cost your current driving? Would that be a sensible number to use when deciding if you can afford a new car?

    See, you’re just grabbing random numbes out that LOOK GOOD. But you are not thinking about what they MEAN. You are also not applying it to the huge SCALE that you have to create for these systems out of nothing, as they don’t currently exist. Dams currently exist and store hundreds of GW-hr RIGHT NOW. You want to create AT LEAST THAT MUCH starting from practically nothing, and then waving the cost away.

    Your other link fails to mention anything other than the technology involved in the batteries. (Which, the Russian storage system for the Olympics and the another facility don’t use anyway. They are using super-capacitors.)

    Because I was talking about one specific example you mentioned, the Mexcian facility that Rubenius is supposedlt building using THOSE batteries. You really didn’t realize that’s what they were doing?

    I’ll GLADLY go over with the the cost per kw-hr of supercapcitors. It’s your blog. If you agree I’ll be happy to. Just don;t throw me in that briar patch.

  12. OgreMkV says:

    Gabriel, when did the last nuclear plant come on-line in the US? How long does it take to get a nuclear plant through permitting and construction? I know, do you? How many applications are in process right now?

    Do you honestly think that anyone wants nuclear plants right now? If you do, then you are delusional. This may change in a few decades. I imagine it could happen tomorrow, but I can also imagine being declared the king of Siam. I have a realy good imagination.

    As far as the costs. So, what you are saying is that any new systems, we cannot pay it off over time. Is that what you are saying? Because I’m pretty sure I can buy a car and pay it off over time. I mean if you want to look at the numbers, here they are: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Levelized_energy_cost_chart_1,_2011_DOE_report.gif

    I know that’s not what you want to hear. You want an answer RIGHT NOW. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Even if every permit currently in the system were granted today, it would still be 6-16 years before a single watt of power came from a new nuclear plant.

    Again, and I’m saying this again because you don’t seem to be hearing it, regardless of all of your complaints that it’s not economical it is being done, right now, by for-profit companies. There have been 16 applications for new nuclear plants (or additions to current facilities) since 2007 (in the US). That is less than 20% of the current number of nuclear plants. Even if every application was granted right now. Only 4 of these plants would be on-line before 2020.

    If nuclear is so great, why aren’t utilities investing in them? It’s simple. They are dangerous. Now we all know that they don’t produce much pollution (except for mining and processing the fuel and the toxic waste that the fuel is for the next few hundred thousand years). They are also pretty safe. But when they have an accident, they tend to be very, very bad. Talk about a NIMBY situation.

    On the other hand, if a wind tower or solar panel fails, what happens? Not bloody much.

    Companies are flocking to the renewable industry. It doesn’t matter if you calculate that it can’t be done economically. Dozens of companies are doing it.

    If all those nuclear plants come on-line by 2020, then we’ll have (I’ll be generous) 50GW of power. Depending on who you listen to, the estimated increase of wind power will be 200 GW by the end of 2013. OK, fine, now we get to the nameplate vs. actual argument (and I have done the math on this, see elsewhere in the blog). Wind is still cheaper than nuclear, even if you spend a billion dollars on storage, wind is still cheaper. And it will be ready next year, not 8 years from now.

    You can argue figures all you want. I’m pretty sure that the people making these decisions worth billions of dollars have examined them much more closely than you or I ever will and the verdict is out. There will be more renewables. There will not be much more nuclear.

    It’s that simple.

  13. OgreMkV says:

    I should add, because someone might get bent out of shape if I don’t that the estimate for wind power was world wide.

    The estimate for the increase in nuclear power worldwide by 2013 is 35GW (this is from all countries and all power plants either under construction or planned.

    So still less than wind power alone.

  14. I’m not sure it’s ettiquete to come by your blog and badger you all the time, so this will be my last response, HERE. If we happen to end up discussing this elsewhere, that of course will be different.

    As far as the costs. So, what you are saying is that any new systems, we cannot pay it off over time. Is that what you are saying?

    Strawman. Seriously, that would be a completely stupid statement had I made it, wouldn’t it? OBVIOUSLY any system can be paid off given enough time.

    My argument is, that it is stupid to spend hundreds of billions on expensive storage systems to make wind energy reliable, when for the SAME money you could get dozens of dams and nuclear plants that would be producing much more reliable baseload power all the time, WITHOUT the expensive storage systems.

    regardless of all of your complaints that it’s not economical it is being done, right now, by for-profit companies.

    And as I have pointed out to you, and you left it without any comment, is that for-profit companies are being a) paid with taxpayer money to build wind farms, b) paid with taxpayer money to generate power from wind farms, c) have laws passed for their benefit that force utilities to buy this power from them, and d) get taxpayer money again when the power is bought. This is not an argument, this is empirical fact. I pointed you to the news articles. OF COURSE any company profits from corporate welfare, and is in favor of getting MORE. But SOCIETY does not profit.

    But when they have an accident, they tend to be very, very bad. Talk about a NIMBY situation.

    One organic farm in Germany has killed more people than the Fukushima accident. Failures in dams have killed more people than the entire history of the worldwide nuclear generation industry. A RESPONSIBLE person would spend his time fighting baseless fears about nuclear power, instead of advocating forms of power that require hundreds of times the cost to be viable.

    Depending on who you listen to, the estimated increase of wind power will be 200 GW by the end of 2013.

    Once again, the use of numbers without any context. 2008 figures: Coal producea 8 MILLION Gw-hr per year in the US alone. Hydro produces 3.3 MILLION GWhr per year in the US alone. Nuclear produces 2.7 MILLION GWhr per year in the US alone. Wind power, in the US alone, is 56,000 GWhr per year. Wikipedia says as of 2010 this 95,000 Gwhr per year. That’s one 1/285 of the power produced by nuclear plants–104 reactors. Each nuclear plant produces more than double the entire amount of energy produced by wind power.

    But suppose we magic into existence enough wind farms to produce the equivalent of today’s nuclear production. The wind industry currently gets $4-5 billion in tax credits EVERY YEAR.
    If we could wave a magic wand, and install the same amount of wind that nuclear plants produce (a 285-fold increase), magic away all grid problems, completely ignore all other costs like building them in the first place and mandates to buy the power, the wind industry would be costing the taxpayers $1.4 trillion. Every year. If you want to scale up wind power to be competitive with hydro or nuclear, you HAVE to address this issue–that enourmous sums are being spent for tiny quantities of energy. But you NEVER address how much it would cost to bring the quantity of wind power up to match hydro or nuclear. I am forced to conclude that you do this deliberately.

    A new nuclear plant will cost about $10 – $20 billion, according to Wikipedia–and they ARE being built in the US. Spending the money we currently spend on production tax credits for wind–mind you, tax credits ALONE–would give us a new one every 4 years, each new plant producing TWICE AS MUCH ENERGY as the ENTIRE wind industry.

    But just wave that away.

    Wind is still cheaper than nuclear, even if you spend a billion dollars on storage, wind is still cheaper.

    Nonsense. Only by carefully disguising the true costs of wind energy can you possibly make this statement. You are ignoring the vast sums of money wind power requires from taxpayers to produce miniscule amounts of energy, money which I have proved would be far more efficiently spent on nuclear plants.

    Companies are flocking to the renewable industry. It doesn’t matter if you calculate that it can’t be done economically. Dozens of companies are doing it.

    Flocking to corporate welfare. Getting paid by the government to produce something that consumers are forced to buy. A no brainer for them. Makes money, for them. But society as a whole suffers by spending far more on energy than it needs to. This is argument from poplatity anyway. Besides that fact that government handouts are always popular with the handees, it doesn’t matter many engage in a corrupt, stupid activity–it’s still corrupt and stupid.

    I’m pretty sure that the people making these decisions worth billions of dollars have examined them much more closely than you or I ever will and the verdict is out.

    And didn’t you tell me that arguing from authority was a fallacy earlier? The people making these decisions are spending other people’s money. The people GETTING the money think it’s a good deal, OF COURSE. The people paying for it are being lied to about how much it costs and how much benefit it produces. That won’t last forever. People in the Pacific Northwest are just now starting to wake up.

    As promised, I’ll leave you alone here about this topic.

  15. OgreMkV says:

    There are a lot of very interesting truths, half-truths and outright lies in this last comment by Gabriel. Not to mention a few direct attacks.

    There’s not a lot of point in continuing a discussion like that. I’ll just say that I think I’ve addressed his concerns in previous article. I don’t know if he’s read them or not. I also proved lie several of his comments in a previous response to him.

    I’ll say it again, as I’ve said a thousand times. If it’s a choice between fossil and nuclear, I choose nuclear. If it’s a choice between nuclear and renewables, then I choose renewables. The economics are well understood (I’ve posted them to Gabriel and on this blog several times), it’s not my problem if he chooses not to read them.

  16. I had a mistake in one of my numbers, Ogre, and if you had bothered to look at them you could easily have made me eat some crow. Fortunately I think critically about my own positions, and I doublechecked my work some hours later while doing some more research on the subject.

    I was off by a power of 10: 2.7 million GW-hr of nuclear power, divided by 95,000 GW-hr of wind, is 25.8, not 258. So when I said 1 nuclear plant provides double the energy of the entire wind industry, that was wrong. It took 4 nuclear plants, approximately, to match the entire annual output of the wind industry, according to the figures I had for nuclear power for that year..

    If you had caught the mistake and corrected it I’d not have said anything now, but gone on my way burning in humiliation. But it was my mistake and I feel duty bound to correct it. And I do promise to leave your blog in peace in the future.

  17. OgreMkV says:

    Umm.. the reason I complained is that the total wind capacity in 2010 is 197 GW. IF (and I’m being generous to your side) the capacity factor of wind is 25%, then that’s almost 50GW of power.

    As I’ve already shown, every nuclear plant that is currently scheduled to be completed by 2013 (combined) will only produce about 30 GW.

    So you still aren’t even close. Not even close by over a factor of ten.

    Edit to add:

    Of course, if you had been reading the information I had already provided to you and doing your research, you would have known that.

  18. Ogre, I’m not going to stay away if you misrepresent what I said–I consider myself well within my rights to check back and see, because you keep on doing it.

    I was talking about TOTAL ANNUAL ENERGY. Not POWER. POWER is not what generating plants produce in a year. It is the rate at which we produce energy, which is not the same. That’s why all my units are GW-hr, not GW. I repeatedly stated it, “energy”. Households and industry do not use POWER, they use ENERGY.

    You still cannot understand the difference between power and energy? This very, very simple and fundamental point? It is like confusing distance with speed. If you cannot grasp this distinction, you are utterly unqualified to have any sort of opinion on this issue. If you DO understand it, and are pretending you don’t, or pretending that I said one when I said the other in a post anyone can go back and read for themselves, you are misleading people.

    Wikipedia says currently there is 95 GW-hr of ENERGY, not POWER, produced by wind plants in 2010. Go check it out if you don’t believe me–in the first paragraph of “Wind energy in the United States”. In 2008 it was 55 GW-hr. So you cannot refute my statement about total ENERGY with any sort of statement about total POWER.

    As I’ve already shown, every nuclear plant that is currently scheduled to be completed by 2013 (combined) will only produce about 30 GW.

    Once again, that has nothing to do with anything I wrote, and so it is not a refutation of anything I wrote. I was comparing TOTAL nuclear ENERGY to TOTAL wind ENERGY. Not an increase in nuclear energy with an increase in wind energy. (Once again, ENERGY, not POWER, which is an irrelevant quantity to this issue.) This is a relevant comparison because you think that total wind energy should one day surpass total nuclear energy. If you think that, then you need to be honest with people about the huge amount of money you will need to expand wind production tenfold.

    You seem to parse English sentences just fine when creationists are writing–it’s a tribute to my high esteem for your intelligence that leads me to conclude that you are misrepresenting my views on purpose. There’s no point. People who passed freshman physics and read what you wrote in response to what I wrote will just laugh at you.

    So, if you can pass up the temptation to do that with THIS post, I will, as I promised, leave you alone on your blog, where you can say anything you like and not be challenged on it.

  19. Michael A says:

    I enjoyed this exchange and note that is has gone awfully quiet after Gabriel pointed out the importance of differentiating between “power” and “energy” when it comes to quantifying price/performance on energy storage projects. The whole Rubenius thing appears little more than “green air” and was promoted exclusively on delivering impressive “GWs of storage” and not actual GW-hours of storage capacity.

    It’s like going to Avis and getting a rental car with “a big tank” but without information on how full the tank is on delivery and no information whatsoever on what it takes to eventually fill the tank up and actually use the car.

    Why has no one called this bluff?

  20. OgreMkV says:

    Well, watt-hours is just power delivered over time. If a system generates 1 megawatt and can do so every hour, then it generates one megawatt hour. If a lightbulb uses 100 watts and does so for 10 hours, then it uses 1 kilowatt hour.

    If a storage system can store 1 gigawatt and can deliver it out over an hour, then it actually provides… well no one really knows. Can it deliver a full megawatt over that one hour period? If so, then it’s one megawatt hour worth of power.

    The problem isn’t so much in the storage system, but the draw on the storage system.

    It’s like an uninterpretable power supply. Mine has a capacity of 750 watts. How long will it last if the power goes out? Well, if I have a device connected that uses 25 watts per hour then it will last 30 hours. If I’m drawing 750 watts (my PC power supply) then it will last about an hour. Of course, there are inefficiencies and such all around, but that’s the basics.

    I haven’t talked about this much, because there’s nothing more to talk about. IF (and that’s a big IF) we can get next generation nuclear reactors going, then fine. If not, then we’re stuck with renewables or fossil fuels. I’ll check and see what the status of the nuclear industry in the US is right now, but I doubt it’s changed in the last few months. No one wants nuclear plants.

    Renewables are working. A recent study showed that a renewable penetration of about 35% was possible without any changes to the US grid and the grid work work perfectly fine. Then there’s molten salt solar thermal plants that can generate power 24/7 (as long as the sun shines during the day).

    So, it’s not just one thing as many people have tried to make it (“wind can’t blow all the time”). It’s a concerted effort in a great variety of fields.

  21. Michael A says:

    I agree that renewable generation, grid interconnect and storage conundrum requires a concerted effort amongst all stakeholders. And in the case of renewables loads of goodwill and continued government incentives.

    Finally back to the storage calculation and quoting Gabriel:

    (QUOTE)
    “1 GW can’t power ANYTHING if it only lasts a fraction of a second. And not only is your source ignorant of the distinction, and doesn’t realize its getting a snow job, this raised no alarms in YOUR mind. It never occured to you, “Hmm, how long would that facility put out 1 GW–that seems like an important thing to know.”

    So I found it out for you: 6 HOURS worth of storage. http://www.ngk.co.jp/english/products/power/nas/principle/index.html.

    $4 billion / 6 GWhr = $670 per kWhr. Cheaper than flywheels, granted, but not much, and hundreds of times more expensive than hydro storage or coal”.
    (UNQUOTE)

    I have heard no one argue against the statement that the NGK solution appears an incredibly expensive beast to operate for e.g. peak demand applications. Which utility will step forward as a keen buyer of storage services with this kind of cost base? The Rubenius reps have flown in from Saudi Arabia and presented at several storage events – whats the story and what are the numbers and price points tabled?

    As I recall Rubenius stated “that 50MW (equal to how many MWh?) will be installed this year”….unsurprisingly nothing has happened at the site in Mexico as of mid September….

  22. OgreMkV says:

    So this facility can only be used once?

    Because that is what Gabriel is implying there. By the same calculation, a nuclear plant that costs $8 billion and generates 1 gigawatt-hour of electricity would mean that it’s cost of electricity would be $1000 per kilowatt hour. That just doesn’t make any sense.

    If that storage unit stored and released 6 Gigawatt hours of electricity once every three days, for 5 years, then the cost would actually be $1 per kilowatt hour. Still expensive, but actually realistic.

    At this site: http://www.nrel.gov/wind/systemsintegration/wwsis.html
    you can read the studies.

    At this point, up to 20% of the entire grid can be supplied by wind power without any noticeable effect on the grid and without making any changes to the grid. So storage isn’t that big a deal right now.

    Besides, anyone remember how much the first computers cost? Or the first cell phones? Or the first anything? I guess if everyone waited until technology was cheap, we’d still be trying to decide if fire would ever be inexpensive enough to use.

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