Posts Tagged ‘Electricity generation’

Wind Power capacity compromised in Texas: Rolling blackouts as Mexico supplies some back up

February 4, 2011

That wind power generating capacity is intermittent capacity and cannot be relied upon is obvious but sometimes escapes notice in the enthusiasm for “renewable energy”. That wind power must be backed up by other more reliable generating capacity for the periods when winds are too low or too high or when the weather is too cold is also often glossed over. That wind power must be used when the wind does blow irrespective of level of demand  and thereby displace more stable power (thus rendering it more expensive) is an inevitable consequence.

The following report comes as no surprise.


The Electric Reliability Council of Texas said 7,000 megawatts of generating capacity tripped [“tripped” means failed]Tuesday night, leaving the state without enough juice. That’s enough capacity to power about 1.4 million homes. By rotating outages, ERCOT said it prevented total blackouts.
“We have the double whammy of extremely high demand, given the lowest temperatures in 15 years, combined with generation that’s been compromised and is producing less than expected or needed,” said Oncor spokeswoman Catherine Cuellar. Oncor operates power lines in North Texas and facilitated the blackouts for ERCOT.
The article didn’t give a clue as to what generating capability failed, but I can make a pretty good guess: Wind energy…
For a time, Texas was bragging about being the #1 state for “wind power” (it still is) and we were bombarded with TV commercials and newspaper editorial touting the “Pickens Plan” for massive spending on wind energy. Pickens himself was building a huge wind farm in northwest Texas. He has now ceased construction.
Now, because of relying so much on wind power, the state is suffering blackouts.
Mexico is trying to help by shipping power to Texas, but it is not enough.

Solar power subsidies are not sustainable

October 28, 2010


The power plant.

Planta termosolar Andasol: Image via Wikipedia


In Spain the huge subsidies (with feed in tariffs as much as ten times the average cost of electricity production) had led to a rush of developers getting into projects which is now proving unsustainable. Bloomberg reports that

Solar investors  were lured by a 2007 law passed by the government of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero that guaranteed producers a so-called solar tariff of as much as 44 cents per kilowatt-hour for their electricity for 25 years — more than 10 times the 2007 average wholesale price of about 4 cents per kilowatt-hour paid to mainstream energy suppliers. Now more than 50,000 other Spanish solar entrepreneurs face financial disaster as the policy makers contemplate cutting the price guarantees that attracted their investment in the first place.

Spain stands as a lesson to other aspiring green-energy nations, including China and the U.S., by showing how difficult it is to build an alternative energy industry even with billions of euros in subsidies, says Ramon de la Sota, a private investor in Spanish photovoltaic panels and a former General Electric Co. executive. “The government totally overshot with the tariff,” de la Sota says. “Now they have a huge bill to pay — but where’s the technology, where’s the know-how, where’s the value?”

The situation in Germany is equally disturbing. The New Scientist reports

Solar power is intermittent and can arrive in huge surges when the sun comes out. These most often happen near midday rather than when demand for power is high, such as in the evenings. A small surge can be accommodated by switching off conventional power station generators, to keep the overall supply to the grid the same. But if the solar power input is too large it will exceed demand even with all the generators switched off. Stephan Köhler, head of Germany’s energy agency, DENA, warned in an interview with the Berliner Zeitung on 17 October that at current rates of installation, solar capacity will soon reach those levels, and could trigger blackouts.

Subsidies have encouraged German citizens and businesses to install solar panels and sell surplus electricity to the grid at a premium. Uptake has been so rapid that solar capacity could reach 30 gigawatts, equal to the country’s weekend power consumption, by the end of next year. “We need to cap installation of new panels,” a spokesperson for DENA told New Scientist.

The experience with highly subsidised feed-in tariffs is proving to be less than successful. In country after country the use of such subsidies is proving to be a major distortion, unhealthy and unsustainable. Countries such as India which are contemplating the use of similar subsidies for promoting intermittent, wind or solar power are beginning to have second thoughts and are now having to consider caps. It is beginning to sink in that such intermittent capacity cannot be counted into the generating base and does not reduce the need for alternative, backup generating capacity. Moreover the use of intermittent power from solar and wind only ensures that the operating conditions for the alternative capacity and for the grid are fundamentally more inefficient. This in turn leads to a hidden cost as a consequence of using the solar or wind power.

It is likely that these subsidies will have to be scaled down drastically.

Rain and lack of wind hit UK renewable generation

October 1, 2010

The Guardian reports that

The UK has suffered a second fall in renewable energy production this year, raising concern about the more than £1bn support the industry receives each year from taxpayers.

Wind turbine accident

Lower than expected wind speeds and rainfall led to a 12% fall in renewable electricity generated between April and June, compared to the same period in 2009. This setback follows a smaller but still notable decline between January and March, again compared to last year.

The DECC admits that “The intermittent nature of wind means that we do need alternative back-up generation, for when wind speeds drop” but should have added that alternative capacity is also necessary when it blows too hard and when it is too cold and when the foundations are cracking and …

Seasonal power generation can contribute marginally to energy needs but cannot provide base-load power generation.

Wind is not always as benign as it is made out. The “Summary of Wind Turbine Accident Data to 31 December 2008” reports 41 worker fatalities.

“CO2 is a valuable resource” – New Scientist

September 29, 2010
Carbon dioxide

CO2 molecule

Greenhouses to negate greenhouse effects?

The New Scientist today saysCarbon dioxide may be bad for the climate, but it’s good for the roses. Perhaps it’s time we rehabilitated this gaseous villain”.

While plenty of commercial greenhouses top up their air with extra CO2, what is unusual about this one is where its CO2 comes from. Until a few years ago, the greenhouse’s operators used to burn natural gas for the sole purpose of generating CO2. Today it is piped from a nearby oil refinery. Each year, 400,000 tonnes of CO2 are captured and then piped to around 500 greenhouses between Rotterdam and The Hague, where it is absorbed by the growing plants before they are shipped for sale around the world .

“It’s time we stopped thinking of CO2 solely as a pollutant and viewed it as a valuable resource,” says Gabriele Centi, a chemist at the University of Messina, Italy.

Cash for carbon

Capturing carbon dioxide from smokestacks and then pumping it underground is going to be an expensive way to combat climate change. For a coal-fired power plant, for instance, the process is expected to add 30 per cent to the cost of generating electricity. However, a handful of entrepreneurs are already beginning to turn a costly waste product into a valuable commodity.


Take some flower-growing greenhouses in the Netherlands. There, CO2 emitted from a nearby oil refinery is piped to the plants, boosting their growth (pictured, and see main story). The scheme began in 2005, when Organic Carbon Dioxide for Assimilation of Plants (OCAP), a newly formed gas supplier, began pumping waste CO2from the refinery to the greenhouses along a disused oil pipeline. The refinery sells the CO2 to OCAP at a profit, which then sells the gas to greenhouses at a price lower than what they were paying to burn natural gas to generate CO2. “I think the best way to fight climate change is making money out of it, otherwise our efforts wouldn’t survive in the long term,” says OCAP director Hendrik de Wit.


Reality Check:Since 2008 US constructing 17.9 GW of coal power

September 14, 2010
Hunter Power Plant, a coal-fired power plant j...

Image via Wikipedia

An Associated Press examination of U.S. Department of Energy records and information provided by utilities and trade groups shows that more than 30 traditional coal plants have been built since 2008 or are under construction.

“Building a coal-fired power plant today is betting that we are not going to put a serious financial cost on emitting carbon dioxide,” said Severin Borenstein, director of the Energy Institute at the University of California-Berkeley.

Sixteen large plants have fired up since 2008 and 16 more are under construction. Combined, they will produce an estimated 17,900 megawatts of electricity.

Carbon-neutralizing technologies for coal plants remain at least 15 to 20 years away.

Once the carbon dioxide hysteria dies away – as it surely will – the misguided and wasted effort on carbon sequestration can be redirected to real issues connected with power generation. These are the mundane but practical though unfashionable fields of development – such as energy storage, small scale distributed use of wind power sources (since they cannot ever provide base-load), increase of efficiency for conventional coal and gas plants, integration of solar- thermal contributions into fossil plant to get continuous sustainable generation, mini-hydro (run of the river) power and distributed micro-hydro plants. Subsidies wasted on renewables can also be redirected to more fruitful areas.

Anthracite coal, a high value rock from easter...

Image via Wikipedia

Coal has not gone away.

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