Welcome to the new version of European Tribune. It's just a new layout, so everything should work as before - please report bugs here.

Gore sets goal of 100% carbon-free electricity by 2020

by Jerome a Paris Thu Jul 17th, 2008 at 02:27:24 PM EST

Al Gore is now giving a major speech in Washington, setting out an ambitious goal for the USA to produce all of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2020. While I have not heard the speech yet, I thought I'd comment on the technical feasibility of the plan, and the underlying economics of such an endeavour.


from the Department of Energy's recently published study about bringing wind power to 20% of total generation

The short answer is: while 100% is probably unrealistic, it's not unreasonable to expect to be able to get pretty close to that number (say, in the 50-90% range) in that timeframe, and it is very likely that it makes a LOT of sense economically.


Today, the USA generates roughly 4,000 TWh of electricity from close to 1,000 GW of installed capacity:

It is important to note right away that MWs of capacity and MWhs of generated electricity are by no means proportional. There is more gas-fired capacity than coal-fired capacity (440GW vs 330GW), but coal-fired plants generate two and a half times more power (2,000 TWh vs 800 TWh). It is useful to note in that respect that the capacity utilisation of non-hydro renewables are pretty close to that of the overall system (with 100 TWh generated from 26GW of capacity in 2006).

Today, a plan to be in a position to generate between 2,000 and 3,000 TWh of electricity from renewables (taking into account the 1,000 TWh per year provided by nuclear and hydro, which are expected to remain in place) will necessarily focus to a large extent on the large-scale development of wind farms, which is the only renewable technology which is already industrially tested and has a levelised generation cost in the same range as today's conventional power sources, in the single-digit cent-per-kilowatthour range. Solar is likely to play its part as well: it will keep on growing massively from its current low levels, but more effort is still required to bring its cost down from the current 20-30c/kWh range, something which is expected to happen in the next decade.


Source: McKinsey Global Institute

For the simplicity of this discussion, I will focus on wind, given that it presents a bigger challenge on the intermittency front (which the inclusion of solar can only help improve), and that it would drive the ecohnomics of such a plan given its larger scale deployment.

The main questions, of course are as follows:

1) is it technically feasible to build the requisite capacity within 12 years?
2) what will it cost, and what will it mean for power prices?
3) how can the intermittency issue be dealt with?

Technical feasibility

To get 2,000 TWh of electricity from wind, roughly 800GW of wind power capacity would be needed, considering that windfarms would get an annual production equivalent to 2,500 full hours (a pretty conservative estimate, given that the existing wind farms are closer to 3,000 hours today). 800GW is roughly equal to 30 times the currently installed capacity (which should reach about 23GW at the end of this year) and 100 times the capacity installed in 2008 (expected to be close to 8,000MW, after 5,000MW were installed in 2007).

To build 800 GW in 12 years would require a significant increase in annual installations - but actually not an unrealistic one.

The Department of Energy recently published a study about bringing wind power to 20% of total generation, which provides the following timeframe:

This is for a less ambitious plan: 300GW by 2030, so you'd roughly have to quadruple that to get to 800GW by 2020, but one might note that the DoE only expects 4GW to be built in 2008, ie less than the reality without any big plan to boost things up... A realistic target would be to have 80GW of installations, ie 10 times this year's level, within 5 years. That would give the time to ramp up production, by building factories, training workers, and ensuring that the supply chain follows suit. What would make this possible is for the industry to have the certainty that the investment are required.

What has hampered the development of the industry has been the regulatory uncertainty, in particular in the US with the long saga of the timely renewal (or not) of the federal PTC tax support mechanism, which caused demand to crash and then brutally rebound from one year to the other. This caused installed capacity to collapse several times in the past few years in the US, causing mayhem in the industry worldwide:


Source: AWEA

With predictable, guaranteed demand over the next decade, the industry could step up its investments across the supply chain in order to provide the requisite number of generators. The technology is understood, it calls upon industries that are much larger than the pure wind sector (mechanical engineering and civil works, mainly) and which have a large employment pool. Access to resources is tight today, as it across all industry, but we're not talking world-changing volumes either (for instance, if you count about 50 tons of steel per MW, you'd need 4 millon tons of steel per year, ie less than a percent of total world production). And again, a strategic plan with predictable production figures and guaranteed demand would allow to lock in supplies early on in the process, providing stability (and early cahsflows) to all suppliers down the chain.

In terms of wind resources, the USA has more than enough potential to find enough sites to install such capacity with wind resources providing cost competitive production , as noted in the DoE report (which alos notes that more than 1,000GW could be connected to the existing grid at low cost):

Altogether, the plan would require boosting investment in wind production capacity to about $100-150 billion per year, a significant number but hardly one that would require a complete retooling of the US economy. With a stable regulatory framework (presumably provided if this were made a national priority) and guaranteed demand (which could come via very simple mechanisms, like a feed-in tariffs, ie mandatory purchases by local utilities at regulated rates), there is absolutely no reason to doubt that this could be done.

I'll address the requirement to boost the grid separately below.

the economics of such a plan

Wind power economics are quite simple: most of the levelised production cost per MWh comes from the initial investment. It is thus naturally sensitive to investment costs, and even more so to financing costs, both of which are determined at the time of construction. Once a windfarm is built, its production costs are essentially set for the rest of its operating life, ie 20-25 years. The fixed nature of its cost base makes it a difficult bet in a deregulated universe, where prices can swing wildy (including to low prices that can be insufficient for the windfarm to service its debt burden, thus the requirement for feed-in tariffs or similar mechanisms to guarantee a floor to wind electricity). But such fixed prices make wind a great proposition at times of increasing oil&gas costs: wind power prices will NOT increase even if oil & gas or coal prices continue to go up, as is quite possible.

Thus wind power is a wonderful hedge against future energy prices. And given that today it already costs less than power from a ges-fired plant (the plants that typically drive the price of electricity on wholesale markets), it is both competitive and likely to remain so in the coming years.

And given the cost structure of wind, a very simple way for government to support wind at very little cost would be to provide funding for the sector at low interest rates. One big advantage of government is its ability to borrow at lower rates - indeed, government sets the lowest rates that are by the rest of the economy. By passing on its low cost of funding to wind developments, the final cost of wind power could be lowered significantly, and passed on to consumers (banks would still be required to hold onto operational and other risks linked to wind production, they would just get cheaper funding for that specific purpose, which the'd have to fully pass on to projects. Germany has successfully used such a mechanism for years).

Studies in Germany and Denmark show that wind power lowers wholesale prices by 30 to 70% when wind blows, and that the overall savings for consumers far outstrip the cost of guaranteeing to wind producers a regulated tariff. Ironically, the more wind power there is in the system, and the lower the wholesale marker price will be most of the time, which means that the regulated tariff remains a necessity to ensure that wind producers are able to pay off the debt linked to their initial investment. But that regulated tariff is known, is realtively low, and,again, will not need to increase over time, thus ensuring to consumers similarly stable retail prices.

If anything, wind is likely to stabilise prices, or even bring them down whatever the prices of oil, natural gas or coal. Also, as the DoE report notes, beyond the potential benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, switching to wind would have massive advantages in terms of lower water use for the power sector.

The DoE study concluded that the cost of strengthening the grid would be around $20 billion in today's dollars. Given the larger scale of the Gore plan compared to the DoE plan, a cost of $100 billion for grid reinforcement seems a reasonable estimate, which would represent less than 5% of the total investment programme,and thus have a similarly minor impact on ultimate production costs.

Dealing with intermittency

Of course, the big question with such an ambitious plan is how to deal with the intrinsic intermittency of wind power, which may not be available when electricity is actually needed. Given that power is almost impossible to store (except where hydro is available on a large scale, and pending potential progress on batteries), this is a very real issue.

But there are actually several answers to that:

  • one is that, provided that the network is able to shift electricity around, you can rely on the fact that the USA has several independent wind regimes, and thus that there will almost always be wind somewhere that can be carried around. Obviously, this does mean a serious effort to reinforce the network, and to connect the now mostly separate regional grids, but that's precisely where the federal government could have a decisive say within such a plan, and push a reinforcement and development of the grid on a coordinated national basis. As a good example coming from a territory which is much smaller than the USA, (but which also has at least 3 independent wind regions) I note that the French grid operator, RTE, long extremely wary of wind power and its unreliability, had this to say in its latest annual report (big PDF, in French, see p.49):

    The second point is about wind's contribution to peak demand: despite wind's intermittency, wind farms reduce the need in thermal power plants to ensure the requisite level of supply security. One can speak of substituted capacity.
    The capacity substitution rate (ratio of thermal capacity replaced to installed wind capacity) is close to the average capacity factor of wind farms in winter (around 30%) for a small proportion of wind in the system (a few GW). It goes down as that proportion increases, but remains above 20% with around 15GW of wind power.

    Similarly, the UK network operator put up a report that noted that the expected intermittency of the national wind portfolio would not appear to pose a technical ceiling on the amount of wind generation that may be accommodated and adequately managed. The DoE, in its own study, hasidentified the improvements that would be require to the network to absorb more wind power and be able to use it around the country:

    ;
  • the second answer is that spare capacity will be needed occasionally, and that this is actually not a big deal. As noted at the beginning of this post, gas-fired capacity is already used at much lower overall rates than coal-fired plants. They can be kept in place. With 440GW of gas-fired capacity, and taking into account the oil-based, nuclear and hydro capacity, demand can be assured at pretty much any point in the demand curve even without wind. The important thing to note is that keeping that capacity in place does not mean using it. MWH substitution does not require MW substitution to the same extent:

    from the UK study linked to above

    Carbon emissions come from using the capacity, not from keeping it available. Using that capacity every now and then will generate some emissions, but that will only represent a small fraction of today's emissions, especially supposing that it is coal-fired capacity that is eliminated thanks to the arrival of wind and solar. And as many gas-fire plants are already geared, to a large extent, to be used only for fractions of the time, their economics will easily tolerate such use. It should also be noted that the production profile of solar and of offshore wind matches electricity demand a lot better than onshore wind, so their development (which I ma voluntarily ignoring here) will further help in that respect;

  • the third answer is that there are a number of small changes to electricity consumption patterns that can be used to reduce the requirement for peak capacity. Industry has long agreed to sign interruptible contracts, benefitting from lower prices for power in exchange for the right by the utilities or the network to cut them off at short notice; a lot of our power consumption is not time sensitive and could thus also be made to switch off in times of need. And this is an area where government could easily play a role, by mandating standards for all electricity consuming equipment, making them able to "talk" to the network and indicate their status (not interruptible, interruptible at identified times, interruptible at will).
Overall, network operators with actual wind experience seem confident that a combination of additional investment, smart grid management, and maintaining available (but not using much) a large gas-fired capacity can make it possible to cope with large amounts of wind power in the system.

While a goal of 100% of carbon-free electricity is probably unrealistic, it therefore seems possible to get pretty close to that, especially if nuclear and hydro are included in the mix. A plan that announced a specific goal of 40-50% of wind-generated electricity by 2020 and 10-20% of solar, with the appropriate feed-in mechanisms, demand guarantees for manufacturers and investment in the grid would therefore be realistic, make economic sense, and fulfill two major strategic goals: reduce carbon emissions, and lower fossil fuel demand.

Display:
Gore gave the speech a few hours ago, didn't he?

Reelect Gore 2016!

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Jul 17th, 2008 at 02:55:17 PM EST
Big Gay Al writes at HuffPo, I hear tell.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Jul 17th, 2008 at 02:58:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"Big Gay Al?"

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Thu Jul 17th, 2008 at 03:16:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Just a little mixed play on the Southpark character and the old caricature of Gore from Saturday Night Live.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Jul 17th, 2008 at 03:20:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the speech has been given now, but it hadn't when I started writing.... There is a link to the speech in the story, though.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Jul 17th, 2008 at 03:15:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]


In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Jul 17th, 2008 at 03:17:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What do you make of this big wind story out of Tejas today, Jerome?  Is this really a "massive" project?

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Jul 17th, 2008 at 03:21:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Were Obama to adopt and employ even 50% of the ideas and deliver them with 50% of the charisma of Gore it could make a significant difference.  Obama is great with soaring rhetoric on ideals and broad issues.  Gore is better with uplifting rhetoric dealing with broad ideas based on specific proposals.  I just have my doubts that the Obama campaign benefits by resolute avoidance of specifics.  What is it going to take?  McCain adopting Gore's plan?  By no means out of the question.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Jul 17th, 2008 at 04:58:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
oh, you old chess master, you!

that would be hilarious. it's the only ace left to him, when i think about it..

if only republicanism permitted that kind of creative thinking!

"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun Jul 20th, 2008 at 08:24:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They were covering this on Morning Edition when I got up this morning.  I thought, yes, entirely unrealistic.  But something about "shoot for the moon and hope you make it over the trees."  It is my opinion that America's been suffering from lowered expectations for some time now, and that this is one of the primary culprits of our current problems.  Back the day, if someone said "You can't put a man on the moon," America would respond, "Wanna make a bet?"  Now, we look for a million excuses why we just shouldn't be doing that right now.  We used to roll up our sleeves and rise to a challenge.  Or, that is how we saw ourselves.  

I wish there were some way to tap into that latent desire to be superior at everything in the American psyche, and use it to our advantage.  I wish we could mobilize people to rid the world of carbon emissions the same way we used to mobilize people to rid the world of communists...

(Totally off-topic, the 2 minute Russia hate segment was back on Morning Edition.  Whew.  I was concerned they might be falling for Medvedev's charms there for a moment.)

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Thu Jul 17th, 2008 at 03:33:59 PM EST
"Shoot for the Moon, and hope you make it over the trees" is the right attitude.  Yes, I quite agree that what harms us more than anything on issues such as energy is sickeningly low expectations.  Too much caution.  Nobody willing to stand up and try to rally the country to something other than killing Muslims.

I think, or at least hope, we can, and I'm glad to see Al and others making a big push suddenly.

Hell, even guys like Bob Barr have apparently got religion.  A consensus seems to be slowly building.

So can America get it up anymore?  I suppose we're going to find out.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Jul 17th, 2008 at 03:48:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In the NY Times article J linked above, there's a commentary on the speech, which includes this:

The (Annotated) Gore Energy Speech - Dot Earth - Climate Change and Sustainability - New York Times Blog

[ Andy Revkin - There's no reason not to think big, although it might be harder for Mr. Gore to make this kind of statement if already in office, or seeking one, because it would be hard to find experts immersed in the challenges of generating, storing and distributing electricity at large scale who could chart an achievable or affordable 10-year path to doing this. Joe Romm at ClimateProgress.org said a more realistic ambitious goal would be 50-percent renewable electricity sources by 2020. And of course "affordable" is a word dependent entirely on public attitudes, so if the public can be energized sufficiently by leadership or circumstances, theoretically anything is possible. That remains a big "if." Here's some recent coverage of the limits and promise of wind power and solar power and ways of storing electricity for sunless, windless stretches.]

What J spelled out in his analysis is surrounded by experts who not only could chart out the necessary path, but already have the experience of putting it in place.  Let's not forget that a half dozen companies, primarily European, have already built turbine assembly facilities in the US these past few years.  They have established rotor blade and other component manfuacturing facilities as well.

It is just this type of investment which allowed the US to go from 2400 Megawatts in both 2005 and 2006, to 5200 Megawatts in 2007, and the projected 7-8,000 MWs this year.  Because of the industry's phenomenal growth, the kind of supply chain issues which would form the basis of an industrial plan are already being worked for the past four years.

Europe has already built the first generation infrastructure necessary to make an Apollo like program.  We already have the statistics of how many jobs the industry can provide with such a program.

At least a half dozen community colleges in windy areas from Oregon to Iowa have begun or accelerated wind technician programs, and more are coming online.  One wind company has a working agreement with a steelworkers union to use thier wrkforce to assemble turbines.  These will begin to provide the US with a level of service infrastructure now found only in Europe.

Watching the video, i didn't hear one thing that hadn't been said by many of us through the decades, including his key points.  But it certainly carries more weight coming from him.  Especially knowing that Wall Street is already onboard.

Aside to J:  many of the midwest resource areas have higher capacity factors than you ascribe in your diary, so to get the same TWhs you probably can drop your capacity estimates, perhaps even by 15-20%.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Thu Jul 17th, 2008 at 04:55:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The key is figuring out how to disconnect the narcotizing IV drip that has been installed into the body politic by the self interested, aided and abetted by the misled.  The only real solution is for enough of the population to realize that what they have been led to believe is what is destroying their lives.  Just that.

As the Dutch said while fighting the Spanish: "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Jul 17th, 2008 at 04:21:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I wish there were some way to tap into that latent desire to be superior at everything in the American psyche, and use it to our advantage.  I wish we could mobilize people to rid the world of carbon emissions the same way we used to mobilize people to rid the world of communists...

music to the ears!

"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun Jul 20th, 2008 at 08:38:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Would it be possible here, too, or are there too few places for installment?

Der Amerikaner ist die Orchidee unter den Menschen
Volker Pispers
by Martin (weiser.mensch(at)googlemail.com) on Thu Jul 17th, 2008 at 04:52:59 PM EST
The technology to economically harvest lower wind speed regions is already coming online.  This means there remains huge untapped potential throughout the EU, and the turbines designed for just that are already being installed for the past few years.

But the meme that most of the windiest areas have already been tapped, particularly in No. Germany, is simply false.  Public attitudes might need to change some to allow greater density than current, but there remains lots of wind to harvest.

Of course, political problems on land, related to the visual and density issues, are one reason why the EU is pushing so hard for offshore development.  But offshore still has some technical hurdles to overcome.  I expect within four or five years, offshore will take off explosively.

Take the two together, invest in a European Supergrid  which includes linking the entire North Sea, as well as Norway's hydro, and bam, problem solved.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Thu Jul 17th, 2008 at 05:06:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
European Tribune - Gore sets goal of 100% carbon-free electricity by 2020
One big advantage of government is its ability to borrow at lower rates

It may be be conventional but why is it actually necessary for a government to borrow at all?

The US Treasury may simply create the necessary credits and invest them as redeemable units in the production of the turbines thereby financed.

Banks would no longer risk their capital by creating credit based upon it but would appraise and manage the projects and the  credit creation necesssary.

They would be remunerated as partners in Units of energy production created, alongside other development/operating partners.

Credit intermediaries are obsolete: we should monetise energy to finance the new generation of renewables envisaged by Gore, and monetise land rental values to solve the Credit Crunch.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Thu Jul 17th, 2008 at 04:58:48 PM EST
One thing that might pose a problem is the go-it-alone approach to power distribution by the Great State Of Texas. The Texas power grid is almost completely isolated from the rest of the country, partly as a result of geography, partly in order to avoid federal regulation, and partly because of a general attitude in the state that there is a good chance that Texas may eventually "regain" her independence from the U.S.

Any large-scale interconnection to the ERCOT grid will require some political craftsmanship, to say the least...

by asdf on Thu Jul 17th, 2008 at 07:01:58 PM EST
Texans want to be making a profit from exporting wind, the 21st century oil.

Blogging regularly at Get Energy Smart. NOW!!!
by a siegel (siegeadATgmailIGNORETHISdotPLEASEcom) on Thu Jul 17th, 2008 at 10:00:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for outlining how it could almost be done.

But actually I find it rather scary. Because the fact is that it MUST be done. And even more than Gore is proposing -we shall need much more electricity in 2020 (cars really need to go electric until fuel cells can be developed). And not only in the US.
Suddenly, things like the quantity of steel required will be rather noticeable.

So, you are in effect saying that it is hard but actually possible to go most of the way of Gore's speech in the USA (already a major difference from conventional wisdom) provided we start right now, when we actually need to do more, and everywhere. And I don't see a major, worldwide program on the starting blocks.

We won't be able to say we weren't warned, either.

Still, a great response to those who claim it can't be done at all (hello, Mr. Jancovici).

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Fri Jul 18th, 2008 at 01:46:43 AM EST
Jérôme,

While an overall mission of reaching 100% independence from fossil fuels in electricity generation is a highly commendable one, the strategy you outline here, mainly based on Wind, seems to me to have serious problems.

First of all let me pose a question: from rough calculations, 800 GW of installed capacity would require a quarter million of turbines (rated 3 MW). Using a round value of 1 M€ per unit, the overall investment would be about 250 G€. You provide higher numbers, why the difference?

Anyway investment costs don't appear to be a problem, laid down this way.

I see tow main problems with this strategy:

  • It assumes electricity demand to remain the same from now up to 2020;
  • Underplays the problem of load balancing.

Let me take on each one separately.

Electricity demand

This is the biggest problem, the fact that we have Peak Oil, at best, at our door. Above all it will (already has) create difficulties in the Transport sector, not in the Electricity generation sector. While  petroleum products are still fashionable for electricity generation in some developing economies, in the OECD countries that's not the case.

Rough numbers, Oil provides for 90% of our Transport. As the volumes of petroleum reaching the international market continue declining, the OECD countries will face serious difficulties to continue running their transport infrastructures without major transformations. At the moment electricity seems to be the best positioned energy vector to take over diesel and gasoline; already auto makers across the world are making the shift, either developing hybrid engines or full electric vehicles. But the big shift will likely be the update/expansion of the electrified rail road network (see Alan Drake's strategy for the US here).

Transport will become a much more pressing issue than Electricity generation in the US (well at least as long as a serious shortage of Natural Gas doesn't unfold). And will inevitably impose an increasing demand on the electric grid, that will not only represent a generation challenge but will also exacerbate the load balancing issue (people travel at the same time).

Load Balancing

You underplay the load balancing issues with the observation that the large extent of the US mainland is subject to different wind regimes, which is indeed backed up the reports you provide. But  these reports were written with Wind having a small margin of the generation market, what will happen when Wind reaches, or even goes beyond 50% of the installed capacity? Will it work the same way?

The main problem with this line of thinking is the fact the US has a clear geographic uneven Wind resource, with the Midwest clearly possessing the best prospects. Hence it is to expect for the Wind Industry to develop on a relatively constrained area of the country, at least on an initial phase. The same could have happened in Europe, since the North Sea presents a much superior resource than anything else. But has the offshore industry is some years behind the onshore, development took place initially inland, providing a somewhat diversified wind park.

Please remind the August 2003 heat wave (you can find a pressure chart from the 7th of August here). As can be seen, several highs gathered those days covering the whole continent, the islands and the North Sea, all registering pressures above 1000 hPa. While in the US an event like this would never be extensive enough to drop generation to zero, it could cause serious problems if it hit one of those preferential sites.

The "full wind" strategy would have to deal with this. I can see two ways of doing it:


  • Build extra capacity - developing alternate sites that would ensure a minimum output throughout the country;

  • Expand energy storage - install back pumping storage on every hydroelectric infrastructure or develop new systems like compressed air storage;

I exclude Natural Gas from these tactics on purpose, for it is a fossil fuel, with an uncertain future in the US. Both tactics push up the overall generation capacity required. This isssue should require a proper assessment, both in cost as in power output.

That's essentially it. Don't take me wrong, Wind will undoubtedly play a major role in our shift away from fossil fuels. But any strategy planning that shift supported by a single energy source and without properly addressing the Transport issues is likely bound to failure.

Vencit omnia veritas.

by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]a[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]gmail[dot]com) on Fri Jul 18th, 2008 at 05:54:47 AM EST
Luis, I think projecting flat electricity usage is reasonable. If I had to pick on one way I'd say it's conservative.  Even with peak oil and significantly increased use of electricity in transport, total electricity demand could fall.

We are massively wasteful of electricity today. A supply side programme as aggressive and ambitious as this could be matched by demand side actions reducing electricity demand by several tens of percentage points - freeing up enough capacity to electrify transport.

The key point is that electrified transport is dramatically more efficient than oil fuelled transport.  For example it was suggested that the entire UK car fleet could be replaced with electric cars and only require national electricity generation to increase by 12%:
http://www.theoildrum.com/node/2345

12% is well, well within scope for efficiency gains from current electricity usage.

by Chris Vernon on Fri Jul 18th, 2008 at 06:22:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]

the strategy you outline here, mainly based on Wind, seems to me to have serious problems.

I'm saying wind alone can go a long way towards fulfilling that goal. I underlined that other items would be part of the solution, starting with solar.

But I disagree with your "serious problems":


Transport will become a much more pressing issue than Electricity generation in the US (well at least as long as a serious shortage of Natural Gas doesn't unfold). And will inevitably impose an increasing demand on the electric grid, that will not only represent a generation challenge but will also exacerbate the load balancing issue (people travel at the same time).

Yes, but how is this a problem for changing how electricity is generated? This is a "we can't walk and chew gum at the same time" argument.

Of course we're going to need to do somethign about transport, and yes, electricity will be part fo the solution. But who says we can't do more? I just said that 800GW of wind is possible. If it needs to be 1500GW, then we'll do that.

And note that electric cars will go a loooooooooong way towards solving intermittency issues given the distributed storage capacity they will provide.


You underplay the load balancing issues with the observation that the large extent of the US mainland is subject to different wind regimes, which is indeed backed up the reports you provide. But  these reports were written with Wind having a small margin of the generation market, what will happen when Wind reaches, or even goes beyond 50% of the installed capacity? Will it work the same way?

Well, I think I tried to asnwer that above. Current studies show that the problem is manageable. And, if, as you say, we don't know how to go above 50%, isn't that a sign that we can - and thus should - go to 50% pronto?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Jul 19th, 2008 at 11:58:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Put time/control units in-line to the input charging lines at the stations and increase the cost per the customer's demand along a time scale, the more immediate the higher the cost.

 

Skepticism is the first step on the road to truth. -- Denis Diderot

by ATinNM on Sat Jul 19th, 2008 at 03:52:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Naturally, you can't extrapolate that 12% figure for the US. And besides it doesn't seem a reasonable value at all, even for the UK. Electric engines could easily cut in half the energy needs for Transport, but even so, that would be half of a very big number. And there's also the load balancing issue.

Do you know how much oil does the UK spend on its Transport sector?

Another thing to note is that while energy efficiency can be improved with some easy in Transport, that's not exactly the case for the Industrial or Housing sectors, that have already made significant changes. There's room to improve, but how much?


Vencit omnia veritas.

by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]a[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]gmail[dot]com) on Fri Jul 18th, 2008 at 06:47:30 AM EST
In the housing sector, there is massive room for improvement.

Of course, it would involve renouncing 17°C in the summer and 25°C in the winter. Rather the other way round.

Losing some lights at night would be a winner too.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Fri Jul 18th, 2008 at 06:52:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
From the Oil Drum article:

According to DUKES 3.4 the UK uses 38,287 thousand tonnes of oil in road transport (2005) and Miliband tells us car are responsible for 60% of road transport emissions so must use some 23 million tonnes. At 45 megajoules per kg, 23 million tonnes of oil represents 1018 joules or 288TWh. This is the primary energy, internal combustion engines are some three times less efficient than electric motors so to make sure we're not comparing apples with oranges the figure should be reduced to 96TWh. This compares with a total electricity supply of 409TWh (DUKES 5.2) and so represents 23% more electricity.

To get to Miliband's 12% we have to assume electric cars actually use less energy to deliver the same energy service (the transportation). This is actually quite feasible as the electric drive train is more efficient and the vehicle mass can be significantly reduced.

by Chris Vernon on Fri Jul 18th, 2008 at 10:26:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Technical feasibility, need to save the planet, blah blah blah aside, how will the switch-over make the rich and powerful (who call ALL the shots) more rich and more powerful?  You don't think that the uberwealthy are going to voluntarily release their stranglehold on the rest of the species, do you?  Extreme privilege is VERY addictive.

The good news ... it's only a life sentence. You eventually leave this planet of idiots.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Fri Jul 18th, 2008 at 06:58:11 AM EST
Perhaps you have heard of Mr. Pickens?

http://www.pickensplan.com/

The fact is that the oil companies have (exception: ExxonMobil) rebranded themselves as "energy" companies, and are using their tremendous and growing cash to buy their way into the alternative energy businesses. The rich will continue to get richer, as before.

The interesting test will be to see whether the regions controlled by "leftists" in the U.S., namely the coasts, will be as flexible in allowing alternative energy sources. So far, places like Texas and Colorado have shown more willingness to adopt real industrial-scale alternatives than the Northeast...

by asdf on Sat Jul 19th, 2008 at 10:12:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Actually I have seen the Pickens' ads on TV and have noticed the "new brand" sported by companies like BP.

Pickens aside, who I assume is a patriot along the lines of H Ross Perot (who I voted for), I thought that all of the talk by the oil companies about alternative energy sources was just that, a boat-load of talk.

I don't feel sorry for Joe Blow American.  This whole energy mess was obvious back in the early '70s but it took 4 1/2 buck gas PLUS global warming PLUS the loss of the polar caps to get people to start cutting back on wasting hydrocarbons.  Let the rich get richer if that's what it takes to get the job done.  Ah, the headlines.  "Paris Hilton saves planet Earth!".  Who'd a thought.

The good news ... it's only a life sentence. You eventually leave this planet of idiots.

by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Sun Jul 20th, 2008 at 08:07:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
kicking and screaming every step, but they will go down.

floods, wildfires and hurricanes make powerful cases for change, the heavy lifting, as it were...

"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun Jul 20th, 2008 at 08:32:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Who are the "they" you refer to?  Ordinary SUV driving Joe/Josephine Blow, the uberwealthy, or both?

The good news ... it's only a life sentence. You eventually leave this planet of idiots.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Sun Jul 20th, 2008 at 09:25:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
no, not joe blow, the energy consortiums that are resisting change.

"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh
by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun Jul 20th, 2008 at 11:18:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
When you perceive yourself as being on top of the heap, you resist change at all costs because you are terrified of having to do with less, having done very little productively to warrant your privileged status.

The good news ... it's only a life sentence. You eventually leave this planet of idiots.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Sun Jul 20th, 2008 at 02:14:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
no matter how much money you throw at it.

it makes me think of those lab rats that keep jerking the pleasure button even if they starve to death.

some can be gentled out of it, others...

(working on it)

:)

"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun Jul 20th, 2008 at 06:11:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Just a few observations from a non-expert:

  1. The larger the dispersal of wind farms, the less the risk of intermittency.  The average weather system is a few hundred miles across - with calm in the middle and wind around the periphery - and it moves across the country.  Thus if the grid is broad enough, and had sufficient transmission capacity, the net amount of wind power available to the entire system becomes relatively constant - and ever more constant/stable as the size of the grid/transmission capabilities increase.

  2. There is a power loss inherent in power transmission - which goes up the greater the distance power is "transmitted.  This power loss is lost as heat/radiation which contributes to global warming.  Thus there is still a benefit to producing power as close to demand as possible.

  3.  The development of fuel cell technology will greatly increase the ability to store power (as hydrogen) when compared to batteries.  It also makes electric vehicles much lighter, longer range, and more efficient.  So this must be a priority.

  4. The costs of redundancy increase dramatically as utilization is reduced.  Thus many of the costs of a gas fired power station are constant whether it is generating electricity or not.  These increased costs of redundancy and their effect on electricity prices will have to be factored into any overall cost model.

  5. Increasingly the "quality" of electricity will become an issue.  Many processes - computers, hospitals - require absolutely reliable, stable supplies with no "brown outs".  A new distribution infrastructure may be required to provide "priority" (and higher priced) electricity to essential services and interruptible supplies to e.g. recharging a fuel cell/battery overnight which can happen at any time during the night provide the interruption does exceed a set time.  This may be possible today for major factories etc. - but may have to become part of the grid capability for ordinary consumers as well.

  6.  As Jerome has already pointed out - the big requirement for such a huge infrastructural and financial project is certainty and stability in the regulatory and financial environment - something that Governments can best provide.  However the "small government" and "magic of the markets" economic philosophies currently still dominant will make it difficult for the US, in particular, to adopt such a long term, planned, big government, interventionist and stable regulatory environment.  This level of development almost requires a "socialist" model of Government and thus will be fought tooth and nail by Capitalists who prosper from the shock impact of major electricity supply failures which can soften up the populace for major price increases.  After ll it is shortages which create "value" in te capitalist model.

Therefor we can expect a lot of opposition to the Gore "socialist" model and a derisory, piecemeal, fragmented, and spasmodic approach to continue - particularly as the wind industry is already dominated by European firms with little lobbying power in Washington.  Expect the mother of all political battles if this is to happen - it requires a political, cultural, and ideological change in US politics.  Reality based policy initiatives cut little ice in the political bubbles of Presidential campaigns.

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Jul 18th, 2008 at 12:13:56 PM EST
Well put Frank, belying your "non-expert" status.

  1.  One of the ways lobbying power comes to the "weak" is bottom up; in this case, because of the tremendous economic advantage to windy localities, there is a natural power base beginning with local governments.  In the past two years i have seen numbers of state and local governments visiting EU conclaves to encourage European firms to invest in their locales.  Pennsylvania has made huge deals to secure Gamesa facilities in their states, and Iowa, Texas, Oregon and Minnesota have made concerted efforts to lure EU companies.  Even non-windy Arkansas managed to lure a Vestas (or was it LM?) blade facility, because of available, relatively low cost workers, and ease of shipping to different wind regions.  Many states are playing catch-up.

  2.  The pressure on the federal gov is intense already.  This week the FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which controls the grid and power plants) allowed California's PUC to establish their program of grid infrastructure build out aimed at alleviating the logjam on wind projects backed up because of no grid access.  This alone will build out some 5,000 MWs of wind in california in the next five years or so.

  3.  The number of jobs created during these past few boom years is not going unnoticed; and the industry does have wide bi-partisan support because politicians seem to think that jobs are a good thing (if they don't form damn unions and ask for reasonable wages).  In fact, the only opposition in congress (i hate to give it the dignity of its rightful name, so at least no capital letter) are those already bought by the vested energy companies.

  4. The quality of electricity issue is taken care of by upgrading the decrepit grid with current technology, nothin new or different.  Smart Grids are designed to address all the issues you bring up, without a separate infrastructure.  You just use the wires to also transmit data back and forth, including turn-down or turn-off instruction; or from the other direction, turn-on, 'cuz nows the cheap time to recharge.

  5.  Redundancy costs?  Any time the marginal gas plants already there don't run, they are avoiding the likely staggering fuel costs of the future.  That's a value, bolstered by their ability to be turned on when needed.

  6.  When the grid is a mix of AC and DC, transmission losses diminish.  There is a corelation between where the wind blows and where people and industry aren't, so that ain't gonna change.  Getting the power to where it's needed will cost something, but all the studies show it's profitable.  In fact, that's exactly why ERCOT just enabled a huge increase in Texas transmission facilities to interconnect with the small non-Texas part of the US.

  7.  Intermittency:  You're basically right, but the issue must be addressed from a different angle.  Until there is grid penetration of windpower nearing 20% of capacity, given the existing plants already online, experience over years in Europe shows there is no issue.  Intermittency only becomes a problem over a threshold point, but a problem with many solutions that are not expensive.  But that's only considering wind as stand-alone.  When you build in the other technologies, particularly solar electric, the issue virtually disappears.  Add storage technologies like compressed air, and vavavoom.

I'll save hydrogen for another topic, as i didn't have time to write what i just did.  Or did i?

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin
by Crazy Horse on Fri Jul 18th, 2008 at 03:08:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, it's not quite that simple. Intermittency WILL remain an issue. Solar is only good for daytime and not a great intermittency solution. Besides, it tends to be absent when you need it most: on cold winter nights (yes, I know USA dwellers are crazy enough to actually get a peak need in summer days because they are infatuated to air conditioning. I am stipulating that in an energy-scarce world, most of that waste is going to be removed).

So the solutions are not that easy. Some overcapacity with priority uses will surely be part of the solution.

Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed. Gandhi

by Cyrille (cyrillev domain yahoo.fr) on Fri Jul 18th, 2008 at 04:21:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]

 Some overcapacity with priority uses will surely be part of the solution.

It IS the solution. What's wrong with it?

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Jul 19th, 2008 at 11:59:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Agreed on all your points except perhaps:
Crazy Horse:
Redundancy costs?  Any time the marginal gas plants already there don't run, they are avoiding the likely staggering fuel costs of the future.  That's a value, bolstered by their ability to be turned on when needed.

My point here is that (say) the costs of running a gas fired power station are 50% fixed, 50% variable (i.e. proportionate to the about of electricity produced - due mainly to the cost of the input fuel).

The Unit cost of electricity from such a plant operating at 10% capacity (i.e. only at times of extreme peak demand/low average wind speeds) is (50+50/10)/10 = 5.5 per 1% unit capacity

If that same plant is operating at 50% capacity the equivalent unit costs is (50+50/2)/50 = 1.5 per 1% unit capacity - in other words almost 4 times cheaper.  Thus there is a marginal cost to maintaining more redundancy because of greater intermittency in the system.

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Jul 19th, 2008 at 04:49:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"Peaker" gas-fired power plants are already profitable while being used only 2-5% of the time. The reason for that is that they function only during price peaks, where peaks can be 50-100 times higher than normal prices for short periods. So they make enough money from very kWh, and overall emit very little carbon, while providing a vital service to the grid.

Thus you can easily maintain redundancy at a very low overall cost.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Jul 19th, 2008 at 12:02:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You're actually reinforcing my point that the higher the level of redundancy, the higher the UNIT cost of a peaker station - especially if they require 50-100 times higher than normal prices to maintain profitability.  (In terms of carbon emissions they are, as you say, relatively insignificant).

This is in any case very much a secondary point.  The greater point made above is that the wider the dispersal of windfarms and the larger the grid they are connected to, the less overall redundancy is required to provide a stable supply/demand platform.

"It's a mystery to me - the game commences, For the usual fee - plus expenses, Confidential information - it's in my diary..."

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Jul 19th, 2008 at 04:43:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
W.r.t. bullet 2, I think you're wrong about that. The alternative to tapping the energy of the wind is to let it blow all the way to the North (or South) Pole - where the kinetic energy it carries will be converted to thermal energy, thus heating the system. I.o.w., you just redistribute some of the heating. And given the quantities of energy in play here, I'd guess that you'd need to cover the planet in windmills to get a significant effect.

W.r.t. bullet 5, the only household appliances I can think of that absolutely must have power continuously is the lighting and the refrigerator and freezer. Well, washing machines might have to be re-jigged a bit to cope with intermittency too. And while all these appliances must have power above a certain threshold more or less continuously, they are not that sensitive to voltage or current. Computers require a stable power supply, but putting a UPS in a computer is relatively straightforward, and may become standard issue if the grid starts acting up.

Big consumers, like factories and hospitals, will need separate solutions, of course, but the advantage here is that they are located in one place.

- Jake

Austerity can only be implemented in the shadow of a concentration camp.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sun Jul 20th, 2008 at 03:03:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
killer blogging, J.

you really are writing the book blog on wind, and energy in general.

mon generale!

knock 'em dead, and enjoy the parties for us!

"We can all be prosperous but we can't all be rich." Ian Welsh

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sun Jul 20th, 2008 at 08:28:56 AM EST


Display:
Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]