Photo credit Unhindered by Talent
Photo credit wonderferret
The electricity grid may not need “baseload” generation sources like coal and nuclear to backup the variability of supply from renewables.
Jon Wellinghof is the Chairman of the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). FERC is an independent agency that amongst other things, regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil – for more on FERC’s responsibilities see their About page. Chairman Wellinghoff has been involved in the energy industry for 30 years and appointed to the FERC as a commissioner by then president Bush in 2006.
Last year, shortly after being appointed as Chairman of the FERC, Mr Wellinghoff announced that:
No new nuclear or coal plants may ever be needed in the United States….
Wellinghoff said renewables like wind, solar and biomass will provide enough energy to meet baseload capacity and future energy demands. Nuclear and coal plants are too expensive, he added.
“I think baseload capacity is going to become an anachronism,” he said. “Baseload capacity really used to only mean in an economic dispatch, which you dispatch first, what would be the cheapest thing to do. Well, ultimately wind’s going to be the cheapest thing to do, so you’ll dispatch that first.”…
“What you have to do, is you have to be able to shape it,” he added. “And if you can shape wind and you can effectively get capacity available for you for all your loads.
“So if you can shape your renewables, you don’t need fossil fuel or nuclear plants to run all the time. And, in fact, most plants running all the time in your system are an impediment because they’re very inflexible. You can’t ramp up and ramp down a nuclear plant. And if you have instead the ability to ramp up and ramp down loads in ways that can shape the entire system, then the old concept of baseload becomes an anachronism.”
This was quite an unusual contention at the time (and still is) and despite the Chairman’s many years working in the sector it was, by and large, ignored – even by the administration who had appointed him to the Chairmanship. In fact, the Obama administration has since announced financial backing for new nuclear power plants.
However, a study published last week by the Maryland-based Institute for Energy and Environmental Research backs Chairman Wellinghoff’s assertion. In a study of North Carolina’s electricity needs it concluded backup generation requirements would be modest for a system based largely on solar and wind power, combined with efficiency, hydroelectric power, and other renewable sources like landfill gas:
“Even though the wind does not blow nor the sun shine all the time, careful management, readily available storage and other renewable sources, can produce nearly all the electricity North Carolinians consume,” explained Dr. John Blackburn, the study’s author. Dr. Blackburn is Professor Emeritus of Economics and former Chancellor at Duke University.
“Critics of renewable power point out that solar and wind sources are intermittent,” Dr. Blackburn continued. “The truth is that solar and wind are complementary in North Carolina. Wind speeds are usually higher at night than in the daytime. They also blow faster in winter than summer. Solar generation, on the other hand, takes place in the daytime. Sunlight is only half as strong in winter as in summertime. Drawing wind power from different areas — the coast, mountains, the sounds or the ocean — reduces variations in generation. Using wind and solar in tandem is even more reliable. Together, they can generate three-fourths of the state’s electricity. When hydroelectric and other renewable sources are added, the gap to be filled is surprisingly small. Only six percent of North Carolina’s electricity would have to come from conventional power plants or from other systems.”
With larger and more inter-connected electricity grids, the requirement for baseload falls even further because the greater the geographical spread of your grid, the greater the chances that the wind will be blowing or the sun shining in some parts of it.
So, is there really any need for baseload power any more, or is this now just a myth perpetuated by those with vested interests?
Photo credit The Sierra Club
Should FaceBook’s investors be worries that the site is sourcing energy for its new data center from primarily coal-fired power?
FaceBook is fourth largest web property (by unique visitor count) and well on its way to becoming third. It is valued in excess of $10 billion and its investors include Russian investment company DST, Accel Partners, Greylock Partners, Meritech Capital and Microsoft.
FaceBook announced last month that it would be locating its first data center in Prinville Oregon. The data center looks to be all singing and dancing on the efficiency front and is expected to have a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) rating of 1.15. So far so good.
However, it soon emerged that FaceBook are purchasing the electricity for their data center from Pacific Power, a utility owned by PacifiCorp, a utility whose primary power-generation fuel is coal!
Sourcing power from a company whose generation comes principally from coal is a very risky business and if there is anything that investors shy away from, it is risk!
Why is it risky?
Coal has significant negative environmental effects from its mining through to its burning to generate electricity contaminating waterways, destroying ecosystems, generation of hundreds of millions of tons of waste products, including fly ash, bottom ash, flue gas desulfurisation sludge, that contain mercury, uranium, thorium, arsenic, and other heavy metals and emitting massive amounts of radiation.
And let’s not forget that coal burning is the largest contributor to the human-made increase of CO2 in the air [PDF].
The US EPA recently ruled that:
current and projected concentrations of the six key well-mixed greenhouse gases–carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)–in the atmosphere threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations.
Note the wording “the public health and welfare of current and future generations”
Who knows what legislation the EPA will pass in the coming months and years to control CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants in the coming months and years – and the knock on effects this will have on costs.
Now think back to the litigation associated with asbestos – the longest and most expensive tort in US history. Then note that climate change litigation is gaining ground daily, the decision to go with coal as a primary power source starts to look decidedly shaky.
Finally, when you factor in the recent revolts by investors in Shell and BP to decisions likely to land the companies in hot water down the road for pollution, the investors in FaceBook should be asking some serious questions right about now.
We had a great Energy and Sustainability show yesterday – in case you were unable to make it, I recorded the video (above) and the chatstream (below):
Mon, 8 Feb, 16:22
Tom Raftery :
Monday Feb 8th – show kicking off in just under 10 mins
Hi everyone, can you see/hear me ok?
Mon, 8 Feb, 16:31
Joe Garde :
all good tom
Mon, 8 Feb, 16:32
Tom Raftery :
Mon, 8 Feb, 16:36
Tom, it’s ok, we can drink that nuclear water after the plant is done with it – you gotta mellow out
Mon, 8 Feb, 16:37
Tom Raftery :
Mon, 8 Feb, 16:40
God I hate that oil company sponsored pseudo scientific “research”….and I see so called “reasonable” people citing that research all the time…grrrrr…..
Mon, 8 Feb, 16:41
Tom Raftery :
Mon, 8 Feb, 16:45
oil energy scarcity is one of the big looming clouds blocking the view of any true long term economic recovery – without more progress on renewable economic and energy models that is.
Mon, 8 Feb, 16:48
Tom Raftery :
Mon, 8 Feb, 16:49
oh, and anyone who thinks that “coal is clean” has never held the stuff in their hands.
Mon, 8 Feb, 16:49
Tom Raftery :
Mon, 8 Feb, 16:53
Joe Garde :
tar sands on google maps – http://bit.ly/dsExVN zoom in
Mon, 8 Feb, 16:54
Tom Raftery :
Mon, 8 Feb, 17:07
Mon, 8 Feb, 17:07
great show Tom, thanks
Mon, 8 Feb, 17:07
Joe Garde :
great Tom.. thanks
Mon, 8 Feb, 17:08
Tom Raftery :
Thanks everyone for your time, interest and contributions
Mon, 8 Feb, 17:08
Well done, I was a bit limited in bandwidth today, so will watch back l8r. Thx
Ok, not all the time, but last weekend at 5:50am on Sunday morning (8th Nov) Spain set a new record, hitting 53.7% of its energy requirements being supplied by wind energy.
As you can see from the graph above, the amount of electricity being supplied by wind, the light green portion of the graph, doesn’t go below 30% at any point in the 24 hours and is closer to between 40-50% for most of the time!
These are figures the world’s most ambitious countries are targeting hitting by 2020, at the earliest!
Notice also on the graph that the contribution from coal (the red band) during this period is in the low single digits, never rising above 6.4%.
And finally notice also that for a lot of the period significant amounts of generation is below the 0MW line – this occurs when the electricity is being either stored using pumped hydro storage, or being exported for sale on the international markets.
“We think that we can keep growing and go from the present 17GW megawatts to reach 40GW in 2020,” he told El Pa??s newspaper.
Windfarms have this month outperformed other forms of electricity generation in Spain, beating gas into second place and producing 80% more than the country’s nuclear plants.
Experts estimate that by the end of the year, Spain will have provided a quarter of its energy needs with renewables, with wind leading the way, followed by hydroelectric power and solar energy.
The graph above is taken from the site of the Spanish grid operator Red Electrica de Espa?a (REE).
The REE website has highly detailed and extremely interactive infographics produced using Adobe’s Flex software:
Real-time (and historic) demand, along with generation structure and CO2 emissions
Real-time (and historic) structure of electricity generation (the graph above is taken from this page) and
Demand curves over intervals of time
Here is the chatstream from today’s Greenmonk Energy and Sustainability show:
03:30 Tom Raftery: About to kick off the show Info
03:31 cminion: Afternoon
03:31 Tom Raftery: Do we have working audio/video
03:31 cminion: very quiet here
03:31 marilynpratt: sound is a bit off
03:32 yellowpark: morning
03:32 marilynpratt: good
03:32 marilynpratt: yes great
03:32 yellowpark: yes
03:33 Tom Raftery: http://www.colorado.edu/news/r/f6f88ba8825d16175be07468e0d47fc3.html
03:34 dahowlett: hello peeps
03:35 yellowpark: hi dennis
03:35 Tom Raftery: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2009/09/gallery_glaciers
03:36 yellowpark: makes for big paddling on the bright side
03:36 monkchips: ah feck tom you trying to depress us again?
03:36 Tom Raftery: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/sep/17/bluefin-tuna-fishing
03:36 dahowlett: @monkchips – @tom’s mission in life is to be more curmudgeonly than me
03:36 Tom Raftery: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1921177,00.html?iid=digg_share
03:36 monkchips: 😉
03:37 monkchips: yay!
03:37 Tom Raftery: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2009/sep/16/climate-change-beer-quality
03:37 marilynpratt: good news from US- is it suspect?
03:37 cminion: ??
03:37 dahowlett: @tom must be ‘pissed’ off
03:38 Tom Raftery: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/jun/28/bp-alternative-energy
03:38 Tom Raftery: http://blogs.zdnet.com/green/?p=7343
03:38 cminion: Short term goals
03:39 monkchips: i am watching. have been tweeting!
03:40 monkchips: Landis and SAP http://www.landisgyr.com/en/pub/media/press_releases.cfm?news_ID=4012
03:40 yellowpark: @monkchips multi tasking!
03:41 marilynpratt: thanks 🙂
03:41 monkchips: there is so much hideous fud in this space
03:41 Tom Raftery: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/09/boulders-smart-grid-city-goes-mostly-live.php
03:41 monkchips: this week the story was smart meters to cost consumers Â£300 each
03:41 dahowlett: Doesn’t @monkchips know? Multi-tasking is said to be unethical. Personally I think that’s a crock
03:41 monkchips: currentcost should be so lucky!
03:42 monkchips: i mean- we know they dont cost that much
03:42 monkchips: absurd!
03:42 Tom Raftery: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/sep/08/carbon-capture-north-sea
03:43 dahowlett: That’s one giant brain fart
03:44 monkchips: i will happily keep it in my shed
03:44 Tom Raftery: http://www.marcgunther.com/2009/09/20/fpl-americas-no-1-wind-power/
03:44 marilynpratt: so the sea will become a hazardous waste dump
03:45 monkchips: @marilynpratt the sea already is.
03:45 marilynpratt: and we know that never happens in above ground storage
03:45 monkchips: this would actually make use of the big holes from all the oil we sucked out
03:47 monkchips: tom- you got a better idea?
03:47 Tom Raftery: http://en.cop15.dk/news/view+news?newsid=2117
03:48 Tom Raftery: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=lithium-ion-batteries-hybrid-electric-vehicle-recycling&sc=CAT_TECH_20090916
03:48 monkchips: VERY interesting news from Frankfurt
03:48 monkchips: the electric vehicles were all taken off their stands etc when it opened to the public!
03:49 monkchips: that is – the EVs are all concepts for industry insiders…..
03:51 Tom Raftery: http://solveclimate.com/blog/20090911/aussie-activists-target-world-s-most-polluting-coal-plant
03:52 Tom Raftery: http://in.reuters.com/article/oilRpt/idINB47611720090913
03:52 Tom Raftery: http://www.ptinews.com/news/279619_Victorian-govt-to-export-brown-coal-to-India–Report
03:52 yellowpark: Interestingly, E.On announced today they have produced an electricity menu
03:52 monkchips: ah ****
03:53 monkchips: so much for tech transfer.
03:53 monkchips: they also sell paper to japan
03:53 monkchips: ******* idiots
03:54 Tom Raftery: http://www.snp.org/node/15664
03:54 dahowlett: @tom – where’s the beer?
03:55 Tom Raftery: http://www.forexyard.com/en/reuters_inner.tpl?action=2009-09-16T103243Z_01_LG56714_RTRIDST_0_EU-GRID-NORTHSEA
03:55 dahowlett: them jocks are strapping
03:55 dahowlett: @tom – my head is still on the beach
03:55 monkchips: jocks? you mean “sweaties…”
03:56 Tom Raftery: http://homecamp.org.uk/2009/09/18/adventures-in-home-energy-monitoring-or-how-i-became-the-energy-enforcer/
03:57 monkchips: did you see the comment from his dad?
03:57 monkchips: CLASSIC!
03:57 dahowlett: wonderful!
03:58 marilynpratt: As a parent ROFL
03:58 cminion: Oddly enough for us, my gf pays the elec bill and im the one who is trying to reduce it
03:58 Joe Garde: spend most of my time running around after my kids to turn off lights!
03:58 monkchips: the really crucial point about joe
03:58 monkchips: and energy management
03:58 monkchips: is that he doesn’t believe in anthropomophic climate change!
03:58 marilynpratt: Brilliant
03:59 dahowlett: yes Tom – you are a horrible energy dictator
03:59 Tom Raftery: http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20327251.300-better-world-redefine-the-bottom-line.html
03:59 marilynpratt: same applies for gas at pump in the states
03:59 dahowlett: Living in Wigan: electricity cost Â£144/month. Andalucia â‚¬50/month
04:00 monkchips: ah shite i have to bank out now. but sarkozy is my man of the week- beyond GDP http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2009/09/14/sarkozy-adds-to-calls-for-gdp-alternative/
04:00 Joe Garde: WINDPOWER OUTLOOK 2009 PDF http://www.awea.org/pubs/documents/Outlook_2009.pdf
04:00 Tom Raftery: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/8266200.stm
04:01 marilynpratt: just look at the health record in the US – poor
04:03 dahowlett: Wind famrs expanding in Sierra Nevada/Alpujarra
04:03 yellowpark: thanks tom
04:03 Joe Garde: Thanks Tom, glad you made it this week
04:03 marilynpratt: Excellent show Tom
04:04 Tom Raftery: Thanks everyone for your time and interest
04:05 Tom Raftery: (and all your excellent contributions obviously!)
This is the video from today’s GreenMonk Energy and Sustainability show – see below for the chatstream:
03:30 Tom Raftery: Do we have audio/video?
03:31 MikeTheBee: I weren’t
03:31 MikeTheBee: Video and Audio
03:31 iangb: i can see and hear
03:31 MikeTheBee: Yep
03:32 MikeTheBee: Bank Hol Last week in UK
03:33 Tom Raftery: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2009/sep/03/arctic-temperatures-climate-change
03:33 MikeTheBee: The more the merrier
03:35 Tom Raftery: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/bigphotos/15234166.html
03:36 Tom Raftery: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article6821896.ece
03:36 MikeTheBee: increasing from the 1900’s by the look. the start of coal usage
03:38 Tom Raftery: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/8240406.stm
03:39 Tom Raftery: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/sep/04/drax-protesters-sentenced
03:41 Tom Raftery: http://www.youtube.com/talkingenergy
03:44 Tom Raftery: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/BP-announces-giant-oil-find-apf-2273328778.html?x=0&.v=1
03:45 Tom Raftery: http://blogs.wsj.com/environmentalcapital/2009/09/03/bps-tiber-find-fodder-for-oil-optimists-or-pessimists/
03:46 Tom Raftery: http://www.mnn.com/technology/research-innovations/blogs/uranium-the-new-foreign-oil
03:47 Tom Raftery: http://en.cop15.dk/news/view+news?newsid=1983
03:48 Tom Raftery: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8241016.stm
03:49 Tom Raftery: http://tcktcktck.org/stories/campaign-stories/when-it-comes-climate-change-londons-dropping-10-10
03:50 dahowlett: Was that Tara Aso or Tara Asshole?
03:50 Tom Raftery: http://www.1010uk.org/
03:51 Tom Raftery: http://www.thestar.com/news/ontario/article/690868
03:52 liveireland: getting solar heating this week myself!! 🙂
03:53 Tom Raftery: http://www.greenbiz.com/news/2009/09/03/duke-leaves-coal-trade-group-over-anti-climate-bill-stance
03:55 Tom Raftery: http://www.ecofriend.org/entry/eco-tech-metal-reflector-to-make-concentrated-solar-power-affordable
03:57 Tom Raftery: http://www.ecofriend.org/entry/eco-gadgets-uganda-telecom-debuts-their-first-solar-powered-cellphone
03:58 Tom Raftery: http://www.idc.com/EI/research/UtiliQ.jsp
03:58 dahowlett: Screw solar heating, I want solar air con
03:59 Tom Raftery: http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/defense-contractors-pursue-the-smart-grid
03:59 monkchips: bah missed the start of the show
03:59 Tom Raftery: Coolerado
04:00 dahowlett: Got it: http://www.coolerado.com/
04:00 monkchips: low energy aircon? talk about a global necessity!
04:01 Tom Raftery: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/09/gps-systems-real-time-traffic-data-save-drivers-carbon-emissions-four-days-per-year.php
04:02 monkchips: that is BOLLOCKS
04:02 monkchips: if everyone use it the bottleneck moves. this model wont scale
04:02 monkchips: this from GPS marketing board?
04:02 liveireland: ntl acting up here will have to watch repeat
04:02 cminion: @monkchips yeah i was just wondering if it would scale
04:03 monkchips: wanna cut carbon – cycle instead.
04:03 Tish Shute: Tom what do u think about the Plug Alliance in the US pushing Zigbee
04:03 MikeTheBee: from TomTom or GarmIn?
04:03 cminion: or move closer to your work
04:03 monkchips: we spoke to ford
04:03 monkchips: the other day though and they are all over zigbee right?
04:04 MikeTheBee: Did you discusss the Aussie Oil Slick
04:04 monkchips: ******* GREAT call.
04:04 dahowlett: I sue Google Maps on my Nokia N96 for GPS data
04:04 Tish Shute: Google Power Meter were making a case against the Zigbee and Plig Alliance approach
04:04 liveireland: I’ll plug you into the liveireland next week Tom..missed u this week
04:04 monkchips: “eevees”
04:04 dahowlett: use…not sue…doh!
04:04 Tish Shute: not Plig Plug hehe
04:05 dahowlett: I”ve doubled my distance for working…10 yards instead of 5 yards
04:05 monkchips: hey tish- interesting. the car people, part of the smart grid, atre definielt talking zigbee
04:06 monkchips: not a bad audience for the show this week, considering its a public holday in the US. well done tom.
04:06 cminion: Cheers for the show, time for home i think
04:06 Tish Shute: Google P M were making “you own your own data ” argument hehe!
04:06 dahowlett: TTFN
04:06 liveireland: slan
04:06 Tish Shute: bye thanks Tom!
04:06 MikeTheBee: Cheers Tom, and all
04:06 Tom Raftery: Thanks evertonre for interest, contributions & time
Someone I know and respect made a bit of a boo boo last week and I called him on it. In response to the announcement of BP’s “Giant oil find” in the Gulf of Mexico, he Tweeted:
Giant oil reserver [sic] in the Gulf, most rushing to drill it except the US. Wouldn’t that be ready made jobs and revenue?
To which I replied:
Wouldn’t it be ready-made pollution (CO2)? Ethics of celebrating jobs & revenue based on planetary destruction?
People seem to be all too ready to forget about the fact that climate change doesn’t stop to consider whether there is a recession. It doesn’t say, “oh, there’s a down-turn and you want to pump a few extra million tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere? No problem, you should have said, go right ahead”
At least in the case of the BP find, according to this Wall Street Journal analysis, recovery rates may be as low as 5-15% (150-450m barrels of oil) – still a lot of CO2 but significantly less oil than the headlines were suggesting.
e.on UK, is the energy company which owns the infamous Kingsnorth power station. Kingsnorth is one of the largest coal-fired power plants in the UK and alone is responsible for roughly 7.3m tonnes of CO2 being emitted into the atmosphere per annum. e.on UK has launched Talking Energy, a channel on YouTube to foster an online dialogue about energy.
However, as you would expect, the company stresses energy sources which will benefit e.on and its shareholders in the short-term, as opposed to trying to benefit the planet (and thus the company and its shareholders) in the long term. In the video above you see Jeremy Nicholson, lobbyist and Director of the Intensive Energy Users Group – “a single-issue lobby group which campaigns for secure industrial energy supplies at internationally competitive prices”. Jeremy throws out the old lie about the need for baseload power for the electricity grid as a reason to keep investing in carbon polluting energy sources.
renewables like wind, solar and biomass will provide enough energy to meet baseload capacity and future energy demands. Nuclear and coal plants are too expensive, he added.
“I think baseload capacity is going to become an anachronism,” he said. “Baseload capacity really used to only mean in an economic dispatch, which you dispatch first, what would be the cheapest thing to do. Well, ultimately wind’s going to be the cheapest thing to do, so you’ll dispatch that first.”
Now if the chairman of the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission believes that renewables can provide enough power to meet baseload and future energy demands, I’m going to take his word over e.on’s and their lobbyist’s.
e.on, some questions for you:
- Does CO2 cause climate change (and the consequent deaths of thousands of people annually, not to mention species extinctions, environmental destruction, etc.)?
- Do you care that your pollution is killing people and destroying the planet?
- When do you plan to stop killing people, destroying the environment and driving species to extinction (i.e. when do you plan to stop emitting CO2)?
Seriously people, the correct order is planet first, then people, then profit.
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